Sunday, October 28, 2018

Exploding Light Plants And Other Adventures

Electricity can be pretty scary especially if you've never before had it. Such was the case when my father bought our first generator. It was a small thing with enough power for a couple of light bulbs. But what a miracle it was! We had light bulbs in three rooms of our very small house on our desert ranch. Of course the light bulbs only worked when and if the generator was running. We never called this miraculous thing a generator, which it was. We called it the light plant. On the evening my brother and I blew it up it hadn't gotten dark yet but the generator, nevertheless, was running. My father was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. I remember seeing his face through the window. Our bathroom was another modern miracle built because Daddy accidentally burned down the outhouse. But that's another story. Daddy, an amazingly responsible person, feared the light plant would run out of gas and leave us in darkness so he asked Tommy and me to fill it. What he neglected to tells us was to first shut it off. So there we were pouring gasoline into the running generator and, not too surprisingly, it exploded. That, apparently, is what happens when gasoline spills onto a hot engine. I remember my father's expression staring at this sudden conflagration through the bathroom window. He then shouted, "Tom. Get rid of the gas can." An equally responsible person, my brother handed the gas can to me and thus 'got rid of it'. Daddy, his toothbrush still in his mouth, ran out the back door, grabbed a shovel, stuck it into the flaming generator and dragged it into the wash in back of the house where he shoveled sand onto it. Once the fire was out he returned to the bathroom and finished brushing his teeth. My brother took the can of gasoline from me, placed the cap on it, and set it down next to the house. We slept outside that night because Daddy wasn't sure the house was safe. Fire can be as scary as electricity.  I still don't completely trust electricity and even though we have a back up generator for our house, power outages don't bother me.  When it's dark it's dark and there's nothing to be done about it.  When there's nothing to be done, that's it. However, sometimes it's important to do whatever can be done. Daddy dragged the burning generator away from the house, extinguished the fire, and made sure we were safe by having us sleep outside. He knew when to take action and what actions to take. Taking action is important but so is knowing when to take it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Living In A Land Of No Streets

I grew up on Arizona cattle ranches.  Aside from our Post Office boxes we had no addresses. If someone wanted to find us they had to know how to get to us.  And if they wanted to get to us the reason had to be pretty important. That's just the way it was. The first ranch I called home was about 35 sections of land in the desert. It was about 45 minutes on a dirt road outside of the little town where I attended school. The second ranch I called home was over 95 sections of land under Arizona's Mogollon Rim made famous by the novelist Zane Grey. It was about 4 hours of dirt road from the little town of Globe and then another two hours outside of the tiny town of Young.  The people living out in those Arizona Hills cared a lot about politics and they never missed an opportunity to vote.  Our home on the desert ranch was, in fact, the polling place.  Elections were incredibly exciting not only because we got to see people who we didn't even know existed but also because when our poll closed we got to keep the sample ballots and the pens and the ink and the little flags.  The only thing that left in its locked box were the ballots cast by the men and women whose only address was their Post Office boxes.  The only people for whom our polling place was convenient were my mother and my father.  All of the other folks had to brave roads in such disrepair as to be barely navigable. Mr. Kenny, who lived in a cave in the Buckhorn Mountains, had to crank his Model T and hope it made the trip and then hope that after he made his marks on the ballots it would get him back again to his cave.  Oscar and Lillian often walked to our house to cast their ballots. Mrs. Pickens and her son Bob, always in the throes of tuberculosis, coaxed their old pick up truck to our house to cast their votes. And John and Frank Goodwin and Florence married to one of the brothers rattled in through our gate in a cloud of dust which caked the constant chewing tobacco dribbles on their truck doors.  One Armed Joe generally came last hoping for an invitation to dinner after the polls closed. The invitation was always extended and always accepted. Those were the people my brother and I recognized.  So many more people wandered in to vote who we couldn't remember ever seeing.  Our father knew them all but always made sure they were on his list of registered voters.  These people were proud to cast their ballots. They were proud to be part of the great Democracy in which we lived. They were proud to have their vote counted. And my brother and I, always excused from school on election day, were proud to pretend to cast our ballots on the left over sample ballots. That's how we learned to never miss an election and a chance to vote.