By Gertrude May Lutz

All manner of men came to Hantown's Hill;
But why would a man like Samuel May
Leave his mansion one sunlit day--
Leave Kentucky for Placerville?

He left the land that his slaves had cleared--
Land of the aborigines.......
At the edge of the wood with the giant trees
That fell to the saw as his kinfolk cheered.

Left thirteen children; left his wife,
And with his fourth son, Andrew May
And a man named White, he rode away
To a hard-luck search in a land of strife.

The snow was deep and the wind was cold
And the pine shack shook like a man with a chill,
When Samuel May, discouraged and ill,
Lay down to die and cursed the gold

That had led him far from his life of ease--
The hand-made bricks in his big fireplace,
Its warm light flickering on each dear face
As he bounced his grandchildren on his knees....

While fiddlers played, each beau and belle
Bowed and curtseyed and joyfully pranced,
And the rafters rang with the tunes they danced--
Again he was home, again he was well.

He saw old Rastus pause at the door--
Saw the silver service, its sugar and cream,
The thin, white cups that were part of his dream,
And never had smelled such coffee before.

"Coffee," he cried, and he reared up in bed;
The walls were nothing but boards of the shack;
And his young son Andrew was easing him back,
"I'll get you some coffee," the young man said.

Then Andrew rode for miles around,
Asking at all the camps,,
Coffee's a luxury miners forgo
When time hangs heavy and gold's not found.

Till he came to the camp of a new gold rush.
Here were the berries, but none were for sale.
"But I must have coffee. My father--so pale!
It's for him, not me. It's his dying wish..."

"Why didn't you say so," a digger exclaimed.
"Here, son. Here's a scoop. Now gallop back fast.
No man should be lying alone at the last
With longing a-burning him with its flames."

Once more Sam saw old Rastus there--
The silver was gleaming like stars on the snow;
Each thin, white cup was filled with a glow
And amber aroma was curled on the air!

And Sam drank long with his old eyes closed,
Drank from a tin mug, but to him
The cup was china, as real as his dream.
He was happy then.....for awhile he dozed....

Then his wild eyes stared, he was half himself.
"Bury me here on this hill," he cried.
"Take the gold back home. Take the gold and ride!"
Then a rueful laugh. "What gold? What pelf?"

His glazed eyes cleared and he gently said,
"You're a good son, Andrew Jackson May.
God bless you, lad." And his thin hands lay
Like a yellowed page on the young man's head.

Like a benediction the whispered words:
"Ride over the mountain. Ride over the plain.
Till you ford Big Sandy. Ride home again.
But bury me here, 'neath a tree with the birds."

And so it was done, and the years went by,
And Colonel Andrew Jackson May,
Who lived through the War, turned his eyes one day
Toward a western hill and a western sky.

He carried a marker to name the man
Who slept in a rought box under a tree...
A man who was mixed in his memory;

But the shack was gone and the trees were grown,
And the son of the long-dead Samuel May
Turned his face to the sky to pray
For the grave that must ever remain unknown.

Was it a whiff of coffee he smelled?
He recalled the cup withered hands had held,
And he heard once more his father say,
"You're a good son, Andrew Jackson May."

© 1997 Robert L. Perry

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