“How far to this Jeansville?”,
“Oh, maybe 4 or 5 miles…Figured it would be a nice quite town to spend Christmas, thanks to “Uncle Mac.” I’m kinda happy he’s your uncle” said Heyes grinning.
“Yeah, well, we all got our burdens, Heyes.”
We had just finished a job for McCreedy. One which surprisingly didn’t involve Roman busts, or Irish jigs, or nuptial arrangements…just a delivery of documents of sale for a property next to Mac’s ranch. He was very generous with his proposal and we were in fine shape for at least a month or so. I think it was the season and Carlotta’s influence, but no matter what reason, I was happy that we didn’t have to “poker pay” for a place to stay for Christmas. Kid always gets kinda sentimental about the holiday and I was happy that we were going to be in a small, quiet town to get through another Christmas.
We were about maybe a quarter mile outside of town when we passed a small farm. At the edge of a farm sat an old lady in a rocking chair, looking down the road. She didn’t seem to notice us. We were traveling on the far side of the road.
I knew what was coming…
“Did you see that old lady in her chair?”
“Yep, I did.”
“Why do you think she is sitting out there at the edge of the farm?”
“Don’t know Kid. Maybe she’s waiting for somebody.”
“Maybe she needs something?”
“Kid, she looks perfectly content, sitting in her chair. Maybe just enjoying the soft night. If you’re thinking of riding up over there, you might frighten her.”
“Guess you’re right.”
We got to town, stabled the horses and registered for our standard room with two beds, bath and a view of the street. Town was so small it didn’t have an actual sheriff, just a “safety committee” according to the posting outside the saloon. Public intoxication, blandishment of weapons, loud talking, and dishonest poker were punishable offenses. I figured we would be okay.
“Ready to get something to eat Kid?”
“Yep, hope they have a restaurant serving good homemade food.”
We checked at the hotel and found that there was a restaurant just about two blocks south, which the hotel clerk said had “excellent food”. I knew my cousin would be the judge of that.
It was a nice, small restaurant, pretty basic menu but when the order of beef stew, biscuits and coffee came, we knew we would be happy eating here for the next week or so.
“Miss, my name is Thaddeus Jones and this is my cousin, Joshua Smith. Can I ask your name?”
“My name is Colleen”
Sigh, I kinda figured what was coming.
“Colleen, when my partner and I was riding into town we passed a farm and there was an old lady sitting in a chair. Do you know who she is?”
“Oh yes, she is the lady folks around here call Crazy Molly. I don’t call her that, I think that’s mean.”
“Why do they call her Crazy Molly?”
“Well for the last year or she has been sitting by the road every evening from October to just after Christmas waiting for her son. He left to fight in the war. He didn’t come back, but she never heard that he was killed or anything. Story is that the last letter she ever got from him said he would be home by Christmas. Folks say she is getting soft in the head, I think she is just lonely, poor thing. Folks who knew Jamey say he was a handsome man, brown hair, dark eyes, dimpled cheeks. From the description, Mr. Smith you could almost be him.”
“You think my cousin looks like her son?”
“I don’t know for sure, I never saw him, just how folks describe him. I do know that folks shouldn’t call her Crazy Molly. She is just missing her son.”
“Come on Heyes, what’s the harm. It would make her happy to have her son come back.”
“The harm, Kid, is that I AM NOT HER SON, and when we leave and she realizes that, it would be like losing her son again.”
“Well yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Somehow, I knew this would not be the last of it.
I woke the next morning expecting, as usual, that I would be the first one up but no, Kid was not there. So, got dressed and went down to the restaurant hoping to see him sitting there, eating his pancakes, eggs, bacon and whatever else was on the breakfast menu.
Nope, not here...I wondered if he had been and left.
Colleen wasn’t there – it was another, little bit older and attractive lady who showed me to a table.
“What can I get for you?”
“Eggs and ham on the menu?”
“Certainly, and coffee?”
“Well, I don’t like to brag – my coffee is probably the best anyone can get – my partner can’t seem to start the day without it but since we’re not out on the trail, yes coffee would be good. Can I ask your name?”
“Rachael, I wondering if my partner was here earlier. Blonde hair, kinda blue eyes, big appetite?”
“Oh yes, he was here maybe about an hour ago, our first customer.”
“Did he talk about what he was going to be doing with his day. He’s my cousin and I wonder why he was up so early.”
“Well, he was asking about Crazy Molly…”
“Umm, when we were here for supper last night the waitress – I think Colleen was her name - answered his question about the lady sitting on the edge of the farm. Said folks called her “Crazy Molly?”
“Ah, poor lady. Her name is Molly; her husband was John. They only had one child, Jamey. He went off to the war. My understanding is that they got a letter from him which arrived around July 1865, saying he was fine and should be released from the army by October and would be home in time for Christmas. He never came. John and Molly would hold out hope every year but no Jamey. John died about six years ago; Molly seemed to be doing fine but two years ago she started sitting at the edge of her farm. When town folks passed by and asked her why she was there she said she was waiting for Jamey. That’s when they started calling her “Crazy Molly”.
“That’s really sad. Colleen seemed to be upset that folk called Molly crazy.”
“Yes, my sister feels that the town folk are cruel to call her that name.”
“I hate that they call her that, but can’t change the way people talk. My sister, though, makes it her mission. She is kind to Molly, often goes to the farm to make sure she is okay, has enough food stocked, wood for the fire, you know that kind of thing. Molly thinks she can save everybody.”
“Well Rachael, if I can call you by your name?”
“Rachael, did you tell my cousin any of this?”
“I might have, we talked some while he was eating. He was the only customer that early. Why?”
“Your sister and my cousin seem to suffer from the same sense of duty to save the world.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if I know my cousin and based on what you’ve told me about Colleen, he’s out at Molly’s farm now, hoping that Colleen is there too and trying to convince her.”
“Convince her of what?”
“To have me pose as Molly’s son.”
“Yep, Mr. Jones feels that since I seem to resemble her son, I should show up at the farm…”
“But you won’t be staying here forever, right? How horrible will that be for her when you leave…”
“A rational argument with which I agree, you don’t know my cousin.”
“Oh, and you don’t know my sister. They may have connected. He said he was surprised to see a new face and I explained that my sister and I shared shifts. When she isn’t here, she is at our farm or Molly’s – he seemed so nice, I didn’t have a problem telling him.”
“Oh, he is nice and that isn’t a problem…did you tell him where your farm is?”
“Okay, that’s where we may have a problem.”
“Call me Thaddeus.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Your sister told me where you would be”’
“Rachael? That surprises me.”
“I love Rachael and she takes good care of me but she is kinda over protective. She must have trusted you. I get a little frustrated with her; she doesn’t always agree that I can have a good idea. Like offering coffee free if you order the breakfast special instead of just ordering off the menu.”
“Yea, my cousin doesn’t always see how good my ideas can be…You said he resembled Molly’s son, so I suggested that he show up at the farm and make her happy- he thought it was a bad idea.”
“That’s a wonderful idea!”
“I think so...Joshua thinks that since we can’t stay, it would not make her happy.”
“Well, I haven’t said this even to my sister. I visit Molly regularly – no one else does- so I have seen how fragile she is becoming…I think she is actually dying, if we can give her the gift of at least believing her son has come back, it would be worth it.”
“You think she may die soon?”
“I’m not a doctor but I’ve seen folks who are close to dying and she is weaker every time I go.”
“Heyes, Colleen sees her every day, she thinks she is dying…what would it hurt?”
“Don’t know Kid, I still feel it’s wrong to make her think I’m her son.”
“But if she’s dying… and her last memory is of her son, wouldn’t that be okay?”
We rode to the farm. Kid, Colleen and Rachael were following me…and I was nervous.
“Look, I’ll stop and go over to her. If I don’t get any reaction, I’ll just say something – how far to town- something like that and then ride away.”
Molly turned to look at me with a sweet smile. On, no she thinks I’m Jamey. Not sure I can do this.
“So, you here to make me believe that you are my son?’
“Ma’am?” …. Ma’am, I am so sorry my cousin and Colleen thought it would ease your pain – I never meant for you to think I was Jamey.”
“Ah don’t be sorry, what they don’t understand is that I am ready to join my son and my husband. I feel myself getting weaker and I know that Jamey will be waiting to take me home. Christmas is only two days away. He said he would be here Christmas. When the letter came, I thought he meant he would be here, home that Christmas. I understand now what he meant.”
“How did you know?”
“Colleen and Thaddeus were here yesterday. I overheard them planning. When you’re old, people think you don’t hear so well.”
I joined her in the grin.
“So, what should we tell them?”
“Well, if I was younger, I’d give them reason to think I was upset and enjoy playing with them, but they seem like sweet children so I’ll just thank them for caring.” I want to thank you too; you were put in a hard place but you agreed. You are close to your cousin?”
“Yes ma’am, only family I got.”
Jamey came for Molly the day after Christmas. Rachael, Colleen, Kid and I had spent the day at her farm. Kid and I brought her some peppermint candy, closest thing to a present we could come up with. That made her smile and started stories of Christmases when Jamey was young. The year he was maybe 8 she thought and made her a foot stool – “all by myself, Ma!” She smiled looking down at the off balanced stool her feet rested on. Colleen and Rachael talked about their holidays when they were kids. Kid and I shared some of the memories we had of our Christmas celebrations – well I shared. It’s always hard for Kid. We could see that she was getting really tired though and so we started to get ready to leave. Colleen and Rachael were going to stay with her.
“Boys, thank you. You have made my last Christmas here very happy. Now I’m ready to join my family.” Kid leaned down to give her wrinkled cheek a kiss, turned and quickly walked away. I leaned down to say goodbye and she said, “Remember, stay close.”
We were on our way out of town.
“That was really hard and really nice, Heyes.”
“Yes, Kid it was.”
“Ya know, Heyes…. I don’t know how to say it…it’s…”
“It’s good to be with people you care about?”
Kid stopped, turned and gave me a big smile.
“Merry Christmas, partner.”