“Whistling Roofuses” was the sound the house made as the wind blew off ‘Old Tom Mountain’. That is what my Dad called it, because that’s what his mother called it when then lived in the old cabin with no insulation. Snow would be on the quilt covering the kids in the log hut as it blew through the missing chinking. Ada, my grandma, built a new house in 1927, the home where I grew up listening to the same wind. Our newer house, built in 2011, is heavily insulated from the “Whistling Roofuses,”but I can still hear it. Sometimes I walk to Ada’s first cabin across the yard and stand inside and listen to the wind calling from the past.
I was raised in the shadow of pioneers. My parents and aunts and uncles told the stories of their lives growing up in Robin, Idaho. No electricity, horse and buggy days, hunger, hard work, tragedy, and the injustices of the frontier. Many failed and moved on, but others persevered and pushed forward to eke out their survival.
I was aware of this as I helped farm the same ground my grandparents homesteaded. My aunts would come out from Pocatello and have me shovel gopher dirt into their gunny sacks for their gardens. They would point out places where they played as little girls and talk about all the fun they had. Aunt Hattie pointed to a spot where she buried her underpants because they were worn out. She had protested because they were too poor to buy new ones. She told me how she made two new pairs by sewing them out of old flour sacks by hand.
We laughed together and I asked more questions, which they happily answered. “Mama would have liked you,” they said of Ada. “You would have liked her too, you were a lot alike.” That made me feel good and made me miss her, even though she died 7 years before I was born. This ritual usually happened on Memorial Day, or ‘Decoration Day’ as we called it then. After bagging up the gopher dirt, we sorted peonies and lilacs from town into coffee tins with rocks in the bottom. We added the water later at the Robin Cemetery.
Tall cedar trees dot the older eastern side of the cemetery, planted by folks that are now buried there. An owl nests in them and peers at us walking about the headstones. We would decorate graves and hear more stories of all the relatives and pioneers, and others that shaped the community I came from.
Now I look out the windows of the new house, past Ada’s cabin, across the valley and back to the Garden Creek Gap. Views much the same as my grandparents saw. It is our turn to be the stewards, the place holders, the guardians of the land until others come behind us. They will also hear the “Whistling Roofuses” blowing in from the past across the sagebrush steppe.
By Nancy Armstrong. Nancy and her partner recently working with the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust to put a conservation easement on her 490-acre Old Tom Mountain property.