The grave in grandpa's valley
On the rolling hill covered with wineglass elm trees that borders grandpa's valley three miles east of Hewitt, there is a sunken rough patch of sod. Aside from grandpa, Louis Gossell and his wife Eliza, likely nobody knows the story anymore, or even that a lonely grave rests there.
More than a century ago, when grandpa bought that 160-acre lot, he said one morning he could see a white wisp of hardwood smoke curling above the treetops. When the wind was right, he could hear the barking of a dog as well.
August Selnow, neighbor to the south, who came in 1884, a year before the Gossell wagons pulled up, cautioned Gossell not to go near the isolated log cabin in the woods. Apparently the couple there had some awful, terrible sickness, perhaps leprosy, that could spread. They seemed to know it and didn't welcome company or even anyone stopping in.
However, gregarious grandpa couldn't keep himself from making no contact. He sent off a couple of bushels of apples from his trees several times a year and always at Christmas. One time a dreadfully thin woman waved thanks with her apron from the doorway. Nobody ever saw a man. Even the trail was grown over now. The cabin was on grandpa's land, in his pasture, but he said everybody has to live somewhere, don't they?
Grandma had all kinds of faith in Mother Nature, claiming you had to know how to work with her. Deer, bear, squirrels, wild ducks, geese and pheasants, with fish in the creek, were plentiful. Juneberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants and highbush cranberries, all easy to dry for winter, grew there. Bee trees, oozing red clover honey, were easy to spot. Nobody need go hungry, grandma said.
The family was a wonderment for their neighbors. Grandpa remembered hearing the sound of an ax in a man's hand, by the solid ring of it. There were the reports of gunshots. Then it got quiet, with apparently nobody needing to hunt anymore or cut firewood.
Fast forward, please, into the mid-1930s, when four lively granddaughters peopled grandpa's farm every summer. We knew about the mystery cabin and how white hardwood smoke curled up over the trees each morning, then stopped coming. When we begged to go see the cabin, grandpa finally said, "Go ahead, but there's not much to see because I burnt the cabin down years ago. Nobody knows when he left, didn't even know their names for sure."
Without more ado, we ran down the lane, hopping cowpies, crossed the sheep pasture, paddled through Bear Creek and over to where the cabin had been. We were quiet, even walked quiet on the green grass in their bare feet. Then, we just stood there, like in church.
Rocks the size of a water pail surrounded what had been the foundation of a cabin not as big as one of our bedrooms. Straggly grass and a juneberry bush sucker pushed up in the middle. On one side of the flat stone that served as a doorstep struggled a scrawny bush with one stunted yellow rose still clinging to it for dear life. A collection of rounded rocks the size of an egg, like from the creek bottom, circled it.
"Poor little pioneer lady," Ione said. "We could have brought her better ones."
Idell, Ione's twin and my cousin, reminded, "They didn't want company."
Billie, short for Wilma, and grandpa's youngest granddaughter, took the jar grandma sent lemonade in down to the creek for water. The rose looked dry. Our pooled knowledge concerning yellow roses didn't amount to much.
We came back every summer to stir the dirt, water the rose, with the sunken grave always a sobering feature over the hijinks that usually took over when we four were together.
A disarray of thoughts paraded through my mind. Since yellow roses were not indigenous in grandpa's timber, where did it come from? What brought these people, from where yellow roses grew, to this beautiful but lonely spot in grandpa's pasture? There were never any answers.
For the next several years, before time elbowed that activity out of line for us along with climbing trees, we would go and sit for a spell. The yellow rose died in spite of our feeble ministrations. It was assumed the woman of the couple was the problem. We wondered if children were somewhere looking for them. What was her name? Hannah? Em (short for Emily)? Mary?
The last time we visited was the week before Billie left to do a four-year hitch in the navy, the twins left for jobs in Minneapolis and I, at 18, was getting married. A last long look and we trudged back up the lane, somehow knowing we wouldn't be back.
The grass on a certain little plot in a pasture three miles east of Hewitt is lush and green this spring. In a circle of stones, wood violets vie with grasses for elbow room. A juneberry bush cuddles a mud nest filled to overflowing with four wobbly heads in it's branches. John Muir, grand naturalist that he was, a hundred years ago this year, penned "Earth has no sorrow that Earth can not heal."
Like she has been from the beginning, Earth is in charge. The grave is in good hands.