by Terry Sanville


Ian McLeod was a tough Scotsman, he had to be. He had worked the family's dairy farm with his widowed father and two older brothers on the Isle of Man and had survived twenty-two bitter winters. When the Kaiser made war in Europe, he found himself, along with a lot of other Scots, on a boat sailing up the Kiel Canal in search of Jerry. He'd been lucky and had lived through it, almost getting by without a scratch. Only a bothersome flesh wound to his right thigh from a 30-calibre machine gun had slowed him down, had taken him off the front lines where everybody seemed to be dying a muddy senseless death in the rain-swollen trenches.

While recuperating in an SOS hospital outside of Paris, the Yank in the bed next to him, a young chap--they all were young--with a gangrenous shoulder wound, had told him about the small village he had come from, how the rolling hills of the central California coast was good dairy country, had plenty of grass and warm winters. The Yank died a few days later from the infection, and it wasn't long before Ian was hobbling down the hospital's rutted country road, headed toward the nearest railway station, on his way home.

But back on the island farm nothing much had changed. His brothers expected him to start right back in with the mucking out and tending the cows, and his father was no help, telling him off to fix the meals for him and his older siblings. But Ian had seen too much, had taken way too many orders, and was restless. So with twenty pounds sewn into his waistcoat, he bade his father and disgruntled brothers farewell, hopped the ferry to the mainland and from there a train to Liverpool.

In 1918 there were still plenty of tall-masted schooners that plied the Atlantic, bound for New York City, and Ian bought himself passage on one of them. The boat was crowded with Polish and Irish immigrants, all headed across the pond to find a new life in eastern American cities or the surrounding countryside. The few people he had questioned about California thought it was still a wild western frontier with cowboys and Indians. After a rough winter passage, with Ian hanging seasick over the ship's rail for most of the voyage, the schooner sailed by the great Lady of the Harbor, and he passed through immigration on Ellis Island without incident.

Ian got a job working as a day laborer in the warehouse district down by New York's docks. He was frugal and in two months was able to save enough money to buy a rail ticket to Los Angeles--a weeklong westward trek across America. From Los Angeles, he took the train north along California's coast, getting off at San Luis Obispo. The town's tiny wooden rail station and platform were crowded with farmers and shopkeepers coming to get mail and supplies shipped from the east. Ian moved among them, asking each politely if they were from the village of Cambria. Most just chuckled and told him that there wasn't much of a village there, but one finally pointed out a middle-aged man with a milk wagon and a team of horses about ready to depart.

Ian quietly approached. "They tell me you're from Cambria. Might I catch a ride with ya to that fine village?"

The dairy farmer smiled down from the jostling buckboard. "Aye, ya can, my friend. Tis a long time since I've heard a proper Scottish voice in these parts. Me name's Geoffrey McMillan."

"Well, you best not have been here too long cause yer voice is still thick as the sea off our home shores. Ian McLeod, glad ta meet ya." The men shook hands and Ian climbed aboard.

"I've just picked up me cow medicine and delivered fresh milk to the hotels. I could use some company on the ride home."

"So what kind of cows do ya breed in these parts?"

"I've got 60 Holsteins and 30 Ayrshires on 200 acres. Best damn cows around. And the country's ripe for it, ta be sure."

"Well, I've never seen hills quite like these." Ian motioned to the gentle Kelly-green slopes as the two rode slowly out of San Luis Obispo.

"Ya, they be that way all winter, with plenty of water--and best of all, no snow. You'll see."

It was mid-afternoon when they pushed north and by sundown they had reached a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach just north of a towering rock that stood offshore in the gray Pacific. The ocean was much too calm to be anything like the Irish Sea Ian was used to. But it was big and green, and there was nothing on the western horizon except a thick fog bank coming on and the occasional flight of brown pelicans diving for their suppers.

They camped on the beach that night after making a fire from driftwood, Geoffrey sharing his meager supply of food with Ian.

"Didja ever hear of a fella named Jerry Folmer?" Ian asked Geoffrey as they sat and watched the sun pass beneath the Pacific's western edge.

"Sure have. Nice young fella, but sad about him being killed in the war. His folks own a small place just down the road from mine."

"Well, maybe you can drop me there when we reach Cambria, I'd like to pay my respects. Met him in the hospital outside Paris and he told me about your country here."

Geoffrey just nodded; neither of them were much for talking, and the onshore breeze had brought on the cold blanket of fog and caused them to turn in early.

By noon the next day they passed through the small village of Cambria that straddled the coast road, then pushed eastward into a deep valley rimmed by green hills topped with pines. Barns filled with mounds of hay spotted the landscape, and the lowing bawl of anxious cows ready to be milked could be heard from both sides of the road. At a nondescript dirt track, Geoffrey reined in the horses and Ian got down.

"Ya know it's getting on calving time, so most places along here can use some help with their cows. If you're looking for work, come see me," Geoffrey said as he waved goodbye and continued his slow plodding homeward way up the valley.

At the end of the track, Ian found a small wooden house. He wasn't used to wooden buildings since most of the farms back on the Isle of Man, including his own father's house, were constructed of fieldstone and were hundreds of years old. But this place looked cheerful enough, and he banged on the front door and the Missus came out onto the porch. Ian said that he had known her son in France for a little while and was there to pay his respects.

Mrs. Folmer invited him to rest on the porch in the sun while she fetched her husband from the barn. The two of them listened as Ian recounted his short acquaintance with their son and how Jerry had died peacefully--although that part of the story was far from the truth, since the fever had driven Jerry crazy those last few days. The wife kept dabbing at her eyes with her apron, and when Ian stood up to leave, Mr. Folmer shook his hand warmly and told him to come back any time and visit. They didn't see many people now that Jerry was gone, and they wanted to hear more about the war in those faraway European countries where so many young men had died. Ian promised he'd return, but knew it would be a long time before talking about the war would come easy for him.

Back on the main farm road, Ian followed the ruts in the dirt left by Geoffrey's wagon to his farm about two miles down: an impressive spread with two barns, a large main house built on a rise overlooking a small creek, and black and white Holsteins and spotted Ayrshires speckling the hillsides. Geoffrey was glad to see him again so soon, and immediately they struck a deal whereby Ian would work the dairy herd along with the McMillan children (two sisters and a brother, all younger than he) for the price of room and board and a small monthly allowance. It was work that Ian was used to and good at, and it was a start.

In those days, the dairymen took most of their product directly into the small towns and villages to sell at the open markets. But there were a number of small dairies that were springing up along the coast north of Estero Bay and in the Harmony Valley that produced cheese and even ice cream for hot summer afternoons. The largest dairy processor was in San Luis Obispo. As the county seat, San Luis was growing, and ever since the railroad had come through, the town was a major stopover for passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco--and they all wanted milk for breakfast. It was Ian's job to leave in the middle of the night and ride straight through until he reached San Luis to market the raw milk. Geoffrey took care of the shorter runs because he didn't want to be away from the family if he could help it.

It was on one of those trips to San Luis Obispo, to deliver twenty milk cans to the Foremost Dairy on Higuera Street, that Ian met Clarissa Thompson. She worked in the dairy's front office and paid the dairymen when they brought their loads in--but only after the dairy's official "sniffer," a short weaselly-looking man, pried open each can and sniffed hard, trying to detect the odor of wild garlic--a favorite weed of cows and a major contaminant of fresh milk.

Clare lived in town with her parents and was just a year younger than Ian. When he would make a delivery every couple of weeks, Ian would stay in town that night and call at the Thompsons' house, an ornate but somewhat dilapidated Victorian on Islay Street. Her parents always welcomed him warmly, even though he was a farm hand, a profession that was generally considered lower class by most town folks. But the Thompsons had started as farmers themselves, and had only moved into town when their cattle ranch failed and Mr. Thompson went to work as a clerk in a grain shipper's office. Clare's job at the dairy helped support the family, and Mrs. Thompson was probably the most frugal townswoman Ian had ever met.

Ian and Clare continued their bi-monthly meetings, with Ian only missing their visits when winter rains made the muddy coast road impassible for the wagon. During the summer months, they'd walk out with a picnic basket to the old grove of lemon trees on the side of Mt. San Luis Obispo, the volcano remnant that overlooked the town. They made for an odd couple to look at. Ian was short and wiry with red hair, faded blue eyes, and almost invisible eyebrows that gave his face a look of perpetual surprise. Clare was tall, big-boned and dark, with hazel eyes and a quick smile. She wasn't what one would call pretty, but she could talk easily with the dairymen as they came into the front office to get paid, and she was well liked. Ian seldom said anything, even to Clare. But early on they had talked of marriage.

"Ya must know how I feel about ya, Clare," Ian blurted out on one of their Sunday walks. "We should be married, don't ya think?"

"Yes, we shall. But we'll never make it on your laborer's wages. We'd best save our money until we can find our own way. I will wait for you, Ian."

So they both saved, and after three years Ian asked Geoffrey McMillan to cosign a note at the First Bank of San Luis Obispo, and he bought a small dairy farm just north of the village on the coast road. Being closer to the ocean, it was colder there than on the McMillan spread, but fresh water was plentiful and the fields sported a thick carpet of grass for the cows Ian planned to buy. The house wasn't much to look at, raw board siding exposed to the harsh winter squalls that started in November and continued into March. But the barn was in good condition. Ian had been embarrassed that Clare's share of the down payment for the farm was bigger than his own--but he promised himself that he would make it up by improving the property. The young dairyman was well known and liked throughout the valley by then--although no one could really call him a close friend. With what little money they had left, he bought six Holsteins, half of which were with calf, and set to mending broken-down fences, mucking out the barn, setting the watering troughs, cleaning the crap out of the well, and trying to salvage usable equipment from the pile of junk that the farm's previous owners had left in the loft. It was from this junk heap that he rescued some old rusting cans of mustard-yellow paint and used it to coat the house. Within a month, Ian was accompanying Geoffrey to the local markets (Geoff always had room to spare on his huge wagon) to sell his first cans of milk and to barter for household goods produced by other farmers.

Clare set to planting a quarter-acre vegetable garden and laying in a clever irrigation system that diverted water from the nearby creek. Before the spring beans were up out of the ground, she was pregnant with their first child. The children came rapidly then, two boys and a girl in three years; then it stopped, although their intimate relations continued as before. All the while Ian's herd continued to grow, and he dreamed about building a second barn and outfitting the house. In San Luis Obispo, they had built a grand hotel called the Ramona, and the demand for milk was higher than ever and brought good prices to those willing to haul it into town.

By the time their daughter was born, the country was well into the roaring '20s. Memories of the war and economic hard times were being replaced by the prosperity of the day. Even rural areas off the beaten path, like Cambria, felt the change. Traffic on the coast road was different, with horse-drawn carriages giving way to "Tin Lizzies" and motor-driven wagons built by the Mack Truck Company. Geoffrey McMillan was the first to buy one of these motorized wagons, and Ian was the next. He paid for it with the proceeds from Clare's garden produce and the revenues from his ever-increasing milk runs to town. With the motor truck, he could now make it to San Luis Obispo and back in a single day and not have to pay for room and board overnight. His trips increased, and soon he was hauling his neighbors' milk to market for a fee that covered the cost of gasoline and repairs and provided a tidy profit.

By the end of the decade Ian's sons were old enough to help after school with the milking and mucking out and with their mother's garden. Tom and Richard, the younger, had inherited their mother's stature, and by the time they were ten were almost as tall as their father and were experienced farm hands in their own right. They attended school in the village except during calving season or when produce needed to be harvested for market. Clarissa had expanded the quarter-acre family garden into more than two irrigated acres of truck crops, and during the summer months the trips into San Luis Obispo also involved selling fresh produce to the town's grocers.

Their daughter Emily, named after Clarissa's favorite aunt, helped her mother in the garden pulling weeds, and at harvest time. But she didn't attend school. Emily was what the village folk called "a bit slow." She was pretty enough, had inherited her father's sharply-defined facial features and bright, shockingly-red hair. But Ian and Clarissa knew something was amiss when she took longer to learn how to speak and couldn't seem to learn her letters.

But Emily was never sad and always had a twinkle in her eye, trailing after her father whenever he was on the farm or shadowing her mother in the fields, breaking up the dirt clods with her bare feet or carefully picking the just-ripe tomatoes off the vines without bruising them. Her older brothers would make fun of her sometimes and tease her. One time Tom, Richard, and some of their schoolmates had tied Emily up to a tree like an Indian captive and left her there sobbing, to be found by her mother. But they would never do any of these shenanigans when Ian was around. Ian had a cousin back on the Isle of Man that was just like Emily, and he knew the necessity for protection from the cruelty of children. His older brothers had picked on Ian himself after his mother died and was not there to help. But Emily grew and prospered, although her parents fretted about what would eventually become of her, with no prospects for marriage and farm life so hard.

Meanwhile, far away in New York City, stock market investors were watching their fortunes turn to dust, then taking walks in the thin air over Wall Street. As their bodies crashed to the street below, so did the hopes of many a financier. Across the continent, the Cambrian farmers knew nothing about the stock market or how it related to their land, but in the decade to come they would find out.

The bad times started slowly enough for these faraway farms. Some of the small dairies closed, leaving only the mainstays in San Luis Obispo open for processing. The Ramona Hotel burned to the ground, which was just as well because it was only half full during the peak of the traveling season. People were growing their own gardens again, and the profits from Clarissa's crops dropped off. But it all happened so slowly that the farmers just kept scaling back their operations; some cows were sold, some small farms were abandoned, and only the ones with good water and transportation to haul their own farm products to market were staying afloat. It must have been 1936 when Ian drove a load of milk into the Foremost Dairy, only to be told he'd have to sell it at a loss--so he emptied the cans in a drainage ditch north of town and drove home.

Tom and Richard had finished high school and were now at loose ends. Ian put them to work rebuilding fences and cleaning out and repairing the aging milk sheds. It was especially hard on them because there was no prospect of work in the valley, and San Luis Obispo was full of unemployed men who ate at the soup kitchens and slept in hobo camps under the trees down next to the creek. There were fights in these camps and even murders, all reported in the Telegram or Tribune newspapers that Ian would read while making deliveries in town. There was no work for hire for anybody, and Ian felt fortunate that he and his family at least wouldn't starve, what with their productive garden and the generosity of neighbors.

In the spring of 1939, the newspaper also reported that President Roosevelt had finally approved a major public works project for the Central California Coast. Laborers were needed to build a first-class highway from San Luis Obispo up the coast to the Hearst Ranch and the hilltop home of the millionaire newspaperman, William Randolph Hearst. Tom and Richard immediately signed up, along with most of the men from the hobo camps. Tom, the eldest, learned to operate a grader while Richard headed up the forming crew, building the wooden plank forms to hold the wet concrete for the roadway. They both lived in the construction camps situated on farms adjoining the highway. The camps were relocated every few weeks as the roadway improvements progressed northward. These camps were as rough-and-tumble as the hobo camps had been in San Luis, and Ian noticed the change in his sons when they would visit over a weekend, when they could get off work. They used foul language and always wanted too big a draft from the whiskey bottle.

For a time, there were jobs for everybody, it seemed, and Ian would make special runs down the coast with his produce and milk and sell it to the cooks at the construction sites. The road project pushed northward until it was directly adjoining Ian's farm and the village of Cambria. Ian was paid for the use of one of his fields for the tent encampment, and his sons slept in their old beds for the first time in over two years. It was a wild and noisy time for the quiet farmer and the village. Some of his neighbors complained to Ian about the road crew trespassing on their properties, stealing things and scaring their cows. His neighbors somehow held Ian accountable since the construction camp was on his land, and Ian did his best to keep things in line. And a few times the county sheriff had to be summoned to break up a major brawl and restore order. But Ian knew that they'd be rid of the camps soon enough, and he was already worrying about how to replace the income when the project was over.

It had rained heavily that day, so hard that the concrete pour had to be stopped and the crews dismissed. Most of the men were bedded down, waiting out the storm in the depressingly gray twilight. Tom and Richard had eaten supper with their parents, but decided to join their buddies on the road crew for a night of poker and drinking. A thick coastal fog had rolled in over the farm, muffling the loud laughter and outbreaks of argument coming from the camps, but everybody seemed to be settling in for a cold damp night. Around nine o'clock, Clarissa went in to check on Emily before turning in herself. She returned to the front room where Ian was reading the latest farm journal. He could tell from her stricken face that something was amiss.

"Ian, Emily is gone," she blurted out.

Ian stood, a smile pasted on his face. "Now don't worry, I'll find her," he said reassuringly as his heart turned to ice.

Emily had grown into a beautiful young woman, with a figure that rivaled her mother's, clear delicate skin, and a bright smile. But she was still a child inside and doted on her father and mother. Ian had given Clarissa and Emily strict orders to be inside the house by sundown while the construction camp occupied their farm. But that night Emily must have disobeyed and slipped away. Grabbing a lantern, Ian told Clarissa to stay inside while he went out into the mist, scared of what he might find. He checked around the farmhouse first, at the old apple orchard in the rear yard, at the sycamore tree next to the creek where Emily liked to swing as a child from the rope draped over one of the tree's massive limbs. But he found nothing.

Ian noticed the soft glow of a lantern coming from the loft of one of his barns, the farthest from the house. He crept forward and slipped inside. Rows of black and white backs greeted him, and he moved silently, whispering to the cows to quiet them. He climbed the ladder into the loft and froze at what he saw. Tom and Richard were slumped against one wall, passed out, a whiskey bottle still clutched in Richard's hands. Two other road crewmen were in similar reposes, flopped onto soft mounds of hay, snores emanating from their open snaggle-toothed mouths. But in the far corner of the loft, barely visible in the low light, was Emily, the light having caught her eyes like those of a cat's in the headlights of an automobile. She was curled up in a ball, like a little child, barefoot, dress torn. Her bloomers were on the floor next to her, bloodstained, and she was whimpering softly.

Ian couldn't speak, couldn't think, and struggled not to cry out. The white-hot rage in him threatened to melt his sanity. He strode forward and grabbed one of the road gang by the shoulders and hauled him to the edge of the open loft, then threw him off. The body dropped like a sack of concrete to the hard earthen floor below, landing with a low thud and the splintering of bones. A loud scream followed, but before the second man could rouse himself, Ian had him under the arms and had thrown him out of the loft, to fall onto his partner in rape below. The quiet night air was torn with more screams. Ian stood at the edge of the loft trembling, looking at the carnage of what he had done. Turning, he faced Tom and Richard who were standing now, backs against the wall, trembling, with fear in their eyes.

"You'd better leave now, and never come back. If I see you again, I'll kill ya," Ian spat at his sons. They skittered sideways along the wall and down the ladder.

So ended the prosperous life of the immigrant, Ian McLeod. Emily never recovered from the assault, her playful demeanor having been permanently shattered, and she withdrew into herself. By the following year Ian and Clarissa took the long drive south to Camarillo State Mental Hospital where she was committed. (Emily would live there until the hospital closed in the 1990's and die shortly thereafter in a nursing home, after fifty years of being apart from her parents.) The sheriff who investigated the incident filed a report, indicating that the road gang members had gotten drunk and had fallen out of the loft on their own accord. Since the workmen were never charged with rape, there was no argument from them. Ian and Clarissa preferred to bury the incident, along with the memories of their sons; but this last task was not as easy for either of them.

Tom and Richard hitchhiked into San Luis Obispo, where they enlisted in the Marine Corps the next day. They went through boot camp at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside and were both assigned to an infantry unit, one of the first that hit Utah Beach in Normandy. Tom was able to make it ashore and hole up in back of the sea wall, pinned down by machine gun fire from the Krauts. Richard never made it through the surf, being shot while trying to keep his head above water. Ian only found out about the death from the telegram he and Clarissa received from the War Department. They heard nothing from Tom, and they never would.

The wartime economy was booming, and the McLeods struggled to keep up with the demand for milk and garden products. But with their children gone, and no young men around to hire, much of the farm went fallow; Ian had to sell off some cows, and all the buildings were in a state of disrepair. One hot summer's morning, as Ian came in from the fields for lunch, he found Clarissa hunched over in her garden plot, not moving; only her left eye was open, and drool was dripping down the side of her mouth onto her work dress. Two days later she was dead, from a stroke the doctors at County General Hospital said; could happen at any time without warning, they said, trying to comfort Ian as he hardened himself against yet another loss.

Ian lived on for a time at the farm, selling most of his cows and keeping just a few favorites for his own milk and homemade cheese. He had never been much of a gardener himself, but he learned and could keep himself in food--and the McMillans and other old-time families in the valley made sure he didn't go without. On a hot Indian summer day in October, 1959, Ian climbed into his stepside Ford pickup and drove south along the coast road. He was never seen in Cambria again, and nobody in San Luis Obispo knew of his whereabouts either. Before he left, he had nailed a "No Trespassing" sign to the front door of the house, and over the years his neighbors replaced the sign when it needed replacing, until they too passed on. Ian's prodigal son never did return.

In 1978, the rusting remains of a stepside Ford pickup with California plates were pulled from an overgrown creek bed alongside the Pennsylvania turnpike. The truck was pointed east toward the Atlantic and the Irish Sea beyond.


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