Crazy Oaks is too small for a golf course and too big for a horseshoe pitch. It is five acres, if you don’t count the generous easement for the county road. It lies between Needles, California and Paducah, Kentucky along a road that was never paved until long after I had left home.
My father came home from work one Friday in 1960 to find his twelve year old number two son poring over the classified ads at the kitchen table. “We’ve got to go see this one Dad, it’s only $44.00 an acre, 457 of them. We can have cows again. It has a house and two barns.” Dad told me a few days later that we were selling the house and going back to the country. I asked him if that meant I could be a cowboy. He was certain of it. Everyone was happy again. But what happened?
Those 457 acres became The Ranch. We finished growing up there. We spread out all over the place. But time catches up as it does and the old man died. The home place was at last someone else’s land. Hollis and I received the incomparable gift of a bad neighbor. We decided to find an acreage where we could build our own home. My eldest brother, son number one, suggested the old home place. The new owner was quirky, but kind. We were soon at work building Crazy Oaks. It was the summer of 2004.
Before this old homestead was our old homestead, it was the home of another pair of elderly dreamers from Illinois, Sarah and Salem Lance. I have never been able to piece together the story of their decision to leave home in their sixties for a crap shoot second chance in the Land Run of 1889. They drove their pegs into the first quarter section west of the starting line. Perhaps, like Hollis and me, they were not so frisky as they expected to be. They went to the rail head and bought a kit house made in Chicago, fourteen by twenty-eight feet. The old man dug a root cellar. Sarah planted irises brought from home.
When I was a little boy, I found their homestead on the south quarter of my father’s ranch. When I was a little bigger, brother number three and I liked to camp there among the locust trees. Now I am an old man and Salem’s old pot-bellied stove is a coffee table in my living room. Sarah’s blue irises grow along the path to my shop.