The ornery old rooster runs away from home.
Preacher Man’s Star Mountain Adventure
Jesse sat on the front porch of the old farm house. Grandma was busy in the kitchen. Grandpa was bringing two buckets filled with milk down from the barn. His brother and sister had left for school. So it was just Jesse and Preacher Man, the crazy rooster, sitting on the porch waiting.
“Come on in, boy.” Grandma called. “There’s there’s butter to churn, candles to dip, a fire box to fill and Christmas cookies to bake.”
Jesse cocked his head. Did he hear her right, candles to dip? “Grandma?”
Before he could finish his question, Grandma turned from the sink and dried her hands on her apron. She laughed, “Just seeing if you were paying attention. That was one of the chores when I was little.”
“But the fire box needs to be topped off. Go on and start bringing in some wood.”
Grandma had her fire place where she’d cooked many a meal. Her father had even built in a little oven into the side. Grandma baked the best biscuits and treats in that oven, just like her mother had done before her.
Grandpa had saved up and bought Grandma one of those new fangled wood burning stoves. It was pretty, and Grandma loved to use it, but she still liked baking her biscuits and cookies in the old chimney oven.
Jesse skipped around to the wood pile. Preacher Man must have heard Grandma’s instructions because he was sitting on top of the wood pile. He was crowing up a storm. He and Jesse would talk to each other Preacher Man in cock-a-doodle doos, and Jesse in people talk.
“Really? Are you sure? We’d better get the wood for Grandma. She wants it right now.”
“COCK-A-DOODLE- DOO!” Peck, peck, peck.
“I don’t care if you are hunting bugs. Grandma wants the wood, so get down off that pile so I can get it for her.”
“COCK-A-DOODLE- DOO!” Preacher Man tilted his head looking at Jesse with one eye, then cocked his head the other way and studied Jesse some more.
Grandma lifted the kitchen window. “Jesse, you tell that rooster if he doesn’t let you get the fire wood; there’s a stew pot that’s looking pretty empty in here!”
“COCK-A,” Preacher Man quit in mid crow deciding it might be best to move off the wood pile.
Jesse laughed and started gathering an arm full of wood to take to Grandma. “I told you!” He smirked at the old ornery rooster.
Grandma opened the door for Jesse. “Sometimes, I think that rooster has a death wish.” She shook her head.
“Aw, Grandma, you know we could never hurt Preacher Man. After all, what would the Preacher say?” His eyes sparkled as blue as the noon sky. His grin revealed the cutest dimples as any Grandma had ever seen.
Grandma smiled and gathered Jesse close. “You know, you look just like your Daddy at that age. I guess you’re right, it wouldn’t be right to cook the preacher, now would it.”
After Jesse stacked the wood for Grandma he went back outside having been released from his chores.
Being the youngest in that area of the valley, there weren’t any children that he could play with until his brother and sister returned from school. Jesse naturally went out to search for his friend, Preacher Man.
Jesse called for Preacher Man and listened for his loud song. He looked down the drive. He called again and looked up the drive. Nothing, the chickens were clucking so he checked the chicken coup. No Preacher Man.
Jesse buttoned up his jacket and pulled his toboggan down over his ears. Clouds were coming over the ridge of Star Mountain. Grandpa said there was snow on the way at breakfast. It looked like he was right. The winds started to pickup, and the temperature was dropping fast. Tiny flakes were starting to fall. Jesse could see them if he looked just right.
Where could that silly rooster be? Jesse checked the shed where Grandpa kept his tools. Preacher Man wasn’t there. He walked up to the pig pen. Jesse went all the way around. The hogs were disappointed that there wasn’t a meal in it for them. They loudly protested as Jesse walked on.
He climbed up the hill heading toward the barn. Jesse couldn’t remember a time when Preacher Man wasn’t crowing up a storm. The valley seemed so quiet. Jesse yelled, “Preacher Man!” He listened; the cows were way down the pasture, close to the creek. From this vantage point, they looked like tiny ants laying down on the field, and he couldn’t hear them mooing, either. “Preacher Man!” Nothing.
Jesse searched the barn without any luck. A feeling of desperation filled Jesse. What had happened to Preacher Man?
The clouds thickened and the winds started to howl through the woods on Star Mountain.
Strawberry Pike ran behind the old barn. Jesse knew the old cabin was just down the lane a bit. It didn’t take long to run there on a sunny summer day. Maybe Preacher Man went there. It was Jesse’s last idea of a place where the ornery rooster might go.
Jesse trudged up the dirt road, snowflakes as big as Jesse’s hands fell so hard he could barely see the ruts where the wagons drove daily. He was starting to panic. Poor Preacher Man, lost in the snow, how would he be able to take care of himself? What if somebody found him and decided he would make a good Christmas dinner? Jesse trudged on until finally reached the cabin. It looked magical in the new snow. Sitting up on the roof line, which sloped dangerously to one side, sat Preacher Man.
Jesse yelled at the cantankerous bird. “Preacher Man, you come down from there! We’ve got to get home. Grandma is going to bake Christmas cookies today for the Pageant. I know I’ll have to take some more fire wood in for her. Come on, we’ve got to go home.”
Preacher Man just sat there. Not a sound did he make. His feathers started turning white as he stoically sat on the roof.
“I’m going to get in trouble, silly bird. Come on down!” Jesse stomped his foot. He was getting frustrated with the rooster.
The rooster sat, it didn’t move an inch. He didn’t seem to care what Jesse was doing.
The cold wet snow started penetrating Jesse’s coat. “Preacher Man, come on, it’s getting colder! I want to go home.”
“COCK- A – DOODLE- DOO!” the rooster didn’t move from his spot.
The snow continued to fall harder and faster. Jesse was getting colder and colder. He begged the rooster to come down.
The rooster shook the snow from his feathers and flew down to Jesse; then strutted onto the old porch. Jesse followed Preacher Man out of the windblown snow. He was shivering and his teeth were chattering.
Preacher Man stood at the door of the old cabin. “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!” Then he peck, peck, pecked at the door.
Jesse opened the door for Preacher Man and they walked into the old cabin. Dust moats floated in the air. He had never been in the cabin before. He knew it was a special place, but everyone told him to stay out. Everyone was scared it would fall down because it was ancient, but he was so cold. He had to get out of the weather.
Jesse saw the fire place and the fire box was full of wood. Snowflakes drifted down the chimney. He wished someone had taught him how to build a fire. Grandpa would just poke in the ashes and the wood would magically be on fire. He found a stick and poked in the ashes, nothing happened. He sighed; guess I don’t have the touch.
Jesse walked around rubbing his arms trying to get warm. His teeth stopped chattering. He discovered the cabin had a loft, with a ladder that went up to it. He started to look up there, but the bottom rungs of the ladder were broken.
Preacher Man took up his spot on the third rung of the ladder. He perched there silently preening his feathers.
Jesse continued the walk explore the cabin. In front of the fire place was a dust covered table and two chairs. Spider webs draped like curtains in the corners. Against the wall was a sink which had a pump. Jesse pumped, nothing but dirt came out. An empty glass jar sitting by the sink reminded Jesse that he was getting hungry and thirsty, but he was also sleepy.
Jesse sat down on the cot. “Preacher Man, I’m just going to rest for a minute, then we’re going back home.”
Jesse curled up on the bed. He pulled the blanket over himself. Preacher Man strutted over to Jesse. He snuggled up against the little boy under the covers. Every so often, he would make a soft brawk.
Grandma was frantic. Jesse had gone out to play with Preacher Man while she baked some Christmas cookies for the town pageant tomorrow night. She started calling when she saw the first snowflake. She started ringing the dinner bell when the grass was covered with snow. Jesse had never taken more than a couple of minutes to get home when the dinner bell rang. Now, they couldn’t hear Preacher Man and they couldn’t find Jesse either.
Grandpa bundled up and fetched Bill. “I’m going to ride around the farm to see if I can find Jesse.” He reassured Grandma,
“He probably just went to a neighbors and can’t hear the bell.”
“You know he knows better.” She wrung her hands as she often did when she was worried.
Grandpa left Grandma sitting by the kitchen window. She was watching the road, the heavily falling snow, and praying the Jesse was safe.
Charlie and Lucy bounded in the house, home for winter break without a worry in the world, until they saw Grandma sitting there. “What’s wrong?”
“Jesse hasn’t come home.”
Charlie spun out of the house and went to the dinner bell. He rang and rang it. He’d stop and watch the horizon, looking for any sign of movement in the falling snow. Then he’d start ringing it again. “Dog gone it, Jesse. Where are you?”
Grandpa had made it to several of the neighbor’s farms. All the men folk were coming out to help hunt for Jesse. Some of the quilting bee ladies rode with their husbands over to Grandma’s farm house. They would start making warm ciders and soups to warm up the volunteer searchers.
Jesse slept cuddled up with his friend Preacher Man. He dreamed it was a warm, sunny day and he and Preacher Man were playing tag. It wasn’t really fair when Preacher Man could fly and either catch or get away from Jesse, but Jesse didn’t care.
He followed Preacher Man around the corner of the cabin. The scene abruptly changed, the cabin and woods were covered with snow. The sun was shining while snowflakes danced in the air, icicles hung from the trees and eves, but it wasn’t cold. It was beautiful. It was magical and smoke was wafting from the chimney.
“Come on, Preacher Man. I smell cookies.” Jesse ran into the cabin.
There at the fire place was an old woman all bent with age. She was pulling a cookie sheet from the oven, just like Grandma had in her kitchen.
“Wash your hands first,” the old woman said. She had eyes that twinkled like the noon sky and dimples when she smiled. Her hair was as white as snow and it was pulled up like a snowball on top of her head. She had on long skirts covered with an apron. She looked familiar and she felt like love.
She placed three cookies on the little plate and poured a glass of milk for Jesse. She sat down at the table with him. He smiled at her. “What’s your name?”
“Does it really matter?”
“Nobody was in this cabin.” He munched down on one of the sugar cookies. “Mmmm, this is just like my Grandma makes.”
“Is it now?”
“Yes ma’am, it’s just like Grandma’s cookies.” Jesse looked to the door. “Preacher Man is my friend. He ran away today.”
“Looks like you found him.” She paused and looked at the rooster. “You call him Preacher Man?”
“Uh huh, ‘cause he’s just as loud as the preacher can be.”
“Is that so, I guess the new preacher is pretty loud then.”
“Sometimes; Lucy stuck her fingers in her ears one Sunday.”
“Oh dear, that’s really loud.” She checked the fire. Stoked the ashes and added another piece of wood. “Listen, do you hear that?”
“Shh, boy, you have to listen.” She silently she waited. “There boy, do you hear that.”
Jesse heard the jingle bells way off in the distance.
“They’re coming for you, boy. You’ve got to get ready to go.”
“Whose coming? Why do I have to go? I’d like to stay for a visit. You’re nice. You could come to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner. She’d like that.”
“Oh my, boy, it’s been nice to be back here in the old cabin. I’d love to visit on Christmas with your family, but it’s not meant to be. We’ll see each other again. I promise.” The old lady took off her locket and placed it in Jesse’s hand. “Merry Christmas, little one, Merry Christmas.” She kissed his forehead and she was gone.
The jingling was getting louder.
Jesse woke to the sound of Preacher Man “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!”
The jingling stopped and the yelling began. “Jesse! Jesse!”
Jesse rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. “I’m right here.” He yelled back.
Preacher Man was still going strong. Jesse wondered if anyone could hear him over the noisy rooster.
Grandpa pushed the door open on the cabin. “Thank God we found you.” He hugged Jesse close to his chest. Once the relief had washed over both of them, Grandpa started in, “What are you doing up here?”
Jesse snuggled closer to Grandpa. “Preacher Man ran away. I think he thought Grandma was going to cook him.”
A curious expression crossed over Grandpa’s face. “Well, you can tell us all about it at home!”
Grandpa handed the mayor Preacher Man. The mayor laughed, “When we talk about this, we’re going to say Preacher Man led us right to Jesse. I guess that makes Preacher Man a loud mouthed hero!”
Grandpa lifted Jesse up to get in the wagon and noticed he was holding on to something. “What ‘cha got there?”
Jesse opened his hand and showed Grandpa the locket. “Where’d you get that?”
“She gave it to me.”
“Who son, you were the only one here.”
“She didn’t tell me her name, but she baked me cookies and gave me a glass of milk. You know what, Grandpa? Her sugar cookies taste just like Grandma’s.” Jesse chattered all the way home.
Grandma, Charlie and Lucy ran outside when they heard the jingle bells of the mayor’s wagon coming down the drive.
Jesse jumped down running into Grandma’s arms. He gave her a huge hug. “I’m sorry Grandma, but we can’t tease Preacher Man anymore.” His face was as serious as could be. “He thought he was going into the dumplings and he ran away.”
Grandma swallowed. “Well, I, uh, hmmmm. I guess.” She looked bewildered, but she hugged Jesse again. “Let’s get out of this cold. Mayor, come on in and warm up. Charlie, ring the bell and call off the search. Jesse is home.”
Jesse pulled at Grandma’s apron, “And Preacher Man is home.”
The Christmas Pageant celebration started a little early on Star Mountain that year. All the towns’ folk that helped in the search came out to Grandma’s farm. Big pots of stew bubbled in the fire place. Corn bread baked in the chimney oven, and biscuits in Grandma’s new fangled wood stove.
Once Jesse had his fill of supper, he asked to be excused. He was so very tired. He pulled the locket out of his pocket and opened it. He pulled down the covers and looked at the pictures in the locket. There was one of a man, the other was a woman. She was sitting up straight, with a snowball on her head, but it wasn’t white. Her hair looked darker in the picture. Her eyes twinkled and she had dimples, but she felt like love.
Jesse was sound asleep when Grandma came in to tuck him in. She saw the locket lying open in Jesse’s hand. She picked it up, touching the little pictures with a sense of reverence. She closed the locket and placed it on his bedside table and blew out the light.
Later that night when Grandma got ready for bed, she had a special prayer of thanksgivings to say. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for helping us to find Jesse and bringing him home safe and sound. And Lord, if you would please, tell my Grandma thank you for watching out for a sweet little boy with eyes the color of the noon sky, and dimples just like hers.”