Sunday, June 26, 2016

The old Corral

Summer Rains
The old Corral and screened Porch of Shady Bend
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            If there is a place of heritage called home, it sits in the cove above Shady Bend.
            The suggestion of Shady Bend gives it a nice feel, and it should. It remains a spot on the map amidst a great place on earth, the upper Gila Valley. Shady Bend was just south from where Bell Canyon crosses the paved road. It became the site of Peter Shelley’s home and first store. It lays at the intersection of the trail from the “Shelley Crossing” and the north south Gila Valley thoroughfare. That old house and barn are now gone. Although I don’t remember ever being in the house, I knew the outside by the frequency of passing the place. Susie and Frankie Carrasco lived just down the ditch from it and my maternal grandparents lived just up the ditch in the mentioned cove on the west side of the road.
            The latter home remains standing as does an historical barn and an adobe garage and pump house. I am seldom there, but, when I am, the place has a strong draw. It remains … home.
            The old Corral
            The corral at the barn is now gone. The only remaining structure to mark it is a three way concrete trough that served the three major pens within the design. The corral was, in succession of time, working pens, a garden spot, and a footprint of memories. We never branded there always leaving that work to another set of pens across the road against the ditch. Built out of rough cut lumber and posts, it was well constructed.
            Events and memories are numerous. When it wasn’t work, it was a playground where my imagination and my stick horses worked herds of make believe cattle. I was jerked off the fence one day when I roped a pig out of a litter circling in the corner pen. That little pig jerked me off on my head with such force I didn’t know which direction was up, but it was left to me to sort out the hurt.
            “Don’t you be roping those pigs,” had been the order. “You leave them alone!”
            I wouldn’t leave a colt alone another day and it jumped the gate from the milking pen into the big pen. He splintered the gate and I was in yet another dilemma.
            “Don’t you bother that colt,” had been the order. “You leave him alone!”
            I remember Bessie of the milk cow duo of Bessie and Tessie. I sat on the fence talking to my uncle as he milked Bessie one evening. She had enough of my feet on her and she hooked at me with her horns in likely growing impatience. My uncle told both of us to “knock it off”.
            I am sure he swung the pail of milk in a 360° arc as we walked to the house if I asked him. I was amazed he could do that without spilling a drop of milk. I just knew it was an extraordinary feat of brilliance.
            All butchering started in that corral. Some conveyer belting was chained to the Ford 9N and run in before the beef or pig was shot. It was then bled and skidded out to the A frame on the north side of the barn. In the days of pigs, the scalding water was boiling in the barrel suspended over the wood fire to dip the pig in. The day the pig came alive when it was plunged into the water scared the stuffing out me. I remember looking out through the back window of the pickup at its head as we hauled it over to Gila to have tamales made by Mrs. Peru. It was looking at me eye to eye every time I looked back. The whole thing gave me the willies, but, oh, those tamales!
            The garden plot came later in the life of my grandparents. Made richer with the passing years of livestock occupancy, the dirt was rich. It grew vegetables with zest. The water came in the old pipe from the ditch that carried water up to the yard. The hand dug well for drinking just wasn’t strong enough to water the yard or the garden.
            The memories are what remain. The times when I was alone in the corral just thinking were important times. Whether I was on my bicycle or my stick horse, the smells and the ambience of that place made a huge impact on me. I don’t remember the smell of the pigs, but certainly I do of the horses and the cows. I also remember the sweet smell of New Mexico summer rain mixed with the rest, and it was all part of the immense security of those surroundings.
            Indeed, it was … home.
            The screened Porch
            I must admit the images of the screened porch are most pronounced this morning.
That comes from reading from “a little history and a few memories” from my uncle who knew the porch even better than I. His tenure included his youth from age six or seven until he left home sleeping out there every night of the year. Mine came every chance I got to escape to be with my grandparents.
The impressions we share are nearly identical.
When he was there, there was a kerosene operated refrigerator along with a propane fired hot water heater that he grew used to hearing. I heard only the hot water heater. I would surmise we both heard “The Louisiana Hayride” playing on his father’s (my grandfather’s) radio. He remembers canvas curtains that could be pulled in the most inclement weather. I never saw them. They were gone by the time I came along.
What I remember most profoundly was the soundest sleeping of my life. There were nights that would simply blink away and morning would dawn. It was there my affinity for cool houses and a warm bed was sewn. The porch was a special place.
He wrote about the sounds of the rural night with cattle bawling, coyotes howling, and the sound of water in the ditch. I had forgotten the latter. Although I couldn’t hear that today, I did then.
What he didn’t write about was the rain.
There is nothing on earth more beautiful than a New Mexico summer rain. It is a precious reward of marathon crossings between times of drought. When it comes at night with all of its monsoonal ferocity on an old tin roof it is something to behold. When it comes at night first softly, and, then, with increasing crescendo, it is a gift of God. The lightning displays and the smell that wafted across that screened enclosure were part of the gift. I knew if I ever owned a home of my own I wanted a tin roof.
No matter where I might be, it would be a connection to that screened porch, just north from the old corral, and up the ditch … from Shady Bend.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Indeed, it was a very safe, warm place.”

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