Stories from the Muddy

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Friday, September 17, 2010


By Naomi Lewis

          When Gladys and Osborne Gentry moved back to Tassi to be with Grandad Ed in the 1960s, Papa always picked us up in Mesquite to take us to the ranch on the Arizona Strip, for holidays and summer vacations.  "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go."  I loved to stand with my toes stuck between the front railings of the racks in the back of the truck and sing "The Cowboy Song" or "Johnny Angel" into the wind.  The only time I could remember the tune for "The Cowboy Song" as a youth, was when we were on the road to Grandma's house.  There were many miles of nothing to see but desert, then suddenly we came upon a stand of trees and corrals and we were there.

I have very evocative images in my mind of the Gentry's and Lewis' seated around the long wooden table, with built-on benches, eating a meal or playing canasta and eating popcorn and drinking Brigham tea, or laughing at stories with the hiss of the Coleman lamp in the background and the faint odor of an oil lamp.  The room was heated with a wood-burning stove.  There was no power and none of the usual distractions of the city.  The water was gravity fed from the springs above the stone house built by Grandad, and Great Uncle Wayne, so we had running water and showers and flushing toilet, but no television.  Those days will never come again, even though a part of me thinks nothing will be lost.

Papa loved a ball game on the radio.  I can still see him stretched out on the sofa with the radio on his chest listening and laughing.  He was a man with a highly developed sense of humor.  He saw the humor in everything.  He always laughed. 

When we set the table for a meal, Grandad had a special knife he wanted at his plate and he always got it.  It was a little enough request.  I remember one Thanksgiving there was a scare about eating cranberry sauce.  There was a rumor that it caused cancer.  Grams thought it was ridiculous and ate cranberry sauce anyway.

Tassi was an enchanting place in every corner.  A stream ran from the spring near the back of the house in a ditch along the base of a hill to a pond that served as a reservoir for the fields.  The stream was crystal clear running through a mossy bed and canopied with trees.  A small wood of cottonwood trees spread across the hillside - a real oasis.

 There was a bare, rock hill that stood apart and I used it for my practice stage.  I could talk to myself and rehearse plays and no one could hear me, (I think).  On the path to the pond, my youngest brother, Cornel, made a burrow down the hillside into an arbor of grape vines in the wash below.  I never would have hollowed it out.  I was afraid of snakes and spiders. 

Cornel was special when it came to creating spaces.  He could make a castle out of a paper box, or a fort out of a square of dirt.  One time we drove to the Arizona side of Lake Mead to swim.  Cornel ran out into the water and rammed a stick up between two toes.  Grams put a piece of steak on it to draw it out, but that was one poor little boy.  I couldn't stand it when he was in pain.  He was innocent.  We had to take him to a Doctor to have that piece of wood removed.
We children always swam in the the stream-fed pond, and had some rough-housing with inner tubes for floats while the adults watched.  We never swam alone.  I never swam alone, anyway.

The fields spread out into furrows.  I remember Papa walking with a shovel over his shoulder to the fields in his black, rubber boots with his dog following behind or running ahead chasing rabbits.  Mom spent a lot of time at Tassi when she was growing up.  She told me she hated to go rabbit hunting, because when they were shot, they hopped in the air and called out something that sounded to her like, "Mama."

            Somewhere above Tassi, the washes join the Grand Canyon.  During a flood season, water could wash very near the house.  Sometimes the water brought in beautiful drift wood that Grams used as decorations around her yard.

            I ate the best jerky of my life at Tassi.  When Papa butchered a beef, some of it, was cut into strips, salted and peppered, and hung to dry on the clothes line.  When it was dry, Grams put it in a soft cotton bag and hung it from a rafter where nothing could get into it.  Grams also made the best dried figs from the giant fig trees behind the house.  She made screen racks and placed sugared figs between them to dry on the tin roof.

            There were a number of cots set up under the cottonwood trees where we slept in the summer.  I remember reading the humorous parts of Reader's Digest in the shade.  Grandad's shop, I thought, was a place where snakes and spiders hid, and I never entered there.  

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