The California Zephyr
by Joe Butterman
Chapter 2: At Home and to School
There was a week before school would start. My first task was to tell everyone about my adventures in Anaheim. I told them all of my stories, suitably edited for adult consumption, to be sure, and they gave every indication of grave and considered interest. I introduced them to the existence of Emily Covington, explaining our meeting as a result of a growing interest in art on my part, and as a result of visiting art “galleries” in the Anaheim area; I even made some guardedly positive comments about abstract painting and was surprised to discover that my parents did not disapprove of modern art. We had quite a discussion on the evolution of art, and my Parents agreed that artistic expression was going to change, from generation to generation, and that railing against this change was pointless, that art should move the viewer.
Suitably edited, like I said, there was absolutely no mention of Roberto and I posing nude for Emily.
While we were discussing art, Gramercy glowered at the portrait of General Lee hanging above the piano, and thought that we could use some new art “around here”; I don’t think that she particularly disapproved of General Lee, I think that she simply didn’t want him in the “parlor”. This was not a new position on her part, but some force over rode her formidable will and the great Lee remained in place. It was really more a music room and library than a parlor, at least as I saw it, and I thought General Lee quite handsome and distinguished; but Gramercy was of the opinion that the presence of a grand piano meant that the room was a parlor, de facto, and the uniformed military should not be hanging about in the parlor except in time of war.
For that matter, it’s pretty hard to really describe the ranch house. The central part of it was really old: there was a large entry hall with the parlor/library and the living room to either side, then the dining room was straight through, with the kitchen all the way to the rear. There were four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs. I had one of these bedrooms (the largest, of course) and the others were guest bedrooms, usually unoccupied. There was a great deal of woodwork and paneling, the floors were pegged hardwood, and we had Persian carpets scattered all through the old part of the house. Various members of the family brought these back from their travels. Daddy had brought almost a dozen home from the war. When I was a kid I used to pretend they were magic; I’d fly off on one in search of Aladdin’s lamp. There were two new wings on either side of the original house. Each contained a bedroom suite, among other rooms, and one of these suites was Gramercy’s and the other was for Mommy and Daddy. There was a fireplace in all of the main rooms downstairs, but none upstairs.
I spent a lot of time riding Dragoon.
“Daddy,” I asked one morning at breakfast, “would it be okay if I cleaned-up your cavalry saddle and used it a little on Dragoon?” He thought that was an excellent idea; I was instructed to refer to it as a “McClellan” saddle, and learned it had been designed by an American soldier, when he had been observing the Crimean War (I knew about the Crimean War because of that poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”); the same general later came to command the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. Despite the general’s lack of distinction, it was an excellent saddle, remained our cavalry saddle until there was no more cavalry, so it deserved to be used. After breakfast, I repaired to the tack room, and began to clean and oil the saddle.
My Father came into the tack room later and examined the saddle. He helped me finish the job. The saddle was in excellent condition and had emerged from a state of neglect, to gleaming beauty with only about an hour’s work. I thought this was a good time to ask.
“I made a new friend in Anaheim this summer. Well several, really.”
“One of them’s name is Roberto Celayo de Galves.”
“I don’t think ‘them’s’ is quite right there. Do you?”
I simplified, “His name is Roberto Celayo de Galves.”
“Much better. Did you say ‘de Galves’?”
“Yes Daddy,” patiently.
“Do you know if, perchance, he is a descendant of General de Galves?”
“Yes, well, General de Galves was a Spanish General who happened to be stationed in Florida during our Revolution. He performed brilliantly. Turned the British all upside-down. Very good work. The City of Galveston, Texas, is named for him, but I rather imagine that most gringos in Texas have forgotten that. Shame, really.”
Neato, I thought, “I’ll ask him, but Daddy, what I wanted to ask you, would it be okay if he came here to visit at Christmas-Time? Bobbin and Grand Belle thought it would be great, and Papa y Mama said it would be okay if you guys think so too. It’ll be just after Christmas, if it’s okay.”
“’Papa y Mama’,” he inquired, eyebrows rising.
“Well,” I began as I followed my Father back into the tack room where he rummaged diligently, “that’s what Papa asked me to call them after he told me the story of Ruy Diaz de Bivar, do you know him,” I asked, feeling a little smug.
“Certainly, El Cid, sometimes he’s called ‘Rodrigo’,” I should have known he’d know.
“You know,” he continued, “most Americans are fearfully ignorant of Spanish and Latin American history and that’s not good. They are our neighbors and we should be better friends.”
“Ha!” He announced triumphantly, showing me the object of his quest, which was the bridle that went with the McClellan. We took it back and cleaned and oiled it too; I noticed that it had a beautiful silver snaffle bit and wondered if I could use that. “Certainly,” my Father replied, “and yes, your friend Roberto is more than welcome here if you wish it, talk to Mom about it too and make sure it’s okay with her.” I told him more about Roberto and his family, as we saddled-up Dragoon. Dragoon seemed to like the silver bit. I wondered if he could somehow taste the difference between steel with a copper roller, and silver. I know that I can tell when my spoon’s not silver, so it seemed reasonable that he could too. My Father went back to his work for the day and I rode off.
When I got back with Dragoon, I groomed him carefully, turned him into the paddock, cleaned his stall and placed his gleaming McClellan prominently in the tack room. I went in search of my Mother. She and Gramercy were in the kitchen drinking tea. “Will you join us sweetie,” my Mother asked happily. Knowing the response, she proceeded to get me a cup of tea and some lemon cake. I told her about Roberto, and mentioned that I’d spoken to Daddy, and he thought it would be okay for Roberto to visit, if she agreed.
“I think that’s wonderful,” Gramercy observed, “We need more company in this old house.”
“Certainly, dear, if you wish it,” my Mother added, unconsciously echoing Daddy.
“Neato,” I enthused, “you’ll like him, he’s a gentleman.”
“Did you say ‘de Celayo-Galves’,” asked Gramercy, very interested. “No mi querida abuelita. I said ‘Celayo de Galves’. Roberto Jamie Celayo de Galves.”
“How enchanting,” Gramercy enthused, “is he a Catolico by any chance?”
“Si, mi querida, he is.”
“And your Bobbin let him in the house? My-my-my. Whatever is this world coming to?”
“And what was that you were saying to Gramercy,” my Mommy interjected, “curious something?”
“My darling Charles called me ‘his dear Grand Mama’ of course, what else? You really should take a little Spanish Dear; we have very little need for your French, excellent though it may be, out here in the wilds. ‘Curious’! Indeed! But tell me Charlie,” she looked distant for a second, “or should I say Carlos, what did that old Preacher say to poor Jamie about being Catolico?” I was a touch flustered: that distant look of hers, coupled with calling me ‘Carlos’, plus using “Jamie” as almost a term of endearment, caused me to remember her way of knowing things. Disconcerted, I strove to answer.
“Well, they had several talks about it when I was there. Roberto never argued or anything. He even volunteered to come to church with us, but couldn’t understand closed communion and all. Bobbin didn’t know what to say to that. And if you think about it, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense today. Roberto even admitted that the Catholic Church wasn’t always right, but that it was the Mother Church of all, and it didn’t really matter because it was all about Jesus Christ, and not about the name of the church.”
“Well I’ll be damned. Good for him. I’m thinking I might like this young man. That’s the only way to handle that old Dutchman, stick to your guns.” She looked at us and smiled, “He’s a fine man, don’t mind me, he’s just a little hammer-headed sometimes.” She looked at me, then at her empty teacup, I poured.
That night, after dinner, I cleaned and filled my Mont Blanc, and wrote a letter to Roberto. Dear Roberto, I penned, I wanted to be lots more intimate, but the letter might easily have fallen into the wrong hands, It’s not very caliente here, I began, and went on to tell him about the trip, and what I’d been doing since I got home; that my parents were anxious to meet him at Christmas, how I could hardly wait until he could ride Dragoon (I knew that he’d think that he would be riding bareback and nude, but I’d never ask him to do that in the middle of winter); and do you know if you are related to General de Galves by any chance, my Father wants to know; I went on, trying to tell him that I loved him, without actually saying it. Trying to tell him how much I missed the complete intimacy of being with him; that calm and comforting feeling of being able to talk over your shoulder to the one you love. I again thought about how unfair our world is.
Next morning, Gramercy, Mommy and I went riding. Gramercy favored Wrangler jeans for riding, she wore Western boots and a Western saddle, she favored a paint mare named Carriard. Mommy always rode English (I wondered if Bobbin knew about that), I thought she looked great in her boots and jodhpurs; she had a handsome, gray Arab gelding, upon whom she doted, and who appeared to reciprocate the feelings. His name was Kashmir. I, of course, rode Dragoon, but I readjusted the stirrups, like my Father had suggested yesterday, because you need a deeper seat in the McClellan than in a regular saddle. After our ride, I had Gramercy take a number of pictures of Dragoon and me, both standing and in motion, all of his gaits. I’d send these to Emily when I got them developed.
I spent the afternoon with my Father as we drove around the ranch checking on a number of projects. I got to do all the driving in his new Studebaker pick-up. It’s an ugly thing, but a great truck. I didn’t say anything about the truck. I’d made that mistake once before and that caused a long lecture on the superiority of the Studebaker and how they had built the trucks that we sent to the Russians to win the war on the Eastern Front. It was all interesting and stuff, but I wasn’t in a history mood just now. We even drove a few miles on county roads, and he let me drive there, though it wasn’t at all legal. There was some repair work being done on one of our watering troughs, and I noticed a new hand working on it; he was Mexican and looked to be around fourteen or fifteen, though I knew he was probably older than that, because my Father was something of a stickler about things like that. By and large, he had nothing against wetbacks, most of whom, after all, were availing themselves of the opportunity to work and make a better life, but he wouldn’t willingly hire someone under age. I introduced myself. He was shorter and somehow squarer than Roberto, but was still kinda cute: his name was Tomas. I practiced my Spanish on him; he smiled shyly and went along with me, he called me “Patron”. “Bueno, Patron, Bueno,” he said as we left. I liked him.
When I got home, I was thrilled to find a letter from Roberto in the mail. I pretended that this was the commonest of all possible events, but devoured the letter as soon as I possibly could. Gary was back, brimming with stories and with lots of pictures. They were still swimming regularly; Corporal Astimendi had asked after me; Johnny said “hi” – all that kinda stuff. I felt great. I resurrected my palace, all of my boyfriends, and all of the peasant boys: we had a pleasant time before sleep. I forgot the maids.
Later in the week, there were letters from Gary and Johnny. Pretty much, they said the same things that Roberto had said. There were several pictures in Gary’s letter. I showed these to my Father who particularly liked the one where they were standing in front of the ship as it sat in dry dock. “Good looking pair,” he commented of Gary and his Father.
I went over my ’37 International pick-up. Checked all the fluids, and charged the battery. It started on the first turn.
Saturday morning, we were all up, breakfasted, and ready to go, well before the sun. It was sixty miles to Reno. I would not be traveling one hundred and twenty miles to and from school each day. My Father thought this would not be “cost effective”. I didn’t think it would be much fun either, but I liked this term and immediately filed it away for future use, synonymous with doing it right: instead of the drive, I would be boarding in town with some friends, the Arndt’s. Mr. Arndt brokered hay, and owned several trucks that were used to deliver it. He’d done a lot of business with us over the years. They lived about six blocks from the high school I’d be going to. His eldest son had recently married and moved to Fresno where he was expanding the family business. Their second son was a sophomore in the same high school. All the adults thought this was great, but I’d never met the sophomore in question, nor for that matter, had I even met the parents so I reserved judgment. Mr. Arndt hadn’t wanted to charge my parents any room and board, but my Father would have none of that. Additionally, I would be receiving an allowance of $25 per week. I thought this was a princely sum and smiled quietly, thinking of handsome peasant boys.
It only took us about forty minutes to get to Reno. Mr. Arndt was gone to work already, but Mrs. Arndt was busy about the house and welcomed us enthusiastically. She was a pleasant lady in nondescript working about the house clothes. The sophomore, whose name was Val, was still in bed, which earned him no credit with anyone. At this point, my Father became somewhat superfluous for it was time to go shopping for school clothes for me. I think that my Mommy and Gramercy thought I was going to be largely superfluous too, and were rather surprised at my active involvement in this exercise. At the first store, we got two pair of 501’s, some underwear and socks, and all of the regulation gym clothes. Then things grew more complicated. A new windbreaker was needed, but just any windbreaker wouldn’t do. Then there were shirts. These had to compliment the new windbreaker as well as other jackets and sweaters. I also selected several nice Pendleton wool shirts. Very Reno. I firmly vetoed every suit in my size, and sneered – civilly, well pretty much civilly – at the barrel cuffed dress shirts that were brought out and at all of their ties. The clerk got off on the wrong foot with the ties when he brought out several clip-on ties. In fairness, he had a good eye for color, but that doesn’t do much good in the total absence of any sense of style.
We went to a better store. Here I selected a single-breasted suit in navy. My Mommy watched fascinated as I dickered with the fitter over the length of the sleeves and the depth of the pant cuffs. I insisted that the button hole on the lapel be opened. Daddy and Gramercy browsed in the store. I also got two white dress shirts with French cuffs, and selected three Countess Mara ties. Gramercy found a cashmere pullover that she felt I had to have. I agreed. We got some slacks and some more casual stuff. Then we went to the jeweler next door and I let Mommy select a set of gold cuff links. Very elegant and understated I thought. Then over to Parker’s for a new pair of boots and a Stetson in my current size; then to the Florsheim store for new shoes, I was torn between a pair of wing tips and a pair of loafers. Gramercy decreed a compromise: we got two pair of wing tips, one black and one brown, and then we got the loafers. Gramercy and I have always gotten on famously.
We drove around my neighborhood and found the closest dry cleaner. My Father believed that a “new shirt is a dirty shirt”, so we dropped them off still in their packaging. One tool I don’t know how to use is an iron. Like I said, all of my spoons are silver. An Oriental family ran the dry cleaner, and the son who waited on us was very attractive, though I thought he should let his hair grow longer. I thought he’d make an excellent Samurai. Tonio had told me a thing or two about the Samurai that I bet a lot of people don’t know.
We returned to the Arndt’s and got me settled in my new room. I hugged and kissed Mommy and Gramercy, and hugged my Father, goodbye.
I met Val at dinner. He was earnest, he had blue eyes and dark brown hair; his hair appeared to be short for the sole purpose of being short, there was no style to it and it went in every direction at once. I was reserved. For dinner we had meat loaf, mashed potatoes, canned green beans, canned gravy, and Oreo cookies and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Mrs. Arndt was doubtless a wonderful person, but she was no cook. Grand Belle wouldn’t dream of even making a loaf of meat.
I didn’t really feel a little homesick, but I felt a lot homesick; it wasn’t just for the ranch, or for Anaheim; it wasn’t just for my family, and my boyfriends, and my Tonio: it was, I decided, for everything and everyone. It was certainly about food. Miss Jean, I consoled myself, would have never fed us such slop. I fell asleep almost instantly.
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