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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

My cousin scanned some old photos that he shared with me today, and all I can think to say is “Thank You!”

1961. We still lived in Jarbidge during the summer months, either at Pole Creek Ranger Station or up the hill at Mahoney¬†(muh- HOE-nee) Ranger Station. Dad wasn’t a District Ranger for the US Forest Service, but he ran both Ranger Stations and worked in the Elko District office during the winter months. Most trail work was still done on horseback, and we kept a small remuda that the government shifted between ranger stations in the steep Jarbidge country. Mom still cranked the telephone to get the operator who listened in on everyone’s conversations (my brother has the crank telephones).

Uncle Mike, whose real name isn’t anything close to Mike or Michael, came that summer to see his older half-brother. One day, I hope to get the scoop on why we call him “Uncle Mike” and noone else calls him Mike (feel free to comment away, Fred Wilcox!). He and his sweet wife, Ellie, had three boys close in age to my siblings and I: Steve, Clifford, Chuck. I don’t remember this visit, except for a vague sense of how kind Aunt Ellie was.

I’m relying on Chuck’s notes to me, so I hope I get the other Wilcox family right:

Mom in the pink capris, holding Mary Denise in the red top. Aunt Ellie holding Chuck. I’m in the white-and-pink top. Clifford in the blue plaid shirt, Steve in the blue shirt, and my brother in the mostly white print shirt. Dad in the rolled up sleeves and Uncle Mike to his left. The World’s Most Awesome Childhood Dog Ever, Butchy, is the photo-bomber.

Butch protected us from all snakes, retrieved the same rock from the murky depths of the Humboldt River or the leech-infested waters of the pristine Jarbidge River, escaped every enclosure (including 8’tall chain link fencing), and eventually died of a high-iron diet the year I was ten. I cried so hard on his passing that I got tonsillitis (again) and ended up in the hospital for a tonsillectomy. I was 10 when he died.

We kids were actually regulars at the Jarbidge Club, which was more of a bar than a store, as I recall it (I was quite young). I got my first “Roy Rogers” (Seven-up and Grenadine, with a Maraschino cherry) at the Jarbidge Club. I love these pics: Terry looks grumpy and Denny (as we called her then) seems to be in love with Clifford. I mean, what is with that gunslinger stance, Bro? And Denny’s chubby little legs! When was SHE ever chubby? Lord, she’s so cute!

It’s hard to think about how much has changed in the decades since this summer. Aunt Ellie passed away after successfully defeating breast cancer once – and that was in the 1960s! Mom is gone, then Deni, and now Dad. We kids have all gone down some very different paths, and it is only in the years since my dad passed that I have come to know my cousin Chuck and his wife, Kathy.

Terry is still a gunslinger at heart.

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And this. Dad, sitting upright in the saddle, an old cowboy (young in this picture) on his trail horse. I still possess the bridle.

That horse was the first horse I remember. The first horse I fell in love with. They pastured him separately from the others up at Mahoney. I was probably three years old, making mud pies in the wide driveway. He was trotting around, all Trigger-Roy-Rogers beautiful. Then he did the most amazing thing: he reared and pawed at the sky. I stood in awe. The picture is burned into my brain, whether it really happened or not.

Later, up at Pole Creek, he got a scrape on his throat that the flies had a hey-day with. Dad had to leave him in the care of Mom, who hated horses. She had to put ointment on his throatlatch every day to keep the flies off and help him heal. He wasn’t the friendliest horse (not sure any half-broke USFS horse could be called “friendly”), but he’d come to the fence to meet her and get his salve applied.

I don’t know what happened to him. I do know my dad was an excellent judge of horses, and he liked the half-broke ones best (in his younger days).

Thank you, Chuck, for the trip down memory lane – even if I can only recall it because of the photos.

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Daddy

He was never, ever, “Daddy”. He was “Dad” and he was bigger than life, meaner than a crocodile, and funnier than Red Skelton. I came to terms with my image of him decades ago, when I needed to address my idea of a father figure vs. what God wants a father figure to be like. My father was not a God-like father-figure, make no mistake of that. But the man who terrified me was the same man who amused my best friend, and bantered with her on a chalkboard next to the refrigerator.

I was horrified the first time I noticed that she’d written a note on the board – and signed it, no less, with the name “Krazy Kat”. Dad would blow a gasket. That board was only for parental instructions and the once-a-year greeting of “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” scrawled in Dad’s left-handed print. But Lisa had left an off-hand remark and signed it, there, on the forbidden board.

Moreover, Dad answered her with some tongue-in-cheek repartee that had us all giggling. They corresponded for years like this, Lisa and my father, while my siblings and I cowered under his authoritarian rule and dodged his “black” moods. Their notes on the blackboard were some of my earliest memories of his humanity.

Not my earliest, however. I remember that sometimes – and very rarely – he would let my sister and I try to tickle him to death. Somewhere in the tickling, he would “swallow” his cigarette, and we would rear back, afraid we’d kill him or he’s be mad at us. And then, miraculously, he produced the butt of the cigarette from his mouth, still smoldering, and we’d all fall in a heap, giggling.

More often, he was the authoritarian. He was moody and unpredictable. He could say something simple and it felt like it cut like a knife, We all longed for his approval, and we all felt like we fell short of it.

But that was the early Dad, not the Dad of our adulthood. He still had his moods, but he seemed more mellow. Kinder. More patient.

My sister was very needy. A single mother, an addict, an alcoholic, a woman with no marketable skills. Dad taught her how to do her own plumbing. Encouraged her to get minimum wage jobs. Got guardianship of her oldest when it was needed, but didn’t try to interfere with the younger ones. He loved his grands to the moon and back, and don’t you think they knew it? Where was the drawer with cookies in it? Have a fight with Mom (my sister)? Ride your bike over to Gramps’ house and hang out. Dad was proud of Deni.

I was closer to my mother than to Dad, but when she died, roles changed, as they needed to. Dad became my friend, my confidant. He and my brother went on many trips to revisit Dad’s childhood. Our sons stopped to visit Dad when they were in the area, and Dad loved Jared and Levi for that. He had other kids he “adopted”: my sister’s friends, our childhood friends. Their children. He took care of them, shared drinks with them. Tomi (my niece via my foster sister) was his favorite.

Somewhere along the line, I addressed all my issues toward him, and he toward me. We became friends. I talked to him the week before he died, and we made plans.

And then he was gone. Just like that. A candle blown out. The papery feel of the skin on his hands just a memory. His face – which mine echoes – and his eyes – mine resemble – gone. The good, the bad, the ugly. The beautiful.

So – we’re driving down the two-lane from Lages to Ely. All of us on the bench seat of the old pea-soup green GMC. Dad, Mom, Me, Deni. Dad lights a cigarette and passes it to Mom. Dad lights another cigarette and passes it to Mom, who passes it to me (the non-smoker). I pass it to Deni. Dad lights a third cigarette, which he takes a long drag on.

Deni, “Um, Dad, you just lit three cigarettes,” She’s staring at the one in her hand with lust.

Dad: “I thought you were a smoker. That’s for you.”

Mom and I collapsed in laughter. Deni rolled her eyes and smoked her cigarette. “Thanks.”

He died on May 5, 2011. I miss him so. But not in a painful way. I miss him like I miss my mother and sister. They’re gone. Will-o-wisps. Voices that whisper from the grave once in awhile. A faint touch on the shoulder. A nod in the wind.

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Jarbidge. Mahoney Ranger Station. 1957-1959.

Mahoney. Ma-HOE-nee. Irish. “Descendant of the Bear”

Jarbidge. Shoshone, probably. Tsahabits? Giant in the cave. Site of the last know Stage Coach Robbery.

The best mud pies can be made in a gravel drive as long as the fire crews aren’t expected any time soon. If there are fire crews, you can’t play in the driveway.

I liked to pick the rocks out and mix the white dust with the old rain water until I reached a moldable texture. It was all in the feel of the mud, cool and brown between my fingers. I picked wild yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace and pulled the tiny florets off to mix into the “dough”. I didn’t know the flower’s names then, those came with age.The idea was to make the pies pretty, but the mud enveloped the florets and turned them an icky brown.

I wiped my hands on my top and looked around. If there was an adult watching, I was blissfully unaware. In retrospect – not in memory – my mother was probably by the picket fence, holding my infant sister, and watching. My brother was probably getting into trouble.

There was an empty pasture to the west of the parking lot. The barn to the north, with the corrals. Eastward, where the ridge came down and the aspens mixed with pines, there was a pair of pastures between parking lot and tree line. In the southern pasture, a lone horse was held. The palomino.

There was something wrong with the palomino, but I didn’t understand what. He was wild? Crazy? Hurt? Today, he was antsy, pacing his pasture and nickering. When I turned to watch him, he suddenly reared up onto his hind legs and pawed at the sky, whinnying loudly. Sunlight glinted off of his cream mane and tail. He reared a second time and then bucked a little in the grassy pasture.

I was delighted. He’d done this just for me. I clapped my hands and bobbed on my legs, “Pretty!” I had my very own Trigger, in my very own back yard, even if I was supposed to stay away from him!

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I looked around at the fetlocks and hooves. The smell of horse was overwhelming. Dust swirled around me. I was so happy.

Then I looked up.

Maybe it was the voice that prompted me to look up. There was a face in the little window of the barn loft, a face pale and ashen. It was shouting my name. I didn’t know who the face belonged to, but he sounded upset. I froze. Was I in trouble?

“The baby! The baby is in with the horses!”

Somehow, I knew I was in trouble.

Then I was not in with the horses and the memory disappears.

My father confirmed that yes, I did walk into the corral while they were feeding horses once. Yes, his heart stopped. Yes, he thought I would get kicked. It never occured to me or to the half-wild remuda that circled around me, fighting for hay.

I have a crooked middle finger on my left hand. I asked my mother about it once and she blinked. “I think it was the cow,” she said, quietly. We were both nursing a glass of wine. I was 17 and she was my best friend.

“The cow?”

She nodded. “I sat you down. We were watching them rope or something. I forget. We were so far away that I didn’t think about it, then the cow bolted. It came straight for you and I couldn’t get to you in time. It stepped on you. I think. I think it broke your finger.”

I don’t remember the cow. She swore I was no more than 6 months old. She didn’t know if my finger broke or not. Who took kids to the hospital from remote Jarbidge, Nevada?

Sometimes I wonder if the horse memory isn’t mixed up with the cow charging. But I could stand when I toddled through the horse corral and the fire crew freaked out. And I only remember the smell of horses, that wonderful hay-y smell of horses. Hooves, shoes, fetlocks, and dust.

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I don’t intend to write this out chronologically. It’s too hard to put dates on memories. I remember living in Jarbidge, Paradise Valley, and Winnemucca in my early years. We lived in the house on Lay Street in Winnemucca from early 1961 until I was around 8 years old. I don’t remember how old I was when the following memory took place, and it could be a collection of memories of television news broadcasts.

The Bloody Bones incident happened during the same time period, in the same ranch-style house with the picture window and roses in the yard.

The view from under the couch was fascinating. I lay on my back and tried not to sneeze. The springs in the couch sagged slightly under my dad’s weight and he snored. Loudly. The television was on, but I don’t know if there was sound or not. The images were of flooding throughout the midwest, the worst in decades. The entire M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I River was washing away all of the states from Wisconsin to the delta, although I didn’t know there were states.

I could spell M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. I watched in morbid fascination as houses were lifted from their foundations and floated down the muddy waters. There was no end in sight to the torrential rains.

I wondered if the Humboldt River would swell over its banks and drown us all. Would it come up suddenly? Or maybe it rose slowly, and you had time to crawl out onto the roof of the house to signal for help? Would Dad make sure we got our dog, Butchey, up there, too? What about all the horses? Could horses swim?

My dad was really tall and strong. He would save me. But what about my mom and Terry and Denny? They weren’t home with us. Would the wide waters catch them in the robin’s egg blue Buick called Nelliebelle, and would they be swept downstream like a boat? Would Dad and I be the only ones left?

How far away was the M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I River?

The front door opened. Voices floated in with the rattle of brown paper grocery bags. My little sister’s small feet flapped into view, with my big brother’s feet. My mother called out cheerily to Dad on the sofa, “Sorry we woke you up!”

I could hear Denny running down the hallway toward our bedroom. I was supposed to be in the bedroom. Maybe I was supposed to be taking a nap? Or I was sick? Dad’s feet swung into view as he rose from the sofa and blocked my view of the TV. Denny came rushing back, breathless.

“I can’t find Jackie!” she wailed.

(I suppose) Mom’s voice turned concerned, maybe worried. Maybe she was slightly accusatory. “Where is Jackie?” she asked my dad. He was supposed to be watching me. Terry brought in another bag and declared I wasn’t outside.

Maybe they thought I got swept up in the big flood!

“Here I am!” I shouted gleefully as I rolled out from under the couch, sneezing dustbunnies from my nose.

“What?” “Why?” “How long?”

I just shrugged. “I wanted to hide under the sofa,” I explained. “It felt safe.” Somehow, it felt lame to tell them about the floods and the houses floating and…

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My sister and I could tickle Dad so hard that he would swallow his cigarette. It didn’t happen very often that he was even playful enough to let us do it, but, sometimes… Just sometimes… He wasn’t always the guy who shot out a cowboy boot and caught your rear end when you let slip a swear word you heard him use all the time. Sometimes, he was really funny.

He’d get down on the floor with us and start tickling us, and then he’d let us tickle him. He always had a cigarette dangling out of his mouth and he’d warn, “Don’t make me swallow it.”

You never knew if he was being serious and he’d get mad if you accidentally made him drop the cigarette on the carpet, or if he was going to do the magic trick where he swallowed the cigarette. We had to gamble it was the latter.

When it was the latter, suddenly, the cigarette would be gone. “Oh, you made me swallow it!” he would moan.

We’d sit back and giggle, waiting for it.

Then he would push it back out between his lips, still lit, and laugh. “That’s enough for now, girls.”

We loved those moments.

 

 

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I have been thinking about updating and changing my blog for some time. Today, it came to me: it is time to write my history down. Now, before I get started, I have a disclaimer: my memories aren’t necessarily accurate. Sometimes, they are more of impressions of things, or clips of dreams, and sometimes they are short clips of things that really happened – but with embellishments for the reader. A for instance would be: smells. I don’t necessarily remember how things smelled, but I might toss in that “it smelled like fresh leather” because I know that the subject had to have smelled like…

Once in awhile, I will consult my only living family member on the facts. Other times, he will probably comment in the comments. We won’t always agree on the sequence of events or any of the details of an event. This is normal because people process information and events differently.

My life isn’t really that interesting, so I will probably include a lot of dragons and flying horses and things. That’s just in case someone decides to make a movie out of this: I’d want Steven Spielberg to be the director, not Stanley Kubric, and definitely not Woody Allen. There will be at least one Dementor.

I’m not going to sugar coat the story. If I wet the bed until I was 12 years old, I will tell you that. If I peed my panties in 5th Grade, well, that’s a true story, too. It isn’t all about the rainbows and unicorns, but sometimes it’s about the scorpions and rattlesnakes, too. I’m pretty sure Shelob makes a few appearances, and maybe Miracle Max. There’s vampires, hidden doorways, poltergeists, and religious conversions.

I started writing today, on a yellow lined notepad. Here’s my first vignette:

Bloody Bones waited in the dark hallway, rattling his chains. My stomach roiled and nausea washed over me. Bloody Bones wasn’t real…was he? Hot waves flushed over me and I regretted the hot dogs, cotton candy, and soda pop that I’d consumed at the circus in Reno yesterday. I’d been on top of the world.

I moaned. My helium balloon had exploded in the heat. The train that took us to and from Reno swayed like a boat on choppy seas. I couldn’t sleep like the other kids. Nausea escalated to vomiting and my mother pulled the car over to the side of the road so I could puke out the door. It was dark outside.

I cried. Someone on the train told ghost stories and my brother jabbed me in the ribs to scare me. Everyone laughed.

My dad would be so angry.

I wet the bed because I knew Bloody Bones was waiting in the hallway, and now I threw up. I had to get my mom to help me. My dad was no longer as frightening as the spectre in the hallway. I made it to the bedroom door, but I couldn’t go any further. Bloody Bones was there. I could feel him. He was by the kitchen and I could hear him sliding down the hallway to get me.

I whimpered for my mom to wake up and save me…

*All kid trip to Reno for the 3-ring circus. Little kids, like my sister, couldn’t go, but I was a big kid. Probably 1st or 2nd Grade.

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I have not been out with my camera. Today it rained. When it quit raining, I was involved in a project of scanning old photos to restore and preserve them. It took me a couple hours to scan all the tiny black-and-white photos I inherited from my mother’s things (and it is going to be a great project when I have finished touching them all up: I am amazed at how beautifully they scanned!

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This photo is so tiny in its physical form – 2×3″ (including the white border where my grandmother penned in her daughter’s name). Mary Lou Melrose, aged 14, posing on a fence in Rock Falls, Wisconsin. I assume she is in Rock Falls – that is where she grew up.

Mary Lou was my mother.

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The sisters: Donna (1930),  Mary Lou (1932), Phyllis (1928). They were probably ready for church.

I was having such a great time copying down everything written on the back of the photos as well.

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Phyllis, Emma and Mary Lou. Emma (Robinson) is my Grandmother Melrose. On the back of this photo my mother penned, “Isn’t Mom’s Lily pretty? (I’m not really that fat but my mouth is that big.)”

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In my Grandmother’s hand: “Our 25th anniversary. March 27, 1952” (My mom is between her parents, Donna is in front of John Melrose & Phyllis is in front of Emma).

Trivia: on March 28, 1952, my mother turned 20. So she is 19 in the photo.

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July 18, 1953. Left to right: Emma & John Melrose, “Fritz” & Thelma Wilcox.

In front: Mary Lou & John T. “Jack” Wilcox, being the occasion of their wedding.

I only have three photos of my parents’ wedding. But this one is my favorite of them:

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I love the way she is looking at him.

The cookbook on the far right of the photo (a wedding gift) is one that I still have: Betty Crocker). I “borrowed” the dress for my wedding (but not the gloves & hat). I still have the dress, but it is faded. And my dad is smoking a cigarette.

That is an interesting point because in later years, he often quit smoking for long periods of time, eventually giving up the habit for good in 1995. 1995 is the year my mom died of emphysema. She quit smoking the last two weeks of her life simply because she was hospitalized and on oxygen.

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This is how I remember my mom. (Christmas 1952)

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I just want you to know that I come by it very naturally. (Christmas 1952)

Can I bore you with one more?

Too bad, I am going to, anyway.

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Can you pick out my mom? She’s the little girl right in the middle, laughing uproariously. She looks uncannily like Chrystal at age 12 (or Chrystal looked very much like her at the same age).

And, yes, this photo is labeled, too: 5th & 6th Grades. Gordy Hintermeyer, Larnaine Stone, Elaine Koenig, Ruth Ritland, Mary Lou Melrose, Darlene Norrish, Elmer Simenson, Jimmy Koenig, Leon Wehrenberg. 1944.

Rock Falls, Wisconsin. Darlene showed up at our last family reunion (last year, in Durand, WI).

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