"He should have lived in a different generation," said Anna. She said this after our inspection of a storage cellar on Grandpa's property. I agree. He is the ultimate survivalist, my Grandpa Hansen. A quick survey of his ranch, which I think more and more of as a compound, would show he and Grandma are pretty close to living off the grid. With the help of Rafael, a friend Grandpa met in Mexico, he built his home, barn, garage, gazebo, storage shelters water tank, and turtle farm. Oh, and there was a '72 three-quarter ton Ford pick-up to haul supplies. One day that pick-up was given to me. I rumbled to and from ASU in it my freshman year. But in it's practical days, that truck was the legs for Rafael and Grandpa. And they worked hard.
The house is made of walls three feet thick filled with dirt from the ground. With a white stucco exterior and red tile roof, it has a unique mexican/home-made look to it. One hundred feet south of the house, Rafael and Grandpa erected a parking garage from huge timber logs. There is a steel corrugated roof to supply shade to the garage. Underneath you can fit two dune-buggies, a truck, a minivan, a volkswagon bus, a honda accord, another small pick-up, and two ATC's. On the sides of the posts multiple tools hang. Grandpa knows the EXACT location of each tool. This is constantly amazing to me since I frequently lose books I'm reading in my own 400 square foot apartment. But, I'm no survivalist.
Yet another 100 feet south of the parking garage is the previously mentioned storage cellar in the earth. With a 3-foot high ceiling you could probably fit five people inside. To this day I'm not sure what it's for. Just make sure to remove the rattlesnakes cooped up inside before you venture in for a nap. As for a future hiding spot in capture the flag, I think I know where I'm headed.
If you travel back to the house and a little northeast, you'll come to the gazebo. This gazebo puts the dainty ones you see in English films to shame. It's made of a massive cement foundation. Underneath lies another storage cellar. Above lies a deck you can reach by way of a windy stair case. I've seen countless shooting stars on that deck and consider it my favorite place on the ranch.
If you look in the southwest direction while on top of the gazebo, you'll see another building shrouded in pine trees. The pine trees are the remains of a farm Grandpa once started. Three of their progeny are standing tall in our old yard in Mesa, AZ. They too are survivalists. But it is to this building you must never go if visiting the Ranch. It's off limits. I once took Anna when she was my fiance to this building while Granpda was in it and he nearly disowned me. (He would never disown me, I promise) But we won't discuss that building. It serves a purpose and that's all that need to be said.
Finally, directly east of his home is a wash with a network of trails. Me and the cousins have spent hundreds of hours speeding around those washes on Grandpa's ATC's. We've built bonfires. We've camped out. We've watched in horrific awe during the monsoons as the wash runs like the raging Colorado. And we've hunted jackrabbits in the wash. I think one of my favorite memories was when Anna stepped on a tarantula in the wash. All three of us got a fright. The tarantula lived. Oh, and just ask my sisters about "The Expedition" in the wash. A great family story.
So that's the essence of the ranch built by Rafael and Grandpa, more or less. As an aside, Rafael was involved in exciting episodes in Grandpa's life involving illegal alien smugglings. If you ever ask Grandpa whether he has spent a night in a Mexican prison, he'd be lying if he didn't say "si."
But...he's a survivalist, and life finds a way. And it was life finding a way that took Grandpa away from maybe becoming that survivalist who spends his days in the mountains in a van. No, life found it's way into Grandpa's life. He met Maurine. And they got married and had eight kids. Along with my Dad, most of the others have provided me with love, room, and board at various times of my youth. So, I quickly learned that when I want the familiar comforts such as love, room, or board, I can turn to Dad, or Mom, or anyone of my aunts and uncles. But when I want a "unique" experience, really a one-of-a-kind experience, I just have to visit Grandpa and Grandma out on their ranch.
I'm convinced no other grandchild has, or will ever have, the experiences I've had with them. I could write for hundreds of pages the memories we share and treasure, all unique in the very familiar grandparent-grandchild system. Yesterday, Anna and I participated in Grandpa the Survivalist at his best. He gave us yet another unique, cherished memory. It was the "Raising of the Ocotillo," as my aunt from Oregon called it.
To establish the setting for the memory, I will mention that last year it rained much in Arizona. As a result, a huge Century plant sprouted up near the gazebo. It was so big it captured my Grandpa's heart. And a little while back it collapsed, as most century plants do with time. The survivalist in Grandpa jumped to action and he determined to stand the plant upright again on a weekend when all his daughters were in town to visit. With Grandpa as foreman, he directed three clumps of aunts at the base of three guy wires to lift up the century plant and stake it upright in the ground again. I'll never forget watching up on the gazebo as my aunts, and mom, shuffled to and fro under the directions of Grandpa to raise the ocotillo back to life. On the way home that afternoon I mentioned to Anna, "I still don't know why he wanted to raise the plant back up." But I don't care, I guess. It was unique. It was Grandpa. It was family!