Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Family Legend Wounded But Still Breathing

Pam's dad, John Mauldin, kept this gun in his nightstand throughout the last decades of his life. It was for security against random evildoers, he said, although when Pam retrieved the weapon after he died she found the cylinder empty and no cartridges anywhere in the house.

She held onto it because of the exciting family folklore surrounding it. She understood that the revolver, a Smith and Wesson .44, was once carried by John's father, Homer Gene Mauldin Sr., when he was sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona.

The story I heard her tell more than once was that Sheriff Mauldin was wearing this sidearm when he got a panicky phone call from the next county informing him that Pretty Boy Floyd was at large in Arizona and heading his way. The sheriff hit the road in search of the notorious bank robber and cop killer, presumably intending to shoot him with his enormous pistol if he had to.

As luck would have it, he didn't. But if things had turned out differently, it now seems quite clear that he'd have done any necessary shooting with an entirely different weapon. The one now hanging handsomely box-framed on our wall wasn't ever his.

Going through an old carton of previously unexamined papers just a few weeks ago, Pam came across a torn and faded document in the form of an amateurish and probably jocular 100-year lease under which John took possession of the gun from his uncle El Roy Mauldin when the two of them were both living in San Antonio in the 1960s.

There certainly was law enforcement work in the pistol's pedigree. In the lease, El Roy affirms that he was a deputy sheriff in Beaumont when he acquired it.

But regardless of which Mauldin peace officer owned our pearl handled memento, it never posed any danger to Pretty Boy Floyd. The lease says El Roy bought it factory fresh from Smith and Wesson "in 1938 or 1939". Pretty Boy was shot dead by other lawmen in an apple orchard in Ohio in October of 1934.

As for the rest of the oral history, the part in which Homer Gene spent an edgy night in the desert hunting America's Public Enemy Number One, I've been unable to find any confirmation that the pudgy cheeked miscreant ever wandered as far west as Arizona.

On purpose, however, I did not look very hard.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Old Growth Furniture

This is the last major embellishment to our living room, a coffee table which is actually an 18-inch section from the trunk of an ancient juniper that lived and died a couple of miles from here.

A guy named Mike Free out on Highway 70 near the racetrack had the trunk in the yard next to his workshop. He'd recently sold a section to somebody else who put a glass top on it for a dining room table, so he was willing to give us a discount on what was left.

We were already good customers. Mike made our fireplace mantle, a polished quarter-cut pine log. And we also bought one of his heavy pine benches, which now sits outside the mountain-facing end of the house with one of those metal fire pits in front of it.

But the table is one of a kind. You can see where Mike sprinkled some turquoise pellets into a flaw on the top before he applied the half dozen or so coats of urethane to protect the finish and make the thing shine. It weighs at least 300 pounds.

I asked him how long the tree had lived, and he told me that judging from the rings he thought it could be 1,000 years old.

Mike is proudly cajun, a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter who has always made his living with his hands. Between his manly simplicity and his straightforward way of talking, it's hard to doubt anything he says about anything having to do with nature.

We asked him where we could go to hear elk bugling the way they do on the Internet sites. He guaranteed that if we drove up the mountain to mile marker 6 at sunset, we'd hear a lot of them. We went up there just where he said and didn't hear anything.

So maybe the juniper that made our coffee table didn't live 1,000 years. But it was definitely very very old.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Arriving West

This is the view from our new kitchen window in Ruidoso. Also from Elizabeth's bedroom.

But as it turns out, you can also see it while seated at our small dining table. Or in one of the upholstered chairs that faces the fireplace. Or from the sofa, if you turn your head.

Even more surprising, you can see it through the kitchen window while standing at the other end of the house, and also while relaxing at the table on the deck outside, because the small trapezoidal clerestory near the vaulted ceiling just happens to frame it nicely from that perspective.

I am so pleased with our tiny little house -- less than 700 square feet of living space -- that I almost don't want to write about it for fear of somehow jinxing the joy of sitting inside it and looking out.

But I don't think I'm tempting fate, because as hard as we worked to make it turn out nice, a lot of what makes it wonderful was almost entirely unexpected and not our doing, starting with the many sight lines to Sierra Blanca, which is what the handsome peak in the photo above is called.

We did point the house at the mountain, of course. But we had no idea there would be so many ways to look at it from our finished home. Nor did we anticipate how perfectly the windows facing in other directions would capture the woods and hillsides that surround our place while almost entirely masking the street, neighboring houses, and the bits of our property that aren't exactly ugly but fall short of scenic.

One major contributor to the serendipity was an interior designer Pam brought in to help squeeze our stuff into the limited space. We were expecting to square off the sofa and chairs in front of the fireplace, but she pivoted the whole arrangement 45 degrees. It not only made the room suddenly feel twice its size but pointed each upholstered seat at an interesting outside vista. And it created a square space next to the kitchen area exactly right for a small desk and a couple of file cabinets.

We're in a subdivision of the Village of Ruidoso. We have city water, sewer, natural gas, cable with wireless, and Walmart. But seated inside our house or outside on the deck, it feels like we're off the grid. On the way to the bathroom in the middle of last night, I glanced toward the window and saw an elk. (Okay, I was able to see it because it was standing under the streetlight, but still, it was an elk.)

I give Pam all the credit for the many features of the house itself that are making it a pleasure to live in, now that the dust and chaos of the move-in are settled. It is a tiny masterpiece, a much more interesting and gracious place than any of the others we've inhabited, larger or smaller. It took a lot of research, creativity and contractor spinning to put it all together. She did nearly all of it, sometimes with help from me but also sometimes over my short-sighted or pinchpenny objections.

But what I am appreciating most right now is how much greater the whole is than the sum of the many parts we labored and obsessed over together for the past year. I'm amazed and astonished.

It is so fine that our long-standing plan to spend most of our time at the condo in Mexico -- also pretty sweet -- and use this place as a summer refuge from the tropical humidity is now getting a fresh hard look.

Stay tuned.