Family Tree

There’s a man on our family tree that is a mystery to my generation.  His name is there, Lawrence Carr, and his death date, 1930.  That’s all.  No pictures that I could find.  No specific details of his life before he met and married Ellis, my father’s sister; no details of their life together – except this one – he hung himself in the barn after losing everything in the 1929 stock market crash.

I peer over photographs of over eight decades ago, looking for clues.  Who was this man?  How was Ellis impacted by this early marriage that ended in shock and sorrow?  How did the rest of the family react to his short stay in the family?

Charley, Crile, Katie, Ellis Dean and friend, c 1925

Charley, Crile, Katie, Ellis Dean and friend, c 1925

I found this picture of the family in Daddy’s old photograph album. It was taken a few years prior to 1930, probably about 1925.  On the far left is my grandfather, Charley and my grandmother, Katie, with their daughter Ellis, and their youngest son, my father Crile, on a bridge of rough-hewn boards that span a low creek at the edge of a canyon, the walls of the creek held in place by a retaining wall of stones to keep the water from washing the hillside away.  The girl at the far right is about Ellis’ age and is probably a friend or cousin, but I know nothing about her.

As the photograph is in black and white, there are no colors to jump out or inform the mood, rather there are shapes and designs that vary from dark to light, from pattern to solid, from small to large, from rugged rocks to dainty detail on the hats.  There are hints as to the lives lived by these people captured in a casual photo on a cool day.

This is a family that lives and works on a ranch with sheep and horses and cattle just outside the small town of Moriarty, about forty miles northeast of Albuquerque.  Moriarty is flat land covered with sagebrush, some desert plants and a few houses scattered around one main road with a short line of small businesses.  The family’s home, known as the Dean Place, is about five miles out of town, toward the hills.  The town hasn’t changed must in the years between then and now, so it surprises me how trendy this family is dressed.

Grandmother Katie wears a shin length, heavy, dark coat with a wide fur collar and fur cuffs; her hat is a 1920’s cloche with a wide brim that is low on her face, her eyes shaded. At the top of her hat, there is some small decorative piece that reaches for the sky above.  It is small enough that using a magnifying glass doesn’t give much detail, but this is a stylish hat that covers all of her piled up brown hair, gone gray at the sides.  She wears dark stockings and dark, leather flats that lace up the front.

Ellis is about fifteen to sixteen years old, slim and with a vibrancy that suggests energy even as she stands next to her mother.  She’s about the same height as Katie, which suggests she will be taller by the time she gains her full height.  Ellis’ hair is styled in the late Twenties, short, flapper style, bangs drawn across her forehead; her dress is Twenties style loose, straight, ending just below the knee, low waisted and long sleeved, wide lapels along the collar with a contrasting placard opening at the neck; she wears dark hose and low heeled Mary Janes. Her hat, a beret, sits on the crown of her head above her bangs. The look on Ellis’ face is lively and alert; her smile wide, her eyes bright.

My father, Crile, is about five and is perched on the bridge railing between his mother and father. His ankle high leather shoes lace up the front, he wears heavy cotton pants and a long sleeved shirt with either a cowl neck or a scarf around his neck.  The lens caught him with his eyes closed, which is unusual for this wide-eyed child who smiles big for the camera.  I’m told they called him “Hap” as a boy because of his happy nature.  Life on the ranch meant hard work but it also meant freedom to explore and to grow into responsibility.  He told the story of packing up a frying pan, a rasher of bacon, a bedroll and a canteen of water then riding out into the desert on his horse to camp overnight by himself.  He was twelve.  His parents didn’t fear for his safety nor were they afraid he couldn’t handle himself.  He did it for fun.

His father, next to him in the photo, tall and slim, a full head taller than Katie, perches comfortably against the rail, his ankles crossed, hands in the pockets of his cuffed suit slacks, his shirt a long sleeved white and his tie, thin and dark, stops a full three inches above his waist.  His light colored hat is a ten-gallon with a wide brim that hides all of his brown hair with hints at gray to come.

This family, far from a large city, seems right up with the times. Perhaps they copied clothing from the Sears, Roebuck & Co catalogue.  They might have gone in to Albuquerque to window shop.  Katie sewed, as did most of the working women of her generation, so as many clothes as possible were made at home. There was plenty of food for the ranch family but actual cash was more rare.

Daddy’s album has no more pictures of the family until about ten years later.  The world did not stand still in that time, nor did the family. The children grew and matured, spread their wings and made choices. Those choices led Ellis and Lawrence Carr together.  Ellis was twenty when she became a widow in 1930, so this was a marriage of her youth.  Daddy talked about how strong willed she was.  She had determination and drive to be something different than a school teacher like her mother or a wife on a ranch.  She moved into Albuquerque after high school and went to secretarial school and I’m guessing it was sometime in those days that Lawrence Carr entered her life.

This was The Roaring Twenties and those years carried with them a feeling of excitement and prosperity for those who had money and for those who could dream of making something of themselves.  The Great World War was behind; the future ahead was bright. The world economy was riding a wave of excess, people borrowed to have the capital to live life to the full, banks allowed borrowing heavily against the value of investments and the speculative bubble of stock values grew until 1929, when the market made a correction that burst the bubble.  Many investors lost everything

Production of goods, that had taken off when money was flowing, were no longer affordable by most as there was no money to pay for goods and food and so businesses and farms began to fail.  The world of the jazz age and gangsters lost their glamour in a wave of financial panic that affected even Europe as Weimar Germany had built up its economy on American loans.  As America demanded payment of those loans, its economy fell and Germany’s politics were ripe for the rise of Nazism.

The Stock Market crash was not the only news of the day.  1929 was the birth year of future Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, who was born in his grandfather’s house in Atlanta, Georgia.  In Chicago, Illinois, gangsters working for Al Capone killed seven rivals and citizens in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  JC Penney opened its Store #1252 in Milford, Delaware, the last state in the Union to have one of their stores. The growth of the nationwide chain indicated the prosperity of the decade only two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929 would ensue.

In other depressing news, The Teapot Dome scandal came to a close when Albert B. Fall, the former Secretary of the Interior, was convicted of accepting a $100,000 bribe for leasing the Elk Hills naval oil reserve. He was sentenced to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Plummeting stock prices led to losses between 1929 and 1931 of an estimated $50 billion and started the worst American depression in the nation’s history with the economy not fully recovering until war production with WWII.  Some investors took their lives.  Lawrence Carr was one of them.

Still, many found hope and a reason to push forward.  Penicillin was first used to fight infection in 1929.   1930 saw many firsts: Mickey Mouse cartoon strip began; first radio broadcast of “The Lone Ranger”; Planet Pluto was discovered and photographed by Clyde Tombaugh, American astronomer; the first red and green traffic lights were installed in Manhattan, NYC; Clarence Birdseye developed quick freezing for foods; Gandhi began a 300 km protest march; “Blue Angel” starring unknown Marlene Dietrich premiered in the US; synthetic rubber was first produced; Britain, US, Japan, France and Italy signed a naval disarmament agreement; BBC radio reported on April 18, that on this day “There is no news.”; the Great Salmas Earthquake in Iran killed 4,000 people; the sculpted head of George Washington was dedicated at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota; and the Chocolate Chip cookie was invented at Toll House Inn, Whitman, Mass.

Life went on for most, but not for Lawence Carr.  All I have are pictures of the family before he joined it and after he was gone.

Bud and Ellis Neel, Bruce, Crile, Katie and Charley Dean 1935, Dean Place, Moriarty, New Mexico

Bud and Ellis Neel, Bruce, Crile, Katie and       Charley Dean 1935, Dean Place, Moriarty, New Mexico

The next photo I have of Aunt Ellis was taken in 1935, around five years after the death of Lawrence Carr.  The original photo is tiny but with a magnifying glass, I could see intriguing details. It looks like a spur of the moment photo as the family is arranged in front of a car (probably a late 1920’s Ford), the flat, empty high desert of New Mexico stretching out behind them, the car hidden by the people standing in front of it.  There’s Grandfather Charley, dressed much as he was ten years before: long sleeved white shirt and dark, thin tie that ends three inches from his waist and dark suit slacks.  Grandmother Katie wears a light blouse, a slightly darker, flared skirt that ends mid-calf and a sweater with a ruffled border down the sweater front.  Both Charlie and Katie are in their mid-fifties by this time, their hair has gone white and they are looking older and less energetic than they did in the 1925 photo.  A row of bushes directly in front of the car hides most of the feet in the photo, but the dust that blows across the desert can be seen on Charlie’s and Katie’s serviceable shoes.

The oldest son, Bruce, is looking in his prime at twenty-seven with a dark mustache, slicked back, dark hair, long sleeved, white dress shirt, dark slacks and light colored, thin tie.  Both his arms and his ankles are crossed as he leans casually against the fender in front of his brother, Crile, who at fifteen sits on top of the fender and rests his chin on Bruce’s shoulder. Crile’s face is shaded by a light colored, banded, fedora hat tipped down over one eye. The weather must be warm as Crile is wearing a cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up above the elbow and light colored cotton pants, his work shoes covered with dust.  Crile looks like contained energy, as if this pose won’t last long.

To the left of Bruce is Ellis, who is again up to date in the latest fashion with a short sleeved, light colored blouse tucked into Katherine Hepburn style palazzo pants; her hat a close fitting beret. Her smile is wide and her body is slightly angled towards the man to her right, F.M. “Bud” Neel, her second husband. Bud is angled toward Ellis, her right hand tucked into the curve of his arm.  Bud wears a light colored shirt with sleeves rolled above the elbow, light pants and dark belt and his hat is a wide brim fedora.  He looks strong, confident and in control.  Ellis is taller than Katie in this photo but still more than a head shorter than Bud.

My father, Crile, must have told Mother the history of his family, but by the time we kids were old enough to care to listen, it was Mother who was the historian and told the stories so it was from her that we learned Ellis had been married to Lawrence Carr before she married Uncle Bud.

We spent our growing up years in California and Nevada while the rest of Mother’s and Daddy’s families were in Moriarty and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  About once every four years we took trips back across the deserts of the Southwest to see extended family which made us mostly strangers who had to get reacquainted on each visit.  I don’t recall a time in those trips that anyone talked of Aunt Ellis’ husband, Lawrence.  A suicide by one’s first husband would hardly be topic for polite conversation.  Instead those trips were jam packed with visits with the living as we moved from house to house, making full use of their generosity to feed and house two adults and four kids.

Uncle Bud was a genial person who loved to tease and never met a stranger. I remember him fondly.  I remember he and Ellis were deeply devoted to each other and their relationship, at least to my childhood and teenage eyes, was strong and exclusive.

I’ve often wondered if Bud was the opposite of Lawrence; if Ellis was swallowed by the relationship in response to the loss and betrayal of a young husband who couldn’t handle stress and difficulty.  Not that she was retiring or shy or house bound, after all this was the girl who left the small town ranch for the big city of Albuquerque, who wore pants that scandalized her conservative family and who worked for more than thirty years as legal secretary to an Albuquerque attorney, but her life outside the work world was Bud and his life with horses and the Shriners.  Bud and Ellis had no children, which added to their two-some solidarity.  Some portion of their summers were spent at their cabin in the mountains above Albuquerque and included involvement in the lives of Bruce’s children as well as Bud’s nieces, but we kids, the children of Crile, were too far away to be included in those times.

Still, Daddy and Mother stayed in touch with Ellis and Bud and saw them whenever a trip to New Mexico was possible.  After I grew up, Daddy and Mother began going to the extended family reunion in New Mexico where Ellis and Bruce and their spouses got together with their cousins on their mother Katie’s side.  I took work vacations and met Daddy and Mother at three or four of those reunions and enjoyed getting better acquainted on those trips with Ellis and Bud, and Bruce and his wife, Bertha.

The last time I was able to spend time with Ellis was in Albuquerque when she was ninety-nine.  Bud had died nearly thirty years earlier and she had sold her home in Albuquerque and had taken an apartment in an assisted living community.  At that time she had a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen but didn’t like cooking so used her walker to go to the dining hall for lunch and dinner.  She was pleased to see me and was anxious to go with me across town to another assisted living home to visit Bruce’s wife, Bertha, ninety-eight, in her one bedroom apartment.  Uncle Bruce had been dead about twenty years.

Ellis Neel, May 2010

Ellis Neel, May 2010

On this trip we were again semi-strangers who needed to get acquainted.  We talked about family and about Ellis’ house and her life after giving up her home.  I thought I might not have another chance, so I found the courage to ask her about Lawrence Carr.

“Who?” she asked as we stepped into the elevator on our way to the dining room.

“Lawrence Carr?  Your first husband who killed himself?”  I pushed the button for the first floor.

“Oh,” she paused as she thought, “that was so long ago.  I’ve forgotten,” she said as the door opened and the sound of tinkling silverware and chatting people drew us from the elevator.

She was tiny and frail with a full head of short, white hair.  She carefully made her way ahead of me into the dining room and found a table.  Lawrence was not mentioned again.  It had been nearly eighty years by that time and she had moved on.

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Handyman – Protector

image:Mother's flower garden

image:Mother’s flower garden

 

Rock strength rescues fearful female,

bug halts in skitter across the floor,

spider loses its web

faucet leak, blown fuse, garden weeds

coughing carburetor, flopping slapping tire

dead battery, stopped up gutter –

no match for Daddy’s prowess.

 

Yet, not quick enough

or rescue sufficient

for Mother.

She fussed

worried

nagged.

 

Resolution required but patience,

Understanding carved from busy schedule;

Payment a smile, a hot meal,

cool lemonade.

 

Their dance of need and service

swung round and round across the decades.

 

Until he was gone.  Until I stepped into his

too big shoes.  Until I flopped around

unbalanced, sagging

under her “honey-do list.”

 

Her slightest whine, her merest look

should telegraph her need, right?

It did for Daddy.  I demand she ask.

I demand of myself that I wait for her to ask.

 

“Oh, for a man!” she laments when

anything goes wrong.

 

She lost her handyman, her dance partner. I lost

my pillar of strength, bedrock

who had freed me to wander far away,

secure the foundation would never waver.

 

She wobbles without him.

I carry on.

We miss him.

Survivor

Winter in Sparks , Nevada 1960's

Crile R. Dean – Winter, Sparks , Nevada 1960’s

Daddy is from a generation that worked hard.  That never feared sweat and toil.  He grew up on the land, took care of animals and studied late in the night to be the best he could be.

All my life his big hands tackled plumbing and electrical and automotive tasks.  He climbed, fearless, to the roof to patch leaks.  He ascended to the top of the thirty foot apricot tree to cut off a dead branch.  No qualms.

I’m sick and can’t sit up in my seat in class any longer.  My third grade teacher says, go to the nurse.  The nurse feels my head and says, lie down awhile.  I remember thinking, lying down feels good. 

I stretch.  Open my eyes.  No lights.  Dead silence.  No kid noise in the halls.  No teachers talking.  No one laughing or running or hitting the tether-ball on the playground.  No nurse.

Where is everyone?  My heartbeat is so loud my ears hurt.  My chest hurts.  I’m hot all over.  My queasy stomach forgotten.

“What are you doing here?”  The principal says as I stand in his doorway.

“I was sick.  I went to the nurse.  She didn’t wake me.  She left me.”

“Let’s get you home.”

I hope I’m so small in the front seat of the Principal’s car that no one will see me.  We pass kids on the street.  Playing ball.  Walking. Talking. Laughing.  Every head turns our way.  Kids know the Principal’s car.  Now they know I’m in his car.

My face is hot. I want to disappear.  Everyone will think I’ve done something wrong.

“Thank you,” Daddy smiles broadly at the Principal, “for getting her home safe,” he shakes the Principal’s hand, “no harm done.”

No harm done?  I’ll never go to the nurse’s office again.

Daddy cared for us.  He mended the arm of my sister’s glasses.  He maneuvered tiny tweezers to repair Mother’s necklace chain.  He laid brick and cinder block walls.  He mowed the lawn and used the edger with gusto, all with pride in a job well done.  He planted grapes and fruit trees and worked hard in their harvest.  He shared the bounty with friends and strangers.  He loved life.  He laughed and smiled and believed all could be conquered.

I feel sick all over but I’d rather be sick in class than go to the nurse’s office.  That’s a place to avoid like the plague.  If I can hold on another fifteen minutes, school will be out. 

“Did you go to the nurse?” Mother takes my temperature, “Measles.  Sixteen is old for measles.  Go to bed.  Why didn’t you come home early?”

I just want to lie down and block out everything.

I wake to distant sounds of family around the supper table.  It’s dark in my room.  I’m hot.  Parched.  Safe at home. 

Then I’m eight years old again and waking in that deserted nurse’s office. 

I haven’t thought of that since it happened.  No wonder I avoided the nurse today.  I smile in the dark.  I’m not that little girl any more. I’ll be strong, like Daddy is strong.

Daddy working the trailer hitch, 1980's, with Uncle Bruce observing

Daddy working the trailer hitch, 1980’s, with Uncle Bruce observing

I remember Daddy working under the car in the garage.  Oil change, transmission repair, tires patched, some busted blown broken component replaced – whatever it took – so the car would once again go.

I remember we sat stopped off the side of Route 66, the Arizona desert undulating pinks and browns and beiges in the sweltering 100 plus degrees of an August day, while Daddy changed a blown tired.  We kids squabbled about the sticky back seat in the constant furnace blast of air that is summer, while in the front seat, Mother looked faint, anxious and exhausted.

It really ticks me off that I have Mother’s stamina.  Or lack of stamina.  She fatigued.  I fatigue.  I swore I’d be like Daddy.  Strong, independent, capable, positive. Healthy.

Not like Mother.  Tired.  Weepy.  Stressed out.  She spent three months in bed after a hysterectomy, then had pneumonia, then a lupus type flare-up that cleared up as mysteriously as it had come.  Always something wrong. 

I won’t be like her.  Yet here I am.  Had to change my entire diet to stop constant sinus infections that morph into bronchitis.  Funky hormones that don’t work right.  Thyroid disease.  I’ll be on meds the rest of my life.  Really ticks me off. 

Daddy did whatever it took to take care of us.  Even when it meant auto repair work that was dirty and greasy and often held up our well-laid plans.  I remember I thought when I grew up I’d have enough money to pay for such jobs.  No getting dirty for the man in my life.  No waiting by the side of the road for a maybe-maybe not rescue.

Except no man ever measured up.  No man ever rode to my rescue.  Instead it was me who had to pay for repairs.  It was me who had to find solutions.  I remember long distance calls as I sat alongside the highway waiting for the tow truck.

“Here’s what it sounded like, Daddy,” I’d say, “what do I tell the mechanic?”

Breathe deeply, girl.  How would Daddy handle it?  He’d be grateful for another day of life, another opportunity to be positive with those around him.  He was cheerful. He knew God made him and he could trust God for who he was.

I have to choose.  Believe.  Deal with who I am and what my body needs.  What’s the alternative?  Get mad?  Get depressed?  Avoid doctors and nurses offices?  Binge on problematic foods and suffer the consequences?  Give in to needing to be pampered, like Mother?

There’s no contest. I won’t be like her.  I can’t change the way I was made.  I can control how I respond.  Like Daddy or like Mother.

Daddy and Mother, Pomona, Ca 1990's

Daddy and Mother, Pomona, Ca 1990’s

I sit in the house that was Daddy and Mother’s and marvel that he was my retirement age when they moved in here.  My age when he poured concrete and installed the heating/cooling unit, built the back porch overhang, ran electrical wiring for lamps where the old Craftsman style house needed more electrical outlets, replaced the shower stall, added cabinets to a bare kitchen wall, hung a microwave, toaster and electric can opener under those same cabinets, hung shelf brackets on the walls for shelves that now hold books, two and three rows deep.  And he did all this while working a full-time job that included hours on the highway.  He may be gone now, his earthly productiveness finished, but I see him everywhere I look.

My retirement is an unexpected journey: freedom to not be in the mad paced work world; freedom to have energy for exercise; freedom to learn new things; to take classes; to write; to cook, which is a toss-up – successful meal or hardly edible – freedom to be the best I can be, and most surprising, freedom to be at peace with Mother.

By the time Daddy had slowed in age and had stopped trying to repair automobiles with their computer components and modern molded plastic parts, I’d learned to do some rehab and repair items with my own hands.  Though never as detailed as the skills Daddy had and never with the power that flowed from his large hands.

He walked three miles a day up until six months before he died.  Cancer.  Something takes each of us at the end, right?  He was six weeks away from eighty-nine.  He loved life and lived it fully.  He believed he was headed to a place without pain or limitations or suffering. I believe, too.  I’ll see him there, one day.

Meanwhile, life in this old house continues for Mother and me.  I’m here so her days will end in her own home.

She has surprised me by learning to let go of the expectation I could do what Daddy did.  While I didn’t inherit his big hands or his strength, I did inherit his work principle and his belief in joy and love.  The bedrock he gave my life lives.  I decide to laugh and believe that all can be conquered. And some days I see a glimmer of Mother deciding to give up her worry.

Mother keeps on going.  Through the pain of a twisted spine, crooked and hurting hips, heart disease, swollen legs, heavy medications with weird side effects, she keeps moving.  She’s nearly eighty-eight.  She might have it easier in these late days if she’d kept moving and walking years ago.  If she’d changed her diet and dealt with her swollen legs in the decades before heart disease took over.

Still, I’ve come to the late realization that she’s much more of a fighter than I ever knew.  She’s stubborn and no one will stop her until she’s ready to stop.

“Quit nagging me to eat,” she pushes her plate away.  She looks small and frail after two months bedfast with bruising and sores on her leg.  She lost her appetite and went down another ten pounds.

“Are you ready to quit,” I stand next to her in her permanent spot at the dining room table, hands on my hips, and try to keep the frustration out of my voice, “ready to go home to God?  Ready to finish this life?”

She doesn’t look at me.

“Because if you don’t eat, that’s what will happen.”  I watch her as she thinks it over.

She pulls her plate back and takes another bite, “No.  I’m not ready to go.”

Mother - all dressed up for church

Mother – all dressed up for church

That was last month.  Now she’s back making her own breakfast.  Gets herself dressed.  Pulls on compression hose.  Takes her vitamins and medications.  Moves around the house again.  Her weight is up two pounds.

Maybe it’s ok for me to be like Mother.  She’s a survivor.  Daddy was a survivor.  I can take the best from both of them.  I’m a survivor.

Family Moves

I am twelve years old when Daddy calls a family meeting. We come together in the living room, the doors, windows and curtains closed against the deepening dusk. Outside it’s rapidly cooling down after a seventy degree, sunny, Southern California, winter day. I’m in the middle of family. Safe in the familiar routines. Cozy. We six against the world.

Little island of light and warmth
hold me tight, keep me safe,
here no dark dreams creep.

I sit in the middle of the sofa, excited and a little anxious to know what’s coming. Changes are not rare. Family meetings are rare.

Quiet, fervored wish.
Calm, budding hope.
Past anticipation’s dashed dreams.
Restraint. Restrain.
Be quiet, good little girl.

Mother looks relieved to settle back on the threadbare sofa after her day washing, cleaning and cooking, her stamina as faded as the design on her worn housedress.  Winzona, nine, dirty and grass stained from sliding across the front yard in a game of dodge ball, sucks her thumb and leans up against Daddy’s left side at the opposite end of the sofa from Mother.  Daddy, white T-shirt tucked into heavy cotton work pants, sort of perches on the edge of the sofa with his in-charge-alertness that he has on Sundays at church when he’s praying or at the front, speaking to the people.  Larry, thirteen, sits on the floor, Indian style, knees bent, legs crossed with bare feet pulled behind his knees; his white T-shirt neatly tucked into jeans, one knee poking through loose jean threads; his hands busy coaxing the purrs out of Buddy The Cat, whose contented hum deepens as he settles into the deep cavern between Larry’s crossed legs.  Trevie, fifteen, blond, wavy hair Brylcreemed into place, pulls over one of the metal, Formica kitchen chairs and sits. He’s alert.  Trevie always has a plan; is always on the move.

“How would you like to learn about our new home?”  Daddy opens the World Encyclopedia, Volume M-N, to the section on Nevada, “I’m being transferred to the Nevada desert where I’ll be testing rocket fuels.”

It’s 1962. The space race is heating up.

Caution fades, joy leaks.
Adventure! Off to new places.
No worries. This safe world is just
moving house, right?

Over the next weeks, as Mother packs up everything we own, we read and reread everything the World Encyclopedia, Volume M-N, has to say about the topography, the weather statistics and the historical information of Reno and Sparks, Nevada.

I know the decision to move was made between Daddy and Mother before we kids even knew a thing about it.  And before that, it was made by Daddy’s bosses at North American Rockwell, or Rocketdyne as we know it.  But this one somehow feels like a family decision where we all have a part. All the moves in the past just happened as a normal course of everyday life.  This one holds the portent of great adventure.

~

google images:Sears, 1960s

google images:Sears, 1960s

And we’re off!  We’re shopping at Sears for coats on our way out of California to Nevada.  We’re headed to serious cold weather, where winter means freezing nights and possibility for snow!  Some man is taking random pictures, trying to get shoppers to commit to visiting the Sears Photography Studio.

My picture shows me shy, barely smiling for the camera, arms crossed over my flat chest; my short sleeved, white blouse with Peter Pan collar, buttoned down the front and tucked into a pleated, plaid skirt.  The photo is in black and white, the colors in that plaid skirt lost with the past.  My chin length, dark brown hair has Shirley Temple rows of curls across the top; the sides sort of fluffy, like tight curls brushed out.  I’m standing in front of a stack of jeans in the boys department.  This is so rare.  Shopping together as a family.  Shopping at a store for something ready-made instead of watching clothing take shape on Mother’s sewing machine.  Having our pictures taken.  How did Daddy afford to pay for these pictures?  I feel the newness, the strangeness, the adventure.  Just don’t look for it on my face.

All reserve and shyness.
Eyes betray no excitement.
I’m long practiced.  Hold it all in.
But don’t pinch me to test for life.
I can strike back.  Ask my sister.

~

I did just fine at six different grades schools from kindergarten through sixth grade and starting a new school is just one of the things that happens. No big deal.  So, why does starting seventh grade at Dilworth Junior High in Sparks, Nevada, make my stomach hurt?

There’re the six different classrooms a day with six different teachers.  That’s new.  There’re the over one hundred kids in the seventh grade.  That’s different.  That’s more kids than I’ve ever been with in one grade.  There’s the fact that the seventh grade class all seem to know each other.  They started kindergarten together.

Expand little island of safety,
carry me through the halls.
Resilience take hold in the lunchroom.
At least don’t embarrass me in the locker room.

For the moment I can forget school.  The Truckee River is at flood stage in Reno, so school is let out early and Larry and I walk the mile or so of blocks at the edge of downtown Sparks from the school to our motel room.

“You’re off early, too?” Mother says as Daddy sweeps into our motel room, grinning and pulling off his heavy work jacket.  She’s wiping down the tiny counter space of the kitchenette portion of the large room where we’ve lived for a few weeks.  The room holds two double beds, a sofa, a roll away bed, a small bathroom and an even smaller closet.  Close to the kitchenette wall there’s a kitchen table, metal legged and Formica topped with six unmatched chairs crowded around it.

Winzona doesn’t have to go to school yet.  Until we know what part of town we will live in, Mother and Daddy have decided she could wait.  Hardly seems fair, but then, it feels like the baby usually gets special treatment.  If I were nine again, my stomach might not hurt.

“Get your coats, we’re going to watch the flood,” Daddy bounds across the room to the closet to get a change of clothes, then shuts himself in the bathroom.

“What?” Mother fusses, “watch the flood? That’s dangerous.”

Trevie, just arrived from his walk from Sparks High School, tosses his school books on the sofa, “What’s dangerous? Where are we going?”

Mother’s looking frazzled.  I wonder if living in one large room in a motel makes her stomach hurt?  Or, if it’s Daddy’s fearlessness?

The six of us pack the car tightly, warming up the interior and fogging up the windows.  Safe.  Together in a small space.  The motel is miles from the flooding river.  School may be new, but family is still family.

~

The wind whips up the collar on my coat and keeps flipping my hair in my eyes.  It stings my cheeks with each lash of my hair against my face.  The rain has stopped for the moment.  We’re standing on a bridge in downtown Reno, looking at the rising water.  Torrential rains for days have dumped so much water, there’s no place for it to go.  It just keeps getting higher, reaching its fingers up.  Reaching for the heavy, gray and black sky.

google images - Truckee River Flood stage, Reno, Nevada

google images – Truckee River Flood stage, Reno, Nevada

Rush, water rush.
Blow, wind, blow.
Crash, mighty power,
overwhelm petty fears, small
jealousies, school hall woes.
Eternity, huge
versus
 puny, momentary upset.

“Let’s go, honey,” Mother looks anxiously at the river and then back towards the car parked on the street.

I’ve never seen a flood.  Not in sunny, Southern California.  I’ve never seen so much out of control water.  It’s like the world is alive.  It’s like the leaden, heavy skies are breathing life into the high desert.  I like it.  I like the purple peaks that tower over the valley, their tips covered in white.  I like the cold nights and the thunder and lightning.  It’s the flip-side of never ending sun.  I feel exhilarated and free.  I breathe deeply and tight muscles relax.  The only thing my stomach tells me now is that its dinner time.

“Will the water come up over the bridge, Daddy?” Winzona tucks herself under his arm.

Embrace the storm.
Fly on the rain,
breathe in the wind,
relax in its grip,
float above the clouds;
up where blue skies and sun live on,
undaunted.

“Yes, it probably will, sweetheart,” Daddy hugs Winzona, then turns towards Mother, “Ok everyone, back to the car.”

Daddy’s Desk

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

In the top drawer is Daddy’s inexpensive silver wristwatch with its flexible, stretch band.  Without his warm flesh and steady heartbeat, it stopped.  I tried wearing it when I noticed, but it was too late.  So it lays here, the date feature, Mon 20, the time, 5:05 p.m. and ten seconds.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Funny that, since Daddy died on Monday the 20th.  I wonder now, did it stop the day he died, or did it run longer?  I can’t remember, which is strange, because at the time, I thought I’d never forget.

I’ve kept the yellow post-it notes he wrote and stuck on the side of the filing cabinet by the desk.  Doctor’s number, appointment reminders, police and newspaper phone numbers.  I like looking at his handwriting.  Printing, really.  The only time he used cursive was to write his distinctive and legible signature.

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

I was an adult before he confessed his handwriting was terrible, so he printed.  I’d always thought his familiar script was his preferred writing; neat, precise letters in a straight line, the “a” like a typewriter “a” with the tail curving across the top.  Not like the round “ɑ” they taught me in grade school.

I want to remember him in his strength; when it was easy to open drawers, when his watch ticked efficiently; when it was nothing for him to write a note to me, or to write in the checkbook.  I don’t want to think about those days he wasted away to a potbelly on a skeleton frame, the minutes and hours and days of caregiving roaring loud in my ears as we inched across the horizon toward his setting sun.

His abdomen filled with fluid as his body failed from liver cancer.  I was clueless.  He hardly ate, yet his pants were too tight to button?  I cringe now to think of things I could have done to make his days easier.

I don’t want to remember the last time he wrote.  The first time we went to the lab to have 2 liters of fluid drawn off his belly, he signed and dated the forms with ease.  The last time we went, his consent signature looked like the illegible scribbles of a two-year old.  His precise, neat printing and his one concession to cursive writing were gone.  It wasn’t long before he was gone.

Crile R. Dean

Crile R. Dean

I come often to this place that was Daddy’s domain.  I sit at the big metal desk that’s marred by years of use and run my hands over the scratched and scarred surface.  I can see how he grasped the handle of each drawer, the black paint worn away to gun-metal gray where his thumb extended to press for leverage to pull them open.  In memory I see him here.  He calls me honey.  He sings, smiles, talks ethics, politics, religion and sports.  He remains in my heart.  Until I join him, I’ll hold on to the simple reminders.  I won’t forget.

i am subject

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story:

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I could live in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  I was ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two-hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and were there for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona would have been a two-hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I knew I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist and I were getting to know each other.  He had a red sports car.  Life was good, fun, exciting.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted and fussed about how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  In the study, Daddy was at his desk.  He gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving all over Southern California meeting with churches that wanted financing for new buildings.  The talk turned to genealogy and the history Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwood trim was cluttered with pictures of my brothers and sister and all their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born,” she said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle,” she sipped her iced tea.

“Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut.  I couldn’t breathe.  I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle,” Mother went on cutting and chewing.

Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.  My head was spinning.  I don’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was too afraid to take an art class or join in sport or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, and tired.  Daddy was out working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace who I had become, be the new person I had learned to like.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

Carry on……

image source:google images

image source:google images

The cuckoo clock ticks.  The floors creak with the slow movement of the elderly woman traversing the length of the living room and the dining room, cane maneuvered by one hand, the other hand holding the day’s newspaper, just retrieved from the front step.

Great hall height     BUMBLING                  forward                inside all the way              to cake breakfast            before        drop         eyelids               into    the deep.         Being      of course,         is perfectly soluble          fight and fought             fraught?               Bought for naught? While I              DANCE                tripp ingly                        two sides                                              that’s                       understood,
or                                   should be,

if you get my drift.   I read just the other day, somewhere, or maybe I heard it?  Well, I won’t bore you with the how or the why, but you follow what I’m saying.

It was like, the time comes when the young take up the cause left behind by the old.  Something close to that.  Oh, maybe, the time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.  Yeah, I think that’s was it.  The time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.

Souls fly higher daily, skin thinned into translucence; some march straight ahead to the edge of the cliff and step out into air; some slow until inert stasis is the wall paper of their last days; some push against dread and fear; some laugh and joy in the legacy they’ve built; some writhe deep in pain and suffer the sloughing of the dying flesh; some faces light with the promise of more life to come; some pull the trigger in search of false relief.

I hear Mother coming; her cane clunking.  My mind flies to memories treasured.  I hover, chose and settle in to enjoy.

“Decaf?”  The waitress sets a glass of water and a napkin wrapped knife, fork and spoon on the table.

Crile R Dean

Crile R Dean

His solid but not overweight figure sits tall against the back of the booth, his hair white, every hair combed into place;  his eyes bright, a smile on his face, his cream colored, short sleeved, button-up shirt and brown slacks, not new but clean; his walking shoes a little scuffed.

The diner is clean, if well worn.  Much used faded counters nicked and scarred, brown booth seats with a sag here and there, wood chair legs nicked, metal table stands marked where decades of shoes kicked or rested.  Some faint muzac plays overhead.  People chat, waitresses weave in and out of the tables, arms laden; people eat.  It is a little cooler in the middle of the room and warmer in the booths against the east windows, their shades angled to keep the sun out of the eyes of patrons.

He isn’t cold.  His morning three mile walk has warmed him and built his appetite.

“No decaf, high octane,” he hands a menu back to the waitress, “bring me the Grand Slam; eggs fried.  Bacon and sausage.”

“Syrup or jelly for the pancakes?”  She writes on her order pad.

“Both.  And toast.  Add toast.”  He smiles again.

In my mind I walk into that diner and sit across from him.  His eyes light with love and joy at seeing me.  I hand him a wrapped box with a bow and a tag, Happy Eight-Eighth Birthday, Daddy.  His grin is awkward.

“You didn’t need to do this,” he pulls off the bow and peels off the paper.

I smile at the memory of his strength, his stamina, his love for life, his drive to make a difference in his world, his sharp grasp of things political, sociological and spiritual.  His ability to still lift the hedge trimmer and the edger and to navigate the lawn mower.  His confidence that still sent him onto the garage roof to trim a dead plum tree limb and God’s grace that urged him safely back to the ground just minutes before a 4.2 on the Richter scale hit.  He was fearless and bold.  Even at eighty-eight.  Mother called it reckless and foolish.

I hang on to the scenes of his life, vitality and joy.  They weren’t our last scenes.  Those were hospice and changing diapers and giving morphine and a skeleton pushing through translucent, whisper weight skin.  I skim past those and hang on to a truth.  Those last days were just the cocoon breaking open, setting his soul free.

I miss him.  I ache.  I cry.  I smile at his silly sense of humor.  I breathe in the certainly he’s there waiting for me; in eternity with the Creator.

Mother has made it at last to the kitchen.  I turn to her,

“Morning, Mother,” I smile.  Daddy and Mother were like night and day together.  Being here with her and remembering him, I see the differences no longer matter.  Daddy lived his beliefs and then he gave up his cause to the young.  Mother is nearly there.

My journey continues.  I have a choice.  I begrudge the time I no longer have with Daddy.  I get irritated at the task of being with Mother.  I watch any brighter, bigger purpose and meaning shrivel up while I trudge through the mundane.  I feel myself drowning.

image source:blingee

image source:blingee

I reach for a lifeline and I’m pulled up to keep walking, to take the steps onward.  I take heart from Daddy’s life.  I slough off the dread, the weight of unfulfilled expectations.  I let go of the hurts, imagined or real.  I remember the love, I remember the promise of eternity.  I believe.  I carry my cause, forged in the smelt of their influence, with honor.  I’ll keep on, until it’s my turn to leave a cause for the young to carry.