Sunday, October 07, 2012

Rooms and tack rooms

The scent of Memories
Great Rooms
Rooms and tack rooms
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            Think about the most memorable room you were ever in!
Uhh, oh gheez …my first has to be, well, it could be one of two kitchens or both, I guess. For the purpose of love of my grandmothers, my first response will be their kitchens as if they were one.
One was in the little board and batten house on the Mangus. Grandma Wilmeth would be there. How big was it? Maybe eleven by twelve or something like that. It was there we would eat and visit. There was no television. We would play cards. Grandma and Grampa loved to play canasta. They taught us to play, too.
Nana’s kitchen on Bell Canyon was a foot or so longer, but it wasn’t big, either. It, too, was the place of gathering. It was where all those great meals were served. The last breakfast was not much different than the first only Boppy wasn’t there with us. It was just Nana and me, and that was appropriate.
Bigger World
The world got bigger before it got smaller again.
Perhaps the most beautiful room was the lounge at Lake Louise. What a magnificent place that is. Maybe the Glenlivet had something to do with it.
It did the day the snowstorm raged at the Grand Canyon. That day it was from the warm side of a big window. The immensity leaves a lasting impression. The storm obscured most of the view, but what a great day.
A stop in New York City yielded two remarkable rooms. The first was the boardroom at the Met Life Building. We stopped to visit our parent company and our biggest customer, Metropolitan Life. I sweated that meeting.
We planned to wind down that night at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center. The elevator ride sent chills up my spine. Walking out of that elevator, though, and looking down … down into Battery Park below and off into the distance to the Statue of Liberty left me shaken.
We ask the maitre de to seat us back from the windows. We stared with amazement at the immensity of those concrete canyons of Manhattan. That memory made me weak again watching the collapse of the tower on 9/11. I simply can not imagine what those people went through.
There was a night in Boston at a dinner in a grand room under a great rotunda. A singer entertained. I sat alone and listened.    
On a summer night at the home of the Bavarian King in Würzburg, Kathy and I attended a black tie Mozart affair in another elaborately ornate rotunda. At intermission we strolled and sipped champagne in the garden ringed with candlelight. What an enchanting place.
There was the chapel at Notre Dame, a cathedral in Munich, the Sistine Chapel and St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, a suite in the Conrad facing Hong Kong Bay from the slopes of Victoria Peak, and the cherished sanctuary at Concordia in Kingsburg.
There have been a few great bars. A place each at the marina at Marina del Rey, on the beach at Bari, in the village at Leavenworth, at the Cuperi Tupa in Harjavalta, on the lake at Penticton, on the river at Wenatchee, numerous times on the end of the pier at Avila, and in the historic El Paso Del Norte are all good memories.
 One morning in Bavaria at Tegernsee, we stopped to walk through a former Benedictine monastery. On the ground floor, there is now a beautiful and famous beer house, Brauhaus Tegernsee. We were told the new wheat beer was ready and must be tasted. We did.
There was a table of old men drinking and telling stories and they engaged in a bit of banter back and forth with Kathy. She finally stood and toasted them. One by one, they, too, stood and toasted her. Nikolaus just smiled and shook his head. He wouldn’t translate.
One evening in the Alps we stopped at the nicest little inn owned by a hunter. While Nikolaus and I checked out the chamois, red stag, and roe deer heads, Kathy followed the waiter outside to select her supper from a holding tank. The waiter netted the trout and tossed it through the window to the waiting chef. We toasted the achievement.
We toasted again as the owner’s St. Bernard walked through the place swiping anything loose off tables at tail height. We wound up sharing hunting stories well into the night. The hunter couldn’t speak English, but what hunts we shared!  
Rural Italy netted a few more places. They were centered around Pino Zanzi. We were there establishing nursery relationships for propriety fruit varieties. A big guy, his demeanor was huge. Everywhere we went we were greeted as if we were long lost cousins, and … oh, the rooms.
There was the first night I stayed with his family in Ferrara. After an endless supper, his wife showed me the room where I would sleep. She smiled as she told me it was Pino’s favorite room. It was where Sophia Loren always stayed when she visited!
I must confess I am not at all enamored with saving every hilltop view from development. I spent enough time in those little mountain top villages of central Italy to change my tune on that matter. The mountain tops were chosen because the lowland swamps made living down there unhealthy so the folks would farm those lands and trudge back up to the hilltops at night to escape the mosquitoes and disease. As a result, they didn’t grow houses on their farmland and the people remained relatively healthy.
They also created absolutely charming villages populated largely by extended families. Between old girlfriends and cousins, Pino could walk into a myriad of those mountain top eateries and we were treated like royalty. Ushered into those century old kitchens, we were served there as the ladies prepared meals for paying customers.
Timeless, beautiful, and functional those kitchens were as magnificent as the views.
The farm houses were no different. The Zanzi family made their fortune by creating the industry of landscaping freeways. They convinced the Italian government that freeways needed to be made attractive. As they landscaped those roadways, they expanded their farming operations by buying properties across Italy where they saw particular market and production advantages.
 Down the east coast along the Adriatic and between Bari in the south and Naples on the west coast, we held grower meetings at those farms. Those Italian wives and cousins made those visits phenomenal.
The historical farm kitchens were polished and gleaming. Most had combination cooking and many courses were prepared over wood. The warmth, the smells, the cleanliness, and the setting in those farming enclaves were wondrous.
Back at the ranch
Nothing for me, though, comes close to the mystique and allure of tack rooms. They reach and out talk to you. Open the door, walk in, and the ambience envelopes you. Historic tack rooms at the Corralitos, 76 Draw, Sacaton, Bear Creek, Sycamore, Poso Creek, Lampbright, and Buckhorn will look similar to days past and represent years of work and lives centered around ranches.
The government tack rooms were also places of fancy. The saddle room at Gila Center and the remote rooms at White Creek and Little Creek all created a reminder of culture that welcomed horsemen.
Saddles, blankets, bridles, halters, panniers, ropes, leggins’, horse shoes, and tools were all there where they had been placed for years. We were taught etiquette of form and order. Not much was ever new but we were shown by example the proper care and respect extended to practical and cherished gear … to make due, and to continue the tradition.
California and Californios elevated the display and presentation of tack to an art form. Walking into Chuck Hitchcock’s tack room at Shafter was like walking back into a living museum. There would be a line of saddles on the south wall with more than a few Visalia’s, but, then, the bridle racks.
Chuck would turn the lights on and track lighting would frame those racks like oil paintings. In his case, literally scores of Ortega masterpieces and Garcia bits would be illuminated. If you knew what you were looking at, your jaw would drop.
Horsemen of all persuasions share a timeless and wonderful bond. It still exists in all those special places that honor ranching traditions. It is made permanent in the tack rooms preserved by horsemen across this land.
As far as I am concerned, these rooms are as significant as any in the world. I have seen a few, explored a few, but none draw me more willingly than … where the smell of leather is strongest.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The moments of greatest peace of mind might well have been those … alone … in saddle rooms.” 


Well, all my experiences with tack rooms aren't as beautiful as Wilmeth's. 
At the DuBois headquarters there was an old wooden barn with a room at the north end. That room housed tack and feed. 
That wasn't all it housed. My uncle kept a bull snake in there to protect the feed, and there was a square notch cut out of the bottom of the door for the snake. 
I can't tell you how many times I've reached for the little wooden bar to open the door and that damn snake would crawl out of that notch and right on the top of my left boot. 
You knew the snake was probably in there, you knew it was just a bull snake and you knew he would skedaddle when he heard the squeakin' of the wood bar. 
But all of that didn't matter, it would still scare the bejesus out of me. 
I'm convinced my multiple sclerosis was caused by that damned old bull snake. 
I'll have to admit, though, he did teach me how to dance. 

1 comment:

Tick said...

I have always said that ALL snakes are dangerous. The ones that don't hurt you directly will make you hurt yourself.