Jesse Lee prologue
The first time Jesse Lee came to our house, he had just moved into town and bought a piece of land. He wanted to know if my father would be willing to help out with building a house for him. When I answered the door and looked up at him, I had taken a step back nervously. He was tall and sturdy, with a little bit of a stomach hanging over his belt. His hair was thin and black with grey streaks in it. He had sideburns that came halfway down his jaw and stopped. He was towering over me, but then most people did. I later learned that he was over six feet tall. He took his hat off and smiled down at me.
"Hello, little master." He said.
"Hello, sir. Did you want to see my pa?"
"As a matter of fact, I was about to ask that very question."
I called my father and stepped aside for him.
"Hello, sir, I'm Jesse Lee." He stuck his hand out.
"Wilber Stevens," he shook his hand and added, "and my son Stan." He patted my shoulder and I put my hand out towards him. He shook it gently, but his hand covered mine so that I couldn't even see it. He told my father what he wanted, and that he would be willing to pay him too, and my father invited him in. Ma was just putting supper on the table.
"Why don't you stay for supper? My wife is a fine cook."
Jesse Lee needed no second invitation and scooted into one of the chairs "I'd be obliged."
Father did help him with the house, and after that, he and our family became close friends. He came over at least twice a week. Always he had a reason. Sometimes to borrow a cup of sugar, sometimes to return a cup of sugar. The funny thing about it was, he always arrived just before mealtime, and father never failed to invite him. He never failed to accept. After about a year of this, he stopped having reasons to come, he'd just show up at our door with a big smile and father would say "Come in! We're just about to eat!" And he would always sit down in the same chair, next to me. We became great pals. He took me fishing often, and sometimes to his house, which was often in disorder. But I understood. He was a bachelor. So was I, even though I was only twelve I used the excuse that I married men's rooms are messes, just like Jesse's. it didn't work on Ma, she said that she hoped one day I would get married and it would save my wife a lot of stress. In return for taking me fishing, I told Jesse when the best times to come for dinner were. Tuesday and Friday. Ma always cooked bigger meals and a delicious dessert on those days. So it was that Jesse came on those two days every week. He would knock on the door and when he came in, and extra plate was on the table because he was expected. One day, on Monday, Jesse came over. I was surprised because he never came on Mondays.
"Jesse! Come in. We're just about to eat." He came in and took his seat next to me. After the blessing he sat beaming without touching his food.
"Guess what?" He asked, pinching my arm playfully.
"Ow! Uh, your getting a new plow horse?"
"Wrong! Guess again!"
"You're going to inherit a fortune from a great uncle?" My father asked.
"I wish, but wrong again."
"Is it your birthday again?" Ma asked with a wink at me.
"No ma'am. I'm getting married!"
"Who?" We all exclaimed at once.
He hesitated and I grabbed his arm "don't make us guess that!" I pleaded.
"Alright! The preachers daughter."
"The preachers daughter?" We cried. And then we hugged him and wished him well. After supper he headed out the door and I followed him.
"Jesse," I said quietly. "I'll, I'll understand if you don't have time to take me fishing anymore."
"Nonsense little master!" He boomed. "I'll always find time to take you fishing."
I breathed a sign of relief and waved as he rode away.