Aunt Mary delivered me home, then settled in for a visit with Mom while my cousins played with Bob and Barbara. Unnoticed, I sneaked away to see if anything had changed during my extended absence.
First, I looked for our creaky cat and found her as alive and irritable as ever. Next, I climbed a cottonwood and inched along a sturdy branch to see if anyone had defaced the initials “JB” I had gouged into the tree’s bark on my 8th birthday. They were untouched.
I then ran to check on the barnyard: Chickens ran about as witlessly as ever; the milking shed retained its lopsided tilt; and the root cellar — dripping darkness, spider webs and the heavy odor of unknown horrors — still terrified me.
Inside the house, I ran my fingers along the chipped keys of the player piano on the way to my bedroom, where I was pleased that neither sister had taken over the top bunk in my absence. The discordant chimes of the clock Mom inherited from her grandfather invaded every room, the bathroom still smelled of Mentholatum and the irregular drip of the kitchen faucet continued to tap out “Three Blind Mice.”
Nothing had changed during the three long days and nights I had stayed in Provo. Relieved, I returned to the front yard. As Aunt Mary’s car, bulging with cousins, bumped away on our washboard lane, I turned to Mom and said, “Provo was nice, but home is way nicer. It’s like the air feels better here or something.”
She laughed, “That’s because the place where you’re raised marks you, Janet. By now, Lake Shore must be stamped in your bones.”
Looking back over my life, I acknowledge the truth in her words. The places I’ve called home have all become part of me.
I spent most of my adult life in Carson City, Nev., and I still see it the way it was when I moved there in 1968 before suburbs extended in a paved sprawl to touch the mountains that line its valley. I remember savoring the small-town feel and staring in amazement at the shelves of liquor in the supermarkets. I took advantage of the inexpensive buffets served in the cigarette-smoked air of small casinos where I ate to the coin clatter of slot machines with handles you still had to pull.
I found the city’s elderly state Capitol intriguing, the clapboard houses dating from the days of the Comstock silver boom impressive and its location below the bowl of Lake Tahoe convenient. When I return there, the heat of its summers, the stateliness of its weathered trees and the horizon line of the Sierras seem pleasing and good.
When I first moved to Craig, I wondered about its one-way arteries, defunct drive-in and the horse I saw tethered in the downtown area. Then, a month into my residency, hard-working teachers, appreciative parents, bright children, friendly businesses and an uptick of excitement over hunting season reassured me. In the coming months, Moffat County slowly seeped inside me with its slower pace, close-up glimpses of wildlife and uninhabited stretches of topography where I could hear myself breathe.
Now, I consider the one-ways unique, the drive-in an artifact in need of preservation and decoration, and seeing a saddled horse strolling downtown would make my day.
When I drive back to the Yampa Valley after being away, my eyes scan for Bears Ears and Cedar Mountain, and when I spot them, a sense of peace and homecoming gladdens me as it did 60 years ago when I returned to Lake Shore. Craig is stamped in my bones.