A few years ago, when wet behind the ears was commonplace, my worthless cousins would travel from the land of earthquakes and oranges to visit the “little people” living in Utah and Wyoming.
News of their visit came by individual letter to each family they intended to invade along with an itinerary of what they expected to do during their occupation.
Grandma and Ruthie would start cleaning as soon as they saw the postmark on the letter. They’d giggle like teenage girls talking about how big and handsome the boys would be. And the girls, Ruthie would say, “Oh my heavens, they’ll be so cute, there won’t be a boy safe in the valley.”
Safe wasn’t the word Ruthie should’ve used — broke would have been much better. Those two big city girls would have boys lined up for a block waiting to spend money on them, and when they left, three or maybe four boys would have a little hankie with ode de stink on it.
When Grandpa heard of the visit, he’d go out to the corral and start rebuilding it. Actually, it wasn’t so much rebuilding it as it was taking a bucket of 20-penny spikes and a 2-pound hammer out and driving all the spikes he could into the posts and rails.
Of course, over time this weakened the section he was pounding on, so each spring when we had to actually rebuild it, he’d confess to all that could hear “they ought to build a ditch around California so those people can’t get out.”
As life would have it, the two boys that belonged to these invaders weren’t allowed anywhere near my brothers, my cousin Mike or me. We had been branded incorrigible ruffians that had only taught their boys how to roll their own cigarettes and the best way to milk a mule.
But again, as life will have it, we always found a way to help these boys expand their horizons and leave knowing something new.
One year, my cousin Mike bought a gallon jug of apple cider, soaked the label off, and buried it about a mile from the house.
We let its presence be known with little whispers here and there, you know, little clues to get their curiosity working overtime.
My brother, Scott, the one that never got caught doing anything wrong, asked the boys’ mom if they could go on a hike around the upper pastures and maybe do some fishing.
After the boys’ mom consulted with their dad, Aunt Ruthie and Grandma, several ironclad rules were laid down, mostly about smoking and some other stuff. The boys marched forth, ready for a new lesson.
As we were walking up the fence line, still in sight of the house, Mike started telling stories about Uncle Blaine’s moonshine days and how he thought some of those old jugs of apple-jack could still be buried somewhere beside the creek and wouldn’t it be fun to find one?
Of course, the worthless ones needed to know all about Uncle Blaine and his apple-jack and wouldn’t you know it, my little brother Kris (the toughest kid in all of Butler, Utah history) found one, right beside the creek and out of sight of the house.
As we fished, we started taking little swallows from that jug reminding the cousins they “might get in trouble if they tried some,” but we wouldn’t tell if they did, and they did.
After a number of swallows, we cautioned the cousins about getting drunk if they drank too much. Well, they did and their little California brains convinced their bodies they were totally drunk.
It took us an hour to get those two “drunken boys” back to the house. At first their parents and Aunt Ruthie went nuclear, demanding to know where we got the alcohol.
One of the cousins was blubbering something about a still and Uncle Blaine’s apple-jack while the other was throwing up all over the mudroom.
Grandpa started laughing and said, “Blaine never made any moonshine out of apples, and his still was atop Guardsman Pass.” That’s when “little mister goodie two shoes,” my brother Scott, spilled the beans about our plan and how unaware he was of it.
Then everyone started laughing, except the cousins and their parents, but they made sure that everyone worth knowing heard about those incorrigible ruffians from Park City, Utah that had led their little boys astray.
Ah, what a joyful youth I’ve had.
Hey, you be careful out there.