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!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Memoir Essay--Playing With Rocks

For the bulk of my life, I've been fascinated with stones. Due to an early aversion to "science" and "math" (which I sincerely wish I had avoided so as to study many more very interesting and pertinent subjects!) I never got very scientific about my "rock hound" hobby but that didn't make it any less intense. I still have probably close to half a ton of rocks in my back yard, neatly semi-sorted and stacked. I may get rid of a bunch more soon since I am beginning to see I will never get them all processed into pretties and many are not too spectacular when given a more jaundiced look.

Here is a bit of history about this avocation of mine! And here is a picture of a batch I brought over from my old home in Arizona a bit over a year ago and my little "rock hound" Rojito who was fascinated by what Mama was doing, washing them.

Playing With Rocks
Maybe my fascination with stones was due to growing up in a mining camp on the side of a rugged Arizona mountain. I used to joke that there was nothing for kids to play with in Jerome except rocks. While most of the kids learned to throw them, I brought the pretty ones home and started a collection. That isn’t quite the whole story but there is a grain of truth in it.
Like a lot of kids before the days of video games and electronic devices, I enjoyed playing with junk as much or more than with my nice toys. I used cans, bottles and boards, cardboard boxes and yes, rocks to build and imagine in many ways.
In most mining towns there were always people who scrounged on the dumps. In mining terminology, a dump is not a garbage heap but the place where “overburden” or rock without high grade minerals was placed while the mine was dug to get to the good stuff. If there was a tunnel or drift going into the side of the hill, such debris was just thrown down the slope. When there was a vertical shaft and later an open pit, it usually had to be hauled away and piled somewhere.
There was always some good stuff that got overlooked, mostly small amounts that were not worth the effort of the mining company to retrieve. People went after them, though, whether legally or not. Often the dumps were off limits, allegedly for safety reasons. Still, rare was the household in a mining camp where there were not some crystals, a bit of turquoise, or some heavy “peacock copper” or “peacock iron” maybe serving as a door stop. The latter were medium ore-grade dark rocks, almost black but with iridescent rainbow colors that were usually most visible at a specific angle.
By the time I was eight or ten, I had some of all that and more. Then, since my folks went out on many photography and exploring trips, I got into the habit of picking up odd rocks that I found wherever we went. Most of my early collections fell by the wayside as I left home and went off to higher schooling and a life of my own, but a few treasured pieces went along. By the time I finished college and got my first job in southern Arizona, shortly settling in another old mining camp, Bisbee, the collection began to grow again.
Like my parents, my fiancé and soon husband was one for trips out into the hills and remote places, too. He used to joke that I had married him just to have a pack mule to help me carry home my finds. He knew the locations of a lot of abandoned mines and we explored many, driving up roads that would make 4-wheelers cringe in a regular old GMC pickup.
Up to that point, I didn’t do anything with my rocks except keep them. Then we moved to Colorado and by chance, a co-worker my husband shared an office with at Peterson AFB was into lapidary. A whole new world soon opened up to me.
I first got a couple of tumblers. There are simple little machines where you put rocks into a rubber barrel about the size of a small Dinty Moore Beef Stew can along with some water and a tablespoon or two of carbide grit, starting out with coarse and in stages moving to extra fine. The barrel was then placed on a rack with two shafts, one of which was powered to turn and make the barrel roll around. It took about a month to develop a rough stone into a smooth one. The final stage was a week with a powder, usually titanium or another mineral oxide, as fine as talc. This put the real polish on the rocks.
It became quite an adventure to throw twenty or thirty small rough stones into the machine and see what emerged at the end. Some stayed very ordinary but others eventually revealed amazing beauty. At that time, the middle 1970s, rock hounding was a popular hobby, especially in the southwest. There were many places to find rocks and many to buy the supplies and equipment the hobby utilized.
Once I got the tumbling process down, I wanted some new worlds to conquer. Ultimately I got a trim saw which used a diamond sintered blade to cut rocks, keeping the stone and the blade from overheating with a stream of cutting oil or other coolant. Water will do but not as effectively. The blade has tiny diamond chips embedded or sintered in the cutting edge, It turns very slowly and will not cut you although it would abrade some or friction-burn if you touched it very long. Next came an expanding drum machine that used belts with carbide grit on them where I could hand-shape thin stones into cabochons, the form of gem stone that is just polished and rounded, not faceted like most translucent or transparent jewel quality stones are cut for jewelry.
For several years in Colorado and later in north central California up the valley from Sacramento, I made a lot of small rocks out of middle sized ones and many shiny or shaped stones as well. And of course I kept collecting. When we moved back to Arizona, my daughter hauled about fifteen five gallon buckets of mom’s rocks in her new Toyota pickup since I was not allowed to ship them in the moving van at government expense. Well, they were pretty heavy! There is a family story about this, how she took a wrong turn in San Diego, where she had dropped off her brother at MCRD, and wound up in Mexico, having a heck of a time to get her truck and the rocks back into the USA.
While in California, I also took a couple of courses in silver smithing and learned how to fabricate, the craft of piecing and soldering various shapes of silver together around a gemstone to make a ring, pendant, belt buckle or other jewelry item. I also did some lost wax casting which did not work for me as well. I still have some of the things I made, first in class and later on my own.
Back in Arizona, I still collected rocks and did some lapidary work but never got new tanks of oxygen and acetylene to do the soldering with. I finally got rid of some of the machines and the tumblers simply wore out. These days it is much harder to acquire stones unless you buy them at shows or know someone who has a mine or a source on their property.
You dare not pick them up out on government land lest the agency in charge of that area come down on your case severely. That’s not to say I may not slip a small one into the pocket of my jeans on occasion but no back packs full come home any more.
To this day, though, there is probably close to a ton of varied rock neatly stowed in buckets and crates and more or less sorted into kinds in my back yard. I also have a number of cans and bottles of smaller stones in various stages of lapidary improvement in my corner of the garage/workshop.
Several crystals repose on the stand of my computer monitor along with an early product of my tumbler which has bands of amethyst atop a base of dark red jasper. It’s just a special sentimental piece. I still have the small saw, stored for now, and the remains of several defunct tumblers that I may resurrect if the opportunity arises.
The past year or so I have given away perhaps a third or more of what I brought to my home here in New Mexico. I “freecycled” them to some other rock hounds or rock hound wannabes. They were all excited and happy to have a new batch of treasure to search through, new favorites to claim and add to their special collection. I may soon do this again, further weeding out the “overburden” from my years of collecting
I know now that my fascination is not unique. Many cultures regard certain types and colors of stones as magical or powerful. Crystals especially are thought to enhance or strengthen one in many ways and certain stones are said to offer protection, healing, and other benefits to the person who carries or wears them.
I’m not sure I believe that but I will always enjoy the beauty and variety of rocks, keep certain ones around me, and probably pick up even more unique ones that I find for the rest of my days. So, for many decades, I have played with rocks. Why stop now? It’s an amusement that’s almost free, involves healthy outdoor exercise  and harms no one—well, I did break my ankle once trying to get to an area where there were crystals on an old mine dump but that’s another story for another day.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Memoir Tale--The Table

This little essay tells the story of a piece of furniture from its creation long ago to this very day when it sits in the dining area of my brother's and my current home! It now fits the Japanese word sabi. The word is a bit hard to translate but describes an object of value, one venerated because of its antiquity, tradition or connections and bearing honorable scars and blemishes that in some ways add to rather than detract from its beauty and quality. It is a very Japanese concept!
All too often in our culture the old is not respected or valued at all. Everyone wants the new, modern, current and latest things. They are not always the best, though! The table is a perfect example.

The Table
Back in the war years, and the latter half of the nineteen forties, young couples did not start out expecting a spiffy new house full of new furniture and the latest gadgets. There were not a lot of gadgets then anyway, but you could not afford them on starting salaries and credit was not too widely available. Most first or second homes were furnished with extras and hand-me-downs from parents or older siblings who might have gotten to the point of acquiring some new or better stuff.
My parents were no exception. They furnished the first house I recall with a motley assortment of odds and ends from Dad’s family home and perhaps some they’d picked up in the first four years of their marriage. We never did have a couch or sofa and only one stuffed chair in the living room that normally served other purposes as well.
One piece I do remember was the table we used for a dining table for several of my early years. It was not large, maybe about two feet by three or so, wooden legs and a white enameled metal top. The top would bounce sometimes if you set a heavy dish on it or removed one but I do not recall anything falling off, at least. Dad had a sturdy wooden chair on one side and mom had a wooden chair opposite him, but of a different design. I was stuck in a high chair for longer than I felt appropriate but finally got a regular seat of my own, actually more of a bench or stool. It had a low back like it might belong in front of a vanity but it worked. In time that scene changed,
There is a Christmas pictures from about 1950, before my first brother was born, where a fancy machine appears beside the Christmas tree along side my collection of goodies. It was called a “Shop Smith” and was a combination tool that could be a saw, lathe, planer and drill. I am not sure if it was Dad’s Christmas present but I guess it was although I think he had bought it himself. That elaborate machine was the source of many future projects, stocks for guns, outdoor effects and furniture.
One that sticks in my mind was The Table. Yes, I capitalize the name because it was special and became the center of our eat-in kitchen when it was completed. Dad built stout--always. I used to joke that you could operate on an injured horse on that table without a quiver. The trestle style table had 2 x 12 planks for its top and legs of 2 x 6 boards, more nearly timbers! Dad planed and sanded them silky-smooth and applied many coats of varnish so it would be water proof. The bolts that held the top to the legs were countersunk and each hole carefully filled with a round dowel which was also sanded smooth so the top was flat and nearly perfect. It was a massive thing of beauty.
By then my first brother had been born and was about to graduate from that hated old high chair also. We needed more space around the table with four people to sit there. The new one was just short of three feet wide and about five feet long. By this time, we had moved from Jerome down to Clarkdale. The kitchen in that house was roughly square as were all the four main rooms. In one corner there was a bit of cupboard and a sink.  The opposite wall held the 220 outlet where the electric range was plugged in. In the northwest corner by the door to my room, we put the freezer and as I recall, the fridge sat not far from the stove.
Once the new table was placed in service, August 4, 1955, the old one was retired, perhaps used as work space since counter space was limited. There was a pantry near the back door and all non-perishable food was stored there. It also had a small counter area that served to prepare things. I made a lot of cookies and biscuits there in my teen years, but I digress. This is the story of The Table.
Over the years that table become a love/hate object to me. While it was the site of many pleasant and happy family dinners, birthday cakes, and good conversations, the place where any guests gathered to drink coffee and talk, and one of the nicest pieces of furniture in our house, some bad memories also rapidly accrued.
My seat, still that low backed bench, was in the right rear corner, since the table was placed with one end against the south wall and the window onto the back porch.  That put my back almost against the sink and the one cupboard beside it which made it difficult to get in and out.  I could not just jump up and leave but had to edge my way clear. Thus I ended up being a captive while I was subjected to many seemingly endless lectures and tirades as the years went by and more things went wrong, finances became worrisome and dad’s health, both physical and mental, declined.
I cannot count how many hours I sat there, knowing there were necessary chores to be done to take care of the livestock we had then acquired that would now be late. Knowing, too, that I would rather be any place in the world rather than there, a virtual prisoner. For a long time those painful memories all but obscured the good ones.
It was a huge relief when I finally left home, going off to college and thence to a life of my own. I came home some during the first year but the lectures were then mostly a thing of the past.  I had made my break and established my independence, making my own way with scholarship and grant funds and no longer obliged to pay for my room and board in whatever manner was demanded—to include listening, willingly or not.
Finally the time came when the family left that home. For a time my parents and brothers were scattered about, before they managed to reunite. I was by then no longer an actual  part of that circle. Much of the household goods ended up in storage where it stayed for a long time. For years I helped pay the fees for that so a few precious souvenirs and mementos would not be lost. Not until my dad passed away did Mom,  the boys and I reclaim it all. Among the nearly-forgotten furnishings was The Table, a bit scarred now from being stowed in a warehouse and moved from one such location to another at least once, but still sturdy and whole.
It took its place in the mobile home where Mom lived until shortly before she passed away. Then it became the property of my youngest brother who had been at home until after Dad’s death and still came and went as he pursued his education. A bit later, it had a place of honor in the dining area in the home he proudly bought and moved in to after he got established in his legal career, just a matter of weeks before his untimely death from an aneurysm.
At that point, most of the old family things that remained came into my possession since I lived closer to him, both of us in southeastern Arizona, while the other brother was in Colorado. The Table sat in my garage for awhile and then traveled with me to Hurley, NM, near Silver City,  when I moved there for a few months in the summer of 2008.  It became my sewing and project table there. Then it was back into storage with a lot of my other things when I moved to Colorado to become the pet and house sitter for my surviving brother in the spring of 2009.
Finally in October 2011, brother Charlie and I moved from Colorado Springs to Alamogordo, NM. Once we got everything from Colorado unpacked—that move is a story in itself!-- we made the trip to Silver City and got the things I had stored there. Yes, The Table was among them and it soon became the center of our kitchen-dining room area. It is as sturdy as ever, still proud despite some dings and dents. Still heavy too, I can vouch. We struggled to get it inside! I wipe it down often to remove the dust from the still shiny varnished top and we use placemats to protect it, also. I don’t recall that happening long ago.
The painful memories are all but gone. I sit at nearly the same place I always did in reference to the table itself  but I have a nice wooden chair now myself with my back to our second refrigerator which I consider more or less “mine.” I can come and go as I wish. Not only am I the “big sister,” I am also matriarch of the family and no one lectures me. Charlie sits at the end where Mom used to sit while in the place once occupied by Dad, there is usually no one unless we have a visitor.
I do not know where The Table will end up once the two of us are gone since our step kids have no interest in or memories of it. It was not a part of either of our homes when they were there. Still, I hope someone will appreciate the stoutness and craftsmanship of this unique piece of furniture and enjoy it in years to come. It is already nearly an antique, dating back into the 1950s. May there be no bad memories made around it in those coming days. I may do an exorcism someday soon to be sure all traces of bad emotions are gone. That old table deserves the best fate possible.

I thought I had some photos of it but they seem to have been lost when I downloaded all files a few weeks back to recover from a computer crash. I will get some new ones. Anyway here is one peek.

Little Rojo was new to us in this shot--
but it does show one end of The Table.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sunset Season

One fantastic thing about New Mexico is the incredible sunsets that are especially common in the fall. There have been quite a few clouds in the evening lately and of course I am out with my camera.  I am a total freak about sunsets and have to admit that I've never seen so many and so gorgeous anywhere else. Arizona and Colorado have good ones but New Mexico is absolutely the max, the best. Thre is something about high desert that seems to be sunset freindly; probably the dust in the air and who knows what else? Here are a few that I have collected just in the last two months!

I am happy to share these with you! If you left click on the first one they will come up as a slide show so you can look at a larger version of each shot.

A Little Nudge

There has not been much traffic on my GwynnMorganAlaska blog lately which is sad. I've reported several rather exciting bits of news on the sled dog front that I do not share here any longer so I hope some of you will go over and have a look.

For example, there have been two new litters of puppies at Aliy Z and Allen Moore's SPK kennel this fall. Deedee Jonrowe and her husband are rebuilding on their land that was burned over in June. Deedee is signed up for the 2016 Iditarod, BTW, and just marching on as brave as can be. I so admire this incredible, inspiring lady! She got my little quilt and sent me a really sweet thank you note.

I'm getting eager and anxious to get back up to the north 49th ASAP and really hope I can somehow manage to make the Iditarod next March!! My gofundme page is still there, too, and not getting much traffic either; I am not abashed to say I need all the help I can get!! I'm doing what I can and will be getting an Etsy or new Amazon handcrafted shop going soon for my jewelry and other crafts and I put most of my royalties from book sales into my special savings too so I don't expect others to do it all. Anyway, if you can, tell your friends and correspondents about it for me? Many, many thanks!

So please go to https://www.gofundme.com/WomenMushersBook and catch up on stuff!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Slippery time!

It just oozes away from me and all at once a week or more has gone and I am not sure where it went. Fall is starting to slip up on us here and even though it was warm today--well into the 70s--there was some odd hint of winter in the wind. It was windy and dusty/hazy and not a good day for allergies. I went to the Sr Writer's Group as I normally do on Friday and so I will share the short essay I read there today. I don't think I have any illustrations that quite fit but I will check and see.

When I Grow Up…

            When we are kids. most of us have dreams of things we would like to be when we become an adult. A lucky few settle on a career or line of work at an early age and never really deviate from that calling for the rest of their lives. They at least seem happy to be a doctor, a fire fighter, an architect or a teacher. But most of us skip merrily from one idea to another until at some point we fall into a particular line of work mostly by happenstance or accident. Then, before we know it, we've got our foot in a bear trap: seniority, career status, vested in a retirement program or some other inducement we can no longer refuse.
            When I was very small, I enjoyed playing with my dolls and had future dreams in games that I carried to some length. In one, I would have twenty-six children, one for every letter of the alphabet! That vague idea of maternity appealed to me for a long time but ironically I only had “second hand” children when I grew up. At the same time in a kind of hopscotch back and forth, I was going to be an opera singer like Lily Pons. My parents were both into music, especially opera and classical, so I heard a lot of noted opera stars at least in recordings, in my early years. Sadly I did not have the coloratura range or power although I did do some choral singing during my teens.
            Also about the same time, I wanted to be a ballerina. I think I saw a Life magazine feature of Margot Fontaine or Maria Tallchief at that point and felt sure I could do the same. I loved to put on ‘dress up’ play clothes with long voluminous skirts and dance happily to the radio or records. Ha ha on  me though—two left feet and growing quickly to tall and gawky put an end to that notion. I never even took dance lessons, mostly because we could not afford it and it did not fit my parent’s lifestyle. Actually I do not ballroom dance at all but always wished I could learn. It looks so neat and like fun. But i freeze and get stiff as a fence post when I try.
            I got a toy nurse kit when I was about six and entertained that as a possible career briefly but it never really took hold. Then, after Dad flew back east due to some family and health issues, I heard about the trip and decided I would be a flight attendant. All of these notions came and went before I was ten. For a bit I toyed with some other ideas but they never took root.
            Then I began to ride horses and soon became a rodeo fan. Magazines such as Western Horseman came to our house and I soon decided I would be a champion barrel racer and team up with one of the top bronc riders at that time, particularly Casey Tibbs, on whom I had a huge crush. I was quite shattered when he wed the daughter of the governor of South Dakota, WWII hero, Joe Foss. Still, I stuck with horsey notions for a good ten years or more. Maybe not a barrel racer, then,  but a trainer, a trick rider, or I could be the first person to win the Tevis Cup, the first noted 100 miles in a day endurance race, with a mule. Alas, none of that was to be. In time we were forced to get out of the livestock business by dad’s health issues and the financial catastrophes that ensued.
            I went belatedly off to college, still not sure what I should pursue. I started out as a declared pre-law student and went along with that for two years. Then, since I was taking a strong business minor with my history and political science major, I found out that accounting –I never was a numbers person--was about to ruin my GPA. At the same time I realized that practicing law was about as far from what I wanted to do as being a teacher, a profession followed at times by my dad and by all three of his sisters.
            I switched to a straight history major, since I had already invested a good deal of time and study in that field. What I would do with that degree after I graduated was up for grabs. I floundered along, taken under the wing of an Asian studies prof who decided I should make something in that general field my life work. I took the Foreign Service Exam and got as far as the oral interview where I was told my life experiences were far too limited to go into the diplomatic corps. Even if I had trained mules!
            I also took the Civil Service Entrance Exam. That finally netted me a real job. I completed work on my Master’s Degree on a Friday in July 1970 and reported for duty at Fort Huachuca the following Monday where I began my career as an intern in the Civilian Personnel area, now called Human Resources.
            I wasn’t actually too gifted or happy in that field either but I stuck it out with a brief stint mid-career as an Air Force Historian. That was actually more of a diarist or journalist collecting the material to document the annual projects of various units.
The would-be rodeo champ
The last ten or so years, I diverted into a related by somewhat different field where my title was Management Analyst. There I drew up the organizational manpower documents and did some liaison work with the personnel offices plus serving as the CLDO--crummy little duties officer—doing the trash can odds and ends of “stuff” that came along, mostly above the clerical pay grade but not worth higher echelon’s time.
Getting an award at McClellan AFB
c: 1980
            At least I did a lot of writing in all those jobs. Once my superiors found out I had a flare for putting words on paper and really did not mind doing it, they all used that ability as often as the need arose. I scribed many SOPs, policy letters, plans and similar documents. Meanwhile, I dabbled in writing fiction and poetry many of my free moments. I would never have chosen the overall career I followed but it worked out and paid the bills. Foot firmly in that bear trap, with a family to support, I hung on until I could retire. Then I made a second career out of what I should somehow have done from the start, writing.  That’s now been close to a third of my life.
            Oh, I must digress a bit here and admit that from a fairly early age, I would say by mid teens, I had a goal of becoming an eccentric and opinionated old lady. I dare say I have done fairly well at achieving that! I also said often that I would be a misanthrope and hermit, eventually living in a hollow tree all by myself. I used to tell my husband that he could live in the adjacent tree but nobody else was going to be much closer than that!  I still live in a normal house and I do have almost daily contact with others but I have to admit I enjoy a fairly high level of solitude and solitary pursuits. There are times when I have to say the more I see of humans, the better I like my dogs.

            That is not to say I do not cherish many dear friends and some very wonderful relatives but the totally honest and unjudgmental love a dog gives you cannot be found in another human. Even the best of us have an agenda and are too often just a bit less than totally forthright and truthful, even if it is to be diplomatic or gentle. You always know where you stand with a dog and s/he will never laugh at you, however ridiculous you may be!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Another memoir tale

This is one of my favorites and I added some photos at the end! Hope it touches a few hearts...

Christmas Pictures
Photography was part of my life from the time I was born or even before. After my parents passed away, I inherited the family pictures—literally thousands of them. Dad was an avid photographer, even a photo-journalist for a time and later illustrated his own articles and stories for various outdoor adventure magazines. There were many negatives from an assortment of cameras from a large format Speed Graphic to the 35mm Leica but most from the 2x2 Rolleiflex twin lens cameras he used.
As I went through the collection I got to see many shots from my parents’ hectic WW II courtship. Everything was speeded up at that time so they met in May and wed in July. I came along not quite ten months later, just barely a legal honeymoon baby in April 1943. I was the first grandchild on both sides so of course became the subject of many pictures to share through the families. I was probably spoiled rotten and maybe still am in some ways. Though nearly bald in appearance for a couple of years, I was otherwise a fairly photogenic child although normally very serious in demeanor.
Going through the mass, I found many negatives that had never been printed and were thus new to me although I had seen some prints in albums and envelopes over the years. There were so many! I set aside the holiday shots especially, to go over more carefully later, especially Christmas and birthdays.
The first Christmas I was portrayed sitting in my high chair by the Christmas Tree, probably in my paternal grandparents’ Kansas City home. I was a big-eyed somber faced mite, my fine blonde hair so pale it was nearly invisible. That somber face appeared in a lot of shots although now and then I did smile. My second Christmas I think we were in Boston and I never found for sure a photo of that event but by the next year, we were back in Kansas City, just short of the big move to Arizona. By my fourth, we were in Arizona and I found all the next five—I gradually growing taller and more child and less tyke, hair now enough to style in pigtails or a sleek page boy as it was always rather straight. I’d be seated by the tree in the midst of a pile of loot—various treasures that I can recall and some that I kept until I began the series of late moves after my husband’s death. There were dolls, a toy stove, a doll carriage, a loop-weaving loom, Chinese checkers, a nurse kit—and always books.
Then came 1951, my ninth Christmas although I was still eight. Those pictures show me seated in a little chair that I had for a long time. I was still big eyed but had a respectable head of hair, clipped on one side with a barrette. I was wearing overalls and a plaid flannel shirt with felt house slippers. In my arms I cradled a swaddled bundle that at first looked like a large baby doll—but this was a living doll, my new baby brother, just about six weeks old on his first Christmas. Brother Charlie—then called Mike—who changed my life and has been a big part of it ever since. We had our sibling rivalries and ups and downs but there has always been a powerful bond that holds to this day when we now share a home again, but ours and not controlled by our parents!
The next year he was still just a toddler and a bit puzzled by all the excitement. By the next year, though, he clearly knew what was going on and his small face lit with joy at the new toys and treasures arrayed around us. By then I was ten, almost eleven, and knew Mom and Dad were Santa Claus and soon began to work toward that role myself for Charlie and a later arrival in the family.
It was me who decorated the tree-always a small bushy pinon or juniper that we cut and rarely set up until Christmas Eve. Now I was almost as tall as the tree and could even put a star, usually one I had cut and pasted from scraps of foil, on the top. I began to make cards and gifts, a habit I continued with gradually improving skills, all my life. It was still great fun then.
            There were three more Christmases recorded, through my fourteenth and Charlie’s eighth. By the last one I was near my adult height and beginning to look like a young lady—which my mother always wanted me to be although I defied most of her efforts and remained a tomboy. We both still smiled and held up new acquisitions and in that final record. But that was the last one.
            It was about that time that Dad’s mental and emotional problems and the related financial and family issues reached the point where he had no desire or will to record the holidays. Often they were pretty grim and bleak. With some help from Mom, I did my best to be sure that Charlie, and Alex, when he came along in 1959, still had a tree and some gifts. And hopefully some good memories. By then it did not matter much to me as my interests and dreams had turned in other directions.
Going through all the photos I recognized there were many fewer pictures of Charlie than of me although his infancy and childhood were fairly well covered. Of Alex there were far fewer still. There were none of his birthdays since those of ours had stopped the same year that the Christmas shots ended. He missed that custom by a couple of years.
Eventually I did acquire my own camera, a Kodak “Brownie” box camera that took eight shots on 126mm film. I had a hard time affording film and it did not use flash. A later camera did but the flash cubes it took were even costlier, so indoor pictures were seldom possible. I would have tried to document holidays if I could but that did not happen.
Years later, I became a mom, albeit of kids “second hand and housebroke” as I often say. For their holidays I did try to get pictures and they have copies or the albums in which those were saved. I do not know if it mattered or not but I hope they treasure them. There were shots each year until they left home and some later when they came back for visits at the right time. I know I cherish my photographic memories and hope they will too.

I feel a pang today for the ones that are not there, especially for Alex. He died young and did not have a family of his own. Perhaps he never missed what he did not have but the sharp contrast of before and after shakes me still. I want to ask why and wish I might have made things different in some way. But that was not possible. The presence and sudden absence of those holiday pictures puts an exclamation point on an equally sharp and jolting change in our lives. I suppose children of broken homes and other wrenching events may feel the same way. Yet it remains to this day a loss to me although at least I do have several years of precious memories to keep and Charlie and I share them.




Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another memoir chapter--Characters!

Here is a piece about some of the characters who had an influence on me at a very early age. I feel so blessed that my Dad did collect some of these incredible people and became friends with them. And there I was, the little pitcher with big ears, lurking and listening as much as I could!

Characters Recalled and Collected—Part 1

            Until I started to school I had been around very few kids but I had already met some adult characters who continue to influence me to this day. My dad collected characters. Well, he had been a photo journalist for a time while sporadically attending colleges in Missouri and continued to write a lot after we moved to Arizona. People, I can vouch, are the prime fodder for writers. We borrow this accent, that mannerism, those strange experiences someone relates and so on.           
Also keen on geology,
Mr Goodding looks at a rock.
   While we lived in Jerome, we had a few close neighbors who were exceptional. I recall one elderly couple in particular. The lady was one of a very few people who ever ‘babysat’ me and that was only when Mom and Dad went on an expedition with him. Leslie and Bernice Goodding were probably in their mid sixties at that time, let’s say around 1948. He was a world-renowned botanist and an expert on desert and arid lands flora. In fact he had several plants named for him that he had identified and studied.
            As I remember, he was a slender man of medium height, about the same size as my maternal grandfather. He had the first four wheel drive vehicle in the area, a Dodge “Power Wagon” which had been a military vehicle, I think. Riding in it influenced my Dad to buy a Universal Jeep soon after that time, around a year later. From the knowledge my parents acquired from their association with Mr. Goodding, I can still identify many grasses, weeds, shrubs and trees that grow in the southwestern US.
            Mrs. Goodding I can only picture as a plump, grandmotherly  woman who enjoyed children or at least seemed to. I loved her! She made me a paper doll, kind of a kewpie doll shape, and then cut clothes for her out of gift wrap paper. That small beginning got me into what became a major hobby in time. I am not sure if she had any children or not. If so they were grown by then. I think there may have been a son or daughter, perhaps both, but I do not recall them visiting.
            Another Jerome neighbor was Alex Fields. He worked for the mines but lived in one of the homes I called “the private houses” which were built on leased land but not in the style of the hill’s identical company homes which had been built to house mine employees. It was one of those which we rented as the mines began to slow down after the end of WWII.  Alex had grown up in a remote location in the Tonto Forest area, to the south and east from the narrow south end of the Verde Valley, where Camp Verde had been built. He was an avid hunter and Dad went on several hunting trips with him and learned special tricks for hunting big game in the southwest. Alex’s wife, Helen, was a friend of my Mom’s and gave me some treasures left behind by her grown daughters to include more paper dolls and some ‘play dress up’ clothes including two pairs of real Dutch style wooden shoes her girls had worn in a school or church program.
            Alex was fairly short, perhaps five foot eight or so and husky in build. Although he had little formal schooling, he was an intelligent man and knew a great deal. He had expertise not only in what he did at the mine which I think was electrical work for the machinery but a lot of other practical skills as well. Helen was a tiny, slight woman, even smaller than my mother, who I grew past at about age eleven. The Fields’ had a little Boston Bulldog named Corky. When my first brother came along, he was fascinated with that dog and named his stuffed toy dog Corky, too.  They transferred to Ajo, another Phelps Dodge mine town. about the same time we moved from Jerome down to Clarkdale. He came back to the Verde after retiring and then died of cancer a few years later.
            In about 1952, Dad went elk hunting alone up to the northwest of Flagstaff. There was a big storm that year in November and many hunters were stranded. Dad had killed a trophy-sized elk and managed to get it hoisted into a tree with a powerful pulley-based hoist but then left it and came out of the remote area just as the storm set in. A couple of days later, Alex went with him to fetch it. They butchered the big bull since the carcass was too large and heavy even for two strong men to handle. The elk had been fighting with others since it was that season and had broken a bit off of several tines on his antlers. Otherwise he would have been in the record books at that time. Each quarter weighed over two hundred pounds; the elk was as large as a big steer. We enjoyed that fine meat for months. I know that was a story told many times and fondly remembered whenever Alex and Dad got together later on. My second brother, born in 1959, was named Robert Alexander partly in memory of this friend.
            Several other characters came through our home and lives about the same time although they did not live in Jerome. There are some odd links in this next situation I will share. At that time Arizona had a Fish and Game Commission that was in charge of managing almost every aspect of the wildlife. One project at the time was transplanting beaver from some streams in the White Mountains (North Gila Forest) on the far eastern side of the state into streams along the Mogollon Rim. Dad got involved with this project in order to write about it and took a lot of photos.
           Colorado River around Topock. My memory of him is vague but I do know he came to the house a time or two. Now here is the coincidence. The man who later became my husband was also a summer hire on this project although he worked on a different team. His boss was a guy named Buddy Fox of whom I’d heard but I don’t think he ever came over to the Verde Valley area. Just a few years later, Jim Walton, my future husband, and George Daniels were stationed together in the Marine Corps and served in Korea. Later when Jim lived in Yuma, he often saw George who had gone to work permanently for Fish and Game after his time in the military.
Some of the beaver transplant
crew in Sycamore Canyon
Several local boys worked on the project as a summer job and one of the young men involved was a chap named George Daniels who had come from over by the
            Although it was a bit later, there was another link of acquaintances. About the time we  moved from Jerome to Clarkdale, a man named Don Smith was assigned by the Fish and Game department to be the local game ranger. Of course Dad met him since there were already many connections to employees of that agency. Don and his wife Lucy became at least casual friends and their son Grady, who was Charlie’s age, became pals with him and they were in Cub Scouts together. Eventually Don was transferred to the Yuma area and he also became an acquaintance of Jim Walton’s who by then was out of the Marines and in law enforcement in that town.
            A final Fish and Game man was Ollie Grimes who was an expert trapper. At that time, there was a push to get rid of an excess of coyotes and a few other predatory or nuisance-designated animals. Ollie handled the setting out of poison baits and steel traps to manage this project. He and Dad became friends. Dad had done some fur trapping as a boy in Missouri before the family moved into the city,  so he was not unfamiliar with this kind of effort. Ollie’s wife whose name I cannot recall—Nellie?  It was an old fashioned name, anyway--was a school teacher, and they lived in Camp Verde. They did have some grown children and a bunch of us all went camping once down along West Clear Creek and the Tonto region. The details are very vague but I think it was fun! I must have been maybe six or seven at that time, probably the summer before Camp Wood and the Kaibab adventures.
Ollie Grimes, left, talks to a rancher about predators.

            This is only the first part of characters! Life was to bring many others to cross my path.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Verses as Promised

Here is a mismatched Irish stew of verses, mostly written the in last few months. Whther individually marked so or not, all are copyrighted intellectual property and may not be reproduced or copied without permission. Generall that will be granted for any reasonable request, however.

     A Shadow’s Shadow
For much too long I felt that I
Could not do much alone;
Even after I really had
And was a woman grown.

I thought my light was much too dim
To shine forth and be seen,
That I could only reflect the light
Of older and wiser souls who had been

Around the world and back while I
Had lingered close to home.
I could just their shadow’s shadow be,
Never blazing out on my own

Until one day I found myself
Where none of them had been
And I could walk, could talk, could stand;
I could aspire and win!

I hold still those dear memories
Of my mentors and my guides
But I no longer need to wait
Or try to hitch their rides.

I owe them much but myself more,
Though my gratitude I keep
For all that I no longer need--
So in peace may they sleep.

I’ll stand, I’ll strive and I will shine
With my own inner light
And shadow’s shadow be no more
Until the fall of night.
                                    GMW © Aug 2015

         Argent Magic
Silver hair and silver eyes--
Before the silver bullet flies
To pierce the heart, unerringly,
A wound from which I cannot flee.

Two who discovered and won my soul,
Tore me asunder while making me whole,
Taught me to love and also to lie,
Leaving me cured of all fear to die.

The metal of power, eldritch and arcane
The both of you wielded, never in vain.
With no effort at all did you capture me,
To leave me in time, alone yet not free.

Silver eyes and silver hair—
Took me and changed me, with so little care.
Loved me and left me, for better or worse?
To this day I don’t know: should I bless or curse?

            For JFR & BDC
            GMW © 11 Sep 15

The weather is unusual--
Hasn’t it always been?
The seasons slip a notch or two
And then shift back again.
It’s hotter, colder, wet or dry
Some will tell you they know why
But do they know or just pretend
To try to gain their own pet end?
            The powers that control all this
            Put our weak influence to shame
            The universe is much too vast
            For petty man to sway or tame.
            Science changes every day.
            Perhaps the ancient pagan way
            Makes as much sense as anything.
            Go sky clad into the rain and sing!
                                    GMW C: 2015

     Love Letter From Limbo
Far from heaven but not quite hell—
This strange bleak place I know too well.
How many times have I waited here
Lost in a fog that will never clear.
Holding to a dream that never comes true,
Longing and loving and waiting for you.
You were too many while I was just one.
Waiting in limbo for deeds never done,
Listening in vain for words never said.
So far from life here but still not dead.
Dead hearts do not ache the way mine does.
Yes, I’ve been in limbo; surely it was.

     Contrary Desires
The one thing I always sought
Was never quite within reach.
When it was given to me
Seems that I drew back each
Time and did not take
That which was offered to me.
I continued to wait for the prince
Who never seemed able to see.
The one who waited in Limbo
With a heart so fragile and torn.
Silly Jack and Miniver Cheevy--
Cursing the day she was born.
Why do we want what we can’t have
And ignore that offered and free?
Or pretend that it has no value
Because it is given, maybe?

     I Have A Dream…
I have a dream
The thought cliché
Yet true and real—
What can I say?
            This dream came late
            At the wrong time;
            The hand of fate
            Or more sublime?
I dared to dream
I dreamed to dare;
I took one step.
Does no one care?
            Can I take more
            And move ahead
            And reach this goal
            Ere I am dead?
I’m weary now
But I will not quail.
I will not quit for
I must not fail.
            I have a dream.
            I need that goal.
            It gets me up
            And keeps me whole.

            A Sepia Toned Picture
That Belle Starr girl with reins in hand--
She lived so long ago.
Scarcely can I comprehend
She’s someone that I know.
A lot of her remains in me
The one I am today—
That time and place, that youthful face--
Are now so far away.
            She had some dreams or so it seems
            And stars in her eager eyes.
            For life ran out ahead, away,
            A new route to distant skies.
            Friends and lovers to be found,
            Goals to seek and bring to ground,
            Steeds to train and trails to ride…
            Back there on that other side
            Of waiting to be grown and free.
            But was I her or is she me?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Back to the regular memoir essays--The Rhymer

I hope I did not offend anyone yesterday. I spent so many years being so timid and mealy mouthed I would not say mush with a mouthful .So, now as I am knocking on my long term goal of being an eccentric old lady, I may sometimes speak too freely. But I guess I have a right to my opinions just as you have every right to disagree with them! Okay, that's cleared up!

Now on to another of my memory stories. They are kind of fun and I have finally come to the point where I can share them without undue embarrassment or shame or fear of how anyone will perceive me through them. Age does have a few privileges!

This is a little about how I came to be --dare I call myself a poet? Well, at least s scribe of rhymes and verses. That I can boast of, at least. Like my other writing and story telling gifts this seemed to come to me honestly and easily. Tomorrow I will try to share a few more of my recent verses and rhymes.

Rhymes and Reasons
I never required or had a lot of fancy and expensive toys. Playthings were simpler in my day. I won’t say that I did not have some nice things for the Christmas pictures prove that false. But with a few exceptions, odds and ends, found items, rocks and words gave me more pleasure.
From early childhood I delighted in making things, whether it was a fort or playhouse built from junk, or taking chains, beads and buttons to make “jewelry.” Creativity was always my passion as was collecting—packratism runs deep in my genes! To my despair I move toward the last part of my life with far too much “stuff.”
At least words don’t need much space to store them or gather dust. I suppose an early diet of Mother Goose, Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and similar literature imprinted rhyme on my infant psyche in an indelible way. Rhythm and meter may be shaky but rhymes were and are appealing and found their way into much that I wrote or even spoke. From a young age, I was building poems. I was eight when I wrote my first little verse.
That summer I spent out in the woods with my parents who were running a Forest Service fire lookout on the north side of the Grand Canyon. Walking out into the forest and seeing wild animals was a common event although I was not allowed to go out of sight of the tent and the lookout tower alone. So my first verse spoke of this activity:
                 Over hill, over dale
                 Through the pines on the trail.
                 Sun so light, shining bright,
                 Happy are we, you and me,
                 Marching along today.
Immortal verse not, but then again, even later most of what I wrote was nowhere near that. For the most part, I wrote either about events and sights around me or my feelings. As I reached the teens, those emotions were increasingly either about my eternal quest for romantic love or sentimental mush dedicated to my current crush or hero. Half sarcastically, I termed most of my crushes “handsome heroes” while the ex-crushes were “former fancies.”
But even if I kept at least one foot on the ground most of the time, the poetry was often maudlin, over-blown, pretentious and laden with a weighty burden of teenage angst. Sad to say that followed me well into the next decade. My excuse is that was how my latent drama queen came out. Outwardly in my daily behavior I was not inclined to a lot of drama, probably considerably less than the average teen. It was definitely not encouraged at home!
After her death, I found my mother had written poetry too, especially during her youth. Her first verse, which seemed a bit more sophisticated than mine, was also written at age eight. She also wrote of love, both sought and unrequited. I found so many parallels in our words and decided to put together a collection of our verses, grouped by theme or topic into several sections. I was much more prolific but she had written more than I would ever have guessed. That helped me understand why she always encouraged me. She stopped after her marriage but I did not. That too is telling of her situation, far different from my own.
I self-published and comb bound about twenty copies of “Mother-Daughter Lines” and generally gave them to family and friends. Even now when I read a few at times I am struck by the similarities in the subjects in particular. Especially given the fact she grew up in a small town in Kentucky while I was raised in rural Arizona and there were twenty three years between our ages. Perhaps blood is thicker than water.
That initial effort emboldened me so that after my husband had passed away I collected all the “love” verses of mine and assembled them into a book. I initially had no intention of publishing this at all. It was mostly an exercise in closure and perhaps exorcising some demons that had haunted me for a very long time. I had serious doubts that it was worth reading or that anyone else should! But finally, I did pass the collection to a friend who was working with me on astrology, another of my efforts to understand the who and why of my peculiar character. She, bless her and damn her, insisted I had to share that whole mishmash with the world.
I had come up with a title early in my efforts to collect and compile the verses, many hand-written on scraps of paper and packed in boxes and folders of souvenirs and “junk.” I called it “Walking Down My Shadows.” The title is explained in a foreword. Many of my old heroes and adored ones were anything but heroic. I personified to a T the old saw of “unwisely but much too well” in my checkered romances.  Thus many of those past relationships had continued to cast a pall or regret over me although they were lost in the distant past. By putting the verses together and doing some light editing, might I finally put an end to all that and shut a door?
For the most part, it worked. Most of the keenest regrets are gone, replaced by an occasional gentle melancholy. Now and then I will pick up the book, which finally did get contracted and properly published, and read a random few lines. I can laugh at my folly or shed a single errant tear. It was all part of living and I have come to see I was not unique or really very wicked. 
True, I did ignore quite a few “no trespassing” and “keep off the grass” signs but not willfully or deliberately. It merely happened. I just looked around and there I was! Mostly if anyone was hurt, it was chiefly me, which is as it should have been. Karma does work.
Looking back on both books, I read lines of teenage rebellion, joyful word pictures of riding my horses, running in the wind, watching a sunset or smelling the roses. I mentally explored flights of fancy, dreams and visualizations of what might be. Writing served as a relief valve for the pressures of difficult times and also as a cry of “I am, I say,” when those pressures seemed to approach extinguishing the small spark of unique identity that was my selfhood. I write rhymes to this day, more gentle, low-key and philosophical now for the most part but still what I see and hear and feel.
Lifelong there have been those rhymes and reasons. I know that my words are not those of Shakespeare, Shelley, or Stevenson. They hardly belong in the same universe as those of Emily Dickenson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gertrude Stein or Maya Angelou. That is okay! I do not seek to compete with them. I just play with words and rhymes as I have for decades now. Once in awhile my words may even have something to say.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In my Not-So-Humble Opinion...

Warning: This is not a memoir or regular essay and is somewhat political and controversial. Read at your own risk. You can comment if you feel a need to and so long as it is civil I will not remove it. Issues need to be discussed and even argued. There is no other way our country and our world can find balance and rationality again. I strive to be apolitcal and I am very much counter-extremism but at times I have to share an opinion.

A Train Wreck in Progress

            “There’s been another shooting…” We are growing almost numb to the horror now. Columbine, Virginia Tech, movie theaters, churches—there is no place safe and sacred anymore. Shopping malls, even driving down the highway, everyone is at risk. Shocking? Yes. Preventable? Perhaps, although there can be only a long term fix.
Fall of 1947
First, I have been around firearms since I was a toddler. I have a healthy respect for them and no fear—you can be made dead in a lot of ways and when it’s your time, something will happen. I am fatalistic about myself, at least. So that being said, I have to acknowledge that too many wrong hands are grasping firearms and doing horrible things with them. Still, is the answer really "gun control?" I don’t think so.
            For a start, it is not realistic or possible to go around the world and remove and destroy every single gun. And, if that is not done, it is almost a sure bet that a firearm will get into the “wrong” hands and be used in ways we all cannot condone or accept. So what is the answer?
            I think, and this is just my not-so-humble opinion, we are tackling this issue from the wrong end. Guns do not kill; people kill. And without guns there are a whole raft of other creative, nasty and horrible ways to do it! I recently read a somewhat Swiftian essay about a man who left a rifle, a shotgun and a sidearm inside his front door and on went about his business. Lo and behold, weeks later they were still there but not one dead body to be seen in the area. Yep—I have had weapons at my disposal since I was about thirteen and carried a sidearm both openly and concealed with a permit for a good part of my life. I have never shot anyone and do not intend to!
            So, can we admit, for the sake of argument here, that people, not guns, kill? We have far too many groups and individuals who feel disenfranchised, threatened, mistreated and ‘dissed,’ in the vernacular of our times. On the one hand, we have various minorities—mostly young men, and they seem to be the ones committing thee bulk of the ‘drive by’ shootings, the cop killings and individual one-on-one kinds of violence. Then we have the non-minority people, again mostly young men, who feel threatened by the economy, the influx of immigrants, their own personal misfit state and life in general. They are the ones who commit the mass shootings. My overall impression? We need to fix our society!!
            Somehow these people including some with major mental health issues, are not having their needs met and although it may not be the true responsibility of “the government” to make it right, it is the responsibility of each and every adult citizen to give their small bit to such an effort.  I have a few theories here, too.
            We have a generation or now even close to two many of whom have never learned responsibility, moral values or the fact you have to earn things rather than being entitled to them simply because you exist. There are no rights without the reverse side of the coin: responsibility. The family structure has broken down and we have many young men of every race and creed who've lacked a father figure in their lives. No one has really shown them how to be a man. 
            Meanwhile they have also been shoved aside by the various aspects of the women’s movement that has accidentally or even intentionally made masculinity a borderline crime against the feminine. We do not encourage our boys to “be boys;” such behavior is considered disruptive and likely to be treated as delinquent, suppressed with ADHD drugs, or otherwise pushed underground. Why then are we surprised that it pops out in random violence, domestic brutality and other very negative ways? Nature doesn't give up without a fight!
            While both our major political parties are busy pointing fingers at one another and committing virtual individual and collective suicide, matters continue to get worse. Simply taking the GNP and dividing it equally among every living citizen—or even non-citizens for that matter—would not fix things for five minutes. Immediately, the fight would be on as about ten percent of the population jumped feet first to get theirs away from the other ninety percent. The crooks and connivers would come out on top once again and very quickly, at that.
            Beyond this, I am not sure I have ‘answers’ because if I did I would be running for President on the Libertarian or some other ticket with such a powerful message that I am sure everyone would vote for me (NOT!!) but we need to collect all our great thinkers of all persuasions into a room, set aside our extreme views from either the Right or the Left ideology, and start to deal with real issues, not vote buying and power mongering. 
            We need–in the capitalist environment— to lift our sights above and beyond the next quarter’s bottom line and what rewards the top dogs may collect from making it appear better in the short term to the good of everyone and the sustenance of industry and infrastructure in the country. Such an approach will create more jobs and better economic opportunities for the middle class which is sinking rapidly into the cesspool of the downtrodden--spawning a lot of the malcontents who turn to violence. We need to quit offering hand outs and provide more hands up. Otherwise we are doomed to an accelerating world-wide decline into a new dark age of barbarism and horrors such as we can barely comprehend today. I will probably be gone before it hits full force but do we really want to wish this on our children and grandchildren?
            In short, the epidemic of gun and other violence is a symptom rather than the disease mistakenly identified  It's the rash, the fever, the terrible pain manifest in a what should be the most vivid and vital clue. Our society is badly broken and unless we can pull together to repair it, we are doomed before even climate change or any other matter can force mass extinction of humanity. Any that are left well be subhuman or anti-human since that will be the only way to survive.