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By Marylin Schultz




Marylin on Tricycle, Billy, Francine & Terry in Wagon, Johnny in Rear, No. Hollywood, California, 1944, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


When nations form alliances on every continent, it means the lines are drawn and the winds of war sweep across the world, affecting all people, even small children. Two little girls in two very different families find they have been placed in opposite alliances, and this is their story.

The year is 1941. Marylin Biggs was born in New Mexico. She is Caucasian and lives with her parents and older brother. Her mother is expecting a baby in January. On December 7th, America is drawn into the war which is now affecting the entire world. Her father, not wanting to leave his wife with such a young family, is given the choice to work for Lockheed, building war planes, which he accepts. In 1942, the Biggs family moves to California.


In California’s central valley the Nakata family lives on a farm composed of beautiful orchards and vineyards. The children are 3rd generation Japanese Americans.

Little Haruko enters Kindergarten in 1942. One day, out on the school playground, Haruko finds herself surrounded by 6th Grade girls.

“Hold out your hand,” one of them commands. The small child meekly obeys, not knowing what to expect. The girl who spoke, grabs one of Haruko’s hands and begins to twist and twist a tiny finger until it breaks. Although the pain is excruciating, she is afraid to tell any adult at school and runs home. She never returns to that school.

As it turns out, the Nakata family is also about to make a major move. The huge difference is that Haruko’s family does not have a choice. They are ordered off of their land and become internees in a Relocation Camp, far away.


Marylin Biggs with her Cousin, Wiley Oliver, Glendale, California, 1942, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.

Marylin and her family settle down in North Hollywood, and her father drives to Burbank, the adjoining suburb of Los Angeles where he works at a Lockheed Aircraft Plant. The whole complex, including the large parking lot, is covered with a huge netting of camouflage. Russell Biggs rivets together the small, fast P-38 Fighter planes, which are designed to keep enemy planes from attacking the large, slower B-17’s, with their heavy cargo of bombs.

His younger brother, Ralph, was a tail gunner on these Bombers. On his last mission, Ralph’s plane was shot down, but he was able to escape, parachuting safely into neutral Switzerland, where he spent the remainder of the war. That country’s policy was to treat all military personnel humanely, but not to release them until the war’s end. Wiley Oliver, a cousin of Marylin’s, made the Army his career, retiring with the rank of Colonel, many years later.


Marylin also entered Kindergarten in 1942. She walked to school with her brother, Earl, who was in the 4th Grade. The children in the upper grades were given decks of cards that had the images of all the military airplanes on them. They were asked to become familiar with the appearances of the planes and to report any enemy planes that they might see. One day, on their way home from school, a small plane flew overhead and Earl shouted, “It’s a Messerschmitt; hit the dirt!” His little sister instantly obeyed, only to realize, at the sound of his laughter, that she had fallen for another of his practical jokes, and no danger was imminent!

Life in wartime held anxious moments for a small child. The wail of air raid sirens meant grownups hurrying to cover windows. There were billboards that asked drivers, “Is this trip necessary?” This due to the shortage of gasoline and tires. Some foods were rationed, meat, sugar and butter. Marylin “helped” by putting the small packet of orange liquid in the bowl of white margarine, which made it look a little more like the butter it replaced. The family had a large “Victory” vegetable garden.

But changes in the life of the Biggs family were insignificant compared to those for the Nakatas.

Haruko and Marylin met while both were students at U.C. Berkeley. They lived in a large old home that had been sanctioned as a “dormitory.” It housed 30 girls.

Marylin had never learned of the Relocation Camps before the two girls became friends. By 1942, Haruko’s family had lived in California for three generations. Their large farm was one of carefully tended orchards and vineyards that produced an abundance of fruit.

The Nakata family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, were notified of their impending relocation. Each family’s baggage could not exceed 100 pounds. First, the “internees” were held in a gathering place, like cattle in a stockyard. Santa Anita Racetrack in southern California was one of these. The wait, at least a month long, was followed by a train trip into the interior of the country.


Japanese American Internees at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming, 1943, photo scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


The Relocation Center, as it was officially named, consisted of rows of barracks, usually divided in half for two families. The whole camp was hastily built in only three months. Coming from a culture that embraces beauty, order, modesty and dignity, it was a shock to be given only one room for the entire family. Sheets were hung within each space for privacy. There was a coal burning stove for heat, but no furniture. The men gathered scraps of wood left by the carpenters, to make crude tables and chairs. Cooking was not allowed. The meals were prepared for them and eaten in barracks, or “mess halls.” They were unprepared for the bitterly cold winters. With quiet dignity they suffered the shame of living behind barbed wire with armed soldiers on watch.

With about 10,000 internees, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, or “Jap Camp,” as it was called by local residents, instantly became the third largest city in Wyoming. It was located between the towns of Cody and Powell. A school was established for the children, as well as a medical facility. Supervised shopping trips were allowed, and some of the men were hired by local farmers as field workers. There was a shortage of local men, most of whom had been drafted into military service.

Incredibly, the younger Japanese men were asked to serve in the military, and many of them did. Some, though, were incensed by the irony of being imprisoned by their own nation and then asked to enlist. Those who chose to fight for their country did so, wishing to prove their loyalty. Most were in the same outfit, and it was the most highly decorated unit in World War II. Some of those who refused to enlist were actually sent to prison.

Most of the local residents were not prejudiced against these citizens. Boy and Girl Scout troops joined in activities. In fact, former Senators Alan Simpson and Daniel Inouye first met and became friends as young men involved in Boy Scouts, before Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943.

When the war was over, the Nakata family returned to California, to learn that someone else “owned” their farm. There was no explanation or compensation given. They simply had to begin again, which they did. It was not easy, but the family prospered once again, and the children all graduated from college and led productive, successful lives.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and a memoir piece, Images From The Past.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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My First Bicycle — Morristown, Tennessee, BlackBerry Shot of C-41 film print, Morristown, Tennessee, April 1959, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Do you remember your first bicycle? Did you learn to ride a bike in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s? Were you sporting a Schwinn, Raleigh, or Western Flyer, 24 or 26- inch frame, balloon-tired, single-speed coaster, three-speed, or ten-speed? Whenever I could, I’d steal away on my brother’s Schwinn Sting-Ray with the banana seat. Did your bike have a Wheelie-Bar (check out this cool poster for the WHAM-O Wheelie-Bar)?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, bikes were booming. (Prior to the 1960’s, most bicycles were sold to children.) In 1960, 3.7 million bikes were sold in the U.S., with sales jumping to 15.2 million by 1973. When I took off the training wheels and graduated to a 26-inch frame, I’m pretty sure I was riding high on the Schwinn Fair Lady. Was my brother riding a Tiger? Did my sister have a Sting-Ray Stardust? I remember her bike had a white basket on the front, laced with flowers.

How many times did you fall off your bicycle when you were learning to ride? Did you use training wheels or go out into that brave new world balancing on the head of a pin. Tell me everything you know about your early bicycle experiences. The look, the feel, the wind in your hair. Were there plastic streamers flowing out of the grips, clothes pins snapped to playing cards (could they be Bicycle) and clipped to the frame, chattering over the spokes? Did you ride with “no hands?”

Get out a fast writing pen and a spiral notebook and do an old-fashioned handwritten Writing Practice. Write My First Bicycle at the top of the page and 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 13th, 2011

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On The Trail In The Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, mailed in 1947 from Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Jim White, the discoverer and explorer of Carlsbad Caverns has his experiences written up in a book of thirty-two pages with 30 illustrations, of which 16 subjects are in beautiful colors, and a wonderful colored cover entitled: Jim White’s Own Story.” Be sure and read these thrilling experiences of a lone cowboy three days under the world in Carlsbad Caverns.”


Before Ione wandered through the Joshua Trees & Desert Sands of California, she went spelunking deep in the underground caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. She would have accessed the park’s only entrance road, New Mexico Highway 7, by turning north off of US Hwy 62/180 at Whites City, New Mexico – which is 16 miles southwest of Carlsbad, NM and 150 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas.

The scenic entrance road stretches 7 miles from the park gate at Whites City (formerly the entrance to Walnut Canyon) to the Visitor Center and cavern entrance (which explains why the card is postmarked Whites City). To make it even more confusing, the address for the park’s Visitor Center is 727 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM, even though it’s located 23 miles from the actual town.


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Carlsbad Caverns – Jan 23 1947, Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Carlsbad, N.M.

Here we are at the Caverns. You can’t imagine what they are. The most desolate country around here. All well. Everything going fine.

Ione.


Ione would have traveled 1300 miles from Dover, Minnesota to Carlsbad Caverns a year before the new visitor center was built, and one year after Jim White died in Carlsbad, on April 26, 1946 at the age of 63. Did you know April 16th – 24th is National Park week? What is your favorite national park? If you took a visit to Carlsbad Caverns you would find:

  • 117 (known) caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone
  • During the Summer, the caves are home to 400,000 Brazilian (more commonly called Mexican) free-tail bats [NOTE: To learn more about bats, visit Bats, Beautiful Bats! a piece about bat evangelist Michelle McCaulley who spreads the truth about the benefits of bats and other wildlife. Michelle runs the Rio Grande Basin Bat Project, which was created by her late father, Jim McCaulley.]
  • Carlsbad Cavern is only one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. The limestone rock that holds Carlsbad Cavern is full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys.
  • Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park.

Jim White began to explore the cave as a teenager in 1898, using a handmade wire ladder to descend 60 feet into the cave. As an early visitor to Carlsbad Cavern, you might have entered the cave via an old guano mining bucket. In 1901, Abijah Long, a fertilizer expert, realized that guano could be used as a nitrate rich fertilizer. The following year, Long filed a claim for guano mining inside the caverns, and he offered Jim White work as a foreman. In about 20 years, an estimated 100,000 tons of guano were taken from Carlsbad Caverns at as much as $90 a ton. It wasn’t until years later, January 6th, 1912, that New Mexico officially became a state. If you had visited the park in 1928, you may have bumped into Amelia Earhart who gave underground park tours that year.

Though there are many legends and myths about which immigrants first discovered “The Bat Cave” (Native Americans knew of the caves thousands of years before), Jim White spent much of his life trying to convince others of the need for preservation. In October 1923, President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns a national monument, and Jim White became cavern guide. In 1924, geologist Willis T. Lee explored the caves with White and wrote an article for National Geographic attracting national attention. On February 9th, 1937, Jim White began selling his book Jim White’s Own Story (ghostwritten by Frank Ernest Nicholson) in the cave, and his wife Fanny continued to sell it until her death in 1964.


-related to posts:  WRITING TOPIC: ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, greetings from artesia haiku, Roswell, NM — Aliens Welcome Here, and for a more modern visit to the caves check out Postcards From Carlsbad Caverns

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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50’s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


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Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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By Judith Ford


My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.


My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.


Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.


I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.




About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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By Bob Chrisman


The idea of spring cleaning stayed with me through the night, but vanished this morning, when outside, sleet peppered the streets. My tax appointment required me to catch the bus to go downtown. I rushed around and all thoughts about the meaning of spring cleaning disappeared.

As I pulled the front door closed behind me. The sound of sleet hitting the grass and trees sounded like the dry, clacking bones of dancing skeletons. What an odd association. I played with that idea as I walked.

Monday, February 28, would have been my father’s 97th birthday (and the third anniversary of my mother’s death). Perhaps they returned as dancing skeletons to remind me.

My relationship with my father has troubled me for years. I’ve written about it and published the pieces on red Ravine. The troubled times between us and the difficult life he lived aren’t all I remember about him. Perhaps the idea of the skeleton came to me as a spring cleaning of sorts, a chance to pull out the good memories I hold of him and air them.

From my dad I received a curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit the planet. My father observed the goings on around him. He liked to see how people acted in different situations and could predict what they would do. He frustrated me with that ability when he would say, “I can read you like a book.” And he could too, which made me mad.

My father read voraciously: books, magazines, newspapers, whatever printed words he could find. When he attended family gatherings he would collect reading material and retire to a chair where he would spend the time reading.

His greatest pleasure came when he found a box of books for sale. He bought it, carried it home and searched for reading treasures. The contents of those boxes rarely disappointed him because he liked books about any subject. Really he just liked books in general. He passed on that love to me.

He instilled in me the importance of questioning everything, especially religion. We had the Bible in various editions, which the late 1950’s required in the fight against godless communism, but we also had The Book of Mormon and the Quran. Although a Presbyterian, he didn’t believe that one denomination, or Christianity itself, had an inside edge over other religions or spiritual practices.

He knew how to fix cars and kept our used cars in working order. We never owned a new car, only different ones. He bought odd cars like the brown, streamlined Hudson with the plush interior when the cars of the time favored extravagant fins over aerodynamic design.

He brought home a Simca, a tiny French car, and probably the only French car in the entire city. Unlike most American cars, the gearshift stuck up out of the floor rather than off the steering column. When the shaft broke off one afternoon, Dad welded a metal bar in place and would have driven the car forever had the giant hole in the rusted floor board on my mother’s side not allowed water from a giant puddle to gush up and soak my mother’s favorite pair of Sunday shoes.

The last car he purchased before his stroke was a Corvair, the Nader deathtrap. I learned to drive in that car.

He loved the outdoors and took us on long drives through the countryside to see how the land was doing. Despite my hatred of those drives and my frequently voiced wish for Indians to scalp us, I learned to love the landscape around me. Seemingly pointless drives in the countryside bring me peace nowadays.

He helped out the neighbors. The elderly man next door spent a lot of time at a bar. He sang and shouted as staggered up the sidewalk. He fell. My mother would say, “Len, go help him. He won’t make it up those stairs to his house without hurting himself.”

Although Dad left for work at 5:30 a.m. and the neighbor returned home well after midnight, my father pulled on his pants and went outside to help the man home. Frequently my father assisted the wife in putting her drunk husband to bed. He never judged the man and never complained about the loss of sleep.

My funniest memory of Dad involves a Sunday morning church service. As an elder, he introduced applicants who, as a part of the hiring process for ministers, preached a sermon. During the weeks prior to that Sunday, Dad had worked many long hours and not had much sleep. He introduced the minister and then sat down in one of the plush, red velvet cushioned chairs on the platform and promptly fell asleep. My father snored like an approaching tornado.

Aunt Annie, director of the adult choir, motioned for someone to wake him up. Despite a variety of hand signals, no one moved. My father snored his way through a rather lengthy sermon. When the guest minister finished, he waited for Dad to announce the final hymn, but my dad had died to the world.

My aunt asked the choir and congregation to stand and sing. Dad slept on. When the ministerial candidate realized that my father wouldn’t say any final words, the young man approached the podium. “I hope I’m not responsible for Mr. Chrisman’s sound sleep.” My father remained oblivious to the world and to the congregation’s laughter. The minister shrugged his shoulders and walked down the aisle alone to the main door to shake hands with members of the congregation. That incident became a church and a family legend.

As I write, sleet continues to fall. The skeletons dance outside my window. In my mind spring cleaning reveals fond memories of the man I called my father. Happy Birthday, Dad!




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. His last pieces for red Ravine were Exit The Telephone, Desecration Day, and Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

Other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members include: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Spring Cleaning In The Attic Of My Mind was inspired by the birthday anniversary of Bob’s father and Writing Topic — Spring Cleaning.

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