|A New Barkley Tradition|
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No infringement is intended in any part by the author, however, the ideas expressed within this story are copyrighted to the author.
|The Barkley's find a way to create an anniversary celebration for the day Heath rode onto the ranch and into their lives.|
|Heath was bone tired from his long day. The herd's swollen size was murder on the fences and broken fences were in turn murder on Heath's back. All those holes to dig, posts to secure, and barbed wire to string. The cowboy was even seeing the darn fences in his dreams ... Or were they nightmares? Heath wasn't sure, but he knew a bath and his soft bed were going to feel Heavenly tonight.
The house looked basically the same tonight as it had when he left this morning. It was late and all the other Barkleys were long ago in bed. Heath rose long before dawn in his continued effort to get the fences under control before the upcoming cattle drive. Nick
would expect Heath to leave everything in top-notch shape. Cattle drives were hot, dusty, smelly, and grueling affairs, but Heath was so tired of riding fence it sounded good to him this evening.
The cowboy walked through the house and gratefully grabbed the two large sandwiches Silas left for him. Heath downed most of the first one before he reached the top of the back stairs and headed for the bathtub. He ate the second while soaking away a few sore
muscles along with a pound or two of trail dust. Heath threw on a clean pair of socks and some pants before slipping down the hall to his room. The young man never noticed he was being watched as Heath quietly closed his door before lying across the top of his bed and falling instantly into a deep sleep.
Victoria waited until Heath was ready for bed and then watched him swagger through the hall. She laughed to herself finding it amazing the boy could match his father's gait so exact when Heath never observed the man one day in his life. She was terribly excited
about the family's plans and although she hated to see her youngest boy drive himself each and everyday Victoria was glad Heath missed a few recent meals. His enormous work ethic enabled she and Audra to keep their secret while not having to lie to Heath's face.
She knocked lightly not sure if Heath would answer. He didn't so Victoria slowly slid in the door and covered her mouth to squelch a laugh seeing Heath collapsed on top of the covers with his white sock covered feet dangling off the side. This young man amazed her with his ability to sleep anytime and anywhere, which was only surpassed by his ability to wake himself if Heath detected danger, real or perceived, in his environment. Victoria took it as a compliment she accomplished her mission without Heath waking himself. She went back to her room, but knew she was too excited to rest well.
Long before daylight Heath took down the clean shirt he left on the brass bedpost above his head and sat up while pulling it on. The summer air coming in the window was still warm which meant this would be another long hot day. He finished getting ready, grabbed some food, and headed out towards his horse. More of his family would be up in another hour and breakfast would be in two, but Heath would be far away getting a good start on his day.
Heath noticed the note tucked in his front shirt pocket while saddling Charger. It was short but left no room for argument. Victoria wrote: HEATH, PLEASE BE HOME BY
4PM THIS AFTERNOON. LOVE, MOTHER He couldn't remember any family obligations being mentioned at supper last Sunday when the week was reviewed. He set out with an amended plan for his day which included wrapping up this job and making it home as ordered.
By the time the noon sun was beating down on Heath the cowboy had been to the line shack twice for supplies. He started on another hole thinking the heat was convincing him it was a good day to call it quits early. Suddenly he stood up trying to remember if it was
anyone's birthday. Why else would Victoria want him home early on a Thursday?
Heath lived on the Barkley ranch for a year this month. Victoria and Audra enjoyed big birthday parties in the fall, Jarrod's before Christmas, and Nick's party was late in March so all the Barley birthdays were accounted for in Heath's mental calendar review. Silas'
big day was celebrated in April to boot. Heath breathed a sigh of relief. Birthdays were one of many Barkley traditions he didn't relate to or understand. But missing one or forgetting to buy a present would have been a humiliation Heath wouldn't have easily endured.
For a while Heath thought back on the large, lavish, and elaborate parties the Barkley's each held for their birthday. Audra's was by far the biggest but Victoria's the most lavish. He hated those days with the ranch all out of routine, strangers in and out, and the multiple social obligations to fulfill. The presents really sent Heath's mind whirling. The Barkleys received enough loot to treat a small army to Christmas and more. Heath might not be comfortable or agree with these traditions, but it was made clear to him the traditions would stand.
Heath smiled thinking back on last Christmas. The women folk fussed for months and the house smelt good for weeks with all the various food preparations. If they weren't having a party the family was expected at a party. Heath hated it and planned on working out an
alternate schedule with Victoria this year. But since it had been his first holiday season on the ranch Heath figured he would observe what was normally done and then adapt the traditions to what worked for him. The others would be angry but Victoria would understand and work with Heath to further increase his comfort with living on the ranch.
So it wasn't Christmas or anyone's birthday so what could it be? The only days Victoria ordered he and Nick home early were holidays of some sort? Heath would never outguess his new mother so he packed up and got on the road towards the ranch. If he was lucky Heath would beat Nick to the bathtub and take another much-needed soak.
On the trail Heath could relax and let Charger find his way home. Heath's mind wandered to the quiet Christmases he spent in Strawberry with his mother and her friends, Rachel and Hannah. They didn't exchange presents, but the extra food was always wonderful. It was the only day of the entire year Heath's mother did not work and he loved simply having Leah with him all day.
Heath's birthdays were even less of a celebration. Heath's mother would wake him up before leaving for work and sing the birthday song then plant a big kiss on his forehead. That night when she picked her tired boy up from Rachel's they walked home while Leah told Heath about the night he was born. She would stress everyone's joy seeing he was a big, healthy, and boisterous boy. Leah always added the fact Heath quieted right away when Hannah swaddled him tight into a receiving blanket and put him in Leah's arms. Leah would insist she knew right then Heath was "the best boy ever." No tradition there but nice memories for Heath now that his mother was gone.
The young man thought back to his birthday last month. No one at the ranch knew which was mostly a relief. Heath didn't ever want one of the traditional Barkley parties for himself and was still reeling from the gifts he received at Christmas. He spent his birthday rounding strays with Nick. It was a beautifully warm and clear spring day. Heath quite enjoyed it.
For a moment Heath felt a touch of sadness mixed with melancholy press on his heart. It was okay to celebrate his birthday alone, but with Leah gone he truly was alone. Heath hadn't thought of this fact last month on his birthday. For some unknown reason it was overwhelming him this afternoon. There wasn't anyone left who would want to celebrate his birth. Leah and Rachel were gone and Hannah didn't remember what day of the week it was let alone people's birthdays. Heath tried not to think it, but had to admit there were more people around who wished he hadn't been born than those wishing him a happy birthday. The cowboy shook his head trying to move away from those depressing thoughts.
"Stop being such a self-pitying idiot," Heath scolded himself out loud.
Heath's birth was a hard subject for him to wrestle into a comfortable mental truce his entire life. Even as a youngster he would become angry with his mother and "that man." as Heath used to refer to Tom Barkley, while wishing they hadn't been weak and given in to mortal sin as Reverend Lewis preached it. Then Heath grew up a bit and started to understand more about adult needs and wants which made him wish that man would have taken responsibility for planting his seed in Strawberry.
Now as Heath continually wrestled with comparing the Barkley lifestyle with his youth in Strawberry the struggling young man often found himself feeling anger towards his mother. A mother Heath loved more than his own life, but who made choices with which her confused son now found it hard to agree. Heath held on to Charger's saddle and urged him to a gallop. He would ride off the anger surging in his soul while pictures of his mother going to bed hungry or crying because Heath outgrew his shoes ran amuck in his head.
Arriving at the Barkley barn Heath let one of the hands take Charger. The men stood surprised since Heath never let anyone else care for his horse. He was too distraught to stand around and explain his actions. Heath raced in the house and bolted up the stairs. He raced through his room, grabbed the things he needed, rushed into the bathroom, and locked the door. He soaked until Nick banged on the door making him jump up from an unplanned nap.
They all met in the foyer. Heath cocked an eyebrow seeing the excitement and quelled laughter on everyone's faces. Victoria put out her arm and he took it.
"Would you mind driving the wagon, Heath. Audra and Jarrod prefer to ride."
"Yes, ma'am. Where's Nick?"
Audra started to speak, but Jarrod cut her off.
"He's not ready, but he'll catch up."
Heath heard Nick loudly bang through his bath and then rush back downstairs. He let Jarrod explanation stand and helped Victoria up into the wagon. The wagon bed was
covered with a tarp, which didn't keep the hungry cowboy from knowing there was food underneath. He decided not to comment.
"Where to, my lady?" Heath bowed before he jumped up and took the reins.
Victoria patted his hand and smiled with a great twinkle in her eye, "Over to the east side of Liberty Creek, kind sir."
Heath commanded the team forward and they rode out into the hot late afternoon sunshine.
"Any chance I get in on the secret or should I give up and drive, mother?"
"Give up I'm afraid," Victoria giggled and it was a lovely sound.
"I know better than to argue, but if I've forgotten another Barkley tradition ... Well, I could be forced to simply jump off the barn roof and get my humiliation over with quick. Don't care for surprises!"
Heath laughed which couldn't have delighted Victoria more. The sounds of a small echo met their ears when Audra and Jarrod laughed in reaction to hearing traces of their father graciously come from Heath. They rode on. While rounding the last turn to one of Heath's favorite get-aways he spotted Nick already waiting by the water. Heath knew Victoria was aware he snuck away to read, nap, or think things through on this quiet little corner of the ranch, but he didn't think Nick knew.
"Well, I could have pulled the wagon here faster than you pushed those horses, little brother!"
Nick walked up and helped Victoria down.
"I had no idea I was in a hurry, BIG brother!"
Heath jumped down and started to help Jarrod with the tarp.
Heath pulled back his hand when Audra smacked it.
"Don't you dare, Heath!"
"Don't I dare what?"
Heath shrugged his shoulders since he was sincerely only interested in helping Jarrod. Jarrod winked and motioned to the horses. Without another word the younger man walked the horses to some shade and saw to their needs. When he came back an enormous picnic had been set out by the cool water and Victoria was standing up on the wagon bed with the others sitting around her feet. Heath walked up to the group completely lost as to what could possibly be going on.
"That is far enough, Heath Morgan Thomson Barkley!"
Heath stopped dead in his tracks and looked up briefly before starting to laugh.
"What is so funny?"
"Well, you all are either going to beat me to death with some of Silas' drumsticks over yonder or I don't know what. I don't recall you using my full name before, mother."
As was the custom no one else could resist Heath's laughter so they joined him until Victoria brought the meeting back into order.
"NOW, we have a bone to pick with you, young man."
"You do?" Heath could feel the controlled amusement his siblings were getting out of this exchange and relaxed.
"YES, I DO!" Victoria smiled while trying to sound tough and put her hands on her hips before pointing her finger, continuing, "Exactly when did you plan on telling us we missed your birthday?"
"Don't oh me, mister. May 6th ... Is that correct?"
"Yes, ma'am, but ..."
"No buts. You listen to me. You are an equal member of this family, Heath Barkley, which means you share all your pain, joy, and anything in-between."
Victoria eased her stance, smiling, "I suppose we'll forgive you for messing up on one Barkley tradition."
"Thank you, mother."
"But we have no intention of letting you miss another important Barkley tradition!"
Heath looked around at Audra, Nick, and then Jarrod. They were amused but not willing to help.
Heath shrugged his shoulders admitting defeat.
"Heath, I know how you feel about many of the traditions we hold dear, but I hope you'll agree to this one."
Victoria moved forward and Nick helped her down. She took Heath by the hand and moved him up next to the wagon.
"What is today's date, son?"
"June 22nd, I think?'
Victoria's stare muted Nick and he eased back in place with his brother and sister.
"Well, it is June, but it is the 26th. An important date wouldn't you agree?"
Heath smiled and shrugged once more. Victoria moved close and put a hand on his shoulder.
"I hereby declare a new Barkley family tradition. From now on, June 26th will be a day of celebration in this family. Nothing fancy, in your honor, Heath, but we're going to take time to be together, enjoy a picnic supper, and linger out in the open where you are most comfortable. There's no proper name and no need to ever explain to anyone outside of our family why this day is never to be missed. The Barkleys will forever more celebrate being a family on June 26th to honor the anniversary of the day Heath Morgan Thomson Barkley walked onto this ranch."
Heath looked around and watched as everyone clapped and congratulated him. Nick jumped up on the wagon.
"And before we go attack that wonderful meal," Nick threw the top off the remaining half of the wagonbed to reveal a beautiful new saddle, chuckling, "Happy belated birthday, Heath."
Heath didn't fight being pushed up into the wagon to examine the most beautiful saddle he ever laid eyes on. He touched the fine leather and glanced at the Barkley brand on one side and his initials on the other. Victoria, Audra, Jarrod, and Nick sang happy birthday then cheered. Everyone but Victoria headed towards dinner. Heath ran his hands over the saddle once more then jumped down and embraced his mother.
"Thank you, mother. I have no idea what more to say."
Victoria smiled and took his hand. She walked towards the others with Heath.
"Happy anniversary, darling, and happy belated birthday. You don't need to say a thing, Heath. Oh, and thank you."
Heath stopped walking and looked stunned.
"What could you possibly be thanking me for?"
"For riding onto this ranch and more importantly ... For being brave enough to stay through this first year. I know it has been much harder than any of us could ever
Heath smiled and dropped his gaze to his boots as he did whenever he was nervous or embarrassed, adding, "Still can't believe you asked me to stay, mother."
Victoria pulled him along and walked holding his arm tight, she whispered, "I've never made a better decision in my entire life!"
They joined the others and Victoria caught Heath's eyes as his siblings hugged him and fussed. They didn't need to talk of their love. It simply was a fact. Just as much of a fact as the new Barkley tradition would be for all the years to follow. Victoria's children, their
children, and their children's children would all gather for a reunion and picnic every year on June 26th. The reason did not matter, but the love the family shared certainly did.
A NEW BARKLEY TRADITION