The last of the old automobiles…

Well happy September to you. It sure came in with a chill around here as a storm turned the air from hot and muggy to crisp and dry overnight with a powerful storm that knocked out the power right as I was finishing my last freezy pop and the end of a chick flick.

Let me know how “Easy A” ends will ya?

Anyway, enough with the weather because I tell you, the dog days of summer are moving on out and shit is happening around here.

See I am not what you call a patient woman. Not at all. When I get an idea in my head this girl wants to see its pretty little face…like NOW! Which is the very reason I find myself in situations where I am waist deep in rhubarb jelly with not one canning jar in sight. It seems I am not much of a fan of the preparation phase. Idea phase? I’ve got plenty experience in that. Planning phase? Oh, I have plans. Finished product? Yes please.

Preparation? Well, I guess that’s why I married this guy. I mean, he looks like he can handle it.

Anyway, I know this about myself because I’ve had practice. And as our new plans are coming to fruition, I was reminded that it was at this time last year that we were finishing up a major remodeling project in order to get the first house we’ve ever owned out on the market. I was also reminded that we haven’t been leaving much space between major life decisions in the past five years of our marriage.

“Oh well!” says the impatient maiden to her noble and ever so patient husband.

“Onward!” (I envision the maiden with a whip).

So we ordered our new house last week. And I know we are technically just a little under schedule, but this maiden is jumping around in her stretchy pants singing some sort of rock version of a song she made up titled “Finally!”

Big. Sigh. Of. Relief.

followed by.

One. Thousand. Calls. To:  insurance lady, bank lady, electric lady, propane guy, dirt guy, basement guy, road guy,

and junk removal guy…

Yup. He’s one of our guys.

Because you know how on every farm or ranch there is an old car graveyard? You didn’t? Oh, well on every farm or ranch there is a place where old cars, pickups, tractors, augers and lawnmowers go to their semi-final resting place.

And I say semi-final because eventually, even if it is nearly sixty years later, some naive relative of the home place will want to build a house in that grave yard…and then, if they don’t want old car lawn ornaments, it is their responsibility to find them a forever home.

So in between frolicking, chasing cows, thinking about flooring, working, eating freezy pops and watching bad chick flicks, a made a few calls…

Turns out it’s not so easy finding someone to drive to the middle of nowhere to pick up old stuff you don’t want anymore. But I found someone. He’s coming on Monday.

And in the meantime we had to clear way for the road.

So out came the old red tractor, that, by some miracle has avoided the junk pile yet another year…and out came the nostalgia.

Goodbye old brown Dodge Ram. I remember when pops brought you home. I remember when you were our fancy pickup. I remember how I used to scream in frustration at your sticky gears as pops walked away from our red faced stick-shift driving lesson. I hated you then.

But loved you so when you took me to my first high school rodeo, the one where I rode pops’ ranch horse through the barrel pattern and then tied her up to the trailer only to find she got loose and was running down the highway. I remember when pops retired you to bale-loader pickup when he purchased his fancy blue and white Ford with the tiny back seat. I remember when he took the box off you, geared you up with a winch and took you off road to feed calves and go fencing. I left for college and you were running like a champ.

I came back and you were here.

Rest easy brother.

Goodbye replacement Dodge. In my life you never really did run very well. I remember watching as pops’ head popped up over the hill, walking home after you stranded him in the field. He was determined to get you running, but somehow the only way was to keep you revved, floored, and never stop.

Pops would get your motor started again by some act of God and take off over the bumps and clay buttes whooping and hollering with the windows rolled down, only to find that you failed to start the next morning. You brought him to such lows and such highs, but I see it didn’t end well for you. You will be taking your last trip up the hill tonight.

And you. The old International. You are from a different time.

I never heard your gears grind or your engine rev. I never saw the way  you could dump a load with a switch from inside the cab. I only knew you as a relic, a symbol of my great grandfather’s presence on this place, a load of wood waiting in your box, as if someone was sure to come back for you, to finish their work for the day and put you back in the shop. I find it hard to part with you, in fact, I haven’t quite decided if I will. It seems you’ve earned your place here. Maybe one day I’ll find someone to fix you up. Maybe one day you could run again?

Maybe.

Oh, and I guess I could talk here about pop’s first riding lawnmower and how he was so excited about it that he tried to mow the entire coulee in front of his house. I could tell you how funny he looked sitting on that thing in his cowboy hat among the grass that reached up over his head. No wonder that little machine died before its time. That will be leaving us too. Along with the old augers my cousins and I used to pretend were dinosaurs, the combines that acted as ships on a sea of clover, the car with wings…

But what really struck me that night as we hauled the last of the old automobiles, my grandparent’s old town car, up to the top of the hill to await their destiny was this:

Here we are taking little pieces of this place, the history and stories, up from the coulee where they might have sat until they rusted away and got lost in the grass and mangle of brush, up and out over the hill. Here we are making changes, making new roads, making decisions and promises to ourselves…making  room for our forever home…

I am not worried. I am not wondering what we are going to do next, where we’re going to be, how long this is going to last. I’m making plans, yes. But plans to stay, like those old cars, through blinding winters and scorching summers and clover and burdock that reach up to my ears. We will stay. Through rusty gears and chipped paint and plans that fail I will plan to stay.

Because it’s my semi-final resting place too.

I just hope I weather time as well as these old beasts…

Rust, roots and time passed

There is a place on the ranch my family affectionately refers to as “Pots and Pans.” It is a big hill south of the little farmhouse that juts out over a stock dam and provides a fantastic view of the entire 3,000-acre ranch.  It is a landmark, much like the special places many ranching and farming folks label with weird names and use to explain to each other where they spotted that stray cow, shot the big buck or where the truck broke down.

But Pots and Pans is special, if not especially weird. I wish I could tell you the proper origin of where on earth anyone got the idea to drag to the top of this hill old kettles, teapots, cheese graters, pie pans and flour sifters, but I have no idea the reasoning behind it. I always thought it was my grandmother, but maybe not. I suppose someone told me along the way, but I forgot.

Either way, to my cousins and I this place was an oasis of mystery, a far away land where, if you reached the top after gathering all of your little sisters and one little brother, packed the juice boxes and fruit rollups into your Smurf lunchbox and you all made it to the destination without a run-in with a cactus or someone peeing their pants, you could be transported back to a time where these antique contraptions were used to prepare meals and serve twelve children who once lived not too far from this very homestead.

And if we made it there, you know, after the twelve-hundred mile trek to the top, we sucked the fresh air into our small lungs, counted our followers to make sure none were stuck in the mud somewhere, and proceeded to pretend…

…pretend that I was the mom and my only boy cousin at the time finally didn’t have to be dressed as a girl for once and got to be the dad and we were homesteaders who arrived by covered wagon and had staked our claim on this perfect spot after losing oxen and horses and my piano in a raging, roaring river (the flair for the dramatic runs in the family.)

And then it was time for a supper of clover bits and wild mushrooms and mud and rocks mixed together to form a lovely soup and after the meal we would proceed to plow the field and make pots out of the gumbo in the hills to sell in town and become rich.

We would carry on like this until someone would, indeed, pee their pants or find a cactus or fall down the hill and the little ones would need to be lugged home via piggyback.  And when we finally made it home, we would rehash our adventures as the sun dropped down below the horizon and our eyes grew heavy.

See this homestead, this ranch, this vast landscape as you can imagine is home to millions of stories and ghosts of times spent breaking ground, building houses, having babies, losing mothers, purchasing the family’s first car and learning to drive, getting bucked off of new horses, harvesting the fields, and leaving blood, sweat and tears to soak into the ground and onto the backs of the animals that helped keep the place alive and machinery that did nothing but break down.

And the remains of these past lives, these generations spent struggling, loving, living and dying on this very landscape remain here not only in spirit, but also in the pieces left behind. The old cars that took their last drive to town have been drug to their designated graveyard to be used for parts on the replacement. The feed pickups that stranded my grandfather on evenings when the air hit thirty below and the sun had left hours ago accompany the cars and the tractors with faded red paint and threshing machines that resemble half sunken ships anchored in the rolling prairie waves.

As children we didn’t see these things as remains of a life lived hanging on to a place that struggled as much as it thrived, but as an infinite playground stretched out before us.

The old cars became ours as we imagined ourselves whizzing past wheat fields on our way to fancy parties in town. Sitting behind the wheel of the rusty feed trucks we were transported twenty years ahead where we ran our own operation and needed to stop for fuel, a cup of coffee and supplies at the local feed store.

The old threshing machine transported us to sea where my oldest cousin was the captain and we fought for first mate status as the wind whipped through our hair and the big storm threatened a capsize.

And when we were on safari, the augers were undiscovered dinosaurs that roamed the horizons of the ranch and were curious about these explorers on two legs.

Yes, this place with its hidden treasures just over the hill, helped transport us into the lives of adventurers, circus performers, escaped convicts, performers and people who sometimes possessed the same characteristics and dreams of our mothers and fathers.

And as I was walking around the homestead last week, looking for the perfect location to build our new house, these memories of childhood adventures on this place came rushing back to me as I passed each piece of worn out machinery and each old car. We have been making plans to remove this “junk” from the place, and to most people who drive by, that is exactly what it is. It’s old junk that has to go.

But as I ran my hands over the bodies of my grandmother’s car, overcome by rust and my grandfather’s feed pickup with his work gloves still sitting on the seat and old farm papers stuck in the visor, I tried to imagine what those people I once knew looked like sitting behind the wheel in the prime of their lives while their vehicle glistened under the prairie sun, polished and new. I imagined my grandmother sitting in the middle of the old International next to her young husband,  laughing as they drove down the reservation road to the river for a day of fishing.

I thought of my dad, taking his first drive to town on his own to play with his band while thinking to himself,  “This is the life. This is freedom.”

And I remembered my grandpa, driving his feed pickup through the cattle in the winter, making tracks in the freshly fallen snow, yelling, “Come boss…come boss!” Bouncing along the rough landscape, the chains from the bale loader clinking on body of the vehicle and he would reach up in his visor and, magically, pull down a stick of gum, or some cookies, or a bar of candy to offer to the small grandchild in a purple beanie and matching mittens sitting beside him.

And as I missed him and felt a longing for my childhood, I huffed as I noticed that pieces of my life growing up here had made it to this graveyard as well.

The old Dodge pickup that had taken me to my first high school rodeo sat lonely and sunken in a bed of weeds. I opened its doors and found one of my dad’s old caps and smiled as I thought of learning to drive stick shift in that beast.

I walked down to the shop to find my very first car, a redish-pinkish Ford LTD purchased from my uncle for $1,000. It sat lonely, still wearing the stickers I placed on the steering wheel, the ridiculous amount of key chains dangling from the ignition, remnants of my high school memories hanging from the rearview mirror—a reflection on the girl I used to be, the girl I was when this ridiculous looking car drove me off of the ranch and into a world filled with heartache and drama and love and loss and change.

Nostalgic now, I looked up to Pots and Pans.

I had to be there. I had to see if some things never change. I wanted to pick up the pieces of my childhood and be transported once again to a time and place where I could be anything and my favorite partners in crime did not live hundreds of miles away from me.

I didn’t take the time to pack my fruit rollups into my lunchbox, because somehow the hill didn’t look as far away, it didn’t look as daunting.

So I ran. I ran past the dinosaurs, the pirate ship and the old cars that had taken me through so many lives.  I disregarded the cactuses as my strong adult legs propelled me to the top. And as I sucked the air into my lungs I frantically searched around to find my favorite pieces. Where was the butter churn? The flour sifter? The old jar we used to catch grasshoppers?

They were gone. Gone. Pushed down the hill into the trees and washouts by the snow and water that drifted in with the wind and weather that comes with time passed.

And as I sat there, holding on tight to the worn out pots that had survived the time, I sucked back tears as I thought of the innocence that existed and laughed and screamed with joy going up and down this hill.

Wiping the tears, I looked out over the landscape that my great-great grandfather declared home, where pieces of him and his family are scattered, and I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and restless with the responsibility of keeping this place here and alive for generations to come.

I took the air my ancestors once breathed into my lungs and closed my eyes to imagine my cousins running wildly through the grass…and their childish faces turned into the faces of their children…and their children’s faces turned into the faces of my unborn…

I opened my eyes, let loose the grip from the remains of Pots and Pans and let my feet carry me down from the peak of my childhood.

And when I reached the bottom, I turned around to look up at it—a sort of dramatic way of saying goodbye to the innocent life I once knew.  And the hill looked back at me. It was no mountain, no daunting cliff or magnificent, looming piece of breathtaking landscape, nothing to make a postcard out of.

But in that moment, feet planted firmly in the place where my roots took hold and have refused to let go, I tilted my head back, put my hands on my hips and kicked the dirt in anticipation, because I knew I had found the view I wanted for the rest of my life.

A home under Pots and Pans.

Forever.