a Sweetwater Saga short story


Mickey Minner


Jesse led Boy out of his stall and along the side of the buckboard tilting at a sharp angle, its front axle broken in half. “Need to find a better place for that,” she muttered to herself as Boy barely cleared the space between the unusable wagon and the front of the row of stalls.

“I’ll see what I can do with it while you’re in town,” Stanley Branson said, not bothering to stop in his chore of mucking out another of the horse stalls.

“You don’t have to, Pop.”

“My wagon,” he told his daughter. The buckboard was all he had left of the ranch he once owned outside of Bozeman. Carrying his wife and their meager belongings to his daughter’s ranch had been its final trip, the axle breaking as it was being rolled into the barn shortly after they had arrived. “Should have done it long ago.”

Jesse nodded, understanding her father’s sense of responsibility. “Come on, Sunshine,” she said to her daughter sitting atop the large draft horse. “Your momma is mighty anxious to get to town and see how much Michael has grown. Best we not keep her waiting.”

As her mother led Boy through the open barn doors, KC looked back at her grandfather who was kneeling down to get a closer look at the busted axle. “Mommy?”

“Yes, Sunshine.”

“I help Grumps?”

“Thought you wanted to see your cousin.”

“He jus’ a baby. I help Grumps,” she stated her wishes then flattened out on Boy’s broad back so she could slip off his side.

“KC Branson, don’t you dare,” Jennifer called across the ranch yard when she realized what her daughter was intending to do.

Jesse looked back over her shoulder. “Hold on their, Sunshine. Ain’t said you could stay yet.” KC sat back upright, a disgruntled look on her face. “Give me a chance to ask your momma ‘fore you start frettin’.” She pulled Boy to a stop when she reached her own buckboard standing in front of the ranch house.

“KC, you know Boy is too tall for you to get off by yourself,” Jennifer scolded her daughter. She and Charley had been waiting on the porch for Jesse to bring Boy from the barn.

Jesse lifted KC off the horse and set her on the ground. “She wants to stay and help Pop,” she informed her wife as she maneuvered Boy into the wagon’s harness.

“What for?”

“He’s gonna see if he can fix that broken axle on his buckboard so we can move it someplace out of the way.”

“Don’t you want to see Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Billy?” Jennifer asked KC. “And little Michael?”

“I help Grumps.”

“What about Bette Mae?”

“I help Grumps,” KC said unwaveringly.

“Seems her mind is made up,” Jesse said as she helped Jennifer down the porch stairs. “Good boy, Charley,” she encouraged her son as he carefully stepped down the set of steps, his hand tightly gripping his mother’s. “Well, Momma? What do you think?” Jesse asked when the family was standing together beside the wagon.

KC bent her head up, looking expectedly at her mother.

“Well, if Stanley doesn’t mind keeping an eye on her, I suppose—”

Before her mother had finished her thought, KC was running across the ranch yard. “Grumps, I helping you,” she shouted as she ran.

Jennifer watched her daughter disappear inside the barn. “I was hoping to ask Stanley about this first.”

 “Not like he has much say in the matter. When she gets her mind wrapped around something, she won’t let it go.” Jesse chuckled. “She gets that from you.”

Jennifer let Jesse assist her in climbing up onto the buckboard’s seat before responding. “She does, does she? Seems that’s more a trait of yours than mine,” she said as she scooted to the center of the bench while Jesse lifted Charley up and placed him beside her.

Jesse walked around the back of the wagon then climbed up to sit beside her wife who had an arm securely wrapped around Charley now sitting in her lap. “You don’t suppose she gets it from the both of us?”

Jennifer laughed. “Yes, I suppose she does.”

Jesse released the brake and gently slapped the reins across Boy’s rump. As the wagon began to move, the women turned to look at the barn opening where KC happily stood next to her grandfather.

“This okay with you, Pop?” Jesse called to her father.

“Ain’t likely I could say it ain’t,” Stanley called back, his gruff tone unsuccessful at masking the pleased look he was trying to hide. “Go on to town. I’ll make sure the young ‘un don’ cause too much trouble whilst you’re gone.”

“Be good, KC,” Jennifer told her daughter. “You mind your grandfather.”

Stanley glanced down at KC who was waving an enthusiastic goodbye to her mothers and brother. “Ain’t much chance of that happening,” he muttered under his breath before turning to return to his task.

KC waved until the wagon passed through the ranch gate and disappeared over the top of the hillock. Then she spun around and ran into the barn. She found her grandfather rummaging about the front corner of the barn where the various hand tools were stored. “What you lookin’ for?”

“Something to take that wagon apart with.”

“Mommy says you fix it.”

“Don’t think there’s much chance of that.”

“Why not?”

“Dang thing’s as old as I am. Best we can do is take it apart and save what parts we can. Think you can carry this?” Stanley held a hand saw out for the girl to see.

“Yep.” KC reached for the saw. When her grandfather dropped it down to her, she grasped the wooden handle in one hand and the top of the blade in the other. “What you carryin’?”

Stanley snatched a hammer, pry bar and a wrench off Jesse’s work bench. “Come on, lets quit talkin’ and get to workin’.” KC followed her grandfather across the barn to the buckboard.

The shadows outside were lengthening when Stanley carried the last of the four wagon wheels into an empty stall where he, with his granddaughter’s help, had placed all the pieces of wagon that were still usable. The rest of the old wagon had been piled outside the barn next to the wood pile.


“We’s here, Grandma,” KC poked her head out of the stall.

“Goodness, you two have done a day’s work,” Marie Branson said when she walked up to see the neatly piled pieces of wagon.

“That we have,” Stanley agreed as he glanced at the end of the barn where the buckboard had stood that morning. Except for a few splintered pieces of wood and their tools, the floor was empty, just as Jesse had wanted.

“I have some sandwiches made up. And a batch of cookies ready to come out of the oven.” Marie laughed when KC ran to the wash bucket and sunk her arms into the fresh water.

Stanley followed his granddaughter and stood over her as she vigorously scrubbed her hands and arms. “Best you use some soap, young ‘un,” he said dropping a soap bar into the water.

KC giggled when the resulting splash coated her face with wet droplets. She retrieved the bar from the bottom of the bucket and rubbed it on her arms. Once she had a thick lather built up, she raised an arm offering the soap to Stanley. “Best you use soap, Grumps.”

Chuckling, Marie walked out of the barn and headed for the ranch house and her baking cookies.

“It’s a mite warm in here,” Stanley said when he entered the kitchen from the back porch.

“I was just thinking the same,” Marie answered carrying a plate of cookies to the table. The kitchen was located on the west side of the house and the room was normally warm in the later part of the day. Combined with the heat from the cook stove, the room became uncomfortable to sit in. “Why don’t we take this out and sit on the front porch? Here, Stanley, you can carry this,” she handed the plate to her husband. “And this,” she picked up the tray of sandwiches and pass it to him.

“Me helps, Grandma,” KC offered, her hands raised up as she waited for something to be placed in them.

“How about you carry this pitcher of water?” Marie asked. When KC nodded, she carefully placed the glass pitcher in her granddaughter’s waiting arms. “Hold it tight.”

“I will. You open the door, okay?”

Marie picked up the glasses and followed the pair through the sitting room to the screen door at the front of the house. She pushed open the door and led the way outside. The cooler temperature on the shaded porch provided instant relief from the hot kitchen.

Stanley walked to a table between two chairs and set the tray and plate on its surface. Then he helped KC place the water pitcher next to them.

“That was heavy,” KC told her grandfather, glad to be rid of the weight. “We eat now?” she asked looking to her grandmother for permission. When she received a nod in response, she reached for one of the cookies, still warm from the oven.

“You know what your momma says about eating cookies first,” Marie reminded.

“She says no cookies ‘til after," KC said, withdrawing her hand to pick up a sandwich instead. "I eats this first.”

“Sit, Stanley,” Marie told her husband as he patiently waited for her to do the same. “Goodness, you must be tired after all the work you’ve done,” she said settling onto one of the chairs knowing her husband would stand until she did.

“You’ve been on your feet all day.”

“Baking cookies isn’t the same as taking apart a wagon.

“Had me some help,” he said as he sat in the other chair. “Thanks for this,” he said picking up a sandwich. “I was just fixin’ to come ask for something. Figured the young ‘un would be hungry.”

“These good, Grandma,” KC grinned after swallowing the last bite of her sandwich. She climbed up into her grandfather’s lap and scooted about until she was comfortable. Then leaning over the arm of the chair, she snatched another sandwich off the tray.

“Chair creaks more than I do,” Stanley grumbled when the wood protested the extra weight.

“Jesse keeps saying she needs to fix it.”

“Look!” KC pointed toward the top of the hillock.

Stanley and Marie turned to see Boy walking through the ranch gate pulling the buckboard behind him.

KC stood up, bracing herself against her grandfather’s shoulder. “Mommy. Momma,” she cried out happily as she bounced excitedly on his legs.

“Hold on there, KC,” Stanley tried to corral the exuberant girl, “’fore this old—” Stanley’s warning was cut short when one of the chair’s back legs split with a loud crack. He barely had time to wrap his arms protectively around his granddaughter before the chair toppled sending them both crashing to the porch deck.

By the time Jesse pulled Boy to a stop in front of the porch, Stanley had picked himself up and KC was dragging the broken chair toward the steps.

“Problem?” Jesse asked as she surveyed the scene.

“Chair broke.”

“Been meaning to fix it.”

“Can’t fix it,” KC said as she descending the steps, the chair bouncing down behind her.

“Why not?” Jennifer asked.

KC stopped long enough to look up at her mother still seated in the wagon. “Dang thing’s as old as Grumps. Best we takes it apart.” Then she lowered her head and readjusted her grip on the unwieldy chair.

“I suppose we should be thankful it was the chair’s leg that broke and not Stanley’s,” Marie said watching KC determinedly drag the chair toward the barn.

“Humpft!” Stanley grunted then stomped after his granddaughter, ignoring the howls of laughter coming from the women.


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