Excerpt from A Place Called Home
It was raining in the mountains, a chill, persistent drizzle that drifted across the valley where the road funneled down from the north. That road that had been trod by thousands seeking a better life. Though many of those travelers had fulfilled their dreams, others had been buried with them.
Today at the side of the road a woman and two children gathered over a raw, fresh grave. Livi Talbot stood tall and spare in a sodden green cloak. A girl-child who might be easily lost on a trek as dangerous as this nestled against her side. A boy edging toward manhood stood a little ways apart, too old to ask for comfort, too young to share his grief.
In a voice grainy with crying, the woman read from the Bible cradled in her mud-stained hands. "—that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish from the earth, but have everlasting life."
Placing a frayed ribbon to mark the page, Livi raised her eyes to the mound of red Virginia dirt and the two peeled sticks lashed inexpertly together to form a cross.
You deserve better than this, David. Better than a shallow grave at the side of the road. Better than what the children and I have been able to give you.
She stood over where her husband lay, feeling utterly lost. David was the only man she’d ever believed in, ever loved. What was she to do now that he was gone?
Tad Talbot put his hand on his mother's arm. "Shall I strike the tent, Ma? Shall I saddle the horses?"
The questions rolled over Livi with all the force of a breaking wave.
"Pa would want us to go on to Kentucky," he prodded her.
"Kentucky." Livi spat the word as if it were ashes in her mouth. That Tad should speak it standing over his father's grave smacked of blasphemy. It was the quest for Kentucky that killed David.
Still, she knew he would expect her to carry on. He would want her to pack up their belongings, follow the trail over the mountains and make a home on his land.
But how in God's name could she do that?
"Mama?" Her daughter's voice came barely louder than the patter of rain through the trees.
Livi looked down at her four-year-old, down into Cissy’s whiskey-brown eyes that would ever mark her as David's child. "What is it, Sugar?"
"When we go to Kentucky is Papa coming with us?"
The question dropped like an anvil on Livi's chest. In the garbled hours between midnight and dawn when David had lain breathing but beyond her help, Livi had tried to explain to her children what dying meant.
"Of course Pa isn't—" Tad spoke up.
Livi sent him a quelling glance, then knelt beside her daughter. She took that small, soft face between her palms. "I told last night your Papa has gone away."
"But Papa isn’t gone," the girl insisted. "We wrapped him in the daisy quilt and put him in the ground, just like you said."
If it weren't for the trust in Cissy's eyes, Livi might have succumbed to hopelessness. "Your papa’s spirit has already gone away to heaven, while his body stays here."
"But Papa loves me," Cissy insisted. "He’ll come back."
Livi saw the conviction in her daughter’s face and sought the words to explain. "Heaven is so grand and glorious that people never come back."
"Papa came back from Kentucky, and he liked it there."
In digging David's grave, wrestling his broken body into the ground and lifting shovel after shovel of dirt to cover him, Livi had had learned that death wasn't something open to debate. It was final, irreversible.
She fought down the burn of fresh tears. "I wish that was true, Sugar." Livi stroked her daughter’s hair. "But going away forever is what dying means."
"No, Papa will come back!" Cissy sobbed. "I know he will!"
"I'm sorry." Livi tightened her hold on her daughter. "I’m so sorry, but it isn't right to lie to you."
The girl went limp in Livi’s arms, weeping as if her heart would break. Gently she lifted Cissy, stumbled up from her knees and carried her baby back to camp.
Tad followed and caught his mother's arm as she reached the tent. "We are going on to Kentucky, aren't we, Ma?"
Livi knew what David would expect. He would want her to pack up their belongings, take the trail over the mountains and make their home on his land.
But how in God's name could she accomplish that by herself?
Livi looked at the ridges of mountains rising on every side, at the road that probed the wild unknown. Going west was David's dream.
It had never been hers.
Livi groped for a way to make her son understand. It was a long and futile search.
"I don't know, Tad," she finally said. "I just don’t know how the three of us can travel all the way to Kentucky."