“Rosey! I am ordering you to attend to my mandate, here and now!” Joe loudly declared into Rosey’s face, sitting across from each other at an empty kitchen table.
“Okay Joe…what. The. Ever,” Rosey said slowly as she raised her head and squinted at Joe.
“I mean it Rosey! There will be no offspring. I want no children. Is that clear!?” He inquired as he glared at her.
Rosey tilted her head slightly, birdlike, and said quietly, “No children. That’s fine. I’ve already had four… that’s enough.”
Ah, but there came two more. Both boys. Well, one was mostly, at least 70% boy and some 30% girl. Steve was born in the summer of 1960. Steve’s little brother Clyde was born in 1961. He barely lived, this RH baby. His body is covered with flakey red and tan scabs that run in lines, generally following his underlying nervous system. He is allergic to just about everything. And, he is a sunny faced, happy little guy.
Steve watched his daddy milk the cow. He had been coming out to the barn every night for several nights now, to watch his father milk the cow. He heard his mother calling his little brother’s name in the distance. His father squeezed the cow’s teats, two at a time, one in each hand. The white enameled bucket sat in the dirt under the cow’s udder, half filled.
Rosey rushed up and shouted at Joe, “I cain’t find him! I cain’t find Clyde! Come help me find him right now… please Joe! Help me find him!”
Joe stopped milking and turned to his wife. “Have you checked the front yard? The shop? The bull pasture?”
“I’ve searched everywhere he could be… it’s like he’s disappeared!”
Steve piped up, “I seen kwide.”
Rosey turned to him and demanded, “Where! Where did you see your little brother?”
“Playing boats in the tank. Playing boats,” three year old Steve answered simply.
Rosey turned and ran toward the large cow watering tank between the barn and the house. She stopped suddenly and pointed towards the middle of the two foot tall open tank. She started screaming, “Joe! Joe! There he is… he’s on the bottom!”
Joe handed the half-full bucket of milk to Steve and told him, “Hold on to this milk Steve. Don’t drop it. Don’t you let it get in the dirt! I’ve got to go see what your mother is hollering about.”
Steve used all his strength to hold up the bucket. It was half as big as he was. He stood there and waited.
Joe ran to where Rosey was pointing. He stopped short and sputtered. Then he ran and jumped into the water tank and waded to the center. He stooped down into the water and picked something up.
Steve saw his little brother come up out of the water in his father’s arms. Clyde was not moving. He had a strange blue color.
“He’s not breathing! Oh my God! My baby is dead! Clyde is dead! He’s not breathing!” Screamed Rosey as Joe stepped out of the cow tank and stood looking down at his still son, laying dripping in his arms. He stood frozen, not moving and not breathing.
The bucket of milk grew heavier in Steve’s hands. He pulled up with all this strength, trying to follow his father’s directive to keep the bucket out of the dirt.
“I was washing the clothes! I just looked away for a minute! What are we gonna’ do Joe… he’s not moving… he’s dead… my baby is dead!” Rosey screamed as both parents stood frozen in place.
Joe started running towards the house. Rosey chased after him, screaming inarticulate sounds.
Steve stood still, watching with eyes wide, unsure of what had just happened. His parents disappeared with his listless blue brother into the backdoor of their little house. Steve stood alone, staring at the closed backdoor, straining to hold up the bucket of milk.
Finally, he carefully lowered the heavy bucket of milk to the ground. He felt scared to be punished for letting the bucket down. His concern for his little brother overcame his concern for the bucket.
Steve left the bucket and raced for the backdoor. He opened the door and saw his father shaking a nude Clyde violently, his thumbs pressed firmly into his brother’s chest. His mother was collapsed on her knees on the floor, reaching her hands up toward her unmoving son in Joes’ hands. She continued crying uncontrollably. Clyde woke up while Steve was watching. He puked all over his father’s shirt and began to cry. Joe smiled from ear to ear. Rosey jumped to her feet and ran to her son. She laughed and cried hard as she took Clyde into her arms and kissed him.
“Clyde! Clyde! Dear Clyde! You’re okay… you’re alive… you’re alive!” She yelled.
Steve heaved a little sigh of relief and ran up to his father. “Daddy! Daddy! I’m sorry… I held it up best I could… I put the milk down, I dropped the milk… I’m sorry Daddy!”
“Oh Steve! Don’t you worry about it. It doesn’t matter… it don’t matter at all… your brother is alive. He’s alive Steve, that’s all that matters!”
It was a Sunday. Steve wandered through the house, searching. Rosey looked over the vibrating rollers of the 1930s ringer washer she struggled to control. “Steve? What are you looking for? I know that look… don’t you go getting into anything without asking first… right? You stay out of that bull pasture!”
“I jus’ need a liddle jar. Gonna’ catch a bug.”
Rosey took on a worried look. “A bug!? Just what kind of bug? We’ve got more than enough bugs in this house already!”
Steve continued looking around. “It’s a shiny and black one… ’cept for a pretty red back. I wanna’ catch it for a pet.”
“Shiny black with a red back! Joe!? Joe get in here… I think Steve’s found another Black Widow spider… he says he’s going to catch it and put it in a jar as a pet!”
Joe walked into the kitchen, looking concerned. “Just where did you see this ‘bug’, Steve?”
“In the hole in the rocks of the front steps. It’s way back in there, but I can get it with a stick. I’m gonna’ make it my pet,” Steve confidently responded while still searching for a capture jar.
Without warning Steve found himself swept off his feet and hanging upside down from his father’s hands. “Wait! Stop! Put me down! Wha’d I do? Wha’d I do!?” Steve yelled.
“Let me show you something Steve!” Joe growled angrily as he hauled Steve through the house, hanging upside down. He strode through the living room and opened the front screen door. He stepped to the edge of the three concrete front steps and lowered Steve until his face was directly in front of the hole in the first step. He could clearly see his prize in the back of the hole in the concrete.
“Do you see that spider, Steve!?”
Still squirming, upside down in Joe’s grip, Steve said, “Yeah! Yeah! I see it. Now put me down!”
“Not yet! I want you to really get this Steve! This is very, very important. That is not just any bug. It is not a bug you are ever to touch, much less keep as a pet. You see it is shiny black, it has eight legs, and it has a bright red hourglass on its back… you see that, right!?”
“Yes! But, what’s an ‘our glass’?”
“It looks like two red triangles pointing at each other. Steve, this is a deadly poisonous spider. There are a lot of them around us. You stay away from them! One bite from this spider and you are dead! Do you understand me!? If you touch this spider, it will bite you and you will quickly die. If you ever see one, you come get me or your mother… do you understand!?”
Steve’s face hung upside down about two inches from the spider. Suddenly he felt terrified of it and began to cry. Joe pulled him up and flipped him onto his feet.
“That’s okay Steve. I just wanted you to get it. Stay away from Black Widow spiders. Now, go inside. I’m going to kill this one, right now.”
Steve wandered past the backyard, past the cow watering tank, past the milking shed, and into the large garden. He trotted up to his daddy and asked, “Can I have some candy? I want candy!”
Joe bent down to pull up a tough weed and kept scraping away smaller weeds in the watering furrow with his hoe. “No. No candy,” he replied simply.
Steve frowned and tried again, “Why not!? I want some candy, daddy!”
Joe growled down at his tiny son, “People in hell want ice water.” Then he paced away to the other end the garden.
Steve stood frowning, watching his father stalking away. ‘What is hell,’ he thought.
One day Rosey took her to boys in the old Studebaker sedan and drove to see their third-closest neighbors. “Visiting,” is what Rosey called it. They arrived at the Jackson’s ranch just before noon. Lillian Jackson came out the backdoor of a nice small house, surrounded with corrals, and met them in the gravel parking lot.
“Well hello Rosey. Come to visit, have you? I see your boys are growing up fast as tumbleweeds! Come in, come in.”
On the way to the backdoor, a golden haired puppy ran up and jumped on all of them. He excitedly barked and licked the boys’ faces. Steve instantly fell in love with the dog. He stayed out in the yard and played with the puppy while the others chatted in the house. He only went into the house when his mother demanded that he come in and ‘eat this nice lunch Lillian has gone and made for us!’ He felt as though he was abandoning his new best friend, but obeyed and went in to scarf the food down as quickly as he could.
Lillian said, “Rosey, if you’ll let me, I’ll give that pup to Steve. Bud and I have been talking about what to do with him. We’ve already got three… that’s enough dogs for any ranch. Will you take him off our hands?”
Rosey looked out the window, watching Steve running in circles, chasing the puppy and looking happier than she had seen him in a while. She considered for a moment. “Well, I think it’s a great idea. But… Joe is another matter. He claims to hate dogs. But, I think I can talk him into it. Sure! Let Steve have the dog and we’ll make it work out, somehow.”
So, they arrived back home at the Droke place with the dog. Joe was not happy to see it. He told Rosey to get rid of it. She refused. The next day, while riding their horses North of the Droke place, moving a few head of cattle, Joe mentioned the new dog situation to Henry James. “Rosey doesn’t listen to a single word I say! I told her a long time ago, ‘No dogs!’” He complained to Henry.
“Well, you also instructed her to have no kids, as I remember. She seems to be a woman that does just whatever she wants to do. And, it seems to me dogs around here often come up missing, don’t they Joe? A coyote or a cougar gets ‘em. Hell, tippy got bitten by a rattler last year and nearly died. Just coax him away from the house and take care of the situation.”
Joe did that the next day. While his family slept in until their usual six-thirty, he got up at five and saddled his horse. Then he leashed the dog and walked up the trail leading the horse with one hand and the dog with the other. About a mile from the ranch house, Joe stopped and tied the puppy up to a Juniper scrub. Then he led the horse a hundred yards away and tied it up. He pulled his rifle from the scabbard tied to his saddle. He walked several paces from the horse, raised the rifle and shot the dog once through the head. He dumped the dead dog in the arroyo nearby.
When he told Henry later that day, Henry laughed, “So much for your old lady ignoring what you say!”
Rosey drove as quickly as she dared in the old Studebaker, fighting the steering wheel with both hands as she drove down the rutted dirt road that connected their canyon ranch lands with the thin ribbon of oiled gravel road that led to Trinidad, Colorado. She could barely keep a pace of about 40 miles per hour because of the deep ruts made by trucks slogging through the mud when it had last rained. Steve and Clyde sat beside her on the front bench seat. It was a very hot, dusty, parched August day in 1964. Rosey slowed down and gasped a little.
“Oh boy! Here comes that old Riney woman, driving like a bat out ah hell down the middle of the road. I sure hope she’ll get over before she hits us!”
Steve hopped up and put his feet on the top front of the seat, so he could stretch up and lean against the top of the dashboard, looking down the road through the grimy windshield. “You know her momma?”
Rosey glanced over and pushed Steve back onto the bench seat. She pulled over as far as she could to the right side of the narrow country road and stopped. “Sit down. Now boys, do not say nothin’. And, stay in the car. Maybe she’ll just drive on by.”
The old rusty rattletrap of a vehicle skidded to a scratchy stop exactly beside them and the noisy crackling engine shut off. It was a rusted out 1948 Chevy pickup truck. Steve looked passed his mother as she looked out and greeted the driver. He had never seen anyone like this before. He felt instantly afraid. Then he wondered why his mother had anticipated a woman in the truck, because to him the driver looked like a man who had been sitting in the Saturday night wash tub for far too long, and then was kept out in the sun until he looked like a roasted raisin with beady, deeply sunken gray eyes, a fire hydrant of a nose, and dark brown broken teeth. The creature stuck its head out of the cab and leaned down, squinting at Rosey and the boys.
“Hey there, that you young Rosey? Gone ta tain eh ye?”
“Well hello Miss Riney. Fancy meeting you out here on the road.”
“Hell girl, you know there’s nothin’ fancy ‘bout me. Ye might run in ta me down this road most any time, day er night. Cain’t fuck’n remember last time I drove into tain, though. Shit! It shore is hot, ain’t it? Why it’s dry’er in a popcorn fart.” Then Riney spat a big wet brown wad of chewing tobacco in the dirt between them.
“It sure is hot, I’ll tell ya what,” was all Rosey could reply.
“You know, Stella done run off a couple ah weeks back. So now ah gots ta raise tha’ goats on ma lonesome again… damned fuck’n little bitch!”
“Please! Miss Riney, don’t cuss so much in front of my boys! I am sorry to hear you lost your… um… your friend Stella, though. I know you were real good friends.”
“Ah hell, woman! Ye know’d they heer’d their pop say worse’n me. I speak ma mind, which is nothin’ delicate, ah know ye know that, fuck’n shure.” She paused for a while and looked down the road in front of her. Then, while still staring down the road, she said quietly, “An shore as shoot’n ah know ya know’d she was more than just ma friend.” She leaned out of the cab a little farther and peered at the boys.
“You mindin’ yer momma, boys!?” She demanded. Clyde cringed as she stared at him from the ancient leathery face and slunk down onto the floorboard. Steve quickly dropped down with him. Riney pulled her head back into the cab of the truck and picked up a pistol that looked broken, with the wood from the handle broken out and a rusty barrel. She waved it in the air with her right hand.
“Well, ah tell ya. Damned old coyote got in ta ma chickens last night. Kilt two of ‘em. I’m out hea’ look’n ta put an end ta that particula’ shit doggie. Have ya seen any such a beast ‘round up in hea?”
Rosey shook her head and replied, “No. No, cain’t say as I have seen any coyotes Miss Riney… sorry to hear about yer chickens, though. I hope you get ‘em!”
“Ah well… it’s a damn sight more ‘bout keepin’ busy… keeps ma mind off’n ah Stella. Well, you take good care’n boys. All be see’n ya.” Without another word she fired up her old truck and drove away.
Many years later, when Steve remembered this encounter, he realized that the old woman lived as a man. It was she that was sometimes described and cussed and discussed in conversations about an old witch lady that owned her own goat farm and was rumored to do wicked things in her house with other women. She was the first feisty lesbian woman he had ever met, and she lived life on her own terms. As an adult he could infer many years of harsh survival the woman had endured on the high plains, a unique and admirable character that seemed like an aberration from the 19th century. And, who had actually been born in the 19th century.
Joe bought a large surplus army tent for next to nothing, at a flea market in La Junta. It was from WWII. It had large sections that were ripped and full of holes. It smelled of mildew. It came without any poles, just the cloth. He spread it out on the dusty bare ground in the backyard, between the incinerator circle and the garden.
“What do you think you’re gonna’ do with that moldy old thing?” Rosey demanded.
“You’re worried I’m thinking about us living in it in Canada, aren’t you?” Joe responded.
“Well, yeah… I wouldn’t put it past ya. That’s just the kind of old time cowboy you seem to think you are.”
“No, we won’t be using it as a tent. I was kind of hoping it might still work as a tent, you know, for going hunting. But, it’s clearly too far gone for that. Now I’m just hoping I can cut out a good enough piece to cover the stock racks on the pickup. We might get rained on, driving all the way to Canada. Gotta’ have some way to keep our crap from getting wet.”
Joe spent a couple of Sundays cutting, sewing up holes, and forming seams with thick white cotton string and a large saddle needle. Then he coated all the large white stitches with ugly, smelly crimson colored rubber auto engine gasket sealant. Finally, he fitted it over the tall six foot by five foot steel stock racks in the back of their light blue 1957 Ford pickup. He stood back and surveyed the covered vehicle. Rosey walked up and stood beside him, her hands on her hips.
“Well, it doesn’t look like much. But, it should last for the trip, at least,” Joe stated.
“It looks like shit!” Rosey replied, then walked back into the house without another word.
Steve frowned and walked all the way around the pickup, surveying the rough olive-drab and sick red sutures forming a dark, patched cube on the back of the sky blue pickup.
His dad growled, “Yeah, it looks like the grapes of wrath, I guess. I’ll be damned if I do anything else with it. I’m done fooling with it. Don’t know why we’re leaving for Canada, anyway. Women!”
A few days later they packed up as much as they could into the back of the ’57 sky blue pickup with olive drab cube on the back, sporting ugly crimson sutures all over it. Most of the furniture was left behind. The four of them arrayed on the pickup truck’s bench seat. No seat belts. Worn out engine. Seventeen hundred miles of the unknown stretched before them. Maximum speed: 50 miles per hour.