The house was set off from the street about ten feet and protectively shaded by a limby tree that has spent its life surviving through the scorching, relentless heat of the desert. The steps that led to the house gained elevation gradually so that you nearly didn’t notice the short climb to the strong wooden door. Standing sentry were two gorgeous clay pots with creeping vines that spilled over the edge, reaching for whatever freedom they could find from their prison. The door opened as we reached out to knock and behind it stood a shockingly gorgeous 91 year old women. She stood tall and strong despite what age and adventures had done to her body. Her hair gleamed silver in the fading sunset as she ushered us in. If it had been let down from the knot at the nape of her neck it would have reached the floor, but it was put in its place and expected to stay much like the contents of the house and the perfectly groomed garden.
Stepping into the house was like being taken back to a glamorous Western movie. I expected to see John Wayne step in from the backyard, hang up his hat, remove his boots and start in on how he saved a calf on the ranch that day. It was glamorous and yet rustic. It smelled of hardwork and ginger. The house was full of classic antique furniture from the ranch across the border, including a table made from a horizontal slab of a tree that would have been a sight to see when it was still standing.
We were ushered into the kitchen with windows that opened up to the beautiful garden. The window sill was full of multi-colored jars filled with cuttings from the garden. The table had more of the glass jars, blue, green, white, and opaque all filled with a single tapered candle.
After a brief conversation we headed back towards the door, but a picture caught my eye. It was a picture from ages ago she said. Her husband used to take out his friends, doctors and lawyers to the ranch. It had four cowboys in various activities. Two held shotguns and looked slightly uncomfortable in their new boots and pearl snap shirts. Another stirred a pot boiling on the fire and the final one stood in the middle of the crowd with a cigarette and a striking blue shirt. His cowboy hat sat comfortably on his head. He was striking. Handsome and capable. He could have been the Marlboro man. That was her husband. She explained that he had died in the 50’s in an airplane crash. It made sense now why she stood so straight and strong.
I took one more glance back in to the dreamy home as we walked out the door. As I scanned the living room, full of pictures, books, and treasures, my eyes settled on the desk chair. On the back hung a cream colored worn-out cowboy hat. The one that was in the picture. The one that had been missing an owner for over fifty years. As we walked under the shade tree my dream of John Wayne turned to the mysterious man in the picture. The one who was missing his cowboy hat.