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The Hill

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By Jim Byous

s 1 1 _9922 Byous Property view of Oklahoma Mountain and Sugarloaf from the property

A predawn photo of Eastern Oklahoma. The cone-shaped hill to the right is Sugarloaf where my paternal grandfather was born. Oklahoma was wild back then filled with rock-hard and tough people.

The hill by my grandfather’s house was a world unto itself, without a tear or care or worry.  Eastern Oklahoma was a place where the dreams of small boys lived… where they played… where everything came together for a young American’s life.  It was not a place for sorrow back then, or so I remember it.  It was beyond life.  The grass on the hill was lush and green, where summer flowers bloomed and was always just the right height for running through and diving into and wallowing about, all in blissful laughter… chiggers and tics be damned.

The watermelon fields were down below the barn beside a bend in the road.  And it seemed that each time we visited was just the right time for the melons to be picked and cut open and eaten and the seeds spat to see who was champion.  I was champion once though I was the smallest of the lot.  While sitting on the fence beside the barn I spat one large black seed, oh… twenty feet or more.  It jetted half-way to the horseshoe pit where my uncles Clyde and Paul were pitching.  Those times were fun.  The girls didn’t like it, but seed spitting was part of the ritual.  Seeing their twisted, contorted faces was worth the occasional, slobbery drool.

What seemed to be a huge house back then was a simple four-room country home that sat in another bend of the road.  Before my teens, the bathroom stood a thirty-yard dash away on cold winter nights.  The road out the front door was half way, either way, to the left or to the right, half way to town, five miles distant.  To the left, you wade through Mountain Creek, through Kennedy and back across again, then on to 133 and turn left then you’re there.

If you went to the right from the house the lane wound past the Midgley’s farm, then past Uncle Clyde’s.  From there to town was an endless string of relatives, J.C. Donaho, L.T. Johnson, cousin Dural at Morgan hill.  Then it was straight to town… unless of course, you decided to cut past the Chapel, the small church building a short jog off of the main road.  There the grounds are dotted with mounds and stones and crosses of family gone before, all related, all remembered and always illustrated and described by the elders in the family.

When old enough I rode a young bay mare those long, quiet, interesting miles to town.  There I stopped at the Dairy Queen where my cousin worked the window.  I still see it.  A quick hello, a few minutes gazing into her captivating brown, Cherokee eyes… damn!  She had to be my cousin.  First cousin at that.  Second cousins maybe, third would be okay, but this beautiful lady was way to close, that and ten years my senior.  “Sometimes life’s not fair,” I thought.  Later she married a fellow from the next town south.  So, I continue on.

A gulped-down malt, back in the saddle then back on the road.  The bay canters along the road, rocking-horse smooth, the wind gently flows over my face and through my hair.  Time and place have no meaning.  I am here and all time is here.  There is no other place.  I am moving down the same route that had been traveled by my family generations before – along the hoof-marks made by the mounts of my grandfathers and my uncles and my cousins.  Back to the days of the outlaws, of Jesse James, the Youngers, and Belle Starr.  Their lives cross those in my family along with lawmen Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman, and Chris Madsen.  Their times were tough.  So were the people.  Rough-edged would be a descriptor.  Life is good and easy today.

My grandfather’s wagon traveled this route many times over the years.  When I was small; what wonderful times we enjoyed.  Drawn by two horses we would ride over the hill and down to town for supplies.  The carriage was made of rough-hewn wood and rolled on rubber tires changed-out during the depression when wood-spokes were scarce and even more expensive.  Along the washboard road, we bounced and jostled over pot-holes and pock-marks cut by the fast, modern, in-a-hurry vehicles.  Their tires spinning on the gravel course, bounding, vibrating and digging the lane, turning the surface into a tooth-rattling, bone-shaking, corduroy of rocky roadbed.

We, at a slower pace, picked our route along the springless journey, holding tight to the sideboards, waiting for the next bump to launch us above the plank-lumber bed.  The bobbing heads must have been a strange sight to those passers-by in the sleek-finned automobiles that zipped past with a wake of dust and grit.  But we loved the wagon.  We loved the driver.  We loved the land that we crossed.

And the mound, the hill…  The hill had a life and being of its own.  It was a magical thing – like no other entity or place.  To a child, it was where castles formed in a stand of trees and mountains from the clouds.  Where good guys and bad guys gunned it out for the sake of the fearful townsfolk.  It was where dragons were fought and conquered, sometimes twice a day, sometimes three… and it was where an old white mare carried three knights at a time again and again from campaign to campaign… only to avoid our every command at feeding time, unless, of course, we too wanted to wander back to the barn.

But mostly I suppose, it was the people of the hill.  The bond of love.  The binding of family, of friends, of caring.  It’s a good memory.  From time to time it bubbles up from the past and grows a grin on aged lips and shines a light on a life-battered soul.  Memories are good.  That’s what youth is for – making good memories.  Those memories are good.

I think back to the hill and I smile.  The people are all gone now.  The house is too.  Only the hill remains.  Those memories are good to review – good for lifting the heart.

Nowadays I think of it often.  And, it’s very, very good.




© J Byous Company, 2015 All Rights Reserved.

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