Granny ,,, part 1


                                        Granny ,,, part 1,,,,


                                            Rusty Fleming

Granny: To say the least, Granny, my grandmother, was quite a gal, ,,, she was raised on a farm near Hope, NM, in the midst of the hard times of the teen’s, 20’s and 30’s,,,she came into this world in 1912,,,,she growed up with several brothers and a sister, the sister was the baby of the family, they did everything possible on that farm to make it work, that was their way of life, and they guarded it and cherished everything about that farm, it’s crop’s, it’s people and all it’s neighbor farmers and ranchers,,,,Granny’s family had milk cows, before they would have been considered it a dairy, fruit orchards, growed their own produce, made their own cheeses, and so much more and sold much of it to markets in El Paso, her father would load up a wagon with whatever he had to sell in a wagon every couple of weeks and head to El Paso,,, they cherished everything they grew and made, never thinking they were in hard times ‘cause everybody was in the hard times,,, Hope is situated 20 miles west of Artesia, located on the Penasco River,,,and back then, the Penasco flowed,,, and flowed enough, several farms flood irrigated from the diverted waters of the Rio Penasco utilizing hand dug irrigation ditches, and all those farms did well, considering the times. All around Hope’s farmlands were ranches, and back then, those ranches were covered up with sheep,,, during lambing season, all yall that have been around sheep knows you get dogie lambs, it’s part of the deal and cannot be prevented, and dogie kid hair goats,,,ranchers kept their occasional dogie calves, but dogie lambs and goats can take up a lot of “room” on those ranches,,,,so, greatgrandad had a standing deal with all them sheepmen to take all their dogie’d lambs on the halves,,,,Granny and her siblings hand raised and bottle fed those dogie lambs with the milk cows contribution, the ewe lambs went back to the ranchers after weaning from the milk bottles, and the muttons lambs were kept, fed out, butchered and the meat sold to the markets in El Paso as well as the pelts, nothing went to waste,,,,,,refrigeration ???,,, folks along the Penasco all had “ice houses”,,, be aware this was before electricity was plumbed into rural areas,,,,,for instance, I was born in 1950, and by then, we and everybody else had windchargers that provided electricity, long before the “green deals” came along,,,,,,it wasn’t til way up in the 50’s that rural folks in that area had electricity plumbed in to them on power poles, from town. In the wintertime, granny and crew had “ice block” forms made of boards, like cement forms for a slab, but smaller, like 2 ft. X 2 ft. X 8 or 10 inches thick, and lots of them. They’d fill those ice block forms with water from the flowing Penasco irrigation ditches, during the days, and after the blocks froze at night, those ice blocks would be broke out of the molds and set in a wooden structure filled with sawdust, insulated by the sawdust, and ice was made til they filled up the ice storages,,,yes, they sold some of that ice too up into spring and summer,, but not much, ‘cause ice was a scarce commodity back then,,,and they needed that ice to get htru the summer,,,,,those ice houses would keep those ice blocks froze way up into the year,,, they had “meat boxes” for the butchered meat, to cool it down after butchering and to keep it cool on the trip to the El Paso markets,,, on one trip, as greatgrandad, making a wagon run to El Paso, was passing thru one of the ranches on the way and he come to a ranch house, where he always stopped and watered his wagon horses, and this rancher had a dogie’d bear cub his kids were raising, the rancher had killed the mother bear while she was killing and eating sheep, he saw and then caught the young cub, brought him home to his kids, and the kids raised him on a bottle and made him pretty gentle, the bear was like a pet coon,,, gentle but troublesome and was bound to meet a bad ending someday so,,,great granddad took the cub “on the halves”, hauled him and sold the cub in El Paso for $20,,which he split with the rancher on the return trip,,,that was lots of money back then, and granny swore, her dad was always “half heartedly” talking about getting in the bear business,,,,, but everybody knew, a pet bear was like having a “pet” coyote,,,no matter how domesticated, no matter how gentle, eventually it’s natural ways would kick in and if you had chickens, and as in this case, dogie lambs too, one morning you’d wake up and the pet coyote would have gotten loose and have killed all your chickens and or lambs,,, just wasn’t practical,,,there’s better pets for kids,,, “house/yard/barn” cats were okay up to a point, ‘cause they’d keep the rodent population under control and keep the rattling snakes at bay,,,,,,,and of course, trapping was a year round activity, everybody did their part in trapping sheep and goat killing varmints, and another reward was in the wintertime, those bobcat, coyote, fox and ringtail hides sold for MONEY,,, another survival source. More about this trapping deal later,,,,


Granny and grandad married in 1929, moved to the Fleming family ranch southwest of Pinon, everybody then had angora goats, finewool sheep, and some had cattle, not the milking kind neither, well most everybody had a milkcow but,,,,,. My dad came along in 1930, times were hard, grandad got a job in the early days of the pipeline construction and oil business, which meant he was gone a lot, so granny and my dad,  being a baby, moved to Artesia. Granny raised daddy and had odd jobs, sewing, ironing, whatever came along, in Artesia in a rent house, til grandad finally came back to Artesia when oil was discovered east of town, across the Pecos River.


Granny and grandad then bought a place on the west side of Artesia, small but plenty of room to enlarge and add on to, which was on the northside of the Hope highway, on the banks of Eagle Draw. If you drive west from downtown Artesia, almost “outside” of town back then, sat their place, now there is an Allsup’s store that occupies the old town home place. Grandad sold out his part of the “hair goats”, Angora’s, also called “mohair” goats, and never moved back to the ranch. He had become an “oil-lie”,,,the oil patch had converted another agricultural family.


In 1966 my dad and his partner had acquired a sizable place southwest of Carlsbad, on Black River, west  (and/or north) of the El Paso Highway. Grandad had pretty well “retired” from being a cable-tool oil patch driller. Modern rotary drill rigs had displaced them old “spudder rigs”. Grandad had drilled a thousand’s of oil wells out towards Loco Hills, Maljamar and all around those sand hills over the years. So at my dad and his partner’s urging, granny and grandad sold the Artesia place, and moved to the ranch to run it as dad and his partner were immersed in the oil and gas exploration “bidness” in west Texas and didn’t, nor couldn’t live at the ranch, so Granny and grandad had a new place, and a new adventure, back to the ranch, just in time to have to rebuild a lot of fence that a huge flood wiped out. Black River ran thru the middle of the ranch, and that river drains every canyon on the eastern slope of the Guadalupe Mountains for about 35 miles, from McKittrick Canyon almost to the Carlsbad Caverns,,,, now boys and girls, that is a LOT of miles of canyons and draws,,,and the rain that caused this flood dropped 18 inches of rain in 24 hours at the ranger station in McKittrick Canyon and rained that much all over that country. I’d never seen that much country under water,,,it also did a remarkable job of obliterating the two road crossings on the river, that connected all of that country to the Carlsbad-El Paso highway. Both crossings were on our place, that we and all the neighbors used, 7 or 8 families, basically cutting off all the ranch and farm families that lived on the west side of the river for a couple of weeks, from “town”,,,no big deal to those folks, they didn’t spend much time in town anyway, and usually had enough groceries and other supplies around to survive about anything, must less the inconvenience caused by a flood on the river.


Our ranch headquarters had lots of assets. About the 1920’s or so, all the headquarters buildings had been built out of round “river rocks”, smoothed down by nature from having traveled many miles down flood swollen “dry canyon beds” from the motherload of rocks, the Guadalupe Mountains, when it rained, over CENTURIES,,, I mean when it really rained, like when McKittrick and that whole part of the world got 18 inches, the canyons would literally ROAR, ROCKING and ROLLING. All the river rocks were gathered by rock masons of varying nationalities, and were bounded and bonded together by handmixed mortar, making thick, sturdy walls and pretty near indestructible. Between the house and the barn was pavement, paved road. Old but strong pavement, this was there because at one time years back, this was the old El Paso highway. The headquarters house was on the east side of the road, and what we used as the barn across the road, the “highway”, was originally a mechanics shop, flat fixings and filling station. AND there was enough room/space on the north side of that barn, originally the filling station’s restrooms, which we converted to living capacity for occasional “foreign exchange students”, that came afoot from that foreign country across that “other” river that divides their country, from the United States. There was also an old “tourist court” for overnight visitors and four additional individual “cabins”. All built from river rock. The drive to El Paso used to be quite a lengthy trip back then, now it’s like a 2 1/2  hour drive from Carlsbad to El Paso, non-stop, if you’re not stopped for speeding. We had LOTS of irrigation water on that place. We raised a lot of alfalfa, and when the time was right, after the hay was irrigated, there was a ditch system that allowed granny to water all the lawn grasses and yard trees,,,which included four (4) very old, ancient, deep rooted pear trees. I mean those trees were tall,,, and in 1966, after the floods were over, all the conditions were right and they made a bumper crop of pears, I mean branches were about to break from the weight of the pears,,, granny figured if we’d take a tractor, and bump the trees, the ripe ones would fall and make the harvest quicker than getting a few ripe pears at a time,, well, I, being the chosen tractor pilot saw all the merit to this,,,I also quickly learned when you ram the trunk of the pear trees hard enough,,, it’d RAIN,, I mean BOMBARD the ground with pears,,, and the tractor pilot too. I soon mastered how to ram the tree in reverse, then shift gears like a race car driver to go forward and get out of range of the falling deadly pears cascading from 30 feet or so above, tall pear trees. Granny called a halt to the harvest after the second tree cause she wasn’t gonna be able to process that many pears at one time. The other two trees had a few days before their assault began. Then came the gathering, skinning and gutting, of the pears. I was beginning to wonder if Mason and Kerr made enuff jars and lids to handle this pear harvest. Granny growed up with, and died with, the understanding NOTHING WENT TO WASTE. At that time we, all of us, could and would cross into Juarez and buy 120 Lb sacks of beet sugar to allow folks like granny to “properly prepare” the likes of pear harvest, and peaches and apples,,,etc etc etc. It was nothing to know all your neighbors had 3, 4, maybe more, 120 Lb sacks of Mexico beet sugar, damn near all the time. So the pear prep began,,, pretty pronto granny had muchos jars of pears,,, I had never been much of a pear fan, and after handling a grand quantity of them this time, my appreciation of the fruit didn’t improve much. BUT, there was a basement, big basement under the headquarters house with grand shelves built into the round river rock lined walls and cement floored basement. Unbeknownst to any of us, Granny had gone down there, made sure there were no resident rattling snakes, nor NO rodents, thus proving a safe and marvelous foods storing facility, she’d even plumbed in, on her own,  and installed electricity and a one bulb light fixture, complete with on/off pull string.


Well me and a couple or three foreign exchange students, at the end of a normal ranch/alfalfa farm day, spent lots of time skinning and gutting pears for granny to process and “can” the next day,,,for several days, involving several trips below to the basement, carrying box loads of jarred pears to the basement, don’t you dare drop ‘em. Let me tell you, even after the neighbors said, please, NO more jars of pears, those 4 trees provided,,, all they neighbors from miles around said those trees only made a pear crop onct ever 20 to 25 years or so,,, really good news to me.


Well the next year, we had another flood,,,not as big but big enuff,,,and as luck would have it, there were several groups of 2 to 6 foreign exchange students in separate groups making their way to the promising land, afoot, and got trapped between McKittrick and the mountain, McKittrick then runs into Black River. When the river came down,,,,, a couple of the traveling foreign exchange students knew the way to a neighbor’s farm as he had been attending “continuous education” sessions there for a couple years before, but that swarm of refuges made up a group of 35 or 40 when floods waters forced them all together,,,nobody had room for ‘em all so we divided them between 6 neighbors to feed and let them recover from the trip, all of ‘em were wetter’n drowned frogs,,,so they needed a couple days of rest to recover, then all of ‘em had told us they had jobs waiting farther north, but would be happy to lay over and work to pay for feed and bunking,,they’d already crossed one river, but none of ‘em were ready to swim a flooded Black River, so we got 5 “short term students”.


Our “wet house” was already full with the two or three we had, but me, granny and these newly arrived wet’s made pallets in the basement,,, then granny cooked lots of eggs, taters, and the regular hands made up 2 or 3 dozen tortillas and that filled ‘em up,,, we sent  ‘em off to bed, with instructions breakfast and coffee’d be ready in the morning,,, granny intended to feed ‘em all on the front porch. Well next morning, way before daylight, I had a fire going outside with 2 big cowboy coffee pits going and a bucket of beet sugar and spoons, knowing these overnight visitors would use lots of that sugar in their coffee, they always did,,,granny said go tell ‘em to be ready to eat in about an hour,,, I walked to the basement door,,, knocked loud, opened the door and told ‘em coffee and food’d be ready in about an hour,, heard some groans, but nobody answered,,, I eased down the steps, pulled the light string and you never saw such a sight of “unhealthy, wounded souls”,,,,,all five were humped up in their blankets, each sleeping pallet surrounded by several, several empty pear jelly and preserve storage devices,,,,it was all I could do to keep from busting out laughing cause I knew what’d happened,,,it’d been a while since any of ‘em had anything sweet and they set in and devoured lots of granny’s hard work. I went topside and reported to granny, to hold off fixing all them eggs,,, betting those guys couldn’t eat much after being in “sugar shock”. Well to delete some details, in a couple of days, the health and sugar content of the “student assembly” returned to normal and I had an 8 man fence cleaning crew. 3 of our own guys and the 5 temporaries. Grandad was off tending to other chores,,,,he had just cut about 20 acres of alfalfa when the rain started, and he had to start turning those windrows to prevent rotting and totally losing that part of the hay crop. Those flood waters always took wire fences down, you always stapled the wire on the downstream side of the fence posts, but you couldn’t prevent usually twisting, ripping, tearing and forcing several yards and yards of barb wire, cedar staves and cedar post water gaps into ugly stages of disrepair and the few posts still standing, some posts layed over, had tons of tabosa grass, weeds and brush pile up against the posts. Those boys did a commendable job of cleaning off posts and resetting some, even though the ground was super saturated, and they had all assuredly lost their appetite for canned pears. Once they recovered and we got water gaps kinda fixed, the 5 travelers were ready to head on with their journey north. We paid ‘em for the good work days, and I was able to convince each of them to take three or four jars of pears with them, they all balked at the idea, but I was able to convince them those full jars of sweet delights would be great trade goods up the country a bit,,, they pulled out and for 2 days we witnessed a caravan of footback hombres headed north,,,ours and several others,,,, we were able to convince our 3 to stay as the chance of getting captured by “la migra” or “las choatas” (Border Patrol) was much better staying where they were for at least thru hay season,,, by then, they’d be ready to head south with their families and other “foreign exchange students” to be home for Christmas break.


Stay tuned,,,, more Granny tales to come,,, as in, “To Be Contunued.”













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