Spooky Heirloom

Best story from the last family gathering.  Some background: many of my cousins and most of the younger generation just roll their eyes at the mention of genealogy.  But at our last reunion in Illinois we had the rare chance to see a friendship album from a distant branch of the family.  This contained poems, obituaries, and locks of hair.  It was started in 1860.  I wrote about it here for my genealogy blog.

About ten of us went to LaMoille, Illinois to see the album.  My niece went with us, but chose to stay outside.  She thought a book of hair was too creepy.  I persuaded her of its historical significance and she reluctantly joined us in the dining room.  We stood around the table as Wanda explained the history of friendship albums.

I then began to explain our personal connection.  “Our great-grandfather, James Duncan, had a brother, T. C., who married Emma….”  The lights in the house dimmed, went out, and slowly came back up.  We were silent.  The home owners were startled.  And my niece as gone.  We didn’t see her until we went outside.

I took it as a benevolent tip of the hat from Uncle T. C.

News From Home

Traveling in East Africa in 1970s and 1980s was different than it would be now – not much communication was possible.  Occasionally I would see a news story from home in a local paper, but US news was hardly a priority.  I might hear of an earthquake in California, but that’s as specific as it would get – no city, no size noted.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this article in The Standard (Kenya) that mentions my little hometown, Lakeside, California.  Now it wasn’t very accurate – I doubt if San Diego looked like a ghost town.  And El Cajon is not on the river.  And I know that the dam did not burst.  But it sure got my attention at the time.

Some Fiction

Some fiction, but not enough.  This was a piece I wrote almost 20 years ago when I was caring for my parents.  Loosely based on our experience.


“Where did he go now?” I asked my niece, Sheila.

“I think he’s out on the porch,” she replied, not looking up from folding laundry.

“Will he be okay, can he get down that step?”

“Yeah, he takes it very carefully.”

“I hope he doesn’t go out in the street.”

“No, he usually plays in the driveway.”

“Huh?” Did she say my father was playing in the driveway?

“Who are you talking about?”

“Jack.” Her 18-month-old son.

“I meant your grandfather.” My 83-year-old father.

A quick glance at each other and we began to laugh, as we headed to the porch to check on our two charges. Jack played with his red dump truck in the driveway while Dad sat on the porch taking in as much as his failing eyes and ears could.

This was Dad’s last trip to Minneapolis. It was August in the Midwest, and just as in his childhood: hot, humid with mosquitoes and thunderstorms. In our four days there we caught up on each other’s lives. Dad held his only great-grandchild. His granddaughter Sheila saw how Dad coped with his infirmities. And I watched Sheila as a mother, a new role for her.

After that first exchange, we tried to be specific so we would know who we were talking about, but often we forgot. “Has he had a nap? You know he’s cranky without one.” Jack or Dad? “He sure makes a mess when he eats.” We would look at each other and often get the giggles. Maybe this was cruel, but Dad couldn’t see or hear us and Jack never thought we were laughing at him. We were laughing at our situations. Mine, the incongruity of the black-sheep, youngest child of the family now in the position of caretaker for my elderly parents. Sheila’s, the shift of a successful 32-year-old CPA now caring for an intelligent toddler. Her rational world of finances had disappeared in the hormonal irrationality of pregnancy and motherhood. Survival here demanded a sense of humor.

A year later Sheila and I still marvel at the similarities in our lives. At one point last week I was sinking in the sadness of sewing name tags onto Dad’s clothing so he could go to a nursing home. I called Sheila for support. She had just put names in Jack’s clothes so he could go to nursery school. Nursing home, nursery school. Closer than I had imagined.

Dad is not going to get better. There is no cure for his macular degeneration, hearing loss, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. The disabilities have taken over his life. Jack, however, gets better all the time. Nearly three now, he has passed Dad in abilities, moving, speaking, thinking and growing. Those days of us mixing up Dad and Jack are gone.

Sign of the Geese

Someone dumped three geese at the slough.  They must have thought it was a good place.  There had been rains and the creek was flowing – a small stream of fresh water in a brackish mudflat.  Would there be enough fresh water and how could they get food?  One disappeared quickly.  The other two stayed within a hundred yards or so of the road.

People left food for them almost every day.  A couple of farm workers left reject vegetables.  A family with two small girls left bread.  Several times folks put grain out for them  For two months they were a familiar sight.  But the rains stopped.  The fresh water was now a trickle.  And one day they were gone.  I missed them and worried about their fate.

A few days later a small, handwritten sign was stapled to a stake.  “The geese are OK.  They have moved to a house with a pond.”

Abandoned animals point out the best and the worst in people.  Worst in the ones who dump and best in those who rescue.  Thank you for rescuing the geese and thanks for the sign.

[Written years ago after an incident at Elkhorn Slough near Watsonville, California.]


Fifth grade was a big year for me – I could see! Not that I realized before that I couldn’t see.

I used to sit about two feet from the television. Mom and Dad would tell me to move back. I did, but slowly moved up close again. They’d tell me to move back again and I’d leave the room. I didn’t understand what was so great about TV at a distance.

The school nurse told my mother that I should have my eyes tested. So we headed off to Dr. Root in San Diego – quite a trip in those days from our rural town. I liked the eye tests (still do). We had to wait a couple of weeks for the glasses to be made. Then on the big day, we drove back to the city.

I was astounded – I could see windows in buildings and leaves on the trees and people’s faces. I exclaimed over everything. It made mom feel so guilty for not knowing that I had such poor eyesight. No one else in the family wore glasses. Even now I’m amazed when I see babies in glasses. In those days it was unusual for someone in elementary school to wear them.

On the first day I took the glasses to school and hid them in my desk. When the teacher wrote something on the board, I slipped them on. It was magic! After that I never tried to hide them. I did think I looked awkward in them, but at that age I would have felt awkward anyway.

Zuni Woodcarver

A year ago I camped at the El Morro RV park.  Wandering around the grounds, I came across a woodcarver.  Serendipity.  This was Loy Lewis, a carver from a long line of Zuni woodworkers.

He was working on elaborate pieces, mostly of ravens (crows?).  I bought a small piece; my camp neighbors bought one of the bigger ones.  Mine lives on my RV dash.

Kindergarten Class of ’51

I was in Mrs. Lyons’ kindergarten class at Lindo Park School in Lakeside, California.  There were two kindergarten classrooms, separate from the other elementary class, with our own fenced playground.

Class of 1951

We painted at big easels, wearing our fathers’ shirts backwards for aprons.

We had graham crackers and milk for our snack and naps on bath towels brought from home.

Notes between Mom and Mrs. Lyons were pinned to my blouse or sweater.  And milk money was wrapped in one of Mom’s handkerchiefs and pinned to my clothing.

Once Mom brought one of our lambs for the class to see and pet.  Wish I had a video of her putting it in the truck to drive the three miles to us.  My city-bred mother toughened up fast.

Graduation from kindergarten was a big deal.  We had caps made from black construction paper – a ring of paper topped with a square, plus a tassel.

And here is my report card.  It says I am promoted to pre-first grade.  I have no idea what that means!

Midnight Owls

There are no photos of the subjects of this post – just the story of a delightful encounter.

Midnight.  I’m asleep in my RV near Elephant Butte Lake when I hear owls.  Not the soft hoo-hoo-hoo that I’ve heard elsewhere, but a raucous hoohoo-hoo-hoo.  And a response that overlapped it.  Quite the cacophony.

Looking out the window I could just see the silhouettes of two very big owls on the shelter roof – maybe 12 or 14 feet from where I sleep over the cab.  They stayed about 15 minutes, very noisy, and awkwardly balanced on the metal roof.

I had to look up the call to be sure of their identity – Great Horned owls.  It’s closest to the territorial hooting at this link.  This was definitely the highlight of my trip.

I was in the part of the RV over the cab. They were on the top of the shelter.

Bisti and Beyond – Part 2

(Part One is here)

A very pleasant drive from El Morro to Grants, Milan, and Prewitt to Bluewater State Park. Again I took only the I-40 frontage road – Old Route 66. The park is just seven miles south of the highway.

I found a shaded, fairly flat site with electricity ($4/night with a park pass). The campsites are well spaced, but many are not very level. There are tables and fire rings, vault toilets, but no water. I heard that the system has been broken for several weeks. And the dump station is under construction. I’ll stay at least two nights. The park is long and narrow – the lake on one side, the dam on the end, and the canyon below the dam on the other side.

We walked around the campground and then called it a night. Tuesday was my first day alone for a while. I needed more like this. No involvement in anyone else’s drama. Just a few campfire stories to entertain.

In the morning, Cassie and I walked the Dam View Trail, past Piñon Campground. Piñon is closed for the season, but has beautiful hillside sites facing the lake. The trail was easy, not much elevation change.

On this trip I haven’t made a ‘nest’ for myself outside. On other trips I’ve set up my recliner and been happily ensconced with book, camera, drink, and journal. Part of it is that the newly remodeled ‘lounge’ is so comfortable. The table isn’t perfect, but I don’t have any ideas how to change it yet.

I’ve been amazed at the number of folks who come in after dark to set up. I don’t know if I could choose a site in the dark. This time I noticed those who came late often left early. I think they are travelers more than campers. They are headed somewhere and this is just a stop for the night.

I brought filtered water from home for drinking, especially for making tea. It lasted about six days. I switched to a Brita filter pitcher with the potable water in the fresh water tank. This is tap water from home that is okay, but doesn’t taste very good. Have to say the Brita filter didn’t improve the taste.

I can do without cell service and most wifi, but sure would have liked weather reports. Decided I’d head to Bisti/De-Na/Zin Wilderness area Wednesday and take my chances before the weather changed too much. Other than that one cold night, it was okay. And the days were just glorious. October is a beautiful month in New Mexico.

Early the next morning I started getting ready. One thing to do before we leave is to give Cassie at least a short walk. About 30 feet from the RV we came across two piles of horse manure. i had been told that there were wild horses here, but I had forgotten. Didn’t see them – just their calling cards. And Cassie did not alert me to anything in the night – a moonless night.

We started for Bisti – along Old 66 to the west and then north on Highway 371 out of Thoreau. Good roads all the way. I refueled at Thoreau because I didn’t know what to expect, but there were several gas stations on the way north. Bisti was about a 90 mile drive – then three miles on a good gravel road to the trailhead. Just a parking lot for a camp area, no facilities – this is a wilderness area. There were several other cars and one RV – New Mexico, Illinois, Colorado, Texas, and South Dakota. Good variety.

We hiked out towards two orange peaks – really orange. It was less than a mile out, but in the heat of the day, it was plenty for me.

I decided to stay the night, but I wasn’t sure I’d do more hiking. It is bleak in a wonderful way, but the good formations are about two miles out and the best are four miles. That’s more than I could do by myself. It would be better to camp out there for a few days. The only way I can see doing that is to hire someone to take the essentials out for me – water and food for two or three days, a tent, sleeping bad, and stove. That’s way too much for me. It remains a dream.

Staying the night was so easy with the RV – a bit of leveling and I was set. So much easier than tent camping. And I could have driven away if I wanted to.

Lots of folks came and went during the day – maybe 20 or so. That surprised me. A couple of guys came in late afternoon. They had huge backpacks – planning to be out there for a couple of days. They even had a beautiful red umbrella. There is no shade here.

It was a quiet evening. Someone came in a couple of hours before sunrise. He got his gear together and headed out. The first stop is the book where you sign in. Then there’s a stile off to the south to get through the barbed wire fence. But he didn’t go that way, he went straight to the fence, couldn’t get through and headed north – all this in the dark. He went out of sight and then about dawn showed up across the road and headed back to the trailhead. This time he found the way through the fence. He headed out for the wilderness. Now I was a bit quick to judge him as clueless, mostly because I like to do a lot of research, especially with Google Earth, to know where the trail is. Then I decided that maybe this is his way to get comfortable in a new area. I hoped so. This landscape eats clueless.

Sunrise at Bisti

I decided I would go back to Bluewater SP. Couldn’t find anything else in this area that was appealing and not too far north (read: cold). Pleasant drive back. I found a campsite on the edge of the canyon. And horses everywhere! About a dozen, mostly sorrels.

We took a short walk to see where the horses were going. Short because the clouds came in with lots of thunder and Cassie was not happy. We headed inside.

Got settled just in time for a few scattered showers. I loved being in the lounge, reading, with rain outside. It was cozy – like being in tree fort when I was a kid.

Cassie was not as comfortable on this stormy evening, so I decided to see what it would be like to sleep ‘downstairs.’ I usually sleep over the cab where the dog cannot go. But the lounge still converts to a bed so I tried that with just my sleeping bag. Very comfortable and Cassie was happy to cuddle.

We stayed two nights, hiked a little, read a lot (finished ‘Salt’ – very good history of my favorite seasoning). I like this park and will definitely come back to spend more time. I’d like to hike in the canyon – didn’t this trip because I just didn’t feel very energetic. On the way out, I saw that the new dump station was open, but I didn’t stop. I was headed home.

Came home after ten days and 768 miles. My longest trip so far and I loved the meandering aspect. I can do longer trips, but would like to work out the wifi issues a little. I like this RV travel!