A CALIFORNIA STORY

DelLomaCave4-1960


May 2024

 Probably nothing piques a young man's fancy more than dreams of instant wealth, preferably found at the end of some great adventure. I'm thinking of something like finding a lost city of amazing wealth - someplace no person in recent times even knew existed. Could something like that really happen?

   Probably, the best modern representation of the dream was the 1849 California Gold Rush. Hundreds of thousands of men - from all parts of the world - dropped whatever they were doing, brought together whatever cash they could lay their hands on, unceremoniously said goodbye to wives and families - and headed West. Some were known to have died on the way. Some were never heard from again, and their fates are unknown. A few - probably a very small percentage - actually came back home, having made their fortune in the rare California ore.

   In 1849, I dreamed of being one of the younger men to head for the Gold Fields, but I didn't get a chance to try. My father, a weather-beaten farmer from Upstate New York, was perhaps the world's greatest non-believer in pots of gold, mountains of precious jewels, lands of milk and honey, and other suggestions of instant and fantastic wealth. No California Gold Rush had anything to offer him. Because I and my older brother Joshua were - while not quite so weather-beaten - the sons of our father, we were forced by reality (Father) to believe like he did (at least on the surface). While other young sons joined the Westward stream, we worked away on our Upstate New York farm.

   Although the great "rush" to California gold was over by the end of 1850, for several more years many still went to seek what of the mineral was left, and many came back East with small or occasionally big rewards. Joshua hadn't gone to the Gold Rush. He had gone to the Mexican War, and in only a few days was dead somewhere south of the Border. That made my staying home to help Father even more necessary. I watched and read the news as the adventurers streamed by, and my frustration grew and grew. Finally, in  1853, my sister's  new husband offered to take my place on the farm, I received my father's reluctant blessing and a little cash, and prepared to head West for my own fortune.

   Having received permission to go, I had to decide how I would do that. I could have made my way down the Mohawk and Hudson rivers to New York, then boarded a steamboat headed for New Orleans and Panama, or one headed on the longer route around the southern tip of South America. I could have made my way to Pittsburgh, sought passage down the Ohio River to the mighty Mississippi, then traveled up the Missouri to the official start of the overland trail to California and Oregon.

   Before 1850, most ocean travelers to the West Coast took the Cape Horn route, even though it was 18,000 miles long, took five to eight months to complete (if you were lucky), and was often subject to extreme weather and rough seas while passing through the Straits of Magellan. I doubted I would like sea travel that much.

   The sea route via Panama was much shorter, with luck (often a rare commodity) taking less than two months. There could be long delays in Panama waiting for a ship on the Pacific side, and the ships were noted for being overcrowded, unsanitary, and often short of supplies. Crossing Panama involved a long canoe trip up the Chagres River to the height of land, then a ride on pack animals to the Pacific. Thousands of people did it every year, so it wasn't impossible.

   Finally, there was the overland trail. Six months of riding in, or walking behind, a covered wagon didn't sound that inspirational to me. I imagined there would be some exciting times, but for every brief adventure I pictured long periods of utter boredom.

   In writing this, I must sound like some blasé academic, suffering from an imagined ennui. Alas, no, I was a callow, naive farm boy, imagining things I had yet to experience. Whatever I decided, it would obviously be the biggest adventure of my life. In the end, I opted for a compromise that I thought might give me the greatest variety of experience. I did travel down the Ohio to the Mississippi, but instead of turning to meet the overland trail, I continued down the river to the port of New Orleans. I was lucky to find a steamer just about ready to leave for Panama, and before the week was over, I was landing at the old port of Chagres. We were fortunate to have calm seas, as they say ships may sometimes lay off Chagres for a week or so, waiting for the ocean to calm.

   Of the trip from home to New Orleans, I can say that I saw much new country, but can't point to anything significant that I learned. Similarly, there is little to say about the first sea leg of my journey. It was very hot and very humid. Being on the sea didn't help, as the water of the  Gulf feels like that of a  Sunday bath at home. The ship was full, but not overflowing like it would have been a year or so earlier. Accommodations were strictly utilitarian, with nothing to lure a vacationer or casual traveler. The passengers themselves were mostly men, although there were some families headed for San Francisco.

   The trip to California via Panama is a "short-cut," but in name, only. I must have been one of the luckier travelers, in that my ship connections were far better than average, I think, the weather at sea was generally good, and we had no significant interruptions in what might be considered "normal" operations. Even considering my overland start to New Orleans, I completed the journey from home in New York to San Francisco in only two months.

   One thing I probably had not given sufficient thought to is that the cost of everything on the trip  - transportation, food, supplies - was exorbitant. My purse was nearly empty before I ever set foot on California land. However, I did set foot, first at San Francisco, then - after a trip by boat through San Francisco Bay and the great delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers - at Sacramento.

   I didn't dally in San Francisco. I didn't like it. Clearly, it was growing far faster, and doing more business - both legal and ill! -  than all the rest of the West Coast of America combined, but it was a raw, unfinished place, somewhat vulgar for people (like me!) accustomed to the placid, finished feel of towns in the Northeast. The town was all made of wood, and I imagined one fire lit in a strategic spot could turn the entire development to ashes. Also, a damp, gray fog seemed to hover over the town perpetually, while just a few miles across the bay, the sun shone down in bright, 90 degree glory.

   Sacramento was little better, I thought. All summer it was oppressively hot and dry, while most of the winter it was buried in thick "tule fog," as they called it. Most springs, parts of the town were submerged under runoff waters, as the high mountain snowpack melted. But, at least, I was finally on the edge of the great Mother Lode, and would soon be making my fortune!

   My money being extremely short, I didn't intend to stay in town, but thought I would buy supplies - and a horse - then ride a ways into the hinterlands to camp and get organized. Before I did that, I decided to stroll through the town, and get my first on-the-ground look at California.

    One thing I had greatly missed since leaving home was the opportunity to hear the pleasant voices of young women, and to talk with them. There were very few women in California, and most were matrons with small children. The same had been true on the steam ships between New Orleans and San Francisco. When in Sacramento I spied a young woman walking down the street away from me, I decided to see if she would like to chat. I had only seen her from behind, so didn't know what her  features were like. She was small - probably only a few inches over five feet - but she was slim and gently but nicely rounded, and I thought that maybe a comparably nice face would go with the trim figure. Anyway, at this point, I didn't consider great beauty the most important attribute for a female to possess.

   I had almost caught up with her when a wagon, carrying two men and a large steamer trunk, stopped right in front of us. One man got down, grabbed for the girl's arm, and said something like, "Come along, girlie, we have a little work for you." She yelled "no," and tried to pull away. I yelled "no," and instinctively ran at her attempted captor. No one yelled "yes," but someone hit me on the back of my head, and as I sprawled in the dust, I saw the girl lifted into the trunk, and the top closed. The wagon moved on down the road past me.

   Not liking to see young women abducted at any time - and suspecting that her ordeal was just about to begin - I picked myself up, and limped down the road after them. I wasn't badly hurt, but my head had felt better on other days, and I think I was generating a lot of excess energy from my part in the proceedings. The men went into a hotel, checked in, then began to carry the steamer trunk up the stairs. If the girl was making any sound, no one seemed to hear. I reached the top of the stairs just as the men were closing the door to their room. Without a thought for myself or what I intended to do, I pushed  in after them, and as they opened the trunk, I rushed forward, yelling something inane, like "leave be, you blaggards." It surprised them enough that they let go of the girl, who leaped past them, and stood behind me. When the men moved toward me, she slipped out the door and was gone.

   I was momentarily glad to see her escape, but my mind quickly returned to my own situation. Both men were much larger than me, looked much meaner, and I was sure they would have something to say about me letting their prize get away. I was sure I could get in a couple of good, solid farm-trained jabs and connections, but after that I feared the battle would all be from their side. My mind was thinking of broken bones and black eyes, all of them being mine. They were just about on me when the door swung open, and someone shouted "basta!" Yes, they were ferocious bastards, but I didn't see how calling them names could help me. Then, the same voice said, emphatically "enough!" and I suspected I had misunderstood the first word.

   The man who had spoken moved past me into the room, a shotgun on his arm, and a large silver revolver on his hip. He motioned the men to move back against the wall, then two other men entered the room, put handcuffs on the villains, and led them out. The first man turned back to me, and to the girl who was now standing beside me.

   "You did good work, señor, slowing these men down, so the little one could escape. I am grateful." He then spoke to the girl in Spanish (a language I knew none of). She spoke back to him, then slipped out of the room. He held out his hand, and we shook. Then, he said, "Be alert. Women and horses are the two most stolen items in California." He went out, leaving me alone in the room.

   Definitely shaken but unhurt from recent events, I descended to the hotel lobby, where earlier I had left my one suitcase. I took a few clothes and personal items  from it, transferred them to a canvas sack, returned the case to the hotel staff, and asked them to check it for me, indefinitely. I walked out of the hotel to begin my search for transport and supplies. At the foot of the steps stood the girl, carrying her own canvas bag and a bed roll, and apparently waiting for me. I greeted her with a "hello" and a smile, assuming she was there to thank me before going on her way. She did say "gracias," but didn't move along.

   I had my first chance to really look at her. I was not good at judging the ages of women, but I guessed she was about 18.  Clearly, her face was a good complement to her figure - definitely pretty, even by my probably lower than usual standards, due to my long starvation for feminine charms. Her darker skin, and accompanying long dark hair, suggested she was Mexican, or perhaps some mix of Mexican, Indian, or White. Whatever, it made an appealing combination.

   I was reluctant to part with her, but I had business to attend to, and there seemed to be nothing else pertinent to say. I turned to walk away, and found she had fallen in beside me, obviously going the same direction. To make conversation, I asked who she was traveling with. "You," she replied.

   To say I was at a loss for words would have been an understatement. I suppose I should have asked what she was talking about, but for some reason, I didn't. I wondered if I had misunderstood her, but how do you miss the meaning of "you?" In the end, I didn't even turn to look at her, but just walked on. She was still there when I reached the general store.

   The guide books listed several hundred items that "every miner needs." Since my wallet was far from bulging, I  bought a hefty pick axe, a small shovel, a bed roll, and some food items. I thought I might have just enough cash left to buy a horse, and perhaps a mule to carry the gear. No mules were available, but I did manage to purchase two horses that looked like they still had a mile or two left in them. I was ready to enter the wilderness.

   I guess I should say that "we" were ready, because the girl had stayed with me through the shopping, and was even now adeptly swinging herself up onto one of the horses. I was far from a great horseman, but had ridden my share of farm animals, so had no trouble mounting my own "steed." The kind of riding background I had was fortunate, because I'd had no money for any saddles, and riding bareback was what I was used to.

   The road out of town was well-marked. Obviously, it had been heavily traveled in the past, but this particular section of the gold fields was considered more or less "played out," and there was little active mining. We passed only a few people as we made our way up into the foothills.

   You may feel that I'm treating the presence of the girl rather lightly. I guess I was - on the outside - but my mind was actively at work on this issue, whenever it didn't have something else to occupy it. I was truly befuddled. Did I recall correctly that the Chinese believed that if you saved someone's life, you were eternally responsible for them? (That seemed backward, but what didn't, right then?) Had I stumbled into some similar Mexican belief? The sheriff had made that somewhat cryptic comment about watching over the women and horses. Was this what he meant? As if the basic concept wasn't monumental enough, what did "responsible" mean? Did I have to support her financially until she could find a husband? What if she didn't? And if I had to see to all her needs, did she have any responsibility to me? Could she be my housekeeper (if I had a house)? Could she be required to provide me with any, more personal, services? My mind was working overtime, now.

   Another tantalizing alternative - I thought I had heard (but perhaps only as a teenage fantasy?) that Indian chiefs sometimes gave their daughters as wives to men whom they liked, or who had helped them some way. Did the Mexicans perhaps have a similar custom, if someone saved a young woman's life?

   As I pondered all these mysteries, the girl herself kept up a steady stream of talk. She seemed perfectly comfortable, and ready to share information about herself. Her name was Rosalia Gomez. She had been born in New Mexico, but had no knowledge of earlier family history. She had - up until a day ago, and presumably still, somewhere -  a father, mother, sister, and two brothers. They had left New Mexico in 1849, with the specific purpose of joining the California gold frenzy. Life was not easy for them in the gold camps. White miners resented them, partly because they didn't want "foreigners" taking "their" gold (an interesting reinterpretation of history, in that California had been a part of Mexico, before being forcefully annexed to the United States only a few years ago). The other part was that the New Mexicans were much better at mining, and took away much more gold than the other toilers.

   Open antagonism developed at times, making the lives of the New Mexicans unpleasant and sometimes dangerous. Also, there were the continuous, overwhelming attentions showered on every woman by thousands of love-starved men, none of whom had interests that included only a kiss or two, and certainly nothing as extreme as matrimony. Finally, her father had led them back to civilization, to try some other livelihood.

   It was outside Sacramento that Rose had somehow become separated from the family. She looked for them, as they were probably looking for her, but there were thousands of people everywhere. She spent the day keeping a wary eye out for men with steamer trunks, or other similar intentions. She had a little money (her father always made sure his children had a little with them, for safety), but not enough to rent a room. She slept in the corner of an empty building, very cold and very scared, then started a new day of searching. A lapse in her diligence led to the trouble that led to our present circumstances. Escaping the fate intended by her captors, she wanted to continue to look for her family. She had no idea how to do that, so went with her second option: me. How quickly things can change!

   The days were long, so we rode several hours into the hills before we stopped for the night. We traveled a little ways out of sight of the road, then set up camp. That consisted of tying up the horses, gathering some wood for a cooking fire, building the fire, and preparing something to eat. I had wondered if Rose was going to take the lead in such domestic matters. I soon found that she wasn't. Beginning that night, and continuing throughout our time together, I found she would do anything that needed doing, as long as the responsibilities were shared over time, and nothing became "woman's work"  or "a man's job." We never developed any set rules on whose "turn" it was to do something. We just both learned to keep our eyes open for what needed to be accomplished, and we accomplished it. It became a very easy-going relationship.

   That first night, I spread my bed roll out not far from hers. She told me to move to the other side of the fire. It was either very brave of her, or she was very confident I would comply with her direction. I don't know why she would think that. After all, she didn't know anything about me, I was much bigger than her, and (probably) I was stronger. I might be as love-starved as all the other men in California seemed to be, we were alone, and I could probably take from her whatever I wanted. So, in answer to her order, I moved to the other side of the fire, and we both spent a peaceful, undisturbed night.

   Early the next day, we arrived at one of the so-called "played out" diggings. There were still a few miners there, but it was mostly deserted. We unofficially staked our claim at a spot where someone had built a flume from a nearby creek. Typical of California in the summer, there was very little water in the creek, but with our pick and shovel, we managed a diversion. It was hard work and slow going, but over the first few days, we actually realized some lovely yellow specks of ore.

   Our working together quickly became collegial, with us equally sharing in everything. Using the broader sense of the term, it was also conjugal - planning, working, playing together like any married couple - except for that part of "conjugal" that one usually thinks of with marriage. As friendly and as open as we were with one another, the only ones who benefited from romantic gestures were the horses. I would often see her in the evening, her lovely little nose pressed closely against one of their big noses, while she sang softly to them in Spanish. The horses seemed to like it. I was sure I would, had her little nose been anywhere near my own. Alas, it was not. Still, I loved to watch them, even though it always made me feel a little sadly lonely.

   We had brought enough food for about two weeks, so eventually had to return to the valley to replenish. On that trip, and later ones, we both went, remembering the sheriff's admonition about leaving women and horses unprotected. The weather was hot but fair, and the trips were a pleasant diversion from our daily hard work. We continued in this way until the first fall rains, took advantage of the new water for a week or so, but soon decided we were ready to return to civilization for the winter. We packed our few supplies on the horses, and rode back to the valley. In Stockton, we sold the horses - not having the money to board them all winter, and not really needing them in town. That gave us the money to rent a room in one of the hotels. We could only afford one room, but we were used to living in close proximity, and it was probably safer for her not to be alone. When a woman was seen to be attached to one particular man, it slowed down (but did not stop) the attentions of others.

   I found hotel living during the damp, rainy winter to be boring and frustrating. I'm sure Rose felt  that, too, although she was better than I was in not displaying her grouchiness. After about a month, a bit of good luck arrived, when the hotel managers left town, and the owner offered the job to us. The pay was not large, but included our room and board, and occupancy of a bigger, nicer room. Since we didn't have many expenses beyond food and rent, we were able to put away most of our salary. The work wasn't hard, but it was constant, which helped the time pass faster.

   We managed the hotel through the winter and the next spring, but as summer approached, I was getting restless. Rose had an idea. Meat was abundant in California, from native game - deer, elk, antelopes - but mainly from hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep. However, vegetables, grains and fruit were often in short supply. The California climate could grow anything, but the human population was still highly mobile, and few people took the time to grow anything. Rose thought that if we established a small farm not far from the cities and the mines, we might make more money selling to the grocers and the miners than we could by becoming miners, again. It would also have the advantage of getting us outdoors once more.

   I liked the idea immensely. We had our pay from the hotel - which had mounted up over the months. We had most of the money from the sale of the horses, and we also had our small cache of gold dust. With not much effort, we found and bought a useable cabin with four or five acres of land. We still had our pick axe and shovel We bought back our horses, which were still available at the livery stable. We had to pay somewhat more for them than we had sold them for, but we had the money, and we (especially Rose) were glad to have them back in "the family." With Rose's ideas, my farming experience, and high hopes, we started on the next phase of our lives.

   Can a man live continuously in the presence of a lovely woman, and never feel a feminine touch? Yes. Does the longing to touch, to hold, to kiss, to make love lessen over time. Not one whit! I would sometimes glance at Rose - my mate in everything but those intimacies - and my heart would ache, and I would feel tears welling in my eyes. But she was a true partner, my best friend - the best person I had ever known! Those gains were worth far more to me than any shortfalls. Sometimes I didn't think I could live without whatever she was able to give me. She had become my life.

    We were late getting started that summer. We didn't grow enough to sell, but did have some wonderful vegetables for ourselves, and proved to ourselves we could do it. We planted a variety of foodstuffs that we knew would survive in the relatively mild California winter, and when spring arrived, we already had the start of a saleable crop. We bought a cart to be hitched to one of our horses, and pronounced ourselves "in business."

   Over the next two years, we improved both our techniques and our product markets, and began to feel (on a small scale) like prosperous farmers. One day in that second  year, we were sitting together on the porch of our cabin, and an idea came to me. "I think we should plant some trees. Anything can grow in California and, while I don't need bananas or coconuts, I think a few apples, peaches, pears, and apricots would do nicely. Do you agree?" She did, and the next day we set out with our horse and cart to find some trees to plant. Back home, we immediately planted the assortment. When we were finished, I stood admiring our work. It would be many years before anyone enjoyed the fruit of our labors, but it felt very good to have begun.

   I felt a strange sensation, and realized she was holding my hand  - something she had never done, before. I looked at her face, and saw a few tears on her cheeks, but the cause I could not fathom. She held my hand  a little longer, smiled shyly (or so I thought), but said not a word. Later, we went about our usual evening ritual.

   Not long after I had crawled into my bed and was adjusting myself for sleep, I felt my covers being lifted, and then her warm, naked body was pressed firmly against mine. Six years of extreme longing overwhelmed me (and, apparently, her also), and we spent several hours never to be forgotten. I had no idea what had changed so drastically and suddenly, but I couldn't have been happier.

   When we were satisfied - at least for the moment! - she continued to lay beside me, and spoke quietly. "Permanencia. Nosotras plantamos arboles. Plantar un árbol es un compromiso de quedarse y cuidarlo, verlo crecer. Finalmente estamos en casa."

    She seldom spoke Spanish, and although mine was better than when I reached California ((when I knew none!), I couldn't follow all she said. She translated. "We have established a permanence, now. We planted trees. Planting a tree is a commitment to stay and nurture it, to watch it grow. We are finally home."

   I think I understood her. Since we had joined forces, we had moved regularly - gold mining, the hotel, vegetable farming.  Sometimes it was of necessity (money to live on), but sometimes just due to my general restlessness. She was committed to me from the start, and I don't think she ever doubted my growing love and commitment to her. But she had known abandonment, and needed a clear, long-term symbol of permanence. Planting the trees had given her that. As she said, we were finally home.

   Once begun, it seemed like both of us were on a mission to make up for all the days of physical love that we had missed. For weeks, every night, many mornings, and occasional afternoons were spent in pursuit of every sexual feeling we could possibly experience. I had no complaints. Such activity had one almost inevitable result and, almost nine months to the day from our tree planting, we jointly produced an amazing little human, who we named Sarah (just because we liked the name) and Rosalia (after her mother).

   Most of the next year was joyful beyond belief. But lovely, benevolent California had a cruel surprise waiting. It may have been caused by the damp, depressing "tule fogs" that hung over the valley for so long, the voracious yearlong mosquitoes that carried malaria, sleeping sickness, and likely other diseases, or even the mysterious lung infection the settlers called "valley fever." Whatever it was, within a year of Sarah's birth, she and my darling Rose were both gone. I was alone.

   To say I felt bereft was to state the obvious. I was devastated, and had no idea how to go on with life. I had no real friends in California, and we had never found Rose's family. The only people I wanted to see were dead! Still, I felt I needed to do something - to make some great change - so I determined to return to the farm in New York. I sold the horses, but didn't think to do anything about our house and land before I found myself on a boat going down through the Delta to  San Francisco. I felt like I was sleep-walking as I boarded a steamer for Panama, and was hardly aware of the trip until we debarked at Panama City. Since my trip West, they had completed a railroad across the Isthmus, and the 70 miles once accomplished by pack animal and canoe were now made in relative comfort on the train. I was somewhat less lethargic by the time we reached Chagres, and later was even able to remember some of the details of the ocean trip to New Orleans, then around Florida and up the Atlantic coast to New York City. I boarded a smaller boat to take me up the Hudson River to Albany, and there hired a local to take me to the farm.

   Father and Mother had both died in the year past, and the farm was now occupied by my sister, brother-in-law, their three daughters, and miscellaneous help. They welcomed me graciously, and I settled in my old room in the farmhouse. My sister and I had enjoyed a happy childhood together, and it was pleasant to reminisce about that for a while. But we had nothing else in common, and when not doing something specific with the family, I found myself walking the farm fields by myself or sitting alone in my room.

   Late summer and autumn seemed to pass quickly, and I found I actually enjoyed the freezing temperatures and deep, drifting snows of Upstate New York much more than I did the more temperate, but mostly gray skies of a California winter.  The pleasure was diminished, however, by regularly recurring bouts of weakness and fever. I thought at first that it was just the change from west to east climate, or just the onset of winter chill, but by the end of the year, I was noticeably weaker, had lost weight, and had periods in which I had trouble breathing deeply. I went to our local doctor. He couldn't pinpoint the problem, and offered to send me to a specialist in Albany. However, he was certain that, whatever the cause, the opinion of the specialist would be the same - I would be dead in six months, probably sooner.

    Suddenly, I felt it of the utmost importance that I return to California, to be near Rose and Sarah. My sister warned against it, saying I'd never make it there alive. I couldn't disagree, but I had to try. I made sure that I completed paperwork assuring that any  legal or monetary interest due me  in the farm or our parents' estate should pass directly to her. I packed a bare minimum of clothing and personal effects, and my brother-in-law took me to Albany, and made sure I was safely on the Hudson River boat to New York. In New York Harbor, I hired a young man to see me securely on the steamer bound for Chagres. I don't remember the stop in New Orleans, or any other details of the voyage, and I think I must have been only partially conscious for most of the trip. I revived a little on the train ride to the Pacific, and somehow managed to get myself on a northbound steamer. I'm sure the captain thought I would be a dead body before we reached San Francisco. He wasn't far from wrong, and I barely remember debarking, and boarding the boat going up the Delta to Sacramento. The man I hired to take me to Stockton in his wagon demanded I show him I had the money before we left Sacramento. He was certain, I think, that I wouldn't make it there alive.

   Yet here I am on my land. The house, which I unceremoniously abandoned, looks little changed, and has not been taken over by either squatters or wood rats. Obviously, the weeds have grown high, but weeds are prone to do that. Some of last year's vegetables have volunteered, and someone could harvest the fixings of a good salad before long.

   But what I really came to see is our trees. I hobbled - mostly stumbled - around the side of the house to where I could best see them. All of them had survived, and all looked healthy. Obviously, they hadn't put on noticeable growth in the short time I've been gone, and neither Rose nor I will ever see or pick the fruit that will someday develop. On the other hand, they had borne fruit, already. They had been responsible for the fullness of life that we finally achieved, and the "fruit" was a daughter named Sarah.

   I'm sitting down next to the stone that honors my two loves. My breath is coming in gasps, I can feel my heart pounding irregularly within my chest, and my vision occasionally blurs. I'm thinking about my father, and his views on religion.  As I think I have said previously, he read the Bible militantly, never missing an opportunity to open it to some favorite passage, or to exhort his wife and children to be as diligent with the work as he was. Maybe surprisingly, he didn't believe everything in it. He thought "Genesis" and "Exodus" were fables - children's fairy tales. He felt they contained some good moral lessons, but clearly wondered why God would put the rest of that material in a holy book. He believed he understood the purpose of "Leviticus" and "Deuteronomy" - to teach us that hard and fast rules were impossible to live by, and wouldn't be good, if they were possible. Laying no claims to understanding ancient history, he still thought most of the great battles were fictional, that they were probably invented as bad examples, but that most Bible readers took them as evidence of some good plans God had. Father loved the teachings of Jesus, and wondered why everybody - whether religious or not - didn't take them to heart. Of the great "Bible truths" - the foundations of the Christian religion - Jesus' relationship to God, unforgiveable sins, salvation - he was more ambivalent than one might expect.

   However, there was one aspect of  religious teaching that he believed - with, as they say, his whole heart and mind - and that was Heaven. If you really tried to pin him down semantically - which none of us ever dared - you would probably have found that his "belief" was in truth a very strong "hope." He didn't care what Heaven looked like - plain or fancy was all the same to him. He didn't have any use for choirs singing in this life, so why would he care about them in the next? No, the only promise of Heaven that he was interested in - counted on - was being together again with those he loved in his earthly life. He just couldn't accept that God wouldn't have provided for continuing, eternal friendships - that when he said his "goodbye" here, or when others said farewell to him - that there wouldn't be a reunion, a reconciliation. If there wasn't, then nothing God had done made any sense to him.

    As I sit here amongst our trees, beside the stone dedicated to my two loves, I'm writing all this down in my journal. I've always had good penmanship and, although it has deteriorated recently due to my increasing shakiness, I think it is all readable. Of course, there isn't anyone to read it, but it has been a satisfyingly nostalgic "trip" for me to write about the only years of my life that I feel really meant anything. I'll just leave the journal here beside me.

   As I thought about my father and his belief in Heaven, I have been judging my own beliefs and my own hopes, or expectations. As much I have read the Bible, I don't find anything that interests me there. I  have done enough study to know that it is not the "word of God," but is a work cobbled together by a group of "scholars," who are still arguing among themselves about what should or should not have been included. I do love the words of Jesus - particularly the Sermon on the Mount and the "Beatitudes," and - like my father - I wonder why people don't concentrate on these gems, instead of trying to decipher obscure prophesies, or turn their brains to mush fighting over whether Peter or Paul were right in their pronouncements. I also have some other favorite passages and verses, but I don't like them because they are religious, but just because I like them - the way I like Lord Byron ("She walks in beauty, like the night"), John Donne ("No man is an island"), or even - and this may be blasphemous! - Poor Richard's Almanac, or Shakespeare.

   I am interested in my father's belief, or hope, about Heaven. I've never thought about it in the past, because there hadn't been anything in my life that I thought I would miss or want to remember. That has all changed, of course. Now, I couldn't wish for anything  more strongly than to see our angel, Sarah, grow to be a woman, or to spend an eternity or two with Rosalia, heart of my heart. I would love to sit with her, and together read what I've written about us in  this journal. We could read it over and over again, savoring each memory and reflection as if for the first time.

   I was planning to leave my journal here, under our trees and beside the memorial, because there isn't anyone left to read it. Now, I think I may try to hold on to it as I leave, with the hope that both it and I will land in Heaven, in the arms of my two darling girls. It can't hurt to try.

   I will now write the word "coda," because there's nothing more to say. Then, I'll just sit here and wait. I don't think I'll wait long.

  

 ***

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