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!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

An Unfinished Story

There may be a reason—well, really there are several—but I became a romance writer because I believe in happy endings. I know life does not always give them to us, but I still believe that sooner or later, they do come.

I know I have mentioned and alluded to “Dusty” a number of times in this blog. I’ve never really shared the story, though. I was twenty one when I met my first love, in many ways the greatest “love of my life.” Sadly that story did not have a happy ending but I call it unfinished because I still believe there is more to be written, though not in this world and lifetime.

At the time I was two years past high school having missed a year as a time out between my sophomore and junior years. I was working long and hard as a real cowboy girl, putting in fifteen hour days in the summer and dark to dark in the winter. There were anywhere from 30-50 horses, mules and donkeys mainly in my care. I was responsible for their feed, water, exercise, and stable and corral cleaning as well as breaking and training many of them. It was not an easy life and made more difficult by the fact I was ostensibly working for my dad with whom my brother and I had many issues.

Dad was in declining health both physically and mentally and not an easy person to deal with at his best. There were times he micro-managed, others when he was virtually absent for days on end, and constantly critical, demanding and often quite vicious about it. Nothing we did was ever satisfactory, me especially since I was ‘in charge’ over Charlie, then in his early teens. Our frequent reward was tantrums and lectures.

With 20-20 hindsight I can look back on my teen and young adult years with better understanding and put names on the problems I had to deal with. I was a prime example of the elder daughter type who always had to try to ‘fix’ things, be responsible and attempt to please and placate everyone. Impossible under the circumstances!! That was bad enough, but I was also the child half of a serious case of emotional incest which accounts for the extremely strict and limited social experiences I’d had at that point.  I could not be my father’s sweetie and spouse but darned if anyone else could violate my ‘purity.’ I might as well have lived in a nunnery!

Anyway at that point, major construction efforts were going on in the Verde Valley with the new cement plant being built, some housing and mercantile expansion etc.  Quite by chance I met one of the team leaders and for those unfathomable reasons by which people are sometimes drawn together, we hit it off. For a number of months Dusty and I did nothing except talk; I’d be out riding and we’d cross paths, often on Friday afternoons when they got off early working four ten hour days and a half on Friday.Gradually we learned about each other. He was in his late thirties, a veteran, an adopted orphan, caught up in a brutal custody fight over his nine year old son and hampered somewhat by having quit school to go into the service and not having a diploma. He had also suffered from asthma most of his life but had overcome it most of the time.

I explained some of my circumstances although many I never spoke of and hardly even recognized or understood at that point. I did know trying to get out at night to go on a regular date would be nearly impossible and for awhile that was okay. Dusty would come out to one of the areas where we housed a bunch of stock on a leased place and help me feed, doctor or do repairs some evenings. Maybe we would ride a little while together, still talk or simply share some time. Although raised in the east he had come west young –after one enlistment--absorbing all of the aspects he could and had a secret dream to own a ranch. 

The closeness and respect built gradually until we admitted we were in love. About that time the company moved him to another project but he came back every chance he got to see me. Even though letters and the visits we could manage were our main contact, we reached a point of commitment where we were talking about the rings we wanted to have when we married in a year or so.

Then all hell broke loose. There was an accident at a work site where some equipment was damaged and a couple of men were hurt. Someone in the higher echelons had it ‘in for’ him and he got the blame. They said he lacked the education and experience and such to manage properly etc.  For the time being, he had also lost the custody issue but still pursued it. All the stress and problems gave him a very severe asthma attack about which I did not learn for some weeks. Remember, there were no cell phones or email in the 1960s and my family then did not even have a regular phone!

This catastrophe was made much worse for me when about the same time my family’s many issues finally imploded totally. My parents’ failure to pay a bunch of bills –there were lawsuits which were always supposed to get the finances back to good again but they never worked--resulted in livestock being seized, a truck repossessed and finally the family being evicted from the rented house they then lived in. By then I had started college in Flagstaff so had most of my personal things with me but was roman riding across two very different worlds. I lost many animals I had loved and labored for, saw my family homeless and dispersed and my father institutionalized for some months with an insanity plea in lieu of a felony conviction for assault. He had supposedly fired several shots into a vehicle that turned out to be a guy delivering newspapers early in the morning. 

Once all that dust settled, I finally learned through a couple of mutual friends that Dusty had been fired and had taken work in California. We kept in sporadic touch for quite awhile but it was difficult. I still held to hope and I think he did too, but then I left Flagstaff after graduation and took a job with the US Army in Fort Huachuca and moved to Sierra Vista. I had no way then to reach him to let him know where I was. He moved a lot in the new job and again, no cell phones.I wote thru the comany but did not hear back for months.  Late that spring I started seeing the man I was to marry a few months later. When Dusty finally called me, I was recently married and told him so, as gently as I could. I wept over it but it was too late.  
It was a long time before I found Dusty again —or rather anything he had gone through between the late 1960s and 2003. After Jim died I went on line—oh, if that had only been available forty years earlier! They now had many “people finder” sites and so many other tools. It took some time but I eventually learned he had passed away September 8, 1993, some two weeks after his  August 20 birthday. I briefly contacted his son then but only to confirm that fact. John did not really know me as I had only met him briefly a time or two when he was still a small kid. 

Several years ago I did meet Dusty in a dream. He said he was not angry or hurt; we both knew we were just not meant to share this lifetime despite our hearts’ wishes. He had remarried after a time and apparently she had been a good person just as Jim Walton was to me. In the dream we parted in peace and calmly.

Then a few days ago I dreamed again—just a fragment came into waking with me but in that bit we had finally gotten back together. We walked into a store selling Indian jewelry and western wear etc.  It was near my birthday and he wanted to get me something for that and an immediate token of our being together again at last. In a display I saw a ring, very similar to the ones we’d talked of in earlier, happier times. I told him that was what I wanted. The clerk took it out just before I awoke, leaving the image clear in my mind.

In the next day or two an ad popped up on my computer. I have bought jewelry items to include some turquoise things from several e-venders so I see such often but this one had a ring—a ring just like the one from my dream and the style with which we had once planned to be married… I ordered it.

I may be a romantic nut-case; in fact I am sure I am! Still this seems like an omen of some sort, a communication between two very connected spirits who currently exist in different realms. I feel it reaffirms a bond that has never been broken. If he will have me, I owe Dusty a life—he saved mine several times when I was in deep depression and disarray over things at home—and also the lifetime we did not get to share in this one. I wear that ring now as my talisman, a symbol of my promise until I can either confirm or release it. May this story someday have a happy ending…

Monday, December 3, 2018

Houses and Homes--part 1

As we all know, a house is not always a home. It may be our domicile but for a residence to be "home" it has to satisfy certain criteria. Some do and some do not. Over the course of my life I have lived in quite a number of different places--sometimes just "camping" with some sort of a roof over my head and other times feeling I had a real home, at least for a time.

1535 75th Street
The first house I came to within a day or two of my birth in Kansas City, MO on the afternoon of April 27, 1943 was the home where my father had lived with his parents and siblings for several years, though not his first home. In my memories, which cannot be anything but the most vague since I never saw it after I was about thirty months old, I see Tara from Gone With the Wind--a great white edifice closer to a mansion than a regular house. That is not quite accurate but it was a large and very nice home located at 1535 West 75th Street (I think--not totally sure of address) in Kansas City. I suppose to some it was home but I don't have that sort of attachment to it.

My parents soon relocated for a short time to small cottage in the general neighborhood and then moved to Cambridge, MA while dad was employed by Raytheon  after a training accident ended his very brief military career.  There we lived in another two story house though smaller than the Kansas City one. This one was located on Edgewater Drive and was painted a dark red with white trim. it had what is called a mansard roof and a sun porch--definitely not a Massachusetts Room LOL but nice on sunny days during the chilly winter. From there we went back to Kansas City for a few months in the last part of 1945.

KC cottage

Edgewater Drive
Early in 1946, mom and dad loaded up in their 1939 black Ford coupe and started off for the long trek to Arizona which was to be their main home for the rest of their lives. By that deed, I came to consider myself an Arizona native since I cannot really remember living anywhere else. My memory starts in a little stucco "company house" on a hill in Jerome, Arizona. Jerome was a Phelps Dodge mining town and many of the residences were owned by the firm and used to house their employees. As Word War II ended, mining started to wind down somewhat and there were vacancies. My parents rented one fora very economical fee. That house was my first real home. For the most part I was secure and happy there, an only child for most of the time and still a bit of a pet or toy to my parents as their first born. We stayed there from about April 1946 until November 1953. So house #164 Sunshine Hill saw me from a toddler of three until I was past ten.

164 Sunshine Hill
From there we moved down into the Verde Valley and took up residence in other company houses, now owned by Haliburton who had taken over the former Phelps Dodge smelter and other facilities in Clarkdale and later built the cement plant which is now owned and run by the Yavapai tribe, sometimes incorrectly called the Yavapai Apache. We leased 409 and 413 Lower Main, one that we lived in and the other kind of office/shop/storage space. I was to call that place home from November 1953 until I went off to Flagstaff to start college in September 1966, or actually part time until the summer of 1967 when a number of issues finally came to a head and the family was evicted. That is a totally distinct tale and much too long and complex to share here. For a number of years that was the longest I had resided in one place.

409 Lower Main, Clarkdale

The photo of the Clarkdale house is from 1989. The trees were not there back in the late 1950s nor was the front porch. The two little houses were pretty ugly and bare while we lived there. I may find a photo or two later but hold little fondness for the place now and call myself gladly gone. It was perhaps a home part of the time; at others just where I lived. The houses there are now privately owned and mostly have been fixed up and remodeled nicely.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Treasure of Old Friends

I know I have written some rather stark or sad essays lately but I do want to let everyone know that life has not always been nothing but work, struggle and grim persistence. In my earlier yeas, there were a number of friends who were each bright spots and special treasures in my life.

Up until I began 4th grade down at Willard school, I did not associate that much with kids my age, especially girls, since the whole student body at my one room Camp Wood school was boys except for me and my memories of first grade are not a bit happy. But finally at Willard I had a chance to make girl friends.  For the most part, they have all vanished from my life and I have not been able to track them down but I still remember Susan Ragle, Sandra Rhoton, Martha Etcheverry, Ann and Jan Stotts, Diana Metzgar, Della Kallsen and Melody and Dawn Wilcox--who gave me my first dog--with much fondness.

During the four years I was at Willard, we moved from Jerome down to Clarkdale and I lived in a neighborhood with quite a few kids. By chance most of them were younger than I was by a year or more but we still formed friendships that have held for many years even though we went our separate ways and lived very different lives. There I first met Loretta Watson who lived for a couple of years with her father a few doors up the street. She vanished suddenly and I later learned her mother had come and taken her; I am not sure if it was her father or a grandfather she lived with but he was quite elderly when she was nine or ten. She was a slender slight girl with long dark hair and very dark eyes although she did not look Mexican American or even Native American. She was also shy and a bit unsure as I was so we made timid freinds.

Then I met two other girls who lived in the same area, Evelyn Graves and Arlene Blahnik. We were, like most kids in that tween stage back and forth with small feuds and fusses but generally stayed friendly most of the time. I was able to give them rides on some of my gentler horses, made and played paper dolls with them and a bit later read my early fiction efforts, short little tales that grew out of my reading of Zane Grey and similar writers of western adventures and romances. I watched TV at Arlene's house and giggled with Evelyn about imagined adventures and intrigues of her elder sister and her somewhat notorious employer and our crushes on various movie and TV stars and such.

It's been such a great joy to reconnect with them both at High School reunions since the first one I attended in 2003. I've also seen Kathy Feld, Janice Benatz and several other girls I knew and was friends with but not quite as close. My last two years of high school, Evelyn and Arlene were going with their future husbands and the three messkeeteers were not so close. I then found a friend who was also a semi cowboy-girl like I was and we were nearly inseparable until I graduated, two year before she and Evelyn did and for a time afterwards.  I found a Maureen Jewell on Facebook who is involved with horses in Wyoming or Montana as I recall but she did not reply to my message. Perhaps she has forgotten. In that case I was the one who ended up taking a different path.

Early friends are not complete without one more mention. I loved to write letters and became pen pals with two girls through the junior section of Western Horseman magazine. There were more but two remain in contact after all these years. Shirl Atchley, nee Coulter still lives in the Grand Junction area of Colorado and only in the last few years due to health has given up owning a horse or two and riding. We still exchange Christmas cards and an occasional email. Linda Pflug, nee Bush, now lives in Washington state. We met several times but not until years after our initial connection. Until a few years ago we exchanged letters and then emails frequently. Then she had a series of serious health issues and today is bed ridden and in a nursing home due to several strokes and other issues. She cannot write or type much and has some speaking trouble so short of going up there to see her, I cannot do much to stay in touch. This makes me very sad but I still cherish that friendship. I'm sure we will cross paths and connect again in time.

As an adult while working, being involved in various organizations, hobbies and volunteer activities and moving to several places I have made many new friends and now keep in touch with many by Facebook or email, some that I have met and many more that I have not but just share some common interest, passion or belief with. They are all precious and form my essential support group and circle but I have to put my old BFFs at the top of the list. I know I will never forget them and for those who have lost contact or perhaps are no longer on this earth, I hope to renew our ties in some future place and time. Thanks to  each and all of you for being a part of my life and bringing joy and beauty into it.

Evelyn Graves
Shirl Coulter
Maureen Jewell

Susan Ragle
Linda Bush

Arlene Blahnik
Add caption

Monday, November 19, 2018


No pictures today. there have been more than enough on TV. My topic today is fire, the destructive and demoralizing kind such as we have witnessed too many of lately.

The latest terrible blazes in California have brought back some memories, made me think and certainly saddened and troubled me.  I’ve abhorred wild land fires for a very long time. The first one I experienced was in 1955 when I was twelve years old. What began as a “controlled burn” on the western side of the Black Hill Range in central Arizona grew to several thousand acres and took out the forest on a good chunk of Mingus Mountain, which was ‘my mountain’ where we rode, hunted, picnicked and cut wood. For a week or so the smoke was so thick down in the valley towns that it looked and felt close to twilight at noon. Of course that made an impression that I have never lost. Nobody died but it was a shock and left some trauma.

Since then I have seen a number of other fires where either an allegedly controlled burn got out of hand or something not too different sparked the destructive blaze. A part of the Whetstones burned in the late 1980s as a result of such a case, mountains the nearest to my home at the time in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona. Since then I’ve seen an ever increasing plague of fires destroying much beautiful wild country, taking out habitat and harming so many wild creatures and in more recent times, threatening and destroying rural homes and even towns.

Of course every person and certainly every faction has ‘the answer’ or at least the cause. It’s climate change; it is mismanagement; it is Divine punishment and on and on. Actually in my none-to-humble opinion we could check all of the above and add quite a few more contributing factors.

Yes, climate change is playing a role. It is warmer and drier the past 25-50 years than it has been at least in the recent past. There have always been fluctuations in climate and there always will be. How else have we had ice ages and droughts and heat waves and floods? The earth wobbles on her axis; the sun gets hotter and cooler; volcanoes throw a vast cloud of ash and dust into the air that limits the strength of the sunlight. Exactly how much of the current cycle is due to human activity I tend to question; surely some but to blame all is a drastic oversimplification. I’m not buying all the scare stories and panic. ‘Nuff said on that.

There is a human factor to the fires, though, a very big one. In about 200 years we have gone from a very few people roaming the land, at least the western two thirds or so of North America, to literally millions filling cities, towns, suburbs and even rural areas. Compare that to wandering tribes of indigenous people—probably no more than thousands in all.

Now these millions go out and recreate in the open and wild places, light and often do not properly douse campfires; ride and drive a variety of vehicles which can shoot off sparks and radiate extreme heat down on the ground when they are parked. They shoot off fireworks and firearms, both of which send heat and sometimes tiny bits of live flame off into the grass, brush and trees. Sometimes they even set fires on purpose either with malice or just being foolish. Power lines can break or be blown over, live wires sparking. The list goes on and on. So yes, there is a huge increase in fires directly or indirectly caused by humans.

Management or the lack thereof? This is also subject to some debate. For a good part of the twentieth century the goal and practice was to put out or at least contain all wild land fires as quickly as possible. We had ‘look out towers’ throughout the forests and as soon as a wisp of smoke was sighted, a crew was dispatched to fight that fire. This generally prevented or at least curtailed most of the huge damaging fires we’ve seen in the last 20-40 years. However it did also allow accumulation of dead wood, brush and litter on the forest and chaparral floor which just lay there, waiting the spark to set it ablaze. That was not good.

Now, in the alleged interest of protecting the wilderness areas, a great number of roads and even trails have been removed. No motorized vehicles are allowed and devices such as chain saws are often banned as well. We don’t go out and cut wood; we seldom camp/ride/hunt etc. We don’t do anything at all but simply let nature take its course. Maybe that is good but when a fire is kindled in such areas, getting in to contain it is very difficult. Maybe we can use aircraft; maybe we can get crews to hike in with hand tools and attempt to make fire breaks or otherwise limit the spread. And maybe that works but often it does not. So in my opinion, management is at fault to a fairly major degree.

I think a moderate mixture of the traditional and the current methods could be applied to some benefit. There need to be some exceptions to the pristine wilderness rules; very carefully planned and contained use of controlled burns may help. Perhaps even let people go out and gather wood for their stoves or fireplaces to clear some of the litter from the ground. Be creative and give more control back to local regions who generally know their area far better than any distantly led organization or government entity who oversimplifies by a one size fits all approach. You think?

Something needs to be done, without a doubt. California has been most in the news and certainly has suffered cruelly but the whole west has been hit very hard for quite a few years now. Perhaps we need to limit the settlements or towns that can grow in the midst of a forest. I think now of Paradise and of a Colorado region called the Black Forest east of I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs, both ravaged by recent fires. The public needs to be educated much more on how to be safe and fire-wise everywhere they go.

This may not apply so much to city folk except when they vacation in remote areas, but those who live in the suburbs and the rural regions have really got to smarten up! It takes more than raking, heaven knows, but one can protect his or her own property in many ways. Do make a fire break of cleared ground around your yard or farmstead. Do limit the trees and shrubs in places where they can be hazardous and definitely DO use the maximum amount of fire resistant material when building a home, outbuildings or other structures. A good reliable source of water can help plus generally being alert and noticing the small fires before they become huge self-feeding monsters! Things as basic as not burning trash on windy days. This is not exactly rocket science!

Right now my heart goes out to those who have been made homeless, lost property, pets and even loved ones to the recent spate of fires. There is no way to measure, much less assuage their agony. Yet the tragedy of it is that, at least in the bulk of the cases, these horrible things could very possibly have been prevented or the damage greatly limited. That we have not managed to do so is the real tragedy and until we learn how to handle this much better, I fear many more losses are going to result.

Monday, November 12, 2018

There Were Roses

No, not the sad song about “The Troubles” in Ireland from some decades back about the Protestant and Catholic conflicts.  I *will not* start in on religion today. I am feeling fairly cheerful. On to what I want to share. Roses, the flowering kind.

I've loved them for at least 65 years.  As a small child I did not notice flowers much. We lived in Jerome, AZ where for the most part, everything was a mass of rocks! It was a mining town perched high on steep red hills. In our small yard there were a few trees that someone had nursed along to near house-high but Sunshine Hill had few flowers. Then in late 1953 we moved down to the valley and settled in Clarkdale where we rented two small houses, side by side.

The joint yards did boast a few flowers. There was a row of iris growing along the fence between them, all the traditional purple with fuzzy gold inside as I recall. Around the north-facing front steps there were some small viney plants with purple flowers. I think they were called vincas. And there was a rose bush against the screened back porch south wall on the second house which was a storage/shop/office etc. It only bloomed in the spring so since we moved in November I probably first saw those tiny flowers in the spring of 1954, sometime around my eleventh birthday. I was at once enchanted.

I’m not sure now why they came to be precious to me but they did. There were other more common and typical tea roses and floribunda in many yards but ‘my’ rose was special. I now know it is a type called a rambler which is midway between the regular shrub roses and the climbers. My research, conducted the last year or two as I sought to find a similar plant, taught the ramblers have buds and leaves in groups of seven, a unique trait.

This Clarkdale bush was clearly old, very heavy at the base and growing up near the eves of the back porch, perhaps eight or nine feet off the ground. It bloomed in profuse clusters of tiny thickly petaled roses, pale pink that shaded into and then faded to white as they aged. They were elfin or fairy flowers to me, so little, so dainty, so perfect with their thick clustered petals that made them almost little pom-poms. For twelve years or so that bush remained my special charge. I watered and trimmed and loved it.

In 1966, I left home to spend four years in Flagstaff as I went to the university. The second two years I lived in an apartment in an old house on Agassiz St. There was a similar bush in that yard, just to the left or east of the entry foyer/porch. I noted it in passing often enough but it was not ‘my’ rose. There were some others in the yard as well but I was too busy for gardening as I got two degrees in four years.

Finally that time also came to an end. I went to work for the Army at Fort Huachuca and lived in several briefly rented Sierra Vista homes in short duration and then moved to Bisbee, perhaps a fated or at least a pivotal act on my part. A year later I married my new next door neighbor. Before we left Bisbee, I had bought a couple of rose bushes-maybe at the super market since Walmart was not there yet. I remember a dog that adopted us rather trashed one in spring 1973 and I was upset.

Then very late in 1973, we moved to Colorado when I transferred to the Air Force at Peterson AFB. We bought a home in Falcon, about ten miles outside of Colorado Springs. It was then a very rural area where most lots were five acre ranchettes. We had a big garden and I planted roses, a row of six along the east-facing front of the house. They came from Jackson and Perkins and did well enough. I winterized and covered them each winter since at the edge of the prairie the cold and the blizzards could be wicked. Then things happened and we found ourselves moving to California in the late summer of 1977. The first roses to really be mine were left behind.

I worked briefly at Beale AFB near Marysville and the next year transferred down to McClellan on the north edge of Sacramento. Meanwhile we bought a house on the south outskirts of Olivehurst, almost suburb of Marysville. Again I planted roses, only two this time but the area had many. They grew well and bloomed profusely, all season long as hybrid tea roses do. One was deep red and the other a striking red and white. I loved them and often took a bud or two to a couple of special friends with whom I worked.

I was not happy in California. The seasons were all wrong—hot and dry all summer without my beloved desert thunderstorms—and then soggy foggy dismal gray on the backside of the year. I was not really happy with my work either and Jim and I both wanted to go “home” but I promised Jennifer, my daughter, we’d stay until she finished high school.  The last year I began to send out transfer applications and in the late summer of 1983, six years after we arrived, we packed up and trucked back to Arizona. Once more I had to leave my roses behind.

I worked briefly at Davis Monthan in Tucson and the next spring got back to Fort Huachuca where I finished the rest of my civil service career. There were no plantings in our rental in Tucson for we knew it would be temporary. Finally we found and bought the rustic and unique little adobe house in Whetstone which was to be our home for the next two decades. At last I could indulge my floral ambitions. There were some spindly old fashioned red roses already in place. I relocated most of them and worked until they thrived. Then my real rose garden, helped out by a gift from a dear old lifelong friend, came into reality at the north east corner of the house. I established it under a big twisted mesquite tree that had apparently found a good source of water for it had grown a good fifteen to twenty feet high.

Somehow the roses and the mesquite were compatible. The added water and fertilizer made it thrive but the roses did well too. I’ve always been a bit amazed that you can plant a disorder of varied colors of roses close to each other but they never clash or seem not to look ‘right.’ That was the case. I even moved one of the original ones, clearly climbers, and put it right at the base of the big mesquite. It twined up into the tree and the red roses scattered through lacy spring green leaves were very striking!

I had iris too and planted some other bulb flowers like daffodils and tulips. They would go well for a couple of years and then fade out. I never was quite sure why but I kept trying. The iris did well enough and became so thick I divided them and shared cuttings with some friends several times. Along in the early 2000s, possibly the spring after Jim had passed in November 2003, I found a rose at Walmart that reminded me of my old Clarkdale rose. I planted it and now believe it was a Fairy Rose, very like the ones I recently acquired, kin to my old friend but not quite the same. The Fairy is pinker and perhaps not quite as many petals per flower but little and special.

Finally in 2008 I reached the point where it was time to leave Whetstone after twenty five years. Again I had to leave the roses. They were mostly getting old and not as hearty and lovely as they had been a decade or so before but still in place and hanging on. That was hard. For the next three years I was “homeless” until my brother and I left Colorado in the fall of 2011 and I bought this little house in Alamogordo. We intended to stay here the rest of our days but have come to see things we do not like or want to accept so yet another move may happen in the coming year, back “home” to Arizona a final time.

Again I will have to leave plants behind. The first spring I planted four climbers around the covered patio/porch on the south facing back of our house. They have done wonderfully well and bloom profusely in the spring and sporadically through the hot time to give another burst of flowers in the all. The colors are mixed—a pale ivory at the east corner, and then a rosy pink, a red and white and a blaze orange-red around the opposite corner and the west side. Meanwhile I also planted lilacs, probably my second favorite flower, and this last spring some forsythias for I love that very early sunshine bright display they provide.

Late this summer in one of those novelty-type seed catalogs, I saw some tiny roses, like those which I had been looking for half of forever. I ordered them and so as not to have to leave them behind, I planted them in large pots. They have thrived thus far and all three have bloomed. They are brighter pink than I had hoped but I now realize that is typical for the Fairy Rose. In time I may track down one even closer to my old favorite, probably having to order from England since they seem to favor the tiny ramblers more than the US growers do.

For now, I have these and the others as long as I am here and if I have my way, there will always be roses in my space.  Like me they are thorny at times and also like me they are generally tough and hardy, trying to bloom where they are planted and send out whatever beauty and sweetness they can regardless of where they find themselves. The flower for April-born is supposed to be the daisy but this Taurus April girl is all about roses.

Close up-mesquite rose

Whetstone rose garden

Fairy rose-first bloom

Alamogordo rose
Alamogordo rose 2

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Case Study Life

There seems to be a trend now, which I generally applaud, to fling open that closet door and let the skeletons scatter where and how they will. Another aspect is to speak aloud many words, naming issues and illnesses which have been hidden and ignored for much too long. For example, mental and emotional illness and issues, every form and level of abuse and many types and levels of dysfunctional families and lives.

It’s taken me a very long time to get here. However I belatedly realize that my experiences and the things I hid for decades, often even from myself, need to be brought into the light of day. It can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and certainly very difficult but that cannot stop my efforts. If just one person who is feeling alone and isolated due to their early life realizes they are not all alone in the world and unique in their personal tragedies, then I feel my effort worthwhile.

I’ve come across a lot of books, some new and some old, in the last several years and find myself in a peculiar “case study” that combines aspects from them all. First of all, I am an eldest daughter and one who was the only child for eight and a half years. This birth status, even more for girls than boys, creates a unique personality and some traits that seem to be almost universal among that group. (1) That in itself is not such a difficult situation to deal with and modify enough to get along reasonably well with one’s life. But my case study adds several other matters!

The next perhaps is a fairly new syndrome or phenomenon called “Toxic Enmeshment.” I am sure there are one or more books but I’ve just read shorter essays and dissertations on the subject so far. A search on the term will turn up many of these. This occurs in families where for any of a variety of reasons, individuality is suppressed if not completely squelched so there is group-think, an extreme us-vs-them paradigm and a general withdrawal from outside interactions until no member really knows whether emotions, ideas or anything else is “theirs” or the group’s. Several horrible examples of this have appeared in the news lately where parents have subjected their children to total horrors. The opportunities for all sorts of abuses are completely inherent in this situation.

This usually seems to come about through the dominance of one parent or one member of the family who by the force of their personality and any of many forms of manipulation and coercion such as threats, bullying, or brainwashing binds everyone in a nearly irresistible net. If that person is also narcissistic, seriously unbalanced in some ways or living under various neuroses or psychoses such as bi-polar disorder, various delusions, schizophrenia and paranoia, etc. one has a huge can of wicked worms!

Another similar situation has been identified and discussed at some length. It is called “Emotional Incest” (2) and normally involves a parent and a child of the opposite sex. The child is very rarely physically assaulted or molested but is drawn into a quasi-spouse role where the parent is very controlling, alternatively demanding, abusive, very supportive and complimentary, using sympathy or pitiful dependency and often playing this child against the real spouse in many underhanded and divisive ways. It plays very well in conjunction with the eldest daughter situation.

Another book, Toxic Parents (3) skirts along the edges of these and various other generally very closely held and hidden situations where one or both parents seriously damage their children by neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse or other warped and twisted forms of family dynamics.

Of course in the case of female children in these situations, there is the added aspect of the last three millennia of male dominance fostered by the major religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That sets the father as the primary person of importance—virtually God for his family--with the wife and children as his subjects and property to the point where whatever he may choose to do to or with them is generally condoned if not actually supported. We are starting to come out of this but you cannot reverse and undo a tradition of at least 3000 years in a decade or two.

So there I am, an eldest daughter entangled in a fiercely enmeshed family, locked into a position of emotional incest and living in a state of serious poverty which two college educated and talented adults chose, perhaps not intentionally but through their lifestyle and other actions, to live under for all the years spent in the home by their daughter and two sons.

There is no way I can understand or fully forgive what was done. All three of us suffered damage that cannot be healed. We have gone on to be responsible adults and I believe fairly good citizens who have held mid to upper level jobs, obtained schooling and struggled to create and keep relationships which would avoid the pitfalls we observed in our formative years and sought to escape. Now in our later years we often talk and try to reach some understanding and a degree of healing which has been painfully difficult to find.

The youngest of us, who I often thought had gotten off easy as the petted baby, probably really had it the worst. He stayed at home after we older siblings got off on our own. He felt responsible for and tried to help and support the parents who as the result of their inability to build a solid base and save for retirement were left in a pitiful state. When he finally was able to move into his own life at the age of thirty after our dad’s death, he had to try to leap from a middle teen’s experience and life pattern to full adulthood in a very short time. He did very well, completed college with honors, got his JD degree and went to work joining an established law practice where his expertise in legal writing was highly regarded. Still his struggle finally became too much. I call his death at the age of forty six “suicide by neglect” because he ignored or did not attempt to correct health issues that became fatal in due time.

At this point, I wish I might have opened the door of my mental closet much sooner and started to realize that very little of this was ever my fault or due to any failure or weakness on my part. After I finally divested most of the lingering guilt, the anger and bitterness began to boil up and still catches me by surprise at times. I know I need to get it out and rid my spirit of its corrosive weight but this is a long, slow and often difficult process. My journal helps and sometimes sharing things like this essay in the most calm and rational way that I can.

Perhaps I should have sought counseling but several things inclined me against that. For one, the youngest of us tried that all through the years of his advanced schooling and was not able to find much real concrete help. Also it is really difficult to lay out the whole history in its complexity to the degree anyone ‘outside’ can comprehend the whole picture. Had our family issues stemmed from drugs, alcoholism, gambling or any of those “normal” or common vices and frequent problems, things would be much simpler. The extreme eccentricity of our parents, particularly our father, and our mother’s codependency and almost unswerving cleaving to him and his choices are almost impossible to portray in a simple or direct manner!

Life goes on and we with it. How much longer, I cannot say, since I have both short and long-lived ancestors. Mom and Dad died just short of their 77th birthdays while paternal grandparents in their sixties/early seventies and maternal grandparents in their ninth and tenth decades. If it is true as many say that we are here to experience and learn from our lives, I hope that what I was to learn will be clear once I have crossed from this realm to the next. Right now I am still searching for those answers but I feel I do learn and find at least one small insight each day.

I offer the books below as starting points if any of these comments resonate with you in some way. There are many more books and journal articles etc. available now and more new explorations are coming to light all the time. My sincere prayer is that in time we can ease many of these patterns and break them by letting people get past their own traumas rather than passing them to the next generation.

  1. The Eldest Daughter Effect, Lisette Schuitemaker & Wies Enthoven, Findhorn Press, 2016
  2. The Emotional Incest Syndrome, Dr Patricia Love with Jo Robinson, Bantam Books, 1990
  3. Toxic Parents, Susan Forward, PhD with Craig Buck, Bantam Books, latest 2002

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Memoir Monday: Talking of Towers

Talking of Towers

I’m not sure what tweaked my memory but I recently found myself thinking about a couple of icons of the past that figured quite a bit in my early years. These were both tower structures, mostly sited in remote places in the southwest. Both did exist in other locales as well, actually probably in all the original 48 states as well as Alaska. I’m not sure about Hawaii. However the ones I recall now were in Arizona.

The first of these were structures called Airway Beacons. From the 1920s into the 1960s, most transcontinental flights were not equipped with radar and other modern tracking and navigational devices which seem quite commonplace today. When commercial flights began to take place at night as well as by daylight, the pilots needed some help to find their way!

This problem was addressed by the placement of Airway Beacons along the major routes. Most of these were metal towers of several stories in height which supported a rotating white light near the top and just below that stationary red and green lights which provided some code as they blinked in the dots and dashes of Morse Code familiar at that time to railroaders, telegraphers and pilots.

Example of Airway Beacon
from a fan FB page 
I went searching on line and found there is a lot of interest in these although most of them were decommissioned and many were torn down or salvaged decades ago. There are folks mapping the sites, getting photos of those still standing or even in operation, buying and trying to rebuild them and so on. As a child I did not think to wonder but I do now. How did they power these remote sites? Those white lights were huge and bright enough to shine for many miles and they sat in a cradle that rotated a full 360 degrees over the course of several minutes. I have not found this information yet but I will keep searching!

I particularly recall one that sat on Woodchute Mountain, the northernmost massif of the Black Hills Range that borders the western side of the Verde Valley. It was north of Jerome by a few miles and visible from the hill where we lived. It was also visible from many places we traveled around the north central part of the state on various expeditions. I would look for it eagerly when we found ourselves coming home from such a trip late in the evening. Of course there were others and we saw them at times as well but the ‘home’ one was my favorite.

The other towers were the Fire Lookout Towers which the Forest Service built on most of the nation’s mountain ranges from the early 1900s on. Many were built by the CCC, President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, and manned during fire season with seasonal employees trained in using the transits and similar devices to spot and locate those first tell-tale plumes of smoke that indicated a forest or wildland fire had started.

These too were frequently several stories high to be well above the tallest trees although some were situated on a bare peak or cliff where they did not need added elevation. For most of such sites, the personnel lived in a small primitive cabin or tent near the foot of the tower and basically camped out during their stay.

In the summer of 1951, my parents took such a job for the summer between the two school years Dad taught out at Camp Wood. Of course eight year old me went along. This tower was the Big Springs Lookout, located in the North Kaibab Forest on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Although it was outside the boundaries of the national park, it was not far and we were able to go out to various view points and see the canyon well that summer.

I had already seen one tower up on Mingus Mountain, the area just south of the Woodchute Mountain I mentioned above. Highway 89A still goes through a pass between the two mountains in route from the Verde Valley to Prescott. That tower was operated by a couple who were friends with my parents at the time and we visited the site several times. I even had the picnic part of my sixth birthday party at the small campground near the location. Therefore I had an idea what to expect when we headed north for the summer.

We lived in a tent which had a wooden floor raised a bit off the ground and wood sides up about three
feet. It had a wood burning stove that served for both heat and cooking. The necessary facilities were in a small green structure behind the tent and a few yards out toward the woods. I think the Forest Service hauled in water to fill a fair sized tank and we used propane for light. It was a tall tower, I’d guess about 110-120 feet high. I was not allowed to go all the way up alone but could go at least to the first landing of the zigzagging stairs and all the way if I went with Mom or Dad.

I know they did spot and report some fires but as far as I know none that summer got to be large and serious. Perhaps it was a good summer rainy season as it was before the current severe drought period really hit although the early 1950s were very dry in Arizona and New Mexico. Not too many details of the work stick with me now as I probably did not understand the technical part too well but I do remember having a wonderful time and later looking back on that period as one of my favorite summers.

There are still a few fire lookouts in operation and a few of the old sites which are no longer in use are rented out for vacationers and camping by the Forest Service. It might be a fun thing to do someday. If I were a few years younger I might even want to operate one still working.

Sadly most of these special structures are now gone, both the airway beacons and the fire lookouts. None of the former are really used now except for a very few in rugged parts of Montana and only a few fire lookouts are still operated although they seem to be coming back a bit. With the last few years of catastrophic wildfires, we need one more tool in the arsenal to find and locate fires quickly and control them before they become infernos. At any rate, I feel privileged to have experienced both at near their heyday.