Ahhh…2014, you snuck up on me. Plus, the real Safari Photo

So, ahem, yeah- what happened to this little blog of mine? I guess I have to get my ass in gear, kinda.

For your viewing pleasure is the actual photo from Roads on Her Face: The Safari Photo. Her very nice note on the back indicates that any of suspicions I had about her were most likely wrong. I mean, I AM usually the one making things up about other people.

Mom let me take it and scan it, barely- I think it’s one of her favorites. Note: Me, perpetually with a book in hand- and Soph with a fistful of dollars from somewhere.

SafariShot SafariNoteTo the Mountzes, if you’re out there- I hope you don’t mind me putting your name on the interwebs.

Love, Alanna

 

 

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Roads on Her Face #36: The Safari Photo

There is a photo that sits, dusty and generally unnoticed , over my mom’s bed next to mementos of her travels and souvenirs brought back from mine and others, family photos, and “art” pieces made by her children out of clay or popsicle sticks over the years. It’s the cover of a pre-made greeting card, and there’s a note inside from the photographer saying she had enjoyed meeting us. We had few visitors at Jim’s Place in the desert outside of Parker, Arizona, and when I try to imagine what they thought when they arrived I smile. Did Jim and Bobbi Jo bring friends out there to show us off, like a circus attraction? Did they prove their generosity by parading the family of vagrants they had living on their desert land, marvel at our hard life and self-sufficiency? I don’t know. I know this woman who took the photo was moved by us, these hardscrabble little desert rat children in the middle of the punishing heat of the Mojave. We are in a posed group, the four of us, on white plastic chairs or standing. We look scruffy, and so very young. My sister, the youngest, must have been 2 or 3. We wear torn and dirty thrift store clothes, and at least one of the boys wears a once-white baseball cap with the velcroed-on shade flap for the back of his neck, patented by my mother’s brother as one of his frequent get-rich-quick schemes that never quite panned out. Our smiles are shy but proud, as if we never considered that others would look at us as people to pity.
I don’t even remember if the woman and her husband were friends of the landowners or people who happened to be driving by. We could hear vehicles coming almost as soon as they pulled off the highway onto the dirt road, 40 miles away. It was a hum in the air, a faint change in the atmosphere before we could hear the sound clearly. The county road was about ¾ of a mile from our trailer. We could be at the turnoff to Jim’s Place to meet visitors long before a vehicle traversed the miles from pavement. Did Dad sit out there with a chair and a beer, creating a figure that the curious would have to stop to inspect? Or did he meet them in Parker at a bar or the convenience store? I’ll ask my mother, and see how her memory as an adult differs from my perspective as a child. I will ask her if she was embarrassed for people to see her this way, if she worried that others might think she wasn’t caring for her children properly. She kept us as clean as you can keep active kids in the dirt of the desert, kept us clothed and fed and healthy. But she’d lived in “normal” society, in a house with two working parents in a neighborhood in a town where others watched how you behaved, judged you by how you dressed. She must have felt a kind of shame knowing how others might think of her. If not how other perceived how she cared for her children, did she consider what they thought about why she put up with the domineering treatment of the man she’d chosen to share her life with? It was apparent even to strangers that my mother was a second-class citizen and not a partner, blatant in Dad’s gruff commands to fetch him a beer, in the way he talked down to her and told rather than discussed.
I imagine this stranger with her clean clothes and fancy camera asking to take our picture, and us gathering around as if it were a fun occasion instead of a wildlife safari opportunity. I’m sure she was a mother, and tenderly gathering this trophy as a vacation highlight instead of as a hunter of photos of the disadvantaged. I myself, now, from the comfort of my middle-class life, would have taken the same photo of us or of children in Africa with flies at the corners of their eyes.

Roads on Her Face #22: Town Kids

There was a big difference between town kids and us. A gaping chasm, in fact, if you asked us. Town kids were afraid to get dirty. Us, we jumped in mud puddles with both bare feet. Town kids were soft, and ate too much candy. We were hard, with leather soles able to run through patches of goathead stickers with abandon. We ate beans and rice. Town kids sat lazy butts in front of the TV all day, while we roamed wild through the desert or forest or on lucky occasions, near the ocean. Town kids needed someone to entertain them, they lacked imagination. While we, when Dad said “Go amuse yourselves,” we had hours and days of complicated games and storylines – we were horses and cowboys, we built entire cities where certain trees and rocks were buildings (the jail, the store, our houses), we had clubs and threw parades and were the heads of armies. In the desert, we built swirling labyrinths delineated by stones and walked through them as if we could not see their outcomes without walls. We had friends in the trees and magical beings all around us.

Yes, I am the oldest, and much of the wild imagination came from the overload of books I’d consumed already. The other kids followed me because they had no other friends, and because my age and the fact I often had to watch them made me default leader. When they were older and off with their own crowds, other boys, I missed them though I might not have realized it at the time. My little sister doesn’t remember most of those wild free times, being the baby and not included in the complicated little hierarchy we had established in those road-days. She was 4 or 5 when we settled in New Mexico. I think she feels like she missed out, in a way, and maybe she did.

When we wanted to insult each other, we might call each other town kids, or maybe dweeb or dork, because those weren’t on the list of forbidden insults that might get a swipe from the belt around Dad’s waist. We came up with some of our own names, like “weed” or filthy little wretch, and those were worst and stung the most. We had fistfights, for a while, until we stopped. We shot each other with BB guns and stabbed each other accidentally with knives, and decided not to rat each other out to the grownups. Rowdy and I ganged up on Reno, and he and Rowdy ganged up on me. Sophie was the baby, the outcast that we didn’t want to have tag along. She turned out to be one of the coolest of us, though, tough and self-assured. She has us and the trickledown meanness of our clan to thank for that.

We didn’t speak about our parents much when we were off alone. It was unspoken that Dad was in charge, and that Mom got picked on the way Sophie did. When they fought, more often in the latter days, we merely made ourselves scarce and kept quiet, not wanting to draw any of the overflowing cauldron of ire our way. We protected each other from outsiders, knowing what it felt like to be broken from the herd and left alone to face strangers, the way antelope are picked by lions from the outskirts of their crowds of brethren.

The road and the way of life left lasting scars and opened minds (it calls me insistently, all the time). I like the person it made me, the inner toughness it left, the appreciation for everything it instilled. I hope my brothers remember it always, and I hope they’ve gained some of what I did from the experience. I thank my dad for that, if nothing else. He gave us a start in this life that most people never dream of.

I still think we’re better than the town kids.