The Rifleman
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The Margaret Years
Chapter 21 - A Traditional Christmas
Written by Michelle Palmer

Lucas smiled as he came inside that evening. He could smell the sweetness of Christmas all the way from the barn. It was a pleasant aroma he preferred over the usual smell of manure and animals, and he was glad God had given them the cold wind that evening to carry the sweet aroma to him. “Hi,” Lucas greeted Margaret who was currently bent over, investigating her latest creation in the oven.
“Hi,” Margaret’s muffled voice sounded as she tapped each pie to check on its progress. “It’s windy out there.”
Lucas paused in taking off his coat and studied the tree. “How long have they been lit?”He questioned.
His question made Margaret straighten and turn toward him. “For about an hour, Luke. We’ll put the candles out after supper.”
“We agreed on an hour.”
Lucas sighed as he walked into the kitchen and stuck his finger in the dough. Margaret smacked his hand and gave him a disapproving look. “Now honey, you know that ever since that fire…”
“Luke, I keep the tree well watered, and you know that!” Margaret stood on her tippy toes and kissed his cheek. “You’re too much of a worry wart.”
“Hmmm…” Lucas wrapped his arms around her as she stood with her back toward him. “I reckon I take after my mother.” He leaned down and kissed her neck.
“Luke…” Margaret wiggled from his embrace. “I’ve no time for such nonsense! I’ve plenty of work to do before Christmas Eve!”
“Oh.” Lucas picked up a handful of nuts and started out of the kitchen.
“And you put those nuts right back where you found them, Lucas McCain!”
“But Margaret…I’m hungry!” Lucas groaned.
“The stew will be done in half an hour.” Margaret paused when she saw his pouty face. “And if you’re good, I made a cherry pie.”
“I’ve always loved your cherry pie,” Lucas smiled.
“That’s what you said about my apple pie.”
“Mm hm…and your blueberry pie, and your peach pie, and your blackberry pie…”
“And my rhubarb pie?” Margaret questioned.
Lucas groaned, putting a hand to his stomach. “Oh Margaret…I told you never to mention that word again!”
“I was only thirteen, Luke!” Margaret protested. But she couldn’t keep from giggling at the memory.
“I know, I know…” Lucas shook his head. “And if I remember right, I was in bed a whole week after eating that pie!”
Margaret giggled again. “Well, served your right…eating the whole pie. After all, it’s like the doctor said…Rhubarb’s been used for hundreds of years for…”
Lucas held up his hand and groaned. “Margaret Ann…I don’t ever want that word used in this house again! My stomach hurts just thinking about it!”
“Well, I assure you there’s no…uh…you know…in this pie.”
“Well…” Lucas bent over and kissed her. “I reckon I’ll go work on the books while you’re getting supper on.”
“You could set the table,” Margaret suggested as she went back to her baking.
“Oh now Margaret…”
“Luke, every man should know the basic chores of running a house. You’ll never know when you’ll need them.”
“NEVER!” Lucas declared. “Because I’ll always have you!” Lucas went to do as he was asked.
Margaret got supper on the table as promised, and Lucas excused himself when he was finished, mumbling that he had some work to do in the barn. Margaret knew better than to ask any questions since it was so close to Christmas. After the last of her baking was out of the oven, Margaret tiredly sat down in her chair and took up her sewing. She was just about to fall asleep when Lucas returned.
Lucas sat down in the chair next to her and grinned. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Margaret answered with a smile as he continued staring at her. “Everything finished?”
“Yep.” Lucas paused. “Are you excited about tomorrow?”
“I guess so.” Margaret continued sewing.
Lucas scooted from the chair and got on his knees beside her. “What do you want for Christmas?”
Margaret lifted an eyebrow as she looked up at him. “Are you just now getting around to asking, Mr. McCain? Aren’t you a little late?”
“Well now…” Lucas took the sewing from her hands. “I may be able to work out a deal with Santa Claus. Christmas isn’t until the day after tomorrow, you know.”
“You…still believe in Santa Claus?”
Lucas laid his head in her lap and nodded the affirmative. “Don’t you?”
Margaret took a breath to answer. Lucas moved his head around so he could look up at her.
“And don’t you dare kill my dream, Margaret McCain!” Lucas kept his chin pressed in her lap as he looked up at her. “I’m tired. You look tired to. What do you say we turn in?”
Margaret looked toward the window. “It’s…awful cold outside.”
“Mm hm,” Lucas nodded.
“The bed’s awful cold.”
“I suppose. Do you want me to warm up some stones for you?”
“I’ll do it.” Margaret accepted his hands and stood up.
The bed was soon warming. Margaret shivered as she dressed for bed and slipped under the covers. Lucas, even in the dead of winter, was laying in bed with his shirt off, reading a book. The moment her feet went under the covers, Lucas jumped. “You should give a man a warning before you stick your cold feet in there!”
“I already did,” Margaret mumbled as she took the book from him. “Perhaps you can help warm them up.”
“When did you warn me?”
“I told you it was awfully cold outside and the bed was awfully cold…”
“And neither of those mentioned anything about your feet,” Lucas teased.
Lucas leaned into her and kissed her. “Perhaps I could at that,” he said with a grin as he put his arms around her and drew her against him. They were soon warm as they snuggled together under the covers.
Lucas was surprised to find the place beside him empty the next morning. He quickly got out of bed and dressed. He was even more surprised to find a roaring fire in the fireplace and smell of fresh coffee brewing. Margaret was already running around the kitchen. Her face held a spot of flour. Lucas cocked his head to one side as he walked toward her. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Oh, good morning, my love.” Margaret leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek. “There’s a lot to do before I get started for the farm.”
Lucas touched the cheek she had just kissed. “Get started for the farm?”
Margaret paused in stirring her pancake batter. “Oh my goodness, I forgot to tell you, Luke! After church last Sunday, Tiffany asked me to come help her get everything ready. Em’s not feeling well and Julie and Emily have their hands full with the babies. Oh Luke...I’m sorry!”
“Oh…” Lucas rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. “Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll take you.”
“If you just hitch up the wagon, I can…”
“No, no…It’s too cold for you to go alone, Honey. I’ll take you.” Lucas sighed as he stood from putting his boots on. “What time are we eating?”
“As soon as I get the pancakes done,” she retorted impatiently.
“No, no…I mean Christmas dinner.”
“Oh. Well, I suspect around three. The Christmas Eve service starts at six.”
“The Christmas Eve Service…” Lucas picked up his rifle and put his hat on. “Oh, about that.”
Margaret whirled around and narrowed her eyes at him. “What about it?”
Lucas scratched under his nose. “Oh uh…nothing, I guess.” He knew from the look on her face that he would indeed be attending. He paused before going out to start his chores. “You…could have at least given me a better kiss…A peck on the cheek…that’s what we’ve come to.”
Margaret smiled as she watched him leave.
Lucas was given orders to hitch up the team after breakfast. When he came inside, he found Margaret ticking off on her fingers the things she was bringing. She shook her head. “I should have made some more pies!” She finally declared. “Oh Luke, do you think I have enough?”
“Margaret, I think our family will be too sick to get out of bed in the morning,” Lucas declared as he folded his arms and looked at the bountiful amount of food that sat on their table and counters. “You’d think the whole town was coming for dinner!”
“Oh, I am bringing some pumpkin bread and pecan pies for our Christmas Eve service. Remember how we used to exchange baskets? Well, the Reverend thinks we should do that again this year.” Margaret folded her arms as a smile crossed her face. “Oh Luke…so many memories of Christmas’ past, and it seems they’re all coming back this year!”
“I remember our last Christmas together.” Lucas walked up behind her and slipped his arms around her. “Mama and Papa were there. In fact, didn’t we have it at our house?” Margaret nodded. “We were just seventeen years old. You brought in your pumpkin pie and made sure when it came time to eat dessert, that your brothers didn’t touch that pie until I got my full amount. You made sure I knew which pumpkin pie was yours.”
“And then you teased me…told me you couldn’t tell the difference between one and the other.” Lucas chuckled. “That is…” Margaret turned around in his arms. “I HOPE you were teasing me.” Lucas grinned. Margaret’s eyebrows shot up. “Were…you teasing me, Luke?”
Lucas lowered his lips to hers and kissed her. “There now…I got myself a proper kiss.” He pulled away from her and lifted a crate full of goodies. “I best start loading the wagon. You get your beauty spots fastened on.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Luke.”
“No I didn’t.” Lucas paused at the door. “A man don’t have to be married very long to learn when and when not to answer a question.” He winked at her.
“Luke!” Margaret gasped. “And it’s ‘doesn’t have to!’”
Margaret quickly gathered up the gifts she had carefully wrapped the day before. Lucas suggested they would be fixed up for a year if they were stuck out in a blizzard. Lucas was glad when the last of the supplies was loaded in the wagon. Sometime during the process, he had positioned blankets along the fireplace to warm. After escorting Margaret to the wagon, he put hot stones near her feet to keep her warm, and tucked warm blankets around her. Then he sat on the wagon seat beside her and clucked to the horses.
He couldn’t remember ever seeing her so cheerful. She sang song after song as they traveled to the farm. Her singing made Lucas’ heart soar, and he soon found himself joining in. He couldn’t help remembering back to when they were seventeen – that last Christmas they had together. They sang carols while drinking eggnog around the fire that evening. Margaret, remembered how she had been upset with Lucas. She remembered how shestopped singing, turned to him and declared, “Has anybody ever told you that you sing like a bullfrog in the pond?”
Margaret, of course, had gotten a poke in the ribs from her mother who insisted she apologize immediately for saying that, but Lucas declared he had deserved it for saying what he had said about her pies. It wasn’t true, after all. Somehow, Lucas had always found things Margaret cooked more tasty than even his own mother’s cooking. His father told him later that day that it was because he loved her. Lucas had waved it off, declaring that wasn’t true. But already, he had the feeling she had stolen his heart.
As they got close to the farm, Lucas slipped his arm around her and pulled her against him. “I WAS teasing that day, my Love. Nobody can bake pies like you do.”
Margaret smiled as she laid her head against his chest. “Thank you.” She lifted her head to look into his eyes. “But I STILL think you sound like a bullfrog in a pond.” She giggled when he raised his eyebrows at her. “Oh, but I love you just as you are, Luke.”
They were pulling into the yard then. Before Lucas could help Margaret down, Peter was hurrying forward to help her. “You boys start grabbing this stuff and carrying it inside. Tiffany will tell you where to put it,” Peter ordered Abe’s sons. Then he shook a stern finger at them. “But no snooping! Little boys can get spankings, even on Christmas Eve!”
Margaret smoothed out her skirt as she walked to the back of the wagon. She folded her arms as Peter lifted a cloth that covered a crate. “And big boys too,” Margaret declared.
“What?” Peter asked innocently. “I was just…just…” Peter looked to Lucas for help.
“Making sure nothing had gotten smashed,” Lucas chuckled as he lifted another crate and started toward the house.
After they got everything carried inside, Tiffany declared that the boys should make their way home and see if their folks had any chores for them. “Aw shucks, Aunt Tiffany!” Charlie groaned. “It’s Christmas Eve! Not even Pa would make us do chores on Christmas Eve!”
“You just scat!” Tiffany ordered. “Before I give you some chores!” The triplets all looked at each other. “All four of you!”
Margaret giggled as the children hurried from the house. She went to sit down at the table where Ruthie was sitting. “And what does your Ma have you doing?”
“Mama said she’ll give me extra pie if I am careful with these dishes!” Ruthie declared.
Margaret kissed her and stood up. She studied the Christmas tree. “You decorated it just like it used to be.”
“Yes.” Tiffany smiled as she stood beside Margaret. “Emily came over last night. She and the brothers all took part in it. They wanted it just like it used to be.”
Margaret ran her finger along one of the home-made ornaments. “I remember when we made these…” she mumbled. “It was me, Scott, Andy, Lucas, Peter, and Emily. Aunt Ruth was pregnant with Laura at the time. Johnny was just a little one himself…Aunt Ruth made sure to hang these on the tree every year.”
Tiffany stood behind her and put her hands on Margaret’s shoulders. “I want this to be a happy Christmas.”
“It is.” Margaret nodded as she wiped the tears from her cheek. “They’re all with us…here…in Spirit.” She shook herself. “And that’s enough of remembering back! I tell Luke not to do it, then I do it myself! Well, let’s get to work on dinner!”
It was just past noon when everyone started showing up. Abe and Julie arrived with their family. Little Scarlett slept peacefully in her mother’s arms as she sat in the rocking chair. Julie pleaded with Abe to allow her to help, but Abe sternly told her she couldn’t move from the chair. Abe walked with a limp, but didn’t seem to be in as much pain now. Margaret knew his progress was slow, but could see how much happier he was now that he could do more work. “Next Christmas, nobody will be able to tell Abe was ever shot!” Julie declared at one point.
The day was cold, but the children ran around the yard and stayed warm. Peter kept the men busy out in the barn, where they undoubtedly had a hot pot of coffee warmed on the pot-belly stove; and undoubtedly a bottle of whisky. Margaret’s family showed up soon after Julie and Abe. The house was becoming full with the amount of women that now occupied the small house. Tiffany commented that Peter would have to build a bigger house now that the McCain family was growing.
The women worked together planning the seating arrangements and the buffet arrangement. Several women had brought dishes so they would have enough for everyone to eat from.
Emily and Jason showed up with their son just before three. Emily apologized for not being there sooner, but Jason had kept her and the baby home as long as he could. “I love him dearly, but his over-precaution is beginning to drive me up the wall!” Emily suddenly declared after Jason left to deliver the message of dinner being ready. She went on to tell the ladies that she figured a doctor would know better.
“Maybe that’s his trouble,” Julie commented from the chair. “He’s a doctor and probably knows everything that COULD go wrong.”
Margaret watched for her father. The closer they got to time to read the Christmas Story, the sadder she became. Lucas watched her look toward the door as they all sat down to listen as Abe read it. He hated that her father hadn’t shown up, especially since he had promised her he would. But on the other hand, he was glad he hadn’t. “In many ways, Margaret,” Lucas had warned her a few days before; “Your father is no longer with us.”
The children all scurried to sit on the rug in front of the fire. Abe waited patiently until the children were settled in quiet. Some giggling erupted as he lifted the Bible. “Now children…” Abe shook a finger at each one of them. “You all know that this is a very special time, and we should respect the reading of God’s word. I expect complete silence and attention as I read. Any child that doesn’t behave will not get dessert.”
Tears filled the eyes of several as Abe’s deep voice read slowly and sacredly from Marcus McCain’s Bible. His voice sounded so much like his father’s. The family pictured Marcus sitting in the chair reading it every Christmas Eve. They knew how blessed they were, having Abe there reading. It was nearly two months ago they received word that Abe was dying. Now, the strength was returning to his body and to his voice.
Abe’s voice broke near the end. Julie, who knew the story by heart, finished it for him. She took his hand and lowered her head as Jeremiah stood up to pray. He prayed, thanking God for each family member. He asked God to bless their Christmas and their family. Then after a while, he said Amen. “And now…a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us…Marcus and Ruth McCain, who taught us so many things about God and Jesus…Who brought us up…Andy Gibbs who died fighting for our country and will always be in our hearts and memories…And Uncle Sam…the war has scarred him in an unimaginable way…”
The room grew quiet. Emily slowly stood and handed the baby to Jason. She went to the window and lit a candle like her mother always did on Christmas Eve night. Her eyes filled with tears. Lucas walked over to her and hugged her as they watched the candle burn. “Merry Christmas, Ma and Pa,” Emily whispered as tears slid down her cheeks. Lucas turned her face toward his and smiled into her eyes as he wiped the tears away. Emily gave him a nod. Everyone watched the brother and sister interchange silently.
The silence was suddenly broken. “I’m hungry! Can we eat now?” Little Ruthie piped up. Everyone laughed as they formed a line.
Soon, the children were laughing as they ate, the adults were chatting together, eating all they could as the two newest members of the family slept in their mothers’ arms. Just before dessert was served, Amanda cleared her throat. “I know it’s not Thanksgiving, but Mama Gibbs…I’ve a surprise for you.”
Margaret slowly lowered the knife and threw her hands to her mouth. “NO!” she squealed as Amanda stood up. “You’re going to have a baby!”
Amanda laughed as she and Margaret hugged. Lucas and Peter looked at each other. “This is the most fertile family I’ve ever seen!” Lucas declared.
“Ma always said…our family has a lot of love to share,” Peter replied.
“In deed.”
The men were scooted from the house to get ready for Christmas Eve services. They all went to Jeremiah’s house to get dressed, then were told by the wives that THEY had to ready the children. After all, the wives had been cooking and cleaning all day! The mothers all inspected their children, wiped off smudges on their children’s faces, and then loaded into the wagons.
The church was beautiful! The wives of the council men had spent all day decorating the church. Evergreen wreaths and garland hung throughout the church. Candles burned in every window. As the families entered, they were given a small candle which would be lit as the service started. Even the children were given permission to hold a candle as long as they did so correctly and carefully. David McCain only had his candle for five minutes before his father took it from him and smacked his back side.
Song after song was sung in beautiful harmony. The Reverend delivered a message, reminding everyone just what the meaning of Christmas was and why it was important to never forget. The children stared at the preacher as he spoke of the gift of Jesus in the form of a baby in the manger. They were reminded that the ultimate gift was give thirty-two years after his birth – through his death on the cross and resurrection.
Baskets of homemade goodies were traded by drawing numbers. Lucas did all he could to get the basket Margaret had brought, but the Reverend sternly reminded him of the rules. Lucas ended up with a basket of goodies made by the Widow Snider, whom Lucas claimed had never heard of the word sugar. Margaret sent him a stern warning look before putting a finger to her lips to hush him.
The service went on until the children began yawning tiredly. The service finally ended, and everyone left with uplifted hearts and a feeling of peace. Margaret hugged her family goodbye before allowing Lucas to help her into the wagon. She promised her mother she’d be at the ranch first thing Wednesday morning to say goodbye to Beth and Johnny.
She didn’t say a word as Lucas clucked to the horses. In only a few minutes, she was asleep, her head resting in the crook of her husband’s arm.
Lucas slipped back into bed before Margaret woke up the next morning. The moment he pulled the covers back over him, Margaret stretched and mumbled. Lucas put his arms around her and drew her back against his chest. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. McCain,” Lucas whispered in her ear.
Margaret smiled as she turned in his arms and opened her eyes. “Merry Christmas, Luke.” They shared a kiss.
“Can I have my Christmas present?”
Margaret laughed. “Before breakfast?”
“Oh, this one…well, let’s just say I want to open it right now.” Lucas kissed her passionately. Margaret moaned softly in he began unwrapping his present.
In time, Margaret forced herself out of her husband’s strong, warm embrace and dressed. After pinning her hair back, she opened the door and went in to fix breakfast. She soon heard Lucas moving around. He went to do the morning chores, and assured her he’d take care of her outside chores that morning as well. Margaret was looking out the window when he came back in. “Luke?”
“How often have we gotten snow on Christmas?”
Lucas chuckled. “Didn’t we get snow the last Christmas I was home?”
“Maybe. I think that’s the only thing that’s missing this Christmas…Snow!” Margaret went to turn her omelet.
“So all the snow we trudged through to get the Christmas tree wasn’t enough for you?” Lucas asked.
“But it’s all melted…”
Soon breakfast was ready. Lucas read from the Bible, then they held hands while he blessed the food.  They ate slowly, chatting quietly about the day before. Margaret commented that everyone had looked healthy and well, the night before.
After the dishes were done, Margaret came to sit with Lucas beside the tree. “Well, it appears there’s only one present under the tree.”
“And it appears to be yours,” Margaret commented. “I thought I was the good one.”
“You?” Lucas teased.
“Well after all, a few months ago you were the prodigal…”
“All right, hold it right there, Miss Smarty Pants!” Lucas held up his hand. “I’ll have you know that your present was too big to fit under the tree.”
“Really?” Margaret lifted an eyebrow. “Where is it?”
“In the barn.” Margaret started to get up. “Hey hey, now…Wait a minute.” Lucas motioned for her to sit back down. “Can I unwrap my present first please?”
“You already unwrapped your present,” Margaret teased, in all seriousness.
The look upon Lucas’ face was that of a little boy, hurt that Santa hadn’t brought him a gift.
“If you insist.” Margaret smiled as she picked up the present and handed it to him. “Now, it’s not much…but I thought it was something you could really use.”
Lucas anxiously unwrapped his gift. “A bed warmer!”
“See…You just put the stones in here…” Margaret lifted the lid. “Then you put it on the fire and…”
“Margaret, I know how it works. But I was happy with my old bed warmer!”
“Well I wasn’t!” Margaret declared. “I’m tired of your ice-cold feet!”
“MY ice cold feet?” Lucas chuckled as he sat the bed warmer down. “Come here, my love…” He hugged her and gave her a kiss. “Thank you. I’ve always wanted one.”
“Mama used to always put one in my bed when I was little. Oh, maybe I should have thought of something more…romantic…but…”
“I think the FIRST gift you gave me this morning was romantic,” Lucas said in a husky voice.
Margaret blushed as she remembered again. “How about my present?” She jumped up and hurried for her coat. Lucas reached around her and started to put a bandana around her eyes. Margaret gasped. “Now, it’s not wrapped, so I’ll have to take you out there blind folded.”
Margaret giggled as Lucas opened the front door and led her down the steps. Margaret felt in front of her, not quite able to trust Lucas to get her there safely. She could tell they were in the barn, then Lucas stopped her and turned her around. “Okay…” He removed the blindfold.
Margaret gasped as she put her hands to her face. “Lucas…” Tears filled her eyes as she ran her hand along the smooth wood and up onto the shelves. “Luke…It’s beautiful!”
“Now you won’t have to keep your dishes in crates. You can put them right here…right on these shelves like those rich women do. Everyone can see them.”
“Oh Luke…” Margaret wiped at the tears. “Luke…Thank you!” She hugged him.
Lucas pulled her away a bit and put his hands on her cheeks. “Merry Christmas, my love.”
“Oh…Merry Christmas, Luke!” Margaret said as she laid her hand on his cheek. “Thank you…Thank you ever so much!”
“You clear out a place for it and decide exactly where you want it. Maybe Hal can come help me move it in tomorrow.”
Margaret didn’t allow Lucas to do any work that day. She declared it was a day of rest. Instead, they spent the day talking. That afternoon, they took a long walk as they held hands. Margaret made a special Christmas supper, simply enjoying being with her husband. Before she went to bed, Margaret took out her journal and wrote.
Our first Christmas together was bitter sweet. As Lucas and I spent these last two days together, I remembered the last time we were together on Christmas. It’s hard to believe we were only seventeen then. Then we still had Ruth and Marcus, Andy, and my Pa. Next year we may not have Johnny and Beth returning home. But the memories of what once was will always be here, as well as the hopes of what will be in the future.
I feel so blessed. Our family is finally reunited. We spent an old-fashioned Christmas Eve together, loving each other and catching up. And today…today was so nice! Lucas didn’t go to check on his cattle one time the whole day. If he went to fetch some water, he took me with him. I even walked out with him to the barn tonight and watched him work on his chores. We just talked together and enjoyed being together.
Oh, I hope every Christmas can be this special. I hope that someday our grandchildren will be able to have a Christmas as special as our first one was.
Lucas gave me the one gift I will cherish. It will remain standing through many tragedies, I suspect. It will hold the dishes…my dishes…my wedding gift from Lucas. Oh, my first Christmas gift from my husband will house my wedding gift from my husband. Nothing can be more perfect than that.
Lucas is asking me to come to bed now, so I must close. Tomorrow I must say goodbye to my sister. I wish I knew how to do that without my heart breaking.
As she slipped her journal in her drawer, she remembered back to the last 48 hours. She treasured those things in her heart.
They all gathered in a circle and clasped hands for one final family prayer. Even Samuel had shown up to say goodbye. Margaret wasn’t sure how she felt about that. He couldn’t show up for Christmas, yet he showed up today. Margaret decided to not think on that now. Today was Beth and Johnny’s day. Today they would leave.
Margaret listened as Scott led the McCain/Gibbs family in prayer. A fussing baby was the only thing that could be heard as Scott prayed in a broken voice. When the prayer ended, Johnny went to check the horses one last time. Each member of the McCain and Gibbs family hugged Beth and wished her well on her adventure. Margaret walked out with her mother after Amanda and Scott wished her well. Lucas stood in the doorway, giving his wife and mother-in-law the privacy the needed with Beth.
“Mama…now don’t fret. I’ll be okay,” Beth promised. Excitement danced in her eyes, but Margaret didn’t miss the nervousness and sadness in her voice.
“I know. God’s going with you, baby girl. Now, don’t you forget He’s there when you need Him.”
“I know, Mama.” Beth hugged her. Jennifer clung to her daughter and cried. “I love you, Mama. And I’ll write.”
Jennifer kissed Beth on the cheek and hugged her.  Scott stepped out and took his mother by the shoulders. “Come on, Mama,” he said softly, leading his sobbing mother into the house.
Margaret took Beth’s hands in hers. She forced herself to smile. “I’m not going to cry. But I am going to ask you to please be careful. If you need me…you can send a wire. We’ll be there as fast as we can.”
“I know you think I’m wrong,” Beth said. “I respect you for letting me make my own decision. I really want to do this.”
Margaret nodded. “I know you do.” Her voice broke. She cleared her throat and lifted her head. “I…I’ll say a prayer for you every day. You make sure you write to me.”
“I will.” Beth laughed. “Oh Margaret, don’t you wish you could see the world? There’s a whole world out there full of adventure and dreams! The West has so much to offer and…” Beth laughed. “There’s a world beyond the prairie, you know.”
Margaret smiled. “My world’s right here. My husband…my family…the children we’ll have together. That’s my world. That’s all that matters.”
“We need to get going, Sis.” Johnny stated as he was anxious to get going. Beth hugged her then stepped away.
Margaret turned to Johnny. She put a hand on his cheek. “My hair-brained baby brother…” They smiled at each other, remembering all the times Margaret had called her hair-brained. “I must admit I don’t feel your going to Texas to join a Wild West show is the best idea. I worry about you, you know.”
“I know, Sis. But…”
“I’ll stick by you, Johnny. You know I will.” Margaret quickly wiped a tear from her cheek. “You take care of our sister.”
“Don’t worry, Sis. I’ll deliver her safely to California.”
Margaret smiled. “I know. You take it easy. Watch those bulls and guns. Don’t drink too much, and don’t gamble and…” Johnny held up a hand to stop her. “I just worry about you. The world is so big and so…I hear stories, you know?”
Johnny kissed her on the forehead. Then he mounted his horse and waved to the family. He and Beth slowly rode away. Margaret stared after them until they were only small specks, then they disappeared completely.
Lucas stepped up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders. “You okay?”
“Oh Luke…I’m going to miss them.”
“I know.” Lucas smoothed her hair.
“You think I’ll ever see them again?” Margaret turned and looked at him. “Do you?”
Lucas smiled. “As footloose and fancy free as they are? I’m sure they’ll come back this way in time.” Margaret looked in the direction they had left. Lucas joined her gaze. “God’s going with them. We sent them off with a hope and a prayer.” Lucas put his arm around her. “That’ll take them a long way.
Margaret smiled at the strength his words had given her.

The Margaret Years — A Soft Heart

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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