13. For the Fun of It
Also it is strange to have cold feet propped on an oven-warmed brick in April. Southern Arizona should be right on the doorstep of summer, tempering our skins for the blazing heat to come. My city friends have been wearing fashionable cottons for a month.
It is the rain that makes it so cold, the big rain that drove me down Pepper Sauce Canyon today ahead of the flood. No complaints. Rain is a blessing any time. Let the dark floods rage. Let the car get stuck in mud or quicksand. Just let it rain!
Poor old “Nannie” came plodding up the steep rocky trail this morning in the light sprinkle that scouted ahead of the main downpour. I was in the hay-pantry (too small to be called a barn) shoving the precious remaining bales around so they wouldn't get leaked on. Hearing a distinctly maternal “moo,” I stuck my head out and there, where she had occasionally picked up a few bites of hay, came the sad-faced, humpbacked old cow with (surprise!) a wobbly new calf in tow!
The pitiful old cow should have gone to market with the bunch last summer. At the last minute I opened the gate and let her out. My excuse was that I wanted her six-months-old heifer “Lily Violet” to have a fair chance. Truthfully I felt a special tie to the cow because my young friend Vi, and I, with no man around to help, had roped her and thrown her down and milked her out when she had a swollen udder. Furthermore, there is a human-like quality about her. She seems to attract trouble. Here she comes with a new calf when last year's
A livestock ranch in a dry country, no matter the size, is no place for a soft heart. Range animals can't hide their miseries. If you are out among them you see them tormented by hunger in hard times, and by flies, worms, ticks, pinkeye, and other afflictions such as lump jaw, wooden tongue, and—most dreaded of all—cancer eye. The corrals usually hold some unfortunates to be treated, mostly by amateurs and ignoramuses. Anybody who owns livestock practices medicine.
What music it makes steadily drumming on the tin roof. It is the most joyous sound to desert people. The ancient hunters and herdsmen and dry farmers who lived in the Indian ruins on the flat down by the arroyo where the children go now to pick up bits of broken pottery must have heard its cadences with the same assuring satisfaction; although what they had instead of a tin roof I don't know.
But even with the advantage of rain, I have been deprived of the peaceful afternoon I had planed to spend transplanting margaritas in my little ocotillo-fenced garden at the homestead, as remote from the sounds and excitement of our industrial world as a lamasery in Tibet. And I've missed a contented evening by the open fire in the little canyon shack listening to the old German tunes on Aunt A's little music box she bought in Paris a lifetime
The rain which has cut me out of my home life immediately benefits my little cowpunchers. Tomorrow they'll have a teacher whose nerves have been steadied by four extra hours of sleep instead of being worn raw by fighting road hazards against the clock.
This morning I flung things into the car and fled down the sandy box-sided Pepper Sauce Canyon gorge ahead of the inevitable flood from the melting snow that still clings high in the Catalina Mountains. In a country of makeshift roads you start off with time to spare, especially in weather. When they finish oiling the Ajo road as far as Robles, exactly fifty of my hundred miles will be on pavement. At each end of my journey will remain twenty-five miles meant for dry days only. Rain fouls the slick clay hills and sand and rocks fill the dips. I've had the car stuck to the chassis, the rear end buried in mud, and had to wait for help. I've sat for an hour in cold dampness, burdened with worry for my dogs, my birds, my personal luggage, and provisions, waiting for a roaring flood to be on its way to the wide gulping desert, that I might pass.
One homeward trip I got stuck in sand in Pepper Sauce Canyon a half-mile below the cabin. I had to take off my shoes and, by flashlight, carrying the little dogs and my purse, wade the rest of the way through ankle-deep water underlaid with small sharp-edged rocks and
The worst trip ever was during the record snow last year. I had gone home Friday night as usual and the next morning ranch business sent us back to town. It was after dark and pouring rain when we left the city. The rain turned into snow as soon as we left Oracle Junction and started climbing to Oracle. Blinded by heavy snow on the windshield, skidding and spinning, we fought our way through. At Oracle we had to be helped to the crest of the divide. Four men shoved while I took a running start and gunned the motor. The rest of the way was mostly downhill and the car tiptoed along, weaving drunkenly in soft snow. Sunday morning the sun shone blindingly on eighteen inches of wet whiteness. My little dog Cherry, desert-raised, refused to set a foot outside. I tossed her out. She went in over her head. But without making an extra track she leaped back inside.
I started southward about nine o'clock with J. to escort me to Oracle and borrow a horse for the return. We were three hours making the twelve uphill miles. He with a shovel and I with a stout old broom cleared the ruts for the rope-wrapped tires until we arrived at the Flag Ranch where we borrowed chains. It was two o'clock that night before I landed at Poso Nuevo, the car double its normal weight with several coats, inside and out, of Arizona mud.
Frank is a pleasant traveling companion. He doesn't fell obliged to make small talk as Mary and Socorro do; or feel free to burst into Edward's continuous chatter—often containing detailed accounts of movies he has seen, related in a voice uncomfortably raised. Yet Frank's silences are not embarrassing. He radiates a friendly feeling of comradeship. He does, though, make himself comfortable whether anybody else is or not. If several of the kids are going anywhere in my car, he takes the front seat until asked to give it to the girls. His mother gives him privileges. He is her first son.
Ordinarily I am glad to travel alone the fifty miles from town to school. Always in a hurry, driving alone gives me a chance to organize plans and duties. If it is daylight I can absorb rest from the scenic grandeur of the mountains that rim the horizons, and enjoy the quiet beauty of the desert growth—palo verdes, Spanish daggers, and mesquites, doubly loved for their familiarity. Their spring blossoms and foliage give me a personal, and intimate delight.
At such times also, I am free from childish banter and giggling and ceaseless questions, and don't have to bear the inspection of critical eyes and ears. But it is seldom that I don't have riders. On payday Fridays some
And it is a rare Friday that some of the Aroses don't decide to go with me. One of the small children is sent tapping at my door to announce, right at the hour of departure, that My-Mother says So-and-so can go with me to town, for this or that reason—and the matter is settled. A few times I have said I did not have room; but I've never made it stick. My car is their convenience. They don't mean to impose. The car is ready to go and they don't mind squeezing in somewhere, no matter how crowded. On return trips they have many packages.
Monday mornings time must be spent picking them up. Their hostess, Doña Apolonia, lives on the south side where dirt streets are dustiest and bumpiest. I have a guilty conscience about that poor woman. She must hate the sight of me—every weekend bringing to her two rooms from one to six guests. They bring her fresh corn and squashes in season and the children told me My-Mother buys some food for her household.
But often, as with Frank this weekend, the kids hop out at her door with no resources whatever. I gave Frank a dime and told him to go to Lee Hop's store across the street and buy her a candy bar as a greeting gift. She is a middle-aged widow who works at cleaning and ironing when midwifery is slow.
Don Prieto had to be back at the ranch at saddling time early next morning. The whole family gathered in the kitchen while he drank his coffee and told them about the little new baby. Her hands were so plump, he said, there were deep creases in her wrists. Her hair was long and black and very soft. She had big round eyes that stared at him when he picked her up. The children were happy and excited when they told me these details after the school bell had dragged them away from the father's thrilling account of his fifteenth child.
He seems to think even more of Socorro than his own daughters. But Frank doesn't share this stepfather affection. “My father is better now,” he told me as we plowed through the slushy road. “He talks to me.”
Several weeks ago I had an errand to do at Las Delicias and asked Pancho and Frank to go along as gate-openers. Pancho was not given permission, but Frank didn't bother to ask, he said, because his father did not talk to him.
As we turned eastward on the narrow Poso Nuevo road, we saw a dim light gleam through the rain in the direction of the hill we call El Cerro Negro. I said it was perhaps a wood-gatherer on the Old Black Hawk Mine road. But Frank wasn't sure that it wasn't the phantom believed to do his ghosting around that place, proving by inexplicable lights that some money is buried there. Many of our far-circling mountains are credited with these mysterious “buried treasure” lights. The fact that many have seen them and no one has found any treasure does not deter the natives from hoping. Nearly all of the fathers in our community have hunted for ghost-haunted lost fortunes.
Maybe it wasn't “cricket” for me to have the children write about these local legends. But printing the tales has brought them out into the open—a procedure that cools off irrational beliefs and practices. Pascual, who has some fortune-hunting in his past, was chagrined. He told me that our faraway readers (our Little Cowpunchers go across the continent and to Europe, South Africa and Australia) would think Mexicans were ignorant and superstitious. I wonder if he thought of that during the times he hunted caches of ancient silver?
Charli Escalante and one of his friends were sleeping beside the tanks. They saw the man coming out of the pumphouse close by and they awoke all the other cowboys to watch their saddles. Everyone in camp got up. But when they went to see—they didn't find the man at all.
My sisters and Chato and I heard the noise one time since we have been living here. We heard boot steps. We went to see and we found nothing. Chato took the pistol but we could not find anything. The girls went inside the house and were scared to death.’’ ‘‘ GRAY HORSE WITHOUT HEAD
It was about nine o'clock when we went to bed. We were all of us girls talking and laughing in a bed by the window when we heard a noise on the roof like someone throwing rocks. That happened just on Fridays—noises like that. And that night when they stopped the rocks the horse passed by! We girls were scared to death. We jumped out of bed and went to the next room to be with the others. We could not sleep that night for one minute.’’
The little boys argued with him so much that he got down on his knees and played with them. After awhile he remembered about the errand and stood up to look for his dime. It was not there. He looked everywhere and the boys helped him but they couldn't find it. So he said: “Now what shall I do? It was the only dime we had to buy breakfast.”
“Tilí-Talón, Little Boy, I am near your house… Tilí-Talón, Little Boy, I am in your yard… Tilí-Talón, Little Boy, I am in your house… Tilí-Talón, Little Boy, I am sharping my knife… Tilí-Talón, Little Boy, YOU ARE DEAD.”
One day the bad girl said to her father, “Let us kill the goat of my sister.” And they killed it. He gave the tripes of the goat to the good girl and told her to take them to the brook and wash them. She took them and while she was washing them she fell asleep. When she awoke the tripes were gone. She said, “Oh, my father is going to get mad with me!”
The little man said he hadn't see them. Then a woman came by and the little girl said the same thing. The woman said she hadn't seen them but she said “over there is a little house and a little woman who knew where to find lost things.”
Then a voice said “Go to the door and look up.” When the girl looked up many little golden stars fell on her face and all of a sudden she was prettier than her sister and there was a little box and in it were the tripes. She took the little box and went home.
When her father saw that she was beautiful he wanted to cut all the stars off so that the other sister could still be more pretty than she. But then more stars fell on her body and the other sister became very ugly.
And she did. But when she went to the little door and looked up her face was all with worms. Her father tried to get them off, but he could not. Soon she died and no one came to see her. But her sister, the good one, lived happy all the time after.’’
The above story was translated by Rosa Álvarez, fourth grade, who came from town to our school for awhile when she was visiting relatives out here. As a postscript to the editor she wrote: “Go to the show and then come and tell a story more pretty than that.”
The little donkey went on his way till he came to the store. “I want some bread and cheese,” said the donkey and the man put them to his neck [hung them around his neck.] When he was going home he met a coyote who said, “Please take me through this big river. It has lots of water.”
While they were passing the river the coyote was eating all the time.
The donkey felt something and he said: “Don't be eating my
food.” The coyote was very smart. He said, “I am only scaring the
—Translated from Spanish by yours sincerely Arturo Aros
Once a coyote living in a cave by the river got lonesome and went to ask a badger if he had a little money to play him a race. The badger said “Yes with one condition. You run above the ground and I will run below the ground just under you.”
Writing may require some talent to begin with, but its growth is probably like that of a hemlock tree. At any rate the common variety of personal expression in print has a universal appeal even for children. As long as we publish Little Cowpuncher the kids will all want to see their stories in it. The primary pupils don't have to be given assignments. They see the older ones writing and they want to write stories, too. After printing some second-grade stories about our picnic at Gill's Lake, a friend who teaches college students asked if the little ones really wrote their own stories.
Most of the time when they write for Little Cowpuncher, they ask some of the big children to write the hard words for them. Often someone in an intermediate grade, glad enough to break the monotony of his own desultory studying, takes a stand at the blackboard near the primary section and spells on demand.
The compositions are always original, although the little rascals get hints from the words their classmates are asking to have spelled, and feel free to copy ideas. In country schools, first-grade children learn to write as they learn to read. They must have something to do on their own during long periods when their teacher is busy with upper grades. Besides, they want to learn to write. Pencils are fascinating.
As for their stories, some incident happens and a child asks if he (more usually she) can write a story about it for Little Cowpuncher. That is the way the pieces about superstitions were written by the little girls in the second grade who heard the older pupils discussing the subject.
She told me and the class that the day before her grandmother died a hen came into the house, jumped on the bed, and sang: “cock-a-doodle-do.” With appropriate gestures she told that the hen lost her head at once. All the same her grandmother died.
We have a hen that sings like a rooster.
The people say that when a hen sing somebody is going to die.
We have a hen that sing and my mother wants to kill her.
But my father doesn't want to kill her Little Cowpuncher.
I am Frances Salazar.
On New Year Day if they see a shadow [that is, if one
sees his own] that do not have any neck
they are going to die.
This year I did not look to my shadow because I
don't want to know if I am going to die this year.
That is all Little Cowpuncher.
—F. S., Second Grade