The promise of a sunny day and an early-season barbecue had lured us optimists out to the Lyons ranch. A March blizzard, unpredictably twisting from its predicted path, drove us indoors and threatened to maroon us. So there we were, a few select Hardyvillians huddled around the hearth with the extended Lyons clan -- families that had trekked to the ranch from as far away as Pocatello, Republic of Idaho, and Two Guns, Arizona.
The real reason for the gathering was Mrs. Nat. It was time to give the generations one last warm memory of her. A year ago, she had been fat and sassy. Well, more like fat and grandmotherly in the way you imagine great grandmothers to be. Now, despite Doc's best efforts, Mrs. Nat lay reduced and faded. Still, she had enough left of her to snuggle the latest great-grandbaby against her bosom, there in her recliner beside the blaze.
We had talked ourselves down to a nub, with Mrs. Nat mostly listening and a ravening pack of children rampaging through the big doublewide. Now it was late and even the most boistrous kid-beast was settling down. The last pocket-sized game-thingy had beeped its last boop. The last "Did too!" "Did not!" had been settled. And it was so quiet we could clearly hear the crackling of the fire and the howling of the wind outside.
Just as some of us were wondering whether the storm would let us wander home to our beds, one little Lyons piped,
"Grandpa, tell us a story!"
And another quickly added, "Yeah. Tell us about how Hardyville succeeded from the union."
"Seceeded," snipped my favorite Lyons grandchild, Tessa, (and the only one of the mob whose name I could ever rememeber) with all the superiority of her 13 years. "But yeah, grandpa. Tell that one." Suddenly aware of her adolescent dignity, she added, "The little kids need to hear it."
Nat protested that everyone already knew that story, practically by heart. And that it was getting late. And so on. It looked for a while as if he wasn't going to give in to the clamor.
But when Mrs. whispered, "Oh please, Sugarpie," Nat's resistance melted. We all leaned a little closer as he began.
"You all might have noticed," said he, "that Hardyville is inside of, but not exactly part of, these united States of America. Or mebbe I should say those united States. You might wonder how that came to be.
"Well, to understand that, you have to go all the way back to when Hardyville was founded."
"Seventeen-seventy-six!" a six-year-old shouted.
"That's what the sign at the town limits says. And that date marks the spirit of Hardyville for sure. But the truth was, the actual town came some 20 years later.
"It all started with Hezekiah Lyons, my great-great-great ..."
"...Great-great-great-great!" recited the children.
"Absolutely," agreed Nat with an impish smile. "He was great. I remember him real well." That silenced the children, who didn't know what to make of this new twist.
"It all started with stubborn old Hezekiah and a neighbor of his called Sean Brendan MacCarty." At this, everybody glanced at Carty, who sat a little straighter in the chair where he sat cleaning Ma Lyons' household sawed-off shotgun.
"Even before the War of Independence was over," Nat continued, "We could see that the ideals of freedom were being sold out -- if those ideals had ever been all that appreciated, anyhow. By the time the big-government boys pushed through their illegal Constitution, we knew trouble was ahead."
"So Hezekiah, Sean Brendan, and a bunch of their neighbors and clansmen decided the best thing was to get out. Now the Lyons clan was pure English to the roots. We'd lived around Philadelphia and in Rhode Island for generations. Our ancestors were the kind that the do-gooding Pilgrims pitched out of their Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies for heresy. Our kind were believers -- but most of all, we believed we didn't have no business shoving our religion down everybody else's throats -- whether that religion be Puritanism, like it was originally, or government worship, like it is today.
"Sean Brendan MacCarty and his people were a different kettle of kippers. They were just off the boat from Scotland, Ireland, and the north border country of England. Those people were fighters born and made. Every Scots-Irish son of a ... every man, woman, and third cousin of 'em considered every outsider to be a potential enemy or ally, but never a friend unless shared hardship or shared blood said otherwise. They didn't believe in anything but family and being left the heck alone by everybody else.
"Still, we Lyonses and those MacCartys and O'Quinns and Wallaces had more in common with each other than we did with the likes of Alexander Hamilton, who wanted this whole amazing, anything-goes, it-takes-all-kinds land to be controlled by a bunch of ..."
Nat spat into the fire as if getting rid of a bad taste. "...Poly-tick-ans. From a big swamp on the east coast."
"So we all packed up and moved off to western Pennsylvania. At the time, people figured that part of the world was pretty much the frontier. You might get clubbed to death by an Indian out there. But Hezekiah and Sean Brendan figured that since the poly-tick-ans weren't coming out to protect the settlers against the Indians, they might also not come out to collect taxes and impose their east-coast city ways."
"Ha!" Shouted one of the rowdier boys, who'd heard this story before. "Hezekiah was wrong!"
"Yep," Nat sighed. "Ole Hezekiah was wrong. Before we'd been in western Pennsylvania three years, in came George Washington with an army bigger than any he'd led in the war, along with that evil bas ... tax-lover, Hamilton. They were gonna squeeze our money out of us or kill us, one or the other. So we had to head on out even further -- although first we left a few tarred-and-feathered taxman in our wake.
"A lot of people like us were already headed further west at the time. Some going deeper into Kentucky and Tennessee, some headed into Ohio. But We could see that everything in the east was soon going to be swarmed over by that bunch of tax-or-axers, so we picked up our muskets ..."
"Hey, hold on," Carty interjected, "It woulda been Kentucky long rifles by then. Best darned military weapon of its day -- and We the People had it during the war, while the British 'superpower' didn't."
"Well, mebbe. Guess you're right on that," Nat nodded. "But fact is that Hezekiah, Sean Brendan and our pals would have taken rocket-propelled grenades and C4 explosives, if we'd had 'em. People's militia weapons to fight against foreign invaders and domestic tyrants. But we took what we took 'cause that's what we had and this time we decided to head far, far ...
"Far, far, farrrrrr," echoed the children.
"...far west," Nat agreed. "The history books don't tell it and we don't want 'em to, but the Lyons-MacCarty party ventured out farther, farther, farther, than any east-coast English folk had ever done. Sometimes we was helped by the local Injuns and French trappers and such. Sometimes we had to fight 'em off. Sometimes we traded. Sometimes we suffered. Sometimes we died.
"Sometimes," he admitted with a glint, "we resorted to dirty-dealin', theivin', and connivin'. But always in a good cause. And ..." here he waited for the children to supply the key detail.
"Only against gummint targets!" it came.
"Right." He wagged his index finger at them sternly. "Always be honorable with honorable people. Remember that. Never fail. But when you meet a man -- or a woman -- who not only wants to take your hard-earned money by force, but wants to use it to run your life the way he wants it run ... you do what you gotta do. Just like Hezekiah and Sean Brendan. Will you do that? Promise?"
The children all nodded solemnly.
"Well, we did what we had to do. We made it across Ohio and across places that were nameless then but that eventually became Indiana and South Dakota and like that. Finally we reached what looked like the rear entrance to the hairy assh ...armpit of hell. That suited the Scots and the Irish just fine. Places like that make good bolt-holes. Even us English thought it looked like a pretty good place to be left alone.
"We sent a scout ahead to locate a livable spot somewhere out there in all that nothing. Then we camped and waited. And waited."
"And waited and waited and waited!" the children chorused.
"When we finally realized the scout wan't coming back, we followed his trail straight into the middle of all that nowhereness. At the top of a pass, we found what was left of our scout, all dried out and dead of thirst. But the bony fingers -- by then I guess you'd have to say they were more like fingery bones -- on one hand were pointing straight back into a red-rocked, sagebrush-filled valley. We figured that had to be our kinda spot."
"Hardy Valley!" the oldest children shouted.
"'This is the place,' ole Hezekiah declaimed. Or was that that other guy, I forget? Anyhow, we figured we'd finally found someplace that wouldn't instantly attract a pack of poly-tick-ans looking for a bunch of easy tax payers to suck dry. So we hung our musk ... set up our howitzers and laid our razor wire among the greasewood bushes. And there we settled.
"And time passed. And nobody noticed Hardyville, in this spot where no European-folk were expected to be. We didn't have gold mines or great ports or scenery. Or anything anybody else wanted. So other white folk, when they finally came, just kinda walked around us without spotting us. And that, of course, suited us just fine. The Shoshone and the Crow knew we were here. So did some other tribes. But by then they'd figured out it wasn't a real good idea talkin' with wandering white folk, so they kept our secret.
"Still, over time we gradually welcomed more and more like-minded neighbors. A few, like the Murakamis and the Harbibis came directely to Hardyville as they discovered the place. More moved into the adjacent Republics of Montana and Wyoming. They settled the Kingdom of Deseret and the Idaho Territory.
"And then we got word about distant happenings. Secession. And soon after that, war. They called it 'Civil war.' But there was nothin' civil about it. It was never more than the powerful north-east coasters doin' what they always did -- tellin' everybody else how to live. The states had built the fed'ral gummint for their own purposes, or that's what the Hamiltonian propaganda said. But now that selfsame fed'ral gummint meant to rule them from Washington -- and it did. Not just in the south, but everywhere. It dragged those southerners back in. And in the years afterward, it tightened and tightened its fist. On everybody. North, south, east, west. Everybody. Except Hardyville."
The children were hushed, horrified as they always were by the violent coup against the states and the people. Until one small voice ventured, "But grandpa, my teacher said the war was to free the slaves. You don't think people should have slaves, do you? If Hardyville is for freedom, shouldn't we have been on the feral gummint side?"
"We never had any slaves here. Can you imagine such a thing? And we sure didn't collect or pay some tariff, which is the other thing they keep saying that war was about. And we'd come this far to get away from all that everybody-else's-business minding. So why would we get involved in that mess on anybody's b'half?"
"'Sides," Carty shrugged. "Funny thing. Every other civilized place on the planet peacefully got rid of slavery around then. If it was really about slavery, we're the only country that had to kill 600,000 people and destroy our whole form of gummint to do it."
"But you can bet," Nat said to the still puzzled kidlet, "that a bunch of individual Hardyvillians sent contributions to help operate the underground railroad. And some claim that local members of the MacCarty clan acted as conductors and stationmasters on that railroad, helping those that most wanted to be free help themselves. That's the way it has to work, you know. Freedom's not something any outsider can hand you. Or give you by shooting or bombing."
Nat continued, "Other than that, we watched, sad and shaking our heads. We saw the ruins of war and the worse ruins afterward. We watched as the fed'ral gummint went from being war conqueror to pretending to be everybody's glad-handin' 'friend' an' rich uncle -- handing out tons of money it had never earned (but printed by the trillions of dollars), making promises it never meant to keep, and always taking a little more control, every year, every day.
"Most of our neighbors fell for it. They elected -- Lord forbid -- federal poly-tick-ans. They held out their hands for fed money, too greedy to see the strings. Too blind with their love of gummint to see that it was no more than a little bit of their own money coming back to them. Eventually, the whole country went completely crazy and would put up with anything, even the craziest management of their own personal lives, for love for big gummint.
"Only Hardyville, with its Whiskey Rebellion-soaked, stubborn-cuss heritage, held out. We didn't take stolen money, but we didn't allow our own to be stolen. We didn't tell anybody else how to live, but we didn't let them tell us, either. We just kind of hunkered here, ourselves alone. Mindin' our own business. And nobody noticed. We 'succeeded' without doing any big, dramatic 'secession.' And we disappeared into American history.
"Today ... There's just ... a gap. Cartographers brush at their satellite photos and think we're a flyspeck. GPS systems report that they're approaching the South Pole when they come near us. Compasses ... well they ..."
"Oh, Sugarpie," Mrs. Nat interrupted in her little whispery voice. "Now, don't go filling their heads with nonsense. It's not like that. It's not anything supernatural. It's just plain common sense. Like slaves on the underground railroad, you have to want to be here before you can get here. When you do want to, you'll find the place. Until then, no map will do you any good.
"And long after I'm gone," she added wistfully, "a few will be finding their way here. Count on it."