William Gooch was consumed with the prospect of gold. The journey from the flat plains of Missouri over the rugged Sierra Mountains was treacherous. They would leave for California at dawn’s first glow. He watched his slaves, Peter and Nancy, load the wagon with needed supplies. There was only one more thing William needed to take care of before they joined the wagon train. In the morning, he would inform Peter and Nancy he had sold their three-year-old son to pay the wagon master’s fee.
Tears of Joy ~ Chapter 1
Twenty-one years later, Miss Nancy paced the worn wooden planks outside the freshly painted depot. Her eyes anxiously searched the horizon for any hint of dark smoke smudging the cloudless blue sky. Trains never ran on time. Today, she hoped, would be the exception. Crates of apples were stacked on the platform, ready to be loaded onto the train before making its final descent into Sacramento. A hand cart filled with luggage was moved across the platform by a large man in blue jeans, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Miss Nancy noticed the small girl clutching the hand of her mother as they purchased train fare. Everyone was waiting, but no one had waited longer than she had. She slid the paper from her pocket. Her dark calloused hands gently unfolded the message that had been sent by telegraph.
ARRIVING 3:00 TRAIN – AUBURN – OCTOBER 12
YOUR SON ANDREW AND FAMILY
If only Peter could have live to see this day, Nancy signed. Without thinking, she rolled the thin band of gold she still wore on her ring finger. Peter had been gone for over10 years now. After today, miss Nancy wouldn’t be alone anymore. She would be with family, her family. Not just Andrew, but his young wife, Sarah Ellen and their two boys, Pearly, almost four years old and Grant, barely two, Miss Nancy was not only a mama, she was a grandma.
She slipped the telegraph back into her pocket and reached down to smooth out her long blue taffeta skirt. It was the first store bought dress she had purchased in more than ten years. A stark contrast to the cotton dresses she hand stitched for herself. The clerk had been so kind to help her pick out something special for this very important day. Miss Nancy caught her reflection in the depot window and took in a deep breath. “Will Andrew recognize me? Have I aged beyond my years?” Miss Nancy looked around and chuckled. She was the only dark skinned woman standing on the platform. Was he tall? Would he remember the songs I hummed to him every night in the quarters? Would his little boys look like he did?
A gentle breeze blew an orange tinted leaf across the platform. Fall had come at the usual time but the days were still warm. The apple harvest would be plentiful this year, maybe even better than usual, which was good since her supply of apple butter was almost gone. The depot office door shut with a bang. A tall lanky man in a crisp white shirt and fitted vest stepped to the edge of platform, pulled a small pocket watch from his vest pocket and looked intently at it. He reached up and pulled on one side of his long mustache, then pulled on the other side, as if to make sure one side hadn’t gotten longer than the other. With a sigh, he shook his head, put the watch into his pocket and walked back into the depot office.
A far off whistle brought the lanky man back out to the platform, this time his face wasn’t so stern. The ground began to shake as the locomotive came into view. Billowing clouds of smoke boiled from the massive chimney. As the train chugged closer to the station, Miss Nancy felt her stomach tighten as the wheels screeched in protest at being made to slow down. As the train cars slowly slid bye Miss Nancy frantically searched each window. What if they weren’t on the train? Then, in the fourth passenger car she saw a small brown face of a young child, eyes wide with curiosity, pressed up against the window. Miss Nancy shuddered as the wheels finally screeched to a complete stop, the hiss of steam sent several leaves dancing across the track.
The porter hopped out of the open door set a small stool on the platform then began helping people as they exited the train. Miss Nancy held her breath. One after another made their way out of the train, then the small dark skinned boy from the window emerged with the help of the porter followed by a slender young woman holding a smaller child in her arms. The tall, strong frame of a full-grown man appeared. Andrew. He paused to catch his breath when his eyes caught hers. A lifetime of pain was slowly fading.
With the long strides of a man, but with the heart of a little boy longing for his mother, he made his way through the crowd and grabbed Miss Nancy up in his arms. Both of them wept. On that terrible, terrible day when they were separated, she had been the one trying to hold onto him until they pulled him from her arms. Now, he was the one holding her, and no one would ever separate them again.
When words were finally able to make their way out of Andrew Monroe’s throat, he whispered the word Miss Nancy had waited so long to hear.
Young Pearly looked up at his mama, Sara Ellen, who held Grant in her arms.“Why is papa crying?”
“Them is tears of joy, child. Tears of joy,” she said, choking back her own tears.
Pearly didn’t fully understand what his mama meant, but, that was ten years ago. Now, while standing, dripping wet at the water’s edge of the American River, Pearly Monroe was crying his own tears of joy.
Grant would have been dead for sure, if the old miner hadn’t heard Pearly’s desperate cries for help. He took a step forward and winced. Looking down he saw a small trail of blood and realized it was his.
~To be continued next week.~