Little Britches had once ridden trick horses and witnessed fights over water rights near the site of my grandmother's home on the outskirts of Denver. Born in Calgary, Canada, of Irish heritage, Grandma never became a US citizen, although she observed every possible point of law. She was a Depression-infected worry-aholic, an expert seamstress, and a collector of curiosities--English bone china, wooden spools of silk thread, yarns, ribbons, rick-rack and fabrics of every shade and sheen. Grandma let us color plastic cups with markers and then melted them down in the oven into abstract swirls. On special occasions, she invited us into her bedroom, sang the flat-foot floozy with the floy floy, and chanted nursery rhymes until we drifted off to sleep.
Among my mother's friends in Denver were artists, photographers and potters. What a privilege it was, for example, to watch hands repeatedly throwing clay against a hard surface until it was pliable enough to then twirl on a wheel into a symmetrical form.
In May, we said farewell to Denver--to Aunt Alice's Wonderland, a daycare where ladies clad in smocks with big pockets threatened to thrust you into them if you were naughty. This was easy enough. Saying goodbye to our grandmother was not such a simple matter--
This time, perched between us in the backseat of the Datsun was a huge, slobbery cream-and-brown St. Bernard puppy, Yogi the Bear. We fell into the routine of driving, pounding tent stakes into the ground in the evenings, climbing into our sleeping bags, and stuffing them back into sacks into the mornings. When we reached Canada, we gladly climbed the ramp onto the ferry. My mother mentioned to us years later that we shared a ferry with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
After disembarking, the washboard gravel AlCan awaited us, a road seemingly without end. Claustrophobic from pent-up wiggles, we finally reached The House of Alaska and ran out to greet the dogs. Mooner was slower in his circuits around his kennel. Not long afterwards, the dignified leader was let loose to wander into the woods, where he curled up under a tree and breathed his last. A rock cairn marked the spot: it was my first taste of such grief.
My sister and I gradually made friends with the baby girl to whose birth we owed our invitation to the North. Sara--Wee-Bee-- was a serious little thing. She had her father's porcelain complexion, dark chestnut curls, and brooding, inquisitive eyes. When beer was passed and shared, she grabbed the chipped, enameled cup and drank it down with gusto, astonishing her elders. She clung to our bodies, the closest to her size, while she toddled around, collecting dust from the plywood floors on her pajamas.
Many hands quickly accomplished the task of reassembling the cabin in front of the field. A gambrel roof sheltered a loft, reached by a ladder, where we smaller fry were dispatched with our camping pads and sleeping bags. An antique pot-belly stove and an enameled wood cook stove were installed, and then the place was ready for business.
We discovered how enormous the homestead was, one day, while everyone was out on a logging road, gathering firewood. My sister and I, in our eagerness, took a wrong turn in the woods, rushing and running until we realized that we were all alone, then we stopped and glanced around, suddenly afraid. We circled around nervously, until Al, a fisherman with huge red hands, emerged from around a corner and scooped us up, shooing us back in the direction of the group.
A small hippie.
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