The Real King of Isabelle Avenue

We moved to Isabelle Avenue sometime in 1964. It was Pops and Mom and Max and me. Max was just a baby and my memories of that time are faint – images of Grandma and Grandpa’s house just down the street, some older girls knocking on our door asking if they could use Max as their pretend baby doll while they played house, and me meeting my very first friend. His name was Paul. He lived right across the street and was about a year older than me. I honestly have no memory of the time in my life before Paul. He was funny and talkative, and even at 4 he was the most adventurous person I knew.

Lorri and Mom and Pops in the front yard

Mom and Pop and I in Grandpa’s front yard on Isabelle Avenue. I bet Max was inside on Granny’s lap.

As we grew up he would spend almost all of his afternoons at our house. My mom was like a second mom to Paul. He tried to wrangle an invitation to dinner almost every night. He loved just about everything my mom cooked and on those nights when he wasn’t on the dinner list he would hide in the rose bushes under our kitchen windows waiting for mom to go to the sink after dinner. In the dark of the evening he would pop up and scare the bejesus out of her. Year after year he would wait in those bushes and somehow my Mom was never prepared for his sudden and startling appearances.

Mom Smiling

Watch out Mom – beware of the monster below the kitchen window!

He was the ringleader in our neighborhood. He taught my brothers how to make things explode in old pill bottles, and he made short work of just about any lock he ever encountered. I recall seeing him and Ron running out from the side yard after a loud “boom” – neither of them had eyebrows anymore. I never knew any of his alchemic secrets but I was often witness to the aftermath.

My Mom might give him a hard time but she adored him. He was the first of her “boys” that she mothered who were not her sons by birth. Each morning when we started the walk down the street to school, Mom would wait to see what Paul was wearing – she would yell, “I think you wore that yesterday – get back in the house and put on some clean clothes!” Paul never put up a fuss and nearly always did whatever she asked. Mom sometimes feigned annoyance at Paul’s constant presence, but the truth is that if he didn’t show up after school she worried that he was somewhere getting into trouble.

As I became a teenager Paul was the big brother who was always in my business. He was the one would tell me if he thought that the boy I was dating was a creep. He would often tell me who was really my friend at school and who was fake. He looked out for me even when I found his concern annoying. As I became an adult and moved out on my own it was not unusual for him to show up at my door – just to check on me and to catch up.

Minka and Paul

Paul and Minka – I was taking black and white photos of Minka for a school project – Paul dove right in. It’s one of my favorite shots of Paul.

Paul never knocked. He walked into our living room when we were watching TV, eating dinner (his favorite), or just hanging out in the backyard shooting candles out with guns. One time I was at my brother’s home while he and his wife were out of town. I was in the shower and heard someone in the living room when no one was supposed to be home. Of course, I knew it would be Paul. Just a couple of years ago I got a call from Paul – he was ten miles outside of Eureka Springs – even 2000 miles from Isabelle Avenue Paul was still popping by unannounced. The last time I saw him was at Christmas when he came over to my brother’s house. He walked right in and inserted himself into whatever was happening at that moment. Paul was always welcome in our lives. He was one of us. He didn’t need to knock.

One of my favorite adventures with Paul happened was when I was four and he was five. We were at my house watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show. Isabelle Avenue wasn’t Mayberry but the story resonated with us. Opie had been caught in a lie – his report card gave him higher grades and he was reaping the rewards – mainly a new bicycle. Once his teacher realized the mistake she called Andy into the school to tell him about the error. Opie was ashamed and felt like he had no choice but to run away from home. He packed some fried chicken and an apple in a kerchief and tied it to a stick. He sadly departed with it over his shoulder, choosing to start a new life rather than own up to the truth about his grades.

RunawayKid_(65)

The Runaway Kid – Opie plays cowboys with a runaway – he promises to keep the Kid’s secret but Andy spills the beans. Paul and I never spilled the beans to our folks.

Now I wasn’t in school yet and didn’t know much about grades, but the idea of sneaking some fried chicken out of the fridge and taking off on an adventure was pretty appealing to Paul. He talked me into coming along and we tied our food and essentials into bandanas and tied them to tree limbs and just took off. I was worried about not asking Mom for permission, I actually asked permission to leave the yard but Paul convinced me that it wouldn’t be running away if we asked before we left. So like Opie we took off on foot.

We went to the end of Isabelle Avenue and turned south on 21st Street and walked in the general direction of the Blue Angel that we could see above the neighborhood. We got to Fremont Street to the auto parts store when a neighbor spotted us. We were told to get into his truck and wait – he would drive us home after he got what he needed from the parts store.

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Our guiding angel – just down the street from the auto parts store.

In the back of that truck we made the best of it and feasted on cold fried chicken while we waited on our ride home. We had traveled 4 whole blocks and we were pooped. The neighbor dropped us off in front of my house and we continued to play in the yard until the street lights came on and my Mom told us it was time for dinner.

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At the end of Opie’s Ill Gotten Gain Andy notices that Opie is missing – we don’t know if anyone noticed that we were missing.

I am not sure if Mom knew about our adventure. I never told her and she never mentioned our absence or the missing fried chicken.

Paul knew absolutely everyone in the neighborhood and knew all their stories. He would tell of grand adventures with Michael next door or Randy down the street or someone else who might live a couple of blocks over. I call this blog The King of Isabelle Avenue as a reference to my father, but in truth the real king of the block was and always will be Paul.

 

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The last photo I took of Paul. It was my brother’s birthday and Paul was doing what he did best – catching up with the kids from the hood. I can’t picture my life without Paul in it. 

Paul left us last week. My sad heart thought it couldn’t be more broken, but like all of us who lived on Isabelle Avenue, I am struggling to come to terms with a world without him walking into my house without knocking.

I like to imagine him and Mom feasting on fried chicken watching over us.

Godspeed Big Brother.

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The Celebration of the Pre-Bicentennial

The rockets red glare, bombs bursting in mid-air, showers of sparks falling from heaven through the thick sulphurous smoke – below it was carnage. The fallen lay strewn in every direction as far as the eye could see. As the smoke cleared, a single figure becomes visible downfield. She’s clothed in red, a rifle in her hand, and she’s running for the end zone for all she’s worth. Behind her a large bearded man yells, “Die already!”
My Pop never did anything half way – he was all-in or he was out. When we started going to black powder gun shoots at the local range, it wasn’t long before he was getting Mom to make him some “leathers” so that he could play the part of a real mountain man. Almost immediately we were neck-deep in a local club called the Nevada Frontloaders – I know, it sounds like a group of bulldozer enthusiasts, but in reality it was a group who loved shooting muzzle-loading weapons – we were called “frontloaders” because the guns we fired were reloaded from the front of the barrel – the muzzle.
The sterling silver pendant worn by the members of the Nevada Frontloaders - designed by me when I was 12.

The sterling silver pendant worn by the members of the Nevada Frontloaders – designed by me when I was 12.

The Frontloaders put on a rendezvous several times a year – basically a rendezvous is a weekend shoot at a remote location with primitive camping. Initially we all loaded into the GMC camper for these weekends, but after an enlightening trip to a huge rendezvous in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, he moved us out of the camper and into a lodge – a large canvas teepee. Now camping in a teepee is not for the faint of heart – you have to carry log poles with you – very long lodgepole pine poles, I think it took about 30 of them to set up a lodge. It took the whole family and Pop’s pal Tiny to set the lodge up.
Not your typical tent-camping set-up, a teepee requires lots of friends in leather clothes to assemble.

Not your typical tent-camping set-up, a teepee requires lots of friends in leather clothes to assemble.

An aside about Tiny – Tiny’s given name is something like Donald and I have no idea what his last name is. I’ve known him for 40 years and he is married to my mom’s cousin. The subject of his actual name just never came up. He is a very large man – I think he’s something like 6 foot 8, and he always told me that he weighed more than they could read on the scale in his doctor’s office. He used to tell us he was 5 foot 20 or 4 foot 32. He is a mountain of a man. My pop met him at a shoot and immediately started calling him Tiny. To this day he drives a car with a vanity plate with that moniker. He was the guy Pop would call if he ever needed anything. Tiny was there to help fix a car or the AC, he was there to participate in Pop’s crazy projects, he was there when my mom passed. Until the last few years he would always pick me up off the ground in a bear hug when he greeted me, and I can assure you that that’s no simple feat. He has shown up on my doorstep in the woods in a 30 foot RV with no warning and he would be welcome to do so at any time – he is a prince of a man.
This is Tiny - the tiny man next to him is not tiny. Tiny is really not tiny at all.

This is Tiny – the tiny man next to him is not Tiny and also is not tiny. He is average, although that is not his name. Tiny is really not tiny at all.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, the Pre-Bicentennial – anyway…
Once we got involved, Pops drug us to almost any kind of event where he could put on his leathers and pretend that it wasn’t the 1970s in Las Vegas. We went to a historical reenactment at the Old Mormon Fort – the first settlement in what is now Las Vegas. Pops had set up a blacksmith forge in our back yard (No store-bought knives or tomahawks for us!), so he was giving a blacksmith demo at the fort. He caught the eye of a reporter for the Sunday magazine in one of the local papers, and he became the go-to guy whenever they wanted stories about a family pretending they were pioneers. Over the years Pops was in articles about primitive fire starting, blacksmithing, shooting, gun building, and even a feature that talked about the practice of trading with the natives. For this article, my mom – who was always a good sport – agreed to be photographed in a scene where my Pop was trading a local Indian two horses for her. Most of the time he just made up “facts” for the reporters and they ate it up. He was in the Sunday magazines a couple of times a year and was the resident “expert” on all things “frontier” in Las Vegas.
One of Pop's first Sunday magazine features

One of Pop’s first Sunday magazine features. Notice my brother Max in the foreground pumping the foot bellows with his period appropriate sneakers. BTW – that’s my dead-shot Mama in the upper right – more on her later.

By 1975, things were in full swing leading up to the Bicentennial, and the annual 4th of July celebration would kick off a year of events recounting our nation’s glorious struggle for independence. This was about the time when the idea of historical re-enactors first become popular. People were wanting to see history replayed in a public way. Naturally, since Pop was the go-to guy concerning all things historically inaccurate in Las Vegas, he was approached to put on a reenactment at the Pre-Bicentennial fireworks display at the Las Vegas Silver Bowl. When asked, “Can you pull off a reenactment of the Battles of Lexington and Concord on the Football field?” Pops answered and emphatic “Yes!”
The men-folk put on a show at the old Mormon Fort. Someone forgot to tell Ronnie that only tourists wear dark sox with a breech cloth.

The men-folk put on a show at the old Mormon Fort. My Pop is holding a rifle owned by my Great Grandpa Goodson and my mother inheriting it is probably the reason we got into this crazy lifestyle. As an aside – someone forgot to tell Ronnie that only tourists wear dark sox with a breech cloth.

This was his plan – all the men and boys in the Nevada Frontloaders would dress in their “leathers”. They could pass themselves off as “colonials” or “patriots” with the simple addition of brown tri-corner felt hats to their ensembles. Now “leathers” were not tied to a specific historical style – the idea was that you hand sewed some skins together to make shirts, loin cloths, leggings, or pants. You made something that someone with no sewing machine could have made out on the frontier, never mind that Lexington had been settled for over 120 years by the time of the American Revolution, Concord had been around even longer – they were no more the frontier than Las Vegas was 200 years later. Now of course these “patriots” needed someone to fight – Pops had a solution for that too. My mom was a seamstress and pattern cutter so all she had to do was make British red-coat costumes for all the women and girls in the Frontloaders. After all, there were no squaws at the battle of Lexington and Concord.
This is a shot I took of my Pop while he was getting ready for a photo shoot with the paper - these are the horses he was going to trade for my mother. I rode those horses growing up and he definitely got the better end of the deal.

This is a shot I took of my Pop while he was getting ready for a photo shoot with the paper – these are the horses he was going to trade for my mother. I rode those horses growing up and he definitely got the better end of the deal.

As a 13-year-old girl, I can’t say that this idea excited me. I was given a pair of white men’s trousers that had been cut off at mid calf, an old pair of tall black equestrian boots, a tri-corner hat, and an exquisitely tailored red-coat – that and my 1841 reproduction Mississippi Rifle competed my costume. Me, my mom, and about 8 other women-folk from the Frontloaders made up the terrifying British forces. One girl was actually someone’s cousin, visiting for the summer who had been convinced to come along and relive history with us at the Silver Bowl.
Another publicity shot of the Nevada Frontloaders - this was taken about 30 minutes before my Pop decided to grow a beard.

Another publicity shot of the Nevada Frontloaders – this was taken about 30 minutes before my Pop decided to grow a beard. He would not be seen clean-shaven again until the 90’s.

Now July in Vegas is hot – that’s pretty common knowledge. What you may not know is that July and August are the “monsoon” season in the Nevada desert. The name has always cracked me up – locals say it with such sincerity. Most of the local annual rainfall of four inches falls during the 27 days of the “monsoon”. Living in a place where the annual rainfall is measured in feet has probably added to my less than earnest thoughts about the “monsoon” – even so, rain in the desert, any rain is a big deal. The rains start in the mountains west of town and by the time it hits the valley floor the water is already rushing down from the mountains. The ground doesn’t absorb it and it races across the valley and it can be deadly. People who don’t see rain regularly often don’t take moving water seriously.
July of 1975 was a very bad monsoon. The 3rd and the 4th of July saw three inches of rain race across the valley. This happened at a time when the valley infrastructure had no means in place to direct water. It sounds crazy today, but they would build an underpass below grade and just close it if the rains came. City planners thought nothing of leveling big tracts of city owned desert for development without giving a thought to drainage – after all it doesn’t rain very often. On the afternoon of the third, wall of water raced across the strip – it relocated over 300 cars from the parking lot at Caesar’s Palace to multiple locations east of the strip. It all happened really fast – and by late afternoon all the water was gone – that’s why they call it a “flash flood”.
This is an image of the Strip right after the flooding on the third of July 1975 - can you say "Monsoon"?

This is an image of the Strip right after the flooding on the third of July 1975 – can you say “Monsoon”? Hey, I thought Andy Williams was busy inventing Branson in the 70’s – what gives?

As I stood in my bedroom watching the water race across our neighbor’s lawns across the street on the “low side” one thought cheered me – perhaps the fake revolution would have to be cancelled. No such luck – Pops got off work at around 4 and we headed out to the Silver Bowl for a rehearsal. Pops laid out the plan to the thirty or so male colonials and the ten girlie red-coats. The red-coats would set up in a classic kneeling and standing formation on the western 20 yard line. The patriots would rush towards us as we took aim and fired one volley. Now we were not shooting actual bullets – we had loaded our muskets with about 10-15 grains of black powder and packed it down with a wad of toilet paper. When you fired, the thought was that the toilet paper would be vaporized before it exited the barrel – but I can attest to the fact that it can survive the inferno. After our volley the whole end of the stadium filled with white smoke from the gunpowder making it impossible for anyone to see the brave patriots charging our meager ranks. As the smoke cleared we regrouped as tiny tp snowflakes fell from the sky. The British were penalized 15 yards for excessive smokiness and we started play again from the 35 yard line.
This is the kind of smoke that comes from firing black powder and toilet paper - inside the Silver Bowl the smoke just hung there.

This is the kind of smoke that comes from firing black powder and toilet paper – inside the Silver Bowl the smoke just hung there.

In our street clothes we worked out the spacing for the show the next day. The Astroturf was wet and it was almost walking on top of a blister. After a quick walk through we met on the sidelines where Pop told us the plan. The British would take that first volley and then make a hasty retreat as the patriots charged forward. Our job was to fire, retreat, and fall down dead on the Astroturf as toilet paper shots rang out behind us. It was going to be a rout – there would be no survivors.
As Pops went over the details I looked down at the plastic turf at my feet – I was standing right near the edge of the fake grass behind the visitors bench. As I pressed my feet into the turf I saw water spill out at the edge – the Silver Bowl is built in the flood plain known as the Vegas Wash and all that water had passed around and under the stadium. As I looked closer, I saw something move, and then I saw more somethings move. I locked onto the movements and saw dozens of smallish light-colored baby tarantulas squirming in the wet Astroturf! Apparently they lived under the plastic fake grass and all that water had forced them above ground. Needless to say, I freaked out and tried to stomp on them before they could crawl on me. I pushed the toe of my shoe into the turf over one and I watched in amazement as it just crawled right out from under my shoe – the rigidity of the astro turf seemed to give it enough wiggle room to get free. This was my worst nightmare – the place was crawling with them. As we drove home that evening all I could think about was the next evening when we would march out on that field – I was going to have to play dead on plastic grass with creepy fuzzy alien-looking spiders everywhere! My skin crawled every time I thought about it.
There were dozens of these delightful creatures everywhere -

There were dozens of these delightful creatures everywhere – I considered wearing a has-mat suit under my red-coat.

The next evening we would reenact that famous heroic battle there under the lights of the Silver Bowl. As we got dressed in the locker rooms I mused that we British had about as much chance tonight as the UNLV Rebels football team would have in that very stadium playing just about any opponent that fall. Yes, it would be a rout, but would I have the courage to be a brave little soldier and drop dead in that spider infested turf to celebrate my nation’s birthday?
The British lined up on the Patriots 35 yard line. They fired their volley and the Patriots charged from the end zone. My mother played the part of the general – let’s just say for complete historical inaccuracy that she was General Cornwallis, anyway, she was the head red-coat in charge. I watched her as we turned to run up field towards the 50 yard line. The patriots fired, but instead of dropping dead my mother reloaded – right there at midfield. She raised her rifle and fired. Boom! Immediately 4 patriots dropped dead! My father growled, this wasn’t in his very carefully crafted fake history plan – but once you’re dead, you’re dead. You can’t get up – you have to stay dead.
My mom could sew up a storm - she made her dress, these drapes and even helped upholster that couch - a real renaissance woman. She could also kill 4 rebels with a single load of toilet paper.

My mom could sew up a storm – she made her dress, these drapes and even helped upholster that couch – a real renaissance woman. She could also kill 4 rebels with a single load of toilet paper.

This break from the plan gave me hope so I reloaded and fired into the crowd of Patriots – but alas, no one fell. Shots rang out from about the 45 yard line and I saw my mother fall. Rifle at the ready, I scanned the field and saw that I was the last red-coat standing. More shots rang out and I just couldn’t make myself fall. (Everyone knows that muskets in that time were notoriously inaccurate.) The fear of spiders proved to be more potent than the fear of my Pops. I turned down field, rifle in hand, and made a run for it. As I crossed into the end zone and ran under the uprights the fireworks show started overhead. As all eyes in the stadium left me and looked skyward, I could still hear my father yelling in the distance, “Die already!” I chose not to die that day and didn’t stop running until I hit the locker room.
When this man chases you across a football field, you had better haul ass if you don't want to die with the spiders.

When this man chases you across a football field, you had better haul ass if you don’t want to die with the spiders.

We had done the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord proud and tarantulas still give me the creeps, even today.
Belated Happy Birthday America!

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.

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.

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.