Pecan trees so big it took four of us kids to hold hands to wrap around the base of the giants. The breeze swaying the green giants back and forth, dead limbs fall on the ground waiting to become kindling for the nights fire. The fields of over grown grass hide thousands of grasshoppers that fill up the sky as we run in circles, hands in the air making the sounds of an old airplane flying the open skies. Memories like these fill my mind. They are from a place my family use to go to when I was a child; we called this place “the ranch”.
My great grandparents James and Ruby Connell owned the ranch. It was a beautiful place that was made up of rolling hills, tall rugged bluffs, monstrous oak and pecan trees and a cool spring fed creek that was actually a small river not a little “city creek”. It was 1,000 acres of beauty and naturalistic freedom. A gentle breeze makes its way over the hills taking with it the smell of the country, a pure fresh scent that is only “smelled” in the country. Or maybe its just clean air that is not attainable in the city with all its smog.
To get to the ranch we had to drive for an hour north on highway 281 and then go east on 290 for another four or five miles. Before getting to the dirt road we passed Miller Creek Cemetery where many of my relatives are buried. It is an old cemetery that is home to some interesting headstones. Some have inscriptions that Indians murdered them. About a mile from the cemetery we made a left onto County Road 202, a dirt road that was the drivers education course for many of us in my family. Us kids would argue who got to drive first and dad would decide, mom got so nervous when dad would let the kids drive.
The dirt road, which is paved today, is a windy up and down road that crosses two creeks in which the water would sometimes be over the cement slab bridges, and it was always a challenge and exciting for us kids to drive the car into the water to the other side. Mom would be nervous as we pointed the vehicle into the water navigating it across the vast river, actually the water was mostly only six or seven inches deep but for a kid it was the mighty Mississippi. There was brother, my sister and me so we shared the driving duties down to the ranch house that great grand mom Connell and her brother had lived.
My great grandmother Lila Ruby Connell was a small woman but a very strong countrywoman. She was a widow since 1966 when her husband James William Connell had passed away. She remained living there with her brother until her death in 1989. James and Ruby, as she was known, were married in 1913 when she was 17 years old and James was 23 years old. I have been told stories about how Ruby’s mother had went over to James’s parents house to confront his parents because she opposed the marriage, and she had killed James’s mother. I am still trying to confirm this however James’s mother passed away in 1913, same year as the marriage.
James and Ruby were real cowboys and cowgirls; they lived the life, lived off the land and made a homestead on that land. I don’t remember my great grandfather but I have seen many pictures of him and have been told stories about him. I have fond memories of my great grandmother from the times we had spent out on the ranch. She was a small woman in stature but a big woman in life. She never had a driver license nor do I think she ever learned to drive, I am still researching her earlier life but it is very difficult because most of the family that would know have passed away.
The ranch was a special place that we would go to on the weekends with our cousins, aunts and uncles and friends. There was a place down on the north side of the property we called the “swimming hole”. It had cliffs on one side and a sandy like beach on the other side. On the cliffs about six feet above the water was a diving board, it was a blast jumping off of that thing into the clear water below. Underneath the board was a rock ledge that we would sit on. It was about two feet under the water and had a cave underneath it that we would try to look into, but truthfully we were all scared to go down under there afraid of the big catfish. There was another huge rock to the left of the diving board in the water that we could stand on; there was a space between the rock and the cliff walls. We would take a deep breath and go down to touch the bottom with our toes and come up as quickly as we could fearing the touch of something we couldn’t see. The swimming hole was a place that we would hang out at for hours and hours, diving to the bottom looking for unusual rocks or we would throw things in and see if we could retrieve them. This was a place were families bonded and without knowing it became closer.