The Arrival

Ruth By Lake And PrairieHere is an exerpt from the book Ruth By Lake And Prairie, describing Almeda's first encounter with her new home on the prairie.

The clearing was new, with greenery just poking up through the blackened ground where the underbrush had been burned away. On the far side stood a small sturdy log house, its squared-off logs still raw and white. Uncle Joe’s horse was tied to a sapling near the east wall.

Leaving the wagons and their teams, the travelers made their way across the clearing, drawn to the solitary cabin. They talked excitedly to one another and laughed out loud, eager to see this Promised Land for themselves. The girls’ feet grew black as they scuffed across the charred ground, which provoked giggling until they realized that the rest of the group had quieted.

The women slowed their steps, pulling at their husbands’ shirtsleeves to draw them back as well. Aunt Almeda, leading Robert in one hand and Lizzie in the other, soon was the only person still approaching the house. Just as she glanced over her shoulder and realized she was alone, Uncle Joe stepped around the corner, grinning from ear to ear.

“Mrs. Naper, welcome to your new home,” he said, holding out his hand. Almeda smiled back, just touching her bonnet brim in one of those coquettish gestures she brought from the east before placing her slim fingers in his square palm. He led her around the corner to the front of the house.

When snow still covered the ground, Uncle Joe had stood on that very spot and charged Mr. Scott to build the house right there. Every settler preferred to build his home so that the single door opened on the south, useful for catching daylight and for telling time. By a lucky coincidence of the landscape, the south side perched on a ridge that sloped gently down to the river, offering a broad vista of greenery with sparkling water beyond.

The other families gathered in the small yard while Aunt Almeda inspected her house. Small and empty as it was, the inspection didn’t take long before they were back outside. Granny Naper went in for a look with Sally Ann and Aunt Betsy, while some of the others explored down to the river with Uncle Joe to discuss the sawmill.

Puncheon Floor
A floor made of logs split lengthwise. The round side lay on the dirt with the flatter part turned up as the floor.

The girls propped their wildflower bouquets against the wall as a housewarming gift, and Ruth and Mariah peered in the doorway to admire the new house. A puncheon floor instead of dirt! A little splintery still, but that would smooth down soon enough. And you could hardly see any specks of daylight through the shingled roof!

When they came back out of the cabin, one of the women was talking with Aunt Almeda. She threw a glance over Almeda’s shoulder at the little house with the blackened field beyond. “Nothing like Buffalo, is it?” she sighed.

Almeda’s eyes were fixed beyond the woman in front of her, tracing where the forest rolled down to the river and up again on the other side in gentle green swells flowing out to the horizon. “No, nothing like Buffalo,” she smiled quietly. “Which is why we’re here.”

From Chapter 14, The DuPage River At Last, of the book Ruth By Lake And Prairie by Katharine Kendzy Gingold. Copyright © 2006 Gnu Ventures Company. All rights reserved.