Sunday, March 14, 2010

MEMOIRS--Chapter five--The hired man in Salt Gulch


DAUGHTERS OF THE SHADOW MEN

Chapter five

Daddy took the family on a tour of the Salt Gulch ranch and I thought it was very interesting. First he took us to the giant sinkhole on the north end of the ranch to the side of a field. Whole trees were sticking out of it and since it was quite close to a road that ran along side the field, he warned Margie and me never to walk along this road as it might cave in on us and catapult us into the sinkhole. We were sufficiently frightened and assured him that we would never do such a thing. Mother who always asked a lot of questions when she didn't know something told us that Grandpa King told her when he homesteaded the ranch an underlying layer of gypsum caused the whole ranch to drop ten or twelve feet when he watered it! I didn't know if I believed such a tale. It must have been frightening to go out and find your farm land dropped ten feet over night. But the way that land acted as time went by caused me to believe his story. That wasn't the last sinkhole that gave me nightmares in Salt Gulch.
There was also the cutest hill that rose up in the middle of the ranch close to the house which I came to think of as kid hill. It was not good for anything else but kids playing on it and we built a lot of slate rock houses up there. We used the slate rocks to write on in our play schools. Sometimes we would see big yellow blow snakes curled around in the trees with mother birds flying about and twittering, but once we learned they were not poisonous, we didn't let them scare us. I did hate to see them going after the baby birds, but that was the law of nature. Daddy warned us to watch out for rattlesnakes especially when we were barefoot, as they were around. They just stayed out of sight more than the blow snakes.
I was very alarmed at that news since Boulder had been settled so long the rattlesnakes stayed in the hills if there were any left around there. But the Salt Gulch ranch had not been inhabited enough to keep the rattlesnakes away. I don't think I ever saw a rattlesnake in Salt Gulch but enough were killed by the hired men we knew they were there.
I didn't think much of the old log house. The floors were very crooked and the mud was starting to fall out from between the logs. Still, I had never lived in a real log house before. So I thought that would be different. I was very careful not to say anything derogatory about the ranch so Mother and Father would not be discouraged with their new venture.
I already knew that a girl named Barbara lived not far from us in Salt Gulch who was my age. Her younger sister Gary was a year younger than Margie. We could hardly wait to invite them over to play and to go visit them at their ranch. I loved their older sister Leah who had worked for Mother one summer at the cheese factory house. I was very impressed with her because when she could not find a ride she would just strike out and walk the whole 8 miles back home. I thought their family was very enterprising when it came to country living. They were the kind of people I admired. They did not let being poor bother them at all.
Mother just went crazy at first when she got to that ranch. She could hardly wait for Daddy to improve it. She was so full of plans that Daddy had to kind of throw cold water on her enthusiasm once in a while so that she would realize they would have to go slow from lack of money and being in debt for the property. Daddy had a frugal streak just like Grandma King except when he was drinking. He did not think country people should buy any canned food out of the store except pork and beans. He wanted us to raise and bottle everything we ate.
I had never got to see what Daddy actually did in his work on his father's ranch, since I was never allowed to go out in the field where the men were working, but now everything was close by the house and all I had to do was go outside and look and I could practically see Daddy run the ranch. He did a lot of work! I was very impressed with his know how.
I thought everything was just hunky dory until Daddy started going to visit a neighbor every few days. He was a bachelor in his forties who had originally come from Canada. He had not been living in Salt Gulch long. I didn't know, maybe Daddy was curious about what a man from Canada knew, because pretty soon he was going over to his old cabin every few days. And he took us along but told Margie and me to play outside and not to knock on the door which we must have done a time or two as he and Bill had business to tend to.
I just could not imagine what this business was since I never saw him take anything into the cabin at all, they never brought anything out, and I could not tell that they were working at anything. They would stay in there about an hour or so. I finally got so bothered about what they were doing that I decided to ask Mother if Bill had a business. I asked her very casually as I did not want her to wonder why I wanted to know. She must have been a little annoyed with Daddy's plans because she said no, Bill had no money, so Daddy was going to hire him as soon as the spring work started to come and work for him.
Well, I tried to think everything was okay until one day Bill and Daddy were walking up to the cabin. I was still walking with them when I heard Bill say the nastiest thing I have ever heard a man say to another man even in adulthood, and it was long, too. I turned to Daddy in shock to see what he was going to say to Bill with his daughter right there listening. But Daddy seemed to be concentrating so hard on what Bill was saying he was not conscious that I had even heard Bill. He just laughed and they walked in the cabin and I walked back to where Margie was, feeling like I had been hit with a rock.
Sex! Could two grown men be having sex with each other, my dad, a married man with a wife, two kids, and a new baby on the way with this ugly man. It didn't seem possible. But after I thought and thought about it and couldn't stop thinking about it I realized that maybe this was why Daddy insisted on partying with men every single weekend, giving Mother the slip. He even gave her the slip in dances and went outside and stayed so long she had ordered him to come back in and dance with her or be divorced.
My dad. Well, he had been a 26 year old man when they married, and Mother had hardly dated him at all, but it was common for girls to marry someone suddenly they didn't know real well. If a chance to marry a man with prospects came along they had to be ready to take advantage and Mother had certainly been a poor girl. If he didn't have thrilling romantic love to offer, Daddy did have prospects!
Look at them now. They were acquiring their own ranch. Daddy already knew how to farm. He knew horses. He was a hard worker. Everything was in place for them to make money as married partners.
I knew that I would never tell Mother about my suspicions. That would have been the worst thing I could have done. It didn't matter what Daddy did now that he had a wife and almost three children. He was going to have to take care of us. I did not trust Mother to do it. She was not made to be a single parent. It had been all Daddy could do to keep her from killing us up to now, what would she do without him to ask us if she had got carried away in a rage? Daddy was just a more sensible father. He was like Grandma King. He did not believe in spanking little kids. He had as a matter of fact never spanked us once. He did not hurt his animals, so he sure was not going to hurt us. Unless he got drunk and then he hurt everybody.
Mother would be okay as long as he worked and supported us and helped her by taking an interest in his children. That's all she wanted. Finally I had to put the problem I perceived in their marriage to rest. It was Mother's problem after all. She did not know the man well enough and she had never once suspected this. Why I was probably more suspicious right now than she had ever been. She had stopped loving Daddy anyway, or maybe she had never loved him in a romantic way. She did not pay too much attention to him as a matter of fact. That's probably why she was not suspicious. But she had been a poor girl too long, and I knew she was thrilled to death with the new ranch. She could not help but spin day dreams about what they would buy when they started to make a profit. That was enough for her right now.
I was glad when the spring work started and Daddy quit taking us over to Bill's. Bill moved into the little chicken coop bedroom Mother had fixed up for us and started to work for Daddy. Mother did not see why that was necessary, but Daddy said he needed a hired man on the property not over the hill when he needed him and that was that.

Top photo: The Salt Gulch ranch house of dreams painted by O'Neta, my dad's sister as she remembered it when the house was first built.

4 comments:

Paula said...

Interesting story and kind of scary about the land dropping and the sink holes.

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Jeanie said...

I liked that painting very much Gerry. It helps to see how things were then.
As for the sink holes and snakes?
I am glad no harm came to any of you as you were growing up.
You had me hooked in with todays story.

Jeanie xxx

Larena said...

Boy, I always knew you were a prolific writer, but I am amazed at how fast you are progessing. This story flows very well. I can relate to so much of it having been raised with similar conditions. How in the heck do you remember all the horses names? i thought about ours and could only remember Old Nig and Bess, Dusty and Babe.

Noe the Salt Gulch sink holes are a mystery to me even after this many years. There was one in back of our house the year we lived in Salt Gulch. We used it like a giant disposal, dropping in paste board boxes and whatever we didn't want to deal with.I was talking to Robert about it a few weeks ago. The boys worked on the other side of the road when grown and I guess their father never told them about the sinkhole. He was was quite taken aback to think we would pollute what must have been an underground rive running through all of the gulch.

I think you have done a great job of fore shadowing to use the analogy of the sink hole and Bill, the hired man.


Herrad

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