I rise with the dawn, kissing Hannah before I do anything else. It is the first night she's slept all the way through since we went out searching for Tim. She looks beautifully at peace and I smile to myself as I climb down the stairs to tackle morning chores. Brian is already in the barn milking the cows.
"Morning." I say but he just grunts at me. Brian has said time and again that he could tolerate ranching much better if the animals didn't get up so early.
By the time we finish, the sun is slowly rising and the boys are coming out for their chores. I step inside the warm kitchen to see Hannah at the stove cooking up a breakfast as Guthrie sits at the table finishing up his homework.
"I don't like you saving it for the last minute." I tell him.
"I know." Guthrie says. "I had this finished already but then thought of a better way to do it."
"What is it?" I ask looking over us shoulder at the notebook in his hands.
He quickly covers the page. "Oh no! Not until I'm finished. Then I'll show it to you."
"Tonight." Hannah says with a smile. "After dinner. Promise me."
"Yes ma'am." He says and I can see he's half proud/half nervous.
"Entertainment." I say moving to kiss my wife.
I am kissing her still as the brats come into the room they hoot and whistle at my poor bride, who blushes and breaks away from my grasp.
"Knock it off, fellas." But she winks at me as we all sit down to breakfast.
I sigh, and take my place wishing I was kissing her still. They all troop off to the bus and Brian, Crane, Daniel and I go over the day's agenda and then all disperse our separate ways. I linger drying the dishes for Hannah before I set out to spend a miserably cold day outside.
"What's the matter?" She asks me.
"Nothing. Why do you think there is something wrong?" I ask her.
"You don't usually hang around. I'm fine, Adam. I feel much better now that I've actually slept. And it is easier now knowing about his heart. You don't have to babysit me." She hands me the last dish and I dry it.
"No, it isn't anything like that. I just, I don't know." I sigh. "Its my mom's birthday." I finally confess.
"Oh, I'm sorry honey." She says and wraps her arms around me.
"It's no big deal." I say, but she doesn't release me. "I think Brian remembers, but I'm not sure. The other guys don't. I don't know. I just . . ." I sigh thinking it is ridiculous to still be upset after all these years. My good, sweet wife says nothing for the longest time, but just holds me close to her, swaying gently, so that it is as if we are dancing together even though there's no music.
"I'm fine." I tell her. "I just wanted you to know." I look down embarrassed.
"You wanna play hooky from work?" She asks still holding me in her arms. "I've got a pile of laundry to tackle. It could be romantic. You fold a sock. I fold a sock. . ." She grins at me and I smile back thankful that she understands me so well.
"I think I'll go ahead and help the boys." I lean in and kiss her deeply. "I'll see you later."
"I also need to clean out the tub." She says. "You could scrub it for me." I shake my head at her, and reach for my hat. As I turn to go she calls out to me.
"Adam, I love you."
"I love you too, girl." I put my hat on and stride out the door feeling unbelievably comforted. "Thanks, Hannah."
"You can say thank you later." She says with a wink, and suddenly it isn't so cold outside.
It is homework hour. Guthrie, Ford and Evan have their books spread out. Crane sits at the table with them working on the books, and waiting for someone to run into homework trouble. He's the go-to homework man - especially when it comes to math. Hannah usually helps with the writing, although, I'm reliable when it comes to grammar and structure. I'm not usually as patient as she is, nor as sweet when explaining things, though.
Daniel is strumming on his guitar, pouting because he wanted to go into town, but I said no because there's a good storm brewing and I don't like to think of him driving those roads in the dark in a storm. Hannah is sewing a shirt for Evan who wants a new one for the rodeo.
He keeps watch over her, making suggestions as she sews until she finally says, "Evan, why don't you sew up this shirt yourself? You seem to have a good idea of just what you want."
"I'm sorry, Hannah." He looks instantly guilty. "I'm just excited about it. You do such a good job, and I know you can make it just so."
"I'm sorry for fussin' at ya." She says shaking her head at him. "Now, leave me in peace. If you don't like it, I'll change it! But for heaven's sake, let me sew in peace."
I'm laughing. My bride is not mild-mannered. Of course, she could never be - holding your own is necessary for survival in our house, particularly if you are outnumbered seven to one. She hears me laughing and shakes her head at me.
"Guthrie?" I ask. "Did you finish that thing you were working on? You said you show it to us."
"Oh, it's just an assignment for history." He blushes shyly.
"No, you promised me." Hannah says to him. Guthrie cannot say no to Hannah. Actually, none of my brothers can. He digs the paper out of his notebook which is in a horrifying state of disarray. I'm sort of amazed he was able to find it.
He hands it to me and I laugh reading just the first few lines. "Oh, no!" I say to him. "You have to read it out loud Guthrie! This is good."
"Alright," He begins shyly. "We've been studying civilizations and had to create our own country and come up with the rules to govern it. Anyway, I did a real one for the class but then I wrote this one for fun - Mr. Clark gave me extra credit for it though."
"Clark's tests are hard." Ford says. "Extra credit is smart, Guthrie."
"Read it, Guth!" Hannah says.
"Rules for McFadden Island by Guthrie James McFadden." He clears his throat dramatically.
"Rule One - Your brothers always come first. No matter what. Unless, there's a pie involved and then it is every man for himself.
Rule Two - Wives are allowed as long as they are brave. If they can cook the pie mentioned in rule one, that is considered a bonus and they are to be given honorary brother status.
Rule Three - Vehicles must be shared but not horses. Don't bother trying to ride Diablo. It won't end well, plus you'll have to explain to Brother #5 why you were stupid enough to try. He will not find it amusing - unless your arm is broken - then he'll laugh his head off at you.
Rule Four - Brother #1 is boss.
Rule Five - If Brother #1 marries, Rule Four is void. Sister #1 is boss.
Rule Six - You've got to sing - even if you are tone deaf. Every McFadden sings.
Rule Seven - Brother #7 will have to wait for Brothers #1-6 to decide unanimously if he's "old enough" to participate in various events. This will never happen. Brother #7 is out of luck.
Rule Eight - Brother #2 can get away with being grumpy and teasing Brother #1. Brother #4 should stop trying to tease Brother #1, it never works.
Rule Nine - Do NOT call Brother #1 "Dad". It pisses him off, and he will dump a bucket of water on your head to make his irritation clear.
Rule Ten - There's no escaping McFadden Island. Even when you are miles away, the rules apply. They will last forever, especially Rule One."
He grins at us, and I sigh sitting back in the arm chair, with one arm around Hannah. She's smiling at him too.
"That was excellent, Guthrie." She says and he beams.
"I'm not grumpy." Brian says in a huff. Everyone looks at him, and he shrugs.
"I'm not sure about Rule Eight." Daniel says eyeing Guthrie. "You should encourage your brother to keep trying, not tell him to give up."
"Daniel." Guthrie says. "Be realistic."
"I could add a few rules." Daniel mutters, and I laugh thinking of McFadden Island. I could add a few rules myself.
The night slips away from us, and soon everyone is crawling into bed. I'm beat. I've spent nearly the whole day half frozen, facing a bitter winter wind. I double-check the doors, as I do every night. I'm climbing the stairs quietly so as not to bother Brian and Guthrie who are stuck with the living room as their bedroom. I pause on the landing just outside my bedroom door. I can hear Crane and Daniel talking softly in their room, and hear Guthrie downstairs telling Brian not to snore as he does every night. I sigh peacefully.
I think briefly of Tim's family and offer a brief prayer that tonight will be filled with peace and hope for them. Loosing part of your family is so difficult. I think of Rule #1 and how true it is. It is our mother's rule. She instilled it in me on day one.
"This is Brian." She said lowering the squalling baby so I could see him. I was not impressed. "He is your brother, Adam. Brothers always come first. You have to take care of him, and look after him." She smiled at me as I reached out to touch his face. His skin was so soft and he grabbed my finger surprising me. "See," She said watching us. "He knows you are his brother. That is why he is holding onto you. He always will. Brothers always come first."
I reach out, my hand on the door. I will open it, and climb into bed beside my wife, gathering her close and into my arms. I'll kiss her, and try and distract her, but I know that lovely interrogator is gonna show up in full force. No doubt I'll tell her stories of my beautiful mother, who was just the right amount of devil and just the right amount of angel, and who was the strong part of "seven together and Strong". She would have been forty-nine today, and no doubt my father would have teased her, but he also would have praised her 'til she blushed and made us all sing "Happy Birthday" to his girl. I wonder, again, as I often do, what she would think about me, and how I am doing at following Rule #1. I only ever aim to be a good son.
"Adam," She said to me once, not so very long ago. "God gave you to us first because he knew you were just the right man to lead these brothers of yours. Your brothers depend on you and look up to you. You choose your character carefully because it shapes them as well as you. And I am so glad that you are the kind of man who thinks about that and tries hard to do right by his brothers."
My parents died over a decade ago, but they are never far from us. They hover lovingly near, watching their sons grow. They follow us as we lead their cattle out to graze on the distant hills. They are with us when we strive to turn the dirt and help the garden they planted flourish with new plants, and new flowers. They hear us laughing, and singing, and whisper softly to us when we cry, weeping for them still, even after all these years. I try to see them in mind's eye, standing together arm in arm, smiling proudly as the seven us move together forward and strong.
I can almost hear the letter that they would write back to me, and to my brothers.
We will forever hold you in our loving gaze. Remember brothers always stick together first.
Mom and Dad
I can imagine my mother, who had just enough devil in her, to add,
P.S. For pity sakes, boys, share the pie.
I open the door to the room that was once theirs, and smiling turn to my bride and say, "Darlin' did I ever tell you about the time, that Dad and I . . ." enjoying her look of surprise, that for once, she did not have to interrogate me.