Prologue ~ A Rocky Start
A brief family history of two generations that started it all...
Back in 1916 Ennis Abraham del Mar was orphaned at the age of sixteen. He lost his father in World War I and only a month later his mother and two brothers died in a flu epidemic.
Forced to grow up fast, the teenager sold their homestead for what he could get, packed up his dead family's meager belongings on his horse and two pack mules, and then bravely journeyed westward alone.
After the Great Earthquake of 1906 while San Francisco fought to rebuild an entire city from the ground up, it was very hard for anyone else to get local workers for any kind of major project. Sage Wyoming finally resorted to advertising in newspapers in the Midwest and back East offering top wages. Del Mar set out hoping for a job as a laborer on their upcoming dam project there and if that failed to pan out, he'd just keep a'goin' til he reached Frisco.
With the entire branch of his family tree now dead but him, his aim was to raise up a mess of kids and get a taste of the prosperity that the western territories promised in those days.
When he got there, Sage turned out to be a small oasis of a community of only about 600 people in the midst of endless mile after mile of barren hills, tumbleweeds, and dry wasteland.
With Bear Lake in Utah only 25 miles west of them across the state line, the small town's founders wisely decided to try to dam up Twin Creek for water in order to create a “tiny dot on the map” of fertile ranch and farmland of their own.
Note: Images can be clicked on to E-N-L-A-R-G-E them
As with anything worth keeping, paradise is earned only with constant, hard and backbreaking work and Ennis was no stranger to it.
The young man was one of the lucky few who looked towards the future and invested in Sage early.
He'd spend months riding the deep stream valley, estimating where the water would rise to and where the future lake would be widest. Young Del Mar was laughed at after he collectively took all of his late father's savings, plus what he'd gotten after selling the family farm in the Midwest, and what he'd earned as a tenderfoot dirt hauler, and bought what was thought to be a completely useless parched hilltop.
He had rocky peaks dynamited and then sold the resulting waste to his employers as material for the internal core of the earthen dam. The result was a flat platform of bedrock high up where he estimated the future shoreline of the lake would be. Those not thinking ahead didn't realize that those hills had the potential to become prime lakefront real estate.
By selling those huge boulders, he'd cleverly let his detractors unknowingly pay for the leveling out of his future home ranch. He would later chuckle at them when they learned the valuable business lesson that it's better when you're investing in something to use other people's money.
He built a small shack there to live in and quietly began hauling seed from the depot in Lakton for corn, wheat, barley and other staples in order to find out what would grow there. The general store owner thought he was plumb loco when he even inquired about apple and cherry tree seedlings. In the coming years some crops would thrive, but more often than not failed, but at least he was gaining a head start knowledge that no one else had.
He was high-stakes gambling now because if the new dam didn't hold or was lower than projected, he'd lose everything on a thousand acres of dry hilltop.
Through more hard work, he impressed his bosses and became a foreman on the project. Using his new management position, he little by little redirected a lot of the displaced waste dirt that wasn't rocky enough to be hauled to the dam site onto his own already prepared and waiting property while hoping the dry winds didn't blow it all away.
Within a year after the completion of the dam and the lake that slowly rose up behind it, Ennis had his acres of prime ranching and fertile farmland surrounded on three sides by life-giving water. He was ahead of everyone else in town by at least a year and was selling crops while his neighbors were still preparing their fields for their first plantings.
The resulting much smaller Lake Sage may not have had the tourist appeal of Bear Lake, but Sage's new farms thrived from it and relished in its “in the middle of nowhere” reputation. Del Mar, still looking towards the future, began paying local fisherman in Utah to start a “catch and release” program… "Catch ‘em at Bear Lake - release ‘em at Lake Sage!"
Determined not to let the del Mar name die with him, he married at eighteen and sired four boys by 1922, eventually more than tripling that with the success of his ranch. The shack was replaced with a proper house and one by one, he built barns and equipment sheds that sprouted up everywhere.
After a few years of experimenting, he settled on growing hay, sugar beets, barley, dry beans, and wheat. Cherry, apple and pear trees thrived too. Prize cattle and horses soon followed the abundant crops.
As the years passed he built a fine home with eight bedrooms and lots of room for love.
With his early profits, he bought hundreds of assorted tree seedlings from all over the country and had them planted on the northwest shore near the dam, then named the resulting public recreation area Heath Ledger Park after his wife's late father as a fifth anniversary present. Sage thought it was a wonderful and generous donation, but actually all he was doing was figuring out which trees would survive here and what wouldn't, and rather than take up his own valuable farmland doing it, decided to let the town tend to and water them for him.
His wife's favorite willow trees soon lined the shoreline the length of his property along with tall fast-growing poplars and spruces.
With the growing popularity of the automobile, Utah would through the course of years eventually extend its scenic Valley View Highway to the Wyoming line just outside of town to accommodate the increase in commerce and traffic.
Out of his own pocket, Ennis built a long narrow lane back behind the east shore of Lake Sage all the way to his home. As it grew to serve several ranches, the town eventually extended it farther east and then north along the reservoir's shoreline and then connected it with the county road. The improved throughway became known as Del Mar Pike.
Del Mar’s fourth son, christened Kyle del Mar, and his neighbor Mark's daughter Francine Bowers were practically twins, both farm-born on June 1st 1922. Both were blond like their mothers, grew up on ranches across from each other, went to school together, and were practically raised as brother and sister… in fact they did everything together.
The only discernible difference in their life trajectories was that while Francine was an only child, Kyle eventually became one of fourteen brothers and sisters.
In the coming years, young Kyle grew up quickly, toiling hard in the fields alongside his daddy and brothers. The boy developed into a thin, muscular and gangly teenager with wavy blond hair. When he hit puberty he suddenly realized that Frannie might potentially be more than just his “bestest friend in the whole world.”
He learned to brawl by fighting off his elder brothers’ attentions towards her.
He was born with a defect in his cleft pallet that left him with a slight life-long lisp that got him picked on a lot by his many brothers and sisters, and especially by the other kids in his classroom. Heartless school tormentors toughened him up by labeling him “Sissy boy” early on and by the time he’d reached the 6th grade he’d been expelled four times for bullying and belligerent behavior.
By the time Ennis Abraham del Mar turned 29, he was heavily invested in the growing New York business stocks back east trying to make sure his moderately rich family stayed that way, but America's luck ran out nine months later in 1929 when the stock market crashed, leaving the family nearly penniless. Not one to give up easily, he still had his farm and everybody needed food, but for many many years afterward, no one could afford what he managed to grow with the seed he had barely enough to buy.
...then came the dust storms that turned the sky dark at noon, and then The Great Depression. Ennis quietly began hauling spare tractors, tools and prize livestock out the back road east to Diamondville to sell it out of the view of prying eyes in Sage.
He lost his pride in his accomplishments and became depressed as his success and prestige became as hard to hold onto as a handful of sand.
Ennis struggled and fought to keep his spread alive, sometimes barely getting ahead - but mostly falling behind. Seeing his father's burden supporting such a large family, his oldest boy Jake left to get a low-paying job in Sacramento California. Randy left soon after and settled in Salt Lake City working as a typesetter for a newspaper. David moved to Sandy Utah and became a Christian preacher surrounded by Mormons.
With money tight in 1937, out of desperation Ennis took out his first ever loan on his valuable land to try to make ends meet... then abruptly saw the prices that farm products could be sold at fall through the floor again. Instantly half the ranchers in town went bankrupt with unharvested crops rotting in fields, lots of livestock, but no one to sell either to.
That fall, lightning struck the del Mar mansion and
the family found themselves crammed into the empty first house he'd build. Three rooms downstairs two upstairs.
Still Papa stayed strong and proud, but he was growing tired of fighting and if it hadn't been for the support of his loving and devoted wife and kids he wouldn't have made it.
Come November after a meager harvest, Ennis was thirty-seven and Kyle was fifteen and a half. Del Mar couldn’t find a job anywhere to support his big family, but was determined not to sell the ranch they'd all worked so hard for. With winter snows approaching fast, he began giving his oldest remaining son Kyle crash courses in farming and ranching, buying and selling animals, and managing the money.
Young Kyle became worried after being told that he might soon be the "man of the house," because his old man would have to leave town in order to find work.
In a last-ditch effort, Ennis, whom by then everyone in town knew simply as "Papa," took what was left of his life savings and paid the mortgage up for six months. Gossip spread like wildfire that Papa had enough money on hand lying around to make such a large payment... if he could survive in those times... maybe they could too.
With talk of Germany starting a war in Europe, Ennis left town without a word to anyone but his wife. He enlisted in the army back when there were no age limits for joining, willing to try anything to support his struggling family.
Everyone in town grew puzzled when he didn't rebuild his fine house. Soon after his leaving, people started noticing his absences at town functions. Speculation began flying around that the man that they still thought was very wealthy was thinking of deserting them for greener pastures west, probably scouting out new land in Utah or California where three of his boys had already moved.
The resentful mayor loudly opened the next town counsel meeting by remarking that if those were his plans, then del Mar was about as useful to them as a dead horse. Several people gasped at the Mayor's language when he repeated himself later by closing the meeting, "Good ladies and gentlemen, he left us when we needed him the most... That ungrateful rich bastard walked out on our town without as much as a goodbye, and I personally will miss him less than a God-DAMNED dead horse."
Tragically, Ennis was accidentally killed during training when a defective rifle barrel exploded on a boot camp firing range two months later.
Sadly his kin couldn't even afford to have the body shipped home. Ennis Abraham del Mar was buried in an unmarked and eventually forgotten grave at a pauper's military cemetery back east.
Unlike today, women in those days were unwise in the ways of business and commerce, and his wife became convinced their land was worthless with everyone around her too broke to buy it. Besides that, Mama del Mar was too devastated by the death of her beloved husband to think clearly and took to her bed sobbing and wailing for nearly a week.
Knowing the bank would eventually take the ranch if it found out about her husband's death, she began writing to her three eldest boys for what little financial help she could get. Mama only had one direction she could flee and that was west.
Without a word to anyone, she made her final decision to quietly abandon the then-famous del Mar ranch. She still had four months paid up on the spread, so if she couldn't find a new home, she could always quietly return and have the place to fall back on until they were evicted for nonpayment on the note.
Her eldest boy Jake finally arrived from California.
Telling no one, not even the Bowers across the road, and with only one truck that barely held all of her kids, they started out late one night in January of 1930 with only the clothes on their backs.
Livestock were let loose inside the barns with all of the hay that was left and a hope they'd survive the cold until spring. Equipment became covered with snow in the fields. She and her remaining ten children only made it as far as a crossroads in Lakton Utah before Jake's old truck broke down. From there they took a bus to northern Utah to live with her married brother.
Not knowing the tragic details of what really happened, more gossip flew and rumors spread that Papa del Mar really had abandoned Sage along with his money to start up a new town of his own in Utah. Sour townsfolk conveniently forgot all that the man had done for them and in sheer stupidity and spite wiped his name off of everything. Street signs were replaced and the town council even considered changing the name of the now lush wooded Ledger Park, but it was spared because they didn't know it was named after his father-in-law.
It was only after the long cold bus journey west that Mama del Mar realized that one of her children was missing.
Following days of frantic searching, finally her eldest daughter broke down and confessed that one of her sons said that he was going to do his patriotic chore by running away to take his father’s place in the army.
She never saw Kyle again.
He lied about joining the army.
Chapter 1 ~ Kyle & Frannie Bravely Take The Reins
Lovesick Kyle couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his home and his girlfriend Francine behind. He snuck away from his uncle Jake's truck when it broke down in Lakton, hitchhiked and walked the 25 miles back to Sage, and hid out in Francine's parent’s freezing cold barn across the road for two weeks while she snuck meals to him.
Eventually he moved back to his folk’s abandoned ranch, afraid of the responsibility, trying desperately to remember everything his father taught him about running a spread of that size... all by himself.
For the first few weeks the teenager went wild with no parents to say “no” to him, but eventually he settled down with the weight of responsibility on his back for the next mortgage payment that was due two months away in May. Everything had been snowbound for weeks and nothing moved, so no one even noticed the del Mars had vanished. Smoke came out of the house's chimney, so everyone just assumed that someone was still there, even though Ennis continued to miss town meetings, church and social events.
Kyle's father taught him well that he'd need an education and the boy was allowed to continue going to school every day, signing his mama’s name to report cards and working part time here and there. In those days it wasn't unusual for teenaged kids to quit school to work on their parent's farms in bad weather. When teachers noticed that all of the del Mar kids had stopped coming and questioned him, Kyle explained it away by saying that his father went east on business and had sent his family to live with relatives in Utah.
A “chip off the ol’ block” and without knowing he was sort of following in his daddy’s footsteps, Kyle Del Mar developed into a careful and smart kid for his age and convinced the neighbors that he was left behind to try to run the ranch on his own.
Blissfully in a world of his own, he drove back and forth to school every weekday in the only vehicle left, and old Model T farm truck, and never noticed the street sign he didn't need to read to find his way. It was only after going to the post office to mail a mortgage payment that he discovered the addresses on the envelopes had changed...
...Powerful hurt and anger slammed into him when he discovered that he now lived on Dead Horse Road.
It didn't take him long to find out why the name had changed, or to feel the resentment the town had towards his father that he was blissfully unaware of for so many weeks.
He got a job as a journeyman carpenter that spring when Sage built a rodeo arena to attract tourists in the shadow of the dam. When he had to, Kyle also did odd jobs on the neighboring ranches for only food and supplies he needed. Slowly but surely through planting season he learned to work the crops on his own and sold off the cattle and horses for pennies on the dollar a few at a time for money to buy equipment to pay the electric and make home repairs.
If it weren't for the continued drawn-out Depression and plummeting farm commodity prices, the del Mar Ranch would be worth a fortune to someone investing for when the economy got better… if it got better.
Long ago his daddy discovered that their fat peninsula bordered on three sides by the lake seemed to be a secret gathering spot for cutthroat trout, mackinaw, cisco, and whitefish, and with no limits like on Bear Lake, Ennis had built several floating piers and let out-of-towners fish off his land for a minimal - yet profitable price.
Kyle continued that tradition and planned to add ice fishing that coming winter. Long ago, his father was permitted to post signs forbidding angling boaters off his shore in return for allowing an annual fishing contest that drew crowds from miles around.
By using his wits Kyle continued to make every mortgage payment on time. Had the bank known who truly held title to that land, they would've snapped it up quickly and had no regrets about evicting the young man who now resided there all alone and scared of being found out.
Kyle would have been alright and gone unnoticed too if it hadn’t been for the present he and Francine gave to each other on their mutual 16th birthday in 1938.
On the last day of school an angry father named Marcus Bowers showed up in class with a loaded shotgun hunting for the boy that got his little Francine pregnant. A week later they were married shotgun style by a justice of the peace.
Gambling that the elder del Mar would return eventually, and knowing Kyle had only one payment left on the books for their ranch loan, they’d let the wealthy owners have it as a good will gesture. The bank was gambling towards better times that might bring business and deposits to come from them; not knowing that the current holders of the deed were a sixteen-year-old couple.
Rumors of another world war coming spread like tumbleweeds. Everyone was still out of work. In the months to come, the mayor began using anger over Ennis' absence as an election year issue and his campaign photo even showed him conveniently smiling next to a new DEAD HORSE RD. sign. Months later when everyone eventually discovered what had really become of one of the town's benefactors, he lost the election... but the street signs never came down.
After a difficult pregnancy Kyle and Frannie's first child Cornelia was born March 26, 1939 and Kyle was furious because not only wasn’t it a boy, but the baby was a brunette and they were both blonds. In ignorance he believed he'd been tricked into marrying her with some other guy’s child. In revenge he savagely sexually attacked and beat his young bride over the next week.
Nine months later the day after Christmas his namesake Kyle Ennis del Mar Jr. was born, also dark haired. Kyle and Francine went through a rocky time in their marriage and separated for nearly two years because the new baby reminded her of that marital rape.
During that period, she took the toddlers to live across the road with her parents never letting on to them what had happened to her, or why Kyle left town.
Rather than fight with Francine all the time, Kyle gave use of his land and livestock to his father-in-law, leaving his failing ranch to join the Gyllenhaal traveling rodeo circuit as a chute dogger and roper, doing well enough to send money back to Francine to support his two children, but not enough to make much of a living at it.
Men were begging and pleading for jobs, so it wasn’t uncommon for a father to leave his family behind out of desperation and work for pennies to support them in another town miles away.
Though he was 18 and drove his father’s truck, he never got a driver’s license, nor voted, so he was on no one’s books but the bank’s.
Chapter 2 ~ Destiny’s Fathers - Part One
In the long year that followed, Kyle faithfully kept sending nearly all the money he made to Fran and the kids. He also did a bit of growing up and a lot of learning… and had a lot of sense beaten into him too by cowboys he’d told his story to.
A little after a year into his attempt at becoming a rodeo star, he made a rare visit back to his hometown late one night. He was on his way to seeing his wife and kids living across the road at his in-laws. Driving deep in thought in an old pickup he’d recently bought third hand after his daddy's had died, he nearly ran over a big man in the dark just after turning left onto Dead Horse Rd from the main drag through town (Sage St.)
The cowboy was walking aimlessly down the middle of the road.
Thinking he was a drunken neighbor, del Mar stopped and found a dazed, confused and lost stranger a little older than he was, in silent anguish over something horrible. He wasn’t drunk; just crazed with grief, and didn’t know where he was.
The man managed to choke out that he’d hitchhiked as far as the railroad tracks on Lincoln County Road to get to Sage’s Rodeo stadium but couldn’t find it in the dark.
Kyle explained the rodeo was wedged between the shops and the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage Reservoir. Seeing that this guy was in no shape to be by himself tonight and knowing his farmhouse was empty because Frannie and the kids were living with her parents across the road, Kyle drove the stricken stranger home with him.
With the electricity off, del Mar guided him into the dark kitchen, lit a kerosene lamp, and they sat at the dust-covered dinner table.
The handsome man had immense bulging arm and torso muscles that were bigger than any he’d ever seen in his life and he looked awful familiar, but he couldn’t place the face.
The brown-haired cowboy was beside himself with something all pent up inside, so Kyle found a bottle of whiskey and fed it to him until the big man calmed down enough to tell of his sorrow.
His childless wife up in Lightning Flat had just a few days ago miscarried for the second time, and the people he worked for and loved like family had been gunned down in town the night before. The stranger’s best friend in the world died only an hour ago at a local hospital across the Utah line in Lakton, and it’d become just too much for him to handle. He was trying to walk back to the arena in town and in his overwhelming sorrow got lost.
The man wouldn't let it out, and Kyle could see it was eating him up inside.
Wait... those posters plastered up all over town! Del Mar imagined a big beaming smile on his face and a white cowboy hat, and it suddenly hit him. He jumped up knocking his chair backwards and shrieked like a schoolgirl who’d just spotted Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra on the street, “Jack… no-uh um… JUM… uh… JUMPIN’ JOHNNY TWIST!!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, standing there pointing at him in astonished disbelief.
The man sitting right here at his very own table was a famous rodeo star! In fact he was his hero and the man Kyle hoped to be some day!
Twist just sat there with his head down on his forearms in quiet bitter exhaustion.
In his amazed state of mind, Kyle wasn’t really paying attention to his guest and gushed grinning from ear to ear, “Sakes alive, ya got big! You know I tell all my rodeo friends how I met ya ‘bout a year ago up yonder in Lightnin’ Flat! I pert near broke my arm tryin’ out fer Bossman ‘n was introduced to ya in the locker room there. I declare it’s such a mighty honor ta…”
Suddenly it hit him. A newspaper said the owners of the Boss Man’s Traveling Rodeo Show and several other people were shot dead in town during a robbery at the stadium two nights ago.
The champion looked up at him, and his chin and forehead seemed to be trying to crush his face between them. This time he couldn’t hold back and the cries burst out of him in huge gasps so loud that Frannie could probably hear them across the road.
Kyle quickly circled the table, held him in his arms, and comforted him until he cried it all out. The man was so exhausted that he was ready to pass out, so Kyle led him into the back bedroom, slipped off his boots and stayed with him in bed through the night occasionally holding him or softly talking him back to sleep.
The next morning he drove John Twist to the stadium and discovered that some kind of makeshift memorial meeting was taking place for his slain coworkers.
Kyle wanted to go in with him to make sure he was all right, but he now had lost nearly a day of only two he had left to spend with his family. They thanked each other and parted ways not possibly knowing what destiny held for both of their yet to be born sons…
Chapter 3 ~ Frannie Goes It Alone… Again
In 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked and then World War II broke out. Del Mar was never registered with the draft after his mother assumed he was either dead or already in the army, so he avoided being called up by laying low and not drawing attention to himself.
June of 1942 saw Kyle turn twenty. The Gyllenhaal Traveling Rodeo he'd finally found a home in was suspended as Uncle Sam called more and more young men into the war effort. With nowhere else to go, he returned home to try his hand at breeding and selling roping horses, while raising livestock on the ranch... and trying to make up with Francine.
He was surprised at how much his two kids had grown and it didn't help the situation that while he was gone, Kyle Jr.'s hair had gradually lightened to almost the same shade as his father's.
With men dying in wars across both oceans by then, Francine realized that she was lucky to have a man at all and after a few months of sweet-talkin' from Kyle, moved back across the road with her volatile husband. The new reconciliation stuck and in late spring of 1943 she presented Kyle with a second son that was fair-haired this time. They named him Ennis Jordan del Mar.
To her relief he was the proverbial "spittin’ image" of his Daddy.
As the baby grew and became a toddler rather than crying, he developed an infectious giggle that his parents adored. That contagious laugh could earn Ennis anything he wanted and his doting parents spoiled him rotten his first five years.
Resentful little Kyle Junior began to feel like a “factory reject” instead of the first-born son, and so began a habit of endlessly picking on his little brother out of spite and to “keep him in his place.”
Through war and then victory in Europe and Japan, Kyle got the hang of ranching, depending on raising livestock more than farming, though he eventually did both well. Eventually a well-built, well liked man replaced the teenager who took over the del Mar Ranch and soon the animosity that the locals felt towards his father was put aside as they found out the elder del Mar was killed serving his country instead of skipping town like everyone thought.
Kyle tore out the insides and then remodeled both floors of the ranch house with help from his neighbors and in-laws. What once was a big four-room house, barely holding fourteen kids and two adults was gutted to the outer walls and then converted to a two-story three-bedroom home. He expanded the back of the ground floor and added two bedrooms above that.
He also tore down and then put up several outbuildings after taking out his first mortgage on the spread. With all of the improvements, the bank thought it was a safe bet.
As far out as they were from town, the outlying ranches didn’t have phone service yet, so Kyle and Frannie began writing letters to his brothers and sisters inviting them to come see the improvements, but got no responses.
With Russia and the U.S. entering the Cold War, President Truman felt the need to have a good standing army just in case and instituted a peace time draft. All hell broke loose when that same month he signed an order desegregating the armed forces.
In 1948 on Kyle’s 26th birthday, the government finally caught up with him and he was inducted into the military for a four-year hitch, serving with a bunch of now outraged and bigoted racists. Unfortunately their attitudes infected him too out of peer pressure.
Francine was left to raise two grade school children and a toddler on her own... again.
After Kyle left for San Diego, Francine took a job as a clerk at the library full time and barely made the mortgage payments. Meanwhile her parents took over running both the Bowers and the del Mar spreads, hiring on extra help to farm a combined 2000 acres.
To save money on expenses Frannie moved her family to her parent’s house between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Francine was put to the test in January and February of 1949 after just moving her family back home across the road. The great 30-day blizzard brought record low temperatures and winds sometimes over 70 miles per hour. Snow drifted so high that long stretches of Dead Horse Road were impossible to find, meaning she couldn’t get to work, so she lost her job.
She resorted to heating the house with a wood-burning stove and all of them lived in the living room downstairs to conserve warmth.
At one point it snowed for a week and a half straight, downing power lines and severing mail service. She and her parents lost nearly three quarters of their livestock to subzero conditions. The family was snowbound, loan payments weren’t made and Frannie had to home school her children until the roads were cleared finally in early March.
Unable to get word from them, Kyle was frantic trying to get home to see his family and assure their safety, but there was no way to travel there because of the storms.
One night Francine and the kids were roused by pounding on the door. One of her father’s ranch hands nearly froze after being sent to check on her mother "Grandma Francine," who hadn’t arrived after announcing the previous afternoon that she was going over to check on her daughter and the kids.
They found Mrs. Bowers partway down their driveway two days later frozen to death.
Kyle never made it to the funeral to comfort his grieving wife and family. He tried for a hardship release from the military, but was denied.
Frannie was heartbroken for a while because she and Kyle would have to spend their tenth wedding anniversary apart… that was until Kyle surprised her at their doorstep on a 4-day pass. Unfortunately because of travel time back then, he could spend only one day at home; but it was enough.
Circumstances toughened Fran up and soon she was riding the tractor, planting and harvesting fields, getting a decent price for livestock she raised, budgeting income and expenses and raising her kids. With her father’s advice and experience, she handled herself with pride and confidence. If it hadn’t been for the hard economy she might’ve succeeded too, but slowly both ranches fell behind on their mortgages.
In September at the age of six, Ennis entered first grade. Kyle Junior by then considered himself the “man of the house,” and a few days after entering the fourth grade he’d tired of being called “little” Kyle and/or “Junior” and stomped up defiantly to the breakfast table one morning and demanded that Francine give him a more “growed up” nickname.
His mother instantly got revenge for his brash attitude and turned to her youngest to decide on a suitable substitute. Out of the blue, the first grader dubbed him “K.E.” and laughed every time he said it. Mom loved it and from then on that was his name - like it or not… which didn’t set too well with Kyle Junior.
A week letter Kyle Senior sent his oldest a letter from California addressed to Mr. “K.E.” del Mar, which made it official. In pure resentment K.E. began slapping his little brother across the face hard every time he’d laugh or giggle out loud. Ennis would go crying to Francine and she’d reprimand his big brother with a good spanking.
Within a few more months her youngest was cured of his famous smiles and laughter from constant beatings and bullying at the hands of his stronger elder brother, along with threats of more if he tattled to their overworked mom.
In May of 1950 Kyle came home on leave to tell his wife that it was very likely he would soon be sent to Korea where the war was heating up. Almost immediately after his boots hit the ground there, he was seriously wounded in the Battle of Inchon and a buddy carried him half a mile to a medical unit where he almost died from loss of blood. His injuries were serious enough for him to be released home soon.
While he was convalescing overseas, Francine’s father Marc died at 62 of a sudden heart attack in his wheat field just across the road from their driveway. She was the one who found him while checking their rural mailbox and was so inconsolable that Kyle was shipped to a stateside V. A. hospital in Casper early under medical care.
It was only after she talked to the doctors long-distance on her parent’s new phone that she was told that her husband had been shot in the abdomen and had lost a kidney. He’d be alright as long as he was careful with his diet, but he’d be sore walking around, in the saddle and farming for quite some time.
Francine inherited her parent’s spread and the huge mortgage that went with it. If she didn’t do something fast the bank was prepared to foreclose on both ranches. Before Kyle could get released from the sickbay, a savvy assistant loan manager fast-talked Fran into signing ownership of her parents’ ranch over to their bank for the total remaining payments owed on her father’s debt and the del Mar mortgage.
When Kyle arrived home a week later, he was furious at what she’d done because he thought they should’ve gotten much more, despite the fact that her actions meant that the del Mar ranch’s deed was now free and clear.
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2014 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events
written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.