MOUNTAIN JOURNEY HOME
Rock Corner, Texas. 1877.
Life couldn’t get much better for Dave Kimbrough. He has a beautiful wife in Jenny, a fine young son in Jonathan, and a small ranch with which to build their future. But when Jenny suddenly dies, the heartache is more than Dave can bear, so he leaves his son with his wife’s family and rides off into the rugged Texas country alone. After several years Dave is wrongly accused of murder, and when he sets out to find the man who can clear his name, he runs instead into a posse that has set out to kill him. Wounded, he holes up for the winter in a cave. It is not time wasted, however, as he is given time to contemplate the mistake he made in abandoning his son.
Once spring arrives, Dave returns to make things in his life right. Things rarely go as planned, however, and Dave’s plans are no different. Beset by a trip to jail, Jenny’s spirited sister Rachel, and the heartache of taking away the only life and family his son really knows, Kimbrough makes a promise he thinks is the right thing to do. But a fateful winter followed by a deadly spring storm changes the course of their lives in ways that no one—least of all Dave—could have ever imagined.
Here is the first chapter of the book:
Rock Corner, Texas, 1877
Dave Kimbrough struggled to keep breathing. Jenny, his wife, his love, his world, couldn’t be dead. Glancing around at the small crowd around the open grave and listening to the soft sobs, he wanted to scream at the suddenness and unreasonableness of her loss. Jenny was dead. He couldn’t accept it. His light and his joy had ended, buried in a pine box in the nearly frozen ground. As Jenny’s brothers shoveled clumps of dirt mixed with snow into her grave, Dave saw nothing but blackness to come.
Mr. and Mrs. Harrod clung together across the grave from Dave hugging Jenny’s little twelve year old sister Rachel. He needed to say something to them. After all, they were burying their twenty-four year old daughter, but he had no words with which to comfort them.
He couldn’t look at Jenny’s sister Mary, not with her holding his two-year-old son. It hurt too much even to look at Jonathan.
The preacher stepped around the grave and took Dave’s hand. “You have my deepest sympathy, Dave. May God be with you in the days to come.”
God? Where had He been when the fever had taken his beautiful wife and left a two year old motherless?
“Let’s go to the house and get out of this cold.” Mr. Harrod walked toward the buggy supporting his wife on one arm and his youngest daughter with the other. Dave almost envied the tears that the Harrod family shed so easily. The ache in his chest felt as if it would consume him if he didn’t release the tears that flooded his soul. But he couldn’t cry.
Everyone had left except for Jesse and Wayne, Jenny’s brothers. Dave couldn’t leave the grave now mounded with fresh dirt. How could they expect him to leave his bride here in this cold ground? Jenny didn’t like the cold. Dave wanted to howl his refusal to accept that he would never hold her again and feel her arms around him.
Darkness would soon be upon them. Wayne put his arm around Dave’s shoulders. “We have to leave. You can come back tomorrow but for now let’s go home and get warm.”
“I can’t ... I can’t leave her ... she doesn’t like the cold.”
Jesse led their horses up. “Wayne, we got to go.” Jenny’s oldest brother seemed to be choking as he spoke.
Wayne nodded. “Come on Dave. Let’s go check on Jonathan.”
Dave allowed Wayne to guide him to the horses. He wanted to get on his horse and ride until he could outdistance the tearing pain of his loss. But he had no strength to even turn toward his own ranch and allowed Jesse and Wayne guide him to the warmth and caring of the Harrod’s ranch.
His agony was so great that even to look at his son, Jonathan, was more than he could bear.
The Harrod family gathered around him even in their own grief, but Dave couldn’t go on with the life that so remained him of Jenny.
Two days after he buried his beloved Jenny, he rode out from the Harrods’ place where he and Jonathan had been staying and returned to his ranch. He sat on his horse and stared at the little ranch house that had been so full of hope and dreams. He dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to the hitching post in front of the house. Taking a deep breath, he slowly climbed the steps onto the porch and opened the front door. The house already smelled abandoned and cold had crept into every corner of the now empty rooms. The furniture was still there, but without Jenny there was no life in the place anymore. The ache within was so great that he couldn’t even release his tears. Everywhere he looked, he saw her.
He gathered up a few things, including all of the baby's clothes and flannels, and put them into a valise. Taking a last look around at his life with Jenny, he then walked out of the house without a backward glance. He rode back to the Harrod’s ranch with a sense that all sounds and feelings had been deafened.
Dave put his horse in the barn and carried the valise into the kitchen.
Mrs. Harrod stood at the dry sink washing bottles used for the baby. “Dave, I’m glad you’re back. Are you all right?”
“I’m all right.” It amazed him how easily and how much he lied these days. He wasn’t all right. He would never be all right again. “Here are the baby’s things from the house.” He couldn’t bear to say his son’s name.
Mr. Harrod came into the kitchen from the back porch. He walked up to Dave and put his hand on his shoulder. “What have you got there, son?”
The kindness of these people only made him feel worse. He had to get away. “I want to ask you to do something for me.”
Mrs. Harrod dried her hands on a towel and came to stand next to her husband. “Anything we can do, you know that.”
“I need to get away for awhile. Can you take care of the baby? And maybe, look after my place?” He looked down at the valise on the table.
Mr. Harrod moved around to look at Dave. “What are you asking? For a few days, weeks, or longer?”
“No, Dave, don’t go away. Stay here with us, with Jonathan. Don’t leave us.” Mrs. Harrod raised her apron to her face as she cried.
Dave felt he was drowning in sorrow, his sorrow, the Harrod’s sorrow, the sorrow of the world. He had to get away.
“Is it the memories of Jenny?” Mr. Harrod asked in a soft, sad voice.
Dave couldn’t answer. He could only nod as he continued to look the table.
Placing his hand on Dave’s shoulder, he asked, “When will you leave?”
He took a deep breath before he could speak. “I’ll leave in the morning.”
A year later, Dave met Mr. Harrod and Jesse at the cafe in town.
“Son, it’s good to see you.” Mr. Harrod gave him a hug.
Jesse also gave him a bear hug. “You look awful. Haven’t you been eating?”
“How are you all doing?” Dave tried to grin at them but it came out as a grimace. He was glad to see them. They were good men, but he could see Jenny in Mr. Harrod’s eyes and Jesse had the same color of hair as his wife.
Mr. Harrod and Jesse told him about the ranches and the family as they sat together over a meal that Dave couldn’t eat.
Mr. Harrod leaned forward. “Johnny is the liveliest three-year-old you ever saw, always running and curious about everything. He’s a happy little fellow. You’ll see when you come out to the ranch.”
Dave turned his attention to Jesse to avoid answering Mr. Harrod. “Jesse, I understand that you’ve been taking care of my ranch.”
“Yes, Pa has had too much to do on his own place. It just naturally worked for me to take responsibility for your ranch.” Jesse shifted in his chair.
“I’m glad. You’re a good rancher. There’s no reason for you not to run the ranch. Would you like to buy it from me?” Dave leaned forward toward Jesse.
“Don’t you want to come back and run the ranch yourself?” Jesse looked at his father and then back at Dave.
Dave rubbed his hand over his face. He felt beyond weary. It wasn’t a fatigue of the body but of his spirit. “I don’t plan to move back here. I’d like for you to have the ranch if you want it.”
“I would rather you come back, but if you aren’t, then yes, I want the ranch.”
“You’ve been doing the work anyway. I’ve already written a bill of sale for you.” Dave wanted to get it over. He handed the bill of sale to Jesse.
“Dave, come back to the ranch with us. Ma will want to see you, and Wayne, Mary, and Rachel. And you need to see your son.” Mr. Harrod implored.
Dave could only shake his head. It had taken all the courage he had to return to the town where he and Jenny had met. He felt guilty about not seeing his son, and feared that Jenny didn’t approve of what he was doing. In dealing with the loss of Jenny, he felt out of control and it wasn’t really Dave Kimbrough making the decisions. The Harrods didn’t understand, but they would care for their grandson. If Dave thought the child had not been well cared for and loved, he knew he would have done differently.
“Jesse, I don’t want anything for me from the ranch. I want you to pay your father the money for my son’s care.”
“Now, we can take care of Jonathan. You need to take the money for yourself.” Mr. Harrod put his hand on Dave’s arm.
“I’ll send you money when I can.” Dave reached for his hat.
“Don’t you know that we would rather have you back with us?” Mr. Harrod looked close to tears.
Dave could only look at his feet. Giving the money from the ranch to Mr. Harrod wasn’t much, but at least his son wouldn’t lack for the essentials.
As he left Jesse and Mr. Harrod, he felt Mr. Harrod put something in his pocket. It wasn’t until he was camped that evening that he remembered to look to see what it was. In a little pouch was a locket with two pictures, one of Jenny taken the year before she married and one of a serious round-faced little boy of three looking out at him with Jenny’s eyes.
For the first time since his wife’s death, he cried that evening by the campfire. Deep wrenching sobs that felt as if they would tear him apart. He didn’t know if he cried for his own loss, or for the little boy who would never even remember his mother.