|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
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With someone like you, A pal good and true, I'd like to leave it all behind ...
(popular song during World War One)
2015: At Home in Missoula
I study a crayon drawing, on crumbling Big Chief drawing paper, pinned to my bulletin board with sturdy red and yellow tacks. Last night, a dream of this drawing woke me. I went to bed asking for guidance from my dream psyche on how to continue my story. A color image of this old, partly forgotten drawing appeared in my dream, with no words or dialogue. I knew just where I'd stashed it. In the middle of the night, I made my way to my study closet, where I have stacked Janice's drawings, grade school writing, and special projects from her time at Hawkins Elementary School in Vernon, Texas. I took on the role of scrapbook archivist when I was in the second grade, and Mom and Dad gave me a photo album. Happy hours passed as I sat at the massive, secondhand, 1930s mahogany dining table in Dallas where I did my homework, pasting pictures from my Brownie Hawkeye camera on the pages with black stick-on corners. This is important, my seven-year-old self assured me. I knew I was doing something significant for our family, and it made sense because I was the big sister. Something solidified in my identity — family archivist — although I didn't know the word then. I knew I loved my family and wanted to keep track of all our doings. I haven't looked at this picture since 2004.
"She drew her perfect little world," reflects Gary, when I ask him to come to my study and see the picture. He leans over my desk as he looks carefully at Janice's drawing from her third-grade classroom. Gary made the bulletin board for me with a wide, solid oak frame; he knows I like to cut out notes and pictures to chronicle my days. "It's like Paradise before the fall."
"What do you see?" I ask Gary, an artist who takes the visual world seriously. Along with the details Janice drew, Gary points out the medieval construct of the idealized world contained in a single picture. Everything happens at the same time, and all the images are the size the child-artist thinks they ought to be — the baby brother as large as the father, the middle sister the same size as the mother.
I return to Janice's picture through the day, noticing details and filling in what I can't see on the page with my memories. Janice always kept our big box of crayons sharpened. By the time she drew our summer camping world for her beloved third-grade teacher, Mrs. Todd, I'd informally bequeathed them to her, since I was a seventh grader. Six decades later, I recognize her iconic images. Our family tents cluster in a Forest Service campground under aspens, pines, and spruce trees, one of the old-fashioned campsites with only two tables, one across the road from the other. She has drawn a slight hill for the pit garbage dump, and an outhouse tips on the rise above the tents. Grasshopper Park grounds our family summer after summer. The picture shows summer family camping life sometime in the early 1950s. My younger sister depicts our Texas family of five spending a day at home in camp, where we stay put for a month, escaping the Dallas heat and exploring new Colorado places. My mother would later write about this time as "spending those years when you all became Hockers."
Three tents define the colony. The seven-by-seven-foot umbrella tent belongs to Janice and me. We are old enough to set up our own tent, being careful to level the ground under the attached floor, zipping our dark green, flannel-lined Dacron sleeping bags together for warmth. Janice draws our tent with a bright-green crayon, although I remember the color as a dull olive. Our brother Eddie's pup tent sits right next door. Janice draws the pup tent larger in proportion than it was, possibly reflecting our shared big-sister worry that our little brother, by virtue of being the only boy, sleeps by himself. Mom and Dad sleep in the canvas, ten-by-twelve wall tent, which contains a wood-burning sheepherder's stove. They sleep in double sleeping bags. We all blow up our air mattresses by mouth, although Janice and I help Eddie.
Mom and Dad place a tippy old aluminum table in the big tent, along with four folding chairs and one canvas fold-up stool. The table pinches your hand when you put it up, if you aren't careful. A clean bath mat lies in front of the stove for when we take our baths, using the plastic dishpans that are reserved for baths and not for dishes. We are not supposed to track dirt on the mat. My sister colors in the black stovepipe that emerges from the side of the five-foot-tall wall tent. We are able to take baths inside the tent, cook soup on the stove when it rains, and keep warm when the wind blows. The wall tent is also our living room. We play Scrabble, read our library books, play Go Fish and Monopoly, and bring a lantern in at night when it's too cold to build a fire. Daddy won't play board games. He says, "I'll leave that to you gals." The orange canvas smells a certain way when the sun shines and it heats up — something like wax, old cloth, and sunshine. We kids can come and go inside the wall tent except when Dad takes a nap.
We are on Spring Creek, which runs into the Taylor River, which joins the East River to make the big Gunnison River. We have heard that the Gunnison River joins with some other river to make the Colorado River, but we haven't been there yet. All these waterways are located in the Gunnison National Forest, in Western Colorado, which I can find on a map. Grasshopper Park, the name of the campground, really belongs to our family, since the Forest Service camp became our favorite place to camp once we discovered it. A next-door camper told Daddy about Spring Creek when we were camped on the Taylor River, which was much more crowded. We explored Spring Creek the last day before we had to go home, and decided all together that we definitely would come back here the following year. The Forest Service men who built the campground back in the 1930s must have seen a lot of grasshoppers, though we find none.
This camp must be the most beautiful place in Colorado. A wooden bridge crosses the creek just downstream. I can walk out at night by myself, since it is safe here and no one is around, to watch the moonrise and look up at the brilliant stars. There is no light pollution. The stream curves around to give us views of the water up and downstream. Almost nobody drives by, since we are close to the end of the road unless you have four-wheel drive, which we don't. Isolation appeals greatly to our minister father. His parishioners can't find him here. He refuses to go to town more than once each vacation, fearing that when he checks in with the church secretary, calling from a pay phone on Gunnison's main street, she might tell him someone has died and he needs to come home to perform a funeral. The weather surprises us each summer, since it never gets hot during the day like it does in Dallas. We can hardly believe that we need to wear coats at night. Memories of running through the water sprinkler in our Dallas yard fade fast. Colorado is the way summer weather should be.
Each year we take the family car, first a slope-backed, plum-colored, old Plymouth inherited from Dad's mother when she came to live with us, then the 1952 blue Pontiac, and later the 1956 two-tone-green Chevrolet Bel Air. Daddy packs the car starting at least a month ahead of time; we watch the garage fill up with camping gear, all neatly tagged. We also pull an early homemade version of the teardrop camper, this one made of plywood painted light blue, with what Mom calls a chuck box on the back for kitchen supplies, a space for luggage, and a big compartment for the rest of the equipment. When Eddie was younger, he slept in the trailer, but by the time of this picture, he's graduated to his own tent. Our dad treats the car like a jeep, steering it around rocks, and shifting it into first gear while roaring through washouts up Spring Creek Road. We peer eagerly ahead to see if our spot is available.
Janice carefully composes our idealized summer camping world. In the center of the picture, I see the back of our mother, sitting at the sturdy old Forest Service wooden camping table, anchored to the ground in concrete. On one end, Janice places the copper-colored cake cover. Mom makes Betty Crocker spice cakes and yellow cakes in the little sit-on-top oven on the Coleman stove. On the other end of the table sits one of our lanterns. Daddy takes a lot of time to tighten the tarp above the table; he's always making the tents and tarp nice and straight. "I need to secure the camp," he states, just as we are all in the car ready to go on an adventure. He tightens the center rope that holds the tarp over the table. He tightens the corner ropes with a wooden peg that slides up and down the rope. He checks to make sure the canvas tent doors are staked just right so the rain will run outside the tents. He zips all the windows closed, whether it looks like rain or not. Finally we can leave to go up Spring Creek, or to explore Crested Butte, or to drive all the way up the Taylor River to the meadows, past the reservoir.
At night, we hang one lantern on a wire made from a coat hanger. To the right in the picture, Daddy kneels to saw wood with the big, blue bow saw. He puts logs in three different piles, small, middle-sized, and large, sawn to the right length so we can cut off pieces to fit in the fire pit. When Janice and I want to cut big logs for the outdoor fire, one of us gets on each end of the blue saw; we guess how many strokes we will need to cut all the way through the log. We keep score of who wins, sometimes. Eddie, off to Mom's left, holds out an apple. Janice has drawn me with a bucket up at the spring, coloring in my dark brown hair. I seem to be shoring up one of the dams that make pools in the spring. The spring rises from somewhere way up the mountain, farther up than Janice and I have ever climbed. We haul our drinking water from the clear spring and our washing water from Spring Creek, using different buckets. I am proud of being old enough to carry a big galvanized steel bucket.
Janice and I play up at the spring, fascinated by the green, wet world of moss, granite, dark soil, and pine trees. We try to climb to the highest pool because we think the water is cleaner and colder there. No swimming in the spring. Although not in this picture, in my memory I see small, blond Janice stumbling back to camp with her chipped, white enamel bucket, sloshing water on her red tennis shoes. In this particular picture, Janice is sawing a big log, laid across another log for clearance, with our small red saw. We don't mind the chores. This is one of our jobs, although Daddy helps. The family depends on us to haul water, so Janice and I do it by ourselves.
Janice draws aspen trees with white trunks and small green leaves, triangular-shaped pine trees, and big spruce trees around the campsite. She places all these on a hill, whose peak is right at the top of the picture. Purple and red flowers grow evenly around the site. A chipmunk, about the same size as the people, perches on a rock. On the side of the hill sits the outhouse. Janice and I hold flashlights for each other when we have to go in the middle of the night. We don't make each other go alone because it's pretty scary in the dark.
After calling Dad to come back for a meal when he's fishing, we kids stop and bring lettuce from the two-foot-tall, cylindrical Morton's Potato Chip can that we use for produce. Meat goes in another can, placed in the side of the creek, weighed down with rocks, and covered with pine boughs to keep the sun off it. This spot serves as a refrigerator. Mom tries to keep butter, milk, and eggs cool in the battered, old, light green Coleman ice chest which sits under the picnic table and only holds ice a few days after each trip to town.
Later, when I'm a teenager, I will pack one of these potato chip cans full of tightly wound petticoats, defying Daddy's edict about not bringing anything unnecessary. Petticoats were necessary in 1957 for the occasional trip to church or a restaurant. Somewhere I have a picture of all the petticoats hanging from the tent Janice and I still shared. Gleefully rolling up the pink, yellow, blue, and green starched net petticoats into a tight cylinder, I sequestered my stash in one of the potato chip cans. When we arrived at Grasshopper Park, Janice and I set up our umbrella tent. Wooden clothespins, which I found neatly secured with a rubber band in the miscellaneous bag, were perfect for hanging up each separate petticoat. Janice seemed nervously gleeful as we expressed girl power against Daddy, who thought these frills didn't belong in camp. He struggled, but finally broke down and laughed.
A small blue stream flows by our camp in this picture. We met the Carters the day we diverted the spring. The two adult brothers, Tom and Bob, walked into our camp the first year we were there to find out what had happened to their water, which they had diverted from farther up to their cabin over the hill. The Carter clan, with their wives and kids, camp in their primitive, sturdy log cabin that the two Quaker brothers built in the 1930s. They floated logs down Spring Creek and hauled them up a hill to build a wonderful, hidden cabin on a Forest Service lease. They call it "Thee Cabin." I watched the men negotiate the water diversion problem. Daddy said that since the Carters had been here first and spent most of the summer in Colorado, they had a prior claim to the little stream. We could haul the water from the spring. This early lesson in peaceful conflict resolution satisfied Janice and me. An agreeable water decision resulted in all of us being friends. The Carters take us on jeep trips, and we invite them over for campfire meals.
One day, fourteen years later, Janice will marry her first husband, Don, by the Carters' part of the spring. After the ceremony in 1972, she will swing across the small stream in her navy-blue-and-white, eyelet hippie dress made by Mama, yellow wildflowers in her hair. A friend made an oil painting of this scene, Janice with her long, blonde, California-girl hair, and her tall, thin, young Air Force Academy graduate husband catching her on the other side. I wear a lavender-and-white gingham dress with purple asters in my hair, and my first husband, Rick, and our dad officiate at the ceremony.
During the summer of Janice's picture, we kids all swing on the rope swing in jeans and striped T-shirts. The place already holds for us time past and time future. The pristine, hidden spot feels holy. Janice's picture frames events in her memory, and in mine. Sometimes the Carters come over to our campsite for supper and s'mores, roasting hot dogs around our campfire. Or Mama might make a fancier dinner of foil packets with bacon, hamburger, onions, carrots, and potatoes cooked right on the coals. Janice and I learn to slice the vegetables thinly enough that they will cook but not burn. Sometimes, we go to the Carters' cabin, hauling up meat and produce from a deep cellar with a trap door right into the kitchen. The campfire pit in Janice's drawing shows up as a large, perfectly round structure with nine round stones and neatly stacked wood, awaiting our campfire singing and storytelling after supper. This ritual continued right up to 1980, when Mom and Dad built a retirement cabin on Willow Creek — but we don't know about that cabin yet.
Janice drew a log in Spring Creek. The summer of the picture, spring rains washed a huge spruce log downstream across from Grasshopper Park. Janice's picture suggests hours of play, which I fill in with my memory. We pretended the log was an ocean liner, which carried us to imaginary foreign lands. Janice drew fluffy white clouds in a blue sky. Certainly it rained, especially in August, but this is what she remembers. We talked about our camping trips all through the year. We couldn't see some of the important details in this picture, but I supplied them with my memory and augmented the stories by talking with our brother Ed this past winter when he visited Montana for Christmas. Ed and I tried to remember who had which colors. We each were issued an army surplus duffel bag for our clothes, a small kit for our toiletries, and the family shared a large duffel bag for our jackets and coats. To make unpacking easier, each of us — Lamar (our dad), Jean (our mom), and we three kids — marked our gear with colors from the box of crayons which we ground into the seams of the army bags. Janice was yellow, Mama blue, Dad forest green, and I thought I was red. But Ed corrected me recently in no uncertain terms, as we talked last Christmas in my living room.
Excerpted from "The Trail To Tincup"
Copyright © 2018 Joyce Hocker.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preface: I Will Need to Know This 11
Chapter 1 Family Camping 23
Chapter 2 Three Weddings and a Funeral 58
Chapter 3 The Divine Ensemble 60
Chapter 4 Living in the Lost and Found Department 95
Chapter 5 Turning toward Tincup 122
Chapter 6 Things Fall Apart 149
Chapter 7 It's All Come Down to Me 193
Chapter 8 Writing Remains 224
Chapter 9 Leaving What I Love 240
Chapter 10 A Penultimate Fall 250
Chapter 11 Stepping Out of the Absence 264