Last weekend sister number one texted me about anyone in our family: uncles, aunts, cousins, who lived near Jackson, Wyoming. I informed her we had an uncle who tried to make a go at building a cabin there. I promised her I would give her the truth about what happened.
So, Cathy, here it is. In the next three weeks or so, I will relay to you, my readers what I did back in the summer of 1988 on my uncle’s property. The truth is never easy to retell, especially after 32 years have gone by. Right now, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to get me in the proper frame of mind.
You see, the truth of the matter was that I considered all my uncles, Mom had seven brothers of a large family who grew up during the depression and war years in Texas and Oklahoma, to be my favorites, but Uncle Lloyd seemed to like me and I thought it was okay and I accepted his opinion of me. Years later at a family reunion that Mom attended, their animosity came out and she swore she would never go to another reunion again. I don’t know if their bitterness was just their old age catching up to them, or some other dynamic. The truth was that I didn’t truly know my uncles at all, and Uncle Lloyd was going to open my eyes wide open.
But I digress. Sometime in June 1988, Mom got an invitation from her brother Lloyd. He had purchased some property near Jackson, Wyoming just above the Snake River. Dad and Mom were all hyped up to go and since I hadn’t found my job after graduating from Washington State University yet, Mom asked if I’d like to come too and share in the driving. It was a ten-hour jaunt from where they lived in Tri-Cities, Washington to his homestead.
We left in Dad’s 84 Ford Ranger F100 July 4, early in the morning just as the sun broke the eastern horizon. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere in sight and the weather person promised hot and dry weather throughout the holiday weekend. It was a mostly uneventful drive with the three of us switching drive responsibilities. I said mostly right? Mom foretold her own demise twenty-one years later when she unexpectedly started nodding off while she drove. It was along a stretch of I-84 just outside Mountain Home Airforce Base outside Boise.
I sat next to her and was watching the truck slowly drift toward the center medium. “Mom get in your lane,” I told her.
“Mary!” Dad barked and I saw her asleep at the wheel. I jerked the wheel back. “Are you alright?” He asked with some concern in his voice.
Mom jerked herself into consciousness and saw I had the steering wheel in my left hand. She still had her foot on the accelerator. “I guess I fell asleep.”
“Get off the road and let Jerry take over,” he ordered her. She did and I did until we reached Idaho Falls, then Dad drove the final leg. We reached Jackson at around late afternoon or early evening. In summer it’s so hard to tell unless one is wearing a watch. I forgot to reset mine to Mountain time and was an hour behind. We stopped at a convenience store, filled up the truck, it had twin saddle tanks, which was convenient for Dad when he worked near Kansas City three years before. Dad also bought a half case of beer, remembering our last family reunion down in Texas before Grandma passed from breast cancer, how Lloyd liked his beer. Mom called ahead for directions. We then headed up a road off the main highway, US 189, by a homestead that I still remember to this day had a sign out front that read “Mi Casa Costa Mucho Dinero. It was a sprawling rancher with pole building and split rail fence with expensive vehicles in front. “Is that it?” I asked.
“No, he said it’s up the road a way further,” Mom replied.
Five minutes later, we arrived finding a warehouse or garage looking structure, a trailer and three vehicles. Dusk arrived quickly and light was at best, minimal. But I did notice beginning of a base and some logs scattered haphazardly about, along a large pile of rough logs laying nearby. Dad parked the truck and got out. I followed suit and held the door for Mom to exit from the passenger side. Lloyd walked out from the garage first, lighting from inside casted shadows outward. Aunts Brenda and Dorothy followed behind surprising all of us. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. We all went inside where Lloyd introduced us to his wife (can’t remember her name after 32 years) Lana, who was a tall, slender woman in her fifties. They were all in their fifties, though Dorothy, who I shared a birthday with was going to be 60 September 2nd.
Dinner was simmering in a pot, and I smelled cornbread baking in the oven. It was chile and it smelled homemade. “I brought out some beer if anyone wants some,” Dad mentioned to Lloyd.
“Oh, I had to quit drinking; costed me two divorces and a shit load of money in child support and alimony,” Lloyd replied. He laughed. Like Dad, Lloyd was relatively average in height, slightly taller than me, but stocky with a good-sized beer gut. His full head of brown and wavy hair had grayed significantly. “You plan to stay around and help me build my cabin, young man?” He asked me directly.
The question caught me totally by surprise. Yes, I wasn’t working, and I wondered even to this day if there wasn’t some conspiracy afloat between my parents and Lloyd to get me out of the house for a while. I pulled a can of Budweiser from the half-case and opened it with a resounding crack. Some of the contents spilt onto the cement floor. I took a drink and saw his
discomfort at this very action. “Sure, I suppose.” My mind was waiting the details. How much was he going to pay me? That question set out front and center for me.
He smiled at me. “I need you to shave the bark off those logs out there. I’ll pay a dollar per log, and you get room and three squares a day.”
“How many logs do you got?” I asked him as I took another pull.
“Over two hundred with more on the way.”
“Can I see your blueprints?” Dad asked.
“After supper I’ll show y’all everything.” Lloyd’s Texas drawl came out loud and clear.
As if on cue, Lana announced in a soft Texas accent, “Y’all get washed up now. It’s supper time.”
After dinner, Lloyd placed the rolled blueprints flat on the table and showed us his dream home where he planned to die in. The design showed a two-story cabin with main floor and loft on the second where the bedroom would be. I didn’t mention anything then but wondered where he planned to sleep once he got too old to climb the ladder to his room. Dad, being the experienced draftsman and design engineer that he was, studied it in much more detail than I did. He asked Lloyd a bunch of technical questions about peeks and trusses, stuff way over my head. If he’d asked about American literature or great writers of the 20th century, I would understand. But I think even Lloyd looked befuddled by all of this. He gave Dad a pleasant smile. I went outside and smoked a cigarette, wishing I’d bought some pot before I left West Richland.
Mom came outside. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
I looked at her. No, I wasn’t sure. I had no more of an idea about building log cabins than Lloyd did, as I surmised from inside when Dad was grilling him. But I wasn’t going to confess that to her. “Oh yeah, sure, I’ll be alright.”
“You be careful with him. He has a hair trigger temper; worse than Dad.”
“Sure, I’ll keep that under advisement. Anything else?”
She hugged me, “No, just be careful.” She released me and went back inside. Brenda announced, “Put that crap away, Lloyd. We’re fixin’ to play dominoes!”
Next week, the work begins.