|I woke cuddled before labored coals glowing and puffing their last small red warmth from a huge black pot bellied stove. A canvas covered ceiling draped above, and I snuggled further down into the warm depth of my sleeping bag. The morning sun and the serenading sounds of the farm radiated in through the drafty crevices of the two story sheet metal tee pee. Those small fissures whistled the night before as the icy December wind snaked its way across the floor to challenge the churning stove. The wind had won.
Laying still and dreamy I heard the creak of a heavy metal door as a ray of blinding morning sun beamed in. The tall dark shadow of a man stepped in, framed by a halo of light. Tan overalls stepped wide toward me, as a long canvas duster swayed with the stride. A wide brimmed leather hat cast a secret shadow over a hardy jaw, 'Good Morning to you Madam, ready for your wash, the waters heated, tubs ready, and the Misses is waiting with the brush and towel.' I would have sworn that’s what was this rustic ranch man was going to say. Instead I was met with,
“'Morning Sunshine. How’d you sleep down there?” It was Uncle Gus, smiling above me, coffee in hand, hammer in the other. "Better get up, its already 8:30. The day’s begun youngun.”
It was a long journey getting to this sweet moment at the farm, strewn with bumps and a few wrong turns along the way; so is life. I had been advised to take the middle of three roads where the gravel began. I had and had bumped along up a sandy clay lane headed for the famous Hinze Family Tee Pee.
The silver tripod glistened ahead, and I could just make out Tommy standing on top of a sheet metal overhang jutting out from the lower level of the silver cylinder frame. He looked all of about 12 in his overalls. It was as if he was playing watchman of the fort! He waved vigorously, and scurrying across the metal shingles, he turned and shimmied down a dilapidated looking ladder.
I had come to spend New Year’s with Tom, Uncle Gus and the whole family. Tommy greeted me with an anxious hug, and I noticed the pure relaxation of his brow and a comfort in his smile – obvious gifts of time spent away at the farm, playing with earth and family. Up close his baggy Dikkies and flannel-shirt failed to disguise a grown man with a days worth of stubble and dirt already accumulated.
“No shaves at the farm, and the men only bathe on the back porch,” facts I had been told and would later stand as a red-faced, whisker-worn witness to.
The rules of the farm included: Do what you take a liking to, pitch in when needed, know enough to stay out the way when you aren’t, but most of all.. nurture the Good Times.
The Good Times, more than a motto, spoke to two plus decades of brisket, cold porch baths and breakfast over an open fire. It spoke to sing-alongs, and bonfires and cold beer and birthdays, marriages and graduations; it spoke to purple sunsets, and shooting stars and the chilling howls of coyotes. But mostly it spoke to the secure warmth of family.
Simplicity and love eased around the Hinze stead like a long flowing river; never slowing or drying up, just changing course through the years. And I, a drop in that river, was welcomed and absorbed and carried along as its own.
The striking figure of Uncle Gus appeared on the porch, and within moments the tall broad shouldered chief was down the porch and swinging me off my feet with a welcoming bear hug.
Behind Gus was the sweet baby blue farm house settled comfortably into the land. It had a humble, satiated expression, like that of an old woman having fully lived her life and asking only to share memories and make you comfortable. The front porch, wide and covered, faced west for sunsets. The porch swing creaked to and fro even without a warm tush, and the long picnic table sat ready for the next Hinze feast. Of course another wood burning stove squatted in the middle sending little smoke signals across the rolling pastures decorated with wild twisting trees and bored burgeoning cattle.
Inside, the house was decorated with days gone by, pictures and memorabilia throughout. If only those barn wood walls could talk, oh the stories they would tell, and I would have sat myself before the gas heater and listened endlessly. Ah but more stories were in the making. This was new years 2001, the real turn of the century, and there were ribs to cook, a bonfire to build, a tee pee to paint, stew to be made, homemade beer to drink and a wagon train of kinfolk to prepare for.
Cousins Katerah and Heath had already come in with Tommy, and they were with Siri painting the canvas walls of Tee Pee. Siri, Gus’ astoundingly beautiful and charming daughter, (qualities only overshadowed by her intelligence), was busy painting several purple Native American feathers; while Katerah and Heath, whose love and adoration for each other shinned brighter than the midnight stars at the farm, were giggling and joking and painting a teepee homestead. It was inspiring to watch them all together; and I quickly joined in, overwhelmed by the offer to put a bit of my timid talent to work on what was obviously a family landmark.
Many more would come, Tina with her Karaoke machine, Tom’s dad Barney in his travel trailer hosting the fixin’s for Stew, Zesty Mary - Gus’s wife, Laid back Uncle Randy, Krazy young Kyle, his friend Chis and the Sweet Taffy twins, their young friends, and Randy’s charming wife Barbara and a number of other wonderful friends and family.
Otis and Pam were a bit late in showing up but thankfully made it. Tom’s little brother Otis was a brawny man, with the stature of a Bear and the heart of a lamb. Pam his wife was by his side, a loving taming shepherdess, attentive and watchful. Otis chopped the wood and stirred the stew and pushed the hay trailer in the rain when the tractor didn’t work; but best of all he tended the fire through the second night in the Tee Pee. The snoring would stop and I would hear the familiar sound of the movement of a large man in the night, slow rustling and heavy breaths reminded me of my father’s sounds. I rose to see Otis before the fire, a red glow on his cheeks, solid strong feet and legs planted squarely in front of the stove. Big Bad John, or some folkloric logger entered my mind as Otis wrapped his arms around what must have been a hundred pound log, tossing it into the belly of the stove like a soda cracker.
Other moments endure. Having returned to town for the day, I brought back my daughter Victoria and her friend Amber to experience the magic of the farm and I watched them shoot a 22 and hit their targets. Tom walked us across the expanses of the land, and we spied on a new born calf. The girls soon learned to go with the flow, painted our panel of the tee pee, and before long were ditching claim to their city roots. They karaokied with the best, and tested the challenging mechanics of charming adolescent disinterested beaus.
The second night Tommy and I sat quietly on the porch watching the purple sunset and relishing a small quiet moment of bliss while the ribs smoked in the pit. Later the whole crew ate the ribs accompanied with my homemade Monkey Bread, and total full satisfaction set in. For New Year's the fellas made their famous stew over an open fire. It had turned cold and rainy and I contributed hot spiced wine. Yet the unyielding elements did nothing to squelch the warm spirits of the clan. The whole tribe assembled under the porch to escape the sleet, and saying a beautiful prayer we gathered together to share the stew and the love with which it was made.
Beyond the porch the bonfire fought the sleeting rain with the same striving spirit as those cold happy folks at the picnic table, slurping stew and racing for a slice of Tina’s pie. Like most old folk and any good chef, Tom’s daddy sat aside. He sipped hot wine to ease a sore throat and let the young have their fill and clear out; and although Tom and I set away Barney’s well deserved bowl full, I still worry if he ever went to eat it.
Advancing through the sleeting rain we made a warpath to the Tee Pee where we beat our Tom Toms, Karaokied into the night, sang and danced, snapped pictures, and drained the keg until time for the traditional Hinze family Pow Wow.
Like a white faced pilgrim witnessing a secret totem ritual, I sat privileged and in awe while the ceremony of the passing of the Hinze Family Resolution Mugs began. And like any private time honored ritual it belays the nature of the event to describe it, except to say like any verbal retelling and passing down of family legend and lore, it served to nurture, revere, strengthen and give honor to the love and kinship of the clan. And as witnesses we, myself, my daughter, and all present were touched and changed and blessed by our inclusion.
The celebration ended with toasts and laughter and tears and soon the clock struck the new century. I embraced my daughter and then Tommy boy, who by the way it seems attained his new year’s goal, and might I add whose midnight kiss conveyed his strong sense of accomplishment.
And from the outside looking in, from the Heaven above, we knew our loved ones were with us, looking down upon the jutting silver Tee Pee, singing with our canned voices across the pastures, dancing in the sky dodging our Roman candles. Maybe my Dad was out there with Old Norm giving him tips on how to attract the heifers. Maybe Tom’s mom was playing matchmaker in the kitchen, when Tommy whispered sweet somethings in my ear.
We bunked down that night excited and tired and thankful, full of more funny stories and sweet moments to fill the Hinze history books. The girls complained that Chris was up in the top of the Tee Pee reading, “Turn the light out they mused,” “Let the Boy go to Harvard,” Kyle recanted.
And let’s not forget Kyle’s famous plea for Gus to turn the water pump back on, “But the lady’s got soap ALL OVER HER BODY.” Katerah was the unwitting subject in the bath as Gus turned off the water to the house.
While we all were sad to return to the grinding cities from which we were spread, there was recharge, vibrancy and the sweet security in knowing that the little blue house, Norm, and the Tee Pee would be waiting for our return, and that at the farm there would always be more Good Times.