Man of the Family, page 1
Books by Ralph Moody
Available in Bison Books editions
The Dry Divide
The Fields of Home
The Home Ranch
Horse of a Different Color
Man of the Family
Mary Emma & Company
Shaking the Nickel Bush
Man of the Family
By RALPH MOODY
Illustrated by Edward Shenton
University of Nebraska Press • Lincoln and London
Copyright 1951 by Ralph Moody
Copyright renewal © 1979 by Ralph Moody
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Moody, Ralph, 1898–
Man of the family / by Ralph Moody; illustrated by Edward Shenton.
Originally published: New York: Norton, 1951.
ISBN 978-0-8032-8195-0 (pa)
1. Moody, Ralph, 1898–. 2. Moody, Ralph, 1898– —Family. 3. Moody Family. 4. Ranchers—Colorado—Biography. 5. Ranch life—Colorado—History—20th century. I. Title.
Reprinted by arrangement with Edna Moody Morales and Jean S. Moody
1. Mr. Nutting Gives Me Some Advice
2. My First Deal
3. Plowing and Planning
4. We Start a Cookery Route
5. Helping a Cattle Drive
6. Cookery and Coal
7. The Sheriff Lends a Hand
8. Picking Cherries on Stilts
9. The Fourth of July
10. The Match Race
11. We Really Spill the Beans
12. Mother’s Little Secret
13. Riding for Mr. Batchlett
14. Grace and I Buy Ducklegs
15. Labor-Day Roundup
16. Kathleen Mavourneen
17. Hal Finds the Answer
18. The Red Spots Come Out
19. Everyone Is Good to Us
20. Mother’s Inspiration
21. Inventing and Blacksmithing
22. Muriel and the Goose
23. The Night before Christmas
24. Skating and Skimming
25. Hi Advises Me to Learn a Trade
26. Mrs. Callahan
27. Mother’s Big Secret
28. The Sheriff Serves a Soupeeny
29. We Start a New Adventure
Mr. Nutting Gives Me Some Advice
FATHER died when I was eleven. That was in the early spring of 1910, and our relatives back in New England wanted Mother to parcel us out among them. When the doctor found that Mother had got blood-poisoning in her hand from nursing Father and would have to go away for a month, Cousin Phil wanted her to send us east right then, but Mother said, “No, Phil. I am sure Charlie would want us all to be together.”
Grace was nearly two years older than I, and we were standing with the younger children when Mother spoke. We didn’t look at each other, but Grace’s hand found mine and squeezed it. Then Mother turned to me and said, “Ralph, you are my man now; I shall depend on you.”
It didn’t seem to me that the man of a family should go to school. I wanted to work, as Father had, and make a living for the family. My brother Philip was eight, and Hal was five, so they were too young to get jobs. Muriel was between Philip and me, but she was a girl.
We had brought our horse, Lady, and the spring wagon with us when we moved to Littleton from the ranch. With them, I was sure I could find plenty of ways to make us a living.
While I was getting dressed the morning after Mother came home, I planned that I’d go up to see Mr. Cooper right after breakfast. He had a big cattle and alfalfa ranch up near the mountains west of Littleton. I had worked for him the whole summer before. He had paid me twenty dollars a month, and had told me he’d give me work whenever Father didn’t need me at home.
Mother was lying on the horsehair couch in the parlor when I came downstairs. She called me in and, before I had a chance to tell her what I’d been planning, she said, “Gracie will have to stay home with me for a few days. After you bring the milk from Lenheart’s, I would like you to dress her one of the fattest hens. You’ll have to hurry right along or you’ll be late for school.”
I wanted to tell Mother right then about not being able to go to school any more, but she called to Grace and started telling her what blouse Philip should wear and which hair ribbon to put on Muriel. It seemed as though it would be better to talk to her when there wasn’t quite so much of a hurry.
While we were eating breakfast I got an idea for stalling off going to school. Philip always liked to feed the hens. And twice, before Father died, he had left the chicken house door open and let some of the hens out. I thought he might do it again, so I asked him to feed them while I was gone for the milk. It worked all right. When I came riding Lady back down the lane from the highroad, I could see half a dozen of our hens out in the side yard. Philip and Muriel were chasing them around with sticks, and King had Benjamin, Mother’s big Buff Orpington rooster, treed on top of the privy. It was after half past eight before I got them all back into the henyard. Then I grabbed the first one I could get my hands on, and chopped her head off before Mother could send word for me to let it go till after school.
I picked every last, single pinfeather, and it took until nearly quarter of ten, but I don’t think I fooled Mother very much. When I took the hen in, she called me and said, “Here’s a late excuse to give your teacher. Hereafter you must feed the hens yourself. We can’t let anything interfere with your schooling.”
All the time I had been picking the hen, I had been making up arguments. Not that any of us could argue with Mother: we couldn’t. Father never had either. What he always did was to talk about something else till Mother changed her own mind. I thought I might be able to do the same thing on the school business, so when she gave me the note, I said, “Do you remember how many hens we had when we moved down here from the ranch? It seems to me there aren’t very many left. I counted them just now, and there are only thirty-seven and the rooster.”
Mother pinched her upper lip two or three times with her thumb and finger. “Now . . . let . . . me . . . see,” she said. “We ate two or three during the early spring, and I used some for broth when Father was sick. . . . Thirty-seven sounds about right, I think.”
Of course, I knew thirty-seven was right. I just wanted Mother to think about it. Then I said, “Well, if we keep on just eating hens they won’t last us till school vacation. I thought maybe I ought to go up and see Mr. Cooper this morning about getting my job back, then we’d have a payday by the time the hens were all eaten up.”
Mother didn’t say anything for a minute. She just reached out and took hold of my hand. While her fingers were rubbing up and down on the back of it, she said, “I know. I know. We musn’t keep on eating them or we won’t have any eggs. That makes me think. . . . Were there any broody hens that wanted to set? We must plan to hatch some chicks and then get a garden started right away.”
I could see that Mother was going to talk clear around me if I didn’t look out, so I said, “Grace could take care of the setting hens just as well as I could, and I’ll hurry and get the garden planted before I start working for Mr. Cooper.”
Mother kept on rubbing my hand, and said, “Father worked himself to death taking care of us, just because he never had proper schooling. I don’t want you to do it.” Then she swallowed and tried to smile. “It must be twelve or fifteen miles up to Cooper’s mountain ranch. You’d n
I hadn’t thought about Mother needing me at home nights, and it really was too far to ride up to the mountain ranch and back every day, so I took the note and went to school.
That was my first day of school since the middle of March. While Mother had been away, we children had stayed with neighbors. Just taking care of Lady and the hens hadn’t been enough to keep me busy, so, in April, I’d found myself a few jobs on market gardens. The farmers were setting out cabbage plants and they paid boys five cents an hour to help them. I knew I could never make a living for the family at five cents an hour and go to school at the same time. All through classes I tried to think of ways I could find a better job, and as soon as school let out, I went down to see Harry Nutting.
Mr. Nutting wasn’t any older than Father would have been, but he owned the Littleton Lumber and Fuel Company and just about the nicest pair of driving horses I’d ever seen. He didn’t load any lumber himself, or shovel any coal, and he wore good clothes all the time. And though he was always working, it was with his head instead of his hands.
When I went into his office that afternoon, Mr. Nutting came over to the counter, and said, “Hello, Little Britches, what you doing these days to make a dollar?”
“There isn’t much now except planting cabbages,” I told him.
“Good job,” he said; “used to do a lot of it when I was your age. What they paying you?”
“Five cents an hour,” I said. “I can get in about three hours after school.”
“Made any promises ahead?” he asked.
I just shook my head.
“I might be able to beat that figure a bit,” he told me. “That lawn of ours up at the house is full of dandelions. I’d like to get them out before they go to seed, but I don’t want somebody to go up there and pull the tops off. I want the roots dug out clear to the bottoms. If you think you can get it done before they blossom, I’ll pay you a dime an hour. What do you say?”
I said, “Thank you, and I’ll get it done all right, but I don’t think Mother’ll let me stay out of school to work.”
Mr. Nutting just stuck his arm across the counter to shake hands, and said, “Okay, fella, it’s a deal,” then he went back into his private office.
There’d been a lot of dandelions to start with, and I knew I’d done a good job on digging out all the roots, but when I went home the second Friday night, there was only a little patch left in one corner of the lawn. I’d put in thirty-three hours altogether, and it looked as though two more would finish it. It seemed to me that the job was worth four dollars, and that Mr. Nutting was rich, and that it wouldn’t be cheating him any to stretch it out for another seven hours. So I got there at a little before half past seven Saturday morning, and was digging in the last corner of the lawn when Mr. Nutting drove down to his lumberyard at eight o’clock.
As he came out the driveway, he stopped his team just long enough to say, “Going to be a hot one today, isn’t it? Looks as though you’ll just beat the seeds by a smell.” Then he drove off down Broadway.
I straightened up on my knees and watched him go; sitting up there on the high carriage seat, with the reins tight on the tall bay trotters, and his hat tipped a little bit to one side.
“This job’s worth four dollars,” I told myself. “He’s rich; what difference does it make to him if it costs an extra fifty cents?”
I was still saying it to myself as I went back to digging dandelions. And I spent at least five minutes on each root. I might have kept right on doing it if Mrs. Nutting hadn’t come out to the front porch a half hour later. Even then, if she’d asked how much longer it was going to take me, I might have said, “Till three o’clock.” But she didn’t. She said, “Can’t you ever let up for a minute? Now, you come in and cool off while I fix you a cold glass of lemonade. It’s too hot to be working so hard out here in the sun.”
I felt so guilty I couldn’t look up at her, so I kept my head down and said, “I’m not hot, and I’ll be all through in another hour anyway.”
“Oh, fiddle!” she said. “You can’t help being hot with that sun pouring down. You come in where it’s cool till I fix you a nice cold drink.”
I don’t know why she made me think about Father—her voice wasn’t a bit like his used to be—but she did. And I could almost see him standing by our gate at the ranch, and hear his voice as he called after me, “—and give the man who’s paying you a good day’s work. So long, partner.” Then I couldn’t answer Mrs. Nutting at all. I just shook my head and kept digging at the dandelions.
She went back into the house and, after a little while, she brought me out a tall glass of lemonade with chunks of ice in it. I didn’t want it, and I didn’t want to talk, but she made me. As I went up the steps to take the glass, she said, “What’s the matter, Little Britches—where’s that grin of yours this morning? Why, I never saw you sulky before.”
I tried to grin, and I told her I didn’t mean to be sulky, but I didn’t drink the lemonade till she’d gone into the house again. And I did finish the lawn before ten o’clock.
When I went down to the lumberyard for my pay, Mr. Nutting’s carriage was standing out in front of his office. He wasn’t there, but I could hear his voice back in the yard, so I stood by the gate to wait till he was through. He wasn’t scolding, but his voice was clear, and I couldn’t help hearing him. “You’ll have to unload down to here and take those crooked ones off,” he said. “The whole order was for number one stuff.”
The yardman must have said something back to him, but I didn’t hear it. Fred Cobb came along just then and asked me if Harry was around. I didn’t have to answer him, though. Everybody in Littleton knew Harry Nutting’s voice, and it came sharp from the back of the yard: “I don’t care what pile you took them off; they’re not number one stuff and I won’t let them go.” A minute later, he came walking up toward the gate.
He saw me standing there all right, because he winked at me, but he said, “Ha’ya, Fred! What’s on your mind this morning?”
Mr. Cobb told him he wanted to put up a cattle shed fifty feet long and thirty feet wide, and asked what the lumber for it would cost. First, Mr. Nutting asked him some questions about the foundation, the kind of roof he wanted, and things like that. Then he took a steel square from the scale box, picked up a little piece of board, and began moving it from one set of marks to another across the corner of the square. Half a dozen times he wrote figures on the board, then added them up, and said, “Two hundred and eighty-four dollars if you use number two fir—and that’s what I’d advise you; let’s say three hundred, including nails and hardware.”
After Mr. Cobb decided that was the lowest price he could get, Mr. Nutting told him, “You understand, Fred, that’s number two stuff and you’ll do your own hauling. I’ve got to go to the siding now to look over a car of coal that’s coming in, but if you’re around town till noon, I’ll make you up a set of plans for the carpenters to go by.”
Then, as he walked toward his buggy, he said to me, “Well, you did a pretty good job up there, Little Britches. I looked it over last night. Will five dollars kill the bill?”
“No, sir,” I told him, “it was ten cents an hour, and I only put in thirty-five hours, so it’s three dollars and a half.”
“Aw, go on!” he said, as he pulled a handful of coins from his pocket, “I figured it at five dollars before I spoke to you about doing it.”
He picked out a five-dollar gold piece and passed it toward me, but I said, “No, our deal was for ten cents an hour.”
Mr. Nutting had already started to put his foot up onto the carriage step, but he turned back to me, and said, “I usually figure what a job’s worth before I tackle it. Didn’t you figure that one?”
Before I even thought, I said, “Yes, sir.”
For a second or two I looked down at the carriage hub; then I looked up at Mr. Nutting, and said, “Four dollars.”
“That’s the way to do business,” he said, as he put the gold piece back and picked me out four cartwheels. “A businessman sets a price on the job, and a hired man lets somebody else set a price on his time. Next time, you set a price on the job.” Then he stepped into the buggy, picked up the reins, and clucked to his team of bays.
I stood and watched as they went trotting off up Main Street, and I said to myself, “He’s rich; and he ought to be rich, because he’s smart and he’s square. That’s what I’m going to be when I grow up. I’m going to have a business of my own, and set the price on what I sell. And I’m going to have the best pair of horses in town, and a big brick house with lawns, and a pretty wife.” Then, as his team turned the corner at the depot, I thought, “And I’m going to give the man that buys from me his money’s worth.”
My First Deal
ON MY way to school the next Monday morning, I was trying to figure out some kind of business I could start around town. I was so busy thinking about it that I nearly got run over by half a dozen wild longhorn steers from a big herd that was being moved through town.
Littleton is on the east bank of the Platte River, just south of Denver. In the spring there were stockmen who used to drive their cattle and sheep north for summer pasturing, and in the fall they’d drive them south again. They’d follow the east bank of the river to Littleton, then cross the bridge so as to drive between Denver and the mountains. Sometimes there’d be several hundred cattle in a herd, and some of the sheep flocks went over a thousand.
All the stockmen hated Littleton. They had to drive right down the highroad, nearly to the main street, then turn west across the River Road bridge by the fairgrounds. The stock never would stay on the highroad, but kept turning off both ways at all the cross streets, or running into unfenced yards and vacant lots. It would take nearly a whole day to get some of the big herds through, and you could hear the cowboys hooting and swearing all over town.
Other author's books:
- Mary Emma & CompanyThe Fields of HomeMan of the FamilyThe Home RanchFather and I Were RanchersThe Dry DivideShaking the Nickel Bush
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