In the fall I ran the fields, climbed the trees and played in the barns. The fruit trees, figs, wild plumbs, apples, persimmons, grapes, pomegranates, quince, pears, black berries and walnuts. A bounty to be shared by all. Wood was cut for winter fires and the sound of saws and ax permeated the crisp cool air.
Winter in the hay loft and rain on the tin roof. Wet and cold and mud. Fire glow from the stove on the ceiling. The smell of Grandma cooking bacon and coffee in the morning on the wood cook stove. Story after story of hard work, battles fought, cattle drives, love, death, joy and sadness. Dinner at the big oak table when all the adults talked about the work done that day and what need doin' tomorrow.
Spring time brought baby calves with big brown eyes, sweet white faces and noses just made to meep, and new baby kittens in the wood shed. Blankets of wild flowers covered the fields and meadows. The new leaves on the trees made arches and canopies over the road that led to enchanted glades where fairies played. My brother and I played cowboys and Indians, knights in armor, gold prospectors and hunted for caves to use as forts at the base of the cliffs. Dreaming of the past was easy because there it was, so close, almost alive.
Summers were brutally hot. Riding fence lines, turning the water in the fields, moving sprinkler pipe, dodging rattlers and dust, everywhere dust. At night we fell asleep to the sounds of rainbirds in the fields, cowbells and mamma cows lowing to their calves. Summer meant watermelons on Thursday afternoons, Ice cream and RC Cola.
It was in early June, the day before my birthday, when they found Grandpa asleep under a walnut tree. His old straw hat pulled down over his face, just taking a rest before supper. Only this time he didn't wake up. The ranch and his dream of it died with him but no one would admit it. They moved on, working cattle, fixing fence, cleaning the ditch and growing kiwis.
Grandma moved to town and new people were brought in to "take care of things". I grew up and moved away. The fabric began to tear, history to fade.
For 25 years they have been holding on. My uncles, my mom, desperately trying stitch together the decaying fabric of a life long gone. The sheds and barns are piles of rubble. The fences down and fields dried and brown. The battle with the blackberries lost. No pasture means no cows, no horses.
Now it's gone, nothing more to be done. The land is safe in the ownership of a government agency. The artifacts destroyed or stolen over the years. The sounds of dogs barking when some one drives down the road. Hoof beats and hollering as cattle are moved past. Squeaking gate hinges and the smell of hay, leather, irrigated fields and cow pies are all just memories.
This started as a short listing of my memories of my Grandfather's California cattle ranch. It has been in my mothers family for I believe five or six generations. This past week it was sold. As my thoughts turned into words on the page I realized my short list of memories has taken on a life of its own. Memories fade over time and lie like the buildings and fences, the land and the people, they are lost. But words can carry on eternal. Written stories can stitch together the failing fabric of our past and create a legacy of remembrance for generations forward.
My children will never see the old wood cook stove, the HUGE fire place with the iron cooking arms that was built out of quarts from the fields around the house, the barns, cattle shoots and roping pens, the paths I rode or the creeks I swam in. Their eyes will never see but they will know the stories, feel the joy and the heart ache that comes from being part of a family that settled a land, loved it and became one with it.
Mamma, for you I promise all that is left now will NOT be lost. It can't be taken, sold or stolen. It will live on forever.