Saturday, March 23, 2013

My father's words

COYOTE WINDS was inspired by my father's stories of growing up in Eastern Colorado in the 1930s. While there was plenty of blowing dust in his stories, he also talked about freedom and adventure. With the schools closed, he spent his days hunting rattlesnakes and rabbits. He collected arrowheads and grasshoppers. He camped out on the prairie grass and counted a thousand shooting stars. 
I was lucky that my father left a short memoir of those years. After he passed away, I reread the memoir, determined to find some way to use it. I was not ready to say good-bye to Dad.  
 I wanted to share parts of his memoir with you.  Here's Part One. 

John Sedwick
I don't know why it happened, and it is too late to find out now for there is no one to ask, but at the age of around four I found myself living on the rolling, sage brush covered plains of Eastern Colorado. I heard was that my grandmother's health had broken, and she needed to be in a drier climate. Colorado, where a high humidity in the summer might be all of 20%, certainly fulfilled that requirement. I wasn't alone. There was my mother, her sister, Ruth Vincent, my maternal grandmother, Florence Vincent, and my brother, Bob, who was almost two years older than me. The year was 1931.
Why Colorado? Well, my maternal grandfather, on a whim one summer when he was a schoolteacher, went out to Colorado to claim some land. I think it was around the turn of the century, but am not sure. You could claim as a homestead a "section" (640 acres) by living on it for 18 months. Or, you could claim a "quarter section" (160 acres) by planting forty acres of trees on it and call it a "timber claim." This is what he did, planted forty acres of ash trees and never saw it again. But, it was in my grandmother's name, so she was the owner.
Our property was eleven miles from town, and at first we were living in a two-room deserted shack on the property to the North of ours. There were two rooms - but one was used for corn storage for the people who owned the place. So we had one room for the five of us. We had five folding, collapsible, canvas army cots. I guess some sort of stove. Not much.
I remember that during the day it was Bob's and my job to track any rattlesnakes we saw so that the farmer could kill them. That's a job for two boys, 4 and 6 years old, right?
We did get a horse, a white-ish sway-back that we named Spark Plug. But, we never did get a saddle.  Any riding was done bare-back. We also were adopted by a dog, a brown "dawg," that we called Barney Google, after the comic strip. (Not the current Internet search engine). Once when Barney had an entanglement with the coyotes and was all torn up, he nursed himself back to health there in the garage.  We would bring him food and water, and he would lick his wounds.  Within a week he had recuperated.
All the local roads around there were just two tracks in the sandy soil, with grass growing up in between. Our Post Master would wear out a car a year with his deliveries. He drove seventy to seventy-five miles a day, as fast as he could over dusty roads, six days a week. About nine o'clock every weekday morning we could look South toward the next hill. We would see a dust cloud forming, and before long would see Fritz's car barreling down toward us. He'd come to a fast stop at the mailboxes there at this corner, get rid of the mail, and careen off on his way. You could set your watch by it. And everything came by mail. No UPS, no FEDEX - just mail. One time we had to order a new axel for our '28 Chevy from the Montgomery Ward catalogue. It came by US mail.
And then there a small church, white, with a small steeple that must have been built in better times. Everybody went there on Sunday. It was the only time during a week that you could see other people, have someone to talk to, and put on your "Sunday-go-to-meeting" duds. The "service" was led by Spurgeon Brawley from a weekly scripture mailed to all of us by a religious publishing house in Kansas City, was our weekly Bible lesson - sort of like "mail order religion."
        What were these people living on? Not much. Besides The Great Depression, there was also a ten-year drought going on in the West, which was later called The Dust Bowl. Most people raised their own food. They would take their milk cans down to the train station to be shipped to a creamery. Prices were very low. I remember eggs at twelve cents a dozen, gas at ten cents a gallon. 


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