The Habit

“Now I trust you two with this chore,” he said to we two boys.  “Don’t let me down.” 

With that he climbed into the cab of his pick-up and drove off.  He was nothing but a trail of dust before either of us moved.

We looked at each other and then around at the camp with its little line-shack and barn.  We could hardly believe our luck. 

We had jus’ be left in charge of the small spread for the next two weeks.  It was only a few acres, but it felt like the all of Texas to us.

“Yippee!” I cried out as I flung my cowboy hat into the air. 

Uncle had just left me and my cousin to our own devises for the next fourteen days.  It was like summer camp without the adults. 

We knew we had chore to do like feed and exercise the eight mules.  We also knew that we had to muck out the stalls, but that was nothing compared with being left on our own.

“Lets grab our fishing poles,” my cousin called out as he headed for the line-shack. 

After a couple of hours of teasing fish with drowned worms, we set about completing our nightly chores.  Each of us mucked out half of the barn. 

Then we worked together to grain and hay each animal’s stall.  Lastly we threw back the doors to barn and in came the mules all by themselves.

“See, no herding,” my cousin said, adding, “Jus’ open the doors and add the mules — easy.”

This went on for three days.  The routine was quickly becoming monotonous and we started looking for other ways to entertain ourselves.

That’s when my cousin came up with the idea.  He climbed up on the door frame with a pitchfork. 

And as each of the eight mules entered the barn he lightly poked it in the rump.  Both of us boys laughed as the mules scurried after the tines touched them.

The fourth day was more of the same routine — a little fishing, mucking and graining followed by the delight of poking the mules in the rear.  My cousin and I laughed at it over our supper of trout that evening.

By the sixth day my cousin had grown bored with getting on the door frame and lightly touching the stubborn, flop-eared beasts in the buttock.  Then we roared with laughter.

“Did you see that?” I said. 

My cousin was too busy laughing at the sight to answer.  Each mule lowered itself down so that its belly nearly touched the ground.

Each one was avoiding being poked in the backside.  They did this without being prompted.

The same thing happened the next day and the next — much to our delight.

“You know,” my cousin stated, “Dad’s going to beat us to death when he sees this.” 

It was a sobering thought neither one of us had bothered to think of the last couple of days. Then before we knew it, the two-weeks of running the line-camp were up. 

We could see the stream of dust lifting high into the air as the pick-up approached.  It was early in the morning and all eight mules were out in the holding pen being run through their paces as the truck pulled to a stop.

Uncle got out of the truck and greeted us.

“How’s it going?”  he asked. 

“Great,” was the resounding response from us. 

With that he headed for the shack.

Uncle seemed pleasantly surprised at the general upkeep that the two young men had performed.  The loose slat on the outhouse was nailed down and the barbwire fence was re-hung and there was even a mess of fish in the cooler waiting for a nighttime meal.

“You boys done alright by yourselves,” Uncle finally said. 

This made us smiles widely.  We still had yet to tell him about the mules and the doorway. 

We agreed that we would wait until later, when we put the mules in the barn to say anything.  Besides my cousin had already concocted a story for when the time came.

Without any warning Uncle walked over to the barn and threw back both doors.  The mules responded to this by turning and marching single file towards the door. 

That’s when my cousin spoke up, “Dad, there was an old owl in the barn about a week ago…”

His voice trailed off.

His father wasn’t listening anyway.  He was too busy standing near the barn door watching with his mouth agape as each mule belly crawled its way into the barn.

“What in the world did you do to my mules?” Uncle exploded.

“Nothing,” I replied.

My cousin continued with his concoction, “We think it was an old hoot owl that got them spooked and ducking down like that.” 

Meanwhile his father stood there with a very puzzled expression his face, wiping his forehead with a blue bandana. 

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said mostly to himself. 

We jus’ looked at each other.

It was very quiet that evening during supper.  Uncle was busy worrying about how to break the mules of their newfound habit and we two boys were busy worrying that the older man would find out what we had done to cause it.


The Coyote and the Cave

It was the President’s Day weekend and I had all three days off. So I decided to spend it hiking some of the rugged back country west of U.S. 95 and the Veterans Memorial Highway.

My plan was to venture around in a couple of the canyons along the mountainside, taking pictures and doing a little camping. It all started off well, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I had hoped it would be.

The second day, massive clouds formed over the mountain top and I decided it would be a good thing to get back to where I had parked my car. I knew my vehicle was several hours away, so it would become a race against the weather.

About two and a half hours into my forced-march back towards the junction of the memorial highway and 95, a snow storm blew in. I decided to continue on.

However it got so bad that I couldn’t see very far ahead of me and even though I had a compass, I was more afraid of finding a steep ledge to step off of or a deep ravine to fall in rather than getting lost. After another hour or so I concluded it would be best if I sheltered in place.

Fortune smiled on me as I started to prepare for a rough night in the canyon, I spotted a small overhang in a group of rocks at the base of the canyon walls. That, I realized, would be the best spot to gain shelter from the wind and blowing snow.

Once at the outcropping, I soon found it was more than jus’ an overhang. It was the entrance to a very small cave.

After a quick exploration inside with flashlight, and learning it wasn’t home to some wild beast, I dragged my backpack inside and rolled out my ground cover. I decided to forego my pup tent, instead opting to jus’ climb in my sleeping bag, atop the blue tarp I used as protection from a moist earth.

Daylight passed into darkness and the snow piled up over the entry to the cave. I cooked a coffee cup full of raisins in some water and ate it, before turning in for the night.

What time it was, I haven’t a clue. I jus’ know I woke up because I felt like I was no longer alone.

Flicking on my flashlight, I shined it around the cave. Laying at the foot of my sleeping bag, I found an animal.

I jumped from fright.

However, the animal appeared more frightened than me and it bolted out of the cave and into the snow storm. I knew immediately what sort of animal it was as it disappeared from sight — a coyote.

I laid back down knowing the coyote was gone and tried to sleep.

It was somewhere near dawn when I awoke. I opened my eyes, looked around the darkness, then realized I had some sort of weight resting on my feet and lower legs.

Slowly I sat up and found my friend, the coyote had returned. He looked up at me and again bolted out of the cave.

I never saw him again after that.

By this time the storm had broken and I was able to hike the remainder of the way to my car and head for home. And though I have been back four more times to the area, I’ve never been able to find that cave again.

However, I will never forget the night a coyote took his comfort by snuggling up to me for warmth.

King of the Mountain

My sister, Deirdre, was in sixth grade and had been released from class for recess late in the afternoon. At that time jus’ past the swings and slide on the playground of Margaret Keating School, was a large tire that the kids used for a game called king-of-the-mountain.

Deirdre writes, “I suddenly found myself king — but it was short-lived as the eighth graders were released. It was like a slow motion dream and I didn’t even see it coming, then wham!”

Mike Triplett knocked Deirdre off the tire, whereupon he became king of the mountain. Deirdre landed hard, her right leg tucked up behind her. 

The fall broke the growth plate of her Fibula; however no one realized it at the time as neither her leg, ankle nor foot swelled up. Because of this she wasn’t taken to the doctor for days.

Mom and Dad went back and forth over the need to see a doctor for several days. Mom eventually won as the pain became nearly too much for Deirdre to tolerate.

Once in Dr. Kasper’s office, Mom and Dad learned that had they delayed the visit another week, Deirdre’s growth plate would have healed in the wrong position, leaving her foot pointed downward, leaving her with a severe limp.

Dr. Kasper recommended Deirdre see a specialist as soon a possible. Because of this, we made a couple of trips to Grants Pass, the closest specialist in the area.

As it remains, Deirdre’s right leg is slightly shorter than her left, which is only noticeable when she really walks fast or runs.

The Improved Order of the Red Man

Grandma’s house sat vacant for nearly two winters after her death.  It had been a house that her husband and father had built many years ago and everyone in the family felt it was a shame to see that house sitting empty and quiet.

Soon it was decided that the house should be repaired and rented out.  To that end the two of us showed up and started hammering and sawing where needed.

The wet weather had caused a leak in the roof which had run down the interior wall.  The wall was made of a dried plaster and had started to flake away, so that’s where my step-dad Delmar and I decided we should begin working.

First we tapped out the beams.  Then we took our hammers and began knocking holes in the white, powdery plaster.

Crash — Delmar’s hammer had struck a glass object.  It had shattered and he immediately stopped working.

I did too.

Both of us attempted to look inside the hole to see what Del had struck.  We couldn’t see anything as it was too dark. 

So Delmar pulled another chunk of plaster out from the wall.  With it came small pieces of broken glass and a large leather pouch.

“Oh my,” exclaimed Delmar as he bent over and picked up the leather pouch.

I was stunned —my brain turned the leather pouch over and over and was thinking of hidden treasure as Del unrolled it.

The pouch was very old and had started to turn to deteriorate in several places as it was unrolled.  But with each unrolling, it revealed more and more.

It held a cache of arrowheads and spear tips as well as old coins.  Delmar immediately recognized these as belonging to a local tribe, as he had spent many days off and vacations hunting for arrowheads in Northern California and Southern Oregon. 

I could tell he was exited by the find.

The coins were old ones; late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The collection included a few silver dollars and a couple of buffalo nickels as well.  We agreed they were probably minted about the time the house was built.

However the most unusual object to my eye in that leather pouch was the handbook.  It was worn yellow-brown with age, had mold growing on its back cover, however its red printing was clearly visible.

The wording inscribed on it read, “Constitution and By-laws, Hupa Tribe, Number 146, of the Improved Order of Red Men of the Hunting Grounds of Eureka, California, 1903.” 

I held the booklet in my hand and read it out loud. 

Delmar was on his knees looking at the arrowheads and spear points, when he looked up and asked, “What did you say?” 

I repeated what I had read.

Del stood up and shook his head and said, “Hupa 1903.” 

He held out his hand and I laid the booklet in it.

“That’s what it says,” I grinned.

Dell thumbed through the small book, “I can’t believe it,” he started, “this was hidden for a reason.”

“Why?” I asked.

Delmar paused, stroking his bearded chin, “Back when your Grandma was youngster it would have been illegal for an Indian to own a business or a home near town.” 

He stopped and looked thoughtfully at the book then quickly leafed through it once more, “I figure she hid the fact that she was Indian,” Delmar concluded. 

Then he handed the book back to me.

Del walked outside to his truck and brought back a cardboard box.  I assisted him in loading all the hidden treasure into it, and then we got back to completing the task at hand.

Later that evening I sat at the dinner table with Mom and my step-dad looking over the items.  Each object was laid out on the white table-cloth. 

The arrowheads and the spear point numbered a dozen as did the coins.  The booklet and pouch sat by themselves.

Mom cleared her throat, “I had always heard that your Great-Grandpa George had married an Indian.”  She paused, “I think he did and then set about covering it up as it probably hurt business.” 

She smiled at me. 

“These seem pretty important,” she continued after a moment as she held up one of the pieces of obsidian.

Delmar was busy looking in one of his many books on the subject of arrowheads and spear points.

“I can’t seem to find anything like them,” he finally said as he raised his head and snapped the book shut.  “Whatever they mean is probably lost to us,” he sighed.

I picked up the little paperback book as this was the true treasure to me.

“To think Grandma went to her grave guarding this family secret,” I said as I slipped the booklet into a plastic freezer bag.

“I’ll bet you that’s been tucked away in that wall since 1913; the year that house was built,” Del said as he nodded at the items on the table.

Then I chuckled, “Mom, do you remember how Grandma always called me her little cowboy?”

 She smiled again and nodded her head at the memory.

“Well, it turns out Grandma’s little cowboy may have really been a little Indian,” I finished.

Amid the Pages — History

Shortly after Mary’s father passed away, she and her siblings got together for a week and packed up the old man’s home. The four children decided to split most everything like the furniture, pictures and art.

However, a number of books including school texts, compendiums of family history on her mother’s side and a bunch of bibles, where left unclaimed. I told my bride to bring them home with her so I could leaf through them.

I happen to love old books.

In one of the bibles, presented to Gertrude Alberta Blodgett, from Mr. and Mrs. S.M. Blodgett, October 7, 1909, I discovered a note made in pencil, “U.S. President there.” While it caught my attention, I was really drawn to the date of August 24, 1927.

The entry goes on to read, “Be of good cheer — John 16-33.” It finishes with, “The ____ at Hermosa, July 24 1927, President there.”

Since the bride’s family is from the San Diego area, I started my research looking through the records of the City of Hermosa Beach for a reference to a presidential visit in 1927. I found nothing.

Then it occurred to me: My father-in-law was from Rapid City, South Dakota and his middle name was Blodgett. Duh! So I quickly searched for Hermosa, South Dakota and found what I was hoping to learn.

In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge made a trip to South Dakota and stayed in a game Lodge in Hermosa. He also established offices for himself and his staff at the high school in Rapid City.

During his visit, Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore and welcomed guests like Charles Lindbergh. The President and First Lady Gracie Coolidge eventually returned to Washington D.C. in mid-September.

While it may or may not have been Gertrude who penciled the notation found in the border of page 697, the Book of St. John, in this 100-plus year old bible, I thank them for the connection to the past and to our American history.

Moving Chairs

There are times when something simple can cause me no-end of concern. Take for example this story…”

For the last two or maybe three weeks I have been fighting a losing battle with a chair from the dinner table that seems to move on its own. It suddenly started doing this after I removed the center leaf from the table.

I had come to believe we had a poltergeist in our home.

Daily, I would move the chair back under the table, next to where the other chairs are and then somehow, someway it would end up next to the couch some 4 or 5 feet away. Then on other days it would be moved only three feet to in front of the kitchen island.

It left me perplexed.

I finally put the leaf back in the table just to make the ghost happy again and so it would leave the chair alone. It seems to have worked.

This morning all four chairs were right where I left them last night. Then my wife says to me as she is heading out the door, “Thanks for putting the leaf back in the table for me. Now I don’t have to move the friggin’ chair around jus’ to read the news paper.”

She really frightens me sometimes.

Thunder Slapped

One of the things I used to dread about going to Margaret Keating School when I was in the eighth grade…our teacher, Mr. Tom Brown. Not only did he scare me, he also tended to scare others in the class.

Case in point was the early afternoon a girl in our class fell asleep. Marisol Azzopardi had been listening to Mr. Brown drone on about one subject or another and she finally became a victim of a trance.

She had her head down, looking at the teacher as her eyes finally failed and went close. Mr. Brown saw her slip into her sleep state almost as soon as it happened.

Without missing a beat, he walked across the class room and slapped the top of her desk as hard as possible with his open hand. The loud pop jolted Marisol awake immediately and it left her bug-eyed with fright.

Most everyone in class laughed, happy it wasn’t they who had made the mistake of falling asleep. And while Marisol appeared to take the event good-naturedly, I was more than shaken, fearful to blink worried he’d think I had dropped off to catch a few Z’s.

Not fun or funny!