Livy tried to appear calm like all the other farm wives. She had lived in Wilson long enough to now know these women all shared her anxiety for the safety of their men- you just never show it. Martha was probably the best example of this quiet strength that she knew. She looked over at Martha, who was organizing the new food brought in from the church’s kitchen. Martha felt Livy’s eyes on her and she looked up and gave Livy a reassuring, “don’t worry, they’re fine” look that Livy realizes she’s come to count on.
At that moment, a group of tired men came in for food. Livy and Martha search their faces for Ray and Hank, but their husbands weren’t among them. They both looked back at each other as if to say, “don’t worry, they’ll be in the next group” but behind it was the fear both let go unnamed, but not unprayed, “Dear God, please let them come back safely.”
The crew chief called for a rest period and Ray and Hank sat down for the first time in almost six hours. They were fighting a grass fire that started in a large space of prairie that backed up to the Hampton farm. They had managed to bring this fire under containment but not before the fire took the northern portion of the Hampton place where Sam Hampton grazed his cattle this time of year. The smell of their flesh was thick in the air. There was occasional gun fire as animals still found alive were put out of their misery.
Ray was exhausted, but he was worried about Hank. Hank labored breath reminded Ray that Hank wasn't as young as he used to be. Ray pulled out a sandwich that Livy had insisted he take with him from the inside pocket of this overshirt. He opened the paper it was wrapped in and offered half of it Hank.
“It’s a roast beef sandwich Hank, nobody could mess that up. Besides, she’s a good cook now.”
Hank looked at Ray with a twinkle in his eye and said, “You, bet.” Ray shot him a look, but couldn’t sustain the seriousness and both laughed. They ate in silence for a moment as both were reminded of the grimness of the situation.
Hank looked down at the field that lay before them.“Sam’s lost his entire heard, I imagine.”
Both looked at each other then away. Sam had died yesterday trying to till up a dirt fire stop between the range grass and the field where he grazed his cattle. His body was discovered next to his fire gutted tractor. Sometimes, it's hard to estimate the actual speed of the fire. Both Ray and Hank knew Sam was a practical man. He wouldn't have attempted this unless he thought he had the time. It made them both feel their mortality as men who made their living from the land.
The Stewarts and the Singletons had been on this land for a long time. They had seen good years, even great years, and they had seen heartbreak. Sometimes, it was more than a family could fight back from and they would leave. Both wondered about Sam’s wife and children. Both thought about their own families. Everyone in Wilson would do what they could to help, but everyone had their own farms to run.
For a fleeting moment, Ray wondered what Livy would do without him. Would she stay and try to run the farm or would she take Danny back to Denver? That thought hurt him. He imagined Livy trying to raise Danny in that environment. Her family, although somewhat soften since the time he and Livy married, still treated her as the family shame.
Ray smiled at the thought about how Livy often remarked on Danny’s stubbornness as she tired to disciple him. Ray knew that Danny's "willfullness" came directly from Livy so he loved it in Danny. He was always amused that Livy didn’t seem to see this same trait in herself.
Ray would gently wonder aloud, “Where could Danny have gotten that?” Livy would blush and playfully nudge him and say something like, “Don’t blame this on me, you spoil him.” But then she’d look at Ray with so much love, it hurt.
Ray felt panic at the thought of Livy and Danny alone. He prayed to himself, “Please God, don’t take me away from them. They need me.” Then a calmness settled on Ray. They wouldn’t be alone. There was Hank and Martha and the kids. And there was Livy herself. That stubbornness was really her inner strength. Livy would survive and she would make sure Danny’s life was good, too. She wouldn’t let anyone take away Danny’s self confidence. He could count on that.
Still, he thought, I should prepare so that she has options. He realized he didn’t even have a life insurance policy or a will. He’d never needed one. Until now, the land-long paid for-would have gone to Martha and Hank and they knew where Ray wanted to be buried—next to his brother Danny and their parents. He realized at that moment, he had so much more he needed to take care of.
Ray looked up from his thoughts and realized that Hank was studying his face. “She and Danny would always have a place with us just as I know you’d take care of Martha and the kids.”
Ray nodded to the man who had taught him so much and had become his best friend. “I know, I know that Hank and you know I would be there for Martha and the kids, no question.” Hank winked because neither wanted to maintain the seriousness. Hank sniffed the smoke filled air, “Well now, that almost smells like dinner at your house.”