Maricruz has associates degrees in English and Spanish, loves to read, drink coffee, and write!
There's a vast valley down between interstate 5 and the 14. A single highway connects the two freeways, and besides that there's nothing; nothing but a few sprinklings of rickety houses here and there, not really permanent enough to affect the empty stretch of arid landscape. The farther north this v shaped valley goes the more joshua trees start popping up so that dull desert green peppers the top half of the valley like a dusted bouquet. That's where the old ranch is situated, dead center of this hermit's paradise. My grandfather had owned it since the days when trucks still used the “Old Road,” which skirts along the ridge of the mountains to get down to civilization. It used to be the only route between Bakersfield and Los Angeles before the freeways were put in. Today the Old Road, which is only sparsely paved, is still dangerous in a car; never mind driving a two ton manual through it. That had been one of my favorite childhood pastimes, listening to stories of the death defying, large-backed truckers who were brave enough to drive it. I considered taking it back down on my return, but nerves fail me. If I was to add my vehicle to the junkyard of headstones that have driven off the ridge route there would be no one left to inherit the old ranch.
The property had been troubled enough in its day. The typical attempt on its ownership had been tried by virtually every branch of the family in this part of the country. They had all claimed old Paps had a screw loose and that he needed the care of a hospice; meanwhile they’d be happy to manage his affairs for him and sell his ranch. It wasn't worth much anyway, with its generator powered system and dried up well. They’d have only been able to get about eighty grand for it, which would’ve been a just reward for their good intentions and hard work finding Paps a home. Paps however was surprisingly resilient and ended up outlasting those who moved east and outliving most of those who remained. Hardly any of us ever visited him in the last half a century, so none of us really knew how he was living; apparently better than any of us gave him credit for as he lived to the ripe old age of ninety-four. My mother had unexpectedly been the only one who gave a damn about his acquaintance. She was his second son’s widow and wanted me to know my grandfather since I never got a chance to meet my father. My grandmother passed before I was born, so there were never any homemade cookies or hot coco to greet us when we visited. Instead Paps would brew fresh ground coffee in an ancient stovetop percolator and force my mother to let me have a taste of adulthood. He’d just chuckle and tell me coffee was good for me. We would sit at the table with our strong coffee in mismatching mugs over a hearty breakfast while my mother complained about finances and where the world was going. Then Paps would take me out to work the tractor for a spell while Mom cleared away the dishes and tried to otherwise add a woman’s touch to the house. I remember the winds being terrible enough to shake out whatever manmade convenience my grandfather ever installed. Repairs were a constant, and I ended up learning an awful lot about how gadgets were put together. If Paps hadn’t been systematically rebuilding the old place every time a siding board fell off the house or a fence post rotted enough to fall over, the desert would have taken back its used little extremity in no time.
Now Paps is gone. He’s not here to keep things up anymore. The place has been out of my grandfather’s arthritic but capable hands for a month - the time it took me to get things in order for my students in Uganda. What on earth will I find when I finally get there? I hadn’t seen Paps since my first trip to help organize the school about ten years ago. Just a month ago I got word from a lawyer about my bequest. It's funny how the part of my mind that still remembers bitter coffee and hours spent leaning over the tractor engine thought he’d always be here, even after I myself was dead and buried. As I approach the property, driving slowly so my rented car won’t bottom out on the familiar dirt road, I can’t help but expect to see him driving around on his antique John Deer. For a split second my heart thuds as I even get a glimpse of the dust cloud it always kicks up. Then I realize it’s just one of the many mini twisters that plague the area. The house. There it is, still standing. The sidings coming off, as expected. I resist the urge to head directly to the old tool shed and grab a hammer and nails. I look around me at the falling fence posts and relentless wind slapping the shutters and roof slats. The kitchen window's broken and the porch has a layer of sand an inch thick. Beyond the house the sand scape stretches for miles, well past the rickety gate at the back of the property.
My grandfather spent most of his life here, toiling against that wind and the sand it brought. I spent a good part of my childhood here helping him. But I’m not the only one who's returned. It looks like the desert came home first. Somehow that doesn’t bother me as much as it should. All those desperate grabs at this land, all those estimated appraisals, all the energy Paps spent warding off family with good intentions, and the land went where it was supposed to go anyway.
© 2022 Maricruz Minter