Roads on Her Face # 42: The Death of the Sun

You could count the passing of the days in the trickle of sweat down spines, the tss tss of the spray bottles we used as air conditioning constant as the slow torpid buzzing of flies. The ebb and flow of time in the middle of nowhere follows the seasons; slower in the misery of summer and too-quick in the cool of winter.

Days were spent lying in the small shade of palo verdes and mesquite waiting for the eye of the sun to finally drop away. The mercury registered 120 in Phoenix one summer we spent out in the desert without electricity or running water. Sometimes it was too hot to read, too hot to breathe. We crawled under the silver mirage of the trailer like dogs, panting with tongues lolling in the blessed sand. The water we wet ourselves with evaporated in minutes, leaving behind the memory of being cool. We dreamed of popsicles and the cold clear waters of the Northwest; imagined green cool light filtering through leaves of plants that did not have spines and were soft to the touch; imagined the lives of people not brutalized by the elements. When I could read, I chose books about the Arctic, vampire novels set in northern countries, stories of polar bears.

Dad soaked his t-shirt constantly in a bucket of water that he never threw out or changed; I didn’t know water could rot and smell quite that bad but it didn’t seem to bother him though he often bragged about his sense of smell. He smelled like death, and being near him made me gag. He laughed at us when we turned up our noses. Was it a point of pride to stink like that?

Mom did not complain, never complained. We carried flyswatters to combat the few flies brave enough to fly through the heat to look for water, we made paper fans to keep the air circulating. In the evening when the rays of the sun grew long we, along with the animals, cautiously began to move limbs and talk, smiling with the relief of the night. The dichotomy of the desert is the amazing night, that no matter how hot it is during the day the heat would rush toward the heavens when the sun-god disappeared. Like the moon, the day and night temperatures would be so far apart that it was almost worth the suffering. The night is still my favorite time, the stars the best part of the sky.

Roads On Her Face #41: Melba

Melba had a little sewing and quilting shop on the main drag of
Glenwood, across from the Crab Apple Cabins and next to the creek that
bubbled under the highway. We’d walk through town as kids and stop at
the creek in the shade, to pretend there was a troll under the bridge
or to watch the kids in the summer in town with their parents for
vacation. The strangers in town were always tourists or hunters. The
teenage girls knew when the Forest Service would bring in the Hot
Shots to fight fires in the mountains. As the season got drier and the
heat began, so would the hormones heat up in town. Tan muscled guys
who’d been spending weeks in the mountains would come rolling into
town and the smell of sweat and desire was rank.

Melba gave me another job in exchange for sewing lessons. I helped her
in the shop, and gave her massages after work. Pressing her doughy
flesh as she sighed in her room, I decided I didn’t want to be a
massage therapist.

Our first Christmas I was the charity case for the women’s quilting
group. I imagine the meeting they had as they picked their deserving
recipient.

“That little homeless girl in the trailer, Mary’s daughter? You know
she’d just love a quilt, ladies. Let’s stitch her a new life made of
goodwill and tiny stitched dolls wearing flowered dresses.”

It was a sweet gesture. I wished I hadn’t had to give her massages,
though. I made sure I was as busy as I could be so I could tell her I
didn’t have time anymore for sewing. I never made clothing that fit me
quite right, anyway.

I participated in everything. I went to the ladies’ oil painting group
and painted colorful quick paintings, two to a month, while the older
ladies had been working on the same thing for a year. I livened up
their day and made them laugh.

Lynn took me under her artist’s wing, because I loved to paint so
much. She’d come in with her brush and refine my splashes and swirls,
add color and depth when I didn’t take the time. She could tell I
needed a little refinement.

People started asking me to babysit their kids, and I still didn’t
know how to say no yet so I did. After one last overnight with a
couple of little boys who wanted to sleep in the bed with me and tried
to run roughshod, I realized I didn’t have to do this anymore. I was
making enough money at my other jobs…

Windstalker hired me to tie the hundreds of pottery chile ristras they
hung at the door, their best sellers to folks looking for a New
Mexican souvenir. My fingers were raw and bled as I knotted the cords
together and burned the ends with a lighter to prevent them
unraveling.

We spent days at the Catwalk in the cold water of the canyons,
exploring under the rocks and back away from the trail. We swam in the
deep dark swimming holes beneath giant boulders, climbed barefoot up
the cliffsides and swung from trees like monkeys. One of my best friends Adele and I parked with boys in the parking lot of the picnic grounds late at night, watching the stars, and I sighed and was bored as she made out in the backseat. I still looked
like a little girl with zits  who didn’t know how to dress, and her
curves and breasts had been womanly for years already. When would I be
desirable? I was in such a hurry and the time was so close. I felt
like I had so many years to catch up on, not realizing the length of
the years before me. I always knew I would want to slow down time,
though, and it’s been a recurring theme in my journals since I started them at 8 years old.

I have always known I’ll be looking back in 10 years, then  20 (if luck favors the bold), wondering where did the time go?

Burn Baby Burn

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BM2013_145 logo

I saw these guys on an RV in front of us on burn night 2013…I just ran across this in one of my folders and had forgotten all about it. Love, love, love everything about this shot and the story of how they’re all just laid back and watching from afar, while I watched from afar-ther. Away from all the craziness and the thousands of people down there as the Man burns. You can see the smoke and dust, flames and lasers in front of them.

Mom Speaks: So we used to live in Gerlach…

How did he figure out this lifestyle? It’s not something his dad did so..?

No definitely not. I don’t know he was a drifter when I met him.

And that was after the war, right, Vietnam?

Yeah he just couldn’t, stay in one place for long, couldn’t settle down, things would get a little too tough with responsibilities or schedules and he’d just take off and go somewhere else.

Yeah so those 9 months, I think it must have been six months left by then, because we worked at the hotel I was probably 3 months there, we must have just bummed around, got the bus, and decided that we would, it was kind of close to the due date so we must have decided to just hang out in Havasu (Lake Havasu City, AZ).

And you’d had no prenatal care or anything right…so you were just…

Yeah, nope. I think we lived in Wilcox for a while, that’s right because I remember being really big. We got a little apartment and your dad got a job, I remember him working somewhere. Yeah, so toward the end of my pregnancy we got the bus. So we’d have a house to live in.

Sort of a house.

It was a nice bus, though, it was pretty neat.

I remember pictures of it.

It had a little kitchen, bed, dining table, bathroom. I liked it.

How long did that bus hang around, must not have been very long.

No, after you were born we moved around in it for a while, I think until you were, I don’t know gosh. Oh from the bus we must have gotten that step van.

The UPS van?

Yeah. Cuz you were little in that. And then we drove, we took that a lot of places, up to Nevada, all over. That’s when we were out in Gerlach (NV), we had that and you were just little.

So how did Gerlach happen?

Probably through some economic development office. Somebody was looking for workers.

So you guys would register with those when you came into a town and try to find jobs?

Yeah sometimes.

Or you would hear through somebody you knew that there was work somewhere, seemed like you guys did that pretty much the whole time.

Yeah. And..hmm.

SO what do you remember about Gerlach.

It was a long way out to this ranch, it was an agricultural area so there were a lot of fields with irrigation and you know, sprinklers, and you came to this one ranch, it was really nice, nice big house on it, trees, huge fields I remember we weren’t going to be there long because there was a lot of work to do. (Laughs…)

We lived in the bunkhouse there connected to the barn. It was nice, it was fun. Either we had the bicycle…I think we must have had the bicycle, that was the picture with you on your dad’s shoulders on the bike.

That was in Gerlach, I didn’t know that.

Um yeah we didn’t stay there long, of course we packed up and moved on. From there, I don’t recall. I know we kind of ended up hanging out in Needles (CA) for quite some time probably during the winter. We met Jim and Lucy Stumpf, they were really nice people… Jim was. Of course he died of brain cancer a few years after that, from all the solvents he had used. He had built generators, all the cleaning solvents…and no ventilation in his little workshop.

That was one of the older couples that you guys would keep coming back to. To mooch off of.

Yeah cuz we could hang out there, and she would feed us.

Roads On Her Face #40: All I Ever Wanted Was Room

My diary tells me all I wanted was my own room. A place that didn’t move. People who knew me, boys who looked at me and wanted me and asked for my number. Only I’d never had a number. The only telephones we used were pay phones, at a corner behind the casino in Winnemucca while the dust blew by and the clouds settled in, while Dad played cards and drank somewhere inside and we sat outside and tried to be still and patient, tempers growing thin and us fidgeting, hungry. In front of a Bashas’ grocery store in Parker, Arizona, from the safety of a grocery trip that got Mom and I away from the desert on our own for a whole day to civilization, ice cream, the library. She’d check in on Granny, call her friend back in Georgia. Let them know we were still alive – did they wonder how long? But she’d made her own choices, they’d say, shaking well-coiffed Southern heads and not even trying to understand. She always was a little wild, that Mary. I didn’t know the wild Mary existed. All I’d ever seen was a sweet cowed woman that loved us more than anything.

Kids don’t know any better. They’re programmed to want to conform, to fit in, to survive in the herd and not be noticed. If I’d continued on the road as a teenager, if we’d kept going while I decided who I was going to be I would never have been able to stop. I know it in my bones. They say “You’d still be on the road, baby. You’d be somewhere in South America by now. On your way to China.” And I ache to be that person that I might have been. The person that I am feels hollow, too light to pull myself free from the clay of the earth and the roots growing round my feet. I imagine the flutter of leaves breaking free from branches, the flight of each one flashes of tiny freedoms and bursts of joy.

Roads on Her Face #39: The Silver Bullet

The old Airstream settles on Don’s land, her tires sighing out the breath pumped into them 20 (goddamn!) years ago at some far away rest stop- Nevada- maybe Oregon air, seeping out of tires no longer hard and young. Happens to us all.

I see her aging, flaking, and I know her and my destinies include me making her new again. I have to, I’ll rip out her insides and make her mine, strong and road-worthy again. Not young, I don’t have that kind of magic. But youth is not everything. I’d rather have her history, her wisdom. I don’t care how long or how much it costs. We will travel the road again together. But there won’t be 6 of us packed in there again.

The Airstream will be 26 feet of pure minimalist modern luxury when I’m done. Light and bright inside, and light on the road. I wish someone could buff me up and take out the nascent wrinkles before I reach her state of tired.

Walking into the trailer, our old home, brings back Needles where we first lived encased in her well-kept confines, the relative luxury of running water and electricity, of Karl’s borrowed showers, and his desperate want of my mother. I see that most in retrospect, don’t know if it was true and only assume.

Clackamas and Mt. Hood National Forest, where the rain drummed on the taut aluminum body, until we had to leave, avoiding the rust and must that would surely follow. The previous owners, a sweet Canadian couple with their road-years behind them, carved wooden coyotes and saguaros into her bulwarks (the faces of interior cabinets, and my made up ship-name for them). Crude art, that I don’t like but am loathe to take down. So much love in simple art, mine included.

As most good things, she became ours when Dad wasn’t around to fuck things up. Mom asked Granny for the loan. $5 thousand? $8 thousand? I remember we all took turns holding the check because it seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. The most we’d ever seen.

As the only material thing Mom held on to, I’m glad it was this piece of the past. And I’m honored to take her and make her right again. There’s never been a doubt she was a she- mother, protector, road-ship. All vessels are female, the holders of everything important.

The smell inside, of old must books and wood long un-loved makes me want to scrub and scrub all the neglect away. Make her, and the past, belong to me.