Monday, January 07, 2013

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Pioneer treasures

 by Julie Carter

I slid down off the back of my fat slick horse, unfettered by the trappings of a saddle, and tied him to the nearest tree. The afternoon summer sun shone through the aspens and the only sounds were of the birds moving around from branch to branch as they chattered about my arrival.

Looking around, I was alone except for nature’s critters as I watched a cottontail rabbit hop away as an indication of my intrusion while a chipmunk chattered at me from a nearby pile of rotting wood slabs.

This adventure was like the many I took as a teen when the summer days seemed endless, both in number and in length. Hours were spent exploring the secret places of a high mountain ranch that was once home to Indian tribes, miners, trappers and eventually homesteaders. It captured my imagination and lured me to journeys of discovery.

My mother was used to me gathering up my horse using only a bridle and riding off, giving her only a general direction and a promised time of return. My father’s only admonition was to not go inside any of the crumbling and caving old homestead structures that remained from an era gone by. I failed that instruction more than I admitted.

From a framed window that no longer held glass, I peered into a large room of the old house that held tight to its past. The ceiling, also wood, had fallen over half the room and the floor boards were intact only in a few places. Scattered across the remaining floorboards were books in all sorts of disarray and condition, some completely tattered from exposure to the elements.

Leaning in as far as I dared, I tried to reach some of the closer volumes, knowing that surely they would reveal the character and mindset of the inhabitants of the house when it was a home. I found a song book that had dog-eared pages marking old hymns and a few children’s songs. I was able to pull out a faded catalog that offered practical household items as well as fashion and dry goods.

Not satisfied with what I could access with my hands, I soon was reaching with a long branch to drag more toward me, sitting in the afternoon sun to flip through the pages that weren’t matted with moisture. My imagination took me to a time when this same browsing action took place by someone I could only create in my mind.

And then there was that one book. The one in the middle of the room, barely visible because of the tattered remnants of other books, the one with the dark green binding and an embossed title I could only see partially. Of course, I had to have it, just because.

I carefully slipped over the window sill and eased my way across the creaking, cracking floorboards, fearing impending disaster from the sagging roof remnants, but not enough to abort my mission. When I could, I reached for the book, pulled it from the pile and carefully retraced my steps to the outside.

With no time to browse through my ill-gotten treasure, I stuck it in the waist of my jeans, remounted my horse and headed for home.

The book was a treasure for its time. A sort of encyclopedia of everything you needed to know about any number of things. It offered a variety of self-help items ranging from recipes for sour dough starter to home remedies for physical ills, tooth aches and child birth. The most fascinating to me, and I’m not sure why, was the recipe for embalming fluid.

While my family thought my treasure was indeed a great find, my dad was not fooled as to how I had come by it. You see, he too found great intrigue in poking around those old homesteads, and he had seen that very book, knew where it was and that it didn’t come into my hands without my disobedience.

Nowhere in that old book did I find a remedy for disobeying my dad, but at least the use of the embalming fluid didn’t become necessary. However, the section that covered the tanning of hides did hold some possibilities.

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