Chapter Six—More Good

     Missy moved to Silver Creek, Montana Territory. And she adapted well. She started teaching almost immediately, and the children, faster than immediately, fell in love with her. Even though Missy was still quiet and somewhat reserved, she began to meet people—parents of the children, people at church, various merchants around town; she even joined a ladies’ club and that helped, too. She took special interest in some of the widows in town. As often as she could, she would go visit them, bring some cheer into their lives, bake them a cake, or some soup if they were ill. “The queen of the angels,” Winifred Acton called her, and nearly everyone agreed. As noted earlier in the story, some people thought she really was an angel.
     Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Missy to draw the attention of the resident single male population of Silver Creek. Her life—with work, church, widows, and her own grandmother’s problems (more on that in a moment)—was pretty crowded. So it wasn’t easy for her to find time for the opposite sex. But there were occasions. During the good weather months (mostly late spring to early autumn), Silver Creek held a town dance. Missy always went and never lacked for dance partners, though most of them were married. On occasion, she would go to dinner with someone. But she never stayed out late. Except for the dance night—when she didn’t come home until 11—she was always home by 9. She felt she owed that to Grandma Judy. Men just weren’t an integral part of her life yet.
     Because Judy was not well. Physically, she seemed fine, but her mind did wander. She occasionally called Missy “Francis,” and asked her about “that worthless husband of yours.” Other times she was downright mean and asked Missy “when are you going to get married and move out?” (Missy lived with her grandmother, something Judy had insisted upon when Missy arrived. Missy wanted to anyway, feeling she needed to be with her grandmother as much as possible.) Sometimes Judy would break out crying, for no reason. She got lost coming home one time. Most of the time Judy was in her “right mind,” as the doctor called it, but Missy understood that Judy didn’t always think clearly. She asked the doctor about her grandmother’s condition.
     “Senility,” he responded. “It happens to a lot of older people. Some of them get it worse than others.”
     Missy didn’t think Judy was that old; she was in her late 50s. “Will she ever get better?” she asked the doctor.
     Sadly, he shook his head. “I’ve never seen a case where someone did.”
     “So, she’ll get worse?”
     “Probably.” He shrugged. “It may happen slowly, it may happen quickly. Different people grow senile at different paces.”
     “But…will it affect her physically?”
     “Eventually, yes. And it will eventually kill her, if something else doesn’t do it first. But I can’t tell you when.” He smiled and tried to be reassuring. “It could be years. She’s not ready for the grave yet. But,” he continued, “be patient with her. When she is in that condition, she literally doesn’t know what she’s saying or doing.”
     “Will she even know me?”
     “Sometimes. Sometimes she might not. Or she might confuse you with someone else.” Missy remembered that Judy had called her “Francis” a few times. He shrugged again. “There’s really no way of knowing for sure.”
     “Is she…dangerous?”
     “Only to herself. Try not to leave her alone, if you can help it. I know you have to work, but if you can, arrange for some of your grandmother’s friends to be with her when you aren’t there.”
     Missy worried about her grandma, though she tried not to. She prayed fervently about it, but Judy grew increasingly worse as time went on.
     Missy noticed that, when Judy was “right,” she seemed to have mellowed quite a bit from the times she had visited Missy and her mother before. Until she arrived in Silver Creek—at the age of 19—Missy hadn’t seen her grandmother since she was 16, an event mentioned earlier. As noted at that point, on the morning of her departure to Silver Creek, Judy had given Missy a dressing down and paddling that had literally left her granddaughter sore for a week. She had never been warm or loving towards Missy, just a stern disciplinarian. That changed, however, when Missy arrived in Silver Creek to live with her. Judy seemed to accept that Missy was a grown young lady now, and while still not overly affectionate, she did seem to appreciate that her granddaughter was there. And Missy—being Missy—loved her grandmother very much.
     However, during her “senility moods”—as Missy called them—Judy had a tendency on occasion to revert to her cruel, uncaring ways. She would often accuse Missy of things that were beyond ridiculous. “You didn’t get home until 3 AM last night” (Missy had been home all night, sitting with her grandmother till bedtime). “What were you doing riding your horse on the mountain this morning? I told you never to do that” (neither of which were true). The girl would get a chewing out deluxe and a couple of times, a smack on the bottom. But because Missy was…Missy…she never complained and was determined never to be rebellious, troublesome, or quarrelsome, regardless of what it might cost her in pain or distress.
     And because Missy was Missy—“the queen of the angels”—she could never walk through town without drawing a crowd of laughing, smiling, jumping children. And Missy always stopped, laughed, smiled, and…well, she didn’t jump with them, but she took the time to say a sweet word to them all—and she always had a bag of jellybeans in her skirt pocket, enough to go around for all. After a hug for each one, they would run off, and Missy would be kneeling, watching them in their glee, a tear in her eye, a tear for the joy they brought into her life…
     One Friday night in mid-September, Missy, now 21, learned that the widow Walters had come down with a pretty severe chest cough. As always, Missy was concerned, so the next morning, she rose early and cooked some soup to take to the widow. She’ll probably need some work done around the house and outside, too, so Missy put on jeans; the only time she ever wore them was when she worked outside. I am NOT going to wallow around in the dirt in one of my dresses, she giggled. She had some old dresses she could have worn, but the jeans were more comfortable and easier to work in. It was her one concession to “immodesty,” as she considered it.
     About 9 in the morning she was ready to go. The widow Walters lived about three miles outside of Silver Creek. Her husband had died four years earlier, but the widow didn’t want to leave their home. She should move into town so we can keep a closer eye on her…Missy had suggested that to her a few times, but with no success. Well, it’s a nice ride out there. I don’t mind. And it was pretty. A winding road along the creek, next to some near vertical crags, to a small homestead nestled among trees. It was pretty. Missy had thought many times, I hope I can have a place like this some day…
     She put the soup, some cough medicine, and some tools in the back of her and Judy’s wagon, hitched the team, and started off. About a mile from the widow Walters’ place. she saw a man sitting on a horse, in the middle of the road. He was just sitting there, not moving, looking at her.
     Missy stopped the wagon and smiled. “Hello. Are you lost? Is there something I can do for you?”
     And Sert Oldham smiled…Oh, yes, there is DEFINITELY something you can do for me….