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Since the death of her husband she’s ruled her domain with an iron fist. Elegant hands with long perfectly manicured fingers clenched so tightly that the knuckles blanched due to lack of circulation. She told herself that it was necessary, this harsh dominating stance. If she were truthful with herself she would have to admit that dominance and the desire to have her way were such an ingrained part of her personality that to be otherwise had not been an option, had never in fact entered her mind.

“Necessary” she thought,”to keep them all together, to keep the family intact. Whole. Harmonious.”

Else the children would scatter to the winds, take their meager inheritance and chase their whimsical impulses wherever it led until the money ran out. It wouldn’t take long. Months, maybe even a year if they kept themselves in check. She knew better than anyone that they’d never kept themselves in check before.

“Why would they begin a new habit with money burning a hole in their pockets? Impossible, it’s better this way.” she rationalized.

The widow still considered them children although the youngest graduated high school a few months before his father’s death. Two boys and a girl. The eldest child of this brood, the girl, was in reality a 27-year-old woman; had a three-year old son and at the behest of her father married a reasonably good man ten years her senior. At least she was safe from doing anything too stupid. The boys, well who knew what shenanigans they’d get into. Best not watch them too closely, ignorance of their actions might prevent her from having to, in a plague of good conscience,  disinherit them.

The inheritance was the primary source of her power. The widow’s only power to hold them for any length of time lay in the accumulated savings of their father and the farm land he accumulated bit by bit, five acres here, ten there, a huge hunk across the dirt road and down a piece. The whole package consisted of 50+ acres of land, a small herd of prime aged beef cattle, Sally the beloved but crazy old white barrel racing pony, a double wide but impressively large trailer, a tack room adjacent to a dilapidated storage shed,  and a chunk of money, the exact amount known only to the widow.

To put the assets in perspective one should consider that the value of the property was where the cash concentrated. At the time undisturbed farm land might have been worth five thousand dollars an acre, perhaps more if you found an unsuspecting Yankee and the rain held in abeyance, but when the rain washed out the road then that land would be worth less, much less. The seasonal Florida summer rains often washed out the road, leaving potholes and stretches of road filled with slippery muck such that no one, not even the daintiest high stepper, escaped entry without a layer of filth half way up their calves.

Rumor had it that the father had been a handsome man, charming and dapper in a real life redneck Rhett Butler sort of way. A devil-may-care gleam in his eyes, large calloused hands, broad square shoulders, likely a descendent of the darkly cavalier black Irish who migrated to the America’s in the mid 19th century  to escape death by starvation due to the prevailing potato famine and avoid their bloody English overlords. A rugged man more suited to rustling cattle on horseback under the endless blue skies of  Montana, panning for gold in frigid Alaskan streams, wildcatting for Texas oil, or rigging nets offshore while battling Nor’esters and the accompanying fierce pounding waves.

Instead he found the unsavory residue of his life’s choices clinging to him like the mud on his boots dragging him downward, anchoring him not to the adventurous life he craved, but to the stationary life of a man who works the land, while observing his obligations and supporting the wife and the children.

By the time of the father’s death he was a shadow of his former self, hunched, grey, tired and often wincing in pain as the cancer that racked his body grew with alacrity, invading and colonizing new territory not completely unlike the English that plagued his predecessors.  The father maintained what dignity he could muster to the very end of his life; demanding that he hold his head up and feed himself while the strength in his hands held, and failing that glowered darkly simmering with rage at his own ineptitude.

To be continued….