Sundays at the Ranch At four o’clock the families would re-assemble around the dining room table for coffee. The grownups, just arisen from afternoon naps, sat woodenly at the table and spoke with level sober voicesas though they were all joined in a sorrowful wake for their dear friend sleep who had just departed. They moved their arms and bodies with almost painful care, as if during sleep their muscles had not only hardened into hinges but had rusted as well. Periodically they would lift slow coffee cups, suspend them a moment near their mouths while making some mild affirmative or negative grunt to a question, tilt the cups mechanically to pursed lips, then carefully settle them down onto the saucer rings with a bare polite sound. After each separate rite of drinking, their bodies seemed to settle and sag a little in the chairs, as if waiting to indulge more fully, like indolent lovers, in the voluptuous caresses of Folger’s coffee that would ultimately woo and awaken them from their long passiveness. No one moved or spoke excessively for half an hour or more. During long silences perhaps a sheep would bleat outdoors in the distance or maybe the windmill would give a creaking turn. Both the silence and the sounds made the world of the ranch seem very simple and still. Shadows had begun to form noticeably in the dining room, softening and deepening the corners, and the room took on a rich subdued tone, like that of a mahogany cave. The men covered their yawns and idly drummed thick, worktoughened fingers on the table cloth, while their cigarettes sent up hazes of smoke that hung in the darkening air like thin trails of phosphorous. Finally, at some unspoken moment of agreement, a chair was scraped back, a coffee cup was touched to its saucer a final time, someone laughed, someone left the roomand coffee time was over. The four o’clock spell was broken, there was movement, the 10 The Texas Observer Elroy Bode dining room became lived in again. Doors slammed, someone was coughing and clearing his throat out on the front porch, someone was flushing the commode in the bathroom. The small sounds of the mantle clock and the sheep outdoors were lost. There was movement outward, into all the rooms of the house, into the yard, and soon all the chairs around the dining table were pushed back and empty. SUALLY it was at coffee time that we grandchildren suddenly remembered that all Sundays at the ranch inevitably came to an end. Up till that moment we had not stopped long enough in our play to think about it. We had forgotten everything that we did not really live there on the ranch, that we only visited sometimes, that we would all have to leave and go our separate ways at nightfall. When four o’clock came, it was like being drunk on play and being forced to sober up at the dining table on the grownups’ coffee fumes. After ,,leaving the dining room we would usually wander out to the lots for a last look around, realizing that everything was gradually being geared toward leaving, that pretty soon one of our parents would seek us out to say, “You’d better start getting your things together ; we’ve got to be going soon.” We prowled through the goat pens and loading chutes and tried to recapture the wild, eager delights of the morning, but it was never any use. We would be leaving soon and we knew it and there wasn’t enough time to start up old enthusiasms again. So we just walked along, touching fenceposts and dragging our hands along the sides of barns, more or less summarizing the look and feel of things at the lot, fixing them in our minds un til the next time we would be back again. We threw rocks at trees and cans. We chunked at roosters but even when we hit them, we did not feel elated. The roosters seemed to understand our lack of malice, and they made little insolent, threatening advances at us behind our backs as we walked away. We went to the clump of small shinoaks beside the chicken pen and rode the springy limbs for a while, making them arc down toward the ground like horses’ necks. They bent obediently and we galloped up’ and down, but they too lacked their old morning joy and we jumped off, leaving them to quiver awkwardly behind us. We walked the edges of the dipping vat beside the hog pen, trying to generate a thrill at the thought of falling in and getting the disinfectant all over us and in our eyes and maybe even swallowing some. We dug at things half-buried in the ground: small amber-colored bottles full of dirt and with old-fashioned small-necked shapes; a rusted ice cream dasher; half a croquet ball. We walked out into the maize field beside the Mexican house and looked a long while at the sky and remembered the time that we flew a kite so high in spring. We circled through the lots again, throwing rocks at the hollow, orange-rusted water tank beside the corn crib just to see who could make it sound the hollowest and oldest and most deserted. We stood on one another’s shoulders and lifted up one of the tin windows of the shearing barn and stuck our heads inside and looked at the quiet gloom and. smelled the onions spread out along the walls and listened to our voices made strange by the emptiness around them. Sometimes, as a last resort, we climbed on top of the shearing barn and looked west across the many oak trees and watched the milk cows trailing home. Out in the clearing
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