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!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Next Memoir essay... The Camp Wood Boys

I read "The Rest of the Story" in the Writers' Group today and there was silence for a few seconds after I finished. Finally one lady said "Thanks for sharing that." I think since all of us in the group are 65 or so and up, every one has experienced some tragedy and trauma and gradually more of us are telling those stories. It is therapeutic in some ways.

Anyway here is a lighter essay to bring a different feeling now that the hard tale has been shared.

 In the photo below, the boys are: bottom row: Mervin and Leroy Foster, middle row fred Merrit, Jack Crow and Bill Pehl and top row, Ronald Foster, me and Lauren Foster. In the b&w shot, that is Fred with his coonskin cap and teh original building during the winter of 1950-51.

The Camp Wood Boys

I'm in the middle in the top row!
I went to second grade in Jerome at Clark Street School for just a couple of weeks. After that, I began an interesting adventure as the only girl and for one year the youngest pupil in a tiny one room school in a remote corner of central Arizona.
     Camp Wood was not even a real town, merely a settlement hardly worthy to call a community. It did have a Post Office which was also a kind of company store, a saw mill and a school. It sat in the middle of the Prescott National Forest in Yavapai County, about seventy five miles out on gravel roads from Prescott, the town. Even that town, the county seat, was not a huge one in those days—the fall of 1950. Today’s Prescott Valley was nothing but bare rolling grassland serving several ranches for grazing. Changes wrought by sixty plus years are amazing.
     I had not been too happy in the Jerome school because I was still adjusting to being among a group of kids for the first time in my life and I was a misfit because of the way my parents dressed me. Camp Wood was a much easier adjustment for me. There wearing jeans or miniature railroad overalls was no odd thing. There were no other girls to compare to, certainly none in frilly dresses and patent leather Mary Jane shoes!
     The student body of the school consisted of a grand total of eight students. In the seventh grade were Bill Pehl and Jack Crow. They both came from the Yolo Ranch, one of the Green Cattle Company’s properties and part of the old Spanish Land Grant called “The Baca Float.” Bill’s dad was the foreman and Jack was the son of a cowboy and at least part Indian. I am not sure if Mervin Foster was in seventh or eighth grade. More on his family in a minute. The sixth grade was Fred Merritt whose dad ran the sawmill and whose mom was the Post Mistress and queen of the very small kingdom of Camp Wood. He often wore a Davy Crockett style coonskin cap with the ringed tail hanging down. I envied that cap no end!
     The rest of the students, scattered among the grades were all Fosters. Their dad was the foreman and main sawyer for the saw mill. They were some kind of “hillbillies” and perhaps had come from Alabama, where the Merritts were from originally. There didn’t seem to be any girls in the family. The eldest, Norman, was out of school and working beside his dad. He was probably in his mid teens. Next was Mervin, already mentioned, then LeRoy who was in the fifth or sixth grade, Lauren a grade or two lower and finally Ronald, who I think was in second or third grade. In actuality, we all progressed at our own pace, so grade designations were a bit artificial. I was, of course, the eighth pupil.
     The teacher was my dad, who had just gotten certified to teach in Arizona at the time. He, Mom and I lived in a tiny trailer which was smaller than a lot of today’s RVs and Campers. There was no electricity or running water. The school was served by two outhouses of the traditional variety. The first year we used an old rickety frame building. I guess it was heated with a wood stove but I really do not recall.
      Anyway, the boys all wore jeans or dungarees to school, mostly with polo shirts which were striped knit shirts, sometimes with a front placket but pull-overs instead of a full button front. Bill may have worn some western cut shirts, probably miniature versions of his dad’s work uniform. At that time, cowboys wore Levis and long johns, denim or chambray shirts and jean jackets or leather coats lined with sheep skin for the most part. The saw mill people, Mr. Foster and the Mexican men who also worked with him dressed much the same, either bib overalls or dungaree work pants.
      I wore my overalls or jeans with kid-sized high top ‘clod hoppers’ and flannel shirts or polo shirts like the boys, a jean jacket or sometimes the little red wool coat that my grandmother had made me. By then it was about car coat length on me although it had begun as a regular coat near knee length. I loved red at that time and really enjoyed that little coat. It had a matching bonnet or hat with a strap under the chin to keep it in place which I was not so fond of.
     Within some limits, I played with the boys and we all had a lot of fun. We played a baseball game that had no teams—Dad called it “work up” since each player began in one position and ‘worked up’ through them all until he reached the at bat turn. I was no great athlete but played my positions and sometimes managed to hit a ball when my turn at bat came around. There were tag games, dodge ball and even crack the whip, I think. The next year, after the new school house had been built, we played “king of the mountain” on some piles of dirt left from the construction.
      The second year, we had a new building but still only a one room school. However it was less drafty and had shingled sides—probably asbestos (oh my!) and clean bright windows. Still a wood burning stove and still no electric lights but it seemed nicer. The old building became a kind of wood shop for the boys and Dad managed to get some simple basic tools like hammers, hand saws, pliers, screw drivers etc. The kids had a great time building things with the scrap lumber left over from the new school. I didn’t participate much but did play with some of the cars and things they built.
     Behind the school and the teacher’s trailer home there was a fairly deep arroyo. The boys soon cut roads in the banks and with “log cabin” syrup cans and other odds and ends created a regular little community and drove the trucks and cars they built up and down the banks. I joined in this some too. Still, I tended to do some girly things too and with sticks and pine boughs laid out some ‘houses’ furnished with a few boxes and odds and ends where I devised elaborate games to amuse myself. I could do that even when school was not in session and the other kids were not around.
     That second year, I think Mervin either graduated or quit and a new younger Foster came to school. Verlin was in first grade and two years behind me.  At that point in my life, I hardly differentiated between boys and girls. I dressed much the same and except for being kept a close eye on by my parents, I did not experience a lot of different things during school than the other students. Since I had no girls to play with, the boys were okay and beat being alone all the time.
     Looking back on those days, I realize what a unique and amazing experience it all was! Not a lot of my contemporaries ever got to live such a thing. I am sure my education did not suffer, either, as the teacher was especially strict and demanding when it came to my lessons. I got a full dose of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic appropriate to my grade levels. I mostly made B’s and A’s on my six week report cards which my Mom duly signed and sent back! In many ways, it   ended too soon.
     I have not seen any of the other students since I left really, although I think a couple of them came by Clarkdale, where we lived, several years later, now ‘big boys’ past high school and working to put together a rock/country band! As for Camp Wood itself, from my research it appears that the community has gone back to the forest and few traces remain. A small sawmill would not be economically feasible now and although the ranches still exist, they are more often managed remotely by people who live in more settled areas and only visit as needed to care for the stock during round up and such. Perhaps one or two reclusive cowboys may reside in a small bunkhouse or line cabin but that’s it.
     I did look for a few names on the internet and may have located two or three of the former students, but never tried to get in touch. I seriously doubt they would recall me, just one pesky little girl who briefly passed through their lives… And I never did get a coonskin cap!

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