Friday, June 29, 2012

The Loading Place

If you stay on the road past the Clifton cemetery, you'll end up in what used to be called "The Loading Place." I'm not sure if it's all private property now or if there's still even access there but it was, at one time, a hub of summer activities, most significant of which were dutch oven dinners. I'm not so sure it was as fun for the Moms, but they never let on.

After milking, the family (plus any friends or other family who wanted to come) would load up in vehicles and head up the canyon. During the driest part of the summer, the vehicles not in the lead would set their pace well back, so as literally not to eat dirt. If you drove up past the Loading Place, the road would have such deep ruts that you just followed in them and hoped the heck nobody was coming from the other direction. Even farther on up, there was one point that had a little gully, sometimes water-filled, guaranteed to high-center any car, and sometimes even trucks.

At one point, we would come to a barbed-wire fence, usually closed. I recall getting out to open and shut it myself, and memory tells me that it took at least a tough farm girl to operate. The first time I heard Michael Martin Murphey's song "Cowboy Logic", I knew the answer to his query "If you see three men in a pickup truck, dressed alike from boot to hat, could you tell which one was the real cowboy, just from the way he sat?" before I heard it the first time.

Sometimes when riding in the back of the truck, if you hung out a little too far, you would get whapped in the face by a small branch. (I can smell the crisp summer canyon air in my mind right now.) As soon as we arrived at the Loading Place, the dads would gather firewood and make a fire, the moms would haul out the copious amounts of chicken and makings for fried potatoes in the dutch ovens, and the kids would wander around looking for sticks or bugs or those white berries on the trees called "kisses", because if you squished them on your cheeks, they gave you a little wet kiss. Still waiting for the food to cook, we would wander a short ways up the trail to an open artesian pipe that offered the coldest water you could ever imagine. The older kids would often take a shortcut to the pipe, but I was pretty convinced there might be a bear hiding in wait so I always stuck to the road.

When the food was FINALLY ready, we would all gather around the campfire, sitting on logs, eating, visiting and playing. And trying to move out of the smoke that somehow seemed to follow no matter where you sat around the fire. Why is that? The dutch-oven fried potatoes were so good that I honestly don't remember if we even had dessert and to this day actually consider them a type of dessert.

Finally someone would begrudgingly mention it was probably time to go home. The drive home was always at a more leisurely pace, perhaps because it was a little harder to anticipate the road curves in the dark, but more likely because we all wanted to savor the memories. And, oh, there were a lot of good memories made in the Loading Place!
One drawback to these canyon picnics was that sometimes a tick latched onto your body. Mother was vigilant about checking for ticks. It was considered potentially-fatal if its body broke off and left the head in your body. It must have happened, and I don't recall any deaths, but the threat was always there. The removal was accomplished by one of three methods (perhaps a combination of them): put a hot hat pin on it until it backed out, put a hot match on it until it backed out, or smother it with rubbing alcohol until it backed out gasping for breath.


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