Thursday, January 27, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 5: Visiting a male neighbor in Salt Gulch and getting suspicious about what he and Dad were up to

Daddy took the family on a tour of the Salt Gulch ranch which I thought was some alarming. 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 Dad 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 frightened enough by his warning to assure him that we would always take the long road around. I for one did not plan to get anywhere near that caved in hole.
Mother who always asked a lot of questions when she didn't know something said 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 areas of your farm land had dropped ten feet over night. But other frightening sinkholes showed up as time went by causing me to believe the story. 
There was also a little 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 but kids playing on it and we built lots of slate rock houses up there. We used 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 frantically twittering, but once we learned they were not poisonous, we didn't let them scare us, even though we felt awfully sorry for the little birds they ate. Daddy warned us to watch out for rattlesnakes especially when we were barefoot, as they were around, too. They just stayed out of sight more than the blow snakes.
I was alarmed at the rattlesnake warning about Salt Gulch since Boulder had been settled so long the rattlesnakes stayed in the hills. The Salt Gulch ranch had not been inhabited enough to keep the rattlesnakes away. But I don't think I ever saw a rattlesnake in Salt Gulch even though one got close enough I heard it rattle one night, 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. I thought that might be different. I was very careful not to say anything derogatory about the ranch so Mother and Father would not be discouraged with their newly acquired property. 
I already knew that a girl named Barbara lived not far from us in Salt Gulch who was my age. Her younger sister Gay was a year younger than Margie. We could hardly wait to invite them over to play and to go visit them at their place. I already 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 eight miles back home. 
 I thought their family was very enterprising when it came to living on little money. They did not let being poor bother them at all. They lived so close to the land walking everywhere, with no car to their name, they seemed just like the coyotes and deer.  
Mother was mainly a city girl and had to learn to be a country wife.  It was plain that was not easy for her at times.

But at first she just went crazy with ideas when she moved to that ranch. She could hardly wait for Daddy to improve it. She was so full of plans about what they could do that Daddy had to throw cold water on her enthusiasm once in a while to make her realize they would have to go slow on expenses from lack of money and being in debt. He knew a heck of a lot more about ranching than she did. He knew you weren't going to make money real fast. 
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. He tried to convince Mother that now she was living on their own ranch, she should give up the food she had bought wholesale in her store in the cheese factory house. He wanted her to put in a huge garden in Salt Gulch. He would help her with the plowing and fertilizing, but he was so busy, she would have to take care of it by herself most of the time. 
I had never seen what Daddy actually did on his father's ranch since I was never allowed to go out in the field where the men were working, but now all I had to do was go outside and I could practically see Daddy running the ranch. He did a great deal more work than I thought he did! I was very impressed with his no how and get up and go, rising before dawn to change the water when he was irrigating.  

I thought everything was just lovely in Salt Gulch until Daddy started to visit a male neighbor, taking Margie and me along with him. Bill 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 but what Daddy was curious about what a man from Canada talked like, because pretty soon he was going over to his old cabin every few days. And he always took us kids along but told Margie and me to play outside and not to knock on the door or disturb them in any way, which we must have done a time or two, as he said 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 on anything. They would stay in there about an hour or so. 
Daddy did not seem to care what Margie and I did to entertain ourselves.  At four and five years old, we ran all over the property, even down to the bottom of the fields where we found some giant gullies. I was so excited about finding these deep gullies, I told Barbara about them and talked her into going over there one day with us, so we could explore them.  Afterwards she said when she told her mother about this adventure, her mother said she was never to go over to Bill's with us again.That rather bothered me. Her mother apparently did not approve of either Bill or us playing in the deep gullies, I didn't know which.  

Finally after several months of these visits, I became so bothered about what Daddy and Bill might be doing that I decided to ask Mother if Bill had a business. I did it very casually as I did not want her to wonder why I wanted to know. She must have been a little annoyed with Daddy because she said of course Bill didn't have a business, Bill had no money as Daddy was going to hire him come spring to come and work for him.
I tried to think everything was okay until one day Bill and Daddy were walking up to the cabin. I was still walking along beside them when I heard Bill say the nastiest thing I had ever heard a man say to another man even in adulthood and it was long, too. I turned to Daddy in shock to see if he was going to rebuke Bill for saying such a nasty thing with his little daughter right there listening. 
But Daddy seemed to be concentrating so hard on what Bill was saying he did not seem to realize that I might have heard him. Or he may have thought the best thing he could do was act like he had said nothing out of the way. They walked into the cabin and I walked back to where Margie was playing feeling like I had just been hit with a rock.
The thought struck me that Bill had been talking to Daddy about sex! That was the first time I ever wondered if two grown men could have sex with each other. I remember thinking what could my dad, a married man with a wife and almost three kids, see in this ugly 40 year old man with long horse teeth and a smile like a coyote's? But after I thought and thought about it and couldn't stop thinking about it I decided that maybe my dad was somebody very different than I ever imagined a dad could be.  
I naturally began to wonder if 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 to order him back in to dance with her or be divorced. Something out there in the dark interested him more than what was going on in the dance hall with the women.  
My dad. Well, he had been a twenty six year old man when they married, and Mother hardly knew him, but it was common those days for girls to marry someone very suddenly they hardly knew. If a chance to marry a man with prospects came along poor girls especially had to be ready to take advantage before they changed their minds and withdrew the offer.
If Daddy didn't have thrilling love to offer, he did have prospects! Look at them now. They were acquiring their own ranch. Daddy already knew how to farm. He knew how to train horses. He was a hard worker. Everything was in place now for them to make money! That was so exciting to Mother, and had kind of been exciting to me, too.  But this new idea I had about Daddy and Bill took away my joy in our life in Salt Gulch. 
I did have the good sense to realize that I should never tell Mother my suspicions. It didn't matter what Daddy was doing, 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.  It was all Daddy could do to keep her from killing us now with hard spankings, what would she do without him to protect us? 
Daddy was a more sensible father than she was mother. He did not believe in spanking little kids. He had as a matter of fact never spanked us once.
Mother would be okay as long as he worked and supported us and helped her by taking an interest in his children, I hoped. 

I finally had to put this problem I perceived in their marriage to rest. It was Mother's problem after all. She did not know the man well she married. Bu most young girls looking for a husband would never suspect such a thing. Why I was probably more suspicious right now at five years old  than she had ever been. She had stopped loving Daddy anyway, because of his drinking, 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. And she often flirted with other men. That's probably why she was not observant of him enough to suspect he might be cheating on her with a man rather than a woman, as I suspected he was doing with Bill Isabel. 

But she had been a poor girl, 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 more exciting to her right now than romantic love. When you were a poor girl you could find a poor boy to fall in love with easier than you could find a guy with prospects who would actually marry beneath him. 

I had to wonder why such a suspicion occurred to me when I was so young, when nothing of the sort had ever seemed to cross Mother's mind. I suspected I might really be a very smart child as some fond King relatives had imagined.  Daddy's sister Nethella told me that one of his teachers said Daddy was the smartest boy he had ever taught.  That was saying a lot since his teacher was old and had taught hundreds. I had come along obviously inheriting his smarts. But now I was feeling like I was too smart for my own good. What was to become of me with so much to worry about already, when I was only five?    
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 to sleep in and started to work. Mother did not see why Bill moving to our place was necessary. Daddy said he needed a hired man on the property when he was gone to watch over things not over the hill and that was that.

1 comment:

  1. they must keep
    putting new mud
    in between the
    logs on that
    old house for
    it still to
    be standing