Thursday, May 1, 1980

Big Russell Ranch, Yreka, Oral History

BIG RUSSEL RANCH

Edith Hazlan Howard remembers:

These hyacinths just keep growing but this ain't no lawn. Look at it all choked up with them damn hyacinths. I didn't know what I got into when I moved in here last July. 

See, I had my own ranch. Planted my own orchards. Took care of my own stock. Then I got too old. And lived with my daughter a while in Oregon. Then, when the cancer got too bad, I moved back to Yreka. The doc is real good here. 

I like to be out digging in the garden. I don't go to church much. Had to stay near the toilet night and day. It was something awful—my stomach. 

A young preacher man came by to visit me. He didn't mean no harm. I lived my life accordingly. 

Hey! You keep away from my flowers or you'll get my cane. That's my cat. They wouldn't let me keep a dog, I had a dog all my life. I grew up on Big Russel Ranch. You ever heard of it? 

You know, I raised six kids. My girl twins just turned 63. My boy built that church right over there—a lotta good it did him. His cancer got him in the end. I'm the last of nine kids. When my brothers all went away, we kids ran the ranch. Hell, we didn't have "women's" work—or "men's" work, for that matter. My mama told me what needed to be done an' we did it. 

I done lots o' work. I worked in the orchards, canneries—I even worked in a box factory once. During the war, I worked in a green chainsaw mill. I was the only woman there an' I got men's wages too. I still got my tin hat. you wanna see it? I put it on the other day, but the neighbors think I'm a crazy old woman. 

The old man down the street, he's 96. He comes over an' helps me dig the garden. I dig the ground with my big shovel. We planted some tomatoes last July and they was big as plates. 

I like to go huntin'. You hunt much? I got my last buck four years ago. I gutted it and did the whole thing but the kids took away my shotgun. Didn't trust me. My daughter's coming to take me up to the turkey shoot today up at the Klamath River. 

How I hate those damn cars driving back and forth, back and forth all day and all night blaring their music. I like Sundays cause there's less cars. 

Did you know the six planets are lining up? #t's the first time in our history. The weather turned bad two-three years ago. And it's gonna get worse. I don't think we seen nothin' yet. The Russians are probably in on it. 

You know that triangle where ships disappear? They always talk about it. You know, that big island. What's it? Sometimes I just forget things like the names of the planets and my pets dear to me. Bermuda! That's it! The Russians said they was in on it. I think they was just tryin' to scare folks, don't you? 

These hyacinths , they groew like weeds. You gotta pull' em with your hands. 'Course, my hands ain't what they used to be. Got no strength in 'em. Careful, now of these violets—I like their swweet smell. 

Some days I don't feel good. I don't get out much. Sometimes I visits my friends— they're all in rest homes. I don't mind going down to the senior center but I have a nervous stomach. I drink goat's milk. Cow's milk curds and sours in my stomch. 

I had my own goats but it was a waste to be milking ten-twelve goats every day an' pouring it out for the calves, so I trained the calves not to butt 'an put 'em right on the goats. 

I used to go down to the auction and get white-faced calves for 50 cents. Nowadays, they cost five dollars and fifty cents. The calves, its only natural for them to butt the goats but it hurt the goats. I had one goat gibe six-eight quarts of milk a day "and I didn't want her to get hurt. So I'd tie a rope around one of the calves necks and put on my logging boots. When he tried to butt, I'd kick him in the jaw and pick him up. They never kept it up for more'n a week. 

I broke my own horses. We had cattle mostly. We had working dogs on the ranch too. If I took you into the house, you'd see them boxes of tools. I got a buck saw and all knds of stuff. 

This house used to be a barn when I was a girl. You know this alley was named after my mother in law? Howard Alley. My momma almosat died in bed with having me and when I turned 16, I was two- hree weeks in bed with the baby myself. I didn't go to no doctor. No sir! 

My cousin had diphtheria. They locked her in a room before the baby was due and when the doc came back a half an hour later—well, she had the presence of mind to stick her finger way down her throat so she could breathe. 

I used to fix my own cats on the ranch. I got me a real sharp pair of scissors and make one little snip—like that. 'Course you had to be quick and get it just right. I always took the whole thing off. No time for a second chance, you know. 

Old homes—what they do to people. I heard they took new sheets, put 'em up over the bed and tie the old folks back up to keep 'em out of trouble. Hell, they wouldn't get near me— Not with my cane. I use it for more 'n just walkin'. 

I moved back in here last July just to see Dr. Leonard but I had to wait six months to see him because he had the cancer two times himself. But he's a good doc. I won't go near no hospital. I'll give 'em my cane first. I'm strong. If they ever did that to me I'd shred the the quilts. There wouldn't be nuthin' left when I got done with the place. 

I'm a mean one but I never beat my kids. 

Did you read in the Siskyou News about the woman who took a taxi down to the Klamath and just slipped in? I ast my kids to take me down to the Klamath—we used to play there as kids, you know. But they said, "We don't trust you, Mom." 

I said, "Right enough. There you have it." I talked to the taxi man about it. He came over afterwards. *Sometimes I wouldn't mind doing that too—call him up and go down to the Klamath and pull that quivering green quilt over me. But I wouldn't want anyone to feel guilty. There'e enough of that already. Then there's the taxi man to consider too. 

Sometimes, I just go for days. Don't see nobody but my pets. The old man down the street comes over an' my daughter checks on me too. That young preacher, he's a nice boy. He talked about this and that. Not much of anything attall but he was an interesting young feller.

Wait till you see the size of those tomatoes come summer. I'm gettin ready for them now—if the hyacinths don't keep spreadin' The cat, he likes it when I shovel. He helps me dig. Thinks it's his own private toilet. Then I have to get after him—it kills the plants. 

You know, I've gone out 2-3 times today to check the mail. I keep forgetting it's Sunday. Shoulda known . Not much traffic this morning up to the church either. Sleepy day, I guess. Don't get much mail anyway but there'e always hope. 

You know, I don't like Sundays 'cause there's no mail.


DATE? 1980? 

Ken Larsen of Rural Arts Services and I were in Yreka wandering around. Edith took a real shine to me. Her conversation was so amazing, I kept writing down what she said, verbatim, never once looking down at my paper, afraid I'd break her train of thought. Fascinating... The ascii version of this was a mess. All periods gone, and capital letters. I think I revised this later into a monologue.

I've found a hard copy which is pretty close to this one, I'm posting it right next door, in case it's different. I also found the first hand draft of poem version as well. But not the original notes.

Big Russel Ranch v.1. Edith Hazlet Howard, Yreka,

Big Russel Ranch v.1. Edith Hazlet Howard, Yreka, CA, 1979-80 from hard copy

Hyacinths

We met Edith Hazlet Howard in Howard Alley, on the back streets of Yreka, as she was readying her spring garden. It was a warm spring morning. With a scowl that would have frightened the devil himself, she attached to those pesky hyacinths with a vengeance, glaring at our unwelcome approach. I was startled by the presence of this formidable woman – she was the incarnation of Macbeth's witches in her baggy black overalls, gum boots, and shovel – I must've said something to break the ice because suddenly she burst into a big smile, as if we were long lost friends, and so, began her tale.

This documentary transcript which follows, is an attempt to capture edith's convoluted nonlinear style of speaking, which at first, made little sense, but as the story began to unwind, the connections between things became clearer. I've made no attempt to turn this into a traditional prose piece, which would be easier to read but it would also be watered-down and change by my own aesthetics of what writing should be. The connections she made were very much the stuff from which poetry is made. The metaphor of hyacinths and cancer, the living and the dying, and the daily survival of a fiercely independent pirate pioneer woman facing the ultimate challenge.

Edith Hazlet Howard remembers:

These hyacinths just keep growing but this ain't no lawn. Look at all of them, look at it all choked up with them damn things. I didn't know what I got into when I moved in here last July. See, I had my own ranch. Planted my own orchards. Took care of my own stock. Then I got too old and lived with my daughter a while in Oregon. Then, when the cancer got too bad., I moved back to Yreka. The doc here is real good.

I like to be out digging in the garden. I don't go to church much. Had to stay near the toilet night and day. It was something awful – my stomach. When it got real bad, a young preacher man came to visit me. He didn't mean no harm. I lived my life accordingly.

Hey you, keep away from my flowers or you'll get my cane. That's my cat. They wouldn't let me keep the dog. I had a dog all my life. I grew up on Big Russell Ranch. You ever heard of it?

 You know, I raise six kids. My girl twins just turned 63. My boy built that church right down over the right over there – a lot of good it did him. His cancer got him in the end. I am the last of nine kids. When my brothers all went away, we kids ran the ranch. Hell, we didn't have women's work, or men's work, for that matter. My mama told me what needed to be done and we did it.

I done lots of work. I worked in the orchards and canneries. I even worked in a box factory once. During the war, I worked in a green chainsaw mill. I was the only woman there and I got men's wages two. I still got my tin hat. You want to see it? I put it on the other day, but the neighbors think I'm a crazy old woman.

I like to go hunting. You hurt much? I got my last book 4 years ago. I gutted it end did the whole thing, but the kids took away my shotgun. Didn't trust me. My daughter's coming to take me up to the turkey shoot today at the Klamath River.

The old man down the street, he's 96. He comes over and help me dig the garden. I dig the ground with my big shovel. We planted some tomatoes last July and they was as big as plates.

How I hate those damn cars driving back-and-forth, back-and-forth all day and all night, blaring their music. I like Sundays because there's less cars.

Did you know the six planets are all lining up? It's the first time in our history. The weather turned bad 2–3 years ago, and it's going to get worse. I don't think we seen nothing yet. The Russians are probably in on it.

You know that triangle where the ships disappear? They always talk about it. You know, that big Island? What's it? Sometimes I just forget things, like the names of the planets, and my pets so dear to me. Bermuda! That's it! The Russians said they was in on it. I think they was just trying to scare folks, don't you?

These hyacinths, they grow like weeds. You gotta pull them up with your hands. 'Course, my hands ain't what they used to be. Got no strength in them. Careful, now of those violets – I like the sweet smell.

Some days I don't feel good. I don't get out much. Sometimes I visits my friends – they're all in rest homes. I don't mind going down to the senior center, but I have a nervous stomach. I drink goat's milk. Cow's milk curds and sours in my stomach.

I had my own goats once, but it was a waste of time to be milking 10–12 goats every day and pouring it out for the weaner calves, so I trained the calves not to butt and put them right on the goats.

I used to go down to the auction and get whiteface cabs for 50 cents. Nowadays they cost $5.50. The calves, it's only natural for them to butt, but it hurts the goats. I had one goat gives 6 to 8 quarts of milk a day and I didn't want her to get hurt. So I tied a rope around one of the calves' necks, and put ion my logging boots. And when he tried to but, I kicked him in the jaw and picked him up. They never kept it up for more 'n a week.

I broke my own horses. We had cattle mostly. We had working dogs on the ranch too. If I took you into the house, you'd see them boxes of tools. I got a bucksaw and all kinds of stuff. The house used to be a barn when I was a girl.

You know this alley was named after my mother-in-law? Howard Alley. My mama almost died in bed with having me, and when I turned 16, I was to three weeks in bed with the baby myself. I didn't go to no doctor. No sir!

My cousin had diphtheria. They locked her in the room before the baby was due, and when the doc came back 1/2 an hour late,r well, she had the presence of mind to sticker finger way down her throat so she could breathe.

I used to fix my own cats on the ranch. I got a real sharp pair of scissors and made one little slip – like that. 'Course, you had to be quick and get it just right. I always took the whole thing off. No time for second chance, you know.

Old homes – what they do to people. I heard they took new sheets, put them up over the bed, and tied to the old folks back up to keep them out of trouble. Hell, they wouldn't get near me – not with my cane. I use it for more than just walkin'.

I moved back in here last July just to see Dr. Leonard, but I had to wait six months to see him because he had cancer two times himself, but he's a good doc. I won't go near no hospital. I'lll give 'em my cane first. I'm strong. If they ever did that to me, I'd shred the quilts. There would be nothing left when I got done with the place. I'm a mean one, but I never beat my kids.

Did you read in the Siskiyou news about the woman who took a taxi down to the Klamath, and just slipped in? I asked my kids to take me down to the Klamath – we used to play there is kid you you know, but they said, we don't trust you mom. I said, right enough. There you have it.

I talked to the taxi man about it. He came over afterwords. Sometimes I wouldn't mind doing that too – call him up, and go down to the Klamath, and pull that quivering green quilt over me – but I wouldn't want anyone to feel guilty. There's enough of that already. Then, there's the taxi man to consider, too.

Sometimes, I just go for days. Don't see nobody but my pets. The old man down the street, he comes over, and my daughter checks in on me too. That young preacher, he's a nice boy, he talked about this and that – not much of anything at all, really, but he was an interesting young feller.

Wait till you see the size of those tomatoes, come summer. I'm getting ready for them now – if the hyacinths don't keep spreading. The cat, he likes it when I shovel. He helps me dig. Thinks it's his own private toilet. Then, I have to get after him – it kills the plants.

You know, I've gone out two – three times today to check the mail. I keep forgetting it's Sunday. Should've known. Not much traffic this morning up to the church either. Sleepy day, I guess. Don't get much mail anyway, but there's always hope. You know, I don't like Sundays because there's no mail.


With that she turned to go inside, the cat trailing behind her, twitching its tail and investigating the fresh clumps of dirt and wilting hyacinths in the sun.

Spring,1980?  83?
added 10/16