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The Texas Observer APRIL 16, 1965 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c THE RANCH: AN ENDING The ranch is going now, as any living thing must go, and I am not sure what will come along to take its place. I believed, once, that such a passing would be entirely bad, and I raged and mourned in the same breath, just thinking about it. But now, with Grandpa three years in his grave and Gram sitting hollow-faced before the fire, I cannot truthfully say what I feel, for my grandparents were the heart of the ranch when I loved it most, and once both of them are gone I will not care, perhaps, to know it again. DURING MY CHILDHOOD the ranch was many sights and sounds and smells, all in their proper places and never in excessbalanced, as the days themselves were balanced between work and eating and talking and rest. There were always the sharp yells of the Mexican hired hand working with goats out at the pens, and the hard bumps of the goats themselves as they ran frantically against the tin sides of the shed. There was the strong smell of soap cooking in the washpot under the backyard postoak tree, and the scent of wet laundry in the peach orchardcoming faintly on the breeze like a clean-smelling bloom. There was Grandpa, with only the top of his old Stetson visible as he moved along past the board fences at the lots; and Gram, the sound of -her, walking back and forth between the kitchen and the screenedin porch, humming fragments of a hymn as she set the dinner table. The ranch was where life relaxed seemed willing to breathe. It was where, in summertime, the mockingbirds sat on telephone poles like kings, and heat lay across the green rows of the garden in loving, shimmering waves. It was where I could be day after day without having a secret, gnawing desire to go to some other place. For whatever I needed was right at hand: a cool front porch to sit on if I grew tired or lazy, a slice of watermelon to eat if hunger spoke up too loudly before dinnertime, back lots to roam through if I felt in need of mild adventure. In summer, too, there was to touchplowed clumps to pick up in a field, to crumple idly in your hand until they satisfied you by turning into warm, Elroy Bode trickling dirt. There was a windmill to climb, wild sage to smell, an old truck to look at west of the house \(seeming good, somehow as though having a rusting green cab and worn upholstery and a scarred .bed with wooden sideboards was ing across bright midday ground you went into the luring brownness of an openfaced shed and explored the strange and intimate dark. A hen stealing out her nest in a corner. The remains of an old broken plow. And then always following the heat and exploring, a bath. You washed leisurely the scent of Palmolive soap rich in the roomand afterwards, as you dried, you stood listening to the bathtub draining itself with its familiar Lewis Carroll words and voices: barl , bloukthe water went belching down thtough the old pipes; platt, platt, the faucet began a steady drip. And at two o’clock, as you listened closer, the whole ranch would seem to be moving at just such a plern . . . dar lunk bathroom rhythm, as though the very boards of the house were yawning and stretching in the lazy elegance of a summer afternoon. The peaches in the basket on the breezeway seemed to be sitting there at just this kind of pace. And Grandpa snoring peacefully through the wall; the fan slowly oscillating in Gram’s bedrdbm past the kitchen; sheep snorting loudly and abruptly under the live oaks in the front clearingall were in the same 9bscure but patterned ranch tempo, and all gave you a sighing contentment deep in your bones. GRANDPA never spoke about his own love for the ranchnot directly. But sometimes on Sunday mornings, while Gram finished getting ready for church and Grandpa and I waited on the porch, we talked casually and gently about things of the land. You never talked hard or overly long with Grandpa. You simply stood there on the edge of the porch, looking out with him across the yard, and touched the outline of a subject with familiar, comfortable words. You drew topics from the interests of his worldrain or drouth or animals or how the pastures were holding upand never tried to prove a point or uphold some idea of truth you had. For such conversations were not a flexing of egos. They were, instead, labors of love, essays in agreeableness. They were the rare opportunity you had to renew your covenant with the past, to take part in the simple ritual of bridging the years through old and tested words. If it happened that Gram was still not ready after our survey of the yard and the times and the weather, Grandpa would stand silent for a moment and then slip into the groove of old memories. He would usually duck his head a little to one side in a kind of involuntary twinge of delight as he previewed his taleand then begin, almost shyly: “There was a feller who got married down near Nopal once and he still had trouble with wettin the bed . . .” \(I stood with a friend the other day, looking out into the pastures of the ranch, and as we talked we spoke of ‘the dying out of the old men who had lived on the land and who was going to take their place. “Who is going to tell the tales now,” he wanted to know; “who will tell the young ones of the traditions?” And it was true: that our fathers, born on the land, had long before moved to the city and had then in turn caused us to be city raised; and that the old men who talked at night in the front porch swings and who handed on the family heritages to whoever would listenthey had passed now. And there was not anyone left to take their place; their century was finally over. “Why,” my friend went on, “already the people in my family are turning to me and saying, ‘You were with Uncle Seth .a lot; you heard him tell about the cattle drives, and the feuds, and the James River place. What was it that he said; what are some of the old tales?’ ” And there was genuine anguish in my friend’s voice as he blamed himself : “I didn’t ask enough or learn enough when I had the chance; I didn’t listen to all I should. And with the old ones gone now the young ones are asking memeto