Their place was on the right, just before the bridge.
A white-painted wooden bridge. Long and narrow, a mish-mash of beams and cross members down below where it crossed the muddy stream. A simple guard rail of wooden boards lined both sides, something to lean on as you dropped sand into the puddles below. And sand there was aplenty, as the surface of the simple structure was pure sand, just like both roads that led onto it.
If you happened to be underneath when a rare vehicle went over, you could see puffs of dust and sand shake loose, drifting down in the calm air to the mud below.
I suppose it is gone, now. I doubt it met safety standards for modern traffic. The road is probably paved, too.
But back then, you turned off the sandy, dusty county road onto a short driveway that led into the trees on the right. The only trees for a half-mile or so around.
You passed through the trees into the standard ranch yard, a roughly circular lot of open dirt surrounded by the ranch buildings. Their home, a small two-story structure, was first on your right, its front door and porch slightly in the trees. I don't remember its colours, all I remember is grey.
Now, no one went to the front door, or used the porch.
The bees had that.
A massive, active hive in the beams above your head if you were foolish enough to step up there to look. A welcoming committee for any salesman who pulled off the highway and marched right up to the facing door. But all who knew my aunt and uncle knew to use the kitchen door. The smaller one, with simple steps, on the backside of the house that faced into the dirt circle and towards all the outbuildings.
Thinking about it now, I never once wondered why they tolerated those bees' claim to the front porch. We just automatically accepted that when bees move in, people stepped back. I suspect now that the bugs could have been rousted, if one wished it so.
Apparently they never did.
And it is too late to ask them now.
We kids and our cousins knew better than to play around that side of the house. And never, ever ran out the front door.
Although we did, upon occasion, dare each other up onto the front porch. A challenge that almost always ended up with kids exploding out, screaming through the old cottonwoods as some worker bee happened to buzz by on her way home from a collection route.
Their outbuildings were never quite as much fun as those at Grandma's, just a few miles away down the same sandy roads. No huge barn with hay lofts to fight wars in, or huge ropes to swing across from one loft to the other. No old, comfortable homestead log cabin with soft downy mattresses. Here, we mainly played in the chicken coop, often with BB or pellet guns.
I seem to remember some chicken coop windows ending up with BB holes. Pretty sure a country cousin laid blame for that on us innocent city cousins. But probably just as well, since we were out there rarely, and he wasn't.
But most of our time at their place was spent at the creek. Or, more accurately, the muddy meadow that passed as a creek in that dry place. More of a huge seep than a flowing stream. You'd have to circle around the pigs, and then down the gentle slope to the creek. Hopping from one tiny hummock of vegetation to the next. Flushing frogs as you went. And an occasional gartersnake.
I know now that hummocking like that is a sign of overgrazing. An abuse of the land that can be healed by keeping the large-hoofed livestock back away from the stream bottom. But back then, all streams in this sandy country looked like that (as do the creeks in Yellowstone where bison naturally congregate, their hooves just as big and heavy as cattle's).
Get tired of mud? (Or need to dry off before going back to the house?) Just cross the bridge and head up the hillside. All of a sudden you're in horny toad country. A whole different class of critter to hunt and chase. Ants and cactus instead of mud and deerflies.
Eventually Belle and Ralph crossed that bridge, too. Moving to a new, modular home built in the pine trees across the road on top of the rise. A quieter, more peaceful spot, with better views than down in the valley. One of our family's Bostons is buried there, still.
Each of my father's sisters had distinctive voices. Clearly country, like Minnie Pearl or the grandmother in True Country, but with their own western flavor. Each unique from her sisters, or anyone else, for that matter. When we first got our video cam, I brought it out into the living room where Belle was visiting. Yes, I was showing it off, but what I really wanted was to capture a little snippet of her voice, snag a little piece of that sound that came with so many wonderful memories.
And I got it.
One Memorial Day, as Dad and I stood in line at a huge craft store to get supplies for decorating relatives' graves, we both looked up at each other.
"That sounds like Belle."
And it was. Heard her clear across the store, recognizing her voice right off. She was there on the same errand as we, of course.
Besides always knowing her voice, you always also knew Belle's thoughts. She spoke her mind, right off. Never harshly, or judgemental, just matter-of-fact.
Don't know that I ever heard her angry.
But yeah, she had a scolding tone, if she thought you needed to hear it.
My other memories are flooded with a mixture of smells, baking smells from her tight kitchen. The typical country wife, always with something freshly baked on hand. A trait common to both my family lines, and the home I grew up in.
After Ralph died, my aunt ended up moving back into the city. Living alone in a mobile home in a tight, clean, manicured trailer court. Down in the valley by the cottonwoods, next to the creek.
As she reached her nineties, she could no longer take care of a place on her own, nor even herself. Ended up in the same assisted living center as one of her sisters, although I'm told the families and staff took their time telling them they were in the same building.
Last week Dad called, shortly before my surgery. The pains were too great, her will to live gone. She'd quit eating.
Early this week he called again. Belle was gone.
I really don't know what happened to their old home. Nor do I know what happened to the bees. But the few times I was along on visits to their northern place, we still entered their new home through the kitchen door.
Not the front.
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