Sierra. We never knew CR's name until after she died and her obituary came out. That’s how everyone pronounced it. CR.
I never saw an old picture of her but she was always beautiful. She wore graying black hair in a tight bun stuck with chopsticks or silver hairpins. Her long fingers and slender arms were full of rings and bracelets and she always had a cigarette. She gestured and jingled softly as she talked in a tar-ridden contralto and coughed when she laughed. She laughed a lot. I found her intimidating and thrilling.
She would sit with my mother on long summer afternoons in her cabin and they would talk, smoke, and drink coffee while we looked at Playboy magazines upstairs or brooded about the stairwell listening to them. That was often more interesting.
They would talk about everything - mostly politics and what was going on with their friends. The first sent us back to the magazines but the second often veered into things like who was getting divorced or married and why. Their lower tones would alert us to the sensitivity of the talk. If it got quiet we would arrange ourselves on the top stair to tune in.
CR once told Rene she was a witch. CR had a big laugh about that. Rene believes it to this day. Mom joked that she was joining her coven and never trusted her because she collected all those Hopi Indian dolls. Admittedly, CR was a little weird about the dolls. When they downsized and moved up to Wyoming she had a Hopi craftsman make detailed miniatures that she arranged on a high shelf in her RV just as they had been in her cabin.
Rene says those dolls were why the place sat vacant and deteriorating for years. I told her CR was pulling her leg about being a witch and how nothing had sold after the fire. Then she blamed CR for the fire.
I learned a lot of truths in CR’s cabin, especially sitting on the top stair. One was that Rene’s husband had affairs. Spooking her was CR’s way of avoiding awkward cocktail party invitations. She also found it helpful for avoiding the rest of Rene’s large family, including Rene’s husband.
CR also had a shelf in her busy kitchen devoted solely to coffee. My parents made coffee from light pale grind in huge cans. It smelled like coffee, a little, right after the can was opened. Then they’d put it in the electric percolator to cook where it would sit all day until it became bitter stale hot syrup. As long as it was still hot, they’d drink it.
CR made it from whole fresh roasted beans, the first I’d ever seen. She ground them in a old hand mill bolted to the wall that made the whole cabin shake when she let us crank it. It filled a drawer with oily black powder that was transformed to magic elixir she served it on a silver tray arranged with cups, real cream, sparkling square sugar lumps - another first for me.
I never went back to drinking soda.