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Authors: Rosanne Parry

Heart of a Shepherd

BOOK: Heart of a Shepherd
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For Bill, who came home



The Chess Men



Cow Camp



First Flock



The Man of the House



Serving the Altar



Promises Made



Boots on the Ground



The Veterans



Waiting for Beautiful



Coming Home


Grandpa frowns when he plays chess, like he does when he prays. He's got a floppy mustache that pulls that frown right down past his chin. He used to have freckles like me, but I guess they expanded on him because his whole face is pack-mule tan, with a fan of wrinkles at the corners. Years and years of moving cattle and mending fences gives a man a fearsome look, and I bet if I work at it, I can look just like my grandpa by the time I go to board at the high school. But the fences are mended for now and the cows are up in the mountains with my older brothers, so Grandpa and me are playing chess out on the back porch.

Grandpa's chessmen are world-famous around here. They came over the Oregon Trail with Grandpa's grandfather in the covered wagon, and before that they
came straight from Paris, France. They were carved by hand from ebony for the dark side and ivory for the light. The pawns all have round helmets and longbows. Everyone else has a sword, even the bishops, and their faces are dead serious, which is what you want when there's a war on.

Grandpa is the chess champ of Malheur County, Oregon. We've been playing each other for years, so I've got him pretty well sized up. He always opens by moving the middle pawn up two spaces. But after that first move, he's as wily as a badger and twice as tough. I haven't beaten him yet, but when I do, it will be worth a town parade.

Now, to my mind, pawns are a shifty-looking bunch, plus they clutter up the board, so I try to clear most of them off right away, his and mine. I like my knights to have plenty of room to ride. My queen's knight rides a paint mustang. That horse has got a temper; she's lean and fast, and brave as a lion. My king's knight rides a Clydesdale; not so much speed, but plenty of power.

Rosita's my queen, of course. She's a fifth grader up at the school, and my best friend's sister. She can birth a lamb and kill a rattlesnake with a slingshot, which is what I look for in a queen. Plus, she's as pretty
as a day in spring, and she laughs when I'm the one talking.

I bet Grandpa's working on putting me in a fork. That's his favorite move, but I see it coming a mile away, so I take a sip from a sweaty glass of lemonade and talk things over with the men. My king's bishop is all for killing Grandpa's queen before she can get us, because, after all, he is an excellent swordsman. The trouble is, Grandpa's queen would have to be Grandma, and I couldn't let anything bad happen to her, now could I? It's confession for sure, for killing your grandma.

My queen's bishop and I talk the other bishop out of it, which we do a lot. The queen's bishop is the more reflective type because his hands are carved together for praying.

Grandpa leans forward in his straight-backed chair, still frowning. Dad's orders sit on the card table beside the chessboard, in a tan army envelope. I made Dad show me, because I couldn't believe what he said. They're going to send him and the entire 87th Transportation Battalion all the way to Iraq. Reserve guys are only supposed to go places for two weeks—maybe three, if there's a hurricane in Texas. Fourteen months! It says Dad will be gone fourteen months, right in
print. Like this is going to sound better to me than Dad is going to miss my birthday two years in a row.

Grandma's got him in the kitchen. I can hear the buzz of the clippers through the screen door. She takes about two minutes to cut my hair, but she's been at it with Dad for half an hour. I think she just wants an excuse to rub some extra blessings into his head. I hope she keeps him in there for an hour. He's going to need all the blessings he can get in Baghdad.

Grandpa pauses so long in the game, I get to wondering if he's even playing. He's been writing letters to our senator to oppose the war ever since it started. Half the Quaker congregations west of the Mississippi have signed them. Grandpa is not an out-loud worrier like Grandma. He just spends more time in the evening praying and writing in his journal.

“He doesn't really have to go, does he?”

Grandpa looks up from the board, straight at me.

“He took a vow when he put on that uniform. A promise is a binding thing, Brother, before the law and before God, too.”

“God doesn't believe in war, does he? You don't.”

“Protest is my calling. Your dad's is to take care of the men in his command. He can be faithful in that.”

The sun is just starting to go orange, and the wind
settles down like it does this time of day. The whole ranch gets quiet, like it's waiting for the next move. Grandpa scoots his bishop up three spaces. He looks at me and smiles.

A fork! I knew it. My queen's in danger! Her knight is on the other end of the fork. What'll I do?

The queen's bishop starts right in on his rosary and my two remaining pawns fit an arrow to the bow, but King Grandpa doesn't flinch.

My king's bishop is a string of bad advice, and my king's knight says, “It's a rough spot, laddie, but one or the other of them will have to go. You know it's true.”

Both horses nod solemnly in agreement.

“But, Your Highness,” says the queen's knight, “there's a way out, Your Majesty. I could ride up behind King Grandpa, and he wouldn't see me. Just let me take two turns. Come on.”

I see what he's driving at, except it still wouldn't save my queen. Knights are brave enough in a battle, but they're not too bright, which you can tell by the way their eyebrows are all carved into one straight line.

“Think it over, Brother. Don't rush into anything,” Grandpa says, which is what a man usually says when he'd like you to get on with it. But Grandpa's good at waiting, for a grown-up. He leans an elbow on the
porch rail and stares out at the bluff where we've been finding cougar tracks all month long.

My queen just looks at me with those serious brown eyes and the long curly black hair. She likes me, I know she does. And what's better, she's trusting me to do the right thing. I stroke her hair with my finger just once, so she knows I like her too, and then I slide my king up one space, right between Rosita and her attacker.

“You can't move into check,” Grandpa says.

“Yes, sir,” I say, sitting tall on my barrel and slapping dust out of my jeans. “If you want me off this square, you're going to have to fight me.”

“Well done, sir! Oh, bravely done!” shout my knights.

My king's bishop bows his head. “Your sacrifice will be remembered for all eternity. “

The queen's bishop starts warming up the last rites.

The dead pawns at my feet send up a cheer, but I can hardly hear them because she smiled at me! A little wooden smile as tender as a snowflake on my eyelashes. I'm so proud I could bust. Grandpa looks from me to my queen, and back at me again. He smiles a little.

“Are you sure you want to play it this way Brother?”

“Yup.” Is he kidding? I never get to be the hero.


I did it! The game's over, and my queen is still standing!

Grandpa just shakes his head, but I can't stop smiling. Dad wanders over, brushing haircut stubble off his shirt. He gives my shoulder a squeeze.

“Fourteen months is a long time. We should talk,” Dad says.

Grandpa gets up, straps on his tool belt, and heads up to the barn to fix the lamb pen. I can hear Grandma moving the pots and pans around in the kitchen and whistling some old Irish tune. Dad looks out at his land. Red Rock Creek comes down from the reservoir, a mile to the north, and flat green pasture stretches across the canyon floor to the dry hills on either side. There's a stand of willows by the water, and one giant cottonwood shades the south end of the barn and holds up my tire swing.

“Did you beat your grandpa at chess yet?” Dad says.

“Not exactly.”

“Never mind, Brother. I think I was about fifteen before I won my first game.”

Everybody calls me Brother because I've got four big brothers. My real name is Ignatius. Guess they ran out of all the good saints by the time they got to me. Lots of things ran out by the time they got to me. My brother Frank says it could be worse—they could have picked Augustine or Cyril—but honest, I wouldn't have minded being Gus, or even Cy But Ignatius pretty much shortens to “Ig” or “Natius.” That's not even a good name for a cow. Heck, I wouldn't name a pig either one.

“So what do you think?” Dad says, nodding in the direction of the envelope with his orders.

“I can't believe it. You've been in the reserves forever, and they've never asked you to do anything like this. Jeez, Grandma was in the reserves for thirty years, and they never sent her to a war.”

People are going to be talking about this all over the county. There's a list of a hundred names in Dad's command. How's he going to tell all those families their dads are going to leave? Every volunteer fireman in a hundred miles is on that list. Our postmaster; the school janitor; the basketball coach; Arnie, who owns the only gas station in town; and every member of the
school board is on that list. A month from now, they'll all be on a plane.

I line the chessmen up in their box and sit on the porch rail next to Dad. I rub his bristle-short hair. He used to have red hair like mine, but what's left after Grandma's clippers is mostly gray fuzz. Dad looks up at the hills. He's standing more like a soldier already.

BOOK: Heart of a Shepherd
6.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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