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Near the turn of the last century, my grandmother had a baby boy who died at the age of two from drinking the liquid that lye soap is made from. According to relatives who were around when the tragedy happened (none of them are living now) the baby's death was prolonged and horrible. Doctors were rare in my part of the west in those days, and it did take little Rex Ardeen about three days to die.


See this box? It was my mother's.
It used to hold her pearls.
I'd to love to see her wearing them, when I was a little girl.
Now this box is mine. I keep it
to hold my souvenirs. My ma died of the cholera, in '73.
I was nine that year.

Ma used to say I'd wear those pearls,
someday, when I wed.
But they was gone by then. Pa took to drinkin
and cards, after Ma was dead
And he sold 'em to Frank Miller.
Had to, to cover his debt.
But he saved me the errings, to remember her.
Tho' Frank would of give more for the set.

And this? Oh my. This is a curl
from my little Billy's hair.
He come a-running on those chubby legs
to his mamma's arms. I declare,
When he'd smile, his sweet face
would plumb light up the skies.
Oh laws. Such a beautiful baby.
He had his daddy's eyes.

It was that lye soap that done it.
Terrible stuff, that soap we make from lye.
It blisters and burns, and it killed my baby.
It took him three days to die.
I'd left the soap to simmer down,
on a bed of burned mesquite,
And it looked like milk to that little boy,
all frothed and foamy sweet.
Thing is, if there'd been any milk,
maybe that would have helped some.
But the cow was calvy, so we'd dried her up,
to be strong when her baby come.
Oh, the milk wouldn't have saved him,
but it might have helped. It hurt him so much to die.
With his throat and insides so tore up and bleedin',
he couldn't even cry.

I sat and rocked him that whole long time.
Oh Billy, I ache to hold you now.
When he was finally gone they had to tear him away.
My arms wouldn't let go, somehow.
Eli's sister come, and wrapped my baby
in the silk from my wedding gown.
And Eli buried him by that little pine tree.
See? It's that first little mound.

I tried to get wild flowers to grow on them graves,
but this summer's been hot and dry
And time any of them would get a blossom,
they'd mostly just fade and die.

Eli and me, we always figured
there'd be more babies come,
but none never did. Least none that lived.
There was that lonesome one.
A little blue baby, born in '97.
But he come early, and died.
Hot knifing cramps, worse than the others,
that ripped me up inside.
Whole walls of pain that doubled me up,
and threw me on the floor.
I screamed for Eli. He tried to help,
but that babe, it had to be bore.
And when he was born he was tiny and cold,
and couldn't no more than mew.
I tried to warm him, but he stayed cold and still.
I didn't know what to do.

He died the morning after he was birthed,
small as a newborn pup.
No bigger than the palm of my Eli's hand.
God, I hated to give him up.
And I thought I would die from longin',
when my milk came, after three more days,
There. That next one's his mound.
Right close to Eli's grave.

Jen, that's Eli's sister,
she's married and lives in town.
She says it ain't fittin' for me to stay,
a lone woman with no man around
She ain't got room, she says,
but she figures I wouldn't stay long.
There's plenty of widower men, with kids.
And I guess that wouldn't be wrong.

It's sure I would have done better
had there been a woman around.
But, Lord, to quit this place?
I put everything into this ground.
Ah, Eli. Eli. Why
did you have to go and leave me?
I could no more move off of this place
than let go of my body.

Eli. We put everything into this land.
Dear God, somedays I think you give me
more than I can stand.

ŠJo Lynne Kirkwood

This is a photo of an old pioneer school building just outside of Zion's Canyon - near where I grew up!

This is a (slightly modified) true story from my childhood!

Reece's Peace

Reece was a hard working rancher
His life was a story of toil.
What with wrestlin' doogies, cantankerous horseflesh,
and eking a life from the soil.
But when his long work week ended
He'd take his once weekly shower
Put on his good hat, give his old dog a pat,
sayin' "I'll be back in about an hour."
And he'd drive to the Buckskin Tavern.
Have the barkeeper pour him a few
to sort of unwind from the weeks awful grind
As some fellers are apt to do.
And some nights he'd get downright toasted,
drink 'til he fell off his perch.
But no never mind, 'cause come rain or shine
Sunday mornin you'd find Reece in church.

Now Sunday mornin's in summer
come with a hum in the air.
A rhythmical beat that stems from the heat
and could put to to sleep anywhere.
And Reece was especially needy
of taking his Sunday of rest
'cause his head was still reelin' from last night's ordeal
and he wasn't quite feelin' his best.

And I expect there were others in that congregation
that was nappin' or restin' their eyes
But a man's form of worship is a personal choice
it ain't our place to criticize.
Still, Reece's particular meditation had another distinct dimension.
Although no one minded his countin' up sheep,
his snorin' caused neighbors contention.

See, Reece's snore was a mighty deterrent
his dog could attest to that truth.
It could near make the rain fall,
bring whole forests down,
and it church, it was raisin' the roof.
And there was a visitin' elder amongst us that day,
so the bishop had a real ambition
to show us off proud.
But Reeces' snorin' was loud,
and displayin' not much inhibition.

Now there was a feller in church name o' Landon
who'd known Reece since they was boys.
And although they was friends,
that did not make amends
for Reece's decibel outlay of noise.
The church then had those gothic windows
that arch, like church windows do
and they were equipped with a blind
you could pull down each time
the sun was too bright shinnin' through.
When you wanted it bright the blinds would roll tight
on a two foot long wooden spool
But to retrieve 'em again, when you wanted it dim
you had to have just the right tool.
And a pole with a hook on one end
was the tool designate for that chore.
It would stretch fifteen feet and catch that blind neat
whilst you was standin' at ease on the floor.

Landon, he weren't no dummy,and grinnin' like he knew some joke,
he grabbed hold of that pole, stretched it over six rows
and gave that old Reece a poke.
Just like that, Reece quit his snorin.
And, proud of hisself, Landon grinned.
Then Reece smacked his lips, settled down in his pew,
and deep in his slumbers, broke wind.

The missionary there at the pulpit
bowed his head in a sudden prayer.
He was visibly shaken from the act that had taken
place in front of him there.

Well, the meetin' ended quick after that one.
Reece's benediction had cause quit a stir
The elder forgot what he'd planned for his talk
and sat down in a gigglin' blur.
Then the organist and the gal who led singin'
thought the closin' tune might be wrong.
Had the old rock of ages been cleft just for them?
Or should they find an alternate song?

They deferred to the forces of nature, and the whole congregation joined in,
thinkin' "Wind and the Billows and Reece bein' still"
was a most appropriate hymn.

And after the meetin' was over,
though why Reece did not understand,
all the men folk were there, standin' in line
wantin' to shake his hand.
And though the ladies was keepin' their heads down,
lookin' real close at the floor,
most couldn't help a sly grin as they passed by him
and headed toward the door.

And that elder from region headquarters?
He declared the spirit of the place
was a thing to inspire righteous desire.
And we admired how he kept a straight face.

ŠJo Lynne Kirkwood