by Ruth Hammond Barrus
Dubois! For days this isolated village meant meaningless winding tracks in the sagebrush, brown unwatered lawns, and scrawny trees whose thirsty leaves were already turning yellow in the middle of summer. It meant shy people who either dropped their eyes as they passed me or laughed to each other unnaturally in high-pitched voices, penetrating deeply into my loneliness. My eyes searched hungrily for beauty of any sort to relieve that parched picture ever before me. I finally found refuge in a creek bed near our home. Only a small stream of water found its way down the winding bed, but on either side were tall over-hanging willow trees which temporarily blotted out the sight of hot sun and endless sagebrush. There my lonely sobs mingled with the sounds of the creek, and I cooled my cheeks on the damp sand that bordered the stream.
Then Bill came to our home. I am sure anyone would have been welcome in our home at that time, but I am glad that it was Bill. His slow, friendly smile, warm handshake, and shy yet easy manner somehow released the trap of bitterness inside me. As he slouched down in the proffered easy chair and lazily crossed his long legs, we found ourselves imitating him unconsciously; and moments after he had entered our home, the family and he were conversing as old friends.
But I am talking about Bill as if he were a beau coming to visit. I am sure that if he saw me at all that first visit, it was as some object to be kind to, like a scrawny colt or lost lamb; for I was but an awkward adolescent, and he - he was much, much older than I - was at least twenty-six. His unconventional Sunday clothes contrasted sharply with my brothers' then popular white flannels and dark coats; but he looked so comfortable and at ease in his Levi's, worn polished boots, and shirt with collar unbuttoned, that we all envied him his attire.
I guess the real reason I liked Bill was that he turned Dubois into an exciting pattern of hitherto unheard of adventures. I can still hear him tell of the community's favorite pastime in his soft, slow voice;
"In July," drawled Bill, "when this hot sun of ourn has gone to roost at night, we gets our oldest flivvers out and goes jack rabbit hunting."
"We jest take any ole' car trail out in the sagebrush, cause they've all been tested fer huntin', and will allow pullin' the throttle down to the bottom.
"I remembers once," continued Bill, "when Slim (that's my brother) and I decided we was goin' huntin'. The night was plumb dark, and we knew our bright car lights 'ud startle any ole' jack rabbit out of the brush."
"We gets in the ole' flivver and starts up one of them car trails, with Slim drivin' and me holdin' the gun. We goes along a ways when what pops up before our eyes but the biggest rabbit we ever seen. Slim pulls down the throttle and I leans forward with my gun primed and ready to shoot."
"Why, you never seen anything like that rabbit! It went boundin' down that trail crazy mad. We 'ud go fast, but that fool rabbit 'ud go faster."
"Slim got mad, then, and said, 'No rabbit's goin' to outrun my flivver.'
"So he pulls the throttle clean to the bottom, and we goes boundin' over them trails like a wild bronc. Slim hollers at me to climb out on the fender to shoot, as we was closin' in. I jest got my hand on the door when Slim yells and jerks the wheel to one side. I gets throwed back in the seat like dynamite, my head nearly poppin' off, and the gun shootin' off at the stars."
"Why that doggone jack rabbit had all at onc't growed as big as a horse! We was chasin' no jack rabbit, but an ole' white hoof that belonged to the biggest, blackest horse I ever seen! That white hoof was all the car lights reflected, and we never saw the horse part 'til we were right on it!"
"That horse was real smart, cause it jumped that trail same time's we did, he one way and we 'tother. We waren't sorry to part company right then either. We went bouncin' out through them lavied sagebrush 'til our heads would like to snap from our shoulders, before Slim could stop that dern car."
"But stop we did; and there standin' high in front of them bright car lights was six jack rabbits, with ears twitchin' and eyes twinklin'. I am sure if rabbits could laugh, they was laughin' then."
"Imagine," concluded Bill, "confusin' rabbits with horses!!"
Needless to say, the recital of this event had a very interested audience. We were all leaning forward for fear of missing a word, and managed a good laugh with him at people dumb enough to confuse rabbits with horses. After telling this story, he revealed the real purpose of his visit.
"I heard," said Bill, "that you folks is mighty fine musicians. Now I toot a saxophone pretty good and my brother Slim plays the drums. Folks around here take a heap of delight at dancin', so let's join our forces together and get some sort of music going, so's folks can go on with their dancin'."
The charm that accompanied that invitation made it impossible to refuse. I was but fourteen, and the only piano player available in the community; but my two older brothers and Bill and Slim formed a protectorate society, promising my mother to defend me against all evil, and I was incorporated into the Laird-Hammond Dance Band. Each Saturday night would find us taking some winding car trail out to some isolated school house for a three to six hour dance session in a crowded, stuffy room. When the battle to breathe became too great, the protectorate society took me out in the clean air and fed me sandwiches and cool bottled water. The wash boiler filled with hot coffee, served inside the building, didn't look very appetizing.
The rides to and from these dances were always made interesting because of the colorful, never-ending tales of Bill. He was running over with tales depicting the lore of his beloved country. His education in school was average, but I am sure he didn't let it interfere with the learning he acquired around the campfires of his father's many sheep camps. Life was never monotonous nor tedious for him. He could see beauty and humor in everything he saw or did, and took delight in passing it on to others.
We left Dubois two years from the time of our arrival, and as we passed over those car trails for the last time, in the language of the adolescent, and with tears in my eyes, I wrote the following stanza:
The sagebrush and the desert sands,
Which compose most arid lands,
Are my home and friends so true
Beneath that glaring sky of blue.
As pals against the wind we stand,
And mock the glaring sun at rand,
And although many years go past,
I'll love my friends until the last.