- Copyright © 2017 by Fred Park
Fred Park was born and raised on a ranch in the Owyhee canyon lands near Arock, Oregon. He has been a writer, editor, and magazine publisher in the Pacific Northwest.
Fred calls his co-author, granddaughter Noelani Martin, "simply a genius."
Peek inside: That was one of the main lessons my Uncle Rufus
wanted me to learn, but a lot of things had to happen that
summer before I could grasp it.
This time I found Unc sitting by the old manure
spreader. His back was leaned against a front wheel when
I came down the path toward the irrigation ditch. He was
partly hidden by the sagebrush that had begun growing up
under and near the old spreader.
Today Unc struck me as something like that old farm
implement; a thing once good for something, but lately
fallen into disuse. Now he just sat there, his faded
baseball cap shoved back on his tousled dark-brown hair,
staring off and daydreaming about something, I supposed.
That was one of the things I liked about Unc. He was
never in a rush. He had lots of free time, just like me. And
I suspected he had a problem with daydreaming, same as
Unc heard me and blinked, giving me the barest of
smiles. Then he started whittling on a block of wood he
had in his hand. The smile was something you didn’t often
see with Unc. He tended more toward a frown. If you
asked him what time it was, his face would screw up into a
worried look, as though he couldn’t be sure of getting it
explained to you properly. Almost like the question was
But he would get it across to you finally, and it didn’t
matter how big the question was. I asked him once about
that face he made, and he called it a grimace. He said he
didn’t know why the heck he did that, but supposed he was
too far along in life to ever change it. And all the time he
was explaining the word, he was doing it and squirming.
I planned to use it later to good advantage at school.
Mary and I were always catching one another with strange
new words. It was a kind of game. And with Unc, I had
the best ongoing supply of new words and concepts.
I began to blurt out my story about the bull to him, but I
could sense that he was ignoring me. I came to a stop in
the telling and gathered up the part of my shirt that was
hanging out of my bib overalls, still sniffling.
“That bull probably figured you were just another
average kid,” Unc said. “It is always best to be
underestimated.” That comment was a letdown. But I
knew Unc had his own way of looking at things.
“We finally had some excitement up here, too,” he said.
I perked up again.
“That new deputy sheriff came by here yesterday. It
seems there’s been some cattle stolen down south of here,
and the law is looking into it.”
“A real sheriff?” I asked. I had heard of him a couple of
years earlier, but we never actually saw things like “the
law”. “What did he look like?”
“Just a deputy. Substantial guy, though” Unc told me.
“He had on a tan uniform and a hat like a drill sergeant
wears, with a tall peak and dented in on four sides.
Narrow, straight brim. Carried a whale of a gun, too. He
asked a lot of questions until I set him straight. I think he
wanted to hang around and talk to Elaine a little longer, but
then your grandmother came out and glared at him until he
“You set him straight?”
“Sure. I told him there’s only three paved roads for
anyone to truck cattle out of this country, and none of them
are near the Perkins place. East to Idaho, south to
Nevada, or northwest toward Burns. I gave him the
directions to the Burns Junction, so he wouldn’t get lost,
and I figured that was all he needed to know.” Unc was
That ended that, I guessed. I would have liked seeing
the deputy, though. Not exactly a cowboy, but at least he
wore a good hat and carried a six-shooter. Rats.
“Hey. I got in trouble today,” I confessed to Unc. “I was
late for school again, and Mrs. Matthews sent a note
home. It was the third time for the notes, too.”
“Oh, yes, the chronic lateness. I wonder why that
keeps happening,” he said in a kind of absent-minded
way. “Better never than late. Better to laugh than cry,
too.” He resumed staring over toward the outhouse, where
the sagging board door was partly visible past two scraggly
lilac bushes that nobody seemed to remember to water.
“Who’s in there?” I asked, settling down near Unc. “I
hope it ain’t Gramma in there,” I told him. “She’d be as
mad as Mom if she found out about the note.”
“Nobody’s in there, as far as I know.” He shook his
head slightly, and his gaze went back to the knife work.
“I don’t need everybody mad at me,” I said.
He looked at me quizzically.
“About the lateness,” I explained. He seemed to be
ignoring the whole matter, but I couldn’t. This note
problem was probably going to mean no trip to Arock for
me on Saturday. It could mean no trip to the creek with
Uncle Rufus on Sunday, and Sundays were a ritual for the
two of us this time of year, because they meant fishing all
afternoon. It was the highlight of our whole week. We
were generally together on Sundays, May through August,
in spite of our age difference. Unc was past thirty. I was
his eleven-year-old nephew. For some reason, we got
along real well. But he was thinking about something else
now, apparently, and not paying much attention to me.
Unc was staring at the toilet again.
“I wonder how Arock got that name,” I persisted, trying
to get him to acknowledge me.
That made him grimace even more before he
answered. “I personally believe that the first guy who
arrived here just looked around and everywhere he looked
there was a rock. The official version of the naming is
somewhat different, but my version has credibility.”
“That’s probably how it was,” I agreed.
“They say there was an Indian rock carving somewhere
nearby that seemed to have letters on it,” he went on. “But
no one I know has ever seen that rock. I believe old T. T.
Garlick made that up when they named the place in 1922.
And why would he choose the letter A? Why not name
the place B-rock or C-rock?” he pondered. “Why Arock?”
He looked at me from under raised eyebrows.
“Well, I’m an Arock boy, like it or not. So are you, Unc.”
For a while, Unc seemed to be thinking of something a
million miles away. When he spoke again, the grimace was
gone and he looked saintly. That’s a word I learned much
“I was there, you know. Your dad and I were standing
there with T.T Garlick and your grandpa and a few other
people. Pasqual Eiguren was there. They were talking
about what they should name the town. Your dad Allen
was ten or eleven years old and I was probably nine.
Pasqual looked at your dad and asked him what he had in
his hand.” Unc smiled broadly at the recollection.
“It’s a rock,” Allen told him.
‘A rock,’ Pasqual told Tom Townley Garlick. But the way
Pasqual pronounced the word, it sounded like Arock, with
the emphasis on the A.”
“ ‘Arock it is, then,’ said old T.T., and he took the rock
and threw it out into the sagebrush.”
Then Unc lowered his brows and narrowed his eyes.
“Did you ever consider,” he asked me, “how much the
world needs portable toilets?”
“Portable toilets,” I repeated, glancing over at the old
outhouse but seeing nothing unusual there. I grinned.
“Why the heck would you need portable toilets?” I cackled
and slapped my thigh.
Then the gloom descended again. When you have a
problem as big as school, you can’t just laugh it off. While
Unc rambled on about movable toilets, I was becoming
more pessimistic about my own immediate prospects.
“I’ve been having bad dreams. I have to get
somewhere clear across the universe, but I can’t move. I
can’t make it, but I still have to. I can’t even breathe.” It
was scary, and it was happening most nights. I didn’t think
he heard me.
“It would mean building a toilet out of some light-weight
material,” Unc mused. “It couldn’t weigh too much, or it
would be hard to haul around. And then, of course, it
would have to have wheels.” He was dawdling along on
this subject, ignoring the calamity that had just burst into
He continued staring toward the old toilet outhouse.
The staring was starting to make me uncomfortable. “Or
maybe skids, so it could be slid onto a light trailer.”
I looked up and saw Gramma coming from the house.
She took the fork in the path toward the toilet.
We exchanged quick glances and then, almost as one,
we slipped unseen past the back of the manure spreader.
We legged it behind the little stand of poplar trees and up
the hill toward the barn, with Unc still talking in a low
voice. “We have to keep our costs down.” We slowed as
we approached the barn.
“What the heck did we take off for?” I wanted to know.
“Why are we skulking around like this?”
“We don’t want to be watching the toilet when someone
is in there.”
“Oh.” I had assumed it was because we were both
afraid of Gramma. And with good cause, too. She never
quietly tolerated idle fools. Or crazy schemes. She was
just fine toward us most of the time, but she always knew
when we were up to something.
“To stare at the toilet when it’s occupied would show
utter disregard for the social graces,” he continued. “I
know that I disappoint many people in that area,” he said,
with his normal bewildered frown. “Personally, though, I
believe I just take a somewhat different view of that whole
That was when Unc dropped the whole thing on me
about the state of the world and how we could the save the
civilized world as we knew it.
I had a whole new view of everything.
Plus, according to Unc, my Dad helped give Arock its
name. You can’t get any better than that.
I stopped drooping and started walking tall.