Thursday, July 29, 2010


The new header is a photgraph taken several years ago by me with a throw-away camera of the terrain around Oak CreekVillage and Sedona, Arizona. The pile in the middle is called Bell Rock, a famous landmark in the area where the vortexes merge and not far from the site of the recent sweat-lodge disaster. Some people will do anything for amusement or to get a little bit of money. The Indians have their sacred mountains (and casinos) and the white man has his vortexes. By the way, a local tribe has laid claim to a parcel of land adjacent to the new Phoenix Cardinal stadium and will buiild a casino complex to bring in money for the tribe, the Tohono Nation, that is, if or when they get approval from the City of Glendale. I will have only a five-minute (at the most) drive to make a donation, it being close to Sun City.

Since I started blogging that Hillside Cabin story, the Fourth of July flew by (happy 4th), Bastille Day disappeared (happy Bastille to my Parisian friends, if I have any left) and now the National Day of the Cowboy has come and gone, too (to all the real cowboys, make-believe cowboys (like me), acting cowboys and all the others who profess to have an interest in cowboys, happy Day of the Cowboy). And in Utah, the 24th of July is the big clebration of the arrival of Brigham Young's party into the Salt Lake valley in 1847 among whom was my great-great-grandfather. He was working with the Pawnee and Oto Indians in Nebraska when the Mormons showed up, so he joined up with them and switched to Latter Day Saint, the story is on site in a fictionalized version. Take a look. And a belated happy 24th to those in Utah.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Finale -8)

Corina was a beautiful, black haired woman with green eyes that absorbed everything, flitting from Cliff to Jeb to her daughter, Clarissa, to Nellie, who was standing in the kitchen doorway watching, and back to Jeb. She explained everything to Jeb, her marriage, her divorce, why she was here, and Jeb had trouble absorbing all the details. He was just happy to finally see his daughter.

They had been talking and laughing all afternoon when young Sebio, looking out a front window, told Cliff, "Meester Cliff, the wind is blowing dust all over. Look! I think we're going to get another storm!"

Cliff opened the front door and the wind blew some dust in. He stepped outside, lifted his eyes to the sky, turned this way and that, and hurried back in, yelling, "Jeb! Your house is on fire! Your house is on fire, the wind is getting stronger, and a big dust cloud is coming this way! Nellie! Close the back door and all the windows!"

A blast of thunder was heard as Jeb jumped up from his chair, saying, "Come on, Sebio! We got to put out the fire!" and started for the door.

"It's too late, Jeb!" yelled Cliff. "By the time you get up there, if you can get up there in this mess, the house will be gone! You might as well sit down and wait it out!"

Jeb looked at his daughter and Clarissa with fear in his eyes, and they were staring at him the same way. He collapsed on his chair, put his hands over his face and immediately let them fall into his lap. He stared at Corina and broke into a wide smile, took one of her hands, and said, "Corina, Corina, I've been holding on to that land on the hill for years so I could pass it on to you and we almost had the house rebuilt for you to live in, but this is no place to bring up your daughter. We'll sell it and go back east. I've always wanted to go back there where I was born, near Lawrence in Kansas , where there are good schools and civilized people with manners. Would you like to do that? And you, too, Sebio. How would you like to see Kansas?"

Sebio, who was still watching the dust and the wind through the window, yelled, "Meester Catrall, Meester Cat-rall! I just saw three old Indians running down the road waving a flag like yours! What do you theenk of that? They disappeared in the dust before I could get a good look!"



Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd - 7)

Another two weeks passed by and the construction on the cabin was progressing nicely. All walls had been set up and work began on the roof, in fact, they only lacked a couple of rafters and joists. Young Sebio  began at the back end nailing boards to the rafters while Jeb was waiting for another order of lumber to finish off the roof supports.  

"Jeb! Jeb!" yelled Cliff from a hundred yards down the hill. "Jeb! I got some news for you, good news!"

Jeb stood looked out the front door to see what the yelling was all about.

"It's Cliff, again, Sonny," he said, looking up through the roof opening to Sebio . "He sure does like to yell, don't he?" turning his eyes back to Cliff, who was now only seventy-five yards away and hurrrying closer.

"Good news, Jeb!" yelled Cliff. "I'll tell you in a minute as soon as I catch my breath. That hill gets harder to climb each time I come up here. You'll never believe what I'm going to tell you, Jeb. You didn't get no letter today, but you did get somethin' else."

"This ought to be good. Come on down, Sebio. He always acts like it's something really important and it turns out to be nothing," said Jeb. "You just watch."

"Si, si," uttered the young Mexican, dropping to the floor and taking a position near Jeb.

"If that news is so all-fired important, Cliff, you better wait to tell me till I get a fresh cup of coffee and take my seat at the table. Come on in, grab that cup, and don't say a word until we get properly situated. I don't want to have a heart attack when you sputter out the good news," Jeb needled. "Sonny," he continued, looking at Sebio, "you stand by my chair and get ready to run for the doctor."

"You may joke, Jeb, but this time it's going to knock your socks off even though you don't wear any," laughed Cliff, picking up the cup of cold coffee. "Sebio, do what Jeb said, just in case he keels over."

Jeb took a swallow of coffee, wiped his dirty rag across his forehead, and stared at Cliff with an air of nervous expectancy with Sebio standing by his side watching and listening.

 "All right, Cliff, I'm ready for it. Let me have it with both barrels," he said, smiling wide.

"Ahem, well, Jeb," began Cliff, looking more excited than Jeb ever did, "a young lady got off the stage this morning all dressed up in fancy clothes and new shoes and turned around and helped a young girl, maybe four years old off, and they both came into the station looking awful tired and worn out, and Nellie got them seated at a table and took their order for food," he said, drawing it out. "Well, they didn't say a word until both of them had cleaned their plates, and I have to tell you, they were hungry, all right, just ate everything in sight, and then the lady leaned back in her chair with a satisfied smile, and...."

"What did Corina say, Cliff? Did she ask for me?" asked Jeb, with a silly grin on his face.

"Damn you, Jeb! You ruined my surprise for you," said Cliff and gave Jeb a dirty look. "How did you know it was your daughter?"

"She sent me a telegram from Tucson and Sebio brought it up a couple days ago, hahaha. Sorta took the wind out of your sails, huh, Cliff?" said Jeb, and Sebio laughed, too.

"Damn you, Jeb!" cursed Cliff, staring at Jeb and the boy. He hunched his shoulders and then relaxed. "Well, are you going down to town and say hello to her? That's the least you could do, ain't it Sebio? She's waitin' at the station."

"Your dern tootin' I'm going down there just as soon as I get cleaned up," said Jeb. "Why don't you and Sebio go on down and tell her I'm on my way and I'll be along shortly. You say there was a young girl with her? How can that be, she just got married awhile back. By golly, I got to find out about that. Hurry up and tell her I'm on my way."

After they were gone, Jeb took down the flag and hid it where no one could possibly find it, and then found his old razor and a ragged towel and walked to the spring out of the hillside and its pool of water and shaved up as best as he could without a mirror. He returned to the cave and dug his old black suit out of a box and quickly donned the pants, pulling the legs over his old work shoes, and pulled on his only white shirt. He thought himself quite handsome and carrying his coat over his arm, he started down the hill to Tropolis and the station to meet this young lady, his daughter, that he hadn't seen since she was four years old. His head ached behind the eyes from the nervous tension he felt all of a sudden.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd - 6)

The Fourth of July came and went and the new flag on the hillside caused quite a stir in the town when it was first spotted. Well, it wasn't actually spotted, because the citizens never looked at the hill. The hill was just there in its greenness and immobility and everybody was so used to it that they never spent time looking at it in their day-to-day activities. It was Cliff that started all the excitement by asking Ben Haggerty, the owner of the lumberyard who had come in the station for breakfast, "Have you seen that new flag up there at Jeb Catrall's place on the hillside, Ben? I saw it first thing this morning when I went outside, and it sure makes a pretty sight waving in the breeze this Fourth of July."

Of course, from there the word spread like a wild fire with Haggerty telling everyone he met and Cliff telling everyone he saw, and pretty soon the young kids had to get a closer look at the flag and climbed the hill part way to set off their firecrackers and exploding bombs and then run home to tell their parents.

The flag added a certain patriotic awareness and everbody had a better Fourth of July because of it. Going from one place to another, they stared at it and some sang the National anthem, at least tried to sing a few words of it, and it was a day not to be forgotten, at least for a week or so. 

The week went by and Catrall had been flying the flag and building his cabin with the help of young Sebio and Cliff and waiting for that letter from his daughter . The flagpole was a ten-foot long two-by-four which he and Cliff rigged for the purpose.

"That ain't very high up, Jeb. I think you should've used a longer two-by-four," said Cliff.

"You get it too high and the wind will blow it down," said Jeb. "And it'll be easier to put up and take down at this length. It'll be just fine. It looks pretty to me, waving in the breeze, huh, Sebio?"

"Si, si, muy hermosa!" Sebio said with bright and shiny brown eyes.

The house had been progressing nicely, too, with both sidewalls added on to the foundation and the old, rotten floor boards changed out. The summer monsoons had started when the building was blown down and they knew the winds could pick up at any time. They propped up the walls with two-by-fours to prevent another blowdown.

"There, that'll hold 'em," said Jeb as he nailed the last support into place. "It'll have to be a another strong wind to blow this one down."

Meanwhile, down in the valley on the edges of Tropolis in a dark and hot hut were gathered three old Indians, known as Old Hates White Men, Cat Chaser, and Kit Carson Escapes Into Bushes.

"We been hated, castigated, ridiculed, and practically emasculated by our own people," Old Hates White Men was saying. "All because of our past lives and the evil that befell us on raids of the white men camps. Our own people never understood us or what happened in those raids, yet, they expelled us and made us objects of derision among the young people, and I say we must do something that will wipe away our misdeeds and miscues and make us once again the strong brave warriors of our youth in the eyes of our own peoples."

Cat Chaser looked at him with his dark eyes and a question on his brown face that needed an answer. He drew himself up to full stature in his white-man's shirt and denim trousers, that is, he straightened up from his sitting position on the dirt floor of the hogan and raised his wrinkled right arm, pointing at Escapes into Bushes in the dim light, and said, "Him beyond redemption no matter what we do, Old Hates White Men!" he said emphatically. "Him no good! Can't be redeemed! Mark my words!" He took a deep breath, lowered his arm, "Look at him...passed out from too much mescal. Indian shouldn't be able to buy mescal, ruin many lives."

"Him heap drunk, all right, but when he doesn't have any mescal, he's a straight arrow, Cat Chaser," said Old Hates White Men. "We'll see that he doesn't get any more till we redeem ourselves." He stared at the little old man across from him, his pupils just dots in the reddened dark eyes under his bushy eyebrows and long gray hair that he had tied in a knot that fell over his back. "How are your old legs? How far can you walk in a day?"

"Humph, legs are in good condition," replied Cat Chaser. "I walk into town every day as you know to steal something to eat. My legs can outrun yours any day, Old Hates White Men!" He straightened his legs out in front of him, resting the calves and heels on the dirt floor, squeezed his old, leathery right thigh muscle with his right hand. "See there! Strong muscles, like iron. Feel them! I could pull a dead bull two miles in the mud with these legs."

"Good, you'll need good legs when I tell you how we're going to redeem our lives. But we have to wait until Kit Carson Escapes comes out of his drunken sleep, because I'm only going to tell you both once, that's all. We'll be welcomed back with a big celebration, a big dance to the wolves and the moon with lots of good medicine and all the mescal we can drink." Old Hates White Men grinned and touched the side of his head, watching the old man sitting across the ashes of the dead fire.

Cat Chaser was staring back at him, thinking, "He must have a powerful medicine in his breeches to think he can do that. We'll have to wait to see what's in it, though. A-agh...I don't know why Kit Carson Escapes into Bushes has to be part of his medicine. He can't stay off the mescal long enough to do much. The last time he sobered up, he got to shakin' and sweatin' so bad I thought he was a dead Indian before long." Aloud, he said, "Aa-agh, Old Hates White Men, I can't trust that Indian to do anything. Why did you have to pick him to be part of this plan?"

"We stick together, you, me, and him. We been together for a long time and I'll need him to do his part in it. I just can't let him not be a part of it. We three are the only living braves from that last big raid on the white man's camp and we'll stick together until the end. You agree with me, don't you? That Indian should be redeemed with us or it's no deal."

"Hah, he may get us killed, him and his drunken liquor," said Cat Chaser. "He's been like that ever since he let that dirty white scoundrel Kit Carson get away. We have to make sure he's sober and not just enough to stand up and walk. We need to take his mind off mescal so he doesn't get the urge for it. Otherwise, I may not want to go along with you. You're the oldest of us, and we always looked up to you, Old Hates White Men, but, look at you, you can barely stand up on those creaky, old, wrinkled, brown legs. You better start walkin' with me when I go into town and get them lookin' like they used to. You need to do that, if there's a lot of walkin' in your plan. My legs are strong; I can walk for a week if I have to."

"As soon as that ancient brown one lying there asleep wakes up, we'll do a little walking. We all need strong legs to redeem ourselves. And while we prepare for this plan we need to make some arrows, good strong arrows that fly straight and true and a long way, Cat Chaser, and we'll have to steal some string for a good, strong bow, too. "

Old Hates White Men glanced at the sleeping, emaciated body of Kit Carson Escapes in the Bushes, sighed, dug around in his bag and pulled out an old pipe. 'Here, let's have a good smoke to seal our redemption," as he pulls out a pinch of tobacco from a pouch and presses it into the bowl of the pipe with a dirty thumb. "Smoking is good medicine," he added, striking a match and putting it to the tobacco. He sucked on the pipe until he had a cloud of smoke wafting to the ceiling, coughed three or four times, and passed the pipe to his old companion.



Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd -5)

"Hold it, Sonny, we got company comin' up the trail," said Jeb, staring at Cliff climbing the hill. "Sit down and take a breather and we'll see what he's got up his sleeve this morning."

Young Sebio was pulling a nail out of a board and was bent over with the hammer, prying the nail out. He straightened up when Jeb told him to hold it. The nail was stuck between the claws of the hammer. He looked at Jeb, who was gazing at the man coming up the hill, and then noticed the nail and pulled it loose, stuck it in his pocket, and waited for Cliff to reach the clearing. His stomach was growling from hunger; he had only eaten one tortilla for breakfast and the sun had reached its zenith. He was thirsty, too, but he waited patiently to see what Cliff had to say. He was used to being hungry and thirsty.

The old man and the young boy were not moving, enthralled in watching Cliff dodging cactus, boulders, and bushes as he lifted one foot and then the other. When he got closer, he lifted the package and yelled, "Jeb, you got a package from back east! Were you expectin' anything like this instead of a letter? You didn't get no letter!"

"Well, I'll be damned! Hurry on up and give it to me! I forgot all about it, it's been so long!" said Jeb with his eyes still on Cliff and a big, wide grin that wrinkled up his leathery, whiskered cheeks. "I bet it's been six months since I sent off that order. Come here, Sebio, and we'll open it up."

The boy stood next to the old man as Cliff finally got to the clearing and handed the package to Jeb, saying, "It's from Pennsylvania, Jeb, Philadelphia it looks like."

"You didn't open it, did you? It looks pretty ragged to me," said Jeb. "If you did, I'll throw you down that hill. It's against the law to be opening other people's mail," his eyes squinting at Cliff.

"No, no, for Hell's sake, I know better'n that, but it feels like cloth from the outside. You get you a new shirt?" asked Cliff.

"Sonny," Jeb said to young Sebio, "take a look at this when I get it opened up and tell me what you think about it."

Sebio brushed the sweat off his forehead under the sombrero with a couple of fingers and looked at Jeb a little scared, saying, "Si, si, Meester Cat-rall, what eez eet?"

"By golly, take a look, Sebio, and you, too Cliff!" as Jeb got the package opened and pulled out a colorful piece of cloth. "Look! Ain't she pretty? An American flag! All red, white and blue, and got thirty-eight stars on it. Look at that!" he said, holding it up with both hands, arms extended. "By golly! It sure is a sight, ain't it, and tomorrow's the Fourth of July! Got here just in time, it did! I'm going to fly it high first thing in the morning. Come on, boys! We got to put up a pole! WHOOPEE! It'll be the talk of the town, and don't you tell anybody about it, Cliff, or you either, Sebio. We'll see how long it takes for them people down there to notice it! HAHAHA!" he laughed.

Cliff and Sebio stared at the flag and then at Jeb, and then back at the flag as Jeb held it high for a few seconds. Jeb quickly folded it up and stuck it back in the package, tucked it under his arm, wiped the sweat from his brow, and walked to his cave, placing the package on a rock ledge in the wall. Cliff and Sebio followed along behind, not saying anything.

Cliff broke the silence by saying, "Nellie made some pork sandwiches for us. We might as well eat 'em before we put up a flagpole."

"By golly, let's eat, huh, Sonny?" said Jeb, smiling and watching Cliff open his bag of food. "We might as well sit down. I ain't one for standing up while I eat. What did you think of the flag, Sebio?"

"Eets pretty, Meester Cat-rall. The first one I've ever seen brand new, and tomorrow I weel salute eet as eet flies high on the pole, waving eets colors een the morning breeze and we'll give thanks for eendependence and freedom. I learned that een school," he said, watching Jeb look over his sandwich like he was looking for bugs or something. "I hope the Apaches don't steal eet."

"Well said, well said, Sonny," said Jeb, taking a big bite from the sandwich. "Hah! The Indians haven't done any raiding for a long time, and they'll have to steal it over my dead body. They ain't goin' to get it!"

It was difficult to understand what he said with his mouth full of bread and pork, the sounds coming out muffled and shortened, sounding somewhat like a happy pig rooting around in his trough of swill, grunting and squawking.

Cliff and Sebio, both busy chewing, grunted back a reply.

"Tell Nellie thanks, Cliff, that pork sure tastes good!" Jeb continued after swallowing a big mouthul. "Pass that jug of water over here, if you don't mind, Cliff, that workin' sure builds up a thirst, don't it, Sebio? Here, take a good long drink of it."

Sebio took the gallon wine jug, hefted it up and drank some of the cool water before giving it back to Jeb, wondering how much money he would be getting for the work he was doing. And he also wondered how much Jeb had paid for that flag. "He must be rich," he thought, "to waste his money on a piece of cloth to fly in the air and get torn up by the winds."


Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd- #4)

"I can't stay until sunset to help you with that wall, Jeb," said Cliff. "I have to get back to the station and help Nellie. Shall we give it another try now?"

"Nah, I got to let my gut settle down after all that straining and grunting," answered Jeb. "You go ahead on down to town and I'll give you a dollar to find someone to bring up a load of one-by-tens and two-by-fours, say ten dollars' worth for now. Tell Haggerty I'll pay him at the end of the month when I go to town. And, say, do you think you could find some kid willin' to work and help me tear that roof apart? There's still quite a bit of it to do before I can start building a new one. I can re-use some of them boards."

"Sure, sure. I'll put your order in to Haggerty for you and send up someone to help you," said Cliff. "Hell, that's a good idea, Jeb. Keep one boy out of trouble, anyway, and I know just the one. If you got that dollar handy, I'll be on my way. Thanks for the coffee."

Cliff stood up, watching Jeb dig into his pocket for the money. Jeb stood up, too, and handed over a silver dollar, saying, "Here's your dollar, and make damn sure you don't send that Gomez and his jackass up here with the lumber. Find somebody else, Cliff."

"All right, but if there ain't nobody else willin', I'm sending him anyway, if you want your lumber," warned Cliff.

Jeb gave him a dirty look and watched him start down the hill. He sat back down on his rock and took another sip of sandy coffee, muttering, "I'll be go to Hell."

The next morning Jeb sat on the old foundation of his new house yet to be constructed and watched the mule struggle with the heavy load of lumber with Gomez hitting him with a stick about every step he took. He shook his head and said to himself, "Damn, that Mexican's going to kill that jackass before he gets halfway up the hill. I knew damn well that's who Cliff would hire and that's his oldest son with him." He sighed and took a deep breath, keeping his eyes on the trio. The boards got caught in a creosote bush, and the mule kept struggling until the boy was able to break it free, and Gomez' stick kept bouncing off the mule's back. The voices of the two carried up the hill on a light breeze as they slowly climbed the old trail, "Anda, Andele, hi-ee, hi-ee, anda, andale!"

The sun was up hot and glaring brightly, streaming over the top of the hillside and gradually beginning the trek down over the tops of the palo verdes and into the bushes. Jeb took his old rag and wiped his forehead as the mule came to a stop a few feet away in the small clearing. He looked at Gomez and then the boy, who was still pretty young, maybe thriteen or fourteen, and small for his age. Both were sweating under their sombreros.

Gomez and the boy stared at him out of their brown eyes, waiting for Jeb to tell them where to unload the lumber from the patiently standing mule.

"Hah! It's you, is it Sebio, and got your boy with you," said Jeb, still eyeing the two, the pupils of his eyes contracted in the glare, his old hat brim shading his face.

"Si, si, Meester Cat-rall. We bring your lumber and young Sebio work for you today," said Gomez. "Donde quierelo? Where do you want it?"

Jeb had no problem with Gomez this morning, that is, he thought better of arguing so early in the day, and paid him two dollars for the delivery and even told him, "Gracias." He soon put young Sebio to work tearing the boards off the old roof with his extra hammer found behind a rock in his cave.

Sebio, the elder, lead his mule back down the hill, planning to hide a dollar from his wife so he could have a few drinks in the Mexican bar. He was already savoring the taste of the mescal, licking and smacking his lips together.

Down in Tropolis after the arrival of the stage just before noon, Cliff said to his wife, "Nellie, I'm going up the hill to help Jeb and tell him about the letter that didn't come today and give him this package from back east, all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it looks like. He must've ordered a new shirt. It feels like it's just somethin' made out of cloth in there. "

"Well don't wear the paper out feeling it and rubbing it like that. He'll think somebody opened it up you keep messin' with it. Just a minute before you go, I'm going to make some sandwiches with that left-over pork to take up there for young Sebio. You know he won't have nothin' to eat 'til he gets back home, and I'll make one for you and Jeb, too," said Nellie.

Ten minutes later, Cliff began his climb, holding the cloth bag with the slices of bread and pork in his left hand and the package from back east in his right, whistling his rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic going up the trail.



Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd- #3)

"Do you know anybody down there that's got a pack animal they want to loan out for a couple of days?" asked Jeb. "I got to buy me some lumber to replace some of those boards and haul it up here so I can get some use out of it."

"Hell, 'bout everybody in town owns one, as you well know, Jeb," answered Cliff, as he looked around for another hammer he could use. "Try Sebio Gomez, he needs the money worse than anybody with that house full of brats he's got running around. He'll probably even haul it up here for you, and you won't even have to go into town."

"I wouldn't hire that crooked Mex for anything," said Jeb, picking up some nails and putting them in his front pocket. "I don't care how many brats he's got stealing for him. I used him the last time three-four years ago, and he tells me he'll bring up a load for a dollar and a half, and when he gets here, he refuses to unload it from his mule until I paid him two damn dollars for just bringing it up the hill, that two-faced crook. Tells me one thing, then don't carry through with it. Can't trust him. Got somebody else in mind?"

"Sebio's always been straight with me, Jeb," said Cliff. "Where's that extra hammer you got laying around?"

"It musta got buried under some of those boards. Why don't you help me put this wall together? You don't need no hammer for that. I'll do the hammerin' while you do the holdin'."

Jeb struggled with the wall to stand it up. It had some boards mssing and a couple broken under the window opening. Cliff put his strength into the other end of the wall and held it up,

"Here, you take that end and we'll set it up here on the floor if we can lift it," said Jeb, sweating from his efforts to stand it upright. Looking at Cliff, also perspiring heavily, he said, "Who else you recommend for hauling lumber? And don't tell me Herb Cluff, he's another one I wouldn't hire even if he was the only one in town with an extry jackass. He's lazier than a snake with a full stomach relaxin' under a cedar tree."

"Herb don't have much ambition, I'll grant you that," Cliff said. "But, if you just borry his mule, he won't be doin' any work and you can do it as fast or as slow as you want."

"Hah! That jackass ain't goin' to let his jackass out of his sight, and he's just in the way of a hard workin' man tryin' to do something," countered Jeb. "I'd just as soon get somebody else. That Herb makes me nervous with all his standin' around and lookin' over everything like he's going to stick it in his pocket when I'm not watching. Here, let's give it a try, see how heavy it is. Once we get it standin' up on the floor, we'll be able to nail her down and I'll have half my house built, hahaha," he chuckled.

The floor was about thigh-high to a short-legged man and they struggled and swore and sweat poured off their faces and down their necks as they put their strength into lifting the wall.

"Set 'er back down a minute, Cliff," Jeb said, setting his end on the ground and wiping the sweat off his face and forehead with the dirty rag he pulled from his back pocket. He was breathing heavy and sat himself down on a boulder. He watched Cliff lean the wall against the foundation and do some wiping of his own.

"We ain't going to do it that way, Jeb," said Cliff, taking in deep breaths. "We're both going to have to lift one end and then the other. Who would've thought that a few boards nailed together would be so damn heavy?"

"You want a cup of water or more of that sandy coffee?" asked Jeb. "It's too damn hot yet to be doing heavy work like this. We better wait 'til near sunset when it's cooler. I think I about ruptured myself there tryin' to lift that damn thing. Here, let's go in the shade and have a sip of somethin', it's coffee for me."

Taking their seats in the cave with a cup of coffee in hand, Cliff asked, "How old was she when they left, if you don't mind tellin' me?"

"Who? My wife or my daughter?" said Jeb, with a silly grin wrinkling his cheeks and a twinkle in his blue eyes. "You know the sonuvabitch shot me, don't you?" he asked, knowing full well that Cliff didn't know anything about it.

"Uh-uh, uh...," Cliff began, but Jeb continued.

"Yah, shot me, all right. What happened was, I grabbed him by the shoulder when he was getting on the stage and pulled him off it, but when he turned around, he had his pistol aimed right at my belly. I grabbed his wrist, but the gun went off and the bullet hit my leg. I wrestled the gun away from him and hit him to the side of the head with it, and he fell into the stage as it was pullin' out. The next time I see him, I'll be ready, and I'll shoot him with his own gun."

He smiled and looked at Cliff.

"Uh, uh...that'll serve him right," said Cliff, not knowing if he had heard the truth or not or if it was just another one of Jeb's stories.

"Four...she was four years old, was all when the stage took off with them," said Jeb. "And she wrote me those two letters in all these years. She'd be about thirty now, a full-grown woman, yes sir, married in her own right, too. Maybe I'll get that other letter tomorrow," he said with a far-away look on his face.

Jeb pulled out the old rag and wiped his forehead and eyes. Was it sweat or tears this time?

Cliff felt a little embarassed, thinking he had seen his friend crying. He said, "Abe, Abe Walters got a jackass you can get for your lumber, Jeb. I'm sure old Abe would be glad to make a dollar or two."

"Abe? Abe Walters? You got to be crazy recommending him. Why, that lousy skinflint! He's the one that said Johnny-on-the-spot was just tyrin' to be friendly, was all, and then the sonofagun said I should've watched him closer! Hell, it was half his fault! I wouldn't use his mule for anything in the world. Not a chance of it."


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall (Cont'd - 2)

"I see you're making progress on rebuilding, Jeb," said Cliff. "You got all that lumber piled up over there out of the way. Are you going to redo that floor? Some of those boards were rotten before the storm and should be replaced with newer ones so your guests won't fall through."

"Did you come all the way up here to tell me something I already know, or are you on a mission of mercy and come to help?" said Jeb from the mouth of his cave.

"Neither. Came to tell you about that letter that you been expecting. You got any coffee made?" asked Cliff,
taking his black hat off and wiping his forehead with his old handkerchief. He wiped the back of his neck and around his ears and back across his forehead, and stuffed the hanky into his back pocket by a corner, letting most of it hang loose to get dry.

Jeb watched Cliff dry himself off, lifted the hammer he held in his right hand, and pointed to the pot sitting on a rock a little higher on the hill.

"Fresh pot sittin' right there, and there's a cup on the floor by the bucket over there. Help yourself, then you can tell me about that letter, as if I didn't already know about it," said Jeb. "Come on into the cave where it's out of the sun."

After the big windy, Jeb found one chair still in good condition and moved it into the cave on one side. On the other side was a hastily constructed bench with his cans of beans and flour and whatever else he managed to retrieve. Most of his stuff was on the cave floor or on top of rocks that were already there. He cleaned a rock off and sat down, waiting for Cliff to fill his cup and enter the cave. He still held his hammer in his hand.

"How's that taste to you?" asked Jeb after Cliff sat down on the chair. "I couldn't get all the sand out of the water, but it should settle to the bottom. My spring is till a little muddy from all the dust."

"Fine, it tastes just fine. Can't ruin a cup of coffee no matter how you cook it. Hell, that dust is in everything, but that's what livin' in the desert gets you," answered Cliff. He eyed the older man sitting on his rock in his overalls and blue shirt in the shade of the shallow cave. It didn't look to Cliff like he had any socks on; his legs were bare and smudged with dirt the couple of inches above the old work shoes up to his overalls. Cliff looked him in the blue eyes and said, "The stage made it through this morning. Tom, the driver, said the big gully north of Gila Bend was still a little flooded from the rain there where the Salt and the Gila run into each other. Said it took him over an hour to get through the mud and pools of water to the other side of it. Had to take it easy on the team after that."

"Yah. I seen it coming in from a a few miles away, making its way through all the creosote bushes and cactuses and mesquite trees. It looked like it was floatin'  on 'em 'til it reached the clearing. Traveling awful slow, it was, almost in slow motion. I thought I was havin' a dream at first, it was going so slow," said Jeb,  blue eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled. "Was that letter on it?"

"Uh-uh, no letter today. I could've just not come up and you would have knowed anyway," said Cliff, seeing the disappointment in Jeb's face. Cliff felt a little disppointed, too, Jeb'd been asking about it for so long, over a month, now. He hoped Jeb's daughter was all right.

"That storm must've hit them, too, is the only reason I can think of," said Jeb. "Or maybe they changed their plans, being newly married and all."

"Maybe," agreed Cliff. "I can help you pound a few nails for awhile. There ain't nothing goin' on down at the station. We can tear apart some more of that roof, or put up a wall or somethin'."

"There ain't no hurry to put up a house," said Catrall. "Besides, it's the hot part of the day, and I don't want to die of a heat stroke. Look at them heat waves risin' above Tropolis. It looks like it's drowning in a steam bath." He laughed out loud. "Look at that! Hell, you can't even see parts of it for all the distortion they cause. Why'd you ever settle in a place like that, Cliff?"

"Didn't have much choice, and we wanted to go west, we heard so much about it, the wide open spaces and all that. Same things that brought most people west. I was workin' in the station at Westport, Missouri," said Cliff, "when I heard about this opening on the stageline. A brand new stop on the edge of the desert, great weather, lots of land, mild climate, a perfect place to settle down and raise a family, except we don't have no kids." He paused, looked out at Tropolis, then back to Jeb. "You sure you don't want to work on the house an hour or two? If we get too hot, we can stop and step in here in the shade to cool off and have a cool cup of water or another coffee, that is, if you're willin'."

It was as if Cliff was talking to himself, practically. Jeb hadn't been listening, but now that he stopped talking, Jeb looked at him like he had just appeared out of the blue and said, "My daughter's always been a free spirit just like her mother. Flighty, her mother called her, and she should know. She left me for another man a long time ago, a Johnny-on-the-spot, he was." There was a distant look in his blue eyes. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a bare hand, then wiped his hand on his overalls. "Johnny-on-the-spot, all right, and the spot was right next to my wife and daughter, sweet-talkin' them right on to the stage and out of my life. Didn't much care that he stole my woman, but I'll shoot him for takin' my daughter with them if he ever shows his face anywhere near my whereabouts."

Cliff didn't say anything, but kept his eyes on Jeb's wrinkled face, silently hoping he would continue so he could go back down the hill and tell his wife. She was always asking me about Jeb. "Why does he live up there on the hill all by himself?" she would say. "He must have been married to have a daughter that's writing him a letter. What happened to her? Where does the girl live?" and stuff like that about every time he started out for the hill. He turned his gaze to the items on the bench for a second or two and to the pile of boards outside waiting to be made into a wall or a roof or something. It was like Jeb read his mind.

"They went to Californy, leastways that's where the first letter come from," Jeb said. "That letter was written by her....Corina.... that's my daughter...Corina. She was only eleven at the time, but she sure could write a good letter, flowery language, and English usage was perfect, at least as far as I knew, and she could make her letters and words and all so anybody could read 'em. Yes sir, near perfect writer, I would say. She wrote Dear Mister Papa, is what she wrote, Mister Papa, writing like I was a total stranger. Hell, I guess I was by then, it being a few years past when they climbed on that stage. Just about forgot all about me, she did."

Jeb stopped talking and looked at Cliff with a faraway look in his eyes, sighed, and took a deep breath. "Hell, Cliff, what am I telling you all this for? It don't mean a thing to you, but I guess it still bothers me some. The fact that I can still see 'em crawling onto that stagecoach with that dirty, no-good Johnny-on-the-spot is what bothers me about it. And, Hell, here I am building a house for her like she was going to live in it. Huh! That letter should have been here."

"It probably got sent somewheres else, is probably what happened to it, Jeb," said Cliff. "Let's put a few boards together and pretty soon you'll have that new house."


Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hillside Cabin of Jeb Catrall - A Story

The sun was sending its hot rays onto everything in sight and then some in the town of Tropolis, Arizona, this hot, blistery day. The rays and the heat sneaked into the cracks and openings of the old shack on the hillside as if they were prying into the old man's business as he sat at the table and wiped the sweat from his brow with his weather-darkened and wrinkled right hand. He lifted a cup of coffee and sipped the dark fluid, smacked his lips, and said, "Aah! It's never too hot a day to drink coffee," while looking over the rim of the cup with his bright, blue eyes fastened on his guest.

The gentleman on the other side of the table agreed with him and moved his black hat an inch or two closer to the edge of the old pinewood tabletop, exposing a different contingent of cigarette burns and dark scratches in the wood from who knew what .

"Yep, never too hot for coffee, if that's all you got to offer a man who walked up this hill in the hundred degree heat just to tell you that you didn't get no letter on the morning stage. Seems like a mighty waste of time, it does," he said, pulling an old, dirty, grayish-white handkerchief from his hindpocket and rubbing it across his forehead. "Hotter than a roast pan just took out of the oven, today is." He turned his gaze to the old man across the table, "When you going to move down the hill into Tropolis and get off this sunburnt hillside?"

"Can't do that. I'm holding this land for my daughter and her new husband. I should've got that letter this week telling me when they're showing up. The mail delivery just ain't what it used to be, Cliff.  Undependable, is what it is. I'll move into town the day they get here."

Jeb Catrall looked at his guest with a sudden gleam in his eye. "There wasn't no holdup of the stage, was there?" asked Jeb.

"Nope, no holdups for awhile. Hell, they wouldn't have taken your letter if there was a holdup unless it was full of gold or something valuable," said Cliff.

"You never know what them crooks'll take," countered Jeb.

"Uh huh," said Cliff, looking around the one-room house. "This old shack looks like it's going to fall down the hill any day now, Jeb. When I came in, I had to watch where I stepped so I wouldn't go through the rotten wood, and the stair rail has fell off the porch and that first step has sunk almost a foot since the last time I was here. Your daughter would never stay in a place like this," said Cliff, staring at Jeb. "If I was you, I'd make out a paper and file it with the County Clerk leaving the land to her and get the Hell down to town. How do you sleep at night? I bet this ole place creaks and groans and struggles just to stay where it is. One of these days we're going to get a big windy through here and you'll never be able to find it again. And if you're still in it when it hits, no telling how or where you'll end up, either."

"Hahaha," laughed Jeb. "That's funny, that's worth another cup of  coffee. Grab that bedpost and hold on while I go get the pot off from my heating rock. The floor might shake a bit until I get out the door, but you just stay right there and I'll be back before a coyote can catch a scent. But first, I have to wash this pot out and make a fresh one. It's too darn hot to light a fire, so I just set it on the rock out there and let the sun cook it. Works about every time on days like this."

Cliff put his hand around the top of the iron bedpost as Jeb suggested, and watched as the makings were put in the pot and some water from the bucket on the floor was added. With each step Jeb took, the floor wavered up and down, and Cliff felt his chair move with it. He felt a little bit like he did crossing the Mississippi on his way out West, floating up and down on the barge that carried his wagon and family across. He almost felt a little queasy, and if Jeb didn't stop dancing around and take his new pot outside, he might even get sick.

Jeb finally made his way to the door, acting like he was going to fall through the cracks in the floor, and he was gone for about three minutes.

Cliff watched through the cracks in the wall and the one window on the west side as Jeb rounded a corner of the house and climbed up the hill maybe ten yards where his other coffee pot sat on a rock next to the ashes of his fire. Jeb set the new pot next to the old one and before he picked up the pot of fresh coffee, he looked up at the sky and turned his head every which way like he was expecting somebody to come visiting. The view of Tropolis and the desert was a wonderful sight to behold from high up on the hill. Jeb pulled a rag from his back pocket and wrapped it around his hand, picked up the hot pot, and came hurrying back down the hill and into the house.

"We got time for one more cup of coffee, maybe." Jeb announced, filling Cliff's cup and then his own, "before that big windy you mentioned hits, would be my guess."

"What are you talking about? What windy?" said Cliff, wiping his forehead again.

"You just watch. The wind is going to be picking up any minute now and that big, brown dust cloud that I saw on the other side of Tropolis is going to be over the town. Turn around and take a look out the door there, and you'll see what I mean. We ain't had one of these in two-three years," he smiled.

Cliff turned his head around and looked out the door. As he did, a breeze came through the opening, light at first, then harder and carrying a slight taste of dust into his open mouth as he stared dumbstruck at the boiling cloud of dirt getting bigger and nastier the closer it came to Tropolis.

"I saw that duster way out there, but thought nothing of it as I climbed the hill. Didn't look like much to me," said Cliff, still  staring out the door." He turned his gaze back to Jeb. "This old shack is going to be carried away with that wind," yelled Cliff, getting up to close the door, but it flew open as soon as he shut it. "We better hightail it to town before it hits."

The wind was picking up even harder, blowing some dust through the door and cracks a mite thicker and faster than it was two minutes ago, and through the high brown cloud of sand and dust being swept along closer to Tropolis, they could see from their vantage point on the hill, the grayish black of the thunderstorm behind it, even a lightning strike now and then.

"You got about five minutes to get down the hill, Cliff, if you think you can make it, but that dust is going to be thicker than lentil bean soup before you get to your place," warned Jeb.

"I'm getting out of here right now, and you better follow me down, if you know what's good for you!" said Cliff, running out the door and leaping off the porch.

"I ain't going anywhere!" yelled Jeb, but Cliff was gone in the wind and dust.

Before Cliff reached the bottom of the hill, the wind was howling like a typhoon, swirling the sand and dust every which direction and the thunderclaps of dry lighting could be seen and heard. Cliff had to cover his face and eyes the best he could using his hat and hope he didn't run into a tree or trip over something as he raced to beat the storm.

Tropolis hadn't seen anything like this for a long time. The dust piled up against the buildings and the wind cleaned it off the road through town, throwing it against the windows and the walls. Cliff had all he could do to keep his feet and bearings, but finally made it to the stage station and home, his quarters being beind the station. It had begun to rain, coming down in sheets by the time he got the door open and made it safely into the old adobe building.

"Whew! That's something!" he said to his wife, who was waiting in the room set aside for the stage passengers and so forth. "Listen to that wind and the rain beating against the door! I hope the town don't get washed away."

The next morning, Cliff was sitting at the table drinking his coffee and telling his wife, "That was the worst storm to hit Tropolis that I ever did see, and now look outside. The sun is shining bright and clear and their ain't a cloud in the sky. You would never know it even rained from what we can see out the window."

"I have to sweep the dirt out of the station this morning and dust off everything before the stage gets here. What time is it?" said his wife.

"That stage won't be here for another couple of hours and maybe not for a long time, depending on the flooding out there on the desert," replied Cliff. "It was raining down buckets of water for about twenty or thirty minutes and then slacked off and rained most of the night, it seemed like, and you know how those gullies fill up real fast. If they don't get dried out before the stage rolls through, it may be a week before it shows up."

"I wonder if that letter that Mr. Catrall is looking for will be on the next one," said the Mrs.

"I ain't a-going to wait around and find out. I'll be back before noon," said Cliff, the comment sending him up the hill to see if Jeb had lived through the storm.

 The hillside was pretty well drained of the water except in the flat places and behind the boulders and rocks. Climbing slowly, Cliff kept one eye on what was left of the shack and one eye on the mostly wet ground. The sun had been up about an hour, but this side of the hill was still shady and it wasn't as hot yet as the evening before. Up, up he went, dodging the palo verdes, the cactus, the creosote bushes, and large boulders and he was starting to sweat from the exertion. By the time he reached the old cabin, his shirt was wet under the arms and around his waist where his belt was tight. There was a little trickle of sweat running down his back between his shoulder blades that he lifted an arm over his shoulder to scratch and stop the tickling. He stopped climbing and surveyed the scene before him on the semi-flat piece of ground that held Jeb's shack.

Cliff yelled out, "Hey Jeb! You in there?"

There wasn't much of the building left standing. The back wall, which was partly supported by the hill, and some flooring. The rest of it was piled up partly against that wall and held down by the flimsy roof which had fallen on top of everything.

"Damn!" said Cliff. "That had to be one helluva wind to blow those boards around like that, but it didn't have any place to go but right up this hill into this little cut where the house was." He took a deep breath and yelled, "Jeb! Are you under that pile of wood somewhere? Give a yell, so I can locate you!"

He began moving the boards and throwing the loose ones to the side, trying to get to the bottom. Mustering all his strength, he managed to stand up part of a wall that was still held together by two-by-fours and let it fall to the side. Where the wall had laid was part of the roof, and try as he might, there was just no way he could move it. He looked through a crack, but couldn't see anything that would lead him to believe Catrall was under there. He continued throwing boards to the right and left, pulling nails out where he could manage to get leverage with the boards. A half hour went by and he was sweating badly now from all his exertions. He yelled again, "Jeb! If you're in there, give me a sign!" He was met with silence.

Cliff sat down on a pile of wood to catch his breath and rest a minute. He stared out over Tropolis and wondered how such a violent storm could hit so quickly and savagely. From his viewpoint up here on the hill, he could see a few men walking around their houses and buildings, checking for damage, but they were so small he had no notion of who they were, probably the storekeeper and blacksmith and bank manager, among others. He surveyed the work he had been doing, noticing that he had practically dug to the floor on one side, but still no sign of Jeb.

"I better go back down town and get some help to move that roof. Maybe Jeb is under it, crushed to death, and I'll need help getting him out," Cliff said to himself.

He stood up and took a step down the hill and he heard a loud noise behind him coming from the remnants of the shack. Startled, he quickly turned around to see Jeb with a smile on his wrinkly face standing in front of the back wall, an old hat pulled down over his forehead.

"Jeb! Jeb! Are you all right? Where the heck were you? I been digging at this woodpile for a half hour looking for you!"

"I'm just fine, Cliff. I was in my room behind the wall there. See that cave there, that's where I lived before I built my cabin. In this cave. By golly that was some storm, wasn't it? I had a hard time getting the door open, but finally managed it. I heard you cussing and yelling my name."

"I thought you was dead, and I was going down the hill and get Doc and some other men to help me dig you out," said Cliff.

"Let me find a coffee pot and I'll make us a cup of coffee. I always keep some extra in the cave," said Catrall. "It looks I'm going to have to build me a new cabin, don't it?'

"You're going to have to rebuild, all right." said Cliff, exhausted and sitting down on the pile of boards.

(To be continued.)

(Copyright, Oscar W. Case,  June 24, 2010)