Welcome to my World

Welcome to the domain different--to paraphrase from New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe which bills itself "The City Different." Perhaps this space is not completely unique but my world shapes what I write as well as many other facets of my life. The four Ds figure prominently but there are many other things as well. Here you will learn what makes me tick, what thrills and inspires me, experiences that impact my life and many other antidotes, vignettes and journal notes that set the paradigm for Dierdre O'Dare and her alter ego Gwynn Morgan and the fiction and poetry they write. I sell nothing here--just share with friends and others who may wander in. There will be pictures, poems, observations, rants on occasion and sometimes even jokes. Welcome to our world!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Listening to the desert

We often do not pay much attention to sounds except for the irritating ones like noisy cars with blasting stereos, construction machinery close to our homes, or whining kids and the neighbor's barking dogs. That is a mistake. Reading a book about writing memoirs ,I found some reminders abut how much of a trigger some sounds can be.  So I began to think about listening to the desert--the places I have lived and loved for the greater parts of my life and what I heard and filed away, almost without thought.

The wind--it can whisper or howl, sigh through pine trees up in the mountains or whine in the wires as a clue bad weather is probably coming. There can be a few days when the high desert sits becalmed and heat lies heavy over all like a down cover on your winter bed, but that is rare. Much more often, you can feel a breeze and if you listen you can hear it. The gentlest rustle of mesquite leaves, the flutter of cottonwood leaves above, perhaps some twigs sliding against each other. Here it is more often windy--to me anything over 10 MPH is a wind and not a breeze, to heck with what the official designation is! But breeze or wind, it still talks. Fortunately this is not a really noisy place so I can often hear it and other natural sounds.

The birds. Very early on summer mornings almost everywhere I have lived, birds wake at the first blush of light. The sleepy twitters are soft and almost hesitant at first but grow in volume and frequency with the light. Then the doves start. My favorites are the mourning doves with their soft whoo-ooo-ooo, the middle 'syllable' rising a little, almost breathy and yes, melancholy. The white wings sound more like some of the pigeons--I am not a fan of feral pigeons but it is still a coo rather than the burble-barfy sound the pigeons make. Finally an invasive new species, the Chinese ring-necked doves make a coo that almost imitates a distant voice saying, "bravo six", over and over, like a radio call! I remember and especially like the mourning doves. I heard them so much out at some of the leased pastures and areas where we keep livestock which I visited daily for a number of years. The ones here have a subtly different sound but it is still familiar.

I love the quail too. The Gambel's have a very distinct call, mostly the males. In the spring they call a lot until they find a female to bond with, at least for the season. Both parents care for the babies and watch over them closely until they are close to half grown. Sometimes there seem not to be enough hens to go around and the bachelors get hoarse and begin to look a bit derelict in their lonely state for the coveys break up and each pair goes off alone until the chicks are near-grown late in the summer. For a time, the solitary males are very lonely! I expect some fall prey to hawks or other predators due to carelessness. Nature's way, perhaps, of balancing things again.

And there are the Road Runners. They are New Mexico's state bird but also prevalent in Arizona. The male's spring mating call is an odd burbly sound somewhat like strumming a heavy rubber band, stretched tight. I guess the girls get the message for after a bit you can see a male strutting past with a lizard in his beak, taking it back to the nest to feed his lady while she sits on the eggs. To call one another they have low coo similar to the dove but softer. They are in the Coo Coo family and it is a 'coo-coo' sort of sound.

The song birds have various calls, some I know and some I do not. The thrashers have a slightly lispy whistle. The Finches may sing like a canary (which is actually a kind of Gold Finch) and the sparrows just chirp and twitter. The grackles do 'grackle' in a cackly scratchy way, very talkative birds!

Hummingbirds make a shrill little chatter when they are contesting over a feeder or perch plus the buzz of their wings in fight-flight and in the male's display while courting. The Black Chinned males especially fly in huge looping arcs and their wings almost scream as they descend, a very high pitched whistle. I have not heard it here but in Arizona they had a distinct little song for late fall as they prepared to go south, a squeaky, ratchety little tune repeated two or three times.

Several places I have lived, I have to add the sound of trains. While not exclusive to or part of the desert, they are familiar and comforting to me. In the Verde Valley my brother and I looked forward to the arrival of "The Local", a mixed freight out of Prescott that came for one to three times a week. In Flagstaff I lived a short block from the Santa Fe mainline for two years and grew very used to the sounds. Then there was a long time without that sound. I discovered it again in Hurley, NM with another local coming on from Deming, not quite daily but often. My second sojourn in Colorado, we lived about a mile from the main line shared at that time by BNSF and UP. That sound followed us down to Alamogordo where we hear trains day and night, again a familiar and comfortable sound. We are probably a long half mile from the track here, a connecting one between the BNSF route across northern NM and the UP tracks across the southern edge. One grade crossing is nearly due west and they all blow the familiar long,short,long,long warning whistle as they approach it. Then the steel wheels on the steel rails have a totally distinctive sound, not quite a whine or a whistle but unique.

So I suggest you listen--wherever you are, there will be distinct sounds which will come to trigger certain memories and moods. If you can reconnect with those you knew while growing up or at other specific stages of your life it can be pleasant to reconnect with them or at least let them trigger happy memories. I do that often.

Monday, May 8, 2017

More family tree stuff

I missed last week. Sorry. A new friend I met while I was in Alaska in March --we were both Iditarod volunteers--is into genealogy. Over one of our shared meals, I heard about her Welsh great grandfather who was a minister and had written a book in Welsh (Cymric) that she wanted to have translated and then republished.  I mentioned that my paternal great grandfather was the only one of that generation on whom I had no information. She volunteered to do some detective work for me. And that is certainly what such research is. You have to be open minded, follow every faint lead and check the evidence!  All I had to start with was a picture of his gravestone in Missouri with his date of death and that of his wife. My thanks to Celia Schultz --who is a least a good part Welsh regardless of the last name --for her scholarship thus far. We are filling in some blanks!

John King Lawrence Morgan
As it turns out, we now think John King Lawrence Morgan was born in Pennsylvania in 1831 and at age 29 was married to a woman named Sara or Sarah with whom he had probably more than one child. This comes from the 1860 census. Then somehow between then and 1878 when my paternal grandfather was born, he moved to Missouri and met and married a woman named Martha Martin. They had one stillborn baby, a girl, and my grandfather. It is unlikely to impossible that there were two men with the same name and birthdate so I assume now that Sara died and he left those children, perhaps grown or nearly so with relatives or living on their own and moved west. More information may emerge in time but I do have a photo now and my friend, my brother and I all see some family resemblance. It has not been confirmed yet but perhaps he was the son of a Rev. Jesse Morgan who resided in the same area. I'm waiting for more data to emerge there.

On the other side of the family, I can now definitely share photos of my maternal grandparents and their parents, whose names I already knew, when they were young. The first picture is James Weedin Witt with his wife Millie King Witt and several of their dozen or so children. Grandpa may be the little guy on his dad's knee. The other photo is Allen Wilcox and his wife Ann Eliza Stacy Witt with their two youngest daughters. The taller girl is my grandmother for sure. She was always one to stand erect until she was aged and never quite recovered from a broken hip and that stern and determined expression was a feature too.
James Witt family 

Allen Wilcox family 
It does feel good to explore where you came from and get at least some knowledge of the ancestors without whom one would not exist. Oh, your soul or spirit would have come to another infant but that person would not be the "you" who exists in those reality. While nurture and life experience are powerful forces in shaping each individual, those genes are very important as well! I'll also note that as she grew older, my grandmother Witt looked a great deal like her mother in this picture. And that her father died not too many years later of blood poisoning due to a farm accident that caused a wound which became infected.Tetanus may be a possibility also. I never heard so much as a hint of it, but Ann Eliza could have had some Native American blood--the very dark hair and eyes and rather strong features which Grandma inherited.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Memoir Monday--Family Tree II

Now for the other side of the family! I was blessed to get to know my maternal grandparents quite well. Although we were in Arizona and they were in Kentucky, they did come to visit several times and I wrote letters almost weekly for many years—and got letters, too!  Not to mention birthday cards and many, many parcels of gifts and goodies.

Robert Witt was the son of James Weedin Witt and Millie King Witt. One of the younger children of the large family he was born June 13, 1897 in Estill County, KY. He always said he was not large and strong like his older brothers so he was more studious and got a high school education which was not really common at that time in the rural area. He even taught school for a short while before he went to work for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in the clerical or administrative side. He ended up working there for a long career, mostly in the local area (Irvine, Ky. which the locals pronounce “Irvin”). He usually went by Bob and was very well liked and respected in his community, a quiet but ethical and kind, Christian man.

Lula Belle Wilcox was the next-to youngest child of Alan Wilcox and Ann Eliza Stacy Wilcox. She Estill County. Her father died when she was young, --in 1905-- from blood poisoning due to a wound, probably a farm accident. I am sure she received schooling at least through grade school but probably not beyond that.  She was far from illiterate but her spelling was original at times and she used a lot of “Kentuckyisms” in her speech and writing. I found that charming but my mom was always embarrassed when she slipped and said one! Of course dad would tease her for them; his joking could be quite sharp, too.
Grandma with her
two kids-c: 1925
was born on March 13, 1897, also in

I am not sure how long their courtship was, but Bob and Lula were married December 13, 1918. For awhile they lived on the Wilcox family farm but built a house on “The Pike” as everyone called it when mom was perhaps four or so. She was born on February 19, 1920 and was followed sixteen months later by her only sibling, Robert Jr. who joined the family in June of 1921.

This grandma was also a life-long homemaker and excelled in cooking and sewing. I still have and cherish several fine quilts she made and have fond memories of all the pretty clothes she made for me so I could go to school well dressed. If not for her, I am not sure what I would have worn since blue jeans were not allowed for girls once I was in the middle school age. After I started sewing, pieces of fabric began to come my way as the clothes tapered off.  I also recall her wonderful made-from scratch desserts and fabulous midday Sunday dinners when I finally started to visit once I was grown.  That I did not as a child was mostly due to my dad; long story I shall not go into here!

Witts--summer 1955
My Mom very much favored her dad in looks and in personality. Mama Witt had dark hair and very dark eyes that snapped, almost black, when she was angry or upset. I do not think she was but she could have had Native American blood from her coloring and her strong features.  I suppose she would have been called handsome rather than pretty by most people’s standards but I just loved the warm, kind, giving woman she was and that shown out for me bright a day.

“Papa” Witt, as I always called him, was a slender man of medium height with brown hair and pale blue-gray eyes which Mom inherited and it seems I did as well. He was always neat and almost dapper, not untidy even in chore clothes.  Uncle Bob Jr grew to be quite tall (6’2” or so) and had his mother’s coloring, darker hair and eyes. I sadly did not get to know him well nor his two daughters with whom I am now in touch through Facebook. (Bless and curse the wonders of modern social media!)

Both the older Witts lived long, full lives. Grandma fell on the stairs to the basement and broke a hip when she was about ninety. She never fully recovered from the accident and always used a walker, gradually declining with loss of hearing and sight until I think she just lost the will to go on. She passed away on July 9, 1990. Grandpa lived on and even survived both of his children who were stricken by cancer. I am sure that was hard and sad for him but he had a goal to live to be a hundred and he did so. My husband and I attended his hundredth birthday celebration in June 1997. At that time one would have thought he was seventy five, still very sharp mentally and reasonably active. However, he went downhill quickly after that and went to join his family on April 17, 1998 at a hundred years and ten months of age. He was a very remarkable man and I feel so honored to claim
Robert Witt--100
him as an ancestor.

Well, the Morgan grandparents were fine folks also. Although they never met, Grandpa Witt and Grandpa Morgan knew of each other by reputation through the railroads where both were deeply respected and admired by all who worked with them. The two grandmas were not without some flaws but both were admirable women, totally loyal to and supportive of their men and did their best to raise their children to be good citizens and decent folks.

The Witts were said to have come to the Colonies well before the establishment of the nation, Huguenots fleeing persecution in France. Likely the name had been DeWitt. Anyway, two brothers Peter and John settled first in Virginia and later their descendants moved on to Kentucky. They both had sons named Peter and John. Coupled with a fire that destroyed many of the records in the area where they initially lived, it is hard to follow the lineage exactly but a Silas Witt, probably a grandson of one of them, was granted land near Boonesborough for his role in the Revolutionary War.  From there the family tree is fairly clear.

The Wilcoxes apparently came from Wales where they were called Willcockson and associated with the lord of Powys Castle. They intermarried with some Irish settlers and had been in Kentucky for a very long time. All the female lines are much harder to trace. Like most northern Europeans who settled in America, the old Celtic matrilineal customs were long gone and women were just the “brood mares” to help men perpetuate their lines! This offends modern me but I know the history and accept that what was, is and cannot be changed.  I do know I am a good bit Irish and some Welsh on both sides with a bit of English, Scots and perhaps French scattered through the mix. Not a bad stew but it doesn’t matter greatly to me. I am more concerned with the closer part of my family tree and respect those ancestors and appreciate the gifts they passed to me. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Memoir--Family Tree I

Family Trees--The Morgan/McCormack side

As a child I gave very little thought to ancestors. I suppose most don’t. We are much too concerned with where we are going, what we will become and the whole process of becoming a “grown up” to care much about our roots. For many, ancestry hardly emerges as a concern until middle age or even later. Possibly when the older members of the family began to die off, I suddenly got interested in and concerned about saving for posterity whatever information I could. I started to fall heir to family photographs, bits and pieces of genealogical research and then tried to dredge up old stories I had subconsciously recorded when I was young.

Now I find myself the unlikely matriarch of the clan, both of my cousins’ generation which included both family lines and even somewhat of my step children and grandchildren.  It is too late now for regrets that I did not ask more questions, get names written on the backs of old photographs and become more organized in my archival tasks. But here I am, and I’m the best there is in this particular situation—sad though that may be!

I really do not remember my paternal grandparents because they died when I was very small. I have some photos and family stories and maybe a very dim vignette or two that might be memory and might be just what I have been told or imagination.

My paternal grandfather was an only child although there had been a girl born either before or after him who was either stillborn or died very young. His mother had been a widow, Martha Jane Martin, with older children but she and his father only had him. I know his father’s name was John King Lawrence Morgan. The story was he was a riverboat captain on the Missouri, fell ill with something like typhoid and was nursed back to health by a widow who ran a boarding house and later they were married. He just appears as if born full grown! The pair was buried in Missouri, in a Pisgah Cemetery in Saline County. I do have a photo of the stone with dates.   Grandpa was born on June 4, 1978 in Elmwood, Missouri.

Grandma with me, spring '43

Grandma Morgan

Grandma came from an old Virginia family distant kin in one line to the Birds, Carters etc. Her family migrated to Missouri either before or after the Civil War. Her maternal grandparents were first cousins, offspring of two brothers named Haynie. Her father’s name was Daniel McCormack and he was born in Kentucky but came to Missouri.  Grandma, born Dec 28, 1879 was apparently the youngest of several children having one older sister and a least four or five brothers. My dad’s cousin, the son of Grandma’s sister, did a lot of genealogical research and compiled a book so that side of the family, if one trusts his research, is well documented back to the days of Charlemagne!.

At any rate, Charles Alva Morgan married Harriet Vernetta McCormack on April 3, 1905. They lived in Slater, Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri and produced five children, three girls and two boys. They were in order Grace Vernetta,  Ruth Alexandria, Charles McCormack, Roxie Lee and Daniel Lawrence. All but my dad, Charles, are buried in Missouri, in the same cemetery as their parents in Slater, the Slater City Cemetery. The two elder sisters had no children. Dad had three, Aunt Roxie had two sons and Uncle Dan had two girls and a boy plus four of his wife’s children that he adopted.

Sad to say I had little contact with those cousins while I was growing up and never did bond with them very much. Grandma had the huge obsession with family common among the Irish and her children were almost equally intense about it except for Dad. He always went his own way. Unfortunately, he usually only contacted his siblings when he wanted something and never lived close to them after he left home. I think the general consensus is that he was spoiled rotten and always willfully self-centered though very charming and charismatic when he chose to be The other four all stayed in proximity for most of their lives.

Grandma was never anything except a homemaker and I gather that was her choice and good fortune. She was a fine cook and an excellent seamstress and perhaps aided and abetted by her daughters, pushed to move up to larger and better homes and places where all her children could go to college.  I suppose she may have had a high school education. Grandpa did and a business college course as well.but all five of their kids got one or more degrees.  All three girls were teachers and Dad also taught a few years. Uncle became a surgeon. I’ve heard that Grandma was one to celebrate all the holidays with great gusto and try to make even ordinary days special and fun. As a child, I tended to idolize her memory and the many stories my dad told about her. I wanted nothing more than to be considered like her.

As a young woman, she had beautiful auburn hair and was quite pretty from one early photo I have. However, in later years she grew very heavy and I am sure that impacted her health. She was probably at least borderline diabetic and had heart and circulatory problems that caused her early death. She died on May 3, 1945 at the age of sixty five.  I would guess she was about 5’6” and I am sure weighed over two hundred pounds at her death.  

Grandpa was a large man, about 6’2” and he also became heavy. I found from an obituary that he served in the Spanish-American War though not as part of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. He had also gone out west as a youth perhaps with or to see a half brother or other relative on his mother’s side, where he worked awhile in Wyoming and then came back to Missouri to care for aged parents. There he met and fell in love with Grandma. She seems to have been the only woman for him and he was enamored by her vivacious nature, beauty and charm. 
Grandpa Morgan, Roxie, Dad, Grace, Ruth, Dan--
ready for their mother's funeral

His lifelong trade was railroading. I’m not sure where he started but he ended up a passenger conductor for the Chicago and Alton Railroad, a long-defunct Midwestern line. This meant he was gone a lot and it seems he gave his wife free rein and all the financial support her could, leaving the household and child-rearing in her hands almost completely. This was both good and bad! He was devastated when Grandma died and just existed for a few more years, moving to southern California to live with his youngest daughter for his final years. He died on November 1, 1947 at the age of sixty nine.

The five Morgan children died in the same order as their birth. All but Uncle Dan were diabetic the last years of their life and most had heart or arterial diseases that led to their deaths. Aunt Ruth also had cancer. She had a mastectomy in her early fifties and eventually got a brain tumor which was her immediate cause of death. Uncle Dan stayed leaner and more fit but finally got prostate cancer and declined rapidly in health after that. He was in his early 890s but the rest were in mid-seventies. Dad was just short of 77 at his death. Actually I suppose they all lived fairly normal or average life spans for their times. I just tend to contrast theirs to the long lives of my maternal grandparents. They seemed to come from some especially hardy and healthy Kentucky hill people and were survivors. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Going Back—wayyyy back!

I’ve been at least a semi-believer in reincarnation for most of my life—I’d say since mid teens anyway. I’m not sure if there was anything that triggered it except maybe some correspondence with a long-ago pen pal, Jose Cazador,  who sent me a page ripped out of an old poetry book that spoke about the possibility. I finally tracked down the poem and its writer just a matter of months ago. Anyway, the idea always resonated.

Although it isn’t specific to this theme, I will share my first OOB experience, which was rather odd. It would have been the summer of my 16th or 17th year and I was sitting out after supper in the bed of our Ford pickup, just watching the sky and maybe some distant lightning. I looked up and saw a plane, a jet airliner I am sure, going east across the north end of the Verde Valley in Arizona. At that time I had never flown and had no idea what it was like. But for a few seconds, I was in that or another craft with the lights dimmed as they do at night, sitting in a window seat on the plane’s left side. I looked out the small oval window and got a glimpse of lights far below. Then I was abruptly back but that flash had seemed so real and authentic. I’m not sure if I was “remembering” or made some odd link to a person on that or at  least a plane. Now I only shrug and say, “¿Quien sabe?”

I’ve had a number of “déjà vu” experiences and especially have met people with whom I had an instant sense of “knowing” so we could start talking as if we had just left off a conversation a day or two earlier. In most such cases, I was strongly drawn but in a few strongly repelled. This is probably not so uncommon but it has been quite intense a few times. I have a distinct feeling wemet to renew a bond and that we will meet again other places and times. 

Back in about 1998 I went to the RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference which that year was held in New Orleans. I’d met Melinda Rucker Haynes at a previous conference in Anaheim and sat in a couple of her workshops. That year, I scheduled an hour long hypnotic regression with her.  Melinda is a licensed and trained hypnotherapist and I was anxious but not worried or fearful about the experience.

The feeling was odd; I was ‘there’ and yet not there (in my body and in the room) —on the tape she made for me my voice is a bit strange, low, husky and uneven. I went to a lifetime as a Native American woman of perhaps 1000 years ago. My name was  Humming Bird or in their vernacular, “Wind Dancer” and I was a potter.  I visualized woven yucca sandals on my feet and a kind of blanket dress of coarse but soft fabric as my attire. Who knows? It did not seem odd or farfetched.

Before and after that I read a lot of books on the subject such as those by Dick Sutphen, Brian Weiss and many others.  I found regression has often been used to work through traumas of various kinds. Also after that I somewhat self-regressed a few times and in each case found a possible cause of a physical or emotional issue. Wishful thinking or reality?  

In one, I was a young Jewish girl living somewhere in the Middle East about 100-200 AD. My father was a merchant and our family well-off so we lived in a walled compound. I had an older brother and one day sneaked out to follow him and his friends to go hear a stranger speak that they had learned of.  The speaker was apparently a follower or disciple of St. Paul and spoke eloquently about women being evil and needing to be controlled and kept from going astray! I got back home without being discovered but felt very guilty and soon after that experienced my first monthly cycle. I was terrified by the blood and pain and just knew I was being punished!  My maid or ‘nanny’ discovered it and calmed me down but the fear and shame prevailed. I was married very young to a contemporary of my father’s and died in childbirth. Ah ha, was that a partial source or cause of my severe cramps in this life and also sterility? Who can say?

Another time, I was cooking supper and suddenly slipped off for a short time. Since Melinda first asks you what is on your feet, I asked myself. “Jackboots, o’ course” was the reply and spoken not in my voice at all. Turned out I was a younger son of minor nobility in England and a bit wild. My elder brother banished me and I took the horse I considered mine but he had me named a horse thief and I was hanged! Another ah-ha—I hate to be touched round my throat and did not even like to wear turtlenecks or choker necklaces!  Did some part of me recall that rope and my neck breaking? Again, who can say!

There have been others but those are quite vivid. A dear spirit-kin friend told me of two instances relative to his own memories. In one he dreamed he was near an oasis in the desert with his brother, just a bit younger. Some bandits or maybe Bedouins came to the water and the boys hid but the younger one was caught and my friend remembered watching the strangers take him away and being too scared to do anything but feeling very guilty and sad. . At that time he had no knowledge of real desert, camels etc. but visualized it all clearly. He, like me, is the eldest child and almost compulsively protective of his siblings and other kin. 

In another, he was helping brand calves on his parent’s ranch as a young kid and looked up to see a plane flying above. He didn’t quite go there as I had but he felt a strong connection and kinship to the idea of flying. Later, when he took flying lessons, he zipped through the ground school and on his first actual flight, the instructor was amazed to find he knew exactly what to do and needed no coaching at all. He is sure he had been a pilot who probably died young in one of the two world wars and came back quickly. I think this is not an uncommon thing as early deaths may leave karma and work undone and the spirit needs to return and carry on with the prior plan, one way or another! Oddly we “knew” each other at the first meeting after corresponding and talking on the phone for about a month; there was a spontaneous rapport as if from true recognition but we don’t know where or when that bond started, just that it exists.

If any of my readers have any experiences they'd like to share, I'd love to hear of them! You can email me privately at azwriter427@yahoo.com if you prefer not to go public in a comment.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

More picture for Big Sister Memories

The first two were taken in the fall of 1967. Our family went through some difficult times and were scattered apart for several months. In the first shots, I was waiting to see Charlie off on the train to California where he would stay with an aunt, our dad's younger sister. He was sixteen, or almost and I was twenty four and on my second year of college at Northern Arizona University. These were at the Santa Fe Depot on Flagstaff's old main street. The depot looks much the same today and still serves Amtrak and is a visitor center. At that time Charlie would board the San Francisco Chief.

The third picture is two years later, at Christmas 1969 when I was visiting the reunited family now living in Farmington, NM. I'm with Alex who was ten years old at that time. I was then working into my MA degree having earned my BA the previous summer and gone right on with classes. I had trouble deciding what to do!

The fourth photo is Charlie and Alex together for the first time in some years when Charlie and his wife visited Mom, Dad and Alex in the summer of 1985 in Duncan, AZ where our parents lived out their lives from 1977 until their respective deaths.

And the final one is the three of us, probably the last time we were all together in a photo. It was the spring of 1997 and we had held a memorial service for Mom for her friends in the community. Her funeral had been in Kentucky shortly after her death in Nov 1996 and I brought her ashes back with me then. We had just interred her ashes beside Dad in the Duncan Cemetery.  Yes, there is a family resemblance and we all three showed that life had been a "broadening experience," especially Alex in law school and me with a 'desk job' for too long. We were starting the long process of cleaning up the folks' stuff--it took a lot of effort, mostly Alex and mine since Charlie was working in Colorado and it as hard for him to get away.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Memoir Monday: Making a Big Sister

For eight years, six months and seventeen days. I was an only child. As the first grandchild on both sides, I expect I was pretty spoiled. I was able to amuse myself without a lot of playmates and always had a vivid imagination to make up games for myself that were ‘stories’ in many ways. By 1951, a miserable first grade in a larger town school had seen my introduction to other kids in the rough and tumble of grammar school playground. Second grade, as the only girl in a tiny one room eight student school was more fun. By then I realized that many families had several kids and had begun to wish for a sibling, especially a sister since my seven classmates were all boys.

By the middle of that summer, I was aware there would soon be another child in the family. However, that was the summer Mom and Dad ran a forest fire lookout tower in the North Kaibab Forest on the north side of the Grand Canyon. The novelty of this adventure held most of my attention. Fall came and we went back to Camp Wood for my third grade year but soon Mom was remaining home in Jerome awaiting the new arrival. The expected baby made his appearance early in the morning of November 14. Had he been a girl, he was to be named Priscilla Ruth but as a boy, he got the family name of Charles but a new added middle name of Michael which was not found in either family. Mom and Dad did not like “Juniors” though the initials were the same.

Through that winter and spring I stayed home and was home schooled for several months to assist
Jerome, spring 1952
Mom and at least be able to run to a neighbor’s for help if anything bad happened. I enjoyed the new living baby doll until the novelty wore off. Then  I am sure I felt a bit of resentment to no longer be the one and only but I generally accepted the new role and responsibility of being a big sister. Over time it grew on me and became not only comfortable but a pillar of my life. I did try to set a good example most of the time and guide and support as I could.

This younger brother and I came to share the ever greater chores and stand by each other through some complex and difficult times. Oh, we fought as siblings will and I often was bossy and not always gentle since as the senior partner in the chores I was nominally in charge, but by the time I finished high school and
On the corral rail, c:1959
Charlie (who was called Mike at home but took the name Charlie as soon as he left home) was a ‘tween,’ he was big and strong enough to be a real help and we learned to work together.  We became co-conspirators on various escapades, too, and backed each other up on some wild explanations of activities we did not want to disclose in any detail!

By this time, there was a third child for whom we became the Big Sister and Big Brother. I was just past sixteen and Charlie was not quite eight when Robert Alexander was born. Mom was thirty nine and the pregnancy was a bit hard for her. She also breast fed the baby for most of the first year, so I took on a good part of the household work as well as continuing the livestock and ranch chores for several months. This made Charlie’s help even more necessary and I found one caught more flies with sugar than vinegar! An attitude adjustment was definitely required! I think that was when our relationship began to mature and solidify to the strong bond it has been for the rest of our lives.

Alex and me, Jul 4, 1962
Young Alex was still just a small kid when I left home a few years later so I never worked with him and built the same connection with him that Charlie and I had. However, we had fun and I did take care of him quite often for the first few years. Actually it was much later after first Dad and then Mom had died as well as my husband when Alex and I became close friends and shared the task of cleaning up our parent’s mess in the home where they’d lived their last twenty years or so. I became a kind of surrogate mom as Alex completed law school and went on this first job and then settled into the career in a law office in Sierra Vista where he was employed at the time of his untimely death.

At nineteen, he was found to have a heart defect, a constricted aorta which caused very low blood pressure below the midline and high above it. He had open heart surgery to place a stint to bypass this narrow passage. He did well and survived for twenty seven years after that surgery but in the fall of 2005, developed an aneurysm near the site of the original surgery and bled to death internally before they were able to find what the problem was and attempt to repair it. His passage left a hollow spot in the hearts of both his big sister and his big brother but we soon found ourselves both single in our later years and combined forces to keep from either of us having to struggle alone as we get older and probably of decreasing health and capabilities.
Gaye and Charlie, 1974 in Colo

I may be the eldest still but being “the big sister’ no longer figures very much in my habits or my thoughts. Those eight years that were so significant when we were 8 and 16 or 12 and 20 have very little significance these days. We seek each other’s advice at times, share the joy and frustration of being creative –Charlie is a musician and song writer while I am a fiction writer and poet. I have no way to know which one of us will go first to join our parents and brother in the next realm since we both expected Alex to outlive us, but for now it is good to have a brother at my back as I try to be there for him.