Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grampa's Old Yellow Pickup

My cousin Bill and I spent our younger years with our grandparents.  My mother and his father were siblings.  Our grandfather was actually our parents step father but we didn't really understand or care about that, he was just "Grampa".  He worked so hard everyday of the week.  Once in awhile he was off on a Sunday but mostly he worked. 

 We lived many years in the Bakersfield area  but we also lived in a small community (though I hesitate to call it that) called "Chalame" pronounced Sha Lam.  No one ever heard about that area until James Dean died there in an accident.  I think they have put some kind of memorial up there for him, but it wasn't there when I was a kid.  Chalame was miles and miles of nothing.  Dry desert area, lots of sagebrush, tumble weeds, rattlers and assorted other nasty creatures. 

Billy and I went to school everyday on the school bus.  It took us to Lost Hills Elementary School. There were 14 kids in my combined 3rd and 4th grade class, and 9 kids in Billy's 1st grade class.  20 kids graduated from the 8th grade that year.  When we came home from school we would go out and play and watch for the dust trail on the horizon.  That meant Grampa was on his way home.  We would run down that old dirt road to meet his old, battered yellow pickup.  He would always slow down so we could jump on the running board and he would drive us home.  We always thought he was driving us fast but he probably was only doing 10 mph.   It was fast enough for us!  We would laugh and shout with joy during that short ride back to the house and our supper. 

Grampa worked as a farm hand for a landowner.  He ran the tractor in cotton, corn, alfalfa and whatever else they were growing there and he also worked with the landowners cattle.  Grampa was an old rodeo man.  There wasn't much he couldn't do on a horseback. 

They all called him "Tex"  as he was from Texas.  New Braunfels to be exact.  He was the son of German immigrants and he could speak three languages fluently, German, Spanish, and English.  He had a strong work ethic and felt it was a man's duty to provide for and protect his family.   When Grampa spoke you listened and while he never did spank us you just didn't want to find out if he actually would. 

Grampa served in WWII.  He saw horrific things.  He fought in some historic, bloody battles during his enlistment.  I never heard him talk about it, ever.  Instead he sang us German songs and would tell us the song was about his ugly dog and other nonsense.  We loved it!

Grampa loved my grandma very much.  He wasn't much for words and I never heard him say he loved her but just by the way they were with each other you could tell they did.  Once when I was 15 I saw my Grampa go up behind Grandma while she was washing dishes and put his arms around her and give her a big kiss!  My Grandma said," Oh FRED!"  like she was mad but I could see her eyes were smiling and her cheeks were red. 

We didn't have a phone that worked on a regular basis, and it was a party line when it did.  So there were no lady friends for Grandma to chat with.  We were 15 miles from the nearest house and a couple miles off the main road.  Grandma liked to watch her "stories" everyday which were General Hospital and As the World Turns.  About half the time the tv didn't get good reception - no satillite in those days.

Every morning my Grandma would wake us up before the sun came up and we would have to look over the side of the bed onto the floor and pull up any bedding that might be down towards the floor before leaping out away from the bed..once in awhile a rattler got in and would be under the bed! 

She would load us up in the car and we would drive the fence line and rabbit hunt.  Grandma had a little 410 that she would take along and a 22 with a magazine.  We would come back with 2 or 3 cotton tails that would be our dinner that night.  Then we would get ready for school. We ate cotton tail rabbit about 5 nights a week.  Grandma was thrifty.

There were some old bunkhouses next to the house we lived in but they weren't used anymore so they made the perfect "clubhouse".  Billy and I would pretend we were cowboys and we named the bunkhouses "Rattail USA" .  It was our pretend ranch.   We believed we were going to Montana someday and be rich ranchers like the one Grampa worked for.  We were going to have horses though, not smelly old cows.  We also weren't going to let anyone else on our ranch, we didn't need anyone else. 

Once in awhile my Aunt Mariam came with her 3 kids.  The oldest was 9 months younger than me and the middle one was the same age as Billy.  We tolerated them but they were city kids and just not worth our respect.  We got them into so much trouble because they weren't allowed to do much of anything for fear of being hurt.  We were used to going out into the desert on our own and we carried pellet guns with us!  (I was 10 and Billy was 7) 
To this day our cousins don't have much to do with us.  We just live on different sides of the ocean I guess. 

Nowdays I live in the foothills of California's Gold Rush country and Billy lives in a remote Oregon forest with his wife and youngest son.  We never did see that ranch in Montana but its still fun to talk about it when we get together.  We refer to each other as brother and sister even though we are really cousins.  It just doesn't feel like cousins to us.  Cousins are those city kids that aren't allowed to have any fun at all. 

My grandma died when I was about 16.  She had cancer and they didn't have the skills or tools they have now to treat cancer with.  She was only 55.    I remember my Grampa calling the ambulance to take her to the hospital.  She didn't know who he was.  He went to the hospitol and she died very shortly after she arrived there.  My Grampa came home and opened a bottle of some kind of liquor and sat in the kitchen with his cowboy hat still on and quietly got drunk. 

Grampa was retired by then and he ran a boarding stable and taught calf roping and barrel racing to youngsters.  When my oldest son was 10 months old (I was 21) we got the call that Grampa was gone.  He had a heart attack out in the barn, unsaddling a horse.  He died quickly and died in the place he loved second best to my Grandma. 

I don't know if they were saved or not, I can only hope that one day when my time comes they will be there to welcome me home.  Just like when I was a kid and came home from school.  Riding on Grampa's old yellow pickup running board, the hot wind blowing through my hair and not a care in the world.

Gold Rush Grandma

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