"My sister and I loved to go there. Roger, my uncle, was my mother's brother. They often took us there for the day and we'd have a ball playing outside while the adults visited or canned or mended or whatever they did.
"I can remember one time when I was 10, I got hurt in some kind of accident and had to stay at my aunt's farm for several weeks. The doctor came to visit me, which even in those days didn't happen very often. No one ever would tell me what happened.
"Later that year, my uncle died. Within six months, my aunt Grace disappeared. The next year, my parents announced they were taking two weeks of vacation to go see her. They planned on working their way to Montana slowly, stopping at many tourist spots along the way. After visiting for five or so days, we'd work our way back along a different route, doing the same thing.
"Instead, we only stayed overnight. The morning after we arrived, my parents packed everything in the car. My mom went into the house with my aunt and I could hear shouting and screaming. I can remember my mom coming out, her face red, very agitated, and shouting, "Don't bother to contact us again."
"My sister and I were heartbroken. We liked Aunt Grace and we had looked forward to our visit. She lived on a huge ranch with lots of horses and cows plus many of the other animals she'd had when she lived here.
"My mom and dad refused to tell us why they'd left and I heard my mom say later that she was taking all my aunt's information out of the address book, that the woman was dead to her now."
Fred gestured like he needed something to drink, so Lanie popped up to fetch some drinks for everyone. "Don't say anything until I'm back. This sounds like an interesting story."
When she came back, she also had glasses and a bottle of wine for the girls and beers for the guys.
"Cade, you may remember I took the summer off between high school and college to travel. Before I left, I searched through some of my mother's old address books and found my Aunt Grace's address and phone number. I waited until I was away from home before I called her. After I explained why I was calling, and she made me promise my parents didn't know we were talking, she said I was welcome to stop by.
"The first night I was there I noticed something strange. Two men slept in the house, apart from the bunkhouse where the other workers lived. They both had their bedrooms, but when night came, they went into my aunt's bedroom and they both stayed there all night."
Fred took a sip of his beer and continued.
"Of course, being the curious 19-year-old that I was, I asked my aunt the next morning. She laughed.
"My lifestyle is why your parents won't have anything to do with me anymore. They don't approve of me or what I do at all. You're 19 now, aren't you?"
I nodded in agreement.
"Good. Then, you're old enough to hear this.
"Even when I was married to Roger, your mother's brother, one man wasn't enough for me. I slept with other men AND women. Not frequently and always discreetly. Dick and I never talked about my alternative lifestyle, but I suspect he knew. If I kept him satisfied, he was happy. I did love him a lot. He was my first and best love until that point.
"Soon after your uncle died, someone started spreading rumors about my lifestyle. I did not think they got to your mother, but after a bit, I got tired of all the gossip and decided to move on. I did a little scouting and a good friend suggested this valley. She said there were far more men than women living here so it was common and accepted that sometimes a woman would live with more than one man. That sounded good to me, so I moved here.
"Turns out people in this valley don't care what each other does behind closed doors. I know we've got one ranch run by two gays. There's another ranch run by four lesbians. Two men and one woman live together in several other places. What we do care about is supporting each other. If someone's barn gets damaged, everyone shows up to fix it. If cattle stray, whoever finds them makes sure the cattle get back to their proper owner and any damaged fences get fixed. We struggle together, we celebrate together. Oh, yes, sometimes somebody gets pissed off and we have a problem, but that soon gets resolved.
"Soon after I got here, I met Luke. He later introduced me to Kenny, his best mate. I fell in love with both of them. I'm married to Luke because the state only recognizes two people on a marriage certificate. But for all other legal purposes, we're equals, Luke, Kenny, and me. We own everything jointly and have lines of succession all drawn up. And yes, we sleep together with all that implies.
"While I don't mind telling you all this, I find the fact that I'm a woman and your aunt makes it difficult to tell you more, even though we aren't blood-related.
"This afternoon Luke is going out to inspect the fence around the back-property line. You're welcome to go along, and you can ask him any questions you want."
"I won't take the time now to go through everything he said. My biggest question was about the status between the guys. His response was blunt. 'We are not gay. Certainly, there are times when various parts of our body touch when we're making love to your aunt. We're okay with that because we understand our love interest is your aunt, not each other.'"
With that, Fred got up, went to the bathroom, got another beer from the kitchen, and plopped back down on the couch.
"Is there a point to this story," Cade asked. "I don't see where it applies to us."
"No, there isn't a specific point," Fred said. "I wanted to show there are many ways for relationships to thrive. I'm throwing the story out there to stimulate our thinking. Surely with the brainpower in this room, we can come up with some way to keep all of us happy without blowing up one or more marriages."
The group finally decided to use Lanie as a clearing point for ideas because of her organizational skills. They would have another BBQ next week to discuss all the possibilities.