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, December 28, 2015

Memoir Essay--The Romance of the Rails

I've worked on this one for awhile. It has yet to be read at the OWL--older writer's league--at the Senior Center but will be early next year. I'm also working on it as part of a submission for an Amtrak Residency, a writing trip on an Amtrak train in the coming year of which they are offering twenty semi-scholarships! My fingers are crossed so tight they ache. Anyway, here you go.

The Romance of the Rails

           I've been fascinated with trains since I was quite small. Some very early memories, dim and more simple vignettes, involve drives with my parents from Jerome, Arizona to Flagstaff to meet a train bringing my maternal grandparents from Kentucky for a visit. I could not tell you if the locomotives were steam or diesel, but retain the noise and the sense of almost frightful power I felt as the trains pulled up. They stopped at the Tudor style brick depot at Flagstaff. That depot still stands, much the same in external appearance. It was almost an anomaly since so many of the Santa Fe depots were in the Spanish colonial style.

Flagstaff Depot c: 1966
            Actually both my grandfathers were railroad men. Grandpa Morgan ended his career with a long-vanished railroad called Chicago and Alton on which his last position was a passenger conductor. The conductor is actually the captain of the train crew because although the engineer drives the train, the conductor is the man in charge. I really do not remember that grandfather except in the vaguest way—mostly that he was a large man and allowed me to play with his big railroad pocket watch while he held me.
            Grandpa Witt I knew well as he did not die until 1998 at the age of 100 years and ten months! His work was on the administrative side—there was and still is a great deal of paperwork involved in operating a railroad—and his last job was chief clerk in a division office of the Louisville and Nashville, now absorbed into the CSX which along with the Norfolk & Southern comprise the two major eastern lines in the post merger era. At any rate, I’ve heard about trains all my life. Perhaps it is in the genes.
            In the middle 1950s, after our family moved from Jerome down to Clarkdale, there were actual trains to watch. One did not come every day but “the local” came to town at least once or twice a week. At that time, a lot more goods were moved by rail, especially to areas like the Verde Valley which was then accessed only by narrow two lane mountain highways difficult for large semis to travel. Most truck traffic was the shorter “bob tail” type with none of the fifty footers or double trailers we often see now. There was also the Railway Express Agency which brought packages to many folks before UPS and FEDEX were active.
            It wasn’t long before both my kid brother and I were watching for the train’s arrival. As soon as my brother Charlie was allowed to leave the yard, he would run down to the edge of the hill overlooking the spur track just east of our part of town so he could watch the trains. The locomotives were definitely diesel by then, at first GP-9s adorned in the black and white “zebra stripe” paint scheme that ATSF (Santa Fe) used then on freight locos. A bit later they were redone into the blue and gold that became familiar to us in the sixties. Once the cement plant was built between Clarkdale and Jerome and began to ship material off for the building of the Glenn Canyon Dam, traffic picked up to a minimum of two trains a week and often more.
            We became friends with the local track inspector, a grandfatherly old gentleman named Earl Ragsdale. Charlie, especially, made it a point to visit with him and learn the current railroad gossip and news. Earl always drove his motorcar, a small mechanized vehicle that ran on the tracks, to check the track for safety before the train traversed it. The line ran from Drake, where the branch line joined the main transcon line of Santa Fe, to Clarkdale. The “local”  originated in Prescott which is now totally cut off from the rails but then was a fairly busy place with one of the iconic Spanish colonial style depots.
            Charlie became a minor expert on the various types of cars, the locomotives and the specialized maintenance equipment which came in periodically with “work trains” which were crews with different specialties employed to do maintenance and repair of track, bridges, signals and other structures on which the trains depended. There were burro cranes and various surfacing machines, flat cars and box cars hauling supplies and materiel, and a few other machines. He created notebooks full of car numbers and sketches of various special or unusual equipment.
            At that time, especially on a branch or spur line, a great deal of the work was manpower intensive. The men in the gangs lived in “camp cars” which were old box cars and sometimes passenger coaches converted to use as bunk houses and a kitchen. It was a step above tents but not a big one. Conditions were pretty primitive! Most of the workers were single although some did go home to families on weekends and holidays.
            This practice is a thing of the past today, too. Such crews now stay in motels or use their own trailers or motor homes and get a per diem to cover—ostensibly—their away-from-home expenses. Much more work is done by a wide range of elaborate machines although there is still some manual labor, too. However, Charlie got to experience the traditional life first hand when he started work on the Denver and Rio Grande in the early 1970s. He worked out on the track for a few years and learned a lot. It was a good experience for a single young man at that time.
            Later he became a section foreman and held some other positions. Eventually he  got involved in the union side of the business, representing the maintenance workers, and spent the last third of his thirty eight year career in that effort ending as General Chairman for the former D&RG BMWE people.  I keep telling him he needs to write some stories or books because there are not too many folks around who got to see railroading as it once was in the latter phase of its glory days. Although he can write quite well, Charlie is more of a musician than a writer and can’t seem to find time to start on this.  I am not sure if I could ghost write for him or not!
            Back to the other part of the story. In 1964 we had a very wet summer. It was a big nuisance to the livestock business the family was involved in at that time We seemed to be fighting muck and mess for weeks and dealing with washed out roads, muddy corrals and trying to keep feed dry and healthy. The railroad had its own problems. One bridge in Clarkdale was washed out, repaired, and washed out again the day after the B&B (bridge and building—carpenters and heavy construction work) gang pulled out! The second time, they were in town from August into November. The foreman of that outfit became a friend of ours and eventually my first serious adult love affair.
            Of course that link really solidified my interest in the railroad business. Charlie had a crush for awhile on the daughter of a machine operator who was in town for a number of weeks, long enough that his family came along and they lived in a big former coach car made into quarters for them. The girl enrolled in school for part of a semester and was Charlie’s first girl friend as a middle school student. So we both had a new motive to keep tabs on the railroads.
            Still, I had never ridden on a train. That finally happened over the holiday season in 1965 when I “ran away” since I left home in a rather impromptu manner to spend time with my aunts in Sacramento, CA. I rode the San Francisco Chief from Flagstaff to Stockton, CA and later back the same route. This train was the equivalent of the famed Super Chief although it went north from Barstow instead of to Los Angeles. I even got to ride through the infamous Tehachapi Loop and its tunnels.
            I decided such travel was wonderful! A year or two later, while I was in college, I made that trip a couple more times and also went south to end up at San Bernardino where I visited a friend who lived in that area.  I have only ridden on a couple of tourist excursions since those days but my love for rail travel has not ceased. To me, it is the ideal way to travel! I have yet to ride on Amtrak but I hope to do so before long.
            I am still a Santa Fe fan although that railroad was merged with the Burlington Northern some years ago now and became the BNSF. It’s been long enough that one seldom sees locomotives in the old Santa Fe livery now. A few now operate on various small lines such as the Southwest Railroad that serves the Grant County, NM mines. I miss the “War Bonnets” and always will. The Santa Fe and the Rio Grande were both unique and special railroads. The Rio Grande has been swallowed up by the UP (Union Pacific), the other main western rail carrier.
            These days Charlie and I both feed our habit as lifelong rail fans by watching trains when we can and taking pictures on various trips we make. A secondary main line traveled at times by both UP and BNSF trains runs through our current home town. We can hear the trains from home and enjoy the rumble of the powerful diesels, the strange song of steel wheels on steel rails and the lonely voice of the whistles. In fact I can hardly sleep if my subconscious does not hear trains. I lived just a block from the Santa Fe mainline in Flagstaff for two years and didn’t realize how much I missed the sound until my last stay in Colorado from 2009 to 2011. The sound was not quite as loud there as it is here, but similar. You do not advertise “no railroad noise” to urge a lodging for me!
            
Although a rank amateur in photography, I have taken a few really good photos the last few years of which I am quite proud. I like to get a freight with some interesting landscape behind and around it. I’m very impressed with the video work of Peter Crook whose railroading videos are sold by Highball. He is a master at the trains in scenery views. I caught a UP modular train (carrying double stack containers) coming eastbound into Stein’s Pass on the Arizona-New Mexico border a couple of years ago. Then I got a westbound BNSF freight from the state highway cutoff that links I-10 to I-40 south and west of of Albuquerque. The latest one, an eastbound BNSF modular “stacker” I shot from Old Highway 66 between Seligman and Ashfork, AZ.
             Of course I also collect other photographer’s work, especially some of the great pictures featured by Trains Magazine on their website and regular contests where both fans and staff members can put up photos with a theme.  I’m not quite brave enough to try…but I may someday. I have a section of railroad pictures on my Pinterest page along with my crafts, book covers and other activities.
             My most recent train ride was on the excursion train run by park concessionaire Xanterra from Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon and back. That trip was just as wonderful as I recalled! My only complaint was it did not last half as long as I would have wished! I may go back when I can. And I am sure I will go to my final days as an avid rail fan so I will try to share some of my other train related tales in time. Among my ambitions is to ride on the Alaskan Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks with a stop at Denali.




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Warmest Wishes!

Now on Christmas Eve as darkness settles in, I listen to some seasonal music and get a little sentimental. There is magic in this night, whatever anyone says. True, for some religions, the date has no significance, but very few cultures do not recognize the mid-point of the winter season, measured by the sun, and festivities abound at this time of year. For me, the Midwinter Solstice and Christmas both hold special meaning and the modern New Year's Eve and Day do as well. Thus, I wish all my friends and family, scattered around the country as they are, the warmest and most sincere love and wishes from my heart on this season.

At least in my heart, I can sit by a roaring fire whose light and heat keep the winter chill and darkness at bay while joyful company surrounds me, talking and singing and simply enjoying the companionship. We may lift a glass or a cup and toast the season, our circle and our hopes for the future. Perhaps we recall celebrations past and feel a nostalgia for those bygone days.

Perhaps they were simpler and less fraught with anxiety and peril than the present. Who can say; I suppose whether you fear terrorists, any era's war or attack by some enemy of primitive days all are or were deeply fearful and the shelter, the fire and the company give at least some sense of security. Yet we still hold hope and faith and look ahead to brighter and better days. May that hope and faith sustain each of you as you look toward the future. Go in peace and harmony!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Solstice Rose

As some of you may already know, the midwinter solstice is a date as important to me in many ways as Christmas. Although many folk say that Samhain (our modern Halloween) is the ancient Celts' New Year, I really feel that designation belongs at the midwinter solstice.

The sun has completed its great cycle and reached the end of its retreat away from the northern hemisphere. As astrologers know, when a celestial body changes direction there is a brief period when it is stationary. Of course it is not the sun but the earth that is moving, so perhaps we are the one who stops for a few seconds and then begins that slow roll back. At any rate, I still tend to feel as my ancestors did that it is the fiery orb which moves and thus like the planets, it pauses and then resumes normal motion rather than retrograde. I'm a very visual person and have to see things in pictures in many cases. so that is what I visualize!

Back to our ancestors, some had an elaborate mythology involving this. The sun was seen as a king or deity that was 'born' on the first morning after the midwinter's longest night and made his great journey only to 'die' when he set at the start of that longest night. Meanwhile, he had impregnated mother earth and she over that night gives birth to the new king who takes over the duty and rule. Okay, a bit fanciful but I like it anyway.

The southern most sunrise
a previous year
My very simple ceremony last night involved burning a small candle all night--an electric one that was safe in case you worried--and extinguished it when I got up about half an hour before sunrise, local. I watched through my north-east facing window as the first beams painted along the upper edges of the rugged hills east of town and slid slowly downward until they reached my street, my house. That was good.

Solstice Rose-
note date lower right
It was a clear, sunny day and there was not a lot of wind. Also good. Thus it was pleasant to sit out on my south-facing portio (that is porch and patio somewhat mingled)  and soak up those healing rays. I was so sitting when I looked up at one of my climbing roses. They are looking weathered now and most of the leaves going brown but there, right under the eaves, was a perfect and lovely little pink bud, just beginning to open! Now can you imagine--a rose blooming on December 21? Not quite a miracle, perhaps, but still a blessing. We've had several good hard freezes now, with lows down into the twenties. How did this little bud survive, form and bloom? It is in a sheltered spot and high under the edge of the roof but it still amazed me. That was my little personal "miracle" for today, perhaps a sign from The  Deity that I am remembered and that I should trust spring will come as it always has and with it many flowers in just a few months.

A similar sunset effect
The day ended with a gentle pastel sunset that turned bright in the last few minutes. Just streaks and feathers of cloud scattered across the sky that picked up and reflected the sun's final rays into a beautiful canvas. Yes, it was a very good day, Midwinter Solstice has come again and passed and for now all is right in my world.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memoir Essay-Music to My ears

Music to My Ears

To say I was bred and fed on music would hardly be an exaggeration. Both parents were musical. Mom played the piano very well, even minored in music in collage and played several recitals. Dad studied voice for a time since his mother wanted him to be the next John McCormick—her family name was McCormack—and he also played several brass and wind instruments in dance bands in his youth. Yet, they both turned their backs on music after they came west except for listening although I do recall my dad still sang a bit when I was very small. He had a decent tenor voice, nothing spectacular but pleasant. Mom may have played a little when she went home to Kentucky for visits but they were very rare and we never had a piano.
They favored classical music and Italian opera—dad did not care for Wagner et al—and also enjoyed the ‘big band’ and jazz styles of popular music of their day—the thirties and forties. I heard all of this on the radio from my earliest memories and later on a reel-to-reel tape recorder they obtained. I still listen to both genres at times although I later chose my own favorites.
There was a radio playing at home a lot of the time during my first decade. I can recall hearing Nat King Cole, Vaughn Monroe, the Sons of the Pioneers and others until soon I was able to sing along: Dance Ballerina, Mona Lisa, Ghost Riders in the Sky and Red Sails in the Sunset to name just a few. I think I inherited a very good ‘ear’ and also was able to memorize melodies and lyrics easily. About the time my first brother was born, I had a few favorite programs. The Bell Telephone Hour and the Firestone Hour both played light classics, operetta and musical comedy music, mostly orchestral but some vocals. Then there was The Railroad Hour on which Gordon McRae and guest sopranos sang the highlights from various operettas and musical shows. This was my early introduction to “romance” and love stories. I was soon hooked for life. It was all hearts, flowers and happy endings. What was not to like?
By the time I hit eighth grade and a new, more urban school experience, “rock ‘n roll” was coming onto the pop scene, shoving aside the ballads of the previous era. I really never cared much for it—Chubby Checker, Bill Haley and even Elvis did not appeal to me. I was by then totally into “cowboys,” cool or not, and began to listen avidly to country and western music. I stayed with that for a decade or more. My parents were not thrilled with the drinking and cheating lyrics but perhaps felt them the lesser evil compared to Elvis’s gyrations and the drug culture references that emerged as rock n roll morphed into rock by the early 1960s. 
I also loved guitar music of all types and genres from classical and flamenco to the "new" electrified sounds of Les Paul and other artists that followed him. Still do and my listening must have rubbed off on my brother who has played all kinds of guitars since his teens and is now an accomplished musician--acoustic, electric, six or twelve string and more recently pedal steel. 
For several years I tried to catch the Postal Finance Top Twenty C&W ‘hit parade’ every Saturday evening. I soon absorbed quite a repertoire of songs: Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Eddie Arnold and then Marty Robbins’ gunfighter ballads. They still speak to me decades later though maybe less than they once did. I am not a huge fan of the modern country—which I feel has more in common with late rock n roll than the older folk music and blues but do have some favorites in this mix too.
Anyway, the C&W genre fit well with my crushes on rodeo cowboys and TV western series heroes and then the “young and restless” blue collar guys who began to catch my eye in my middle to late teens. I was not drinking nor the cheater since I was not even going steady in school, but that’s for another story. The fact I was still “jail bait” probably saved me from disaster more than once.
As life unfolded, I went off to college belatedly at age twenty three. I was far out of step with my fellow students, being both older in years and younger in experience than most of them. The returning vets from Vietnam were not there yet so most were kids starting at around age eighteen. I picked up on some of the sixties vibe and did enjoy the folk and ‘hootenanny’ songs of the times. Soon I diverged from American folk into the music of other regions. Soon ethnic music was near the top of my favorites list. I collected everything from flamenco to Ravi Shankar and the newly rediscovered Celtic music that was a growing fad. An amazing world of sounds opened up to me with Creedence Clearwater and The Ventures on one hand, The Irish Rovers on the other, with a detour to Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary along the way.
I had the small record player that I had gotten about high school graduation and before long traded it for a portable stereo and began to build a collection of LPs, an eclectic mix that is echoed by my current CD racks. I took that into adult life, my first real job, my meeting with my future husband and soon acquisition of a ready-made family. All my favored genres came along, expanded by further discoveries such as the bull fight music we played during our courtship and much more Celtic music, especially the British military bands with bagpipes that my Scots ancestry husband favored. I zeroed in on and introduced a few more from the pop scene such as Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot and Jethro Tull.
Growing teenagers brought new sounds as the seventies became the eighties. I took to some and shuddered at others. I liked Stevie Nix and some of Foreigner that my stepson favored. My husband and I added Phil Coulter, the Irish Tenors and even more Celtic artists. I never quite acquired a taste for disco, rap or hip-hop and drifted away from most of the pop music by the mid eighties. I may still by chance hear a tune that catches my ear and track it down–my tastes are still eclectic and very particular--but mostly I’ve gone back to my old favorites.
Today I listen to classical more—from PBS and a few discs out of my own collection. I still play some older rock, C&W and even folk music from the past and enjoy Celtic and Native American songs and artists very much. There is even quite a bit of easy listening or “elevator music” finding favor with me, the likes of Mantovani and some of the gentler New Age artists. My CD collection is a cloak of many colors and will be even more so as I gradually transfer the most precious of those old LPs to the modern media. Yes, I could buy many of them ready-made but some favorites have still not found a way to the new formats so I just rip and burn copies of them all.
I sang in both a church choir and the girls’ chorus during my high school years, and also a lot just as I went about my daily routine, at least at home since the offices where I worked would not have appreciated it. Sadly it seems my voice has now gone away. I never could read music and frustrate heck out of my very musical brother since chords and keys and such are all Greek to me.  I just know what I like and can repeat it, to some degree.

There was a time, though, when I warbled away most of the day doing mundane household or outdoor chores. It was so pronounced that a neighbor once accused my husband of feeding me bird seed for breakfast—the old fashioned kind that supposedly made canaries sing because there were marijuana seeds in the mix!  But no, I can’t blame The Weed; it was just me.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gun Control

I will warn readers right now that if you honestly feel we would be safer if all privately owned firearms were confiscated and destroyed, then you will probably be offended and upset about at least some of what follows. However, if you can read with an open mind, you might do some new thinking about this belief. BTW, I am not a Republican, consider myself a New Age Libertarian, actually. I abhor extremism of all kinds. Every organized religion appalls me as the source of the world's worst atrocities for centuries. Stop here if you wish!

Go back over the mass shootings of the past several years. Did most if not all take place in venues where 'law abiding' citizens were discouraged from or forbidden to carry a weapon? Admitting that most of the doers were mentally ill or unstable, radicals of some stripe, and really had no business with a weapon, they were also quite sane enough to plan and execute these slaughters. To me that says they were also sane enough not to select a place where they might encounter other armed people in doing their killing.

Even if all honest citizens did turn in their guns are you totally sure that the nuts, the extremist, the mentally ill and the criminal class would do the same? Are you sure the authorities would find and remove all such weapons?

Apparently a lot of people do not feel safer because our President said we were going to overcome and subdue Isis, but meanwhile events like the Planned Parenthood shooting and various other massacres would not happen if guns were "controlled." Isn't it odd that gun stores have seen a stampede of buyers and shooting clubs, ranges and stores that offer training are swamped with people who want to learn how to defend themselves?

This provision --second amendment--was written into our Constitution 200+ years ago not by a bunch of wild-eyed gun toting crazies and red necks but by educated and serious statesmen. They realized that armed citizens were solely responsible for the United States establishing its independence and becoming a nation. In almost all locales where dictatorship, genocide and "hostile take overs" have happened in modern times, some form of gun confiscation and disarming of the population has taken place first.  Are you ready to accept that possible outcome?  (Even if you consider it unlikely--which means you have not studied history very well!)

No, I really do not think people on the "no fly" list and those being treated for serious mental health issues should be able to buy guns. Convicted felons should not either. Probably magazines holding more than ten to fifteen rounds are 'overkill' in terms of normal hunting, sport shooting or even self defense. The problem is, can we really believe that writing these and similar "reasonable" measures into law will be the end of it? Or will the camel, once its nose is in the tent, be content to stop there? What will be the next step? That is why the NRA and a number of lesser known but very active personal firearm advocates and organizations  keep saying no. They feel any of these limits will just be the first step.

Yes, in part it is a trust issue. A lot of people, and not just the right wing extremes, do not trust the government. When you see the scandals, the errors, the misuses of power that happen every day, whether it is national or more local like 'bad' cops killing people for little reason other than maybe race or some other prejudice--do you really trust any level of government when it comes to the life and safety of you and your loved ones? Even 'good cops' only get there in time to clean up the mess in most cases. I've been in a law enforcement family for many years now and that is what I have heard from them

We live in "interesting" times to put it gently. Danger is all around in many forms and guises. While individuals are also untrustworthy at times, I feel I can put more faith in the working class man or woman who has taken steps to be armed and able to defend him/herself and family. I trust the school employees and the average "good Samaritan"  who would step into the path of danger to stop some of these horrible situations and crimes they see taking place--if they were allowed to be armed. Just as I would.

Four years old holding
Dad's hunting rifle.
I grew up with firearms and have a healthy respect for them. I have seen the bloody holes they can make in live creatures. I'm not numbed or fooled by filmed violence and video games that make it all seem unreal. People with a gun can and do kill. That is real. Yet those who would can also be stopped by the same application of deadly force or even the threat of it.

When I was riding afield to train horses and mules including off in remote places alone, I carried a firearm all the time. I never shot or even threatened to shoot anyone although there were rapes and robberies in the area on occasion. I did not need to defend myself because there were unarmed people much easier to victimize. What does this indicate?
Carrying rifle and revolver while
riding in the mountains.

It's not the wild west anymore but cities have become wilder and more dangerous than Tombstone in 1889. Even suburbs and small towns are not exempt. For that reason, I am not in favor of gun control, not even the first step, until I have reason to trust the power structure that wants to impose it.  If my neighbors have guns that worries me a lot less than if only the "bad guys" manage to get or keep them.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Memoir Essay: Counting Crows

This one is from some weeks back, written for my memoir writing group as are many others I have been posting.   Just an odd tidbit out of the past.

Counting Crows
Today, May 11, 2015, would have been my Dad’s one hundred third birthday. Of course, he has been gone a long time since he passed away in a freakish traffic accident in March 1989, a few weeks short of seventy-seven. Do I miss him? Yes and no. WE had some rocky times but also many good ones.
This morning, I was sitting on the patio around ten o’clock enjoying a bit of sunshine and quiet. Then a big black bird flew by, squawking loudly. It was followed by two more and then yet another. They flew on south for a short while, but then circled back and began to soar and spiral over my back yard for several minutes, perhaps a hundred feet in the air or bit more. They ‘talked’ as they do–having quite a range of sounds, if one listens. Finally, they all flew away.
I then remembered how I learned to count crows. Of course these, like the ones I used to watch in Arizona, are actually ravens. The two species are related, but ravens are considerably larger. Still we called them all crows. I think most folks do.
Dad was Irish, perhaps not one hundred percent by blood, but completely in his personality. He had all the stereotypical traits: volatile, voluble, charming when he chose to be, fiercely loyal, moody, superstitious and given to drama. About the only one he missed was in not being a drunkard. For the first twelve or so years of my life, he was my hero.
Since I was the eldest child, I did a great deal of driving, riding and working with him and we often saw crows. I was very young when I learned from him the little fortune-telling rhyme, which I expect came down from old Celtic folklore. 
      “One is unlucky, two is lucky, three is health, four is wealth, five is sickness 
      and six is quickness.” 
I guess you were not supposed to see more than that at once!
Of course, you did not want to admit to seeing five or only one. I can remember Dad looking away for a few seconds and then back again to alter the count. Decades later, I still count crows and always try to get a fortunate number.  But to see two, three and then four? Well, there was one at first, but still, what a collection of favorable omens!
At a happier time, me on Lady and Dad
with Charlie, about 2 1/2,  on Chindy
Perhaps more importantly, I was given a chance to reconnect with my Dad in this odd way. We did not always get along and he could be difficult and some-times downright mean, but I never doubted that he loved me, even on the very worst days. So, on this anniversary of his birth, did he send those birds to remind me and offer a positive oracle for me, or was it just happenstance?  

Of course there is no way to know. Still, I can believe what I wish and I can go on counting crows until the end of my days. I do not doubt that I will. And just maybe, luck, health and wealth are on the way to me soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Deja Vu--All Over Again


This was just an ordinary day, December 3, 2015 with a chilly start but good bright sunshine to warm things up quickly. After having two mornings taken up with medical stuff that got me off to not the best start, it was nice to have a free morning and pleasant weather too. My dogs were happy also, scampering and sniffing along as we started off on a walk in the fresh brilliant day.

Cottonwood Colors 
Finally the fall-into-winter season is here. Recent chill, rain and wind has the leaves falling fast from the various deciduous trees around the neighborhood. There are elms, mulberry, various fruit trees, the ubiquitous cottonwood—the “alamo” for which Alamoogordo is named—and some willows. Here and there, a sycamore or maple, with leaves reddish or rusty instead of gold going brown.  In spots the two red dogs and I scuffed along through scatters of leaves on the sidewalk. One patch was a bit thicker and more plentiful. For a few seconds I was in another body, another time and place. Snapping back to here and now, I recalled another time this also happened.

The first time was several years ago, about 2006, before I left the home in southern Arizona which I had shared for nearly twenty years with my late husband and then remained on alone for another five. That was another bright blue late November or early December day as I walked through some leaves going to check on something at my well.. All at once I was another-where and not the person I am here and now. I walked with someone, an unseen person I felt was important to me, and we waded, laughing, through much thicker and more prominent leaves, perhaps somewhere in New England or the Appalachian area. I may have held his or her hand; that part is vague and the glimpse into that distant reality was brief although the experience was intense.


At first time, I had an impression it was the second decade of the twentieth century, between the births of my parents in 1912 and 1920. I also felt that either I or my companion was about to go off to fight in World War I. This time, I didn’t have any sense of time or place—it was the briefest flash. Still, I have to think this somehow confirms I must have lived in that other place once and shared it with someone who has probably been in my current life, also. Deja vu—and in this case really “all over again.”
Pinto and Goldie

Then as we continued the walk I happened to see posters about two lost cats. One had a black cap and ears but looked mostly white while the other was a gold tiger striped cat. That gave me an odd glimpse to a past time in this current life. I lived in an apartment in an old house for two years while I was attending Northern Arizona University. A roommate and I were given two kittens by a prof whose daughter I often babysat after the child’s cat had a litter.

Mine was black and white and Mary’s was a gold tiger stripe! We called them Pinto and Goldie. They were litter mates but did not look alike at all. The mother was a tri-colored –what do they call them? Oh yes, calico--rather long haired cat. I have no idea of the father.  Pinto had short hair and Goldie medium. They were in my life briefly, Pinto for two years and Goldie less since Mary graduated and went off to teach on the Navajo Reservation. I have not owned a cat since and later learned they were the probable cause of my near-asthma symptoms that period.


Coincidence? Who knows. I have a friend who swears there is no such thing as a coincidence and I almost agree. Things happen for a reason, sometimes to give us a glimpse of a possible or actual past or future, sometimes to remind us of some period in our recent past (recent meaning the current life) and sometimes just one of those Celtic knot patterns where threads of our lives and others cross, part, twist and meet again, sometimes flowing from one into another. I cherish the reminders and those déjà vu peeks into otherwhere and otherwhen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Memoir Essay-BC glasses and Tissues in your bra

BC Glasses and Tissues in Your Bra

Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, teenage girls had some hard role models to emulate. The likes of Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe were tough acts to follow. Bombshell material R Not Us. Of course from about sixth grade on there would always be one or two girls who seemed to go from training bras to about a 36C over the summer. I think the term used then was “blossomed out.” That made it even worse for the rest of us, the chronic late bloomers. Now had I come along in the Twiggie era, I would have been fine but no such luck. Soon I had even more strikes against me.

When I was about nine I got my first pair of glasses. I am not sure of the date
Thin arms and BC glasses
at 13. Candles spelled that out,
only 11 visible.
!
since it was before I began to keep a diary or journal shortly after I turned twelve. Anyway, I could see clearly to about six inches in front of my nose and little beyond that distance so glasses it was. I was already a tomboy and soon would be riding horses and such so my parents were much more concerned with safety than appearance. I was already a skinny kid with knobby knees and fine, very straight hair so what the heck. The first and many following pairs had plain metal frames with safety lenses which made my already thick prescription even heavier. Pretty they were not and they made my eyes (which I always considered my best feature)  look small, distant and swimmy. For a short time I didn’t care but then I turned twelve and discovered boys. How I hated those glasses then.

Many years later while I was working at Fort Huachuca, I overheard some young female soldiers talking about the very ugly spectacles that were government issue. Few wore them if they could help it. The young ladies called them “BC glasses.” Now you might think they were referring to prehistoric times, but no. the two letters stood for birth control.  The girls swore no man in his right mind would even touch a woman wearing them because they were so ugly.

No longer thin but
very plain glasses
Age a state secret!
That put my early specs into a whole new light. As I grew up I was convinced my father would have been happy to see me in a nunnery until I was at least forty five so long as I could get out into his protective custody when he needed me to work, more or less daily. Maybe those glasses were chosen with an ulterior motive. He seldom had to use a big stick to beat off the boys.

Now I jump back to the bra bit. Yes, it became a common stratagem, at least in my high school, to try to add a bit that nature had not seen fit to award, at least not in the early teens. A few tissues carefully placed added some enhancement and were much cheaper than the ‘falsies’ advertised in the likes of Fredericks of Hollywood. You know, those push out and up concoctions that allegedly made anyone look like Jayne Mansfield.

I did not do this a lot, honestly, although perhaps on an occasion or two. I remained very thin and rather straight until I was well into my twenties and finally had the sedentary lifestyle that allowed me to gain weight and more feminine curves. Finally Twiggie was in and I was no longer echoing her image. Just my luck. C’est la vie.

By then  I was finally buying my own glasses, able to pick some more modern and flashier styles. I recall one pair, the “cat eye” style all prettied up with rhinestones. Today’s kids would call it “pimped out.” Now they would remind me of a pawnshop window full of cheap jewelry but at the time they were the epitome of cool. I had many other styles, big and little, flashy and plainer as that became the vogue and none quite that wild again..

Now age is sneaking up on me. I wear plain metal glasses again—titanium now which is very light and flexible, and as myopia eased some with age, not as thick or nearly as heavy as they once were. Still, the magnifying lenses--from the inside--work the opposite from the outside and still shrink the appearance of my eyes. Vanity is long gone and since I use no eye makeup it does not make much difference.


And funny, too. Most of my summer shirts and sun tops do not have pockets. In the winter it is okay since I wear boy-style flannel shirts a lot but summer its a nuisance. Having allergies and now eyes that alternate from drippy to over-dry and require frequent use of artificial tears, I always want a tissue or two handy. Where is the easiest place to put them? You guessed it. I don’t need the extra padding these days but being imminently practical, I say why waste a perfectly good storage spot out of any false modesty or misplaced nostalgia?  Once again it is BC glasses and tissues in the bra!  What goes around does indeed come back around in time.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

More About Teachers

Back on November 20, I posted an essay about three favorite teachers. I finally got the photos scanned but found I cannot cut out just a single portrait without the quality going totally to hell, so each of the three appears with several others. Thus I will talk a little bit about any more that were influential to me.

This first block is the whole faculty of my small town high school in my
freshman year.  Yes, it was not a big school, which was why it and another small school were consolidated the following year and yet more students added the last two years I attended.  Miss Rayle appears in the upper left corner. You already heard about her. Mr Ensign was the principal; he was gone the next year but I never knew where he went.  Below him is Mrs Reeves. I had her for Algebra 1 and could not stand her but I later learned later she had some serious health issues, perhaps some form of hepatitis since she was quite jaundiced. But she also had long nails and scratched the blackboard something fierce! Mrs Hoffpauer taught Spanish and we got on okay. On Mrs Reeves'  left is Mrs Taylor who taught typing, another one I did not like! Miss Thomas on the right was the girls' PE teacher. She was nice enough but I was not fond of PE! Mr Winslow and Mr Cantrell are in the bottom corners. Mr Winslow had been my eighth grade home room teacher. He ended up at Buena High in Sierra Vista after the consolidation and Mr. Cantrell, who I had for World History, ended up at Window Rock on the Navajo Reservation where a college roommate later taught and knew him. Miss Berg taught Home Ec--another ugh and I had no classes with the Mr. DeVault. I think he did stay post-consolidation as did Mrs Hoffpauer, Mrs Reeves and Miss Berg. Miss Thomas went to the middle school.

Now I skip ahead to my senior year. Again, group photos on a page but there were a couple of pages I did not scan by now! I had  sixty one classmates in my graduating class whereas there had been only fourteen in 1958.

Jim McLarney is in the lower angle of the first photo; yes he was kind of goofy looking! But he was a good teacher and influenced me a lot. I never had a class with Tom Henry but at the reunions I have attended he always greeted me and sang my praises until it got embarrassing! I had Joella Mahoney for art and enjoyed both her and the class. Now to the next shot. Ernest Gabrielson is in the upper right. To his left is Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a counselor and girl's PE teacher. She was always kind and pleasant to me. Mr Doubek was the music teacher and led Girls' Glee Club which I was in for two years. The other two I did not have classes with, and other than Merle Crawford, not pictured here, who taught history and civics classes. few of the others made a lasting impression. I studied casually, passed their classes and promptly erased most of the experience!

So much for high school. Most of it is a vague memory now, not altogether pleasant as our family did not fit into the community well and I and my brother after me were always outsiders and came in for some razzing and hazing. Today it might be termed bullying but we survived and perhaps grew stronger. Charlie was more of a rebel than I was and perhaps some teachers were not quite as favorably disposed to him. Most of them were at least pleasant to me and those I have mentioned mentored and helped me as well as they could. I appreciated it then and still do today. I probably owe more to them than I realize. That was a hard era to be a misfit but perhaps that is true of every time period. And each class and school has its share, I know. Had I ever taught I would have reached out to all those students although some would likely reject the overtures.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Being Thankful

It has been a quiet, cool and rainy day here in southern New Mexico. I only went outdoors a few times for a brief walkabout with the dogs--five now since Riata, a six month old Blue Heeler girl, joined our pack almost three weeks ago. My red dogs do not like rain. In fact Ginger almost has to be forced to go out and take care of business if she feels more than a raindrop or two. She's a true desert dog.
Brother Charlie with Riata
the day of her arrival

Here in the arid lands with the drought we've had for several years the rain is welcome. I miss the sun but it will be back in a few days. Mostly I was lazy today although I did get a story done and submitted--a few days ahead of the deadline, even. That felt good. Another is almost there, too.

Both my brother and I agreed that we are thankful not to be hosting or otherwise involved in a big feast with too much company including, as is true for most families, a few folks you would just as soon not have to deal with. My late hubby used to call these events "state dinners" and he was not fond of them, either. For today, just the two of us and the dogs were company enough. I made chili and cornbread for supper and we feasted in peace, slipping watermelon bites to the dogs, one of their favorite treats. They always make us laugh a bit.

Cowboy horse trainer
Charley Bryant. He taught me
so much!
During the day, sitting in my favorite recliner with Rojito on my lap, I contemplated life and all the things I am thankful for today. Of course family and friends top the list, and both categories include members of both the two footed and four footed species. I've been hugely blessed to know some truly memorable and wonderful folks over the years and that opportunity tops my gratitude list. The dogs, horses and mules I have loved are most surely included but I've also been privileged to know some unique characters who brought the Old West into the twentieth century. They are gone now but I remember...

Perhaps next is the sudden awareness that even after seven decades of watching this world, wondering at these curious beings who inhabit it and taking note of the natural wonders that surround me, I can still find wonder in each day. The world is so full of amazing, incredible, beautiful and truly awesome things! You only have to lift your eyes beyond contemplation of your own petty misfortunes or grievances to see them. I have to admit that I am guilty of narrow vision there at times but this awareness gave me a mild kick in the posterior as a reminder to raise my gaze and open my mind and heart to all that is out there.

To you my readers I wish a happy and peaceful day, a chance to recharge the batteries of your soul with a bit of calm, even if it is only a few quiet moments alone or with a few of the most dear, maybe with a dog or kitty on your lap. Stroking their soft fur and feeling their contentment and trust is a true gift. May you gain enough peace and harmony to go through the coming days restored and refreshed! The winter holidays seem to have become a stressful time. This is so wrong but we seem to be stuck with it. I vow to back off as much as I can this season and slip gently through them into the next year. May you all do the same.
Last, I truly am thankful for each of you!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Some more Arizona Photos

These are at Tuzigoot: In the first land we leased for pasture for many of our livestock is in the flat area between the hill and the bluffs to the back of the shot. The grove of trees just off center is where I took the photo of "Dusty" on the mule Prez back in the fall of 1965! The other shows part of the ruins and the green at the end of the hill is on the edge of the Verde River where I used to ride almost every day!


The next shows part of Roosevelt Lake and a bridge that crosses just east of the dam site where Coolidge Dam forms the river by blocking a canyon. The other is a view of the hills not far from my friend Evelyn's home. She is the one who did the great painting of me and Tina that I brought home!


The last shots are of my great grand kids in their Halloween costumes and a view of the gate to the Duncan Valley Cemetery. I need to post it and a couple of others on FindAGrave.com which is a great resource for locating where ancestors and others may be interred.







Arizona Trip--Final section

After my friend and I had our last breakfast at Williams at the Grand Canyon Railroad facility we headed off first to Flagstaff and then down the I-17 freeway to the Verde Valley. It had been pretty cloudy in Flag but was broken clouds when we got to Cottonwood. We left her car at our motel with permission since we were registered for that night but it was too early to check in. From there I showed her old Cottonwood, many buildings I still recall, some almost as they were and others redone, probably several times!

The old highway between Cottonwood and Clarkdale seems so short now. It used to take me about thirty minutes to ride the distance so there is a big difference between maybe 5-6 MPH and 45, even if one drives the speed limit! I showed her my old home and where my two best friends lived, along the same street, Lower Main. We even drove over to the depot, once a simple frame building painted an icky yellow but now a stylish and fancy place because it is the terminal for the Verde Valley Scenic Railroad. That line uses the old Santa Fe track but does not go all the way to the old junction at Drake, stopping and swapping ends with the locomotives at Perkinsville. I have ridden it and hope to do so again but we did not have time this trip.

From there we went over to Tuzigoot, a partially restored hilltop village of the Sinagua people, who were probably related to the tribes who became the Hopi and Zuni. It is ironic that I rode around the south end of that hill along the Verde River frequently for quite a few years but did not visit the ruin or Natioanl Monument until 2006 when I took some time to revisit my old home area! We had just hiked up onto the ruins when a storm started to sweep down off Mingus Mountain. I thought it might go north but no such luck. We dashed for my truck in pelting, stinging, wind-driven rain!

After that I decided to drive up to Jerome, still a spectacular town perched on the side of a red mountain. It was a mining town and the first home town I can recall. My friend was a bit intimidated by the winding and narrow mountain road leading up from Clarkdale but I assured her I was a very experienced mountain driver and we had no mishaps. I showed her where my house once stood and then we went down to the Douglas Mansion, now a museum to the mining and area history. "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas was an early mining entrepreneur and his mother was a cousin of Winston Churchill on his mothers side, In face Jerome commemorates her family name of Jerome! It was still raining and blowing like crazy even though we were there for over an hour. Finally we dashed out and headed down the hill, stopping at a favorite Mexican cafe in Clarkdale where my brother and I both stop whenever we pass that way. We were between the lunch and dinner rushes so it was perfect.

That evening I showed my friend a bunch of old photos on my little travel computer and we shared another late night chat. The next morning we made a quick trip back to Tuzigoot for some photos and then she followed me back to I-17 where she went west and south and I crossed over to go through Camp Verde and across on some older and narrower highways over part of the Mogollon Rim to finally end up passing Roosevelt Lake and crossing some desert mountains to another mining town, Globe, where one of my old school friends now lives. I had a great visit with her and her husband, who was also from Jerome at one time and was a grade behind me in school.

The next day I drove on down to Oracle Junction and on to Tucson where I crossed over to I-10 and then to my granddaughter's home in Marana. I had a pleasant visit with Julie, her mom Shari who is my eldest step son's ex, and Julie's two kids. Of course they are bigger and more mature every time I see them. I got to see their Halloween outfits and took a photo or two! The next day I paid a long delayed visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. I lived in Cochise County for twenty four years and never got there! It was quite fascinating and well worth the time. In one area they had many samples of desert plants to include two that were identified by and named for a man my parents were friends with, Leslie N Goodding, a world-renowned expert on desert flora. That was pretty cool!

I spent that evening at another friend's home in a Tucson suburb and had a great visit with her and her husband, who is a super guy in his own right.It was hard to leave the next morning but I had to get home. I took one more detour, up the road once called 666 to Safford and then down on highway 80 to Duncan. That was the last place my parents lived and they are buried there so I visited their graves and realized I need to go back and do some work and also get my baby brother's ashes interred there with them. That is for another time, though. I got home at dusk, my eyes going very fuzzy with allergies and exhaustion so the final quarter of the journey was a bit tense but I made it home safely.

I'll post a few photos on a separate page since this is getting very long! I am too gabby <smile>. It was a very rewarding trip and I truly enjoyed it very much; you cannot go home again but sometimes a few memories are good to revisit.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Memoir Essay-- Mountain Roads

Here is another of my looking back pieces that links to the present in many ways. Are we not all the product of our pasts? There can be no doubt that the world and environment in which we grew up will always be with us. Some even feel that traces of past lives may follow us into this one. I can hardly doubt that due to various experiences I've had but for now none of us can be quite sure. However, this tale is just about my current life. Let's go for a drive on...

Mountain Roads
             Since I began my “aware” life in Jerome, Arizona, I have known mountain roads all of my days. In Jerome, we lived on a hill reached by a narrow, lane and a half wide twisting track that might scare some folks speechless. To leave town, one had to go either up or down narrow two lane paved highways with no shoulders, roads with continuous curves and steep to near vertical slopes that plunged down from the outer edge. Thus such travel never seemed odd or even very fearful to me.

On Allen Spring Road. Dad could
not move boulder but we
squeaked by.
            A bit later, when I was about six, my dad got a “Jeep”, one of those little four wheel drive vehicles the military had developed for use in World War II that became commercially available once the war ended. Today's Jeeps are right in there with the other SUVs, often quite luxurious but this one was the bare bones stripped down model with the emphasis much more on utility than sport, comfort or flash!

The first Jeep with a homemade
'cab' to replace canvas top.
          My place was on a pillow or two, perched in the middle between the two bucket seats as we explored every steep, rough, crooked and barely drive-able road in the forty-eighth state or close to it. That meant the north rim of the Grand Canyon to the Allen Spring Road, a single lane dirt track that twisted around Mingus Mountain to the cave where most of Jerome’s water was acquired. It tapped into a good spring from an aquifer deep under the mountain. We traveled tracks out west of Prescott in the Santa Maria Range, the then-unpaved road that led from Lonesome Valley, now Prescott Valley, down to the desert north of Phoenix and too many more to count. The sing-song purr of the Jeep’s engine geared down to its lowest speed in four wheel drive lulled me to a doze many times and I can still “hear” the sound in memory.
            We even maneuvered down the aforementioned Allen Spring Road with a four wheel farm trailer loaded with jack pine logs a number of times and had to make hairpin turns. A few times when there were washouts, we had to jack the trailer over as far to the inside possible so it would not slide off the edge of a tight loop. I was glad my dad was driving there but rarely was really terrified. We’d just make it work.
            When I finally began to learn to drive, I did it on dirt roads first, out to an area where we kept many of our horses and mules for awhile. Next it was down to Camp Verde to get hay, on a partly paved but narrow road in the valley that crossed many canyons and arroyos, and finally over Mingus Mountain on Highway 89-A. Oddly, it was my mother who mostly taught me. Dad was an excellent driver but by then he was not in good health and lacked the patience to deal with me grinding gears and jerking to a start or stop. Yes, it was a standard four speed stick shift truck, no longer a Jeep but an early 1960s model Ford F-100 pickup. For years I scorned automatics as sissy cars real drivers would not need! I’m a bit spoiled now but can drive a stick shift if need-be.
            A few years later when I got my first real job and then bought my first car, a 1971 Ford Pinto, I had no concern about driving on mountain roads. I zipped around from Sierra Vista to Tombstone and Bisbee, on gravel roads to Parker Lake and Coronado Monument and back up to Flagstaff some weekends Since that had been home for four years while I was in college. The little car hugged the road well and I never even seriously scared myself.
            However, once in Flagstaff I drove up on Mount Eldon and managed to get lightly high centered on a big flat rock when I turned around. That was a new challenge. I did not want to rip the oil pan or tear any lines loose so I jacked each corner up and put rocks under the tires, making a path to ease down off that spot and back onto a better road. I drove back to Cochise County the next day down I-17 and I-10 with my little car none the worse for wear, just a little proud of my inventiveness!
            Once I had moved to Bisbee and commuted to Fort Huachuca daily for work, that road over the Mule Mountains became very familiar. I guess it could be called a mountain road without much exaggeration but it never seemed threatening to me, even a few times when it was a bit icy.
            I did encounter more ice and snow when we moved to Colorado and came to fear that much more on a level straight road than I ever had a dry highway or even gravel road in the desert, high desert or dry Arizona mountains. I did a 180 degree spin once with studded snow tires on a dry road in Colorado Springs—that time I was about as scared as I have ever been! No, the studs may give traction on ice and snow but they slide like a banana peel on dry pavement!
            This past week I made a visit back to Arizona and after a train and bus trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon I took my travel companion and friend down to my old home area. We drove up to Jerome. This time I had my little red pickup and with four brand new tires it too hugged the road very well. Still, at once point I bumped on a bit of broken asphalt at the edge of the shoulder-less road and my companion almost turned green. From then on she shut her eyes until I parked and said it was safe to look!
            She had even been worried driving on I-17. To me those are very gentle curves and although the grade is fairly steep, you can either gear down—even most automatics have a lower range that will help control speed--or use cruise control in a different way to keep your speed down. However the steering on her SUV wasn’t quite right after some recent repairs on the front end so I could understand why she felt challenged. 
            I admit I get frustrated at times following “flatlanders” on some of the old fashioned two lane highways where there are few safe places to pass. They creep along, clearly scared spitless, and I have to poke behind them, grousing that they should stay on the freeways! That was especially bad in Colorado in the summer time when there seemed to be a zillion huge motor homes wanting to go up Pikes Peak or some similar other unlikely place. Of course southern Arizona and even New Mexico have the snow birds in the winter that create similar hazards. I guess we just have to learn to be patient. Not everyone has the chance to grow up on mountain roads.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Memoir Essay--Three Favorite Teachers

In a reply to a couple of comments on an earlier memoir essay I said I had one essay dedicated to three teachers who influenced me the most. Here it is. I may be able to go back and scan photos of them from old yearbooks and I will add them later if this works out!

Three Favorite Teachers
—Inspiration and Encouragement
For five of my first seven years of formal schooling, my father was my teacher. That had both good points and bad but has been covered elsewhere. Here I want to talk about some other teachers and the effects they had on my life, especially my long term desire to be a writer.
I had been intimidated by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Pew, although in retrospect, she was very kindly and gentle, though stern if the children did not behave. I did not care for my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Fuller, in the lower grade section of a two-room school. Her pet was her son, who was my age or at least in my grade, and a couple of his cronies and perhaps two girls in the first grade, twins and cute little blondes. I got the feeling she did not like me, but could be wrong. At that stage, I was pretty self-centered.
After that came three years with Dad again and finally a huge change to a middle school or junior high where my eighth grade took place. There we shared space with the high school and had most of the same teachers, a different one for each subject. That was quite a change but I did not mind it after the first week or two.
I had a couple of favorite teachers that year. Mrs Manley taught art and was the mother of the notable photographer Ray Manley. She was very sweet and pleasant and I enjoyed her class.  Art was my second interest after writing, really. English, already a favorite subject of mine, was taught by a very unique lady, Miss Rayle. At that point the use of Ms. was just coming into the vocabulary and she made a emphatic point that she was not Ms but Miss and proud of it. I believe she was in her early to middle sixties, about five foot five or so and rather square built, an impression enhanced by her choice of attire.
She probably had more than the two but as I recall she wore on alternate weeks a dark blue suit and a brown suit with a crisp white shirtwaist blouse, perhaps touched with a tiny bit of lace or ruffles and some tucks in the front. The suits were very mannish in cut with a straight skirt that fell well below the knee and a jacket exactly like a man’s suit coat but with the buttons reversed. “Granny shoes”, clunky laced oxfords with perhaps an inch or two of heel, completed her ‘look’. She sported a Brillo pad of curly iron gray hair, which I suspect was natural.
Miss Rayle loved the English language and English literature of all kinds with an abiding passion. Although she did her best to instill the same regard in all her students, many of them were not buying it. I did. Oh, I was not terribly fond of diagramming sentences on the blackboard—this was a device that my dad had never used—but I caught on quickly and could soon fix the errors made by others.
At that time I had decided to go by Margaret—an affectation I soon regretted and dropped when I could. But I would often hear, “Margaret, can you fix the sentence that Robert (or Helen or someone else) has mangled?” And I would dutifully do so.
Miss Rayle, who had also announced that her given name was Blanche Elizabeth, was Irish and proud of it. She had the wicked Irish sense of humor and flair for puns and sarcasm; I caught those traits very quickly since I shared them to some degree. She also greatly loved poetry. We were tasked to compile a little anthology of poems as one of our projects. I chose several favorites and included a few of my own writing since I had by then been penning verses for several years. That project got me an “A” and when I confessed I was also starting to write some stories, she seemed delighted and told me that was an excellent project.
I also had her for my freshman year and continued in much the same vein. Sad to say that was her final year of teaching as I believe she retired. I think she left the area and went back to somewhere farther east, perhaps New York or New England where she’d grown up and maybe still had family. However, Miss Rayle had left a permanent mark on me.
My sophomore year I had a new young teacher named Mrs. Norris for awhile but she got pregnant and at that time, impressionable teenagers were not to be exposed to anyone in “the family way” so she left after the first semester. I cannot even recall who took her place but neither of them left much of an impression on me. Mrs. Norris had earned my enmity but giving me a “B” the first report card because I had balked a bit about some complex conjugations of verbs and not done well with them. I was spoiled to being a pet and prodigy in my chosen subjects such as English, History, Geography and such. A “B”? That was intolerable!
Then I was out of school for a year. When I returned to start my junior year, the school had grown by consolidation and many new teachers had joined the faculty. In fact many of the old ones had left, either retiring or going elsewhere. I got the impression that the new Superintendent had brought in a new crew, perhaps recruited from wherever he had been before.
In the fall of 1960, The English Department of Mingus Union High consisted mainly of two young men just getting established in their teaching careers. Ernest Gabrielson was a classic nerd, already with a very high forehead at thirty years old or less. He had a droll sense of humor and a sincere love of language and literature so we hit it off pretty well. James McLarney was the product of Catholic schools, tended to try to be strict but was also an Irish smart-ass. He could flay you with sly words so you were on the floor bleeding before you even caught on—especially if you were slow, literal or easily intimidated. I was not so we fared well enough.
Both of these chaps were aspiring writers so I hit it off with them. Besides the regular English classes, McLarney was in charge of the yearbook and Gabrielson the school newspaper. I got involved with both those projects. I was editor of the paper my senior year, and enjoyed that so much I considered a career in journalism for awhile.
When I found late in my senior year that I was to be valedictorian, it was McLarney who directed and vetted my speech. I was allowed to say pretty much what I chose, but he corrected a few things and made suggestions, most of which I followed. I guess it was a decent speech; I recall some compliments on it afterwards although I was so stoned on  Darvon that I do not remember much about the experience. I’d had a tooth pulled not long before and took advantage of the extra meds to calm my normal stage fright and extreme timidity about speaking. They did help.
Both teachers wrote in my senior year book with encouragement to continue to write and perhaps go into teaching. I did the one but not the other. I had decided some years before, having been born into a family full of teachers, I was not cut out for a career in education. I am glad I made the choice early!
As a final note, I’ll mention one of those strange Celtic knot coincidences. When I starting work at Fort Huachuca and then moved to Bisbee, I began to keep company with the  man I later married. Once I mentioned a former teacher named Gabrielson and Jim’s ears perked up at once. We compared notes a few minutes and I discovered that my old English teacher had been a friend and classmate of my husband’s when they were going to Bisbee High School! Years later, we met several times with Ernest (by then I used his first name!) and his wife Carroll at reunions of both our schools. It was amusing to compare notes and discuss the oddly shared past.
Both McLarney and Gabrielson did eventually write and publish.  McLarney wrote a modern drama version of the Greek tragedy Antigone and his drama class at Mingus put it on several times. I think he had it published and likely some other things. Gabrielson wrote a couple of mystery novels set in Bisbee which were published as well. However, I think my career overtook both of them since I have had several articles, a number of works of fiction and one book of poetry published. I hope these three teachers look back from wherever they may be now and are pleased at what their influence wrought.  I did take it to heart and have done my best to honor the encouragement and guidance they provided. Although I am glad I did not teach, it must be rewarding to have even a student or two credit part of their success or achievement to your influence. I will not have that experience.