A year or two after we were married, when my husband had had time to sort through my hordes of aunts and uncles and cousins, he still had one question. “So just how are you related to Bill?” Once we had clarified which Uncle Bill he was speaking of, (I had four) I was able to explain. “He’s married to my mother’s brother’s widow.” “Oh. So you’re not actually related.”
Of course we were. He was my uncle. Because that’s how it is in my family. You can’t get away from us that easy. All of which is a big reason why I wanted to move home. My son deserves to be tormented by his cousins just as his parents were. Especially since he has no brothers or sisters to do the job.
As imaginative as my son can be, a single child can never have as much fun as a pair, or even better, a herd. The potential for really great ideas is multiplied by a factor of ten for each little mind on the job. Would a child alone even consider hiking three miles over to their aunt’s house to see if she has cookies? (my brother and sister) Or commandeering a galvanized steel water tank for a boat, and paddling out across pastures flooded by ten feet of river water? (my husband and his brothers). Not to mention horse races and calf riding and the building of hay forts and mud pits, and the occasional hockey game/fistfight on the frozen reservoir.
Even as an adult, those cousins come in handy. Like when you forget to bring your wallet and you really need to pick something up at the western store because your wife’s birthday is TODAY. How convenient that both clerks are cousins on her mother’s side of the family and know exactly where you live in case you fail to stop by and pay the next time you’re in town. Or when you forget entry fees at the rodeo are supposed to be cash only and all you brought was three bucks and a checkbook. Big relief to see that your cousin is the rodeo secretary.
Hmm. We seem to do a lot of forgetting.
Being related to so many people can give rise to some interesting situations. Like the time my grandmother went to a wedding and the usher asked, "Relative of the bride or groom?" She said, "Both." Which really opens up the seating possibilities.
Obviously, there are down sides to tripping over a relative every time you take a wrong step. Some of us have been known to do things we’d just as soon not have reported back to our parents, or discussed at Thanksgiving dinner for the next twenty odd years. Like when we ran out of gas fifteen miles from home and had to walk to the nearest uncle’s house to bum a gallon at a time slightly past our curfew. Or lost the car keys at a rodeo on the opposite side of the state.
Or inadvertently arrested your wife’s cousin’s aunt on her dad’s side.
You see, one my cousins married a highway patrolman, who transferred to this area and moved to their ranch. Working for the highway patrol out here isn’t easy, what with the long, deserted miles and bad weather and occasional horrific car wrecks. But we’re pretty sure what finally drove him into early retirement was the frequency with which he was greeted at family gatherings by statements along the lines of: “How could you give my Aunt Pugs a ticket!”
You can probably guess why I made a career change. Don't they know there are rodeos on the weekends?
The human resources director at the hospital was a great guy named Jon. Though he’d been a city dweller for most of his adult life, he’d grown up around livestock. So when he brought his family to this nice, rural town in eastern Oregon, he naturally purchased property out in the country. And of course the kids had to join the local 4-H club and get animals to show at the county fair.
Even Jon wasn’t sure why they settled on pigs. But everyone in the family was pleased—with the exception of his very non-rural wife. Even she relented once she got to know the little porkers. They were just weanlings; cute, and funny, and much cleaner than she’d expected. The kids would let them out of their pen to cavort and everyone would sit back and laugh as they played tag and tug of war and keep away with the dog toys and staged impromptu pig races. If the kids occasionally forgot to latch the gate on the pen, well, no harm done. The yard was fenced. Until the day Jon got The Call.
Being a wise man, Jon dropped everything and got home. Where he learned from his frantic wife that the pigs had not only been left loose—they’d discovered the dog door.
This story springs to mind because last week, my dad and I installed a new screen door which features, for the first time ever at our ranch, a dog flap. My mother decided that this might be preferable to having my dog tear chunks of aluminum off the old door when she wanted in. It took one afternoon to show my dog how to push through the flap. Five days later, she’s blasting in and out at will. Mostly in.
Then there’s my mother’s dog. Joey is a house dog, as opposed to my dog, which we laughably call an outside dog. Which does not mean the actual outdoors. It means everything beyond the porch is off limits. Unless there’s lightning, gunshots, or no one’s looking. So my dog hops through the dog door, into the porch, straight to her bed. Voila! Happy dog, intact screen door.
But Joey doesn’t stop at the porch. Joey considers the porch beneath his considerable dignity, unless there are steak bones involved. So once Joey comes through the screen door, someone must still open the door into the kitchen. Which is where we’ve hit a snag in trying to teach him to use the dog door. Because I have to play Howard the Doorman anyway, if he's going to get back to his nap on my parents' bed. So while I’m crouched down, holding the dog flap open a bit to encourage him to push on through, he’s sitting there with a disgusted look on his face.
“What are you, a deck ornament? As long as you’re here, just open the stupid door.”
Or it could hail. Hail is a hit and miss annihilator of farmers' dreams. Storms tend to be compact, often less than a mile across. Sometimes you can almost draw a line where the squall ended that turned your barley to muddy green pulp without touching the neighbor across the road. The weather man isn't much help. It's not like you can run out and throw up a tent over a hundred acres of oats. Listening to a storm forecast is like parking your car at a jam-packed Walmart, knowing a plane is about to fly over and drop a few bowling balls. The odds that one will go through your windshield as opposed to one of the hundreds of other cars are actually pretty low. But you know it's gonna hit somebody. Combines and swathers are just now beginning to chomp their way across the fields to our south. A week of good, warm weather and some of our neighbors will start harvesting winter wheat. But here on the upper slopes, we'll be holding our breath for a while yet.