Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Dad and Granddad

My father and his father

The Ruskin Heights tornado was this dividing line in my life. And in the life of our family. I have wondered from time to time what the alternate timeline would have been. We went to Kansas City for the funerals as a family and we came back as isolated individuals living in the same house. What had always united us before, fishing trips and camping and building things, was gone. On hiatus.

Mother had a secret. A lump had begun to grow in her breast. She would ask me during our bathroom talks. She would invite me in to talk while she took a bath. Talks that Dad and my brother were not privy to. She had come back from KC with a pain in her right shoulder. She went to Dr. Fitzpatrick who thought she had a lingering infection from the mastitis. He treated that with more antibiotics. Then he thought she had bursitis. He treated that with heat treatments. The lump was supposedly drainage. But it kept getting bigger. That was what the whispered talks were about. The size of the lump.

"Don't tell your father," she would almost plead.

"But, Mom, you can see it," I would try to reason.

"Your father has had one loss already. He doesn't need another."

"But, Mom?"

"After Christmas."

After Christmas the lump was removed. It was larger than a golf ball by about half. It was biopsied as being cancerous. The big C. Nobody spoke the words in those days. They never took out just the lump. They took her whole breast and part of her breast bone and all the lymph nodes under her arm.

I was taking care of my brother and sister while Dad was with Mom at the hospital. When he came home he asked me into their room and told me.

"You need to be strong for all of us," he said, before he began to cry. I hugged him and went out to make dinner for my siblings. I couldn't cry. I couldn't upset my brother and sister. I could not disappoint my father.

Cancer was not talked about in those days. And there seemed no light at the end of the tunnel. There were also no therapy groups for families going through this. We were alone. Oh, so alone. Separated from all our neighbors. I had my family to take care of. The bathroom talks with my mother continued. I could not avoid the horror of the butchery. And Dad and I began the workshop talks on weekends.

Grandmother did not show up as often those days but Granddad did. When I would climb the tree in the backyard to escape from time to time. He would be sitting out on a limb beside me.

"You're a Binford. You can do this."

Between bath  talks, shop talks and tree talks I like the shop talks the best because I learned to do wood work and home improvements, minor repairs. It often included trips to the dump (they were dumps in those days) where we would come back with more than we took some days.

Dad as I remember him

And the shop talks were not about his problems but philosophy and religion and history and world events.

It would be years later before it dawned on me that because of our secrets my mother and father had both lost (or excluded) their best friend. And I had lost my childhood.

"Childhood is over rated," Granddad said.

And oh, the workshop skills I acquired.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Are You a Cave Person?

Windows off Main
Trinidad, Colorado

Every dying town has its cave people.

I have been doing research on the Village of Angel Fire, New Mexico for an article I just finished writing. I live five miles south of the village near what was once the town of Black Lake. It once had a store and a school and a church and a post office. Now Black Lake is where they shot the Montana scenes for Lonesome Dove.

I love old towns with history. Angel Fire is not old and it does not have history. No old school house or cemetery with tell tale dates to contemplate. It has no grand buildings or even a real main street. No sidewalks. Angel Fire was incorporated as a village in 1986 severing itself from the ski resort of the same name opened in 1965. The resort is still upset. As I was preparing to write this blog it dawned on me I have no pictures of Angel Fire. It has nothing worthy to photograph beyond the mountains which surround it. It has no park like Los Alamos, also a young town, and what passes for Village Hall looks like an abandoned strip center.

So I take my camera and visit other towns with history. Other towns which are dying like Raton, New Mexico. Raton is our county seat, and forever a sore point for our side of the county where Angel Fire is situated. All the court houses and county records are in Raton. That is where we go upon demand to serve in juries. Raton is two hours away. Just far enough they pay for mileage if you serve but not for an overnight stay. Raton's population is falling almost daily. Angel Fire's population is rising. Angel Fire isn't dying but it definitely has not grown up yet.

Main Street Raton, New Mexico

Angel Fire still behaves as it it is a service community to the mine; read as resort. All my favorite old towns like Raton, Cimarron, Trinidad and Las Vegas were once mining towns with railroads. And the mines closed. And all came face to face with dying. To save a mining town from dying it must be repurposed. Las Vegas, New Mexico is doing pretty good at that. It just takes a few people willing to commit. Restoration of its older buildings around the central plaza is following the Plaza Hotel. It is now one of the filming locations for Longmire as well as several movies. And galleries and restaurants have taken up occupancy of other old buildings.  

Plaza Hotel
Las Vegas, New Mexico

Trinidad, Colorado is succeeding too in my opinion. I think some of the movers and shakers in that town have doubts from time to time primarily due to economic conditions. But it does have the movers and shakers. They are mostly small business owners, the historians and the members of their arts council. They out number the cave people. Cave people epidemic in Raton.

Off Main Street on Commercial
Trinidad, Colorado

So what does a very new town like Angel Fire have in common with these older towns? Two things: Cave people, and the need to repurpose. Angel Fire if it is going to grow responsibility and not die if the ski area closes must develop a purpose other than just a resort town. 

It does not have to remodel and restore its infrastructure like Raton, Las Vegas and Trinidad or even Cimarron with its main street of galleries. Angel Fire has to build an infrastructure. It needs a park, sidewalks, a museum (maybe it isn't old but the surrounding area has history), a senior center (it has an aging population). And to reflect the community interests it needs infrastructure for the art organizations which are even older than the town. It needs a performing arts center for Music From Angel Fire and theatrical companies. It needs an Arts Activity Center for the Moreno Valley Arts Council so it can continue to foster arts, artists and other art organizations, as well as continuing to carry the art education ball dropped by the schools. And that park, not yet built, needs a band shell for musicians to perform in on summer nights.

It also needs a new Village Hall and a post office not bordering on condemnation. The bulldozer is under estimated as a remodeling tool in northern New Mexico. But to know what needs saved and what needs built and what needs bulldozed you need a vision of what you want the Village of Angel Fire to grow up to become. I am personally in favor of beginning with the Arts Activities Center. The towns I have visited which seem to be turning the tide on dying have been lead by the artists. Maybe it is because their creative natures allow them to see beyond to what can be.

BTW, all the towns which are winning the fight to survive have an active arts council.

Monday, June 15, 2015

An Arrangement of Artists

Artists work alone. They work in studios and closets and what was once the guest room. The remodel garages and garrets and garden sheds so they can work at their passion. When forced to by patrons, gallery owners or economic necessity they dress up and make nice. But we are introverts. We are most comfortable with ourselves and some medium to make art with. But we are happiest in those rare arrangements of artists called workshops.

I was lucky enough to be one of an arrangement of eight this weekend. Only two I knew before but like birds of a feather we know our kind almost instantly. For me the excuse for the weekend was the risers on my flight of steps I am redoing. Have been redoing for seven years. Okay maybe more. And when I heard about the workshop in tempered glass mosaic I found my medium for those 12 risers. No expensive tile. Just cheap recycled tempered glass from the Restore store. The kittens had already demonstrated how easy it was to break. In the workshop I learned how to do it neatly.

Shattered shower door

I also learned of a light weight substrate and several great glues. And most of the tools and supplies after the broken glass are available at my favorite hardware stores or on line. I know I can make all my risers first on the flat and then put them in place. So I have a plan.

Finished pieces from the workshop

But this is not want I wanted to blog about. My subject was an arrangement of artists. And how easily we fall into alignment - well not alignment. Too much laughing for alignment. If you are used to seminars at college a workshop of artists might drive you over the edge. Especially if it was an engineering seminar you last attended.

Oh, not that we don't have our serious moments. From time to time.

Getting the grout just right

Working against the clock on the class project

Yes, we all learned a lot. We all went home with our minds full of what we are going to do next in this new medium and how to improve on that. It was two days of high energy and creativity and we were all tired by the end. And we were also full of inspiration and great memories.

Show and tell time

And whether you took the workshop to make stair risers or to make art just being there makes you a part of the arrangement of artists. Warning: Workshop energy can become addictive. You drive away wondering what the next out-side-the-box experience you can schedule.

This is just one example of why our community is trying to fund Our Very Own Permanent Home for the Arts. And not just visual arts but dance, and theater, and music, and writing, and quilt making. But workshops for seniors and kids and, of course, artists or artists to be. Arts give to the community. They help create community.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Turning Point

I wouldn't be twelve until June. But the Ruskin Heights tornado and all which followed that week made me grow up fast. Mother was focused on Dad and his grief and loss. And I was left in charge of my five month old sister and my not quite ten year old brother with Aunt Amy.

I had not a clue about baby schedules and what Aunt Amy once knew she seemed to have forgotten. Mother's schedule with funeral directors, etc. caused Debbie to be weened fast. Aunt Amy and I puzzled over how to mix formula. She was the mother of my two high school aged cousins. Debbie showed an instant distaste for Gerber. Aunt Amy and I resorted to blenders. Amazing what you can blend up. To this day I can recall infinite detail about Aunt Amy and Uncle Bill's kitchen. It had windows all along one wall. I was happy in that kitchen mixing up baby food for my sister with my Aunt Amy while the other adults seemed to have vanished.

Uncle Bill, my mother's brother, and Amy's husband was a police detective.  Post tornado was a busy time. Nobody had second cars in those days, so Aunt Amy and Gary and I with Debbie in a stroller, would take walks to Swope Park and picnic or visit the zoo. She called the monkey's our cousins. It seemed to have no connection to the devastation at Grandma's block, and where her house had stood. Dad said it looked like what he had dropped bombs on during the war. Till that moment he had always been a pilot. I had never connected him to bombs.

Nor had I seen the would as dangerous. Now I knew it could wipe away houses and towns and people. And cousins were not safe unless they were monkey's in a cage. Or that Dad's cried or mothers weren't available when you needed them. Or babies were such a lot of work.

But what I remember most about that week of parading relatives was the death of my Great Uncle Judge. He was my favorite. And we got to have dinner at his house after the funeral of Grandma. He was his wonderful laughing self. Always bigger than life. I can still see him as he stood in front of the mantle. Whiskey tumbler in hand. Dad, with his own tumbler, was at the other side and they were swapping tales. I sat on the floor with my sleeping sister in my lap and worshiped them both as if they were wizards because they made me laugh.

The next day he was dead. Mother decided it was his funeral I could attend because it would be open casket. I was in a brat mood that day. I had been good for too long already. I had not told about Cousin Bruce, or that Aunt Amy and I missed a feeding for my sister, or that we were not using the formula, or that monkeys were our cousins, or mother was running a fever. But I was absolutely not accepting the rigid waxy figure in the coffin as my Uncle Judge. And said so. Out loud. In spite of him shushing me.

Nor was I happy they were putting the beautiful cherry wood and brass coffin in the ground. And when in the cemetery it dawned on me they had done the same with Grandma just a couple days before I protested. I was going to have nothing to do with this barbaric practice. And said so loudly. I grabbed my sister from her stroller and took off across the beautifully manicured memorial garden. Why are they called gardens?

Mother's fever was because of mastitis probably because of weening Debbie too fast. In the dead of night Dad took her to the emergency ward and I was convinced they were not coming back. Mother would always blame the infection  on Debbie kicking her when she tried to make her  nurse. And for the tumor which formed once we were home. And the subsequent cancer.

I just knew the world had once been puddle wonderful and now it was a dark and dangerous place.

Travel in Packs

Round Up

Like many people who live in rural areas or on the outskirts of small villages I am an introvert, who on demand can pretend to be in an extrovert for short periods of time. I have had to do so to be in art fairs and give lessons at my studio. Tourist season stretches my performance ability because they seem to travel in packs or even herds.

I first noticed this tendency when I was still teaching skiing. Frequently a class of ten would all be from the same group or family. And it wasn't just in class but on the slopes. They moved like a herd down the ski hill. I liked the first run of the day when there was only me and maybe one or two others on a hill. My family camped to get away from it all - and that included people. We didn't attend Parrot Head conventions at campground tent cities with generators.

Being a photographer fits me. I and my camera and my dogs out in a lonely place. Painting probably suits me even more because I can stay in my studio and zone out. Opening my studio to the public three days a week was a leap for me. But the majority of the year the open sign is just a formality.

Yesterday I received a call about how many people my studio could accommodate. Let me mention I am claustrophobic. I want to run when six or eight people drop in. Fortunately there is an outside area with chairs and table. Six chairs. I want to build a deck. But that is August and only 8 x 10. So my answer was a question - "How many in your party?"

"Thirty-five," she said. I wished at that moment I could cite a fire regulation. "But I do not know if everyone will want to come. Say twenty."

I am quickly doing the math of how many SUV's that is. Four or five depending on size of occupants. Parking could be an issue. Especially if it is King Ranch stretch pickups. Do you tell people used to being in herds they should divide up into smaller groups?

"Lessons?" I ask.

"Oh, no. We just want to visit and see your work. We are having a family reunion over the 4th of July. Will you be open?"

Booking a trip to the wilds of Utah is out of the question because of my day job - pet sitting.

"Yes, I will. Studio hours are 1:30 to 4:30 or by appointment."

"Morning of the fourth."

"Do you want to book a time?" At least I could have just them in the studio.

"If we call you that morning can you call us back within the hour?"

She had called and left a message. I was in Taos picking up groceries. I certainly had not returned that call within the hour. Maybe three. Honestly four. But how likely was I to go out shopping on the morning of the 4th of July? But pet rounds can take an hour or two especially if I have my camera with me. And I could be gardening or walking my own pets. I do not give out my cell number any more. Elliot cured me of that.

"Probably." She wasn't happy with that answer but I had sympathy because I have herded cats before and I can imagine the morning at a rented condo with 35 people. It's July I assure myself. And with luck I might not live through June.

She asked for directions and I gave them. Beginning with the fact my studio was five miles south of Angel Fire. Her silence told me she had not considered it might be beyond walking distance.

We really need the Art Activities Center in the middle of Angel Fire with the ample parking. Of the 18 studios and galleries on the Artistic Vistas and Treasures Art tour there are maybe only four that could handle five SUV's in the parking lot or 35 people in the studio/gallery itself. I promise myself to work harder on the campaign for funding.

Just 22

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Grandma Said Goodbye

Aftermath of Ruskin Heights Tornado May 20, 1957

We were settled into Albuquerque by then. It was just beginning to dawn on me we were not moving anytime soon. All my aunts and uncles (but one), my father's mother and stepfather, and those cousins I knew were still in the Kansas City area. My baby sister still very much a baby.

There were three networks on TV. One was not CNN. There was no 24/7 news coverage. NBC, CBS and ABC had sign off times and sign on times with test patterns. And between test patterns just snow.

Mother found me in front of the test pattern that May 21st, 1957 when she woke up to get the day going for the family.

"Turn that off," she said handing me my baby sister nodding off in my arms. "Help me with breakfast. What are you watching that for anyway."

"I am waiting for the news," I said, as I put my sister down in the play pen. I had just that year, as part of social studies, developed an interest in the news. We no longer had to duck and cover under our desks at school but the neighbors were still discussing bomb shelters. I heard the plop of the paper on the front porch and ran to retrieve the solid form of the news. Ours was the Albuquerque Journal.

Typical headline of that day

I laid it in Dad's spot. He doled out the parts of the paper. Mother reading over my shoulder snatched it away.

"Grandmother said to say goodbye," I told her as she alternated stares of horror at first the paper and then at me.

"Shut up. Go wake your bother and get ready for school."

"But Mom, they are looking in the wrong spot. They're in the far field."

She gave me one of her wicked witch of the west stares. I obeyed.

At breakfast it was clear that this was to be one of Mother's secrets for as long as she could manage it. It was to be breakfast as usual until we were all scurrying out to school. Of course on the walk to school (yes, we walked in those days) The Tornado was all anyone could talk about. The midwest had been having awful weather. We now call it the May 1957 Central Plains tornado outbreak sequence of which the May 20th Ruskin Heights tornado, an F5 a total of 71 miles long, would be the largest and deadliest. It would take the communities of Ottawa and Spring Hill, Kansas, and Martin City, Grandview, Hickman Mills, and Ruskin Heights, Missouri.

Just before noon, Mrs. Hill told me to gather up my school books and come with her. My father waited outside the barracks, which was the upper grades part of Eubank Elementary School. He walked me silently to the car all packed with everything, including brother and baby sister, for the trip to Kansas City across the Kansas plains.

"She told me to say goodbye to you especially," I whispered. He squeezed my shoulders.

Nobody had to tell me why we were going. I knew. I knew before they knew. I had never unpacked my book bag that day.

I put the book bag on the back shelf behind the seats, reached over the front seat and grabbed the maps. I was as always the navigator. It was in those days what was. No seat belts, no car seat for my sister, no GPS, no in cab DVD for entertainment. Gary slept, I worked out mileage and watched the route. Dad drove. The whole car was strangely silent for the 12 hour trip. We even managed filling stations and meal breaks with just the necessary exchanges. I have often wondered if other families would have talked about it. Spent quality time in a sealed environment. But we all knew our jobs in times of trouble and we did them. Silently.

I could not and still cannot get the image of Grandma in the field holding hands with her husband. The field was a mile from where their house had been and was no more.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Beginning Year 70

Antelope on the Eastern Plains

I have always said it is about quality and not quantity. But I frankly never thought I could have both. I was born a year before the baby boom. Not sure how my folks worked that since my father was an US Air Force pilot. And there was WWII going on. Never wise to question your parents too much. The story is he was flying over Omaha when I was born. I think it was the city and not the beach. But my parents and both sets of grand parents died before I could figure out what questions would be important later.

I was never all that rooted to truth. Growing up I found there were my father's stories and my mother's silence. Mother was the truth holder and she held it very tightly behind pursed lips. Dad was the source of legend. I liked Dad's version of life far better. It was grand, and exciting and it did not result in those vertical wrinkles on your upper lip. It gave you laugh lines instead. It would be decades before I discovered that was genetic and not a lifestyle choice.

I was also never that rooted to life. I had several opportunities before seven to just leave. And had developed a relationship with several relatives Mother informed me had died before or shortly after my appearance. When Mother released tidbits of the truth it was always a joy killer. At least that is what my paternal grandfather told me. BTW he was one of those I could not have known. But I have such vivid memories of him. He used to wink at me when I told a tall one at family court. I was late in learning Mother had the only deciding vote. Boy, my English setter, told me that as we sat in exile on the front steps. It was our secret that we enjoyed exile.

So I have no truths to tell about my family. My mother later told my baby sister some of that. She has told me a tidbit here and there. I found it largely boring in relationship to my father's epics. Truth, he once told me in confidence, is what you want it to be. And as we moved from AF base to off base housing to AF base, I got to remake my truth as I wanted it. That got a lot harder when we "settled down" in Albuquerque. So I turned my creative talents to writing "Fairy Tales" and illustrating them in a series of books for by baby sister.

Sent home from school one day for telling lies, Dad, nodded me into the garage workshop for a "talking to" meted out by She Who Must Be Obeyed. Granddad still appeared from time to time at these talking to's. "There is a time," Dad said, "to remain silent around them." Granddad nodded. And so I learned my greatest survival skill. Silence.

Mind you, I have not always used it wisely. But that brings us to the point of this blog. My Father's sagas. I am not interested in genealogy. Boring. I do not even want to know all of Mother's secrets. They are not my roots. I want to spend some time on this blog from time to time recording what I saw on Bellamah Street (apologies to Dr. Seuss and Mulberry Street) and the streets before and since.

PS: It won't be the truth. People do not want to know the truth.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Interesting Journey

Last Wednesday it was announced, totally out of the blue, that the parent company, Santa Fe New Mexican, was closing the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle, our local paper. And right before tourist season, totally without notice, and they believed we would all latch on to the tit of the Taos News.

We all met on chats and Facebook forums discussing how this would effect us, and our visitors during the summer. We like to think we are the electronic age and the internet replaces all other media. But that really is not true. There are still a vast number of people who are unconnected to the information highway. There are people like me even, who staunchly refuse to go the smart phone route and chip apps. I have friends on the internet that do not Google. And how does a stranger in a strange land know where to begin - The newspaper.

There is information out there in the ether but sooner or later it has to be downloaded and printed out for those unconnected or out of their comfort zone. Both the Visitor's Center and the Chamber of Commerce maintain calendars of events. But there is no in depth article about the renewed balloon rally coming in June, or the fund raising campaign by the arts council to develop an Arts Activity Center. No letters to the editor for those who have not learned to blog. And even given the number of bloggers we have, no central location to find them. I take the Washington Post on line for the editorials; for their staffs' slant on the news. But the newspaper's name is the starting point. It is a loyalty, which for me, goes back to my days living in the capital.

Newspapers need an on line presence but they also need hard copies which can be picked up at the resort activities center or the visitor's center or the Chamber of Commerce. They also need a loyal following. This happens because we know the writers. And in a small town such as Angel Fire we know the staff. They are our neighbors.

Clearly there are going to have to be changes. First change is the paper is no longer owned by a Santa Fe corporation. Us readers/advertisers are going to have to look long and hard at what works for us on the Internet and what we can dig into our pockets and buy an ad for. And the newspaper is going to have to change too. Those newspapers that make it in these times are ones that develop that loyalty with their readership.

The closing of the newspaper accomplished a big step in this process. We have all found out what we need the newspaper for. And how difficult that is to do without it.