This will be the third time in a row that I’ve shared excerpts from Edith Johnston’s memoirs with those of you who read this column. Once again, I want to thank Colette Johnston, daughter of Vion Johnston, who many of you Moabites probably know, for allowing me to use portions of her grandmother’s opus.
It was fun to read and having permission to use it, so as to be able to share it with you good folks was a blessing. (My computer thinks I’m a hick from the sticks and sends out warning signs when I write things like “so as to be” as I did in the last sentence. I do that just to aggravate its know-it-all brain sometimes.)
Edith spent a lot of time, over a third of her life, getting her meßmories down on paper for future generations to enjoy. Reading her story sure helps one understand how much easier life is for most of us these days than it was for those who had to take a much bigger role in arranging for their next meal back in the day. Once again, I plan to pick out portions of Edith’s tales and give them to you just as she put them down. There are many to choose from, as her book is 130 pages long. This particular copy that I am in possession of bears an inscription in Edith’s hand:
“Merry Christmas to Vion, from Mom and Dad.”
The first year we were married I and Wayne camped in a two room cabin near Dewey that my Grandpa Cato built years before. We were herding the goats (many hundreds of them) that the Johnston’s owned. One night while we were camped in that little cabin, we had just gone to bed and were asleep. We were awakened suddenly with a bright light shining in our faces, and six men were standing around our bed.
Maybe you think that didn’t give us a scare. Wayne asked what they wanted. They said they thought it was going to storm and they wanted a place to get in out of the weather. It was so funny that old Mutt didn’t hear them till they were talking. Then he woke up and barked. They went back out to the car, and we could hear them talking. We heard them say, “No, that’s not him.” We never did know who they were looking for, who they were, where they came from, or where they went.
One night we had a cloudburst while camped in the same place. It came in the night. We woke, and there was water up to the rail on the bed. We had a little pup. When we found him, he was swimming and darn near drowned. We got him and put him in the oven on the camp stove, till the water went down.
Old Mutt was perched on a windowsill. He was dry. He’d found the dry place right from the start. Wayne went out to see how the goats were. They were all crowded up on a little knoll, or high spot.
Wayne waded in waste deep water to look for them. A few head had drowned. They made good coyote bait for our traps.
One other experience we had while camped there was when Alva, Wayne’s cousin, left home and came to Cisco. As soon as he got out there, he came down to the goat camp to see Wayne. Someone brought him down to camp.
The first night he was there, I went in to fix a bed for him in one of the other old rooms. As I went through the one room, I thought I’d better light a match, as you never know. As soon as I lit the match, I heard a snake buzz. I yelled at Wayne to bring the lantern and the snake didn’t buzz again, but we saw him just on the inside of the logs. Wayne said, “That’s not a rattlesnake.” He went over towards it and it turned to crawl out through the hole where it’d come in. Wayne said, “I’ll show you it’s not.” So as it went out he grabbed it by the tail. It flipped back and bit him on the finger. That really surprised Wayne. He said, “That son of a bitch bit me.” You could see the tooth marks on his finger.
This really did scare me. There was no way to get any medical attention except to ride horseback to Cisco, about 12 or 14 miles. It made him a little sick but otherwise nothing happened, but he didn’t grab any more snakes by the tail.
The snake went back out through the cracks and then crawled back in a few feet farther down along the logs. Alva got over near it again, and it clamped down on the edge of his shoe sole. Alva lifted it clear off the ground, it just hung on. So we killed it and it looked like a cross between a rattlesnake and a bull snake. It didn’t have rattles, but it vibrated its tail to make a noise. We never did know what it was.
A few years later we saw another one just like it on the ranch where we lived. I still think it must’ve been a cross between a rattlesnake and a bull snake.
Well folks, I hope you’re enjoying Edith’s stories as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them. There are quite a few more I could share with you, but I guess I’ll move on to other things for a while, after maybe just one more.
In the meantime, thanks for reading.