Bagdad Road

October 28th, 2016

When Grandpa butchered a steer, he shared part of it with neighbors; and he kept a hindquarter or a shoulder and hung it in the big tree. This tree was the center of all activity on the ranch. Sometimes when the neighbors gathered on Grandma’s porch to tell stories they would talk about the tree. No one seemed to know what kind it was. I remember one of them saying, “Well now, Cottonwood grows in these parts, but I’ve never seen one so big.”

My son, PJ and I are traveling together on Bagdad Road. He wants to see where I lived when I was a child. Before I go any further, I need to explain that actually, we are sitting at my dining-room table studying a map on my computer. The road is well marked so we can easily observe the landscape on either side. There is an image of a wooded area that reminds me of the road runners that scooted in front of us as we climbed the rocky beginnings of the mountain. Now and then we discuss what we see when I blow up a picture with details of the area.

Leaving the main highway just past Wickenburg and wandering through small settlements in the high desert we approach Hillside, a village that grew around a railroad stop. When Grandpa Reagan shipped his stock to market this is where he loaded them on the cattle cars. His cattle grazed on government range. He would go out every day to be sure they were okay. When it was time to take them to market he hired other cowboys to help round them up and bring them down to the road, three miles to our place and then to Hillside to put them on the train.

This is where there was a general store and the proprietor always gave me a small bag of peppermint sticks. From Hillside, it is a five-mile descent to Yava. The rocky hills bring back memories: I would like to see the “goose egg rock”. (Now I think they call it a “football rock”). In the past, the first kid to see it always shouted out.

The Google map leads into the valley, and I realize that after 70 years it all looks different; but the terrain is still familiar and I easily find where the school-house had been. Now there is a pasture and a barn. I turn to PJ and point out the gentle hill where we played baseball and explained, “We ran up hill to reach 1st and 2nd, but then it was an easy run down-hill to 3rd and home.”

Continuing into the valley, the map shows the bridge over the river; just beyond are the fields and the driveway of Grandma’s house. The long veranda has been closed and an addition hides most of the little stone house. It’s difficult to find the big tree; it seems to be hidden by the addition to the house.

Years ago, the tree shaded a large area of the yard. Every Monday Grandma put her wash-tub on the long bench to soak the clothes. That is where tools were repaired. When Grandpa hung beef in the tree, he covered it with several layers of canvas; first a clean one that was covered by another and another and another until it was thick enough to hold in the cold. At night, he would uncover it so it could get really cold; in the morning he would cover it up again.
My cousins and I liked to climb up in the branches; it was protection from the sun. Under the same tree, Grandma had a cooler where she kept the milk, butter and cream; anything she wanted to keep cool. It was about two or three feet square with a slanted top covered with rags; a container on top let water dip onto the rags and cool the inside.

“How old were you then?” PJ asked.

I was about 4 when Mama brought me and my two brothers to live in a little two room house near the main house. I think that Daddy must have been between jobs and it was the best place to be. Now as I look back it also seems that Mama was pregnant with Mary. After she was born they moved back to Phoenix and left me with Grandma. They tried to have me around now and then, but just for a short time. Perhaps I was just too much. Mama had the other three kids and she just couldn’t cope. I would say, “But I could help you take care of the baby.” The answer was always, “No. You’re going to stay with Grandma.” A few times they left my brother Joe with me. So, I felt pretty deserted as a child.

Sometimes I stayed in Phoenix with my Grandma Gazilda, Daddy’s mother. I loved both my grandmothers. They adored me too. Grandma Alice was a very strict. I remember once when I hurt my foot and I was hobbling around, I wanted Joe to dry the dishes for me and he wouldn’t do it. So, I asked my Grandma and she said, “Well if he won’t do it you’ll have to do it yourself.”

PJ was laughing, “That was Grandma Reagan. She loved you, but she was a task-master?”

We had chores to do. No question about that. There was a routine for everything. Every night she sat with me when I did my homework. I mean she had her ways but she taught me how to live.

I pointed to the map where I was trying to see the big tree that used to be behind the stone house; and just north of the tree, there used to be a windmill.  It had a wonderful sound when the breeze would turn it to pump up the clear cold water. The windmill was great; and the water that came out was cool and sweet and produced enough water to irrigate the whole twenty acres.

PJ exclaimed! “Oh! You had twenty acres so it was a little ranch?”

Yes, twenty acres. We called it “The Ranch.” There was a corral and there was a barn. There were about five acres, way in the back, along the creek. Grandpa kept the grasses cut and now and then they would try to grow a crop but it never was successful. I know one year they tried to grow sugarcane.

He had a work horse to pull the plow and he had several other horses. He would get up very early in the morning, milk the cow and do other chores before he came in for a hearty breakfast. After that I watched him get on his horse. He had a lease on a government range and he would ride out there, almost every day.

There was another large section of land where Grandma grew vegetables. The one thing Grandpa did for Grandma’s garden was to plow the ground each spring. In my child’s eyes, I can’t tell you how big it was; but it was probably as big as a city lot and filled with rows and rows of carrots, spinach, cabbage, string beans, potatoes, squash, lettuce and whatever else you can think of. People from all around and travelers driving by would stop to buy vegetables. She would take them into the garden and let them choose what they wanted.

A little further up a hill there was another fertile section where she tried to grow other things; one time it was strawberries and that was good for several years. One year when we all lived there they decided to do a cash crop of carrots. My Dad said he would take them to town. The truck was stacked high with carrots when he left to go up to Prescott to sell them. Then we waited to hear from him; and we didn’t hear from him; and we didn’t hear from him. Finally, one of my uncles went to Prescott to see if he could find him.  Dad was in the Veterans Hospital and was very sick. I don’t know what happened; but he must have sold the carrots and gone on a bender or something. I don’t know. I don’t really know what happened. But there was no money that came back from the carrots.

Daddy was released from the hospital and he went to Phoenix to get a job. Soon after Mary was born, Mama took my brothers and the new baby to join him. I also went to Phoenix, but I stayed with Grandma Gazilda in order to go to kindergarten. Then we learned there was an epidemic of Smallpox or Chickenpox. So, I skipped starting school until the next year when I went back to Yava to start the first grade. That year there were enough students to have two rooms in the school house. The teachers were friends of my folks and when they would go down to Phoenix they would take me with them. For the next few years I was back and forth, staying with my grandmothers and now and then for a while with my folks in Phoenix.

PJ said, “Look, the map shows the whole length of Bagdad Road. Going west from Yava it ends at the town of Bagdad and a big copper mine. Going east from Yava it goes through Skull Valley and then connects with the road to Prescott.