The Memory WeaverJane Kirkpatrick
© 2015 by Jane Kirkpatrick, Inc.
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of historical fiction based closely on real people and events. Details that cannot be historically verified are purely products of the author’s imagination.
“Storyteller Jane Kirkpatrick puts flesh and blood on the bones of history. In The Memory Weaver, she breathes life into the little-known tale of Eliza Spalding, daughter of the famed missionaries, who survives unspeakable horrors to become a woman of love and faith and strength. Set against an authentic nineteenth-century background, this is a superb story of a woman’s struggle to triumph over time and place. The Memory Weaver is a memorable book.”
—Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author
Praise for A Light in the Wilderness
“Kirkpatrick gives marvelous insight into the struggle of the freed slave, the adventurous lure of the Oregon Trail with the numerous potentials it promised, and the tremendous amount of faith it took to endure.”
—CBA Retailers + Resources
“Kirkpatrick exercises her considerable gift for making history come alive in this real-life tale of a freed slave who travels across the country to Oregon Territory in the late 1840s. Kirkpatrick draws an indelible and intriguing portrait of Letitia Carson, an African-American woman who obtains her freedom and then determinedly makes her own way in an unsympathetic society. Letitia is fully imagined, and Kirkpatrick skillfully relates Letitia’s thoughts, cementing a bond of empathy between character and reader. On the whole, Kirkpatrick’s historical homework is thorough, and her realization of a little-known African-American pioneer is persuasive and poignant.”
“This heart-stirring new historical novel has romance, mystery, and adventure. Characters are sweet, charming, strong, witty, and looking for their places in the world. One character is loosely based on the true story of the first African-American woman to cross the Oregon Trail to live in freedom. Kirkpatrick has done her research and gives detailed descriptions without overwhelming the reader and the story.”
—RT Book Reviews
Dedicated to Jerry,
with whom I’ve shared a lifetime of memories
Cast of Characters
1. In the Beginning
2. Finding the Center
3. The River’s Edge
6. Cookstove Wisdom
7. Held Hostage
8. Making Things Work
9. Anxiety Shifting
11. To Make a Bed and Lie in It
12. A Full House
13. Lost and Found
14. Learning the Language of Marriage
15. Stretching through the Darkness
17. The Choice
18. That Which Sustains
19. Changing Plans
20. Heading Backward
22. Segments of the Past
23. Knitting Lives
24. Picking Up Lost Stitches
25. A Studied Change
26. Grateful I Am
27. New Sight
28. Filling Hollow Places
29. A Gold Ring
30. Like a Second Heart
Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments
About the Author
The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.
The past beats inside me like a second heart.
John Danville in The Sea
Cast of Characters
Eliza Hart Spalding the mother, early missionary to the Nimíipuu/Nez Perce People
Henry Spalding husband of Eliza, father of Eliza Spalding Warren
Eliza Spalding Warren the daughter, keeper of her mother’s story
Henry Hart Spalding Eliza the daughter’s brother
Martha Jane Spalding younger sister
Amelia “Millie” Spalding sister and youngest of Spalding siblings
Andrew Warren husband of Eliza
America Jane Warren children of Eliza and Andrew Warren
Martha Elizabeth “Lizzie” Warren
Amelia “Minnie” Warren
James Henry Warren
Rachel Jane Smith Boston teacher and second wife of Henry Spalding
Nancy Osborne Brownsville resident, friend of Eliza
Matilda Sager young friend of Eliza, survivor of Whitman tragedy
Lorinda Bewley young friend, survivor of Whitman tragedy
Timothy early Nimíipuu/Nez Perce convert of Spaldings
O’Donnell brothers drovers with Andrew Warren
John Brown son of owner of Brown and Blakely’s store
Bill Wigle Brownsville businessman
Matilda Nimíipuu/Nez Perce friend of Eliza Spalding, the mother
Tashe Eliza the child’s Nimíipuu horse
Nellie Eliza Spalding’s Brownsville horse
Maka Eliza Spalding Warren’s horse
*Yaka the Warren family dog
*Abby the Warren cattle dog
*fully imagined characters
ALONG THE CLEARWATER RIVER
The woman rode sidesaddle, holding the leather reins like long ribbons in her sturdy hand.
“Mama, Mama, wait!”
The woman turned, looked out beneath her bonnet as her daughter ran forward, carrying a late-blooming iris in her nine-year-old hand. The girl’s Nimíipuu horse with freckles across its rump followed behind the child.
“Why, I rode right past it, didn’t I, Eliza?” The woman inhaled the flower’s scent as the child handed the blue iris up to her.
“I notice things.”
“Yes, you do.” It was good to see the child’s smile light up her usually serious face. “But I notice that you are not on Tashe’s back. I dare not dismount from this sidesaddle to help you get back up.”
“I can mount all by myself.”
“I’ll show you. Come, Tashe.”
The horse followed like an obedient dog as the child made her way down the bank of the Clearwater River. At what she decided was the perfect spot, the girl stopped the horse, ordered the mare to “Stay,” then scrambled back up the bank, the horse below her. The mare switched her tail but waited.
“Watch, Mama.” Certain she had her mother’s full attention
, the child leaned over to grab tufts of the horse’s mane, inhaled a deep breath, then leapt like a frog, landing astride, her dress covering the blanket on the horse’s back. She reached for the reins, then sat up straight as an arrow.
“Oh, that’s wonderful.” Her mother clapped her gloved hands. “You’re so smart, Eliza.”
“I am.” The satisfied smile revealed two front teeth almost grown in.
“We must ride more often in the morning like this, so I can witness how wise you are, how much you’ve grown into a young lady.”
“Just you and me, Mama, and none of the rest.”
“Yes, just the two of us.”
It was a promise the woman wished she’d kept, but events intervened as they always do. Still, the girl would remember that last solo ride with her mother: the sweep of the landscape, the scent of the flower and the horses, the sound of the Clearwater River chattering on its way to the faraway sea, and her mother’s approving smile. She would weave those memories into what happened later, trying to make sense of those threads, praying they would support rather than threaten her own life as a woman, mother, and wife.
In the Beginning
My earliest memory is of laughter inside a waterfall of words. I’m in a half-barrel that once held flour. Tree rounds act as wheels. My bare feet tease the knots of rope bored through the barrel’s end; my dress covers my legs stuck straight out. My hands grip the smooth sides of the half-barrel. A Nez Perce boy, with shiny hair as black as a moonless night, tows the rope over his shoulder, pulling me in my makeshift wagon across the rubbled ground in front of our cabin-school-church. I lay my head back, close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, let my child belly jiggle over the rutted earth, laughter joined to theirs. Ecstasy.
A sudden jolt. The wagon stops. Eyes pop open. Before us stands my father, hands on hips, elbows out, eyes black as turned earth. Absent our laughter I can hear my mother’s distant voice speaking to her Nez Perce students inside the school, then Nez Perce voices repeating as a song: English. Nez Perce. English. Nez Perce. I let the words wash over me, as comforting as a quilt.
I found no such comfort many years later at the grave-digging of my mother. I was thirteen. I didn’t know then that the healing of old wounds comes not from pushing tragic memories away but from remembering them, filtering them through love, to transform their distinctive brand of pain. That frigid January day in 1851 I wanted to forget my mother’s dying and so much more. Then laughter interrupted my sorrow as the chink, chink of the shovel hit dirt. Laughter—that made me wonder about my first memory. Perhaps it wasn’t true that I was comforted by Nez Perce words mixed in with my mother’s those years before. Maybe I didn’t even hear what I thought I did. Emotions wrap around memory. We don’t recall the detail in our stories; we remember the experience.
Deep in the pit, pieces of ice floated in shadowed puddles. I had slipped out of a grieving house in Brownsville, Oregon Territory, leaving my brother and two sisters behind, with my father holding his head in his hands. I ought to have stayed at our cabin for my sisters and brother, comforted as an older sister should, been a shoulder to let them cry on. We all ached from the loss. But I’d had enough of tears.
The laughter came from one of the grave diggers. He stopped when I approached. A light rain pattered against his felt hat, dotting the brim. I took his sudden silence when he saw me as respect while Mr. Osborne, the father of my one and only friend Nancy, continued to dig. I hadn’t minded the sound of laughter.
Mr. Osborne looked up in the silence. He introduced us. “Andrew Warren, meet Eliza Spalding.”
Mr. Warren’s eyebrows lifted. “But I thought—”
“Same name as her mama, Eliza Spalding, who we’re working for here.” Mr. Osborne nodded at the grave hole they dug for my mother.
Mr. Warren’s smile when he gazed at me from the pit was a clear drink of refreshing water that, when I swallowed, soothed a throat parched from tears. I noticed his shirt had a scorch mark against the white of his collar and wondered if his mama ironed it for him or if he did it himself.
“Wishing it wasn’t so, Miss Spalding. A mother’s love can’t be replaced, only remembered.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“No need to call him sir. Not much older than you, he is.” Mr. Osborne winked.
Andrew Warren seemed much older and wiser, his observation of my loss and memory wrapped together a profundity to me at such a vulnerable time. His brown eyes looked through me, and when he removed his hat to wipe his brow of sweat, a shock of dark hair covered his left eye. He had a clear complexion, his face free of whiskers, revealing a young man who chewed on his lip. I’d learn later he was nineteen.
He did not attend the burial or at least I didn’t see him. My eyes and heart were focused elsewhere, and my hands were occupied with my siblings—Martha, four, but a year older than Baby Amelia, and Henry, named for my father, eleven—as we listened to one of my father’s preacher colleagues read the Scriptures. It was his intent to give us comfort and to try to capture my mother’s story at the grave site. Her amazing story. He failed, in my opinion. But who could capture the fleeting life of a woman who gave her all to the Nez Perce people, Indians who later sent us away.
I saw Mr. Warren next that same spring. Muck still marked the Territorial Road, but rhododendron with their red and yellow hues edged the dark fir forests. My mother never lived to see spring in this new town my father had moved us to.
That May morning I walked to Kirk’s Ferry with Nancy Osborne to pick up needles and thread at Brown and Blakely’s store. I could have asked my father to bring needles home since that’s where he worked as a postmaster, but in truth, I loved the walk with my friend. Nancy understood my quirky ways, my wanting to stop and inhale blossom fragrance or seeking tiny trillium that peeked through the dense forest shade. I had to point out deer hooves that had crossed our path and sent her eyes upward at an owl gazing down at us from a fir. It took forever to walk to the store, I stopped us so often.
Out of nowhere, Mr. Warren appeared, sitting astride a horse, wearing brogans, heavy duck pants with shiny pocket brads, a white collarless shirt, a sweat-stained hat. His hands rested on the pommel, reins loose, as though he waited for me and had not a care in the world.
“Like a ride into town, little lady?” Andrew’s soft drawl warmed like honey on a johnnycake. I couldn’t let him know of such thoughts, though. But neither was I one to be coy nor play those games I’d seen other girls tease at with boys.
“I prefer my own two feet.” I looked up at his sable eyes shaded by his hat. “And I already have a companion. Miss Osborne, meet Mr. Andrew Warren.”
“So you remember me?” He sat a little straighter on his horse. “Well, I am memorable.”
“For such things as you may not wish to be remembered for. Free-speaking to young girls could be a caddish act.” I stifled back a grin of my own.
“Hmmm. Well, my horse could use a rest. Any objection to my walkin’ beside you precious ladies?”
“The road belongs to everyone.”
Nancy giggled as the May warmth gathered around us, puffy white clouds like cottonwood fluffs drifted across the sky. The pleasant weather gave me strength enough to deal with my father should he learn of my walking down the road with any young man. My mother could have tempered him. But she wasn’t there.
His horse clomped along the dirt path and stopped us once or twice to tear at grass. Mr. Warren—I thought of him then and later, too, in that formal way—talked to us about a model of a revolver he hoped to buy one day, “a cap and ball firearm Samuel Colt called a Ranger, but they changed the name, call it Navy.”
“You like guns, then, Mr. Warren?” Nancy asked the question. She’d turned eleven but was wise beyond her years. Tragedy does that to us.
“I like the feel of them, their smooth barrels and the weight in my hands. I’m partial to the smell of gunpowder too. I plan to defend as needed against any old Indian upri
sin’s that might come my way.”
“There’s a certain alacrity in your voice, Mr. Warren.”
“Don’t know the meaning of that word, Miss Spalding.” He frowned. I admired his ability to express his lack of knowledge.
“Eagerness,” I said. “Or maybe enthusiasm might be a better word.”
“Ah, that alacrity—that’s how you spoke it?”
“That alacrity would arrive on the horse named coincidence, my coming upon you girls walking and letting me join your path.”
“I don’t believe in coincidences.” Then I sermonized as though I knew all there was to know. “I believe the Lord sets our path and whatever befalls us has some meaning and purpose.” My mother believed that, and at that moment I was certain of it as well, even if I couldn’t explain what happened, what sort of purpose the Lord could have for all those grievous deaths at the Whitmans’; all the pain and suffering that hollowed us still.
“Then I thank the Lord.” Andrew didn’t seem the least fazed to have been “taught” twice in the same number of minutes nor did he seem to mind the certainty with which I spoke about God and life.
I told him we were digging bulbs and he offered to help, holding the gritty tubers in his wide hands. He had stubby fingers, not long like my father’s. Nancy and I pressed a deer antler into the ground beside the blooms to loosen and pull them up, just as we’d seen the Nez Perce and Cayuse women do in spring. We were a little late for gathering the camas or other eating roots, but the iris was what I wanted to plant at the grave. My hands in the warm earth brought my mother to mind. But then, everything reminded me of her.
Mr. Warren’s horse trailed behind, didn’t seem to need to have a rein held. I commented.
“A well-schooled horse is one of man’s finest accomplishments. Do you like horses, Miss Spalding?”
“I do. I miss Tashe, the mare I had at Lapwai.”
“An Indian pony, was it?”
“Nez Perce. Spotted hindquarters like freckles on a pale white face. She, too, followed behind without reins held when I walked.”
We had that in common then, the value of a well-trained horse. Relationships have been built on smaller foundations.