Crotch Biting Blue and the Macramé Gang
CrotcH Biting Blue and the Macramé Gang
Blue, a guard dog, was hired by a succession of Phoenix industrial companies. He did his job well, but due to having an aversion to men he had became known as Crotch Biting Blue. His appointments never lasted long because ultimately he bit the good guys. After a particularly scandalous attack he was given to quarry owner, Howard Grey Sr., who spirited Blue out to a remote location south of Ash Fork, to assume duties once more as guard dog over heavy equipment. However, due to the nature of the beast, it was not long before Blue went for a doodler’s castanets and found himself fired again, and about to be fired upon.
Lorraine was a Good Samaritan and dog lover, who had rescued and adopted Susie, a stone yard stray Black Lab, saving her from a similar fate. When Lorraine heard of the impending execution of Blue she jumped into her snow plow accessorized, pick-up truck, and drove out to Howard Grey’s quarries. Upon her arrival she was confronted by the sight of Blue chained to a loader, lunging and snapping at an armed quarry worker’s nether regions. She stomped over to the men present, chastised them for scaring the poor brute, and then dragged Blue back to her truck, chain and all.
Lorraine had a magic touch with Blue and he willingly accepted her dominance — even after his “operation.” He grudgingly accepted Susie and her puppies, and the two imperious cats, but no other beings on the planet, above all G.B. and Shirley.
G.B. disliked dogs and all dogs hated G.B. at first sight. Maybe he exuded an aroma of arrogance, or maybe it was fear. When he was in the quarries, walking through town or at the stone yard, G.B. was accustomed to being attacked by dogs at large and was oblivious to the fact that dogs were forever furtively stalking him.
Blue was G.B.’s sworn enemy from their many encounters in Howard’s quarry. When Blue moved in with Lorraine, who occupied one of G.B.’s rental houses, Blue and G.B. declared war on each other — Blue having the upper paw. So great was his dominance over G.B. that while attending one of Howard Grey’s “Goat Roasts”, G.B. sat stock still and silent as Blue, having escaped the confines of Lorraine’s pick-up cab, swaggered over to him, gave him a rude sniff, cleaned off every morsel on G.B.’s plate, before moving down the line of guests.
Blue looked like an industrial size pit bull, with the coloring of a speckled grey Australian sheepdog. He weighed well over one hundred pounds and broke every tether hung around his thick neck. All the residents of Ash Fork, Catholics and heathens alike, crossed themselves and said a little prayer each time they walked past “his” property.
Lorraine, a master of macramé, offered to teach the craft in her house two nights a week as a much needed diversion for the locals. Shirley was eager to join as she had a jungle of house plants and longed for plant hangers. Although I was not a macramé person, and tying precise knots was not my forte, I did want to partake in the sociability of the Macramé Gang. I wheedled loose a few hours a week away from G.B., and attended the first class on a sweet summer evening. My first project was a six foot by ten foot, elaborately fringed hammock, and I chose a complex pattern to hide errors and chocolate brown cord to hide grubby hand marks and spilt Pepsi.
As usual, Shirley was late. We were all waiting for her to arrive, watching at the window with our noses pressed up against the glass, when Shirley pulled up, stepped out of her car and spotted Blue dragging his chain and heading in her direction. At the appearance of the huge snarling beast, Shirley, squawking flapping and screeching at Lorraine to control the beast, scrambled back into her car.
Shirley’s fear was warranted for Blue hated her. Later that evening she returned well armed, and at each subsequent class, every time Blue managed to nudge his way out of the kitchen, feathers flew and raucous screams of laughter issued forth from the Macramé Gang as the Shirley-Bird attempted to take flight onto the table in order to escape the horrendous hound.
During our classes we caught up on gossip, updated our Avon with Eva and watched with amusement through the screen door as G.B. slowly cruised by the house every fifteen minutes.
One evening as we diligently attempted to master knots, I mentioned off handedly that Nana was coming for a visit. She was looking forward to joining the Gang and showing us her latest belly-dance costume. My words lit everyone’s fuse and the Blonde lifted off with an idea.
Several weeks later, Nana and I arrived at Lorraine’s house armed with George Abdo and his Flames of Araby music and zills. The Gang was waiting for us clad in gauze shawls, silk scarves and harem pants made from curtains. Within minutes Lorraine’s house was transformed into a desert seraglio where the macramé students became privy to the mysteries of the Middle East.
That evening as G.B. rounded the corner of Lorraine’s house, he was accosted by the sound of laughter, music and song. He could recognize Willie Nelson played on a jukebox, but not what he was hearing through Lorraine’s screen door. He swerved onto the sidewalk, parked in front of the house and watched in bewilderment as silhouettes of “hootchie-kootchie” dancers undulated across the drapes, while Blue, guarding his Harem, sang harmony.
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VIVRE LA DIFFERENCE
Vivre La Difference
Somehow I had detonated G.B. again and my eyes flashed to meet his. I wondered if he had discovered Madness.
“What’s wrong Honey? What is it?” I asked with exaggerated innocence.
His bright blue eyes protruded as he felt around in his mouth and hauled out — “A ROCK! A GOD DAMNED ROCK!”
I had always been accused of wild culinary evils, such as the time when a mouse found its way into my oven and was cooked with the roast beef. That time my children accused me of trying to conjure up the Devil! Another time I sinned was when my two teen-aged daughters asked me to make them peanut butter and jam sandwiches. They told me to put peanut butter on one side and jam on the other. Lost in thought I put peanut butter on two slices of bread then with distracted difficulty I turned them over and put the jam on the other side. One daughter laughed and the other one cried.
But cooking rocks was far beyond the range of my sins!
I had cooked a southern dish, hocks, beans and cornbread for my husband, the aroma of which issued forth regularly from every house and trailer in town and every trailer and tent in the quarries.
So with indignant confidence I declared, “G.B. I do not cook rocks. It must have fallen off your hat or shirt. After all you’re surrounded by rocks all day.”
“Charle! I know the difference between a rock an’ a piece of flagstone! THIS IS NOT FLAGSTONE! IT’S A ROCK — A GOD DAMNED ROCK!” He stared at me with turquoise eyes blazing and his voice vibrating with leaking restraint.
“What was y’all thankin’ ‘bout while y’all was a-pickin’ the beans?
“I didn’t pick them — I bought them.”
G.B. froze and stared at me, enraged at what he construed as flippancy, then recovering some composure he blared, “WHAT? CHARLE! CHARLE! CHARLE! Listen to me Sweetheart. Did y’all sort the beans fer rocks?”
“No. Should I have?” I asked.
“Oh Charle!” G.B. flung back his head and lamented, “Who in this God damned world but y’all doesn’t know enough to check beans fer rocks?”
Before giggles consumed me, I choked out “Quite a few people — at least in my family.”
And with that G.B. was headed for Alice’s Café “a-goin’ an’ a-blowin’ an’ a-steamin’” out the door.
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A PLETHORA OF SHIRTS
A Plethora of Shirts
Every winter G.B. wore long sleeved khaki shirt and pant sets and broke the monotony in summer by wearing pale pastel, short sleeved shirts with his khaki pants. One would assume he had a very sparse wardrobe, but in fact he had a vast accumulation of tailored suits, worn only for funerals and trips to Canada, and drawers filled with winter, summer and dress shirts, as well as innumerable khaki sets, always purchased six at a time.
Each Christmas he was deluged with short sleeved shirts by his Okie kin which he donned each spiring with relish and wore for a a few minutes, until he first rammed his pens and note book into the left pocket and then flung his eyeglass case onto the floor – invariably the right pocket was missing!
Moments later he gathered up a haystack of shirts amid an appropriate succession of curses, he would ‘”tote ‘em” over to Luis and Pauline at Ash Fork’s cleaning establishment, dump them onto the counter and tell them to remove a square from the bottom, centre back of each shirt, with which they could devise a right hand pocket. To fill the hole they created by this radical cut, they would locate and stitch in a similar pastel or grossly inappropriate print square.
And G.B. in regard to his shirts, seemed to follow a philosophy similar to my dear grandfather who, each morning bent down to polish the front and sides of his big high black leather boots. Neglecting the back, he would quote: “A good soldiaah nev-aah looks behind.”
One day I watched G.B. discussing a special order, with his own charming confident air. He was addressing an immaculate Japanese architect and a pompous contractor, both so citified and expensively dressed.
The gentlemen moved behind G.B.’s chair in order to view the blueprint as he pointed out details. At one point G.B. swished the blueprint onto the floor with one of his extravagant gestures, then bent and stretched down from his big leather chair to retrieve it, thereby revealing to us all – baby pink and blue lambs leaping across his butt.
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I THINK WHEN BOOK 2 ENDS I MAY WAIT UNTIL AFTER JANUARY 1 2020 TO START BOOK 3, SHE PAINTS ROCKS - IF I CAN RESIST THE TEMPTATION.
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Carl was one of two men with whom G.B. forbade me to speak. His orders were not difficult to obey with one of the men, whose towering size, vacant expression, forbidding demeanor and wild insane laughter warded me off the first time he meandered into the station. But Carl?
The first time I walked to town from my northern campsite I came upon an old man herding a party of fat little puppies to Ash Fork. The charming old man told me about his exploration of Anasazi ruins, roaming the hills finding skulls, arrowheads and even intact ancient pots. He told me that he took the relics home to “protect them from thieves, pot-hunters and —Forest Rangers.” His reasoning was ironic but well intentioned as he did not sell them, he just accumulated them in his shack. Then he added that the next time he had to kill a rattlesnake, he would dry the skin and bring it to me to paint. I thanked him and said that was not necessary, and then passed on by, leaving him alone to herd his puppies into town.
When I arrived in town I found G.B. and told him about my encounter with the old man on the road. It was then I discovered that I had met Carl.
G.B’s reprimands and reasons why I must avoid the man at all cost were loud and plentiful. Carl was a dangerous individual!
“Charle, he ain’t right, y’all can’t believe any thang he tells to ye. He’s like that ol’ quarry guard; he’d as soon shoot or stab y’all, as say howdy.”
But I was not really convinced because Carl had been so nice to me — and he loved dogs.
That evening, after I arrived back at my trailer, I sat at the table gazing out the door at a wild pink sunset that was tinting everything as though God had poured strawberry juice over the world. A cottontail rabbit hurried past, and I noticed a movement between the trees below my trailer. It was Carl, and he was slowly creeping toward my campsite along the animal run — with a shotgun slung over his shoulder. An armed madman heading in my direction!
I was terrified, but I had the sense and time to drag London inside and lock the door. We peeked out a window and watched as the man slowly made his way up the hill. There was no place for us to hide, so when he reached the trailer I crouched on the floor clutched London closely to me and hoped Carl would not look through the windows and see us.
There was a knock on my trailer door. The door handle turned. My heart stopped and London went berserk attacking the flimsy inner screen barrier as Carl began to hammer on the door.
Did I want this madman angrier by not letting him in? Silently I called, Help me G.B.. Please come.
From outside a strained voice pleaded, “Ma’am — I’m sick. Can I come in? I have a bad heart and I don’t feel well. P lease Ma’am — I’m sick.”
I debated whether or not to obey G.B.’s warning or listen to my instinct. I could not let an old man die, begging for help on my doorstep, so I leashed London and together we opened the door to face Carl. I found him leaning against the trailer, ashen faced and in obvious physical distress.
No one on earth who knew me would choose me to nurse their ailments. The idea of anyone, including myself, having anything inside the skin revolts me, and the whole area of external and internal ailments totally panics me.
“I need a ride to my car. I need my heart pill.” He choked out.
I was relieved that the man was in fact on the verge of succumbing to heart failure, rather than planning to shoot me or needing me to nurse a wound. I helped him to my van and got him to his car and medication in time.
For years I continued to hear wild stories about Carl from everyone, but in all that time he was always gallant, polite and courteous to me and respectful to G.B. — at least in my presence. He was like the old desert rat in Sierra Madre, filled with wise words and amazing tales. I had to suppose all his wonderful stories were true, because somehow they always seemed to prove out
Carl dropped by the station and stone yard most weeks but it was several years after the first encounter with him that he arrived at our house.
“Charle!” G.B. called to me from the verandah, “Come on out Hon, Carl’s got somethin’ fer ye.”
There stood Carl, smiling radiantly. He greeted me with something hanging over one shoulder, the skin of a beautiful diamondback rattlesnake! I felt a shiver of horror while I thought, oh what a painting this will be!
In time G.B. came to trust Carl, and we even entrusted both of my daughters into his care for wondrous explorations out into the hills beyond town. But Carl was never trusted by others in our community. His last act of ferocity in Arizona occurred while he was in residence at a Williams nursing home. He shot up the place while in hot pursuit of another doddering old resident rock doodler who had “borrowed” one of Carl’s beloved pots
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One morning as we sat at the breakfast table G.B. casually mentioned his gun. To a naïve Canadian it was startling to hear that my husband, this volatile man, owned a firearm. I asked him where he kept it and he replied with a mischievous expression on his face, “Well Charle, it’s at home. Maybe.” He added when he saw my startled look. And then he continued, “Or in the car, or in the pick-up, at one of the offices or maybe at the station. Now don’t worry Hon. It’s hidden where no one could ever find it.” Floundering and going under he added, “It’s hidden at the station.” At my horrified gasp he quickly added, “Don’t worry Hon. It’s hidden where no one could ever find it.”
He was right. I had open access to everything including his hiding spots, but try as I might I was unable to find the gun, so I decided it was just bluster.
Soon after, in the middle of the night, G.B. wakened me in a frantic panic.
“CHARLE! CHARLE! I DANG NEAR SHOT DAN! I thought he was a prowler. What the Hayll was he a-doin’ in m’ station in the middle of the night?”
“G.B. he works there! You could have killed him — shattered his entire family — had my husband taken away to prison — all with one shot!”
Not getting the sympathy he expected, he tried to placate me, “Don’t worry Sweetheart — I threw the gun away.” Pleased with his quick thinking he smiled, feeling all was well again.
“What? Where?” I asked in tears.
“Ah . . . in the field, way beyond the tracks” He replied hesitantly.
“Oh no G.B., the children! What about the children? A little one might find it! I’ll get dressed and we can go get it now. We have to find it! Trauma was being heaped upon trauma for G.B. when his wife not only hollered at him but told him what to do.
“GOD DAMMIT CHARLE! OH HAYLL!” He screamed, spitting sparks! “Y’ALL’RE SO GOD – DAMNED . . . STRANGE! I didn’t throw it away! But I shore as hayll will get rid of it now, if it is just to shut you up!” He muttered.
“Where?” I persisted.
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SCRIPTS AND SONGS
Scripts and Songs
I decided to parallel the five acts of Salt Spring Madness as closely as possible to Ash Fork Madness, but frequently I was cast adrift, as there is only so much an island and a desert town have in common. However, with the rousing music and the original show’s framework, I developed five strong acts, each of which was introduced by three seedy, old rock doodlers reminiscing.
ACT I THE SETTLERS:
It was in the first act that I was best able to parallel the Salt Spring production with a simple opening song that would gradually swell to a rousing crescendo and which would include the voices of the audience.
The curtain rises on contemporary pioneers. A father and his two children sitting in the moonlight tend a cook-fire out in the Juniper ranch land. The little boy is frightened by shrieking coyotes, so his father tells the children the story of Ash Fork: Yavapai Indians who lived on the land, miners from Jerome, the Santa Fe railroaders, ranchers and cowboys who worked the range, Latino and Anglo families who settled the town and worked the flagstone deposits, and finally dust bowl Okies, truckers and tourists who drove Route 66, thus adding much needed income to the little town.
As the father describes the arrival of the succession of original inhabitants they emerge as visions from the darkness and are called over to join the man and his children around the fire.
Songs: Freedom Song, Things for Everyone, Friends and Neighbors*
ACT II THE BRIDES:
In the nineteen-forties, a mail order bride arrived in Ash Fork — by bus. When she discovered that her intended kept pigs in his house the bride left on the next bus out of town. I took poetic license to justify turning the bus into a stage coach and having an excited group of brides dressed for the altar pour out of it.
The stagecoach, brimming with mail order brides, is welcomed by the prospective grooms, the saloon’s habitués and the town’s floozy — boa and all.
Song: Here Come the Brides
ACT III THE HARVEY GIRLS:
After considerable research and interviews with surviving Harvey Girls, I chose to use the strictness of the housemothers who watched over Harvey Girls day and night, juxtaposed against the natural vivacious restlessness of young women.
They appear in camisoles and bloomers, and then change into vintage Harvey Girl uniforms, which were loaned to us by Al White, from Grand Canyon National Park.
Song: Harvey Girls
ACT IV ROCK DOODLERS
This act was a struggle for me. How does one turn the unique rugged breed of rock doodlers into thespians, dancers and singers? In the midst of my struggle I decided to use that very point and have the rock doodlers in the quarry dancing and prancing as they ridicule the townsmen who are appearing in a musical centennial show. The upbeat tempo of the song Ichose for this act was perfect for the raucous rock doodlers, and the lyrics came easily once the theme was set.
Song: Doodlers’ Rock
ACT V THE ASH FORK WOMEN’S VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE:
This act was to be a confrontation at a fire between the ridiculously feminine Ash Fork Women’s Volunteer Fire Brigade and an equally ridiculous group of Arizonians, the Kaibab Women’s Volunteer Fire Brigade, which included a strong retired military presence, and who with their Chief, were willfully pushing to join Ash Fork’s fire brigade.
I cast a petite, outspoken and effervescent individual, Pat, as Ash Fork’s fire chief, a woman who in reality was ahead of her time. Pat had tried to join our men’s brigade and had been firmly rejected — despite having been a corpsman in the U.S. Navy. I knew Pat would put her heart and soul into her role. When that fire bell rang they appeared in whatever attire they were wearing. As it turned out, a great deal less when Pat dropped her huge bath towel to reveal a hot pink bikini.
I turned to a tall, powerful and delightfully joyful, retired Lieutenant-Colonel, Sally, for my Kaibab fire chief and for appropriate military commands. Although I had only seen the enthusiastic happy side of her in the gas station, I knew, being a lieutenant-colonel she must be able to belt out orders with authority.
The two women were perfect antagonists as opposing Chiefs and I decided to have each one cast and direct her own brigade. I had a strong feeling that if any brigade members were introverts to begin with - subordinate to these two women — they would be extroverts by the chorus-line finale.
For the final kick-line, the women grabbed their bucket filled with confetti, held it on one shoulder, and following the last kick, they would throw the contents toward the nearest audience.
SONG: We're the Ash Fork Women's Fire Brigade
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It was not only curiosity that brought locals in to the gas station to talk with me. When I first appeared there they were already programmed to wander in and chat with the former owner Luisa Mena, whether or not they were buying gasoline. Railroaders gathered around the track truck included me in their happy talk while I pumped their gasoline, rock doodlers with their loaded rock hauling trucks would check with me to discover G.B.’s mood of the moment — before offering him their load of rock for sale, and they too would join the confab. When it was our month for the school bus and water truck contracts, the drivers paused to update me on their news of the day, and the local men, women, teens and children came in on their way to and from school or shopping in Zetler’s Market. Shirley, our E.M.T., arrived most mornings to see what G.B. had done to my blood pressure. The residents of the Kaibab and Juniper dropped in to tell me of their progress “back at the ranch.” But there was one person who came in at least eight times each day.
Ella was an elderly lady of dainty form and finely featured, with a beautiful smiling face. She was the tiniest little thing and always seemed to be slipping around inside her shabby genteel attire.
Not having a car or a family Ella did all her shopping at Zetler’s Market, and being well into her eighties, she got her daily exercise by repeatedly walking the few blocks from her house to the market, and then carrying home one or two objects at a time. At least once a day, if not countless times, she never passed by without stopping in to visit me. She would settle in the chair beside my desk and tell me enchanting tales that echoed out of the nineteenth century and even back to Arizona’s territorial days – tales of pioneers, her family and Ash Fork.
She told me about the “hanging tree” across the tracks and the ice house where, she told me confidentially and in a whisper barely heard, “Sometimes the town kept dead bodies in the ice house.”
During her stories Ella would sit primly with her hands entwined on her lap, and often burst loose with laughter that rang like Arcosante’s copper bells in the wind. She was never crude and never swore, but she gave the railroaders, rock doodlers and everyone else good banter, always leaving me laughing as she hurried away lest the “Devil himself ” (G.B.) catch her wasting my time.
A large number of people in town were quilters, including many of the women working and living in the quarries. As I had always enjoyed sewing dresses, I decided to give sewing a quilt a try. Not being precise by nature meant my squares were messy, but like my paintings, very brightly coloured. Over the weeks Ella watched my quilt squares add up until one day when she told me a story about a quilt made by her mother’s young cousin, Sarah.
“The lovely young Sarah had fallen in love with a handsome young man and they became engaged. During their engagement she worked on a quilt for their marriage bed, sewing into it all the hopes and dreams for their future. Sadly, while Sarah was still only seventeen, her beloved fiancé was killed. Broken hearted and vowing never to marry, she carefully wrapped in white cotton all the quilt squares and all the tiny pieces of fabric which she had so carefully cut. Then she placed the bundles at the bottom of her hope chest, never to work on the quilt again.”
The day following the story about Sarah, Ella arrived at the station carrying a small paper bag that she placed on the ice chest. I decided that she would return for it, so I let it lie. And she was back with a second, a third and a forth bag. Late in the day she finally popped in to sit down and visit.
“Miss Charle, I have something to give you.” She began to open one of the bags as I watched in anticipation — until I had to run out to a customer. As the driver pulled out of the station I hurried back to my desk. Ella has disappeared, but spread out for me to fully appreciate was the young Sarah’s quilt squares: the faded fragile voile, cottons and ginghams, that had never been stitched into the her marriage bed quilt.
On one of my rare days off I strolled along the unpaved lane called Railroad Avenue admiring a hedge of heavenly blue morning glories and a tangle of deep yellow climbing roses. Behind the gas station I scanned the old brick façade of G.B.’s building, and then skipped between pot holes until I noticed some cats behind a low fence at the edge of the lane. They leapt up to prowl alongside me on the two by four at the top of the fence, and I stroked them all as I studied the large, shabby, cobbled together looking house behind the fence. It stretched lengthwise along a very narrow and very long shady lot, and appeared to be deserted, so I was startled when one of its rickety doors opened and from the dark interior a voice called out, “Hello Miss Charle!” It was Ella.
“Oh, I didn’t know you lived in this house.” I said, thinking how odd it seemed for such a tiny lady to live in such a large house.
“Oh I lived here before it was properly born. You see, every time I needed to rent another room I just got some lumber and started building. The rock doodlers and railroaders helped me with ladders and two handed jobs, and then another room was done quick as Bob’s yer Uncle. Oh we’ve had booming times here in Ash Fork. Would you like to look inside?”
“Okay Ella. Thank you. But I can’t stay long. G.B. will start to hunt for me anytime now.”
“How do you stand that man? You should be married to a gentle man who speaks lovingly to you,” she said with great concern.
“He does, when he isn’t hollering.” I said with a smile to ease her concern.
At that we entered the dark, low ceilinged house and began to slowly walk down the very long hallway. On either side, strung out down the hall, were many tiny bedrooms — I supposed for the many boarders she once had. The floor tilted into a room to the right and then it tilted into a room to the left. Back to the right and then to the left, and I began to feel as though I was walking through a sooty old train trying to maintain my balance.
At last, at the the far end of the house we came out of the darkness into a sunlit and shabby old kitchen. I declined a glass of water but we sat chatting for a little. When I left I hurried to find G.B., eager to tell him that I had been to visit Ella.
“Guess what G.B., I was just taken through the longest shabbiest house I have ever seen.”
“Oh did Ella show y’all her home?” When I nodded excitedly he added, “Back when the railroad was real important, this here little town was a rip snorter!”
“G.B., she told me! And she told me how she kept adding on rooms to rent – doing a lot of it herself! And she said how after work the doodlers and trackmen helped her build them. That was so nice of them to help her. I can’t imagine that sweet little butterfly, young and beautiful, flitting about moving ladders and carrying boards to add rooms to her house.”
G.B. stared at me silently, yet his eyes held a wild smile. I frowned and wondered what he was thinking. I usually knew.
“What is it? What are you smiling at?”
“Charle, after livin’ here fer two years, an’ talkin’ to her an’ ever’ person in town most ever’ day, do y’all mean to tell me, y’all don’t know that Ella was Ash Fork’s Madam an’ y’all just toured the old whorin’ house?”
“G.B., what a horrible thing to say about that sweet little thing!”
“GOD DAMMIT CHARLE, Y’ALL’RE SO DUMB! Why do y’all thank rock doodlers an’ railroaders’d start buildin’ fer free after workin’ hard all day?” And then totally puzzled he added, “How the Hayll have y’all walked through this world all these years without noticein’ a few thangs!”
“But she is so gentle G.B., and sweet . . . .”
“Charle ever’ one in town saw her throw big ol’ track workers out her door by the seat of their “overhauls” and suspenders, an’ set ‘em to stumbling ‘cross the yard any time they messed with her! She had ever’ one of ‘em and her “girls” scared a-her.”
I did not have any words or air with which to speak. I walked out into our garden while every impression of Ella and each story told, flashed through my thoughts to be “adjusted” into her new persona.
I resisted the urge to ask questions that would trigger those tales, because I realized she wanted me to keep her high on the pedestal which I had inadvertently slipped under her.
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The first time my daughter, Nana, stepped off the plane in Las Vegas with Morgan in her arms, she pulled back the blankets on her little bundle and I stared in wonder at the new baby girl, but the new baby girl stared at G.B.. He reached out and took Morgan into his arms and his heart. From that moment on if G.B. was in sight Morgan stared at him and followed his every move.
When Morgan learned to walk she would toddle behind her Ganga wherever he went throughout the house but her favorite trip was to the kitchen. While Western States Stone business waited G.B. would pour a long cold Pepsi and fill his pockets with forbidden sweets to share with her, and then he would pick her up and carry her to his chesterfield. There they would settle themselves, she in his arms staring into his loving eyes, as he told her stories.
“One hot summer day, me an’ m’brother an’ two a’ m’cousins knew where these watermelons was — down by the Washita river. We crossed the river on our horses, jumped off an’ sneaked into Fitzgerald’s melon patch. We was a-thumpin’ an’ a-stealin’ watermelons, an’ suddenly up the melon rows here cum Johnny Burks — a good ol’ boy. ‘Course us kids didn’t like him a whole lot right then.”
“Here he comes! We turn tail an’ run! Ooo-ee! Got up on our horses an’ that mean ol’ man took to shootin’ at us, tryin’ to scare us an’ stop us, but weren’t nothin’ we was a-gonna stop fer now! I was a-ridin’ Skeeter, ‘member m’ li’l ol’ Spanish mustang with the blaze white face?” Morgan wide eyed and just inches from his face nodded enthusiastically, eager for him to continue. “So we was all a-carryin’ watermelons in our towsacks — on our shoulders they was. We rode a li’l ways an’ d’rectly juice was a-runnin’ out’a two holes in m’ watermelon an’ a-drippin’ through m’ sack. He was a-shootin’ at us, to scare us. An’ tha’s how far he missed me by!” And Morgan hung on every word.
“Bo-o-oy! My daddy made us boys go back with him an’ he stood thar while me an’ m’ brothers an’ cousins all told the ol’ guy how sorry we was, an’ then my daddy paid the farmer right thar an’ then, with cash money he couldn’t afford to spend! That evenin’ my daddy made us buck bales, we call it, to work off our debt. Had to earn ‘nough to pay ‘im back before we could do our chores an’ homework. It took two a’ us to load each seventy-five pound bale onto a trailer wagon, an’ then we had to scoot ‘em off the trailer wagon an’ put ‘em on the truck. That was real tirein’ work fer boys. Oohh my daddy was a hard man, but he was an honorable man an’ the best man who ever lived.”
At that point Morgan reached up, gently patted G.B.’s cheek and then softly demanded, “More Ganga, more.”
Many a person had felt G.B.’s wrath for telling him what to do, but when Morgan gave G.B. orders Ganga obeyed — always!
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CHAW AND SPURS
CHAW AND SPURS
Never in my life had I ever been in the company of anyone who partook of chewing tobacco — and for that fact I was exceedingly thankful. I had often noticed the small circular, sun-faded outline of a chewing tobacco tin on the back pocket of blue jeans worn by rock doodlers and cowboys, and I had seen baseball players on TV attend to the revolting necessities of chewing tobacco — and revolting it was!
One day running the gas station, I had been on the job for only a few hours when one of our regular customer, Carl, strolled in masticating and manipulating a large mass in his mouth. “Here’s ten fer the gas.” He said as he reached for the wastebasket, lifted it to his face, and then p’tooied a large brown stream into it. I was horrified, and then my internal organs heaved when I realized that I moments before I had emptied the damp garbage from it with my bare hands.
Eventually one Sunday a cowboy from one of the ranches near town came to our house to speak to G.B.. He settled himself in a chair in the living room and rubbed his spurs back and forth against the weave of the upholstery. I watched entranced hoping he would scar that hateful orange recliner enabling me to pitch it out.
I was about to engage the cowboy in conversation, hoping he would linger and do a really good job on the chair, when I noticed he was building up a bulge in his cheek and casting searching glances around the room.
I panicked instantly, and pleaded silently, not in my home! What can I get for him before he erupts — my waste basket — a mixing bowl — the candy dish?
But the cowboy was a man of artistic talent. He stood up with spurs ringing, opened the front door and P’TOOIED across the verandah, painting a beautiful red rose — chocolate brown.
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PARK AVENUE PIDGEONS
Park Avenue Pigeons
For many years G.B.’s grand old building opposite the post office had stood empty. It had been built in eighteen eighty-two, and was originally located at the north end of town, close to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway tracks. In territorial days it had seen action as a saloon and later it became Ash Fork’s first post office.
When I came to know the old building it had been relocated up the hill on Park Avenue, and a pair of snowy white pigeons had taken up residence on an outside ledge.
The facade of the building was characteristic of the nineteenth century Old West. Its paint, most of which had long since blistered, peeled and flaked off in the hot desert sun, still remained in the dried out grain of the old wooden siding. The thirty foot by one hundred foot interior was void of partitions and furniture. Nevertheless it stood in stately dignity, reminiscent of a time gone by. The hardwood floors and wooden walls had darkened over time, as had the seventeen foot high, pressed tin ceiling. Decades of dust had coated the windows, which left the interior a cool dark haven hidden from the brilliant Arizona sunshine.
I hurried from the post office, crossed Park Avenue and rushed into the cool privacy of the old building clutching a newly arrived package. The Newmans had sent Salt Spring Madness. With childlike eagerness I tore open the brown paper wrapping, scanned the familiar script, music and lyrics and wondered what would take me from that moment to curtain calls.
Ray and Virginia had included with the script an audio taped performance of the show, and I impatiently rammed it into my tape deck and turned it on. The tape began with an optimistic message from Virginia, followed by the overture.
As I turned up the volume the two pigeons flew into the old building through a broken pane of glass in the transom. They soared to the distant end of the room and lit on the decorative cove moulding.
On sunny days during my high school years, I sat in math, science and Latin classes staring at the sky through tall windows. I envisioned the firmament as an endless cerulean ballroom, with silver candelabras sparkling in billowing white clouds. In my gown of frothy white and shimmering silver I danced with abandon across the length and breadth of the blue sky.
Something about the look of the pigeon’s flight through the long building, the tarnished light fixtures, and the tall windows triggered the memory of my sky-blue ballroom. With the overture of Salt Spring Madness filling my senses, my paint covered clothes became the silver and white gown, and the dark old building became my ballroom. I stepped into my mental mirage and began to dance the length and breadth of the blue.
The show gradually opened in my mind, like petals of a rose peeling back, revealing facets of plot, dialogue and choreography, sets, costumes and props.
As the finale began I slipped back into my former roll as the Women’s Volunteer Fire Chief, dressed once more in an actual fire chief’s hat and white sequined mini-dress, seductively swinging my whistle. As the music built to its crescendo, I blew a sharp blast on the whistle, and led my brigade of fire-women into a chorus-line kick — with a flying ovation by the Park Avenue Pigeons.
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IN CASE YOU COME DIRECTLY TO THE BLOG, YOU CAN SEE PAINTINGS WHICH RELATE TO PEOPLE, DOODLERS, AND THE POST OFFICE, AMID MY PAINTINGS IN THE ART SECTION OF MyArtClub.Com.
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THE POST OFFICE
THE POST OFFICE
Each morning when Lucia, our dynamic U.S. Post postmistress, stood by the front door of Ash Fork’s post office and pulled on the rope tied there, she lifted the brilliant red, white and blue stars and stripes, up into luminous blue, morning sky. Her ritual signaled the real start to the town’s day.
At the sight of Old Glory rising above the picturesque, little sandstone building, cars parked on Fifth Street and Park Avenue flung open their doors to release the occupants who headed for the post office, while strollers on their way to gather their mail lengthened and quickened their stride. Some folks ran to the top of the stairs or even took the steps two at a time, while others enjoyed the morning ritual at a more leisurely pace, often stopping to chat with neighbours and friends on the way up.
G.B. was proud of his post office, which he leased to the government. While the building was being designed he had had many a contentious disagreement with the government’s architect over the design and construction of his post office. There were disputes G.B. lost, such as when the architect wanted to incorporate into the walls, pieces of dark Supai Red rock amongst the pastel stones.
“Like measles on a kid’s face! Oh Charle, all the stone colors should be soft like the shades of the Grand Canyon.” G.B. pleaded passionately. “Those dark red pieces make yer eye jump like a frog on a hot griddle! They have their place, but not on my GOD DAMNED POST OFFICE WALL!”
And there were debates won, such as when G.B. insisted that there would be ample space at the top of the stairs, outside the post office door, to allow people to stand and read a letter, gossip with friends, or enjoy the high desert view.
Inside the post office the townspeople clustered at their mail boxes. They dialled their combinations and reached deeply into the small black boxes which held letters from family, friends and lovers, mysterious small packages, and catalogues — the only form of recreational shopping available to many residents, which in turn brought more wonders to the post office.
A “too large for box” card meant a gift or a long awaited (often six to eight weeks) treasure had arrived. If the package read “Keep in a Cool Place” it contained plants, trees or shrubs. The new shoots of anxious rose bushes, cardboard boxed Holland bulbs and cellophane wrapped strawberry plants dribbling damp sawdust, were looked upon enviously by those with only bills and newspapers in their hands to take home. Once or twice each year, were we all greeted by the voices of spring — the peep of golden yellow chicks and ducklings, delivered into Lucia’s loving care by the United States Federal Mail.
The only harsh racket ever heard in the post office was G.B. fighting with his combination dial. He fought a lot of inanimate objects which “deliberately disobeyed” him: loaders and fork-lifts which insisted on going backward instead of forward, a particularly devious file cabinet that “hid thangs” that were never to be seen again, adding machines that calculatedly “messed” with him and of course his nemeses — his post office combination lock. Each morning when he was trounced by the “GOD DAMNED LOCK IN M’ VERY OWN POST OFFICE!” he would bellow to Lucia as she patiently and calmly passed him his bundle of mail.
G.B. used to say, “’Cept fer the wanted poster, ever’ face in the post office is a treasure to us Charle. I reckon I know most ever’ one in m’ little town. I know who ran away an’ who they ran with. I know who’s pregnant an’ who made ‘er that way. I know who’s honest an’ who I can’t trust beyond the reach a’ my pick-handle. But when I stand here at the top of my post office steps an’ look at the people ‘round me, I’d do anything fer any one of ‘em. It’s better to trust an’ help the person y’all can’t trust, than to not help him an’ then discover y’all should a’”
G.B. helped many a person at the post office before his day had barely begun: a loan, a job, a house rental, a vehicle fuel, a meal — or he might just tell them to go “STRAIGHT TO HAYLL WHILE AH PRAY FER YE!”
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Our old house had seven doors that led outside, but not one door had a key, despite the fact that seventy-five, rental house keys hung by one of our front doors. The very first time G.B. locked himself out of his house he threw away the seven keys to the seven doors. Without house keys the seven doors stood unlocked day and night, whether we were home or at work, in Phoenix, Oklahoma City or Canada.
At first I was particularly concerned about the house being left unlocked because at that time Ash Fork did not have a bank — just G.B.. At any one time we had hundreds, if not thousands of dollars (income from the rental houses and gas station) in the house. It was money which enabled G.B. to cash pay cheques and make loans to tenants and employees.
I once asked G.B. if he was ever concerned that someone might walk in and steal from him. He bristled at the very idea and growled threateningly, “They wouldn’t dare.”
Nevertheless, before we left on any long trip I stowed away everything I valued — quite sure I would return to a ransacked house with seven doors blowing in the wind.
I soon learned to appreciate the ability to fly through an unlocked door, without having to remember my keys. For a woman who throughout her entire life had regularly locked herself out — G.B.’s method was luxuriant serenity.
So when G.B. hollered, “Charle! Bring the Pepsi purse an‘ — LET’S GO!” I went, and seven doors stood unlocked ready to welcome us home — and ready to welcome anyone else who”‘visited” our house while we were away.
G.B.’s drive churned around the clock, and several times each night, despite taking prescription sleeping pills, his active thoughts wakened and propelled him out onto the dark streets of Ash Fork. As he drove up and down each street he would check on all his rental houses, his gas station, his post office, his old building, his stone building and at the west end of town, the stone yard.
With the nearest sheriff in Prescott, G.B.’s patrols were invaluable, and each one concluded with a visit to Alice’s Café — a twenty-four hour truck stop just past the stone yard. There G.B. would down a cup of coffee and talk to the night shift, then circle the town once more before returning home to sleep.
While G.B. guarded the little Arizona town that straddled Route 66, I slept alone and vulnerable behind seven unlocked doors.
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PRIDE COMETH . . .
My father's advice to me, when I began to date, was, "Agree with whatever your mother and I tell you—and do what you know is right. That way we can go to sleep each night knowing you'll be safe and home by a proper time. If refreshments are served late or you start gabbing on a park bench, enjoy the evening and don't worry about trying to race home or finding a phone, we'll be asleep." But in reality my proper British father was loath to let loose his daughter on the world.
In December of 1948 I was seventeen, confident and if my parents, friends, relatives and previous suitors were to be believed, beautiful. I was also anticipating a Christmas vacation in Mexico with my mother and father. When my grandmother fell ill, shortly before we were to depart, my mother insisted my father and I make the trip without her, as my mother's conscience would not let her leave her ailing mother or make us forfeit our trip south.
On our first night in Acapulco, while I dressed and primped for the evening, my father chose to wait for me on the hotel's verandah. A pleasant breeze refreshed him and the other patrons of the hotel who sat there. Before long he was deep in conversation, discussing Mexican history with a local man. By the time I had finished preening and made my entrance the two men had established a fine camaraderie.
Arturo, as he was introduced to me, was a dashing, older man of thirty-five. He was tall, broad shouldered, lean and meticulously dressed. His shimmering black hair was parted on one side and carefully combed into place. Following the edge of his top lip was a perfectly shaped, coal black mustache that had been trimmed with the precision of an expert. Arturo's deep brown eyes were penetrating, and when he spoke his English was elegantly flavored with a perfect Spanish accent.
Most evenings, on our way to dinner, my father and I would happen to meet Arturo on the hotel's verandah. On one such evening Arturo invited me to go dancing at the nightclub atop the Casablanca Hotel which overlooked Acapulco Bay. After much negotiating and assurances from Arturo, my father reluctantly gave his consent and I hurried upstairs to change.
I carefully chose a full skirted, navy blue, heavy taffeta, ballerina length gown and a demure bolero, which had a white satin ribbon hand woven into its Peter Pan collar. I tied the ribbon in a tiny bow and let the long ends coyly flutter about my waist. But once I was out of my father's sight I would remove the bolero and reveal a plunging neckline on a form-fitting bodice — and cleavage accentuated by a silver medallion! Short hair was fashionable among my peers, but I wore my long chestnut hair curled into a seductive mane. I did not need to look into the mirror to know how magnificent I looked. I saw the gleam in Arturo's eyes when he saw me return.
My father waved at me as we left and I wondered briefly if he noticed Arturo's driver turn in the opposite direction to the Casablanca Hotel. I was curious about the route we were taking, but not concerned, certain he just wanted to share the romantic sights of the city with me — until we pulled up to a hospital.
We were there only briefly, to take a small electric fan to Arturo's friend, a well known cliff diver of the Quebrada. The unfortunate chap had miscalculated a wave and injured himself.
The rest of our detour took us along the waterfront of Acapulco Bay where Arturo proudly pointed out his sailing yacht tied to its mooring.
We arrived at the Casablanca Hotel and I saw that the roof-top dance floor was open to the stars. It was an enchanted evening I spent dancing the Latin dances I knew so well, in the arms of a magnificently handsome Latino. To a young admirer of Ricardo Montalban, the evening was a dream come true.
Close to midnight Arturo sent for his car to return us to my hotel. As his driver slowly wound his way down the hill, Arturo leaned toward me and whispered softly, "Chula." then he kissed me — again and again. The car stopped in front of the hotel, but before Arturo let me out he passionately spoke to me in words my Spanish course had never taught me, ending with, "Ay Carlotta." One last kiss and I floated out of the car, fancying the drama of the moment and the rustle of my lovely gown.
I alighted on the hotel steps to the stares and murmurings of the hotel's guests and staff who were milling about. "Oh Chardy!" my father wailed as he spotted me and pulling away from the throng, "Thank God you are out of that man's clutches and back safe! We have all been so worried since we saw you leave!"
For a moment I stood indignantly before him and the hoard, and then dramatically I drew a deep breath and shot my father a withering glance. With the force of a Flamenco dancer, and the gall of a teenager, I stomped my heels on the tile floor as I stormed past him and the concerned crowd, leaving Arturo to account to all.
Once in the privacy of my hotel room I ran to the window, trying to salvage the magic of the dream-like evening. As I stared past the palm fronds, out to the black sea and star filled night sky, I slipped back into my enchanted mood. Slowly I turned and danced across the room to the mirror, wanting to enjoy one last look at my image — as Arturo had seen me — as all had seen me. To my horror I discovered not the glamorous beauty I expected. Instead I saw the glamorous beauty all had seen petulantly strutting through the hotel sporting a coal black mustache smeared across her upper lip!
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G.B. leaned out of the pick-up and peered up at an ominous gray sky.
“Shore ‘nuff gonna come a blizzard ‘fore nightfall Charle. Ain’t nothin’ between us an’ the North Pole but a barbed wire fence — an’ that’s down. Gimme a kiss sweetheart an’ y’all get the station open. We’re late, it’s near six a.m., an’ we got a lot a’ work to do today.”
“Oh G.B., I love the snow. If it comes can I keep the station open late?”
“No, I want my dinner at the proper time, same as usual?”
“But it’s fun to be in the station at night when it snows.” I pleaded.
“Oh Charle, y’all’re so strange. Fact is, if it snows I’ll probably want y’all to close up early, an’ I never do like y’all over here at night.”
Sure enough the snow began to fall late in the afternoon. Fine dry flakes fell on cold ground and accumulated steadily.
The newly constructed, interstate freeway I-40, was no more a match for winter storms that blew in than was old Route 66. Although Ash Fork was one mile high, five miles east of town I-40 rose another two thousand feet in the twenty odd mile climb to Williams. With heavy snowfalls the Highway Patrol often closed that section of the freeway.
On snowy nights many east-bound travelers, who were unfamiliar with and cautious of the road conditions ahead, filled their gas tanks and bought chains before they faced the night’s drive. While the chains were being put on they ate a hot meal at the closest café, and then loaded up on snacks and hot drinks before heading out to encounter the hazards silently waiting for them on the Williams Hill.
People traveling east who knew from experience what lay ahead, immediately booked a motel room for the night and gassed up their vehicle for the morning. Ready to relax, they lingered over hearty fare at Alice’ Café then either turned in early for the night or strolled through the quiet, snow covered streets to the “Green Door” or the “Oasis.”
I wanted to stay open late and wait for the traumatized and terrified, west-bound drivers who would come down off the hill from Williams before the Highway Patrol closed the freeway.
The storm continued and the road was still open when G.B. came in and ordered me to, “Close ‘er up.”
“Oh can’t I stay open? Please G.B.? You could get us burgers and fries, and we could eat them here in the station. Then you could go home and snooze while I stay open a little longer. Please?”
“But I’m selling an awful lot of gas and almost every set of chains . . . .”
Before I could finish my sentence my words hit him like a brick. He pulled off his padded snow cap and began to rub his bald head. After a moment of contemplation he pulled his hat back onto his head and relented. “Okay, fer y’all. Y’all can stay fer awhile.”
I hugged him enthusiastically, and he smiled fondly as he added, “Y’all’re welcome Charle.”
As soon as our supper was over, G.B. instructed me to turn up the thermostat, so the office would be a warm and cozy haven from the snow.
Locals who recalled the long road closure the winter ’67, made an evening run to Zetler’s Market. As they trudged home with their shopping bags loaded, they hollered to me, “Time to go home Charle!” and “Hey Red, close her up!”
The tiny town, grayed by winter, was transformed by the deep fall of snow into an enchanted fantasy. Familiar houses, fences, rocks, bushes and trees were transformed into mysterious and beautiful, glowing forms creating a mystic light, and still the snow flakes fell from the dark night sky.
I wandered restlessly out to the sidewalk, wrapped warmly in my Cree parka. Falling snow whispered all around me as I looked east for headlights coming off the freeway, but as far as I could see the dinner lull was still interrupting the flow of traffic.
I turned to the west, stepped into fresh unmarked snow and enjoyed the soft squeak under my feet. Looking up I watched snowflakes flutter out of the darkness and sparkle in the brilliant illumination cast by the station’s flood-lights until at last they touched my face.
My gaze followed the sound of laughter to children of all ages, skimming and spinning down Third Street on toboggans and sleds. I laughed and called out to them as they tumbled and rolled into a barricade the Highway Patrolman had erected to prevent the merrymakers from colliding with what little traffic might find its way onto Route 66 West, through town.
Because each major snowfall was greeted with a bonfire at the top of the Third Street hill (the best sledding hill in town) there were many townspeople clustered at the top sipping hot drinks. I decided, next snowfall I would share a British tradition and roast chestnuts for the revelers.
The lull was finally over and travelers began to arrive at the station. Drivers hurried their passengers into the warm office, eager to share with me all the fear they had felt coming down the Williams Hill, then their effusive comments poured forth.
“Oh thank God you’re still open! Everyone else is closed.” One man said “And it’s warm in here too.”
“Did you know there are three eighteen wheelers overturned on the hill, east of town?” A woman asked, “And two stuck in the median?”
“Everyone on that hill tried to kill me tonight — including my wife.” Growled an elderly man.
A New Yorker shouted, “What the Hell’s this? I’m not spending good money to drive four thousand miles to freeze my ass off in the Arizona desert!”
One man burst through the door, looked me up and down, studied my hooded parka, and then called back to his wife who was scuttling across the slippery driveway, “Mabel, I just found me an Eskimo in the middle of Arizona!”
Suddenly the doorway was filled with a big ol’ Texan who let fly with an explosive sneeze. He took in a couple of deep breaths to regain himself, then in a deep resonant voice that reverberated off the station’s metal walls, he stated, “Suga’ Ah surely would ‘a died’ve exposure if y’all hadn’a bin open on this wild night.”
I was not sure whether he was referring to the station or the town. Either way I enjoyed every move he made and every minor toned, Texan word he spoke, as he added his tale of woe to the stories told by the gathering throng.
All formality, bravado, pomposity, affectation and ego fell away that snowy night in Ash Fork.
Later that evening with the snow still falling, the sheriff’s deputy swung by my door and told me, “Charle you may as well go home now. The road’s closed, and the last car’s come through. Goodnight.” he called as he drove off alone, into the cold night.
I bagged the money and receipts from the till, closed the lube room doors, and then walked into the stockroom, where I flicked off the circuit breakers for the gas pumps, Union 76 sign, floodlights and canopy lights. In the darkness I felt my way back to the office then gathered up the money bag and four padlocks.
I stepped out under the dark canopy and turned the key in the front door lock. Immediately encircled by the silence of snow, I had only the dim night-light glowing in the office to light my way as I began to padlock the pumps.
Unexpectedly a large black car turned in and slid to a stop. The driver flung open the door and ran through the snow to me.
“I’ve been driving ‘round town hunting for a motel, but the rooms are all taken. Would you let me park here by the door tonight, and could you please leave the rest-room door unlocked? We’ll pay whatever you want, but I can’t drive any further. I have my mother and son with me, and I’m afraid to park on the street in case someone skids into my car.”
“Its okay ma’am, you’re welcome here. The office is still warm. Bring everyone in. I’ll call my husband and see what he wants to do.”
I called G.B. for my orders, knowing from past experience how this situation would be handled.
“Y’all gas up their car an’ don’t let ‘em pay fer it. We want ‘a give it to ‘em. Tell ‘em they’re fixin’ to stay the night with us, an’ I’ll be there as soon as I get m’ britches an’ boots on.”
Moments later the gallant knight rode up in his white Buick to rescue the people and their luggage. They were past caring whether G.B. and I could be dangerous and settled back in their seats to let strangers drive them out into the night.
G.B. cursed the reveler’s barricade which blocked his access to our lane and he terrified us all on his detour through the abandoned snowy streets. Finally he pulled up in the car-port and ushered the strangers and myself into the den.
“Y’all take the blue room.” He said to the boy, “Ladies y’all can share the pink . . . . Well it used to be the pink room till Charle painted it some fancy artist color. She’s a strange English-type Canadian artist.” He mumbled in despair for his lost pink walls.
The New Yorkers trailed behind their kindly benefactor as he led the way through the dining room to the living room. With great self awareness G.B. seated himself on his chesterfield and as usual seemingly occupied it all. Our guests settled themselves elsewhere around the room and I sat on my chesterfield beside the boy. I always marveled at how G.B.’s dominant bearing prevented the thought even occurring to anyone in that room, to sit beside him on his long sofa.
G.B. questioned the family about their trip west from the north east coast, but when their details continued too long he interrupted them and took control of the conversation, only stopping long enough to instruct me, “Charle, y’all make some hot chocolate for these people.”
Moments later I carried in G.B.’s snowfall special for all — mugs filled with steaming hot chocolate, each with a foaming dollop of butter pecan ice cream floating on top. We all sat in the warm living room sipping our drinks and listening to G.B.
When he was all talked out, G.B. rose to dismiss his audience saying, “Well, we’ll go from there.” A comment guaranteed to clear the room. And then he added, “Bacon an’ eggs, toast an’ coffee’ll be ready tomorrow mornin’ at five twenty, as usual. Y’all’re welcome to share our breakfast.”
The woman thanked us warmly and as we all rose she asked, “Do you often get blizzards like this in Arizona?”
G.B. got a far off look in his eyes and sat down again — as did we all.
“When I was a boy in Oklahoma, not quite y’all’s age.” He confided said to the boy, “It was cold. While we was at the school house it come a blizzard out’a the North.
I had a li’l ol’ Spanish mustang horse with a blaze white face. Skeeter we called him. He was well known all ‘round fer bein’ real fast in the short distance an’ bein’ a great goat ropin’ horse . . . . Anyhow, Teacher let us loose early on account a’ the weather, so I got up on m’ horse an’ got m’ li’l sister up behind me to ride home through the snow. M’ li’l brother was cryin’ ‘cause he was a-havin’ to walk beside m’ horse, Skeeter, a-holdin’ on to the saddle stirrup. He kept on a fussin’, so I stopped an’ led ol’ Skeeter over to a snow bank. Got my li’l brother up behind my sister, an’ continued home through that blizzard. Oh it was cold. M’gosh that wind was a’blowin’ cold, right out’a the north, an’ we was havin’ to face it straight on. There I was, m’ bare hands holdin’ the reins, an all that snow.”
Time we got home I was a’cryin’.” For a moment that memory of childhood held him transfixed. “Anyhow, my daddy started to holdin m’ hands an’ they hurt so awful bad. My daddy decided m’ hands an’ feet was near froze, so he made me pull off m’ wet shoes an’ socks, an’ he walked me’ ‘round an’ ‘round the yard a’ holdin’ me by the hand. I had to walk in the snow — barefoot — to thaw my feet out! Had to thaw out slow, couldn’t thaw out real fast ‘cause that hurt real bad. Ever time ‘round the yard he’d stop, make me put m’ hands an’ feet in big basins a’ snow. Then he’d rub the snow all ’round my hands and feet, circle the dark yard with me an’ then start all over again.
I thought that was the most meanest thang m’ daddy ever could a’ done to me. Me! M’ feet was froze! M’ hands was froze! An’ he made me walk in the snow — with m’ shoes off!”
Obviously still annoyed, G.B. rose abruptly and exited the room with the dramatic flair and timing of a master thespian. Slightly confused by his story, but too polite to say, our guests thanked me for our hospitality, and still scratching their heads, retired to their rooms
That night snow continued to fall on 212 South Second Street while five people inside our house slept warm, happy, proud, safe and content. But I dreamed of being a little girl again playing in the snow, with a wonderful boy who rode a horse with a blaze white face.
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DAWN OF MADNESS
DAWN OF MADNESS
“Charle,” Shirley declared, “we had such fun the night we worked on the church pageant, why don’t we do a show for the Ash Fork’ Centennial?”
“What centennial?” I asked cautiously.
Shirley knew she had my full attention, so she let fly in rapid fire. “Come June eighty-two, Ash Fork’ll be a hundred years old! The whole town’ll be celebratin’, an’ anyone who’s ever lived here’s invited to come. Fayrene’s organizin’ a celebration everyone’ll be real proud of. She’s even invited Marshall Trimble home to be Parade Marshall. The fun an’ games’ll go on all weekend, with a dance an’ rodeoin’. But,” she added in a conspiratorial tone, “there ain’t no show planned yet. Now wouldn’t you like to put on a show just exactly like you want? Me an’ Lorraine would do anything to help,” she coaxed, “an’ you have lots a time to work on it. Charle, it’d be so much fun! Won’t you please?”
“And where would we put G.B. while I worked on it?” I asked sarcastically. “Really Shirley, I couldn’t. You know how much work and time it would take. G.B. would never sit serenely by while I filled my days and nights with a show.”
“Well, he lets you paint in the old buildin’ on Thursdays now don’t he?”
“Yes.” I replied grudgingly.
“Well if you worked over there, he’d never guess what you were doin’. Then by the time he did find out — it’d be too late. HA!”
“Sure, too late for me Shirley. It just isn’t possible. Besides I’m a designer not a producer or a musician, and it would have to be a musical. Even if I did agree to do it I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not like the Newmans. I can’t write music.”
Shirley was familiar with Ray and Virginia Newman, my son, Lee’s in-laws, who overflowed with musical talent and creativity. While I was living in Canada they shanghaied my daughters and even me into their original musical production of Salt Spring Madness,* a historical review of the island on which we all lived.
Remembering Salt Spring Madness and all the people who contributed talent and joy to its creation and success, the parallels to Ash Fork’s community and history flashed through my mind.
“What if I adapted Salt Spring Madness to Ash Fork?” I asked Shirley breathlessly.
Silently we stared at each other, stunned by the possibility.
“Charle,” she drawled, “we have a lovely stage with dressin’-rooms an’ lights, up at the high-school.”
“A real stage?” I asked incredulously.
Shirley nodded once, and then added, “Yeaup, with proper lights, right here in Ash Fork!”
“Nineteen eighty-two.” I muttered, “That’s a year and a half. I’ve designed and executed most shows in six weeks and I’ve juggled four plays and an opera all at once. Surely I could produce one show in a year and a half. If the Newmans would let me adapt Salt Spring Madness we could split the profits with the high school in gratitude for the use of their stage, and then use the rest to buy medical equipment for the town’s E.M.T.s and the fire brigade.
“Yeaup!” Shirley agreed with gusto. “We could get Mast pants, a portable oxygen unit an’ a high grade stethoscope. That’d make the Old Fart proud — when he eventually found out!”
Shirley’s caustic comment about my husband sent both of us into peels of laughter.
Probably I could get my hands on Salt Spring Madness. I did have a year to adapt it, six months to produce it, and hundreds of people in town, the Kaibab and the Juniper from whom I could pick cast and crew. Any idiot could do it in eighteen months!
The next day I was on my way and running. I called Shirley from the stone yard and said, “Listen, G.B.’s with a customer so I only have a minute. I’m not going to refer to the show or spread the word about it for one year. During that time I’m going to adapt the script, write lyrics and choreograph the dances. In January, eighty-two I’ll put up posters in town and I’ll place an ad in the Williams News announcing a cattle call for Ash Fork Madness.”
Without warning a voice resonated down the Mountain Bell lines . . . .
“GOD DAMMIT CHARLE! Can’t a man doin’ business use his very own phone without a-havin’ to listen to you two hens a-cacklin’ on the extension? Ain’t bad ‘nough I gotta hear yall laugh at nothin’ day in an’ day out — NOW I GOTTA LISTEN TO BOTH Y’ALL — AT ONCE!” he spluttered.
Just before I dropped the receiver I heard Shirley trying to stifle an evil sounding snicker. We had to finish our conversation, so I stuck my head into G.B.’s office and asked sweetly, “I have to go to the gas station Hon. Is there anything you want?”
To which he calmly replied, “Well now Sweetheart, why don’t y’all bring me back some donuts.”
I dashed to the car and drove to Shirley’s gas station. She was standing in her doorway waiting for me, with a broad grin on her face.
I pulled up beside her and said, “As I was saying Shirley, in January I’ll cast, schedule and design the show. Until then if you tell anyone, and I mean anyone, G.B. will find out and he’ll pull the plug for sure. If I can adapt, choreograph and design it without him noticing, we’ve got a show! The moment we hear from the Newmans, if it’s a go, book the stage for six weeks rehearsal time and two nights for the show. And remember — keep my name out of it! By the way, you’re already cast as a saloon girl!”
“HA!” Shirley exploded as the full impact of Ash Fork Madness registered in her mind.
“Oh I’ll need a feather boa Charle! I’ve always wanted one of them things. Since you’re the producer, phone Fredrick’s of Hollywood an’ get ‘em to send you a catalogue, then get a boa for me”
“You’ll need more than that Blondie.”
“Yeaup.” she agreed insidiously. “An’ when that package arrives at the post office, Red, that hot stuff for Mister Madison’s wife’ll set the whole town afire.”
* “Salt Spring Madness” written & composed by Ray and Virginia Newman – Lyrics by Lou Rumsey
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Ash Fork Madness - Three Oranges & the Nice Apple
Three Oranges and The Nice Apple*
It was mid afternoon when G.B. swerved into the gas station and called to me, “Charle I got a surprise fer ye. Close up fer a while, I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin’.” While he pulled down the lube room door he asked me, “Guess who’s out at the Santa Cruz quarry?”
“My family?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” he growled. “It’s that crazy ol’ quarry guard. The one who wrote the signs at y’all’s butte an’ gave y’all an’ y’all’s mother the drink of water. I’ve moved ‘im into Santa Cruz quarry. We’ve been havin’ a lot a’ trouble out thar — people stealin’ thangs.”
G.B. was speaking of the quarry guard who wrote the Christmas poem I found, La Patrona*, the story of La Patrona’s gift to the shepherd – three oranges and the nice apple.
“When we get thar stay upwind a’ him Charle. His clothes are black an’ greazy, so danged full a dirt, stone, dust and sweat sealed in with soot. They don’t thin out or wear out –—they break and pieces fall out!”
As we drove onto the quarry floor I saw a cobalt blue hulk of an old school bus planted by the canyon rim. The wheels had been removed and the bus was settled amidst the stone rubble and cactus. G.B. got out of the pick-up, and with me in tow, headed for the old bus. He pulled open the door and a heavy stench, which had been held captive inside, rushed out
accompanied by the old quarry guard’s three, dark lavender hued dogs who attacked their master’s benefactor. Ignoring the snapping of teeth, G.B, pushed inside, with me clinging to his shirt and desperately hoping to escape the dogs wrath.
Everything inside the old school bus was permeated or coated by soot from a cobbled old coal and wood stove. In a mound of filthy bedding two eyes opened, their sparkle the only brightness visible as they shone in a soot blackened face. The dogs rushed past us, leapt onto the bedding and proceeded to growl in defense of their beloved master.
The bedding and the dogs were tossed aside and the old quarry guard appeared. He was fully dressed in the same clothes he had donned the previous spring — when he last conducted his annual ablutions and laundry at the local campground. His stringy, shoulder length hair and grizzled beard were stained by soot and smoke and matched the color of the dogs. Hidden in all the dirt was a handsome old man, but a long time lost was the young poet, the soldier, the lover, the teacher, the cowboy and the shepherd. He was well suited living alone guarding the quarry, for as G.B. often said, “He likes his dawgs better’n people, an’ he’d as soon shoot y’all as bother mess with ye.”
“Hello G.B.. Hello Ma’am.”
The old man spoke with the cultured tone of a gentleman. But like so many solitary souls when they encounter another human being, instead of listening, they totally monopolize the conversation then return to their solitude with only their own words to feed their thoughts.
Most of the old man’s monologue related to Hondo, Sister and Carlompio, his three lavender hued dogs.
The quarry guard and his dissertation followed us out of the school bus and back toward the company pick-up. When G.B. had heard all he could endure he interrupted the old man and issued his orders for the day. The guard replied with mild sarcasm, “Si Patrón.” Which escaped G.B.’s notice.
We walked back to the pick-up and climbed in as the guard continued his spiel. The pick-up began to roll so the old man doffed his soot stained cap and bowed deeply.
“Adiós Patrona.” I heard him call out. And I wondered whether that too was sarcasm or whether he envisioned me as his La Patrona.
While we bounced down the quarry road toward town G.B. said, “Come summer, y’all might like to paint him an’ his dawgs. An’ if y’all want, y’all can buy some Christmas cheer fer the crazy ol’ man.”
“How can he afford to feed all those dogs when he’s so poor?” I asked.
“Hayll Charle, he ain’t poor. He’s got it hid! Fact is most folks thank his money’s buried out thar somewhere.” he said, gesturing with a sweeping wave of his arm toward the mountains beyond the canyon.
The quarry guard’s life-style was his choice as money was always available for anything he considered necessary. However, totally caught up in the poem’s portrayal of the benevolent Patrona and the destitute shepherd, I put together a platter of Christmas dinner, mince tarts, a box of chocolates and three pounds of diced fried liver for the dogs. Unable to resist the magic of the poem I added three Christmas oranges and a nice apple.
*the copywrite for “La Patrona is held by the quarry guard.
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Ash Fork Madness- INDEX
Showbiz Rears its Ugly Head
Three Oranges and the Nice Apple
Dawn of Madness
The Post Office
Park Avenue Pigeons
Chaw and Spurs
Scripts and Songs
Vivre La Difference
Crotch Biting Blue and the Macramé Gang
And In The Quiet of the Forest Above Grand Canyon
Angels of Hell
Just a Bit More
Happy Birthday G.B.
G.B.’s Song of Love
Murder in the Quarry
“Good Night Sweetheart”
One Woman Show
“Y’all Bring His Legs”
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
The School Board
Props and the Stool Pigeon
“Vent Y’all’s Spleen”
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Ash Fork Madness - Showbiz Rears Its Ugly Head
Ash Fork Madness
Nana Cook & Charlotte Madison
Copywrite 2019 Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
Ash Fork Madness is Part 2 of a trilogy. Each book stands alone if it must, because it does not have a plot, it is just a compilation of sequential true tales meant to charm you. However you really do need an explanation of the characters, before you delve in to the midst of it all
These books tell you about two very odd people. Charle is a happy, gentle passive Canadian, artist, an only child of British parentage, born in Vancouver, B.C. There were two brief inappropriate marriages, long over before she moved to an “arty” west coast island. While her children grew she amused herself doing community set prop and costume design as well as fine art
Charle was forty four when all the children had gone out into the world, and it seemed like a good time for her to head out also - in case they began to come back. She went on a painting adventure in her favorite place, the American Southwest Toward the end of the trip, not uncharacteristically she debarked from the bus in the wrong place, a woebegone tumbledown old mining town in Arizona. There she met G.B. Madison.
G.B. was a boiling cauldron of emotion born in Oklahoma, the proud son of a tyrannical sharecropper. G.B.’s mother was from Georgia and his bible thumping hot tempered father was from Louisiana so combined with two years at University G.B.‘s accent had a rare blend of sounds and expletives. Four marriages failed and the fifth left him recently widowed. Through the internal emotional torment of this tragic loss, and the flowing tears, he managed to maintain a hyperactive, workaholic vice grip on his little town.
When he said “his,” town he really did mean it, even though he only owned one third of Ash Fork Arizona. The flagstone company he supervised for the big Boss in Phoenix’ allowed him to hire, rent to, loan to, sell gas to and by a variety of ways, control a vast percentage of the 500 people in town and owners of the outlying ten and forty acre ranches. On the other hand it allowed him to threaten with his pick handle, scream at, fire, evict and demand repayment from anyone, if he was feeling a trifle irritable.
In books of this trilogy we hope you will share the passion and humor of Charle and G.B.’s unlikely love affair and marriage
"I have seen countless signs that this master of mine is a raving lunatic who aught to be tied up – and me, I can’t be much better, for since I follow him and serve him, I am more of a fool than he."
SHOWBIZ REARS IT'S UGLY HEAD
And like a bull moose giving birth to a baby elephant – G.B. bellowed, “CHARLE! WHAT THE HAYLL IS A-GOIN’ ON?”
There had been a great deal going on – right under his nose. You see, in order for me to be a truthful person, a happy and kind, peace loving wife, it was sometimes necessary for me to be an evasive person – an evasiveness that on rare occasions ran over into deceit. My Grand Deceit began so subtly that even I barely noticed . . . .
One cold wintry night after dinner I was in the kitchen washing the dishes and G.B. had settled in the living room on his sofa to watch the news on T.V.. The calm was interrupted by an impatient sounding rapping on the living room door, so G.B. called through the dining room to the kitchen, “Charle, it’s the door!”
I replied, “I’m in the sink Hon, could you get it?”
He muttered his annoyance at the disruption and moved to the door.
“Hayll!” G.B. blared out at the visitor, “What y’all want with her Shirley? We’re busy.
“It’s my church G.B.. They want me to produce the Christmas pageant this year. I’ve never done a show before, but Charle has – dozens of shows. She’d know how to do sets, props an’ costumes on a shoe-string. I thought if me an’ her could have a session together she could gimmie some ideas, save the church money an’ me time. The Baptists would really appreciate it G.B..”
G.B. admired Shirley, as well as being somewhat intimidated by her. She was deeply involved with her church, on twenty-four hour call as one of the two Ash Fork E.M.T.’s, and she kept the books for several local businesses. With her husband, Bill, they ran the Whiting Brother’s service station and were raising three sons.
G.B. paused while he considered her request, and as I hurried to the living room I called out, “We could do it in the evenings. It would be so much fun!”
G.B. shot me a dark glance, so Shirley jumped in with one more try, “G.B., the congregation would be so grateful to you.”
Shirley knew him well. Pleased and flattered, G.B. reared back on his sofa, and with great benevolence spoke, “Charle I want y’all to tell Shirley everthang y’all know ‘bout shows. Y’all can do it Saturday night – after y’all finish with work, dinner and dishes.”
“Great!” I replied, but thinking, Oh yes cram 5 years into 5 hours, and then I pushed Shirley out the front door before G.B. could change his mind.
The following Saturday night, “the producer” arrived late. We hurriedly took over the den knowing we had to make every second count. While G.B. dozed in the living room we emptied out the congregations’ donated rag bags and unrolled Shirley’s sewing remnants onto the floor. She had old sheets and bedspreads, pieces of burlap, a set of textured drapes and yards of billowy linings.
“Perfect!” I enthused as I began to spread the fabrics on the floor. “Now, tell the shepherds to wear swimming trunks, so they won’t balk at wearing tunics, and don’t let the actors wear their watches on stage! For each tunic take two rectangles of burlap, tack the two pieces together over one shoulder and together along both sides from the waist down. Trim the tunic just above the knees, make a headband out of the scraps, give each shepherd a staff, and use Liquid Sew to prevent fraying.”
“Oh,” volunteered Shirley, “an’ I have a sheep’s pelt. I could drape it over one of ‘em!”
“Perfect!” I agreed. “Now, everyone else in the cast will wear the same pattern – a caftan. Just use different fabrics, colors, trims and accessories. You can dye sheets Madonna blue for Mary, wine for Joseph and ochre for the peasants. And for the Magi, use the linings and brocade drapes. Okay, now the big collars, cuffs, turbans and trim. Shake out those scraps.”
My eyes widened as I watched her unroll lamé, brocade and satin scraps. “Shirley! You struck gold! These are perfect for the Magi.”
Then with a flamboyant gesture Shirley reached deep into her bag of wonders and pulled out jars of glitter, bags of rhinestones, sequins and a large pot of glue. I gasped, “You’ve got it all!”
“Wait!” She said as she held up her tightly clenched fist, and slowly opened her fingers to reveal four gems the size of robin’s eggs lying in the palm of her hand. She was in possession of a “ruby,” an “emerald,” a “sapphire” and an exquisite “diamond”!
“I found ‘em at K-Mart.” She stated smugly.
“Oh Shirley, what a design team we could have been.”
We were totally in our element and gabbling like agitated turkeys. The floor was knee deep in chaos and we were enveloped in reams of fabric and sparkling with glitter. By chance we both glanced up and saw G.B. leaning against the broad archway between the dining room and the den. His mouth hung open as he gazed around the room in fascination, seeing a sight like no other seen in his experience. Shirley and I shrieked with surprise to see him standing there, and then we burst into giddy laughter. Slowly he shook his head from side to side, again and again, then asked softly, “Y’all know what y’all’re a-doin’ Charle?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned away, waving his hand as though to push us out of his thoughts. As he returned to his sofa he muttered, “Y’all’re crazy – both y’all.”
That night I gave Shirley a crash course in theatrical design and the next day I went back to the gas station, thankful not to have the responsibilities and deadlines of a show.
Shirley did an impressive job as producer and her church pageant was a success. But judging by her enthusiasm I concluded that the “Blonde” was a “Showbiz Volcano” waiting to erupt.
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|For over forty years, painting related totally to the American Southwest. It was people of the dry hot desert, solid mesas, cacti, stone and canyons that made my heart leap.
When I realized I would never see the desert again, I began a search for something to paint. Nana suggested, B.C, vineyards and took me to Penticton where I did one painting. Nana and Gary then began to take me on Mystery tours of the island and always included a vineyard. But they all were so green! So many leaves so many trees - I don't do trees and I rarely use green - dont really like looking at green, but I got started on a duty series not an inspired series.
I guess it was July or early August when we were driving home from a winery visit. I was grousing about painting the Festive Flying Grape series
when Gary said "Start another series, you can work on more than one at a time."
For some reason those words triggered the words "I could paint the Island artists!" Nana and Gary agreed and it was the topic of conversation all the way home
For a while I was afraid I wouldn't get volunteers to pose but it is rolling and each one offers something special to inspire me. And it is lovely to feel all I am doing was sparked by Gary and like all I do, supported by Nana.
April Update 2012
Sixteen fine artists, many of national repute, have posed for Artists of Vancouver Island and many are booked or promised. There will be no poses after June 30,2012. When I have painted all twenty-five I will turn my thought to . . . what next?