"Be quiet, Julie, you'll scare the deer". As I stood by the side of her final resting-place, I knew that all of my memories were going to washover me like a tidal wave. I would need to be alone with those memories for a very long while.
Every summer, for almost six years, the day after school got out, Aunt Maxine would drive to Denver from her ranch in the mountains west of Fort Collins. The next day she would return to her mountain hideaway with a very excited and inquisitive child on her hands. Aunt Maxine was always eager to transport me into a world of wonder and learning. I'd sit cross-legged on the sidewalk looking anxiously down the street for her bright red station wagon to turn the corner onto Clayton. I would load my one suitcase, and all the empty water jugs we could carry into the back end of "Old Red" (as we affectionately called the car) and off we'd go.
It was the adventure of a lifetime. I loved pretending like I was on a wagon train heading west. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live like our forefathers had. We hauled water from the gas station in town, we used kerosene and propane for light, and, there was no indoor plumbing.
My first chore each summer was to help dig the hole for the outhouse. And dig I did. The standard hole had to be three feet deep and had to be up wind from the house. If you've ever been downwind from an outhouse you can appreciate why these dimensions were very important. Once the hole was finished and Aunt Maxine had given her seal of approval then we moved the A-frame over the top of the hole. I never did understand why Mom and Aunt Maxine laughed about my excitement over such a trivial little thing as digging a hole and putting a "big A shaped box over it."
Sometimes while I was digging the hole I'd find a rock that would have to be disposed of. Most of the time the rock would be small enough that I could dig the dirt away from the side of it and move it myself. However, sometimes the aid of the "Green Hornet" would have to be called upon.
Uncle Riley's big green truck went through hell and back those few summers. We broke the windshield when we went under a tree branch that was to low, (that tree became firewood). We tore the back bumper off trying to pull a rock out of the middle of the pasture where the driveway would go. After losing the bumper to the boulder the rock had now become, we re-routed the driveway. Mohammed just couldn't move that mountain. I must have dug dirt from around that rock for two weeks and still never put a dent in the side of that mountain.
If I wasn't moving rocks off of the property, I was bringing them home. Every night after dinner we would go for a "gas walk". Uncle Riley didn't want "no one stinkin up his trailer during the night".
During these infamous walks while Aunt Maxine and Uncle Riley looked for deer, rabbits, bears, and whatever, I looked for pretty rocks. I insisted that I could carry the rocks back to the house. Sometimes I would make a pouch in the front of my T-shirt and carry the rocks home in it. Other times I would leave them by the side of the road and we would drive down and get them the next day. The rocks went in the rock garden, which was located between the two Ponderosa Pines and just to the left of the front porch. Along with all of the wildflowers that bloomed and the Iris and Ferns that were planted, Aunt Maxine always made room for my rocks.
Each rock had a very special meaning. The ship rock looked like an ocean liner all lit up with mica. The whale rock looked like a whale coming up into the sky and gasping for air. The cats paw looked like a kitten's paw grasping for a ball of yarn and of course the numerous rocks which looked like plain old rocks.
All summer long the mountains were there for my adventures. We went on hikes into the valleys, explored vacant bear caves, chased wild turkeys into the trees, tried to see who could get the closest to the deer, and followed streams down into green valleys where beavers had built dams and made small ponds to raise their families. From misty dawn through peaceful dusk the mountainsides and Aunt Maxine were my teachers. I learned how to tell the difference between deer and elk tracks. How to climb the steep rock mountain at the back of the property, (it really isn't that steep now that I'm all grown up), and I learned how to respect the natural beauty and gifts that God has given us.
At night when we would finally go to bed we would lay under a blanket of stars and look for the different constellations. One night we put our sleeping bags on the back porch and watched a meteor shower. It was more spectacular than the greatest fireworks display you could ever imagine. Sometimes you could see a satellite moving slowly across the horizon. We would often talk about what the satellite's job was, where the stars went when they were shooting across the sky, and where the meteor landed.
Later after Aunt Maxine and Uncle Riley had sold their place and moved back into town, we would start reminiscing about the best times we had. Aunt Maxine would always remind me of the time we went for a walk and came upon a herd of deer on the side of the mountain. I was talking and singing and picking up rocks, minding my own business, when she turned around and put her hand over my mouth. "SHHH Julie," she said," You'll scare the deer." I shut up real fast. I was shocked that she wanted me to be quiet. " Julie " she said, with her arm around me "sometimes you have to listen very quietly and look very hard to see everything that there is to see".
I always remembered that walk because, although I didn't know it at the time, it was a statement of her life. When she no longer remembered the expeditions we went on and she could no longer remember who helped dig the outhouse pits, I knew that she was listening very quietly and looking very hard to help her understand and remember how life used to be.
That this difficult woman I had known all my life had made such a huge impact on my thinking and the way I raised my own children was hard for many to see. Especially since she was always right. No matter what she did, or said, or worked on, it was right. Not many people ever told her she was wrong. I did. It made us closer and more able to share our personal thoughts with each other.
We talked at Thanksgiving last year while she was in the hospital. When I told her I wished I could be there to help her, she told me that Julie wished she could be there too. I knew then that Aunt Maxine had already gone from me. We couldn't have our personal talks and we couldn't listen quietly to each other anymore.
As I look back I see the importance of all the wisdom Aunt Maxine shared with me. I see that it is sometimes more important to listen instead of talk. I also see that it more important to look at what is really happening in the situation. Above all I learned that it is very important to have a special person that you can grow and share with.
When Aunt Maxine died on New Years Day of 1995 she left many, many memories for all of her family. She touched us each in a unique way. We all learned something from her. I learned that as you walk through life, walk quietly. Look hard. You might see some deer.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written by Julie Vance. Larry Franks' bio was accidentally placed here. Our apologies.