Just like Momma Used to Make

My mom was a seamstress and a pattern cutter. She was able to look at a dress in the store and go home and make me one just like it only better. Until I was about 11 or 12 she made almost all my clothes. At the time I wasn’t crazy about wearing home-made clothes – I longed for Levis and t-shirts, mom was giving me ruffles and lace.

Me and Max in our home made duds.

I think I was like a baby doll for my mom. She dressed me and curled my hair and generally fussed me up. By the time I started school I was mussing up those perfect outfits with shorts I wore underneath those skirts so I could hang upside down on the monkey bars. As I developed my own style I made myself less prissy by combining those crinolines with tennies or cowboy boots.

When I got my first Barbie she finally gave up trying to cover the tomboy in me and started decking out my fashion dolls instead. She once made my Barbie an amazing dress – it was pink satin and had an asymmetrical bodice that was off one shoulder. If Barbie did the splits you could lay out the skirt on the floor in a full circle – it was elegant in it’s simplicity, red carpet worthy, plus – it was reversible! My mother was a genius.

Barbie - sans that amazing dress

Barbie – sans that amazing dress

That Barbie dress was a masterpiece, but Mom had more up her sleeve. She could tailor menswear and she cut suit patterns. She took aim at making something very special for my brother’s GI Joe. When we all saw it we recoiled in horror. There were patch pockets on the chest and at the bottoms of the front of a jacket with incredibly long lapels. Below were slacks with a wide waistband and bell bottoms hemmed to expose just the soles of Joe’s combat boots. It was a sea of periwinkle polyester. Yes, it was a leisure suit.

This artist’s recreation of the heinousness that was that leisure suit

At the time I thought it was an abomination to upholster the most manly doll on the planet in baby blue polyester. Today I think I may want to reconsider my position.

Think about GI Joe. Was there ever a more carefully groomed man? His hair was cut so perfectly, it was almost like it was painted on. If he grew a beard each whisker was perfectly trimmed to a uniform length. His skin, silky smooth save for that scar worn like a mysterious badge of courage.

Every whisker groomed to perfection - check out that manicure!

Every whisker groomed to perfection – check out that manicure!

Look at his physique – definitely in shape, but lean and strong. Clearly he was working out regularly, probably free weights and either yoga or pilates to maintain flexibility. He’s cut but not bulky, definitely steroid free. Manicured and pedicured in the most manly fashion. Chest hair and gold chains? Not on Joe, he was waxing away that chest and back hair decades before manscaping was invented. GI Joe was built a lot like James Bond – I’m thinking the Daniel Craig era Bond.

1970's Manscaping

1970’s era Manscaping

He would have been comfortable in fashion and fit enough to save the world with the action team.

Now that I think about it, I believe that GI Joe may have been the world’s first metrosexual.

Lorri Anna Banana

I got my middle name, my love of antiques, and my smile from my Grandma. She was Minnie Anna Carter. As a little girl she started calling me Lorri Anna Banana. Soon Mom and Pops could be heard calling “Lorri Anna Banana” when it was time for me to come inside and eat dinner. It was my second nickname and to date it is my favorite.

Banana – as in Lorri Anna Banana

When I started kindergarten my mom had a toddler and an infant in tow. She had not had the time to sit me down and fill me in on the basic facts every kid should know. I didn’t know my colors, or my phone number, or how to tie my shoes. I had never played with crayons or even picked up a pencil.

On my first day of school Grandma came to the house to watch the boys while Mom walked me down the street to the elementary school. Mom showed me where the crossing guard was and how to find my class. She told me to pay close attention because the next day I would need to make my own way to school. This was a big responsibility, at this time I wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but the next morning I would make the three block walk on my own.

Mom took me to my classroom and my teacher Mrs. Anderson greeted us at the door. She directed me to a table with crayons and paper. Mom said goodbye and walked back home. I sat there staring at the crayons until a red-haired girl named Connie sat down next to me. I watched her as she gripped the crayon and drug the tip across the paper – I was astounded! I was also embarrassed that I had no idea how to do what she was doing. As I saw the other kids all drawing with ease I was almost afraid to try. I picked up a crayon and tried to mimic the grip I saw the other kids using, but I dared not touch it to the paper.

Crayons – exciting and new!

So right off the bat, I was traumatized by my inexperience with crayons. As the classroom filled with children and parents departed we settled in to start our first day. Mrs. Anderson told us a little bit about herself and we learned about the flag and we repeated the Pledge of Allegiance. Next she got out her grade book and took roll. I listened for my name to be called, ready to respond, “Here!” but Mrs. Anderson didn’t seem to have my name in her book. She asked if anyone has not heard their name, I was the only one. I felt like I was starting to stand out in all the wrong ways. She asked me what my name was and I told her, “Lorri Anna Banana”. Mrs. Anderson asked if I was sure and I said, “Of course, my grandma told me that was my name.” I was starting to get irritated by now, why didn’t this woman have things figured our, clearly I was in the wrong class – anyone could see that. She asked, “Are you sure your name isn’t Lorri Carter?” I replied, “Don’t you think if I had a name like that, that someone would have told me?”

Here I am at 4 years old, blissfully unaware of the existence of crayons and my last name.

Clearly this woman was confused, I was in the wrong class. I walked out the door and back down the three blocks to my house. Mom was stunned, “What are you doing home?” I told her I was in the wrong class and went to find a pencil and paper to see if I could figure out this drawing thing.

The next morning Mom walked me to school again. We stopped by the office and double checked on what classroom I belonged in. We were directed to the same class. Mrs. Anderson was waiting for us in the doorway. “Mrs. Carter – oops, Mrs. Banana, I presume.” I left them in the doorway and tackled those crayons. I was ready to draw, and nothing was going to stop me.

Only a year later and I knew my name, my address, my colors, and how to tie my shoes.

So on my second day of school I made my first work of art and learned that my surname was not Banana.

Over the River…Down the Block to Grandma’s

Granny rides in the Helldorado Parade – circa 1950

Thanksgiving always makes me think of my Nana. I used to spend every weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. When we lived across town she would pull up in her big blue Impala and pick me up after work on Friday.

Weekends were Nana and Papa time!

We would head home and pass by Vegas Vic on Fremont Street on the way home. She would roll down the windows and yell in a deep voice “Howdy Pard’ner!” and Vic would answer back in kind. If we went out to dinner or to the grocery store we passed by Vic. Vic was on the way to the Upholstery Shop. Vic was the center of my universe and I got to see him nearly every time I got into Grandma’s car with her.

Howdy Pard’ner! – Circa 1969

When we moved to the house down the street from her she still drove the Impala the thirty yards to our house to pick me up on Friday after work and we still took a drive past Vic. In my 20s I was driving downtown when it occurred to me that Vic was not on the way to anything. Grandma had a way of making the big things seem little and the little things seem like a big deal. The miles we went out of our way, the time spent dodging tourist traffic – all to humor a child. We were never too rushed, never too far away, never too busy to pass by Vic.

Grandma had a grandparent that believed in her too. Grandpa Pyeatte played outside with her and taught her to carve things.

Grandma loved to play games. Crazy Eights and Sorry were her favorites. When she played, she didn’t just try to win, she tried to stop you from winning. She relished the chance to make you draw more cards or start your man over by knocking him out. “Sorrrrrry!” She would sing as she sent your man back to the start. If she had a choice between improving her own position or putting you back to the start – she alway chose the latter. She played the game to play, not to win. It’s one of the things I loved about her, her style might cost her the game, but she always played all out. My brothers and I played for hours at her table and never felt either bullied or cajoled. She challenged us. She made us players.

She took me out on that darned slide near home a dozen times a game.

The encyclopedias were kept at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. If homework required me to look something up, I would do my homework in her kitchen on her chrome and formica table. When I was in the first grade we had to draw a map of the United States, so I went to her house and got the atlas out and laid it on the table. Grandma gave me some typing paper and a pencil. I think she assumed that I would just trace the map onto the thin paper.

Me at about 6 at Grandma’s

I called her into the kitchen to ask for more paper – I needed five more sheets and some tape. She looked down at my paper and saw that I was free-handing the Pacific Northwest and was running out of paper at about San Francisco. She asked, “Did you do that all by yourself?” I looked around to see who else she thought I could have done it with and shot her a puzzled look. She said, “Draw some more, I wanna watch.”

She helped me tape the six pieces of paper into one huge sheet and I went back to drawing the coastline and the borders. Next I divided up the states. She watched like she was seeing something amazing. For the next month every time one of her friends would stop by she would call me into the kitchen, pull out some paper and tell me to, “Draw America Honey!” I would draw away and her friends would assure her I was the most talented little girl anyone had ever seen. From that time on she never let me forget that I was born to be an artist.

If I made her something out of marbles and pipe cleaners it was set out on a place of honor in the living room. If I made her something out of construction paper in school it was pinned to the lampshade on the table in the entryway. Forget the fridge, she framed my drawings and hung them on the living room walls. She was my biggest fan – she believed in me.

Grandma in the middle – she was bossed around by the big kids and had to take care of the little ones.

The thing is that she always had confidence in her own abilities. She never looked at a task and thought it was too difficult. When her mother brought home dozens of people for Sunday dinner after a camp meeting she could figure out how to feed them. When her first marriage failed she picked herself up and headed west confident in the new life that she would find in California. When she was told she wasn’t qualified for a man’s job, she learned how to do it as well as any of the guys. When she and Grandpa were stranded in the wilds of northern Nevada with a truck that wouldn’t start she didn’t panic, she started walking the 17 miles to the nearest phone. Her unshakeable belief was a powerful force in my life.

Grandma could drive a bulldozer – she believed she could do anything

In my early teens she was in failing health, but I still looked to her. I told her that I mentioned to my Pop that I wanted to go to study art at the University after high school. He told me, “What’s the point? Girls don’t need to go to college.” While he was telling me to take typing so I could get a job until I could find a husband, Grandma was buying my first camera, pushing art supplies on me, filling my head with the dream that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

My Grandma was the first woman to have a journeyman butcher’s card in Nevada. It would be 20 years before another woman even tried.

She wasn’t well enough to attend either of my graduations, but she relived them vicariously as I regaled her with the stories of those days. It broke my heart to leave her and Grandpa when I made the decisions to break away from Vegas and make a life of my own. She urged me to go with tears in her eyes. She knew about that freedom that comes from a clean slate – a fresh start. As much as she wanted me close, she preferred me to be free. By my late 20’s she was in full-time care and before I was 35 she had forgotten I had ever existed. I still enjoyed my talks with her for a year or so after that, I spent time with her whenever I came back to town. I would take a curling iron, hairspray, and nail polish and fix her up while I was there. I’m sure she thought I was her beautician. She would tell me stories of studying to be a hairdresser during the depression. Funny how she had never shared that with me while she still knew me.

I remember thinking that she had been there for me when I was in diapers and had no understanding of who she was, the least I could do was to spend time with her when I was in town when she was basically in the same condition.

Me and my amazing Nana

My Nana lost her long fight the week of Thanksgiving in 1998. Her shadow looms large over me even today. I literally wear her shoes on some days – they make me think of the place she had in my life. She made my childhood magical, she loved me fiercely, she made me strong. I’m so very thankful for my her.

Bowling with Beula

Since Pops was an only child and we were raised near his family the only aunts and uncles I saw regularly were Grandma and Grandpa’s siblings. My life was filled with great aunts and uncles whose kids were grown, it was more like having auxiliary grandparents. Most of Grandma’s siblings lived in either California or Las Vegas. Grandma had 7 siblings. Her mom had three sets of twins and poor Grandma was a single in the middle of the pack. When she moved to Vegas her oldest sister Muriel, and her younger brother Newt, along with her baby sister Beula eventually joined her.

All the Cox siblings except Muriel worked at Safeway at one time, Minnie is on the far right. Newt is 5th from the left. Beula must have missed picture day.

By the time I came along Newt had moved to Northern California. Muriel was a bit of a recluse. Beula and Grandma were close, even so they seemed to had a ridiculous sibling rivalry. If Grandma and Grandpa bought a new Chevy, Beula and her husband Tommy would buy a Caddy. Grandma and Grandpa were homebodies and were bored with casinos. Beula and Tommy liked to gamble, they spent most evenings at the Showboat Hotel and Casino. They always talked about how they were comped meals. They made it sound like they always came out ahead, but everyone in Vegas who is honest with themselves knows that the house always wins in the long term.

Tommy and Beula’s home away from home.

Beula had a huge personality. She smoked with a long cigarette holder and had a house full of fun and interesting collections. I loved going over there. She would let me play with her lighter collection and I would spend hours sorting through them – there were hundreds stored in dozens of round tins. She talked tough, but you could get her to do just about anything for you if you just called her “Aunty Boo Boo”.

All of us in Beula’s kitchen in 1962 – I’m the baby by the right wall. Beula is front and center holding some other kid.

When I was very small I came down with German Measles while my mom was pregnant. The doctor had told my parents that I needed to be away from Mom until I was no longer contagious and I think she went through some special treatment to prevent her from getting sick. I stayed with Beula during this time. I was confused, sick, and away from my mom. No one explained why I was away. I remember very little except that I felt a longing for my own home and for my mommy.

Aunty Boo Boo and Unca Tommy

As the time for the baby to come got closer the plan was for Grandma and Grandpa to get Mom to the hospital if Pops was at work. Pops would join them as soon as he could. Beula would take care of me for a couple of days. This would be a fun few days – much better than the quarantine visit.

To be honest I was kind of oblivious to things like pregnancy. I hadn’t been told anything about mom being pregnant or even what that meant. Mom lost a baby between Max and I so she may have been unable to talk to me about it. It could also be that Mom was the youngest child of a mom who was sick her whole life. Maybe her mom didn’t have the opportunity to share things with her. Mom kept a lot to herself, plus she was young, only 19 when I was born. She had been pregnant 4 times by the time she was 24.

Captain Oblivious. I somehow did not notice that my mom was pregnant. 

One day Beula picked me up in the mid afternoon and we met Tommy at the Showboat. We went directly to the bowling alley. I had never been bowling, I was only about 3 years old, but I remember Beula and Tommy changing their shoes and her helping me to roll a ball. It was fun. After some eating out, bowling, sleeping, and more of the same over the next few days I went home to discover that there was a tiny baby at our house. I was thrilled. I had a real live baby doll named Max to play with.

Sadly iced tea and Polaroids don’t mix. Even so this is one of my favorite photos of me and my first brother.

Two years later it was both Max and I who Beula picked up. Again, we left the house and went bowling. By now I was about 5 and was really getting the hang of the process. Not the math, of course, but the idea of trying to hit the pins by rolling a ball. After we bowled we ate at the coffee shop, everyone there knew Beula and they brought me an ice-cream sundae after dinner. Then we bowled some more. We spent a few days with Beula and Tommy bowling and eating. Again I returned home to a brand new baby brother, this time his name was Ronnie.

Beula and my Grandma dressed up for Eastern Star. No my Grandma was not a confederate. In the 60’s Nevadans referred to  Las Vegas and the University as “Southern” – our mascot was the “Running Rebels”. 

Like I said, I was pretty oblivious to all the pregnancy stuff. I really have no recollection of my mom being pregnant. So about a year later Beula gave me a call. She asked if I would like to go bowling with her and Tommy. I stopped short and put two and two together. Every single time I went bowling with Beula I came home to a baby brother! That MUST be where baby boys come from. I mean bowling was fun and all, but was it really worth it for an evening of fun? I answered Beula curtly, “No thanks, I’ve got enough trouble already!”

Wanna go bowling? Babies are fun!

I had no idea where baby girls came from.

Blood Brothers

The Carters of Isabelle Avenue – ready to rendezvous!

Over a Labor Day weekend in the mid 1970s we went to the Fort Bridger Rendezvous as a family. Pop’s best friend Steve, aka. “Poore Boy” joined us on this adventure. We didn’t have a lodge (teepee) yet. We had been going to rendezvous and shoots and camping in an old cab over camper. We pulled up to the Fort at about 10:00 at night and were politely directed away from the majestic circle of lodges in the parade grounds. Instead we were sent to the other side of the highway. Through a gate, across a cattle guard, and down a rough road – we were told to pull in and find a place. No assigned spaces, no campfire ring, no fires allowed – just any place you could find to pull in and get out-of-the-way without being too far out-of-the-way.


Our first mountain-man abode looked something like this.

In the morning we learned that we had been directed to the infamous “Alcoa Village” – a place between the centuries where those not committed enough to the 1830’s could lay their down heads inside their Mini Winnies or Six-Packs. To get the action we had to climb a step-ladder up and over a barbed wire fence and cross the highway, then it was only about a hundred yards to the lodge circle.


We were aspirational mountain men – we wanted to move out of “Alcoa Village”

The only lights at night were those at the fort. There were no lights to guide you back to Alcoa Village, nothing to light the path the port-a-podies, nothing to mark the location of the step-over along that barbed wire fence except the light of the moon in the Wyoming sky. None of these modern-day mountain men would dream of carrying a period inappropriate flashlight to make the trek – a real frontiersman would be able to backtrack their own moccasin prints in the dark to find his way back to the camper, right?

This is Pop’s pal Meathead (Rick). He is not in this story but this is the only shot I have of Fort Bridger. Rick had such a reverence for history.

After supper we all headed over to the lodge circle. It was stunning. The lodges all were lit like lanterns on the parade grounds. Their campfires glowing from inside. About a half hour after dark Mom sent my brothers and I back to the camper. Wwe complained just a bit, but to no avail – back to the camper while there was still some light left. We went back and went to bed. We were all dressed in our earliest versions of leathers and it seemed odd to leave that circle dressed as we were only to climb into a camper to sleep. We all had red woolen long-handled underwear to sleep in – not so practical in combination with a port-a-pody in the dark, but warm and toasty for sleeping inside the unheated camper.

Toasty warm woolen underwear

Mom had made the trip back to the camper and I had finally fallen asleep in my sleeping bag when I heard a loud thump and a growl. I looked out the window and saw my pop had not quite hit the top rung on the step-over and had his foot tangled in the top wire of the fence. He had fallen face first over the fence with an open bottle of wine in one hand, and he had somehow managed to keep the bottle upright – not spilling a single drop. He was nearly incoherent and probably could not have crossed that fence in the daylight in that state – even then he had his priorities – even if you’re upside-down, make sure you keep the booze right-side-up!

Never spill a drop!

Poore Boy was right behind him – Steve was only about 150 pounds, but he managed to get Pop untangled and upright. Pop did his part – smoothly rotating that open bottle while Steve rotated him back into an upright position. The two men moved to the tail gate of the pickup and decided that rules or no rules, even an Alcoa Camp deserved a real campfire. They scrambled around in the dark in between the other campers looking for firewood and rocks to build a ring, waking up half the camp. By now my brothers and I were up and sitting on the tailgate watching the action.

Pop’s and Poore Boy make fire for the paparazzi

They drank, they foraged, they made fire – even if they were condemned to Alcoa Village, there was no disputing they were powerful mountain men, part of a tribe, even brothers – that’s it! They hit upon the idea that they should become blood brothers. Not tomorrow after they sobered up and bathed, right now at the illegal camp fire in Alcoa Village with no disinfectant save that precious open bottle of wine.

Pops and his big knife

Pops was a big guy and he always carried a big knife when he was playing the part of a mountain man. He pulled his bowie-knife from the sheath on his belt and handed it to Poore Boy. He extended his wrist and Steve sliced it open. Steve handed the knife back to Pops and he did the same to Steve’s wrist. Poore Boy said, “Damn it Harold, that’s not gonna be deep enough, it’s hardly bleeding.” Pops took another swipe at it, and at Steve’s urging a he took third pass. Now it was gushing. I remember seeing the white tendons visible through the open wound on Steve’s wrist. Mom was freaking out looking for the first aid kit that we left on the kitchen counter back in Vegas. Steve and Pops were perfectly calm as they pressed their wrists together over the campfire. Once they were officially blood brothers Pops began to panic Steve was bleeding all over his shirt. He was feeling no pain, but pain wasn’t the immediate problem.

Someone in a neighboring camp made a suggestion – Steve’s wound could be effectively wrapped in something we were bound to find available from one of our neighbors – all we needed was some duct tape and…a maxi pad. Pops took charge and went from camper to camper asking if anyone had a maxi pad – Imagine a 250 pound guy in fringed leathers covered with blood pounding on your door at 3:00 am looking for feminine hygiene products – would you open the door? Finally he found a neighbor willing to open the door who had a pad to spare. They poured some whiskey over the open wound and mom wrapped his wrist with the pad and secured it with duct tape.

Everyone should have this and some maxi-pads in their “Blood Brother” emergency kit!

The next morning we tried to get Poore Boy to go into town and get stitches, but he was having none of it. Instead they sent me and Mom, the women folk, into town to get more pads. Steve spent the rest of the rendezvous wearing his “period appropriate” dressing –  and a blood stained shirt.

Boys in the Hood – Eric the Not-so-Great

Directly across the street from us lived a couple who were almost the same age as my grandparents with kids ranging from their mid twenties down to a boy a year or so older than me. Eric was more socially awkward than Paul and he had a more than a little of that Lord of the Flies thing going for him. He would gather up a small group of followers and pick on the youngest or weakest in the group. I was usually not a part of this group – boys only. But I did have to deal with Eric on one occasion.

Ronnie at about 7 years old. Today he’s 6’3″ and fights his own battles

My youngest brother Ronnie (he told me in his 20’s he preferred “Ron” – I have been ignoring his wishes for over 20 years and last Christmas he capitulated and admitted he doesn’t mind the moniker) was the object of Eric’s derisions. Ron was about 7 and was one of the younger boys on the block. I was about 12 so Eric would have been 13 or 14. Ronnie came home with chewing tobacco laced saliva in his hair – Eric had gotten all the boys to try some Skoal and he had directed them to use Ronnie as a spittoon. Pops pulled me aside and told me that I had to take care of this – if he did he would go to jail. He reasoned that since I was under 14 years old, it was legal for me to be the protector for my brothers (I have no idea about his rationale – I was barely five feet tale and about 90 pounds – Eric was well into puberty and much stronger than me) He made it clear that picking on Ronnie was not acceptable and it was my job to protect him.

I started taking care of Ronnie at an early age

I had never been in a real fight. I tussled with my brothers but never had a serious knock-down-drag-out with them. Being the oldest I was not allowed to ever hurt them and paid the price if things got too rough. Frankly I hated physical fighting – it wasn’t my style, but there was a baby brother who had to be defended.

Here I am, about 12 years old – looking a lot like Danny Partridge in a dress

I heard some kids at school use the term “calling out” when talking about fighting – so I decided to “call out” Eric. I stood squarely in the middle of the street and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Eric, I’m calling you out! Get out here right now you big chicken!” I had a way with words even back then. Eric came out his front door and my heart raced. He was so much bigger than me, but this wasn’t about me – this was about Ronnie. He came out and stood toe-to-toe with me. Looking down at me he asked what I thought I was going to do. I told him that I was going to make him pay for picking on Ronnie.

Cheesy Budweiser Tee does not make you the king of the neighborhood

He laughed and I noticed that he had on his Budweiser tee, I knew it was his favorite – he always bragged about it. I reached up and grabbed his collar and pulled down towards the ground as hard as I could. You could hear the seams in his beloved tee give way. His face turned red and he clenched his fists. I was ready to cover my face with my hands when I saw that he was getting ready to kick me. Kicking is not real fighting, only girls kick. I took one step back and brought my hands up to about waist level and waited for his foot to come at me. When it did I grabbed hold of his ankle and lifted it towards the sky as I rushed towards him. His other leg gave way and he dropped on his butt with a thud. He started to back up like a spider with his hands behind him. I reached down and grabbed what was left of his collar and said, “You want some more?” “No!” he said. “Don’t ever even think of spitting on my baby brother again, or there’s more where that came from!” I shouted. I turned on my heel and walked back into my yard towards the front door.

My brothers with their bad-ass big sister

In the kitchen window I saw my mom laughing hysterically. I looked back over my shoulder to see Eric’s mom doing the same in her kitchen window. From that day on I was the toughest kid in the neighborhood. The boys on the block would tell new kids not to mess with Lorri’s brothers because she would mess you up. A reputation built without ever throwing a punch or kicking like a girl.

I don’t recall buying a horse

Tina –  my $50 wonder horse

Around 1970 Pops started hanging out with a lodge buddy named Jim. While they were at lodge meetings on Friday nights the rest of our families hung out together. Soon we started spending weekends together. Jim’s oldest was named Ben. He was about my age and had been taking riding lessons. He had the loan of an experienced gymkhana pony and was competing in 4-H.

One Saturday we all went out to spend the day at the stables where Ben trained. Like any nine-year-old girl I was crazy about horses. I spent the whole day petting ponies and watching Ben practice barrel racing and pole bending on Sunshine, the 15-year-old welsh pony he was training on. As the day turned into evening, the owners of the stables hosted a neighborhood BBQ. Since ribeyes and Bud was on the menu, Pops was happy to stay and mingle with the neighbors. As the evening wore on Pop became louder and louder. Soon he was talking to a woman from the next lane over about a horse. My heart leapt – she was telling him about a small bay mustang, saying how it would be the perfect starter horse for me. I crossed my fingers behind my back as Pop put his arm around me and asked if I would like to have my own horse. Of course I would like it – I practically squealed at the idea of not just borrowing, but owning a horse of my own. The lady offered to show it to us the next day and Pops decided right then and there – he didn’t need to see that horse – he opened his wallet and gave the woman her asking price, fifty dollars cash. I was beyond thrilled.

The next morning we got a phone call. I heard Pops say, “I think you have the wrong number. Why, yes that is my number.” He pulled his wallet from his pocket, inspecting the bills inside. “Funny, I don’t recall buying a horse.” The woman from the night before was calling to remind him that he had promised last night that he would pick up the mare this morning first thing.

Pops called Jim who connected him with Aleda and Fred, the owners of the stable where we had spent the day. They made arrangements to board our new mustang and Aleda agreed to give me riding lessons starting right away. Within 2 weeks I was competing in my first event. Soon I was running a whole slate of events and winning ribbons. The man who forgot he bought a horse hung each and everyone on the wall overlooking his corner in the living room – my personal wall of fame.

Weekly gymkhanas became the norm for us. I spent the next year and a half competing in 4-H. I started running against other 9 year-olds and then moved up to ten and eleven year olds. I was doing pretty well. I brought home ribbons every time out. My horse, Tina, was not very large. If she did not have shoes on she was just short enough to be considered a pony. We were running her against a few ponies but most of our competition were running quarter horses or thoroughbreds. I’m sure all of them cost more than fifty bucks. Within the bounds of 4-H Tina was doing OK. One parent politely told my Pop that I was “under-mounted” to face any real competition.

I, for one, was not buying it. I believed that like anything else, practice makes perfect. If I tried hard enough and put the work into it – we could be bringing home blue ribbons every week. I just needed to practice more. After all, Tina and I were regularly beating Ben and Sunshine (we had a foot in height so it wasn’t exactly a fair contest). Aleda was a pragmatist. She knew I had serious limitations and that it was important that I loved riding more than I loved winning. She decided that it was time for me to enter a “playday” – a wide open gymkhana not regulated by 4-H rules. Instead of competing with about 10 kids in my narrow age bracket, I would compete against over 50 who were under 15 years old. Tina and I ran our hearts out, but we never placed higher than 12th in an event.

I was devastated. I had never had a day where I didn’t break the top five, where I wasn’t in the running for high points. I was disappointed that I had not tried harder, practiced more, executed better. Aleda was all smiles – 12th out of 50 was better than she had hoped for, but I was having none of it. There are no 12th place ribbons. I was going home empty-handed. Aleda sat me down and explained that I was going home with new experiences – riding in front of a larger and noisier crowd, doing my best and not quitting, believing in Tina. She told me that I owed it to Tina to enjoy the experience – Aleda was a wise woman.

Being that this was an open event, my Pop entered some of the adult events. He had watched me for a couple of years and had no worries about learning the patterns. I knew Tina knew that patterns and she could get him through it. We had a bunch of Pop’s buddies there that day and they had been having a good time in the stands. Since this was not a 4-H event, there was no need to hide your beer in a thermos – you could just drink in the open – and drink they did. One of the last events of the day was a complicated pattern called the quadrangle. It was like running a four-leafed clover with very specific turns. Pops had no clue which way to turn on which pole, and in his state I wasn’t having any success telling him before the event.

He got into the starting area and took off. Tina wasn’t used to carrying someone so large, but she ran it full-out anyway. Pops was not the best rider, he didn’t move with the horse. At the first pole when Tina leaned into the curve Pop didn’t and he flew off and landed in the dirt. The crown let out a simultaneous gasp. Tina continued on to the next pole riderless, and as she took the turn the crowd began to cheer. By the third pole they were on their feet, and when she made that final turn towards home the sound was deafening. As she ran through the timer she hunched her back and let loose a flying buck, she had completed the most complicated pattern without any help from a rider! She may have been small and underpowered but at that moment she was the finest horse in all the land. In the coming months and years I would have people come up to me and ask if Tina was the famous “quadrangle” horse.

Quadrangle Pattern – Tina knew it by heart

The “quadrangle incident” was late in the day and between the pep talk from Aleda and the crowds adulation over Tina, I had a new perspective. Pops saw it a bit differently. He knew I wanted to win and that I was used to bringing home some hardware. He had taken a very visible fall and had a bruised ego. We loaded up the horse trailer and he left Tina’s transportation to Aleda and Mom. He would drive me back to the stables. The two of us could commiserate together.

We pulled out of the arena grounds and headed north up Nellis Boulevard. Back in the day Nellis was a lonely road filled mostly with cowboy bars. We stopped in at the first one we saw. Pops lifted me up onto a bar stool and ordered me a Shirley Temple. While I sipped it down he told the bartender how I had tried my best, how I had ridden my heart out and come up short. After about a half an hour we headed out again only to stop at the next bar, and the next bar, and the next – stopping a dozen times on the way home. My sweet silly Pop was helping me to drown my sorrows. It was long after dark when we finally got to the stables. Pops was completely shot. He passed out on Aleda’s couch while she and mom made some supper for us. I snuck outside and hugged Tina’s neck hard. She had given her all and I never loved her more than I did that day when we won nothing.

The couch

Mom in a sea of sculptured velvet

Our house was a spec house – it was built by a builder hoping to sell it and to use it as a model to sell other houses. It had some nice custom features – mahogany cabinets, copper hardware, open modern floor plan. It was built in 1961 and had the clean lines of the tail end of the mid-century modern look. When we moved in it had light grey wool carpets with very fine colored pinstripes that emphasized the openness of the rooms. By the time my baby brother came along I remember mom looking for new carpet that was closer to the color of beer or iced tea.

Mom had been intrigued by the mediterranean style furniture was all the rage in the 60s. We rarely purchased new furniture. My grandparents had an upholstery shop and it was very common for someone to bring a piece into the shop only to find that they didn’t want to spend the money to recover it. My grandfather had the idea of converting one of these pieces to suit mom’s tastes.  He showed her a brutally ugly brown couch and chair and she was rightfully skeptical. The couch was a behemoth – 8 feet long! Grandpa built an ottoman to go with the matching chair. He stripped the set down to it’s frame and reshaped all the cushions. He added dark wood accents and covered it in the most luxurious sculptured velvet he could find. Twenty-five bucks a yard! That stuff was tough as nails – it survived spilt milk and baby poop, vomit and motor oil. Mom shampooed the set once a year whether it needed it or not. Who am I kidding, it always needed it.  It’s massive length allowed for simultaneous nappers on both ends. The couch alone could hold our entire family, all our pets and a few neighbors. We had that fake mediterranean couch and chair in our living room from 1966 until about 1983 – it never frayed or faded. It was probably the most consistent thing in our childhoods at the Carter house. The world might fall apart, the car might not start, Pops might quit his job, Mom might burn a roast – all this can and did happen, but through it all, the couch was there for us. The day we hauled it out the front door and to the curb I shed a tiny tear as we took out a utility knife to cut that sucker open to see how much loose change was trapped inside it.

The next morning it was gone – cut in two by the trash man so that it could fit into the garbage truck. It was replaced by a modern linen number that lasted about 18 months. Our lives were changed forever…

A Typical Saturday on Isabelle Avenue

“Quick! Lorri – I need an earring!” shouted TJ as he burst into the house, I asked a stupid question, “Why?” “Your dad’s gonna pierce my ear!” , he excitedly answered back.

Oddly, this request did not surprise me in the least. On this particular Saturday TJ, one of Pops’ many shooting buddies, had shown up promptly at 10 o’clock to fix a broken car. At our house we didn’t call a mechanic or go to the dealership. If a car wasn’t running Pop called a friend, had Mom pick up a case of Bud and some rib eyes, and sent me or one of my brothers to the neighborhood auto parts store on our bicycle. Next came the hunt for tools – always a phillips screwdriver and a 5/8 inch wrench. If my experience is typical, I think you could repair everything from a toaster to the space shuttle with just those two tools. Unfortunately we could never find them. Pops would start a project and holler out one of our names and we would have the dreaded job of tool duty until the godforsaken project was done or until he just gave up and moved on to something else. There were days that I would empty the tool drawer, dig under his recliner, look through all the tool boxes and the shed, and still I could not find a freaking phillips screwdriver. I was so traumatized by this stress that even day I have a screwdriver in every room in my home, in both the trunk and glove boxes of my vehicle, and one sitting on my desk just in case there is ever an urgent need for one.

Always keep a few of these close by, you can never have too many!

 On this Saturday I had already made the trip to the parts store, found the blessed screwdriver, and had quietly slipped inside the house to escape tool duty. TJ and Pop seemed to be handling things just fine. I was inside cleaning up the joint because a friend of mine, Emily, from Carson City was coming to spend the night before we headed to Anaheim the next morning. All week I had been cleaning and it was a total waste of time because as soon as I had cleared the wood chips out of the front room floor I would find that Pop had spilled molten lead on the carpet – more about his odd workshop habits later, suffice it to say that tidiness was not a priority in our house. As much as my mom would have loved to have a home that looked as sparkling clean as the one on the Mop-n-Glow commercials, we all knew that was never gonna happen. Our home was clean enough to safely eat in, but far too messy to find a stinking screwdriver.

I was kind of enjoying the quiet morning until TJ poked his head through the door with his request. I went outside to find Pops kneeling in the front yard while building a campfire and rattling off as list of needs to TJ who seemed to have tool duty for this task. “I need the turkey tail, the gold collar pin, some whiskey, and a potato. Have Lorri soak that earring in the whiskey!” To be honest, this was not the first time my earrings had been commandeered, but it was the first time it happened in the front yard. My Pop was the man to see if another man wanted his ear pierced. A real man doesn’t go to the mall and ask the girl at Claire’s – a real man asks Harold after he’s had a few beers to do it with a gold collar pin over a camp fire.

I should clarify a bit about the setting. I grew up in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. Our house was 2 blocks off Fremont Street. We were close enough to downtown to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks while sitting on our back fence. A campfire is not what you tend to expect in a neighborhood like this. You see manicured lawns and nice cars in the driveways. Isabelle Avenue was a three-block long stretch of ranch style homes built in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandparents had moved to the block in ’53 so Pop spent his teens there. We moved into a house 2 doors down in 1963.

This is me with my parents in my grandparents front yard. 2 years later we would move into the house in the background with the 2-tone sedan. Our lawn would never look this good again.

I looked through my earrings and found one that I knew I could live without – none of the earrings I lent to Pop’s friends had ever come back so I knew better than to give TJ something I was very fond of. I selected a cute pink piggy stud for him. He didn’t seem to care. He excitedly ran through the house gathering all the supplies that pop had requested. I don’t know if it was the Budweiser or the giddy excitement at the thought of getting his ear pierced, but it occurred to me that he seemed quite childlike in that moment. As he ran outside I peeked over my window seal to watch events unfold in the front yard.

TJ was not worried about being Pretty in Pink

First Pops got the fire really going. He took the turkey tail – yes the disgusting tail of a real turkey – and started ceremoniously parting the smoke and sending it off to each of the four winds. Seriously, is the girl at Claire’s going to even mention the four winds when she pierces your ear? Next he took the whiskey and poured some in his hands. He lifted it skyward and shouted “Watahay!” I am not precisely sure what that word means or which tribal language it belongs to, but it was his “go-to” Indian expression. He lowered his cupped hands and told TJ to put some whiskey on both sides of his earlobe. Again, is that girl at Claire’s even going to bother to bless the alcohol before she sterilizes your ear – I think not. He poured some more whiskey in a shot glass and offered it to TJ who also shouted “Watahay!” and downed it. He refilled the shot glass and placed my piggy earring in the purifying liquid. Next Pop took a 14 carat gold collar pin, I believe it had been his grandfather’s, and dipped the sharpened point into the shot glass to sterilize it. He had cut the potato in half and he poured a little whiskey on it as well just to be safe. He stuck the potato behind TJ’s ear to make it more solid and “thunk” – he pushed the collar pin right through his earlobe and into the spud. TJ’s eyes were shut tight and his teeth were clenched, but he still looked like he was smiling as dad pulled the collar pin out and put that cute little piggy earring in place. Both men grabbed another beer and sat down next to the fire across from each other. Pops went back to directing the smoke with that ass off of a dead turkey and TJ shouted “WoooHooo!” over and over. I could tell that this Saturday was a watershed moment for TJ – his life would never be the same, he was forever changed, he was pierced.

This is TJ sitting around another fire with us when we were all camping. He is panicking because his crotch is on fire.

The crazy thing about this story is that it all went on without a neighbor batting an eye. No one called the fire department or the cops. No one came outside to see where the smoke was coming from or even to see what all the commotion was about. This was just another Saturday on Isabelle Avenue, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to take note of.

For my part I started to worry about how bad the front yard was looking. Emily had never been to my house – she had never met Pops, and I didn’t want her to take a look at the front yard with the car up on blocks, a raging campfire and a few dozen beer cans and rethink her plan to bunk here for the night. Luckily I had a few hours and she wouldn’t be arriving until after dark, our “Sanford & Son” styled landscaping would be much more presentable after sunset.I went back to my cleaning and put the chaos outside out of my mind. I’d get the inside of the house spic and span and I’d worry about the lawn in a couple of hours when the car repair was completed. I spent the whole afternoon tidying up, and I was making sure the bathroom was presentable when TJ rushed back into the house. “Lorri, I need earrings, lots more earrings!”

Was TJ getting his other ear pierced? What on earth did he need more earrings for? I looked out my window to see a group of Hell’s Angels, in full leathers, parked in front of the house. My pop had a couple of shooting buddies who were Angels, Deke and Peg-Leg Larry, and apparently they had brought their friends – news spreads fast when Harold is piercing ears! Did they see smoke signals? Did they hear the calls of “Watahay!” offered into the winds? Who knows, they were here with beer, and they wanted to be pierced by the master with the golden pin.

I went back into my room and dug deep into the earring drawer. The mate to the piggy, a pair of stainless flamingoes, some cloisonné rainbows, a pair of blown glass unicorns – whew! I had them all covered! The turkey ass was brought back out, smoke was blessed, whiskey was offered, potatoes were sterilized and those angels all looked great with my Avon collectible earrings as they sped off into the night. TJ packed it in and Pop took a nap on the couch. I ran outside to make sense of the yard. Beer cans everywhere and Emily should be arriving any minute. I got a Glad bag from the kitchen and scooped up enough cans to fill a 33 gallon bag. I put out the remnants of the fire, collected the turkey ass and the other assorted tools, and put things back in order.

Pop came from a long line of couch snoozers, this is him in 1957 snoozing on the floor while his pop is crashed on the couch.

Emily arrived in the dark of night, she was quite tall, about 6’3”. Pop heard us come in and woke up for a few moments and asked if she played basketball. He went back to his snoring. We stayed up all night laughing as I told her about my day.

This is the actual car that was worked on during that typical Saturday. Pop started the campfire right under that elm tree. Who let the dog out? I have no idea.

Just a typical Saturday on Isabelle Avenue. Everyone had gone home happy and that car was still up on blocks. Maybe they would get to it next Saturday, maybe not.