One Man, Many Voices -- David Smith, Author

Saskatchewan

Chapter one

 

Sleep filled the air around Crossfield farm.

Early evening shadows approached the porch where the two sat rocking back and forth. Foot soldiers of the every night that came, tested the garden that lay in front, touched it gently, light dark hooves treading upon cabbages, spuds and carrots of Emmy’s front yard garden. The night pushed them forward as the sun deserted the day and the glow of the time before.

“A great, swaying Golden Ocean lies before me,” thought Emmy to herself. She was remembering the days when youth still had her captive, when she hid herself among the waves while Ben Crossfield yelled after her, begging Emmy to show herself before the fall of day.

 

#

 

“Ben Crossfield, you know the rules. If you find me, you kiss me and not before,”

Emmy Diefenbacher, tall, sandy-haired and wide of hip, wanted Ben Crossfield to find her. She wanted his lips on hers, wanted to feel the heat inside her that the kissing always blessed her with, but Emmy Diefenbacher always played by the rules. She knew if she did, that her reward always tasted hotter, sweeter. Emmy wanted Ben Crossfield to sweat, she wanted to mix-up their salt together and swallow it deep inside.

They had been courting this way for a year or so. Ben Crossfield had picked her up every Sunday for church; he’d hitched the heavy-legged, heavy-bodied plow horse to the little black surrey and every Sunday morning, he had made the five-mile journey to the Diefenbacher farm to pick up the girl he loved.

“Can’t help myself, Ben!” Henry Diefenbacher would chuckle through his pipe smoke as he greeted the eighteen-year-old, “But every time I see you all dressed-up in them Sunday cloths of yours, with that damned “Dray Pferd,” hitched up to that silly lookin’ black thing you call a wagon, well hell, I can’t help myself!”

A high pitched warning yelled through the open window of the Diefenbacher’s kitchen, echoed around their front porch.

“You watch your language, Henry. I won’t hear it, special not on this, the Lord’s day!” Henry Diefenbacher winced his shoulders, just a bit, so that his wife could see and so that she could acknowledge his effort to be contrite. Ben Crossfield winked back at his future father-in-law. He smiled as he jumped down from the surrey. Ben removed his round, black, broad-brimmed hat and held it before his crotch, waiting as he always did for his Emmy.

“C’mon up on the porch, young Ben, she’ll be out any minute now. Hell, just like always that Emmy of mine, been up since the crack of dawn just like every Sunday, gettin’ ready for her Ben.” Great clouds of pipe smoke furrowed up and around Henry Diefenbacher’s head, he bade the young man sit, and he did. Every Sunday Ben Crossfield asked the same questions and received the same answers.

“Alright if I keep Emmy over to our place for lunch? I promise to have her back before sun down. You comin’ to church with us, Mr. Diefenbacher? No problem, plenty of space in the surrey for you. Be a real honor for me, sir.”

“You’ve been courtin’ that Emmy of mine for almost a year now. About time for a weddin’, don’t you think?” Henry Diefenbacher left Ben no time to answer. “You two children have a good day. I know you’ll have my Emmy back before sun down and no, thanks for the offer, but you take Mrs. Diefenbacher and Emmy along to church. The Sherman’s will get Mrs. Diefenbacher back to me. Don’t forget to give my respects to your mother and father, and give that little sister Annabelle-Rose a kiss for me.”

Ben Crossfield knew the formalities of Sunday morning at the Diefenbacher farm and he was brought up well enough to never question when he knew inside himself that the asking would be too personal. Emmy Diefenbacher and her mother came out onto the porch. Two beautiful people, one a woman of thirty-five, tall, graceful and full. A sun-wrinkled face, her spirit blessed with the wind-blown glory of the Canadian prairies. Her daughter, whom Ben Crossfield so desperately loved, just as tall, a body not as yet so full, the long legs and the hips not quite ready as the high placed breasts. Full lips and sparkling, blue-green eyes that looked as though they were touched by the deepness and mystery of a Mediterranean grotto, waited behind her mother. Her hands were holding a small black purse in front of her, much the same as Ben Crossfield had held his hat.

In the order of things Ben Crossfield first helped Hanna Diefenbacher up onto the surrey, the place of honor in the back seat, protected from the dust, then Emmy. The two of them sat together as Ben Crossfield whistled at his horse and click-clicked out of the side of his mouth with his tongue. He nodded to Henry Diefenbacher and smiled respectfully, tipped his hat, and the surrey made its way down the road that had led up to the Diefenbacher farm, the father of his love swathed in golden brown swirling dust, lighting his pipe and then waving and turning, the wind and the grains of dust enclosing him, a tall red shadow man disappearing, away from the joy of leaving.

Hanna Diefenbacher always spoke first on the road to the church. “Ben, thank-you so much for picking us up this lovely Sunday morning, God shinning down and blessing us with his fertility.”

Whether it was twenty below or they traveled in a deep storm of dark autumn rain, Hannah Diefenbacher never failed, sitting, hands in her lap folded gently together, the deep cracks of her palms hidden behind the calluses that ridged the outer parts of all her fingers. She would smile and bless her daughter and the man loved by both of them. Ben Crossfield loved her daughter, but often thought that the most important thing about Sunday morning, come hell or high water, was the benevolence and the soul-peacing of Hannah Diefenbacher.

The huge gray-black work horse, Hercules by name, was one of the creatures put on our earth to smile at us through dark, brown-black heavy lidded eyes, a horse to wrinkle its lips back in animal smiling at the beginning or the end of the day. One that never needed the steel of a bit between its jaws, Hercules understood the language of his masters. He too was full of joy at the pulling of the surrey, and the love that sat behind him on the Sunday morning church road. He tossed his head and whinnied, loud and deep and Ben Crossfield thought about his little sister Annabelle-Rose who, on her eighth birthday had been gifted with a His Masters Voice wind up record player and a disc of Fyodor Chaliapin the great Russian Bass. They had ordered the player for her birthday and the record had been included as a free gift. They had never heard of Chaliapin, but they all had wondered at his deep magnificent voice. Annabelle-Rose had asked her brother the question that had made him chuckle quietly to himself on this crisp, clear spring Sunday morning.

“Ben, don’t you think that this here man on the phonograph sounds like Hercules, don’t you think that we oughta change Hercs’ name to Kaliapitan?” Ben laughed and asked her if she didn’t’ think that first they should ask Hercules?

“I expect.”

Several days later Ben asked his sister whether she had asked Hercules if he would like a name change.

“No, I mean yes, I mean I asked him and he doesn’t want that Russian man’s name.”

The name change never came up again. The small pamphlet that had come with the record and picture of the singer had been cut up and the picture had been framed, hung above Annabelle-Rose’ bed with a printed benediction.

For my little Russian princess from her great Russian prince, Fyodor Chaliapin’.

Ben had printed the dedication on the bottom of the photograph and Annabelle-Rose cherished it for the rest of her life.

 

#

 

Emmy and Ben sat beside each other as Hercules pulled the surrey up toward the small white wooden church, the constructed place for them to give thanks to God, the outside, and Hercules.

The reverend Cannon Noble, a great rusty Irish man who had fallen out of his birth place and its’ church and had been forced to immigrate to Canada with three illegitimate children, whose lover Clara Fenigrate had yelled at him that he was a great son of a bitch, and she would never marry him if he was the last man on earth. Who had never stopped yelling and beating him on the back, who should have been forced to leave with him, but was too strong for the people of her village who had ridiculed and ostracized her. Who would spit in the face of a hurricane if it dared fling itself at her. Who had stood on the end of Pierces’ Wharf as the ship with her children and Cannon Noble sailed off into the Atlantic and had continued to scream at him that he was the biggest son of a bitch on God’s earth, and who Noble had turned his back on and shielded the ears of their children from. He had not seen her fall off the end of the wharf still screaming as she fell, as she drowned to death. Canon Noble stood at the entrance to his church and greeted every one of his parishioners, individually shaking their hands regardless of age or sex, kissing the babies,

“Hannah, it is so good to see you this morning. That Henry of yours doing alright, is he?” The question was not reprimanding, but genuine. Cannon Noble was a man who had found his own truth and believed that God could still love and care about a man that as far as he knew, had never stepped foot in a church.

“My Henry is just the same, working hard and taking care of us. A blessed man to be sure.”

“A blessed man to be sure.” Reverend Noble replied.

The congregation of Cannon Noble’s small church, unlike their brethren from other parts, never greeted each other outside of the church. It had taken a while for the people of Paddockwood, for that is what the community was called, to get used to the eccentric minister, but they soon learned to love and respect him, his passion for making their church a place of meeting and brotherhood. The church filled and as it did the congregation took their seats. Cannon Noble stood, raised his arms and blessed them. Everyone turned to their neighbor. They greeted, shook hands, or hugged as they felt. They called over the pews to those on the other side and the church was filled with the noise of love, and there was peace.

fter the greeting, once again, those who had stood reseated themselves. The reverend Noble, who did not stand elevated, superior to his flock, smiled and spoke. As he did, Chester Algonquin began to pump up the organ and Mary the organist began to play. She did not have to look at the music that lay neatly before her above the keyboard; she had the hymns memorized and as Cannon Noble bade his children sing, the might and glory of her soprano rose above the rest, filling the church with Oh God that dwells in Heaven on High. All was well in the community church in the heart of Paddockwood.

Emmy held her Ben’s hand tightly as they sang. She wished for the afternoon going on and the waves of wheat, the taste of Ben Crossfield’s sweat on her lips.

 

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