Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving on the Ranch

Thanksgiving dinner, when I was growing up, must have reminded my grandmother of the ranch. Two sons, a daugher-in-law along with her sister and brother, herself and me, crowding into a dining room built for half that number. It had to have seemed like those days when she and her mother-in-law cooked for four children, a husband, and two ranch hands, as well as anyone else who happened by looking for a meal.

They were seriously out in the country, the closest evidence of civilization being the one-room schoolhouse a mile away. Reminiscent of films like The Cowboys, my father and his siblings truly rode horseback (or walked) to class every day. There was no church, no gas station, and certainly nothing resembling a grocery store for forty miles. Forget Butterball, holiday dinner depended on the skill of one of the boys with a rifle and the population of wild turkeys on Black Mountain, a flattened peak on the slopes of which my father herded sheep as a teenager.

They grew potatoes, onions, green beans, and pumpkin in the garden, and like me this morning, my grandmother baked her own bread -- hers was for stuffing and mine, just dinner rolls. The house probably smelled much like yours may this very instant, except for the fact that their dinner was cooking on a wood-burning oven and water in the sink was pump-drawn.

As you can tell from the photo (I wish I had a larger one -- maybe later), this is sage brush country, although pine and Aspen grow higher up the mountain near the site of the fabled family homestead. Just after the turn of the century, my Montana grandmother and her Oklahoma husband built a log cabin in the trees near the headwaters of a creek called Fortification, making a life for themselves based on her faith and his hard work.

I've walked through the remnants of that cabin as a youth, and carved my initials on the same aging Aspen trunk as my father when he was my age. In my imagination, I've sat down to Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room of a clapboard ranch house with three feet of snow on the ground outside. Better yet, I've awakened to the sounds and smells of my grandmother making stuffing. She'd tell me she didn't miss the wood-burning stove but I know she missed the ranch and all that it meant to my family, even as I miss her today.

May your Thanksgiving be a happy one, shared with family, friends, and fond memories.

(Photo courtesy of Webshots)
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