The next few days were the best and worst days of Roy’s life. They were best because he’d had so many memorable moments with Mae, the worse because the day after Thanksgiving Mae’s family announced they were returning to Wyoming in December.
They’d promised to write, but he supposed it was only a matter of time before some Wyoming cowboy swept her off her feet and he’d be forgotten. He debated for several weeks whether to write at all. What was the point of writing when she was so far away for more than friendship?
True, she had sent both him and Lida letters. He’d been careful when he answered to keep it polite and distant. He’d been right in the beginning; it was plain foolish to think of making any life plans with her especially now that she lived in Wyoming.
Still, he couldn’t stop the frequency in which the memory of her brown doe like eyes, dark hair, and dimples revealed when she smiled popped into his mind.
He’d walked into town today, with the intention of getting some new work clothes. He hoped the logging camps would soon be back in operation. If he got back to work he could stop thinking of the pretty girl named Mae.
He’d left the clothing store with his purchases and passed the stationary store window done up in red, pink, and white hearts. “Remember those you love this February 14.” The display window said.
I bet Mother and Lida would like a card he thought as he opened the door of the store.
Hearing the bell above the door ring a clerk in a long white apron covering a dark dress approached him. “Could I be of assistance?” she asked.
“Yes, I’d like to get a card for my mother and sister.”
She directed him to two sections marked Mother and Sister.
“Thank you for your help,” said Roy, handing her his selections. “I’ll take these two.”
“Are you sure there isn’t someone else you’d like to send a card to?” she asked.
He glanced at the cards again. “I guess it could get a couple for my friends in Wyoming. Nothing flowery though.”
The clerk directed him to some generic valentine cards. He found a one that featured two children sitting on the grass surrounded in moonlight. “By the great moons pale beam, life just seems like a grand sweet dream.” I’ll get this one for Hazel. For Daniel he found a card featuring George Washington as a lad that simply said, “Valentine Greetings”
He was about to choose another such generic card for Mae when he spotted a card with a big red heart and a face that looked a lot like Mae in the corner. The heart itself was encircled with a gold chain and lock in the shape of a heart. Printed on the heart were the words “A heart’s secret.” Below the heart were the words
“You are safely locked into a heart that pines, and beats for you alone, so this fair Valentine Day, I’ll claim you as my own.”
He knew if he sent this one there would be no denying what his intent was still. He threw all caution to the wind and handed the card to the clerk. “I’ll take this one too.”
“A very fine selection,“ said the clerk. Whoever is getting this one must be very special indeed.”
“She is,” Roy murmured.
The clerk wrapped his cards up in brown paper and handed them to him, “I am sure your loved ones will appreciate these.”
With the packet clutched to his chest he stepped back onto the street and glanced into the window of the leather shop next door. His eyes landed on a braided quirt. He recalled the conversation he’d had with Mae about her horse, Drummer.
I bet she could use one of those when she is out riding.
He turned the knob of the leather shop door and said to the clerk looking up from the counter.” I’d like to purchase the quirt you have displayed in the window.”
“Ah said the clerk, “That’s one of our best. Is it a gift, for someone special?”
“Yes, said Roy, “for someone very special.”
Back at the house he readied the valentine cards for mailing. He placed the quirt in a box along with the fancy red valentine and wrote. “Mae Phillips, Mona, Wyoming.”
The next morning he walked to the Post Office. He gulped as he handed the box to the to the postmaster. His heart quivered as though he had actually sent it, instead of a paper one. Would Mae accept his gift with the same love he’d sent it. Perhaps he’d get a letter back saying she was sorry but they could only be friends or worse never answer. Whichever happened he guessed he’d burnt his bridges.
Mae took her time answering his card but when she did, she there was no doubt in his mind she shared his feelings.
Logging began again in March. He was content to go back to work. Arduous work helped keep his mind off Mae at least during the workday. But each night when he arrived back at the bunkhouse, he hoped a letter from her had arrived.
“I swear,” said Gus as Roy hurried out the door for mail call, “you’re more lovesick than I thought possible.”
Roy wanted to deny it but he couldn’t, he was lovesick.
On the first of May he spotted a big box of chocolates for sale in the company store. Perfect timing he thought. I’ll send it for Mae’s birthday. To accompany the box he chose a beautiful card trimmed in bright spring flowers. How he wished he could be with her to celebrate her 17th birthday.
By the first of June he lived for her letters which usually arrived twice weekly. A letter sent his heart soaring, when an expected one failed to come, it sank. He reminded himself that the mail was not dependable, all sorts of things could hold it up. It didn’t mean a Wyoming cowboy had grabbed her attention.
The first of July found him back home to tend to his raspberry crop. He recalled the day he and Mae had picked together and cemented their friendship. He wished he could send her some of the berries but knew they’d never survive the journey so instead he sent her two apple boxes of cherries from his father’s orchard.
After the berries were harvested, he headed back to the logging camp to join Gus once again in falling trees.
On his first night back, Gus shared some pamphlets he’d picked up on free homestead land in Montana. “These have gotten me thinking, maybe I should try and get some of this free land. What do you think Roy?”
“I’d be careful,” said Roy. “My Dad homesteaded in Kansas, got swindled out of one over in Spokane and had another one Oklahoma and none of them proved to amount to much. I’d be sure to look the area in question over carefully first.”
Still, he browsed the pamphlets. Despite his reservations he began to think he should try a homestead in Montana. He knew he preferred to be in WA and near his family but the lure of free of free land was strong and Montana was a lot closer to Wyoming, Maybe Mae would prefer a ranch life.
He wrote to her, “I’ve got half a notion to go look at some of the homestead land in Montana when the logging camp closes for winter.”
He was surprised when he got a letter from Mae extending an invitation for him to spend some of his winter break with her family in Wyoming.
“You could look the land in Montana over on your way back to Washington,” she wrote.
He mulled the idea over and decided to accept the Phillips family invitation.
So, in mid-December 1913 he found himself in downtown Tacoma gazing at the decked-out Christmas windows. He’d come to town to get Mae a Christmas gift and when he spotted a fur muff and stole in one of the department stores windows, he knew he’d found the perfect gift.
He arrived in Wyoming on Dec. 23rd, 1913. Mae’s Aunt Sadie and Uncle Bert had picked him up. He enjoyed meeting all of her extended family, especially Sadie and Bert, who were closer in age to he and Mae than most aunts and uncles.
He had done his best to help the Phillips with all their chores and to not interfere with their daily life. He had very few chances to be alone with Mae, but the ones they had cemented their love. They discussed the possibility of her moving to Washington after she turned eighteen in the coming new year. She said she would consider, but he knew if she did her parents would be heartbroken, something she didn’t want to do. Instead, she hoped they’d want to move back to Puyallup.
He’d also had a serious talk with Alex Phillips Mae’s father.
Mae’s quite smitten with you,” he’d said.
“And I her,” said Roy.
“She is only 17,” stated Alex.
“I know,” said Roy, “it’s just she seems mature beyond her years.”
“I take it then; your intentions are toward a future of marriage.”
“I believe so,” said Roy.
“You are a fine young man, of that I have no doubt, but your age difference concerns me. I’d like you to promise me something.”
“What’s that?” asked Roy.
“Wait until she is twenty-one before you ask for her hand in marriage. If you honor this request, I will not stand in the way of you courting her.”
Roy sighed, twenty-one was more than 3 years away. Not that he was in a position to offer his hand in marriage, anyway. He figured Mae would be willing to live in whatever logging camps he found work in, but he wanted more than that for his future family. He wanted his wife and children to have the stability of one home and a community that could be theirs forever. He wanted none of the moving around his family had been subject to growing up. During the next 3 years, he’d work hard to make this possible.
“Alright, sir, I agree.”
The two men shook hands.
Mae was less than pleased when Roy told of his promise. “I am capable of making up my own mind.”
He did stop in Montana and look over some homestead land. But it looked arid and dry, much like the places his dad had failed being a successful homesteader. Besides, he didn’t really think ranching was in his blood. He didn’t have what it took to be a cowboy.
i] The details about the valentines, quirt. Christmas gift, chocolates and cherries come from letters Mae wrote to Roy. The original letters are in my possession. They are also in here in my blog.
A quirt is a short, braided leather piece used by the rider to give a horse signals. I have in my possession the quirt he gave her.
Gus was my grandfather’s falling partner and we know from the letters that they shared a bunkhouse together with, sometimes the addition of his brother Richard.
From the letters I also learned do he looked at homestead land in Montana on his return trip to Puyallup after his winter visit in Wyoming.
My grandfather always told us he promised to not ask for Mae’s hand in marriage until she turned 21.