Monday, October 24, 2016

If I could hug a town .....

I was only eight years old the final summer of my mother's battle with cancer.  School was out for the season and both sets of my grandparents, who all lived in Salt Lake City, stepped in to help.  My mother stayed with her parents and I stayed with my other grandma while my dad remained in Oregon to work.  Grandma took me to visit my aunt and uncle and their family in their summer home in Glenwood, Utah, several hours south.  These relatives were strangers to me because they lived most of the year in Phoenix, very far from Portland where I grew up.

I remember us arriving in their kitchen that night, finding this strange new group crowded around a small table ..... Uncle Glen (my dad's brother), Aunt Millie, and my cousins Liz, Glen, Gayle, Bo .... and my older brother Dick who had been there a few weeks before me.  I remember the laughter and banter that filled the room.  Being so very shy, I stayed close by my grandma.   Little did I know, my life was about to change.

Grandma and I were given the front bedroom to sleep in, which had one regular-size single bed and a small cot-like bed.  Gayle and Liz, whose beds (I assume) we were given, were on the sofas in the living room, my aunt and uncle were in the back bedroom.  The boys slept in the barn which was more of a bunkhouse.

I remember waking to my grandma moaning and my aunt and uncle coming in to help.  I remember Aunt Millie moving me and Gayle to the big bed in the back bedroom.  They took Grandma to the hospital where she was treated for a heart attack.   And before daylight arrived the next morning, I was again awakened by the frightening sound of a cannon in the distance.  Boom ...... Boom ....... Boom.  What WAS this strange place?!  

That cannon, as it turned out, was a local tradition, hailing in our annual Independence Day.  Hello, Fourth of July.

Later that morning, Uncle Glen took me with him to check on a neighbor's cows or something .... and I was introduced to a smell that, to this day, takes me back to Glenwood.  The smell of hay, manure, old farm buildings, and barnyards.  I fell in love that day, with my dear Uncle Glen.  A kinder man, I'll never know.  I also quickly grew to love Aunt Millie and my cousins Gayle and Bo, who were both close to my age.  They became my second family.

Thankfully, Grandma recovered and was able to return to Salt Lake but I remained in Glenwood for the rest of the summer.  It was kid-heaven.  We climbed trees, floated toy boats in the irrigation ditch, made play-houses in the mud, sewed clothes for dolls, and spent hours sprawled in the patio reading comic books.  Glenwood was small enough that we could walk from one end to the other.  It had some old pioneer houses and buildings that were unquestionably haunted.  Uncle Glen, a master of nick-names, knew all the local legends and told us that a mysterious old man named, "Jimmy-on-the-Binder", once lived in the scariest crumbly old house which is now gone.  Just to walk up and touch the front door took all the courage an eight-year-old could muster.  Uncle Glen nicknamed me, "Buckwheat".

Their funny old farmhouse had a coal/wood burning cookstove in the kitchen and a wobbly toilet next to a claw-foot tub in the one bathroom.  Hot water, needed for bathing and dish-washing, was created solely by the cookstove from which my aunt could produce anything delicious.  Her fried chicken was legendary and she introduced me to Mexican food ..... something unheard of at home.

I remember the ladle hanging by the kitchen sink that we all use to get a drink of water.  I remember the creaky screen door that squeaked and slammed each time we ran through.  I remember the covered patio outside that served as a central gathering place.  There was the ice cream maker, the party-line phone, eggnog made from raw eggs, and the garter snake named Roscoe that lived in the woodpile. Their Phoenix home was modern and comfortable, but this odd little Glenwood house was magical.

We rode their horse and went on Jeep rides in the mountains.  Aunt Millie took us into nearby Richfield to shop or for other errands, and we'd often stop at A&W for rootbeer freezes.  There was no TV, no videos ..... just playing cards, a radio, and a record player upon which we played Beach Boys and Beatles music endlessly.  It was wonderful.

The following winter I lost my mother.  I believe, however, with absolute confidence, that God filled that void with an army of heroes.  My best friend's mom, my 4-H teacher, my grandparents, etc., and especially my dear aunt and uncle who took me in .... not just that summer, but each summer thereafter for the next five years.  Glenwood became my second home.   It was half my childhood.  Fifty years later, I still feel the magic when I visit that dear town.  I continue to bemoan each old building that is torn down.

Aunt Millie and Uncle Glen are gone now, and the odd little house has been replaced by a lovely new home where my cousin Gayle now lives with her husband.  But the barn is still stands along with the old horse corral and chicken coop .... and that wonderful barnyard smell ...... and many more of my delightful relatives who, over the years, have also made Glenwood their home.

This includes three of my cousins and their spouses and my brother and sis-in-law.  My other brother owns a farm a few miles away.  Another cousin and her husband lives in a nearby town.  It's a reunion whenever we go there and we go there as often as we can.

Which brings me to my latest trip update.  We spent four days parked next to my brother's home.  I hung out with Gayle and made the rounds to see everyone.  I will never own property there .... it's too far from our kids and business ..... but for a few days my little house-on-wheels can be my own Glenwood home, where I can reminisce along the quiet, dusty streets, smell the smells, and reconnect with family.

(I don't have any pictures, so I found these online.)

The old mercantile.  It has looked just like this for the past half century.
The post office.  It too, hasn't changed.  No one has a mail box.  They all come here to collect their mail.
We used to pass this house as we walked to church.  Sadly, it too must be torn down.
Another of the original homes.
As it looks today.  I don't know the actual name of the mountain behind the town.  We call it Hercules because that's what Uncle Glen named it.  As far as I'm concerned, that's as good as official.

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