Bullpen Story
A Place to Hang Your Hat
Howard Fichtel

Bullpen Story

Jedidiah Taylor was an orphan that had neither a recollection of blood kin nor a place he could truly call home. He did not think fondly of the few stays with newly settled families; he was only taken in to do chores. There was one exception, he did appreciate the widow Turner’s kind way she treated him. The widow’s home was the only place he felt wanted outside of the church orphanage.

The scrawny boy, weighing seventy-five pounds fully clothed, ventured out on his own. With many grown men heading west to seek their fortune in gold, there was usually paying work to be found on most farms and ranches.

More than anything else, Jed wanted a place to call home. He decided to settle on one place to work. He headed for the Adelaide spread outside Nacogdoches, Texas. The brand for the Adelaide was called the Double-A. It was a double “AA” with a bar joining them. It was named after the owner’s homeland, Adelaide, Australia.

Jed walked to the Adelaide ranch during the night and fell asleep on the front porch of the big two-story house. The foreman, Justin Ketchum walked out on the porch to enjoy the quiet while he had a cup of coffee and rolled a smoke. He stared at the boy for a piece then bid the lad “good morning” as he poked him in the ribs with his boot. “I do not recall seeing you around these parts young’un, and you don’t work on this ranch, are you lost?” Jed rolled over and stood up while dusting his clothes off with his hat, “Mister, I am not lost, I am just where I want to be”. “I see, and what do folks call you?” “I am Jedidiah Taylor sir, but you can call me Jed.” “Seeing how you are not lost and are just where you want to be Mr. Jedidiah Taylor, your most likely hungry seeing it is breakfast time, and you must of walked all night to get here, is that about right?” Jed gave a quick nod and said, “yes sir, I surely am”. Ketchum led him into the kitchen, “Ms. Mickey, do you think you could scratch up a few biscuits and lick for this cub?” Ms. Mickey made the best biscuits around those parts. She looked at the boy and said, “I surely can Justin, I’ll tend to him”.

Ms. Mickey’s full name was Mickey Parson; she was a black woman in her early sixties’ she had known the ranch owner since they were children, William “Boss” Kingston was a few years younger than her. She and her late husband, John, were good friends of Kingston; he invited her to stay at the ranch so he could care for her after John died. William Kingston’s and Mickey Parson’s parents had been good friends and business partners.

Pointing to Jed, she said “you sit down over yonder; what should I call you?” My name is Jedidiah Taylor ma’am, but please call me Jed.” “Aren’t you well mannered?” She put two fluffy biscuits on a plate and poured warm molasses all over the top and then poured a little extra as she winked at him. “Here is some biscuits and lick.” Jed replied, “what is lick ma’am?” “You will see in a minute, now you go on and sit Mr. Taylor before all the ranch hands start coming in for their breakfast.” She repeated the same two more times, with as many cups of milk. Jed spoke up, “I figured it out ma’am” as he smiled and licked his fingers. “Polite and smart” replied Mickey as she laughed; she had a warm gentle laugh. Mr. Ketchum walked back in from the porch and picked up a biscuit. “Ms. Mickey, if you have no use for this pup, I am going to introduce Mr. Kingston to his new hand.” She smiled at Jed and handed Justin a cup of coffee, “please give this to Mr. Kingston” then waved them on. When they walked in his office, young Jedidiah wasted no time, he stood tall, walked up and said, “sir, you must be Mr. Kingston, my name is Jedidiah Taylor, but you can call me Jed. I have been thinking about where I wanted to work and decided I would work for you, right here on the “AA”. I am ready to start right now since I already et.” William Kingston stood taller than most men, six foot six inches and topped out at three hundred pounds, not an ounce of fat on his chiseled frame. He looked at the boy without speaking. He remembered coming to America as a lad about his age and having to find work to help his family out. His family left Australia with nothing, but some extra clothes and his father’s saddler tools. He and his father had to provide for his mother and two younger brothers. William Kingston smiled then chuckled. He pointed at the boy, then looked at Justin and said, “this young bloke reminds me of me when I was his age.” He shook hands with the boy and said “Now Jedidiah, I suppose I should be flattered you chose my spread, but tell me lad, how do you know about the Adelaide?” “Sir, the men in town speak highly of you, they say you are an honest man and Sister Alma says there are not many earthly men to say that about.”

Jed laid out his predicament, “sir, I am an orphan and have been as far as I can remember. An orphan means I got no ma and pa. People only take me out of the orphanage to do their chores. That is except Mrs. Turner, I like doing chores for her cuz she teaches me things too and treats me nice, but she don’t have much to feed me for very long. I am almost thirteen years old; I want a place to call home; I will work hard for you.” Boss glanced over to Justin and nodded then said “I’ve got to go into town on business, will be home about supper time”, then looked at Jedidiah and said “Mr. Taylor, I believe I understand, you’re on a walkabout looking for a place to hang your hat, I suppose all of us want that. I will think it over, no promises. In the meantime, you go help Ms. Mickey in the kitchen to work off your breakfast. If you work Ms. Mickey out of a job, Mr. Ketchum will see to it you are kept busy. Does that sound fair to you lad?” Grinning, he replied “yes sir!” Ms. Mickey was standing in the hallway waiting for Jed to return to the kitchen. “Are you going to be eating lunch with us Mr. Taylor?” Jed replied, “I am ma’am, and Mr. Kingston said I will be working for you.”

Mr. Kingston stopped in to see Sheriff Billy Carney to make sure no parents were out looking for a lost boy. “Mornin Billy, I would ask how you are, but I can see as ornery as ever; how is Betty?” “She is fine and says it is about time you stop over for supper. What brings you to town Boss?” “What can you tell me about a lad named Jedidiah Taylor, any folks looking for a runaway?” Billy poured bourbon in two tin coffee cups while they sat across his desk from each other. “Boss, the boy is from town and stays at the orphanage mostly. He is a good kid, very polite. He does not have much of a future to look forward to though; some of the newly arriving settlers only want to take him in to work as free labor, no intentions of keeping him on. You best stop by the orphanage and talk to Sister Alma for any more information on the boy. She has a herd of kids to take care of. That boy is the oldest of them.” Kingston drank the rest down to wash the trail dust out of his throat and handed the tin cup back to Billy. “Much obliged Billy, you stop by the ranch sometime for a game of chess when you have time. You are the only one I let win. No excuses about being busy, the cells here are collecting more dust than my barn.” “I will take you up on that when you let Betty cook up some of her chicken and dumplings for you. No excuses for you either, Justin is the real ramrod of your outfit, you’ve got plenty of time too.” Boss smiled at his friend, they shook hands, “Billy, I’ll make it soon, I promise. You can tell Betty to be expecting me Sunday evening.”

Kingston approached the small orphanage, removed his hat as he neared the doorway, knocked, and said “hello inside, I am here to see Sister Alma.” As she approached, she replied in a quiet and confident voice, “I am her, brother William, please come in.” Sister Alma had a slender build and was barely four and a half feet tall. She was quick witted, spoke to the point, and cared dearly for the children. Before he could ask how she knew him, she added, “no one else matches your description, your horse has the “AA” brand, and your saddle has the initials WK, that’s how I know your name brother William.” “Sister, you are observant, I’ll give you that. I am here about a lad named Jedidiah Taylor, he showed up at my ranch this morning looking for work and a home by his words. Did he run away?” “He did, last night. He is a good boy and is ready to be part of a family. He needs more than hard work at his age. He needs a father and mother too.” “Sister, let’s not move too fast. I can take the boy in and give him a place to work and grow up, but I have no wife. If it works out, he can stay. I recall being his age. Although not an orphan myself I understand what it is to be a young man and to need direction, I can give it to him, my men will help too. You can check in about me with Sheriff Carney, he will vouch for me.” “Mr. William Kingston, I know all about you from John and Mickey Parson, God rest his soul.” She shook his hand then held it to her cheek, and said, “bless you, bless you brother William!” She stepped back and looked at him, “there is one demand I have brother William, you keep up his schooling, Mickey Parson can teach him, and he be allowed to come to church.” “Sister, you drive a hard bargain, but I will accommodate your demands.” Boss observed the meager provisions for her and the orphans. Sister Alma stopped outside the front door while he continued to the steps. Kingston turned around at the top step; “I will have some flour, beef, and firewood delivered to you in the morning Sister. Now I have a demand for you; you look in on Mrs. Turner and when she needs chores done, you let the sheriff know and I will have Jed and a few hands come and help, the same for you.” She sprung forward like a cat and was hanging on to his neck, her feet high above the porch, and tears flowing down her red cheeks. He hugged her then set her back on the porch, one hand on each shoulder, and slipped twenty dollars in her hand.

Kingston stopped at Manuel’s dry goods store and bellowed as he entered, “buenos tardes jefe.” “Como esta my friend, what brings you to my humble store? It has been a long time since you stop by.” “Manuel, I have a favor to ask of you and need you to keep it between us.” “Anything for you mi hermano; what can Manuel help you with?” Do you know Sister Alma at the orphanage and a widow named Mrs. Turner?” “Si my friend, all the town knows them.” Kingston paused then said. “Whenever they come in, I want you to put their goods on my account. For now, put together what you think they need for provisions and throw in some horehound and licorice for the children.” “Si that will make them very happy for your kindness.” “Manny, they cannot know, it is a gift.” “What if they ask me why I am delivering a basket and not taking their money?” “You will think of something. Leave the basket on the porch after dark and for money, tell them it is such a small amount they need not worry about it now, they can settle-up later. Manuel, no one has the gift of talking like you do. You’ll think of something. Do we have a deal?” “Si, it is a secret, but they would be very happy for your kindness if I could tell them.” The men shook hands and Kingston departed the store.

Justin Ketchum met Kingston at the corral. “Boss, that boy is a working fool, he ain’t slowed down since you left. Were you able to find out about him?” “I did Justin, he was straight up with us. I made a deal with Sister Alma; he will stay on. Have Ms. Mickey set him up in the little room next to hers and ask her to see me when she has time. I will see the young bloke after supper.” Justin grinned, “I will take care of it.” He was pleased as he was already fond of the boy.

Ms. Mickey went to the study and found Mr. Kingston looking out the window. “William, what are you in such deep thought about this evening?” She was the only one who called him by his given name, besides Sister Alma. “I spoke to Sister Alma and Sheriff Carney, the lad’s story is like he said.” “What are you going to do William?” “For now, he can stay, but Mickey, I do not know how to care for such a small lad, what with the ranch and his schooling and all.” “William, you know John and I never had children, but I do recall schooling you when we were children and you turned out alright; I believe I can teach this young boy too, as long as he does not wonder off to go fishing as much as you did.” Boss smiled and motioned for her; as he hugged her, he said, “looks like you are still teaching me.” She wiped her eyes on her apron as she walked toward the door, and paused and turned around, “thank you William.”

That evening Kingston and Jed met in his office. “Lad, I spoke to Sister Alma, you will be staying on. Ms. Mickey has a room ready for you; you will report to her and Mr. Ketchum at first light. Lad, except for branding time, you will go to church regular and sit down with Ms. Mickey for schooling when she says so, but no shenanigans. Do you have any questions?” “Yes Sir, what’s a shenanigan?” Kingston leaned back and laughed deeply, “no mischief lad, no fishing.” The two shook hands. As Jed approached the door, Boss called out, “Jed”, he turned around to listen, “welcome to the “AA” lad, run off to find Ms. Mickey.” Jed smiled and continued walking out the door.

Kingston picked up his pipe and tobacco pouch then walked toward the porch, he paused to look at the little hat hanging next to his and quietly said to himself, “you found your place lad, to hang your hat.”