ALL THAT IS LEFT

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

All that is left in a once small outpost

ALL THAT IS LEFT

By John Ross Hart

 

The old general store looks faded, but it's open.Local ranchers still come in to buy beer, snuff, gum, and aspirin, or gloves, pocket knives, rope, and hats.  The occasional tourist will buy jerky, chips, candy, and soda.The place breaks even.Competition is 15 miles away.

There used to be a couple of gas pumps here.You could get 76 gas, albeit at a higher price.But big time mergers and conglomerations left the pumps dry.Bottom line, it was a convenience, not a moneymaker.Ownership tried to sell an independent brand for several months afterwards.But the fuel was very low grade and being spoiled by 76, the ranchers chose to drive the required 30 miles to get gas.

The same family has owned the store for years.They also own a ranch.The husband, son, and son-in-law work the ranch.The wife and daughter run the store.During summer months, the granddaughter helps out.But she plans to go to college and become a veterinarian, which leaves the store's future in doubt.

The road out front once carried stagecoaches and pack wagons.There was once a livery stable and blacksmith next door.You won't see a trace today.Paralleling the road is the railroad.The depot across the track was torn down the 1970's.There's still a siding here, but there used to be a yard.There was a cattle chute.Cows were hauled to market in cattle cars.Now trucks do the job, which takes a beating on the little road.

There used to be housing for railroad workers, but everything is now done by machine.A barn and a farm house were adjoining amongst a grove of oak trees.The trees are still there but the barn is slowly disintegrating.The house burned-down years ago.There is still a fence between the railroad and the barn, but nobody maintains it.

At the curve is a wide bare spot.There used to be a small cafe here.It went through several owners.The last one got closed down by the health department.Then he skipped town.The building was condemned and torn down.A descent restaurant is now at least a half- hour away.

There used to be a feed store.It was up the road towards the railroad crossing.The owner ran the business for over 50 years. When he passed, his heirs chose not to continue.It was boarded-up.There was always talk someone would come in and establish a new business.Those hopes died when an arsonist burned it down.They never found the person or persons responsible.

Next to the store is a telegraph pole.  At one time, it had five crossarms and carried seven-to-ten insulators on each.  Western Union and the railroad's telephone system utilized those lines.Today, there is only one crossarm, with only two wires, which don't work.  There was a public telephone line that came down the hill paralleling the road.It was removed a few years back because the line was considered redundant.At the top of the hill is a tower that now provides the phone service.Modern technology.

Summers can be hot and dry.The green grass of spring turns a golden brown.Such conditions increase the risk of wildfire.Winds coming off the hills, through the canyons and ravines, can prove dangerous to residents in the valley.That's how the farm house was destroyed.Up the road, fire destroyed a barn and toolhouse on the Callaghan Ranch.There is a volunteer fire department made up of ranchers.Things could be a lot worse without them.

Winters are mild.Mornings can be cold.The region receives 10 inches of rain.Usually it doesn't approach that total.But there are years when the valley gets soaked and the two creeks overflow.

In the winter of 1951-52, it seemingly never stopped raining.Then came that one memorable January day.For about an hour that morning, it just rained, and rained, and rained.Four-and-a-half inches, all told.

Both creeks overflowed.The whole valley flooded.The trains stopped.There were several inches of water on the floor of the store.Fortunately, no damaged goods.That certainly wasn't the case once the sun came out.Uprooted trees, broken branches, parts of fences, rocks, gravel, sediment, even the old school outhouse, could be found scattered all over the place.

But today, the sun is out and life goes on at the general store.The wife, Connie, is sitting behind the counter smoking a cigarette.The daughter, Carol, is doing inventory and making sure each item has a price tag.Kristen is out front, sitting on the bench with Billy Robertson, home for the summer from Cal Poly.They are holding hands.

A 1990's GMC trucks rolls past, but the gates are coming down at the crossing as a long freight train enters the horseshoe curve.Silhouetted in the truck's back window is a young couple using the opportunity to get in some kissing.

John Buck has noticed the activity at the railroad crossing.So he steers his John Deere tractor off the road just past the store.He smirks as he passes Kristen and Billy, who probably weren't paying attention anyway, and heads into the store for something cold.

"Hi John!," shouts Carol, between counting cans.

"Hello!," says John, as he heads for the refrigerated section.

"Just a Coke?," asks Connie.She is now standing at the counter behind the classic cash register."How's Janet?"

"Much better," replies John."She had her final chemotherapy yesterday.The doctors think they've got it."

"I sure hope so," says Connie."You know, her mother was my teacher at the old schoolhouse."

"Ah yes, the old schoolhouse," notes John."You know I can still see it out in that field even though it's been gone a long time."

"At least 20 years," replies Connie."I think we will always remember the school."

The population may be minimal but there are big hearts here.

John decides to add a stick of gum.Connie is adding up the numbers in her head.She's never used a calculator.

"Three-twenty-one, Mr. Buck!"He pulls out a five dollar bill.Connie makes change.

The train has cleared and John Buck is back on his tractor.

Connie sits down again and lights another cigarette.

"We are all that's left," she says to no one in particular."But we are still telling stories."

###


Submitted: May 23, 2020

© Copyright 2021 John Ross Hart. All rights reserved.

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