Tales from the Diggins – Part 3 – Then and Now

The Last Summer

Around 1973 our summers in the wilds of northern Nevada came to an end. That summer Grandma and Grandpa made two trips north. On the first they went alone and met Uncle Ronnie and Herb the geologist to do the required assay work. After a week assaying Ron and Herb headed north to their homes in Oregon. Grandma and Grandpa spent another night before heading south to our home in Las Vegas – at least that was the plan.

In the morning they got into the pickup, and it wouldn’t start. Grandpa was pretty mechanical so he spent a couple of hours trying to get the engine to turn over, but it was no use. By noon they made the call, they were going to have to hike out.

In the days before cell phones there were few options. The truck had a CB in it but they were down in a valley and were unable to raise any response. Since they needed the truck to power up the CB, hiking to the nearest rise was not an option either. They decided to hike to the nearest ranch homestead hoping to find a telephone. The nearest paved road was 60 miles, the nearest town, Midas, was 25 – so they headed in the direction of Midas.

We did not have “hiking” gear at the Diggins. We wore heavy work boots to protect our feet and had shower shoes for showering in the spring. Grandma and Grandpa made that trek in those heavy boots carrying as much water as they could manage in the canteens. When they came across a homestead that night, they had walked 17 miles and their feet were blistered and bleeding. The rancher let them use the phone and they spent the night. In the morning the rancher took Grandpa back to camp to get the truck running. They had to put it in 4-wheel drive, lift it off the ground, and wrap a rope around a suspended wheel several times – they put the truck in gear and did a mid-air version of a push start with the rope on the tire. Once it was running Grandpa went back to the ranch and picked up Grandma and headed for the nearest city to seek medical attention.

Pops and a buddy had driven north and met Grandma and Grandpa in Battle Mountain, Nevada – a bit over 100 miles from the mine. They were both in a lot of pain and were in no shape to drive. Once they could travel Pops got them both home safe and sound where they recovered from their ordeal. I remember running into the house to see them and both of them had bandages on both feet. Grandma said that even her blisters had blisters. Hearing the tales of their trek only magnified both of them in my view – they really were amazing, they could do or conquer anything.

Late that summer they took what would be their last trip to the Diggins with my youngest brother Ronnie. He recalls this trip as the beginning of our grandmother’s progressive illness. She had rather suddenly developed swollen joints that her doctors assumed were caused by rheumatoid arthritis. They were actually caused by a toxic drug interaction – Grandma’s doctor had prescribed 2 meds for her that were toxic together. We later learned that they were listed in the Physicians Desk Reference as toxic in combination. Even though her pharmacist tried to alert her physician to the dangers, he arrogantly insisted he was the doctor and knew what he was doing. His arrogance and ignorance cost my grandmother her mobility and nearly her life before it was over. In less than a year we would be waiting at Loma Linda as a doctor told us she might last 24 hours if we were lucky. She did last another 25 years, but her life was changed forever after that summer and our memories of our Grandma changed from those of triumph and wonder to memories of hospitals and nursing care. Being the oldest, I have always been unwilling to set aside the wonderful woman who inspired me in place of the reality of her declining condition. I needed that woman who could do anything in my life, to see her reduced to a woman who could not stand without assistance was heartbreaking for our entire family.

She fought the good fight against her symptoms – she survived because of her own stubborn will to live. At Loma Linda she told me, “This crap won’t kill me, I won’t let it”, and I believed her. As her body declined she fought on, but when I think of her whole – strong, vital, and loving life – I think of those summers at the Diggins.

Uncle Ronnie continued to keep the claim active until the mid 80s. Going there without Grandma and Grandpa didn’t seem right for us. The Diggins faded into the place where childhood memories are stored. The chapter was closed.

Our Return to the Diggins

In 2009, my brother Max and I made the trek back to the Diggins. He and Pop had made the trip a couple of years earlier – they mailed me a box of rocks and a bottle of water from the Spring that I still have at the house. They had scouted out the route and spent a part of a day up there. I was so excited to hear that they had found it – Max and I began to plot a return ourselves.

I took my vacation over Memorial Day that year and we made the drive north. We made arrangements to stay at the Midas Saloon – the very same spot where Grandma had taken me to buy a creme soda on our weekly drives for supplies and to make phone calls.

The Midas saloon is virtually unchanged. You can still get a cold brew and some ice. The have guest houses and we stayed here during our visit.

The Midas saloon is virtually unchanged. You can still get a cold brew and some ice. They have guest houses and we stayed here during our visit.

When we were kids Midas had 11 school aged children in town. This was one child short of the requirement to keep their one-room school-house open. At the height of the Gold Rush there were 30,000 people living in Midas. Today there are 11 year-round residents. Summers see about a dozen more. The Saloon is the hub of the town – they serve dinner, drinks, and great conversation every night from May through September.

Max reflected in the mirror at the Midas Saloon

Max reflected in the mirror at the Midas Saloon

We ate there and slept in the guest cottage in the back. The whole town came out that night and we made connections with people whose parents and grandparents were in the area when we prospected on our claim in the 60s and 70s. Apart from Las Vegas and Reno, all of Nevada is really just a very spread out small town. Connections are everywhere. In that little Saloon I met people who lived on the same street where I bought my first home, I met a guy who knew my Uncle Ronnie, I met people who knew where our claim was because they had explored and loved those same hills. Nevada is like that.

This is the lock on the door of the Midas Jail - the door was open when I visited.

This is the lock on the door of the Midas Jail – the door was open when I visited.

Midas has modern homes and very old structures – the original jail still stands. Sadly the school-house burned down a few years ago. My Grandma took me to see it when I was about 8 years old and it was sad to learn it was gone.

Midas was known as the Gold Circle during the boom years of the 19th century. This supply shack has obviously been rebuilt recently. The owner carefully replaced all the old steel license plates. I have one of those plates on my wall, my Grandma talked the owner out of it on one of our visits.

Midas was known as the Gold Circle during the boom years of the 19th century. This supply shack has obviously been rebuilt. The owner carefully replaced all the old steel license plates. I have one of those plates on my wall, my Grandma talked the owner out of it on one of our visits.

After a night of catching up and telling stories, Max and I headed out to find the mine and make our own connections. As we left Midas we passed a colorful barrel mailbox – there are many like it up in the wilds – a home-made box that can hold lots of mail.

This is a mailbox outside of Midas - I wonder if it was a barrel box like this that my grandparents saw after that long hike, letting them know that help was close by.

This is a mailbox outside of Midas – I wonder if it was a barrel box like this that my grandparents saw after that long hike, letting them know that help was close by.

One of the first familiar sights we saw was a sheep herder’s camp. It has been in use as long as anyone can remember. I remember seeing these pens filled with sheep on the Jeep rides into the Diggins – the fence has been moved because the course of the creek was altered by a flood some 20 years ago – but it is essentially in the same spot.

This is the old sheep herder's camp - it's still in use when they bring the herds down from the hills. You can get a sense of the size of the sage from this shot - Max is 6 feet tall an the sage comes up to his shoulders.

This is the old sheep herder’s camp – it’s still in use when they bring the herds down from the hills. You can get a sense of the size of the sage from this shot – Max is 6 feet tall and the sage comes up to his shoulders.

Our first stop was Rock Creek – the very same spot where these adventures took place. The creek swells to a level that is impassable when the snow melts and the effects can be seen in the deterioration of the road.

Rock Creek today - the course of the creek has changed - in the 60s the creek was about 50 feet further back. Our camp was on the other side of the creek nestled in against the tall sagebrush.

Rock Creek today – the course of the creek has changed – in the 60s the creek was about 50 feet further back. Our camp was on the other side of the creek nestled in against the tall sagebrush.

Another view of Rock Creek Campsite – that taller brush midway up on the right was the site of our camp, the site of toilet accidents, snake sightings, and practical jokes on Uncle Ronnie.

Rock Creek today - still about 2-3 feet deep.

Rock Creek today – wider than it is deep at this time of year.

After getting the lay of the land and comparing recollections we loaded back up and pressed on into the hills to the Diggins where these adventures took place. The site was recognizable from the road – this reversed guard rail was used to guide the Caterpillar and was probably placed here in the late 70s by Uncle Ronnie.

This guard rail in the middle of nowhere was designed to keep the Caterpillar from edging too close to camp.

This guard rail in the middle of nowhere was designed to keep the Caterpillar from edging too close to camp.

The original Diggins Campsite today…

This is the road that runs right through the DIggins - the same road that boasted a Lake Minnie Haha sign back in the day.

This is the road that runs right through the Diggins – the same road that boasted a Lake Minnie Haha sign back in the day.

The same road back in the day…

Welcome to Minnie Haha

This sign welcomed visitors to the wonders of Lake Minnie Haha.

We camped to the left of the road, the Lake was to the right. Lake Minnie Haha is still there, though 40 years of snows and sediment have reduced her size considerably.

Over the years it's filled with sediment, but the mighty Toejam has not completely reclaimed Lake Minnie Haha.

Over the years it’s filled with sediment, but the mighty Toejam has not completely reclaimed Lake Minnie Haha.

Here’s a shot of Minnie Haha in its prime taken from the opposite shore…

Grandma in ner namesake lake with the first grizzly in the background.

Grandma in her namesake lake with the first grizzly in the background.

We built structures for working the mine on site. One of them was a grizzly. This one was likely built towards the end of our time at the Diggins.

This is the grizzly - it's basically a sifter for large rocks. They would use the loader bucket on the Caterpillar tractor to dump a cut of ground over - the large rocks slid down the rails the smaller when through and would be processed in the sluices. These things were constructed onsite.

This is the grizzly – it’s basically a sifter for large rocks. They would use the loader bucket on the Caterpillar tractor to dump a cut of ground over – the large rocks slid down the rails the smaller when through and would be processed in the sluices.

The original grizzly was located right next to Minnie Haha – its foundation is still visible today…

This is the first grizzly on the banks of Lake Minnie Haha - Circa 1967

This is the first grizzly on the banks of Lake Minnie Haha – Circa 1967.

Toejam creek fed into Minnie Haha at one time, but today the course of the creek is changed – it runs about 30 feet beyond Minnie Haha.

On the banks of the mighty Toejam we staked our claim - today the creek is almost unchanged.

On the banks of the mighty Toejam we staked our claim – today the creek is wild once again.

May remnants of our time at the Diggins remain – the signs of daily camp life are everywhere. The arid nature of the high desert allows metal to degrade very slowly. I found one of my galoshes over near the creek. These items are still there – it’s like our own private ghost town.

The remains of many meals of beans and wienies.

The remains of many meals of beans and weenies.

My Grandma loved Squirt - and there is still evidence of her here at Minnie Haha.

Litter does not ordinarily make me smile. My Grandma loved Squirt – and there is still evidence of her here at Minnie Haha.

Primitive Potty - apparently Uncle Ronnie left this for us - it beats squatting

Primitive Potty – apparently Uncle Ronnie left this for us – it beats squatting. No pooping by the creek – you had to carry off your own waste to a better place.

Camp life in the 60s typically took place in June and July – a bit more arid than our Memorial day trip.

Camp in the late 60's just above Lake Minnie Haha

Camp in the late 60’s just above Lake Minnie Haha

This tailings pile sits on the site of the original camp – we moved camp to Rock Creek in order to make room to work with heavy equipment.

This is a tailings pile - the processed earth.

This is a tailings pile – the processed earth.

One of of the things I remember were the giant bumblebees and wildflowers along the creek. In the Spring the wildflowers are still stunning. Some things never change.

Wildflowers on the shores of Minnie Haha

Wildflowers on the shores of Minnie Haha

After surveying camp and finding a couple of arrowhead tips we ventured up to the spring where we would get fresh water and the meadow where we hunted game birds and shot jackrabbits (and where we shot the window out of the truck!).

This rusty pole is a survey marker for a section of our claim. Max is shooting flowers in the meadow.

This rusty pole is a survey marker for a section of our claim. Max is shooting flowers in the meadow.

Max was shooting some of these beauties…

Wild irises filled the meadow.

Wild irises filled the meadow.

The spring is on the hillside above the meadow. This is a view from the meadow up towards the spring on the left side of the photo. The red rock is where we got our drinking water, the dark rock halfway down the hill is the site of our shower.

This is a view from the meadow up towards the spring on the left side of the photo. The red rock is where we got our drinking water, the dark rock halfway down the hill is the site of our shower. This quaking aspens have been there for over a century. My grandfather carved our names into one of them near where he saw names of pioneers with dates from the 1840s. He also found a wagon wheel hub up there when I was a kid.

This quaking aspens have been there for over a century. My grandfather carved our names into one of them near where he saw names of pioneers with dates from the 1840s. He also found a wagon wheel hub up there when I was a kid.

Toejam Creek runs through the meadow and it was a bit marshy so we left the Jeep on the far side and hiked across the meadow and up to the spring. You can just barely make it out at the base of the hill. We spent evenings here racing the Jeep across this vast meadow and shooting up jackrabbits. Today the meadow hosts cattle and wild horses.

This is a view back towards our Jeep in the far distance. We are at the red rock on the spring.

This is a view back towards our Jeep in the far distance. We are at the red rock on the spring.

After a day of adventure we headed back to Midas for another evening at the Saloon – we headed home the next day and took a more eastern route through Elko where we encountered this confusing signage configuration…

So should I enter or not - Nevada is typically less passive-agressive than these signs indicate.

So should I enter or not – Nevada is typically less passive-agressive than these signs indicate.

So Close, but Yet So Far

The summer of 2011, the year after Pops died, we decided to make another trip back. Both of my brothers wanted to make the trip and we wanted to introduce the Diggins to the next generation of Carters. Max, his youngest son, and I would ride up and scout the route in from the east via Elko. Ronnie and his kids would join us the next day at the highway and we would all travel into the Diggins together from the west.

The Saloon in Midas had no vacancies so we stayed the night in Elko before heading into the Diggins. We had mapped the routes in and out on a GPS on our 2009 visit so it was as simple as selecting the location from our POI list on the Garmin, or so we thought.

As we left the highway we passed through the community of Tuscarora. There is an artsy feel to this little burg in the middle of nowhere.

As we left the highway we passed through the community of Tuscarora. There is an artsy feel to this little burg in the middle of nowhere.

In the distance you can see snow on the peaks of the mountains – this looks pretty innocuous, but up close the snow caused issues that we had not anticipated.

This is an example of the roads we encountered - this one was actually pretty good. Some required us to get out and see if we could spot the tire tracks.

This is an example of the roads we encountered – this one was actually pretty good. Some required us to get out and see if we could spot the remnants of tire tracks.

As we got higher into the mountains the snow became more ominous. We would take a route and find it blocked by snowdrifts 6 feet deep. It seemed we would spend a fair amount of this trip backing down hillside trails. Eventually we decided to just go to the top of a hill and take a look back to see if we could find a way through.

We drove to the top of this ridge to scout a way past the snowfall - it was like being on top of the world.

We drove to the top of this ridge to scout a way past the snowfall – it was like being on top of the world.

The hilltop afforded us this view…

On top of the hill we can see the road we need to get to - that sagebrush before the road was 4-5 feet tall.

On top of the hill we can see the road we need to get to – that sagebrush before the road was 3-4 feet tall.

We sent Brian out to scout ahead and we drove down the hill – this is true offloading. At one point we were driving over sagebrush 3-4 feet deep. but we managed to get to the road below.

My nephew Brian scouts ahead to see if we can navigate to the roads below.

My nephew Brian scouts ahead to see if we can navigate to the roads below.

Once we hit the road we drove through a quaking aspen grove and into a meadow. We could see that the road was being cleared ahead of us. We met up with Bob – a miner from a family who owned the nearby Falcon Mine claim. Our grandparents knew the Falcon owners as neighbors. It was another small town Nevada connection.

We met up with Bob in the meadow and compared notes

We met up with Bob in the meadow and compared notes.

We met up with Bob along the trail - he was starting to work his parents claim that they have been working since the 20's. From the stories he told I think my grandparents could have played cards with his parents on those summer nights so long ago. He guided us through the maze of old mining roads.

This is Bob – he was starting to work his parents claim that his family had been working since the 20’s. From the stories he told I think my grandparents could have played cards with his parents on those summer nights so long ago. He guided us through the maze of old mining roads.

Bob and his crew gave us a tour of the Falcon Mine and Camp – they had a permanent camp, something I think we would have had eventually if my Grandma had not gotten sick.

So close, but yet so far. The diggins is about two miles from this spot - just on the other side of the second ridge. This is part of the nearby Falcon Mine Claim.

So close, but yet so far. The Diggins is about two miles from this spot – just on the other side of the second ridge. This is part of the nearby Falcon Mine Claim.

During the snow melt in the spring the creeks can really move - this bridge leads to an old miners camp.

During the snow melt in the spring the creeks can really move – this bridge leads to an old miners camp.

You might want to make a visit to the powder room before we venture further into the sagebrush.

You might want to make a visit to the powder room before we venture further into the sagebrush.

In the desert metal like this can stay outside for decades - these shoes were hung outside of an old bunkhouse near the Falcon

In the desert metal like this can stay outside for decades – these shoes were hung outside of an old bunk house near the Falcon

Midas Nevada mining equipment parked at the Falcon Mine's camp.

Midas Nevada mining equipment parked at the Falcon Mine’s camp.

Earthworks like these mark the locations of older claims - this is likely a part of the White Horse Claim

Earthworks like these mark the locations of older claims – this is likely a part of the White Horse Claim

One of Bob’s buddies offered to guide us towards our claim – the water levels were high and eventually we had to give up. They had also tried to get in from the west through Rock Creek earlier in the week – getting to the Diggins was just not going to happen on this trip.

This video shows a bit of our adventure to find the mine – we didn’t get there but we had an amazing day.

On the way out of the hills we encountered some of the wildlife that makes this area so very special…

Antelope are everywhere these days - during our mining days they were a rare site because ranchers thought them to be a nuisance.

Antelope are everywhere these days – during our mining days they were a rare sight because ranchers thought them to be a nuisance.

Our home away from home is now where the deer and the antelope play

Our home away from home is now where the deer and the antelope play.

On most of our trips we catch a glimpse of some wild horses - these magnificent animals run in herds all over northern Nevada.

On most of our trips we catch a glimpse of some wild horses – these magnificent animals run in herds all over northern Nevada.

Like all my trips, I indulged my passion for rocks – the Diggins is the place where I fell in love with rocks – the variety there was and is so stunning.

I may be dumber than a box of rocks - but who could leave these lying out there in the desert.

I may be dumber than a box of rocks – but who could leave these lying out there in the desert?

Beyond the Diggins

One of the things I take away from our adventures in the north is a sense of independence and self-reliance. I like to think that I have followed in Grandma’s footsteps and found a path by trying things I never imagined I could do. I still love a challenge and I know I got that from her. Her powerful influence on me as a young girl informed the way I think about women and about myself.

Scenes like this made me believe that my Grandma could do anything - after all here she is literally shaping her world.

Scenes like this made me believe that my Grandma could do anything – after all here she is literally shaping her world.

Furthermore, I believe these experiences have shaped my brothers as well. They were younger, but the experience of living in the wilderness – hunting, working, exploring – has shaped us all.

Recently my brother Max wrote a post about a sexy tractor. My eyes filled with tears as I saw his granddaughter riding on a tractor with his wife Karen – one of the captions read “Karen showing that she can do anything”. I thought back to how much that image meant to me, and now Alexa will have that same image of a wonderful crazy woman who can do anything. I hope that one day Alexa can share that same wonder and independence with her granddaughter.

Here Karen, Max's wife shows her granddaughter that she can do anything.

Here Karen, Max’s wife shows her granddaughter that she can do anything.

This is a wonderful gift, more precious than any gold or silver you might dig up – and it’s a gift I hope is passed down forever.

Just looking at these photos is making me long for the hills – I feel the need to get back to my roots, I hope that we can make that trip again soon and take Alexa with us.

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George Birthington’s Wash Day

“It’s George Birthington’s Wash Day!” I can still hear Grandma saying that on her birthday – “I’m a day older than George Washington, you know.” She would have been 98 years old today. Just looking at this quarter today makes me smile.

A quarter from the year that Minnie became Nana.

A quarter from the year that Minnie became Nana.

I’ve written a lot about how inspiring my Grandmother was to me and how empowering it was to have someone who never saw a challenge too big in my corner, but Grandma also confused me sometimes – she had a slew of Grandma-isms – some of them I understood, and some have meanings that still elude me today.

“Bring the whole fam-damily” – This meant everyone was coming to dinner. I have heard other people use this, but as a teen I thought this was her best sidestep to swearing about company she wasn’t so thrilled about entertaining. Grandma always said she didn’t have company, if you were at her house you were family so you could get your own coffee. Make yourself at home and clean up your own mess. Effortless hospitality.

Coxes Army - circa 1942. If this crew showed up for dinner...

Cox’s Army – circa 1942. If this crew showed up for dinner it took more than a bucket from the Colonel to feed them all.

“If you don’t stop that I’m gonna give you back to the Indians!” – I would hear this if I pestered her for candy in the grocery checkout or if I interrupted her on the phone.  I sometimes wonder if this had to do with her Grandpa Pyeatte. He was a Cherokee Indian. He chose to live as a white man instead of claiming head rights and land in Oklahoma. I guess being a Cherokee in the 1880s wasn’t nearly as cool and hip as it is today.

This is my Great-great Grandpa Pyeatt - So was Grandma going to give me back to this Indian?

This is my Great-great Grandpa Pyeatte – So was Grandma going to give me back to this Indian?

Other than that – I’m clueless. In my imagination she was dropping me off at those tepees on Route 66 in the middle of Arizona. I recently discovered an old hillbilly song that used the line – may be it was a song she liked. Grandma liked cowboy music. More and more I think it was the song. It’s one of those questions I never thought to ask. Maybe her grandpa said it to her and she never thought to ask. I think I should say it to my great-niece and just not explain it to her – that’s what family is about after all, passing on tradition.

Maybe these were the Indians Grandma was going to take me back to - that doesn't look so bad...

Maybe these were the Indians Grandma was going to take me back to – that doesn’t look so bad…

“Well Happy Cigar Butts to You!” I think this was Grandma’s way of calling someone an asshole in front of the grandkids. I have no solid evidence except the tone and context of the many times I heard her use it in traffic. I heard her say it to a co-worker who she talked smack to, to her sister Muriel who she had a blunt and somewhat cynical rapport with, and to a jerk who cut her off in the parking lot at the grocery store. I left her a note on her car one time using the phrase – pretending to be someone ticked off about her parking crooked – she laughed and laughed about it, I was kinda clueless. Another enduring mystery.

"I'm on a break - go cigar butt yourself!"

“I’m on a break – go cigar butt yourself!”

My Grandma collected things – lots of different things. Most of them fell into the category of something she called “What-nots” She collected purple glass. I remember driving though Cedar City in Utah with her and Grandpa on the way to Panguich to go fishing. We stopped for breakfast and walked into a junk store because Grandma saw glass in the windows. She could pick up a piece of old glass and check out the seams and weight and tell you with absolute certainty that it would turn purple in the sun over time. Her windows were filled with this kind of glass.

This is some of Grandma's purple glass. I have collected it my whole life as well. Her pieces are the most special though.

This is some of Grandma’s purple glass. I have collected it my whole life as well. Her pieces are the most special though.

She told me it was the iron in the glass, and that it was only used in glass production until 1905. In the desert people would buy old glass and put it on their roofs to make the purple come out more. Today there are dealers who expose these bottles to ultra violet light to increase the depth of the purple and it’s almost garish. I think it makes an actual antique look fake. Seeing the violet in old glass takes years and that’s part of the magic.

Grandma collected plates, not collector plates, just plates that belonged to people she knew. I remember her getting a package on her birthday in the mail, it was some dinner plates her cousin sent from a set of china that had belonged to their grandmother. She had them hung just below the ceiling though the kitchen and her living room. There were probably over a hundred of them. She gave them to me when I bought my first home and they survived an earthquake hanging on the wall – it sounded like I was inside a giant wind chime.

These are not my grandma's plates, but there were some of these in her vast collection.

These are not my grandma’s plates, but there were some of these in her vast collection.

This is another thing I so wish I had taken the time to ask Grandma about so that I would have some clue about where they all came from. When I graduated from High School my grandparents sent me to spend a few weeks with my other Granddad in Virginia. It was a precious gift – letting me get to know my mom’s family. Grandma sent my mother’s step-mother Pearl a crocheted afghan as a gift. Pearl asked me about what my Grandma liked and I told her about the plates. She gave me a dinner plate that had belonged to my great-grandmother’s family. My mom was surprised to see it on her mother-in-laws wall after that trip.

My grandma was a knitting fool. Sometime in her 40s she went through a time when she had a lot of nervous energy. It was about the time her hands began to shake. Her doctor suggested that she find something she could do with her hands to calm her down. She decided that she wanted to learn to knit. She didn’t start with a sweater or scarf. She dived headlong into knitting argyle socks. When she went for her next check up her doctor was stunned to see the myriad of spools of yarn – but the knitting was working – her nerves were settling.

Never one to sidestep a challenge - argyle it was!

Never one to sidestep a challenge – argyle it was!

When I was born she decided to make me a Christmas stocking – not just a red sock with a white heel and toe. A stocking that had my name and birthday knitted right into it, a stocking with a Santa with an Angora beard, a stocking with a decorated Christmas tree on one side.

I have this always up in my hallway, so I can see it when I get up every morning all year long.

I have this always up in my hallway, so I can see it when I get up every morning all year long.

When my mom became a grandma, I found the pattern – it was something she made up from a really basic stocking. All of her notes and marks made perfect sense, she should have been designing these things. Each of my brothers had one too. I wish I had learned to knit so that I could carry on the tradition for her. I love my stocking so much that it cannot be stored away eleven months of the year – I need it to be out where I can see it. It makes me smile. My grandma was a freaking genius!

Not everything she made was quite so special. My grandma crocheted all the time. She made the classic granny square and put together diagonal patterns. She like to use variegated colors in the centers. I have several of these gems around the house, mostly made of wool. They remind me of Grandma’s house so ugly or not I love them.

This is not my sweater, but my sweater was this bad. I never photographed it, hoping that it's heinousness would depart from my memory.

This is not my sweater, but my sweater was this bad. I never photographed it, hoping that it’s hideousness would depart from my memory.

To celebrate the Bicentennial she decided to crochet me a granny square sweater out of red, white, and blue yarn. It was heinous. The only place I ever wore it was to her house. I always told her I loved it. I always lied. She loved to see me in it so I pulled that thing out a couple of times a month. A part of me wondered if she was messing with me. You know, I’m pretty sure she was messing with me.

Happy George Birthington’s Wash day to you and yours, and if you don’t like  it you can kiss my Cigar Butts!

Tales From the Diggins Part 2 – Rock Creek, Rattlesnakes, and Uncle Ronnie

This is the second in a series of three posts – the first can be found here.

The Rock Creek Landslide

After our first summer at the mine we moved our camp to Rock Creek, about 5 miles from the Diggins. Giving up so much flat ground to build camp on made it hard to navigate the big machinery. Camp was still made up of zones – my folks and another couple, the Laughlins stayed in our GMC Jimmy with a cab over camper. The Laughlin kids,  my brothers, and I stayed in a large tent nearby. Grandma, Grandpa , and Uncle Ronnie had a tent next to ours.

This is not our camper or our camp or our flag or our lake - but we did have a huge cabover camper on top of an old Jimmy.

This is not our camper or our camp or our flag or our lake – but we did have a huge cab over camper on top of an old Jimmy.

Camping at the creek kept us close to water and away from the dust at the mine and it was a short drive over to the mine each morning. We had some high sage that created a break from the clearing at the creek side.

For bathroom facilities we had a fold up stool with a toilet seat on it – the idea was that you could attach a plastic bag to capture your droppings, but we were out in the wilds where lots of animals pooped – so what was a little people poop in the mix?  When you needed to go you would take the stool and hike up the hill beyond the sage thicket. The hillside beyond the thicket was pretty steep but their was plenty of privacy.

I can't believe they still make these - better than squatting in the sagebrush!

I can’t believe they still make these – better than squatting in the sagebrush! This style potty is best used on flat terrain.

One morning we were all asleep in the tent early in the morning. We were awakened by the sound of my mom screaming and the sounds of breaking tree limbs. She had taken the little stool up the hill and found a spot on the hill. Mom was very private and camping was something it took her a while to get comfortable with – all that togetherness could be a bit overwhelming . She faced uphill and settled in. Unfortunately the stool gave way and flew out from under her. She crashed to the ground and slid downhill backwards through the stool and her own stool. For me it was a cautionary tale about being on solid ground before you let loose.

Does a Barbi poop in the woods? Yes, but it took some practice to get it right.

Does a Barbie poop in the woods? Yes, but it took some practice to get it right.

Lorri the Snake Spotter

One day I was playing in the creek – catching minnows in a bucket. I carried the bucket up towards a shady spot just past the tent. As I walked along the side of the tent I spotted it – the last 8 inches of a rattlesnake as it turned the corner around the tent ahead of me. I yelled, “Snake!!” and Pops and Kenny came running. They had already finished the day’s assay work and had been enjoying a couple of Buds in the shade on the other side of the creek. They heard my call and came running.

This is what I saw as it slithered around the tent in front of me - Yikes!!

This is what I saw as it slithered around the tent in front of me – Yikes!!

Kenny got there first and saw the snake going under the tent – to stop it he did the logical thing. He stepped on it’s tail. He yelled to Pops to grab a gun. Pops came literally with guns a-blazing, his 45 and extra clips in hand. The snake turned back towards Kenny and Pops fired into the ground missing both the snake and Kenny’s foot. The snake turned back towards the tent and darted head first underneath the floor of the tent.

Pops ran inside the tent and started shooting into the floor wherever he thought he might see snake movement. Amazingly on the second clip he managed to hit the snake. Kenny pulled the lifeless serpent out from under the tent by it’s crushed tail. Just to be sure Pops emptied another clip into the thing. Through all that gunfire Kenny never flinched – the bloody rattles were his trophy, a reward for his bravery. After all this the two men decided a shovel was the right tool to decapitate it – I wonder why they didn’t start with a shovel in the first place.

This is the right tool for killing a snake - it keeps you at a reasonable distance and saves ammo.

This is the right tool for killing a snake – it keeps you at a reasonable distance and saves ammo.

The rest of the time we camped there I was paranoid about a snake getting into our tent through one of the ten bullet holes in the floor. I used a whole roll of duct tape to seal up that mess so that I could sleep at night.

Snake Sealer for a bullet riddled tent.

Snake Sealer for a bullet riddled tent can make you rest a little easier

Poor Uncle Ronnie

My Uncle Ronnie was born without a suspicious bone in his body. This made him an easy mark for my Grandma. She loved to play tricks on her favorite nephew. Ronnie was not actually our uncle – he was Pop’s cousin and since Pops was an only child he was about as close to an uncle as we had in our everyday life. When Mom was pregnant for the last time her and Pops decided to name the last baby for either Uncle Ronnie or his wife Aunt Sharon. Ronnie was a boy so the honor went to Uncle Ronnie.

Uncle Ronnie with my brother Ronnie as a newborn - he was so proud.

Uncle Ronnie with my baby brother Ronnie as a newborn – he was so proud.

I guess when a family names a kid after you, you expect that you have a certain level of trust. Ron was so unsuspecting that he never saw anything coming. That summer at the Diggins Grandma managed to get him almost every day. First, she made a lemon meringue pie for his birthday – she knew it was his favorite. She presented it to him after dinner and told him the whole thing was just for him. He smiled from ear to ear. He took a fork and tried to cut into it but he just couldn’t get the fork to go through. He tried a knife – it seemed like a very tough pie. Now he was trying to be polite – smiling and trying not to show that this was one tough pie. He continued to struggle for about 20 minutes before Grandma confessed that it wasn’t a pie at all. It was a piece of foam rubber from the upholstery shop that she had baked a meringue on top of.

It may look tasty, but it's tough as nails.

It may look tasty, but it’s tough as nails.

The next day Grandma made breaded steak for dinner, one of Ronnie’s favorites. As we all dug into our steak Ron noticed that his was kind of stringy. Again, he was trying to be polite until he discovered that he had been served a breaded dish rag.

Is that a dishrag inside that golden breading?

Is that a dishrag inside that golden breading?

This was followed by dish soap in his coffee, open sardines under the seat of his truck – it went on and on. I honestly think that Ronnie enjoyed someone putting that much into getting one over on him.

Aroma for the drive home.

Aroma for the drive home.

The night before we left I saw Grandma leave the sleeping tent with a flashlight and a screwdriver. I followed but kept my distance as I saw her remove Ron’s hubcaps and put rocks inside before replacing them. The noise must have been terrible once he hit the pavement. He thought his wheels were actually coming off. He pulled over to check the wheels and found a note from Grandma taped to the inside of the hubcap – “Gotcha! From Aunt Minnie Haha”

This is Grandma with Uncle Ronnie's son Michael - she never pulled any tricks on Mike.

This is Grandma with Uncle Ronnie’s son Michael – she never pulled any tricks on Mike.

Their tete a tete was one that was good-natured fun, but was mostly at poor Ron’s expense. If she could pull off that many gags in the wilds of the desert you have to know that they happened non-stop when they were back in civilization. But they had genuine affection for each other. She never stopped coming up with new ways to get him and he never stopped trusting that he would be eating real food. Occasionally he was right.

Aunt Sharon with the three of us - she was a lot of fun even if none of us were named for her. One time she taught Max all the wrong names for the silverware while mom was away for the day. Mom was not impressed.

Aunt Sharon with the three of us – she was a lot of fun even if none of us were named for her. One time she taught Max all the wrong names for the silverware while mom was away for the day. Mom was not impressed.

That summer was one of discovery. I discovered that pooping in the woods took planning. I discovered that there really could be snakes under my bed. I discovered that Duct Tape can buy you a little piece of mind. I learned that there is a sucker born every minute and one of them was named Uncle Ronnie.

Tales from the Diggins Part 1 – Camp at Toejam and Minnie-haha

Grandma and Grandpa - at about the time they became Grandparents.

Grandma and Grandpa – at about the time they became Grandparents.

Our grandparents set out to really enjoy their 40s and 50s. Grandpa had been with the Union Pacific Railroad since his early 20s and had a bent towards entrepreneurism. He was always talking about opening a combination restaurant/laundromat in Bullhead City, Arizona. He was looking to fill a need in place where there was opportunity. He was so serious that at one point we planned to pack up our stock on Isabelle and head to the Arizona desert. Later he took an upholstery class along with my Grandma and my Pop who used his GI benefits. He really dreamed of building a family business that he could leave behind. Carter’s Custom Upholstery was a great success. They did furniture,  airplanes, custom hot rods, Wayne Newton’s horse trailers – just about anything you could think of. At one time Grandpa had a contract to recover all the Eames lounge chairs in municipal airports on the west coast. Even while he was succeeding in business he was still looking for the next big opportunity.

Grandma and Grandpa working in the upholstery shop.

Grandma and Grandpa working in the upholstery shop. Grandma is ready to pitch in with the tack hammer.

Opportunity knocked in the form of his nephew Ronald Owens. “Uncle” Ronnie, as we called him, had been researching mining claims in northern Nevada. He needed funding to file papers, Grandpa anted up, and Cartron Mining was born. To maintain the claim they would have to do annual assay work in the wilds of the high desert.

Grandpa purchased this Jeep Gladiator pickup to haul gear up to the Diggins. Uncle Ronnie took this shot on their first scouting trip.

Grandpa purchased this Jeep Gladiator pickup to haul gear up to the Diggins. Uncle Ronnie took this shot on their first scouting trip.

What started as a business venture quickly became a family affair. The mining claim was our summer home. We would bug out of our Isabelle Avenue home base with enough rations to last a month if necessary. We would take fresh provisions for the first week and brought canned goods, dried fruits, and powdered milk and eggs to last beyond.

One of the sleeping tents at camp on the creek.

One of the sleeping tents at camp on the creek. I love that we used Samsonite suitcases to pack for the trip.

The trip to the mine was an elaborate caravan. A Jeep pickup with a canvas camper shell lead the pack with a little Willy’s Jeep in tow. My parents, brothers and I rode in this rig along with the bulk of our supplies. Next my grandparents drove a 1940s era semi tractor with a flat-bed trailer that hauled our Caterpillar bulldozer.  We held this formation until we left the pavement. At that point Grandma and I would take the Willy’s off of the tow bar and we took the lead as we headed into the mountains. Grandma had outfits for us – goggles, bandanas, and wind breakers kept us warm and allowed us to breath through all that dust. Next came the semi followed by the Jeep pickup. About 5 miles from the claim we took the Caterpillar off the trailer and left the semi behind. My pop brought up the rear in the Cat and we worked out way deep into the hills.

Mom and Pop on the Caterpillar Tractor, heading into camp.

Mom and Pop on the Caterpillar Tractor, heading into camp.

The claim was a mere 60 miles from the nearest paved road. It was 25 miles to the nearest town of any kind. Midas Nevada was a living ghost town. Once home to 10,000 miners, by 1966 only 17 people remained. Midas had few amenities, a saloon, a one-room schoolhouse, and a telephone. When Pops and Grandpa went up alone to do assay work we would hear from them once a week when they made the trek into town. When the whole family was at the mine Grandma would make a run about once a week to get ice. We would stop by the saloon for a cold creme soda. One time while we were in town Grandma convinced a resident to let her take an old license plate off of his shop. It dated from 1922 and it still hangs in my living room today.

Grandma did everything at the mine - she drove the Jeep, operated the sluice, and drove the dozer. She also made mean pancakes every morning.

Grandma did everything at the mine – she drove the Jeep, operated the sluice, and drove the dozer. She also made mean pancakes every morning.

Our claim was on Toejam Creek – as a child I thought this was one of my Grandma’s imaginative nicknames, a couple of years ago I learned that Toejam is a real place on a map. My grandfather created two ponds by diverting the creek. The first he lovingly named after Grandma, Lake Minnie-haha – it was the pond where we worked the sluice boxes. The second pond was one he made for us to swim in.

Grandma swimming in Lake Minnie-haha. It seemed like a real lake to me at the time.

Grandma swimming in Lake Minnie-haha. It seemed like a real lake to me at the time.

I was relentlessly trying to swim in Lake Minnie-Haha while they were processing dirt. The sluice pond made for a muddy swimming hole. One day Grandma and I took a hike to look for arrowheads – when we came back my grandfather showed me his latest creation – Lake Lorri – our very own swimming hole. Grandpa built a welcoming arch out of timbers – “Welcome to Lake Minnie-haha – Minnie the Moocher, Proprietor.

Grandpa erected this sign to let everyone know who was boss at the Diggins.

Grandpa erected this sign to let everyone know who was boss at the Diggins. Next lodging about a bazillion miles.

Life at the mine reminded me a lot of life at my grandparents house, structured, organized and fun. There were 3 large tents. One for sleeping, one for cooking, one for just hanging out in – like a living room. In the sleeping tent we were all up on army cots to avoid the dangers of scorpions and rattle snakes. The cooking tent had long folding picnic tables inside holding up multiple camp stoves. Ice chests were stored inside under blankets. Just like at home we were urged to get what we needed out of the ice chests quickly – it was just like the fridge at home, without a light. Dried foodstuffs were housed in wooden boxes or metal chests to keep out animals and pests – just like the kitchen cabinets at home. The third tent had folding tables and chairs inside for playing cards and board games inside, out of the dust and the weather.

Just like the ancients that once inhabited Toe Jam, we had a vinyl dinette to play cards at.

Just like the ancients that once inhabited Toe Jam, we had a vinyl dinette to play cards at.  Seated are Uncle Ronnie, Herb the geologist, Pops, and Grandpa. The shadowy photographer is Minnie the Moocher.

Each day we woke up and had a hot breakfast. My grandparents even had an old dinette set outside for us to eat on. We did dishes in the creek and they started the assay work. If there was heavy machinery moving Grandma would take the kids on an adventure away from the chaos. We would all pile in the Jeep and go someplace to hike or explore. We would pack a lunch and explore all day.

Lake Minnie-haha was so vast that we had a raft used to cross it - it was actually more work that walking the 25 feet around to the other side, but we were adventurers.

Lake Minnie-haha was so vast that we had a raft used to cross it – it was actually more work that walking the 25 feet around to the other side, but we were adventurers. The field beyond the lake was where Grandma and I found treasures – rocks, arrowheads, fossils – it was paradise.

It was a time of wonder for me. I saw wildflowers and developed a lifelong interest in rocks. Grandma encouraged me in my rock collecting much to the chagrin of my mom who didn’t see why anyone would ever need more than a handful of rocks. Each time we went to the mine I brought home about a hundred pounds of rocks – my mom made me keep them in the backyard and she did her best to dispose of them little by little thinking I would never notice. Of course I did notice, just like I noticed when she made my favorite jeans, or t-shirt, or pet turtle disappear.

Grandma working the sluice box - she was at her best when she was doing new things.

Grandma working the sluice box – she was at her best when she was doing new things. There’s gold in that there mud!

In the evening after dinner we would all pile in the Willys Jeep and go to a spring where my grandpa had built a tin shower. We would bathe and we would get fresh water for the next day from the spring. All clean in our jammies we would head back to camp by way of a large open field full of jack rabbits. The local ranchers encouraged us to shoot them. They were there in such huge numbers that there was no end to them and they damaged the grazing land. So the evening was made for entertainment. Instead of watching TV we hunted down jackrabbits from a moving Jeep. Grandma was a crack shot and loved to stand up in the passenger side and shoot over the windshield. In the back seat my brothers and I would watch her with our ears covered. She was like Annie Oakley to me – it seemed that she never missed.

My brothers and I at camp - we found a patch of shade. I never could figure out how to work that lounge chair.

My brothers and I at camp – we found a patch of shade. I never could figure out how to work that lounge chair. Note the ammo can – shooting jackrabbits was on the menu.

One night we took the Jeep pickup instead of the Willys open Jeep when we went for the run to the spring. As always on the way back to camp Grandma was in the passenger seat with her eyes peeled for jacks. I was seated on the Jockey Box in between the seats with my grandpa in the driver’s seat. Grandma spotted one and took aim. KaBoooom!

Jackrabbits beware - Minnie's got a gun and she's gunning for you!

Jackrabbits beware – Minnie’s got a gun and she’s gunning for you!

Unfortunately she forgot to roll down the window first and it broke into a million pieces. The sound of her 45 inside a closed cab of a pickup was the loudest sound I have ever heard. My ears rang for days and the 500 mile journey home to Las Vegas in the pickup was a windy one.

In case you were wondering, she made the shot, and the windy and dusty drive home was worth it – that busted window was the mark of a great adventure.

Almost Like Part of the Family – From the Ozarks to Isabelle Avenue

As a photographer, sometimes I like to look at photos and sort them in non-linear ways, I think you can learn more about how you see the world by breaking them up in sets that have atypical things like color or objects in common.

A few years ago I started going through my Grandma’s old Cox family photos. I started sorting them by family members and began to notice a pattern. I noticed an awful lot of snapshots that included an important part of the family – the family car. The history and migration of my family can be traced through those photos of the Coxes and their cars.

1920’s

My Great Grandfather Charlie Cox and his boys pose in their work clothes by the car.

My Great Grandfather Charlie Cox and his boys pose in their work clothes by the car.

This photo was taken in the late 20’s in the Ozarks. It looks like the boys were coming in from working in the fields north of Branson, Missouri. Charlie started his life on a farm in Missouri and this looks to have been taken in the area where he grew up.

This is the earliest image I can find with family members posing on a vehicle.

These lovely Cox ladies are dressed up and posing on a railroad hand truck - I have some other railroad shots with a similar look that were taken in Branson, Missouri.

These well dressed Cox ladies are dressed up and posing on a railroad hand truck – I have some other railroad shots with a similar look that were taken in Branson, Missouri sometime around the turn of the 20th century.

My ancestors were mostly farmers but they also worked on building the railroads in Missouri and Arkansas. This family heritage would be carried on by my Great Grandfather Charlie Cox during the Great Depression when he packed up his family and left the farm to follow the work made possible by the building of the US Highway system. Charlie started life on a farm with horse-drawn implements – his children would be the first generation to live their whole lives in the automobile age. Cars were becoming less and less of a novelty and more of a staple of everyday life in America. Even so, the car was a point of pride to them. Rather than gather around the mantle or on the porch, the Coxes were more likely to gather around something with wheels and a motor.

Here my Grandma and her brother pose on the back of a tractor.

Here my Grandma and her brother pose on the back of a motorized tractor. The dress for this occasion was casual.

Grandma was one of 8 siblings and I have always wondered just how a family of 10 moved around the country. I recall stories about a caravan of a couple of cars and all their possessions on the open road. When the siblings were together I often heard them argue about where they lived in a particular year. Grandma told me she went to 17 schools before she called it quits in after her freshman year. It seemed that only the 3 sets of twins had a sibling born in the same town.
Grandma at about 14 sits on the bumper of the car in a summer dress.

Grandma at about 14 sits on the bumper of the car in a summer dress.

This looks to be a different car but the background still looks like the old homestead. I recall grandma talking about an old Model T, but apparently it was not beloved enough to share the spotlight in family photos. Her life seemed to be lived on the bumper of a Chevy. It makes sense – if they didn’t have a permanent home to gather around maybe the family car was a bit like a home on wheels – it was a constant in their life, like the TV was to my generation.

1930’s

Minnie on the running board - circa 1933

Minnie on the running board – circa 1933. This seems to be more of a shot of the car with Grandma as an accent or afterthought.

Yet another sedan – with Grandma in a gingham dress surrounded by palm trees – definitely a California shot. She would have been about 16 or 17 in this shot and had already quit school to go to work to help support the family. It seems as though they went through cars fairly quickly traveling back and forth across the country.

This next car must have been something special – everyone seems to want to have their photo taken with it. It seems to have been a car that the family obtained while they were all still together in Van Nuys, California.

Granny on the trunk of the family Chevy - circa 1932

Granny on the trunk of the family Chevy – circa 1932 or 1933. She often jotted down her age on snapshots.

I wish I had taken the opportunity to ask about this group of photos, so all I really have are my own impressions. This first shot looks like Grandma got dressed up to climb up on the trunk – she looks like she’s in her Sunday best.

Grandma's brother and Ernie Foltz on the back of the same Chevy

Grandma’s brother Leonard and Ernie Foltz on the back of the same Chevy.

Same road, same car – different people. These two shots almost look like they took turns taking each other’s photos on the back of that Chevrolet. On this particular day the car was the star. Was it new to the family?

Grandma and two siblings on the running board of the Chevy

Grandma and her brother Leonard and her sister Muriel on the running board of the Chevy.

Same Chevy, different time and place – but still an occasion to dress up for the photo-op. Thinking of the year – this was in the depths of the depression and I know that this was a period of time when Grandma’s family traveled as her father followed the work. The one constant in their lives were the relationships they had with their siblings. They changed schools, addresses, states, churches, jobs – but they all went through it together.

Grandma and her cousin and best friend Noni - dressed for the occasion.

Grandma and her cousin and best friend Noni – dressed more formally for this occasion. The Chevy looks pretty nice too.

If I were to tally up all the appearances of each member of the family in the old photos to see who was pictured the most, the family car beats out any single family member by a pretty wide margin.

Grandma and her Mother at the Auto Laundry with the Chevy

Grandma and her Mother at the Auto Laundry in Van Nuys, California with a slightly nicer car in 1934 – again they dressed very nice to be at the car wash.

My Grandma and her Cherokee Indian mother all decked out with the new car at the Auto Laundry.

Here Grandma checks out her makeup in the rearview mirror.

Here Grandma checks out her makeup in the rearview mirror.

Same car, different outfit – perhaps in front of their home in California. Grandma was 19 and would make only one more cross-country trip with the family before she settled in Hollywood to start a family of her own.

Grandma in her bathing suit with...a car

Grandma in her bathing suit with…a car – it looks like a 1938 model.

Grandma married Grandpa in 1938 and settled in California. She told me that her mother was a very strict Pentecostal who never permitted her to wear heels or to dance. For her, this time right after she married after the Depression was one of the freest times she had ever experienced. She never was very modest and I remember her gardening in shorts and a bathing suit top. Seeing this shot of her surprised me because of how conservative her upbringing was. She was completely comfortable in her own skin.

1940’s

Twins Eula and Beula pose with their niece Doris Jean in front of a snazzy convertible.

Twins Eula and Beula pose with their first niece Doris Jean in front of a snazzy convertible.

The car was the key to mobility for families making the trek west and it was integral to my family and their connections. Charlie literally built the roads his children would travel to stay connected throughout their lives. All but one sibling would settle in the west in either Nevada or California. This shot is one from a road trip to visit family.

The Cox siblings managed to see each other pretty often – hop in the family car and head down the highway. As their families grew they would often swap kids for the summer. None of the Coxes ever knocked on a door when they came for a visit – their home was your home and visa-versa. Just come on in and make yourself at home. Maybe their nomadic childhoods made a change of scenery almost natural for them.

Eula and Beula take a shot together with the convertible.

Eula and Beula take a shot together with the convertible.

I don’t know who’s car this was but I do know that my Great Aunt Beula loved her a fancy car. I bet it was hers – she liked to have the fanciest of the lot.

Grandma poses with my Pop in front of the family car in Las Vegas.

Grandma poses with my Pop in front of the family car in Northern California

Here Grandma and Pop pose in front of their sedan at a family gathering in California in the early 1940’s. Her family made the drive from Nevada to spend the holidays together.

Eula and her husband Bob strike a pose.

Eula and her husband Bob strike a pose.

Same car, same day – It makes me think that Grandma and her sister Eula took turns with the camera. The sign behind the car says “Missouri Mule” – wonder what that was about?

My Great Uncle Newt on base in Washington State before he shipped out to Europe.

My Great Uncle Newt and a buddy on base in Washington State before he shipped out to Europe.

My Great Uncle was a real live war hero. He landed in Normandy and drove a tank destroyer during World War II in Europe. He sent my grandmother this photo before he shipped out – a memento of a soldier, his buddy, and a car.

Here's a shot Newt had taken with his vehicle in Normandy - even in wartime it was rare to see a Cox without a vehicle of some type.

Here’s a shot Newt had taken with his vehicle in Normandy – even in wartime it was rare to see a Cox without a vehicle of some type.

After the War Newt moved into the railroad shack my grandparents rented in Las Vegas – it was about 400 square feet with a garage in back. He worked with my Grandma for a couple of years before making his way to Northern California where he settled down. He made the trip to Vegas often – he would stay at Grandma’s and take us out to the Showboat for strawberry shortcake. Well into his 70’s Newt would show up on my doorstep in Oregon as he made the drive north to Pendleton to reconnect with his army buddies. I loved driving that highway with him and hearing tales of his travels along that same highway with his siblings.

1950’s

My Pop and our cousin Randa in Las Vegas.

My Pop and our cousin Randa in Las Vegas in about 1951.

Some of the siblings came to Vegas for Easter in the early 1950’s – photos were taken to mark the occasion in the front yard – of course the cars were in the frame. Baby Randa was the 4th generation in the family to have her photo taken with the family car.

Beula, her husband Tommy, and my Pop in the  lawn on that same day.

Beula, her husband Tommy, and my Pop in the lawn on that same day.

Same car, same day, same Pop – with his aunt and uncle in the lawn in small town Las Vegas.

Grandma and Grandpa with his sister Olive in front of their beloved '49 Chevy

Grandma and Grandpa with his sister Olive in front of their beloved ’49 Chevy

In 1949 Grandma and Grandpa bought their very first brand new car. It was a Chevy. Grandpa waxed it every week, Grandma loved to drive it. They had left behind the tiny railroad shack they started their lives in Las Vegas in and soon would be living in a brand new custom home on Isabelle Avenue. The girl who moved 17 times in 9 years had resolved to settle down and put down deep roots. This child of the Depression was experiencing real prosperity.

Grandma and Grandpa take a drive in the Chevy in the desert outside of town.

Grandma and Grandpa take a drive in the Chevy in the desert outside of town.

The ’49 Chevy is the car they would drive to visit family in Missouri, Nebraska, and California. It’s the car my Pop would learn to drive in. It’s the car they would park in the driveway of that brand new house that they had both worked so hard for.

Grandma takes a break at the butcher shop and leans on her favorite Chevy.

Grandma takes a break at the butcher shop and leans on her favorite Chevy.

Here’s Grandma – on the trunk of her Chevy – a quarter century after that first trunk shot on another Chevy.

Here’s that Chevy in 1957 after my Pop decided to “customize” it while his folks were out-of-town. That’s Isabelle Avenue in the mid 50’s

When Pop got his license Grandma and Grandpa bought a new Chevy and they became a 2-car family. One weekend while Grandma and Grandpa were in California visiting siblings Pops decided he wanted the ’49 to have a bit more of a “custom” look. He chopped the cab, frenched the headlights, and removed almost all the chrome and door handles. He never finished the conversion but spoke about that car like a long-lost love for the rest of his life.

1960’s

Grandma's 1963 Impala Super Sport

Grandma’s first great nieces with Max and…Grandma’s 1963 Impala Super Sport

In 1963 Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Grandpa bought her a stunning metallic blue Impala as an anniversary gift. When visitors came to the house they were almost always photographed in front of it. Here’s Randa and her sisters Janice and Dara, along with my brother Max in 1965. They are sitting in my little red wagon.

The drives to Nebraska ended after Grandma’s brother Clyde passed away. Grandpa’s family was from Nebraska, but they preferred to fly in for visits. All the siblings were now in the west and could be near each other with just a day’s drive.

Grandma drives a Bulldozer and poses for a photo - circa 1968

Grandma drives a Bulldozer and poses for a photo – circa 1968

This is Grandma at her most vital – working the Caterpillar Tractor at their mining claim in 1968. She was eager to learn to operate it and rarely let anyone else behind the wheel. She could drive just about anything short of a tank. Driving was something she enjoyed, even if she was driving a bulldozer.

1970’s

1976 - Grandma and Grandpa's first new car since 1963 - a lime green Ford LTD.

1976 – Grandma and Grandpa’s first new car since 1963 – a lime green Ford LTD.

By 1976 Grandma was starting to losing her mobility. Grandpa chose this land yacht because it was easy for her to get in and out of. It was their first Ford and the first car they would own that Grandma would never drive. They took this photo the day they brought it home from the dealership.

The last LTD - 1977. It had a 460 and got about 8 miles per gallon.

Eula, Grandma, and Beula during a visit in Las Vegas. The last LTD – 1977. It had a 460 and got about 8 miles per gallon.

The very next year Ford announced that they would be reducing the engine sizes in cars beginning in 1978. Grandpa decided that he had to get a car with a big block before they were gone forever. Grandma and Grandpa had a dream of retiring and getting a travel trailer. They hoped to camp and fish for weeks and months on end – but that was not to be. Grandma’s illness made it impossible for her to do the simplest things. By 1980 she would only leave the house to go to the doctor. This 1977 LTD was the last car she ever rode in. This is the last time she was photographed with a car.

Grandma’s siblings continued to make the treks up and down the highway with great frequency well into the 90’s. My Great Uncle Claude would pop up at almost any important occasion – he looked like he wasn’t steady enough to walk, but he still drove cross-country. The last time they were all together was for my Grandma’s 80th birthday in 1995. She had dementia and hadn’t recognized me in some time – but when her brothers and sisters walked into the room she beamed. She could no longer articulate what she was feeling, but her face glowed. Her sister Beula had passed away a couple of years earlier – but everyone else was there. It would be the last time I saw any of them except for Grandma. Their zeal for the open road was not shared by the generations that followed. I lived in Oregon for about a decade and my Uncle Newt made that drive more than any other family member – it was in his DNA to hit the road and go see his family.

My Pop became accustomed to family making their way to his door and I think a lot of his cousins probably shared that experience. Their vagabond parents had done enough driving to last for their lifetimes too.

I’ve rarely had my photo taken with an automobile. I suppose that the family car is more of an ordinary appliance these days. It’s basic transportation – not the vehicle that opens up the world and all its opportunities before you.

These days I live in the Ozarks less than an hour from the place where my Grandmother was born, the rest of my family remains in Las Vegas in the west. My siblings and I see each other a couple of times a year and I usually fly out to see them. I made the drive once after my Pops death and I cannot imagine making that drive without a lot of company ever again, and I think that may be the key. The Coxes made those treks together. They were not lonely drives across the desert, they were sedans filled with family and all that goes with that.

I think that we stand on the shoulders of those who endured the Depression and the War and built the roads that connected us as a nation. Even in this tough economy, things are easier for us. We stay in touch online. We share photos on Facebook. We talk and text without worrying about long distance charges.

Looking at these photos has me waxing nostalgic. Maybe I should put on my best dress and hop on the hood of my Jeep – I could post it on Instagram.

Midge, GI Joe, Nuns, & Tonsils

As a child of the 60s, I had a front row seat to the changing roles of gender in society. Sometimes they were about serious stuff like Moms working – sometimes they were about things that didn’t really matter at all.

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

My mom had terrible problems with tonsilitis when we were young. Max and I got sick pretty often, we would give it to mom. We bounced back but she didn’t.  One of us would get sick and pass it on, about the time we all got well one of us would get sick again. It was a constant recurring cycle that only got worse once I started school. Our family doctor told her that a tonsilectomy was pretty serious for an adult, but was simple and safe for children. Max and I could have ours taken out at the same time, all we had to do was wait until Max was old enough and we could break the cycle.

I'm sure I was asked to show the photographer my tonsils in this shot

Here I am showing off my huge tonsils

I was in Kindergarten when the time came. I was at an age where I was all about playing with Barbie. I loved all the accessories. The first Barbie I had was a hand-me-down from the neighbor across the street. It was a Midge doll. I didn’t really care for her. She had brown hair and freckles, I thought she looked too much like me, I hated my freckles. My mom loved her for the same reason I hated her. My mom’s name was Barbie and she loved the idea of a fashion doll, so she was thrilled when Midge came our way.

Freckle-faced Midge - I couldn't wait to trade her in on a newer model

Freckle-faced Midge – I couldn’t wait to trade her in on a newer model

Skagg’s Drug Store rand a trade-in promotion when the new Barbies with the twisting waist came out. Bring in your old Barbie, and get the new one for a buck and a half. I knew mom liked Midge too much to let me trade her in so I managed to get Grandma to take me to trade her in for the newfangled twisty Barbie. Mom saw me with the new Barbie and I could tell she wasn’t happy that I made the trade, not because Midge was a wonderful doll that might be worth more than a discounted Barbie, mostly because she hoped having a beautiful doll with my features would be good for me. Me – I wanted the twisty waist and was glad to see the freckles gone.

Who wouldn't dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie?

Who wouldn’t dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie? Real eyelashes! Bending legs! 

Max had just gotten a GI Joe and I was smitten – I mean Joe came with all kinds of cool accessories. Guns, knives, goggles, scuba gear – you name it Joe had it. Next to Joe, Ken was a wimp. The thing that put him over the top for me was that Joe could do one thing Ken couldn’t – he could ride a horse. I guess Ken could as long as he rode sided-saddle with his legs sticking straight out, but how much fun was that? I was wishing that Skagg’s would have a Ken trade-in. I wanted a Joe! I asked my mom for one and she told me that GI Joes were only for boys. I just didn’t get that, after all why would it matter. I could play with Ken and he was a boy. Eventually I just started playing with one of Max’s Joes.

Not much of a manly man - Ken couldn't even ride a horse.

Not much of a manly man – Ken couldn’t even ride a horse.

What does all this have to do with tonsils? I’m getting there, I promise.

My brother and I went into the hospital together. It was a Catholic hospital and many of the nurses were nuns. I had never seen a nun before and my first impression was that they were kind of scary. As soon as we were admitted to the hospital they wanted a blood sample. I had never had anyone take blood before, and having a tall nun in a black habit come at with a huge needle freaked me out. She grabbed my arm so I pulled it away and locked my fingers together behind my head so that she could not get at the inside of my elbow. She called for help. Two more nuns, a doctor, and my mother came and forced my arm open while I kicked and screamed bloody murder. Max sat on the stool next to me wide-eyed watching this all play out. I think I was upside down facing the floor when they finally got my elbow open. Things had not started well.

Max and I - That's my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

Max and I about tonsil time – That’s my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

That night my Grandma came to see us after work. She would stay with us until we fell asleep. She brought some things to keep us occupied with her. She brought Max’s favorite GI Joe along with a new accessory kit. For me she brought me my very own Joe sailor with a scuba diving kit. I was ecstatic – so far it had all been worth it.

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I could hardly sleep that night, not because I was having surgery in the morning, but because I couldn’t wait to wake up and play with my very own Joe. Sister Helen came in to get us ready to go to the operating room. I asked if Joe could go with me and she told me that he was a boys toy, I should be playing with a girls doll. I know I shot her a look, no nun was going to tell me what to play with. I hugged Joe close in case she decided to take him from me. Max and I both had our Joes as the wheeled us to the operating room. They told me to count backwards from a hundred and I think I might have gotten to 96 before I was out.

When I woke up I had the worst sore throat of my life. It hurt to even try to talk. Worse yet, Max had his Joe, but mine was nowhere to be found. The nuns asked me how I felt, but had no interest hearing about my missing Joe. They offered ice cream as a distraction – at least that’s what I thought at the time. No one thought that finding my Joe was a priority.

Have you seen me? I may have been kidnapped by nuns!

Have you seen me? I may have been abducted by nuns!

Grandma came by again to spend the evening with us, finally someone who understood the urgency of my situation! She hunted down that nun and got my Joe back for me. I think she may have given her a piece of her protestant mind while she was at it. I ate some ice cream and tucked Joe under my pillow for safe keeping. Grandma made sure all my accessories were safe – now I could go to sleep. Late that night Max woke up and needed to go to the restroom. I pushed the call button and a male nurse came into the room. Max insisted that a man couldn’t be a nurse, only girls were nurses. He would wait until morning when a proper nurse could be found.

"No - I want a real nurse!"

“No – I want a real nurse!”

In the morning Max, Joe, Joe, and I were discharged with sore throats and lots of accessories. Mom’s throat issues got a lot better, I developed a healthy skepticism of nuns, and I got my very own GI Joe.

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.