A Little Romance on the Prairie

Family sayings have a funny way of becoming part of your traditions. The other day the traffic was slow, and my husband was becoming impatient. ''John and Martha, going to the fireworks,'' I murmured. He laughed and took my hand. We slowed down and pointed out sights around us to the kids. When we got to our destination, my daughter asked, ''Who are John and Martha anyway?''

I remember family car rides when I was young. Occasionally the cars would slow to a snail's pace, and somewhere up front an antiquated vehicle would be leading the pack, the driver peacefully enjoying the scenery around him. My father's vocabulary would change, and curse words we weren't allowed to use would be mumbled under his breath. My mother would notice and would smile and say, ''John and Martha, going to the fireworks.''

At once, my father would relax. He'd reach over, squeeze Mother's hand, drape an arm around her shoulders, and pull her close. Then he'd point things out to us kids in the back seat.

But who were John and Martha, my daughter still wanted to know. John and Martha were two young people who lived in the prairies in the days of my grandparents. John loved Martha very much, but he could never tell her. John was always tongue-tied when it came to talking to her, although he could talk to her younger brothers and sisters with no problem. And the stories he would tell to keep them entertained!

One day, news came of a big fireworks display in a neighboring town, and John got up the courage to ask Martha's father if he could take her. Her father agreed.

That evening, John came by to pick up Martha in his wagon. As he helped her into the seat, Martha smiled at him.

''Finally, a time alone with Martha,'' he thought. But as he turned to ''giddy-up'' the horses, he heard giggling. There in the back of the wagon sat Martha's younger siblings.

Martha's father said, ''You wouldn't mind giving the younger ones a ride too, would you?''

John agreed with a half-hearted nod, and soon he, Martha, and the young chaperones were on the road to the fireworks.

The trip between the two towns was terribly short. John knew the only way to extend his time with Martha was to travel at a snail's pace and let the other wagons pass. The short trip became an hour's drive, then two, as John's horses walked ever so slowly. Other buggies passed them with scowling faces, but John didn't mind. He only had eyes for Martha.

The young ones began to whine as the time dragged on. John had to keep them occupied. He made up stories about the pixies in the long grass and how, if you looked hard, you might see them. Or, how just off to the right in that den lay a badger, and if you watched carefully you might see his black nose and silvery back.

As John wove his tallest tales, he noticed Martha edging over in the seat. Somewhere during that long drive, she took his hand, and he kissed it fondly.

When they got to the fireworks, the kids told their father about the badger den and the pixies. Their father smiled and shook his head, and Martha's mother winked at him. John and Martha sat beneath the fireworks, and as the sky lit up, John proposed to her.

I like to think John and Martha could have been my grandparents. I know they could always spin a yarn and keep me busy looking for things in the long grass on family trips. And who knows? Maybe they stole a kiss or two in their day, too.

So, the next time you're tied up in traffic on one of those long roads, don't curse. Take the time to relax and reflect on life and love. And on John and Martha, going to the fireworks.

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