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.

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.

We can’t forget about Rooster, other pretty boy

DSC_0357I think that was his name. The warm light and sharp focus on the eyes combined with the backdrop that looks painted makes me very happy with this image. People who’ve seen it have complained that most of the horse is cut off, but I wanted to be right up in his face.

The Sky is Falling

The air clears, something about the lightening of the horizon as the year changes, the skies shift under the tilt of the planet to the colder darker expanses of space. I feel a sense of anticipation, for cold kisses on my cheeks on long winter nights, for the shiver of the wind around the eaves. Here, I have to travel for the snow but I seek it out regardless.


Mom speaks

My name is Mary Ramsey….Roethle.

Why the pause in your name?

Chuckles. I wanted to make sure Ramsey got in there cuz that’s really who I am. Roethle is you guys’ name.

Why did you take that name?

Cuz I wanted to have the same name you guys had.

Did you ever legally take that name? Not really. Kind of. Laughs. Right after I met your dad and he wanted to get married…we just kind of had our own little ceremony. So I took my Ramsey driver’s license…we were living in Prescott, Arizona. And.I was young, and I was….pretty and there was a man in there that was the DMV officer, and I told him that I had just gotten married and I wanted to get a new driver’s license. And he didn’t ask to see any proof. Laughs.

What year was this, do you think?


Let’s see…met your dad in 78. It was probably around 1980 maybe.

So what was your ceremony like?

Laughs. We were in Las Vegas. We were standing out in front of Circus Circus hotel, just out in front there. And we said a little ceremony to each other, and that was it.

I always hated Circus Circus.

It was a creepy place.

Why did you decide to get married?

Because I loved your dad. I was in love with him. And I was perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life with him. So I thought. At the time.

Things change, huh?


So how old were you, and how old was he?

I met him when I was 20, I was just getting ready to turn 21. And he was 28 or 29.

You guys were young. That’s a lot of years together.

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