Grandpa and a Schwinn Bicycle

On my 6th birthday I got my first bike. It was purple and had training wheels. It was a classic 20″ girls Schwinn. That bike meant freedom to me.
This is not my bike, but mine looked just like this only it had streamers and embarrassing training wheels.

This is not my bike, but mine looked just like this only it had streamers and embarrassing training wheels.

I was not allowed to cross the street to play in a neighbor’s lawn without Mom’s permission. I was not allowed to go next door to see if Susan Cunningham could play unless Mom said it was OK. I was not allowed to ride on the asphalt of Isabelle Avenue until I could ride without training wheels. Once I could ride that bike, the asphalt that lay between me and the rest of humanity, as I saw it, would disappear. Riding in the street and crossing the street would be the same thing. Riding on Isabelle Avenue would lead to riding on 21st Street, and that would lead to riding on Ogden, and then Cervantes where my pal Connie lived. In no time I would be pedaling to Stewart’s Market just down the street from her house – the whole world would be open before me, if only I could get rid of those training wheels.
This is my first grade photo, my mom loved ringlets. On school photo day I pretended to like them too. I never looked like this except on school photo day.

This is my first grade photo, my mom loved ringlets. On school photo day I pretended to like them too. I never looked like this except on school photo day. I wouldn’t cross the street looking like this…

Losing the training wheels was a bit of a “catch 22”, This sidewalk was peppered with dips for driveways about every 30 feet. Getting up to speed on the sidewalk was a challenge. I had tried raising the wheels to the next notch to get a sense of balance, but those dips did me in every time. If I asked Mom she would feign busyness – cooking, cleaning, reading, caring for 2 toddlers, eating bonbons. I was sure that she was perfectly content with me limited to the boundaries of the sidewalks, out of her hair, but unable to get into any real trouble. Pops was no help. He came home from work every night and planted himself firmly in front of the TV – he rarely moved from his Strato-Lounger until after I went to bed at night. I had been riding with training wheels for months now. I seemed destined never to leave Isabelle Avenue.
This is how I felt riding down the street with training wheels. On another note - have you ever seen a lawn so smooth as this one?

This is how I felt riding down the street with training wheels. On another note – have you ever seen a lawn so smooth as this one? It’s like Astroturf.

Most days when I got home from school I would get my bike out and ride the sidewalk the wavy 100 feet to Grandpa’s house. He worked on the railroad and was gone on Mondays on a run to Yermo, California. He worked around the clock on Monday so he came home Tuesday morning and was off until Wednesday and Thursday nights when he worked as an engineer in the switch engine downtown. Grandma worked 9 to 5, so Grandpa took care of the cooking and cleaning and was always around to spend time with. I never knocked, I walked right into his house – unless the door was locked – then I looked into the mail slot to see if he was in the living room. Working irregular hours, Grandpa was an afternoon napper. He worked on one schedule and lived on another.
About once a week Grandpa would take my bike into the back yard and check the air pressure in my tires. He had a compressor back there and he was a stickler for proper tire inflation, even if you still had training wheels. He would check my tires weekly until I left Las Vegas at the age of 25. One one afternoon he asked me when I was finally going to learn to ride that bike without training wheels. He was just home from Yermo and was still in his striped overalls and Wellington’s. I told him that no one would help me and that learning on the sidewalk was just not working. He said, “I’ll help you,” and took my bike out back and removed those stupid training wheels and threw them in the trash.
This is my grandpa in his work clothes. My grandma taught me how to iron his engineers cap. I make it a rule never to wear a hat that you need to iron.

This is my grandpa in his work clothes. Note the shiny work boots. My grandma taught me how to iron his engineers cap. I make it a rule never to wear a hat that you need to iron.

Grandpa rarely left the house in his work clothes. He was a button down kind of man who wore tailored slacks and a sport coat to eat at Denny’s. He was not ashamed of being a working man, he just chose to leave those working clothes in the hamper when he got home. He also was a quiet man, not given to public laughter or displays of emotion. I have written a lot about my Grandmother with the huge personality. If Grandma loved me fiercely, Grandpa loved me deeply.
This is my grandpa dressed for yard work. Notice the creases in his trousers. He gardened dressed like this.

This is my grandpa dressed for yard work. Notice the creases in his trousers. He gardened dressed like this.

Grandpa grew up around women – a lot of women. He was the youngest of 7 children and had 5 older sisters. His mother’s twin sister was a fixture at their house as well. He was in the constant company of women who were crazy about him. He grew up understanding how to relate to women, not in a vulgar way, but in a way that connected easily.
Grandpa on his family farm in Nebraska sporting overalls and a no-iron hat.

Grandpa on his family farm in Nebraska sporting overalls and a no-iron hat.

My Pop used to complain that when he was in high school he hated to bring a date over to the house for dinner – that she would spend the next week talking about how much she liked his father, not exactly what he was after on a hot date. In his later years I remember taking Grandpa to the grocery store. We were in the checkout line and the checker was really agitated with the customer ahead of us. She was a very large African-American woman who was loudly expressing her frustration at a customer who didn’t speak English. As we approached the front of the line my inclination was to keep my mouth shut and get out of her way. Grandpa greeted her warmly, “Hello my lovely Delores, how is your day going?” She caught her breath and they just chatted as she checked us out. As he walked ahead of me she put her hand on my shoulder and told me that my grandpa always made her feel good when he came through her line – she just loved him. He had that effect on the nurses who helped to care for him, on my brother’s wives, on the neighbors, on me. I was his only granddaughter, this first Carter girl born since his sister Olive in 1915. He doted on me and I adored just being in his presence. He was a strong and thoughtful man who had no problem putting you ahead of himself. He made me and everyone he met feel valued and important.
On this rare afternoon he took me out to the asphalt in his work clothes – overalls and t-shirt. He held onto the back of the seat of my bike and ran down the street behind me as I pedaled as hard as I could. I could hear the “stomp” of his workbooks as they hit the pavement. As I sped up I could only hear the rush of the wind in my face. I yelled back at him, “Don’t let go, I’m afraid!” He yelled back, “Too late! You’re on your own!” Upon hearing this I felt the urge to brake, but feared that I would topple over if I slowed down. He ran after me and yelled to keep pedaling, so I did. I did slow down and turn back towards him, only to see him still running towards me in his work boots. I raced back his way and he wheeled his arm in a huge circle like a first base coach telling a runner to round the base, so I pedaled on past him while he clapped and smiled.
Me and Grandpa in the kitchen. He was pretty crazy about me, and I thought he was pretty awesome too.

Me and Grandpa in the kitchen. He was pretty crazy about me, and I thought he was pretty awesome too.

He gave me wings that day, and it wouldn’t be the last time. When my Pops told me that there was no need for a girl to go to college, Grandpa told me about his missed opportunity at an education and urged me to go. When Pops laughed at the idea of a Fine Art degree, Grandpa told me to do whatever I could to make a career doing something I loved. When I felt I needed a change and wanted a fresh start Grandpa assured me that it was the right choice – to move away from him. When his health declined after a stroke, I told him I wanted to move home to be with him, to care for him, he told me no. He never once put his needs ahead of mine and as I consider the magnitude of that I am humbled.
Here Grandpa gives me a vision of the world from a standing position on the couch - he always encouraged me to aim high.

Here Grandpa gives me a vision of the world from a standing position on the couch – he always encouraged me to aim high.

When I was about 7, my neighbor across the street started taking me to church with her family. She tried to explain to me how much God loves us, how he loves us no matter what we have done, that we can never do anything that will make him stop loving us. I pondered this and thought about my Grandpa and it all made sense. When I think of him today it still does.

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.