When Patricia Woolsey wishes for change… (Two Pan, 1871)
They stink. And soot off. But what are you going to do? Besides, through the whole process, I learned why Violet Spinrad won’t picket the whore house or saloon.
We Woolseys are probably the most prosperous folks in the valley, but with oil being 18 miles over the mountain and more expensive than a miner’s widget, we rarely light a lamp. When my last wax candle was down to a nub, I asked Violet Spinrad if she’d help make tallow candles. I have a 12-hole mold which forms a nicer candle than what she does (puts dirt in a jar and hollows out the center.)
Even though it was a gray freezing day, she arrived bundled against the cold with her three youngest children. I made Mr. Woolsey build an outside fire to keep the rendering stink out of the house. It took about an hour to dice and cook the fat into oil. During that time I found out…
Moving to Oregon, was all Violet’s idea. It was the only way they’d own a piece of land because Bricker’s a …she didn’t use the word, laggard, but that’s what she meant. And then Bricker—
She got quiet when the kids gathered around as we strained out cooked gristle. I told the children to give the crispins to the birds, but her little ones ate it like it was candy.
I thought I could get the rest of the story while we simmered the oil again to get more stink out, but she suddenly became busy herding everyone into wick-making duties.
One child held an end of a fabric strip and another twisted the free end until it kinked up on itself. I have to say, Violet is the best there ever was at threading a homemade wick in the candle tube. I rarely get the knot centered and oil leaks out the bottom. Or my wicks are slightly crooked, and the candle won’t come out of the mold. Violet’s the best at needle work in the valley, but hardly has a pot to toss out the window, much less anything to sew with.
I shooed all the kids away before we poured into the mold. It’s a delicate process, besides…without little ears around, I wangled the rest of Violet’s story.
It seems…she knows Bricker’s a drunk. She went to thank Silky Sue for bringing her cookstove over the mountain and found Bricker face down in front of Opal’s palace. The whores had covered him with a blanket. Can you imagine? A decent woman going to see a saloon hussy? What I didn’t know is that Bricker hasn’t been home in a month.
She suddenly stopped talking. Thanked me and bundled up her children and her share of the candles. She wouldn’t let Mr. Woolsey give her a ride. Nor would she take the nice calf liver I offered.
I watched her walk down the trail until shadows overtook her.
It’s times like this I regret the person I am and wish I would change. Back in Nebraska, we had lamps shining in every room. Now, I feel shamed for wishing for a well-lit room that doesn’t smell like burnt cow.