Before we landed in our spring-board parsonage dwelling, we had traveled to Colorado on the train. At night, of course. We should have been used to it, because we took most of our trips at night. We lived in New Mexico, for one thing, before cars had air conditioners. What we had, in the early days, were rough burlap canteens (water bags) for the radiator and parents who could stay awake and drive through the night. By parents, I mostly mean fathers, of course. My mother was grown, married and had several children before she learned to drive a car. We were moving in two vehicles and my mother learned to drive with a car full of children on winding roads at night.
My clever mother assigned responsibilities to each of us, things we needed to keep track of while traveling. I had an overnight make-up case, a Samsonite knock-off, filled with various and sundry items, none of them make-up related, I'm sure. The baby, our toddler brother had a pillow. What the others had, I don't remember because I probably didn't pay attention. By probably, I mean, of course I didn't pay attention...at least for longer than a few minutes.
My father worked out of town a lot of the time and most of the time for our short spell in Colorado, following drillers and rigs where he could find work. He borrowed a truck or shared rides and left us in the hills with the car. When we came home from school early one day to report the news of President Kennedy's assassination, my mother sat listening to the updates on the car radio. She stayed out there all evening and into the night, coming in to get a blanket and to fix a quick supper for us. We had no phone, no television or any other communication device out there in the eerie, forsaken blackness.
Sometimes it scared me to think of my mother being the only adult caring for the five of us. I should have seen then how strong a woman she was, but she was just our mother. One day, we drove into Grand Junction, less than a hundred miles from where we lived in Colbran, for groceries and supplies we were not able to get otherwise. In those days, the trip was probably at least a couple of hours. It was late as we traveled home, but Mom decided to stop at the drive-in so we could watch a movie. A special treat that I tried to enjoy fully, but I was never able to shake the worry that something could happen to the car on the way back and we would be stranded late at night, far from home without my father's home-grown mechanic skills to take care of the situation. I was no stranger to the fact that cars could break down, radiators could over-heat, tires could blow out and five noisy children could be quite distracting to the most experienced of drivers.
I needn't have worried, because, remember? This was the year of our charmed and charming autumn. Our 1st through 12th grade school building had a juke box in the library, riding the bus down out of the mountains was always a happy experience, and our teachers actually liked us and were nice to us...each of us! (That didn't always happen for us.) We had family friends by way of one of my father's drillers, who were so wild and nutty, they made us look almost normal by comparison. (And THAT didn't always happen for us, either.) By wild and nutty, I mean the kids actually chased headless chickens whose necks they had just wrung, tromping barefooted through spilled blood mixing it in the dirt. For fun and entertainment. Of course, we ate the poor, tough old things, if we could.
When my father did come home on certain weekends or between jobs, he helped us crack and peel the windfall black walnuts in front of our house by driving over them with the truck he had borrowed. We used hammers and rocks, too. However difficult those odd-smelling things were to crack and dig out nut meat, staining our fingers for days, it was well worth it for the banana-walnut ice cream we hand-cranked in the yard.
Other things I remember about his being there at that time were the breakfasts my mother would cook for him every morning: fried eggs and toast, and sometimes bacon or sausage. But it was the hot, over-easy fried eggs that he vigorously dumped salt and pepper over before cutting them into little pieces with a knife an fork and scooping them onto the heavily buttered toast that made me love fried eggs when I really didn't like them at all.
My father was, not surprisingly, an enigma to us, and when he was home that fall, we noticed a Bible sitting on his night stand. My mother, who was a chuch-goer didn't even have a Bible on the nightstand. That was enough of a surprise that we talked about it quietly, discretely among ourselves. This was not the father we knew and frankly, it was a bit worrisome. What ever could have brought about the change? For all we knew until then, he didn't believe in anything much at all. Was he becoming even more of a stranger to us? Who could ask him about such a thing? And then he was off again.
We stayed there long enough to get a taste of winter. Early, heavy snows, layers of ice on the still-running ditch out front, where we would suddenly see our dog Teddy swimming under the ice, and where we would dare each other to skate without shoes, pot-bellied stove needing to be fed and stoked often, and more little bodies in the same bed at night for more warmth and more protection against the mice.
True to our way of life, the time soon--too soon--came for us to leave again. We packed and loaded up, crawled into the car with the back seat made into a bed and drove away from our Halcyon Season, this time not in the lonely hours of dusk when one should be sitting down to supper, but on a frosty, pie-less, Thanksgiving morning.