Old man S’TO was a curmudgeon, or at least his sons thought so. Rue and Hau wanted to move to the city and work in the factories where they would make real money.
“And then you’ll just spend the money paying for a room to live in and food to eat. Here you live in a house that belongs to you and to your grandfathers before you. You have food to eat and extra to take to market. You mark my words,” the old man would shake his finger at his sons. “Here you are rich. The S’TO’s are important men in this valley. In the city you will be a poor nobody.”
The sons continued to grumble. Other young men from the valley had gone to the city to work in the factories. They’d bragged about how rich they would be and Old Man S’TO’s sons wanted to be rich too.
The old man took to watching his sons with narrow eyes and snarling, “And you don’t see those boys coming home with money bags full of gold do you? They’re no better than slaves.”
One day the boys saw their father in the yard walking a circuit around house. He stopped to look at the house then he’d continue his circuit. He made ten full circuits of the house before he announced to his sons. “The house don’t look right. I want you to gather up all the sticks in the fields and build a fence around the house.”
The boys built the fence according to their father’s directions. They agreed that planting would be easier when they wouldn’t have to clean the sticks from the field at planting time. They could hear their father crashing around inside the house. Occasionally he’d carry armloads of stuff out and toss it on the ground in front of the house.
By the time the fence was half finished every possession the small family owned littered the ground in front of the house. The old man spent the next few days sorting out old animal skins from those that could be used. He emptied jars of grain and took a particularly rancid-smelling earth pot out behind the house and buried it.
By the time the fence was finished, the young men had become certain an evil spirit had bitten their father and driven him crazy. Now, they were afraid to try to run away to the city because they didn’t know what would happen to the old man.
Well, next, the old man made them sweep every inch of their house inside and out then he made a mixture of water, white clay and mashed turu root and they spread this on the house, inside and out. The turu root smelled horrible, but the house looked fresh and clean when they were done and the smell went away when the house was dry.
The next day the old man sent Rue into the fields to dig up some plants with blue flowers and put them in holes around the house while he took Hau up on the mountain to dig up the white flowers that grew there. He dug up a small tree and carried it down to the house. Now it was the son’s turn to look at their father with narrowed eyes and wonder what he was up to.
“You see. Our house is beautiful. True. And, it is ours. You will never be this rich anywhere else. Now, in the morning, before light I’m leaving for the day. I’ll be back just after dark. I want you to have dinner waiting for me, air out all the sleeping palettes and put fresh straw in the goat shed.
“We don’t have goats Papa.”
“You do what I tell you.”
Rue and Hau assumed that when Papa walked away in the early morning with a bag of beans over each shoulder that he intended to return with a goat—maybe two. They cleaned and repaired the goat shed. In the afternoon they went fishing then traded the fish they caught for some bean cakes baked by the widow S’PU.
As the moon rose over the mountains in the east, Rue saw three people coming up the path beside the creek. “Hau, we have company. Better fetch some fresh water.”
By the time Rue and Hau had set out a gourd of fresh water, they recognized their father as he led two young women up the path to their house. He brought the women inside and announced. “These women are to be your wives. Treat them with gentleness and respect. They shall have command over everything inside the fence. You may sort it out between yourselves as to which one you want.”
The old man turned, left the hut and made his way to the goat shed leaving two giggling young women and two stunned sons to sort out who would have whom.