X — Denoument

Montana Answers

“Yeah, our dogs used to get bit by rattlers. You never knew ’til the dog got sick. I’d say to my dad, ‘What’s wrong with the dog?’ Dad’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just been snakebit.’ Sometimes the dogs’d make it; sometimes not.”

“What happened then?” she asked her uncle. He’d grown up on a ranch west of Billings, Montana.

“Oh, they’d swell all up, here, around the neck. They’d be real sick for a day or two, maybe bleed from the nose, seizures. They’d make it or we’d shoot ‘em. It all depended how much venom they got.”

That conversation with my uncle told me what had killed my dog Maggie. The city vets in San Diego wouldn’t expect a dog to be snakebit, but here in rural Colorado every vet would expect that. Now there’s a rattlesnake venom vaccine. I don’t know how good it is — even vets have given me mixed reviews. I guess its one main advantage is that it slows the progression of the venom so a person has a longer to get the dog help. I also understand that the antivenin has to be matched to the exactly type of rattlesnake.

I was out pretty early this morning with Bear. As we walked I passed a dead garter snake. I had probably run over it. I felt bad for a moment then thought, “Hungry birds.” A raven flew overhead. Later we passed a living garter snake. Bear is no longer interested in them, and I’m glad of that.

I thought of all the snakes I saw back in the day. Most often it was one of the three kinds of rattlesnakes that lived there — but sometimes king snakes — the yellow and black California Kingsnake and the rare and elusive Laguna Mountain Kingsnake with his red, black and yellow/white stripes. Gopher Snakes were always nice to see as were my favorites, the Desert Rosy Boas. Ring-necked snakes are small and beautiful. I guess it was lucky that I have no real aversion to snakes though a snake on a trail will make me scream. Even the skinny little garter snakes I see out at the Refuge.

Rattlesnakes will never be my favorite critters, but I learned about them. Most useful is that they are territorial, and I could expect to see one in certain places along the way. As much as I truly miss my little house in Descanso, CA, I don’t miss living in a place where there could be rattlesnakes in my yard.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

In other news, Tu Fu, Lao She, and Pearl Buck — the Scarlet Emperor Beans — and now Li Ho!!! have emerged and I am very happy to see them. I recently read an artlcle about genetically modified — what does the O stand for? — anyway GMOs. The writer is a farmer and he explained that all seeds are genetically modified just by being grown and harvested. It’s true. I look at my beans, see who is busy pollinating them, and (to me) it appears pretty random. The writer explained the obvious, that hybridization is genetic modification, and people have been doing that as long as they’ve farmed, even unwittingly, just by harvesting what grows. He said that using the seeds that come from the previous year’s crops isn’t such a great idea and that buying new seeds every season will give a better yield. He gave a litany of reasons all of which made perfect sense. But every year my beans (so far) have been very very happy to grow from the seeds of the previous summer. Maybe his assessment doesn’t hold for a handful of beans grown by a lady in a 4 x 8 garden but it should be even MORE true when there aren’t many plants. This is the sixth generation from the TWO seeds I planted from a packet that was a year old. Anyway I will give them my best. They are wonderful beings. Or beans.

Lao She

VI — More Boys

The Coyote Teeth Gang from City Heights

“You going up the mountain today?”
“Yeah. You want to come too?”
“Yeah. Me and Andre.”
“OK. We’ll go in an hour.”

“If I can get up as fast as you, then I’m fast, right?”
“You’re fast, Andre.”
“Where’s Jim and Danny?”
“I hear them but I don’t see them.”
“Let’s beat them.”
“All right!”

“Yeah. Hi you guys. What kept you?”
“Man, this is hard.”
“I told you.”
“Where’s Jim?”
“He’s looking for Molly.”
“Is she lost?”
“Yeah. She went after a rabbit.”
“That dog!”

“You made it!”
“Pretty hazy today, isn’t it?”
“I was up here last time. You could see the waves coming in at Ocean Beach.”
“Yeah, you could.”
“I haven’t seen that.”
“Remember that time, Jim, we were up here in winter and saw the top of San Jacinto covered with snow? It seemed so close you could touch it.”
“Does it snow up here?”
“No, not really. I was up here once and it was snowing. It turned to rain before it touched me, but I could see the snow in the sky.”
“I’ve never seen snow.”
“Well, if it snows we can go up to the Lagunas. We better head down. It’s almost sunset.”
“Race you, Martha.”
“You’re on, Andre.”

“We’re in a war, OK? We’re evading the enemy.”
“OK. I run down the hill like this even when I’m alone. I know it’s stupid, but it’s so fun!”

“What’s that?”
“A coyote skull.”
“What’s it doing in the tree?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it fell down the hill or maybe a bird dropped it.”
“I’m going to get it!”
“Leave it, Andre.”
“No, come on. There! Oh, I dropped it.”
The woman reached down and picked up the teeth from the ground and put them in her pocket.”
“Let’s wait for them. Here come Truffle and Molly.”
“Hi, dogs!”
“Martha, do you think I’m smart?”

“Yeah, Andre. You’ve got one of the best minds I know. You’re young, but you’re smart.”
“You mean it?”
“Sometimes I don’t feel so smart.”
“Everyone feels bad sometimes. Like now. I feel kind of lonely and out of it. I wish I could find people who appreciate me and like to do what I like to do.”
Andre, aged 12, moves closer to the woman sitting on the hillside in the fading light. “I appreciate you and I like to do everything you do.”
“Thanks, buddy. Here, Andre. You went to the top, right?”
“Three times.”
“Well, take this coyote tooth.”
“What should I do with it?”
“Clean it up, save it. I’ll give one to Danny, one to Jose, one to Israel. What do you think?
“Good idea! We’re the Coyote Teeth Gang.”
“When will you go to the mountain again?”
“Monday. You want to come?”
“Yeah. Me and Jose and Israel.”
“That sounds great. 9:00.”

The little boys ran up the trail, racing, screaming, yelling, the dogs following, wild, yelping, boy and dog joy.

Jose, a silent, thoughtful, handsome boy picked up stones and laid out his name, big enough for airplanes to read.

Andre was another neighborhood kid. He had a little sister who was also awesome. It was wonderful how much they all fell in love with going out to “climb the mountain.”

It wasn’t all love and joy with the kids. Andre, in particular, and his little sister, had a dark moment when their mom was arrested. I found Andre in my yard with a note pinned to his shirt asking me to take care of him and his sister until his mom could get in touch with his god-nose-where dad. So, I brought them in, fed them dinner and after a while a man showed up that the kids recognized as their father. His mom had been picked up for identity theft.

When we are separated a few “hoods” from situations like this we use terms like, “at risk kids.” When you are in the middle of a hood like that and living your life there, and attempting to hold it together like everyone else, you realize all of us are “at risk.” Stuff happened to me down the line, too, and my neighborhood held me up and helped me preserve my life.

Years and years later, Andre a tall grown up kid, a high school senior, came back to see Jim. By then Jim (the Good X) was long gone which was deeply disappointing for Andre. Andre was a little angry at me for not keeping the marriage together. I didn’t explain anything to him about what happened. It wasn’t his business and it would have been even more disillusioning than just not finding Jim. Jim had “let” (think Tom Sawyer and the fence) Andre, Israel and Jose help him build the back fence. They built a sturdy fence that lasted a long time.

Through all my experiences in the hood with random kids I came to see how much kids need adults. Back then the whole “It takes a village to raise a child” stuff came out. In a hood like that, it really did.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

The Street Lamp Sputters

I got an email from LinkedIn asking me to congratulate a former student who has now worked 12 years at one company, consistently moving up the “ladder.” I don’t connect to many former students on LinkedIn. Only three.

He was one of my best and, yes, favorite students. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw him in my classroom at a community college, discussing Brave New World. Then (years later) he was at my front door in Descanso with his friend Leo so I could meet his friend. Then it was July 4, 2005 and we are climbing up Cuyamaca Peak. It was 2 years after the Cedar Fire fire and purple fire weed bloomed everywhere. After the hike, we headed to Green Valley Falls where we slid and swam our way down. It was a wonderful day. Then I am walking nervously into an auditorium in one of the older buildings at San Diego State, my first day in the University Senate. An English professor — a wonderful woman — Sherry Little — whom I knew as a good acquaintance — motioned me to sit behind her. A little later this student came in, saw me and sat down next to me. I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. All this flashed through my mind in less than a second, all in images.

Yesterday, earlier, I had other, different, encounters with memories. I decided to fight the “hoarder gene” and go after the writing projects from the dim recesses of the past aka the bottom of the old trunk. That will take longer than a second.

There were two notebooks down there, filled with words. The big blue one that held (RIP) the famous unfinished Pearl Buck project and a slimmer, black one that holds stories I thought I was writing. They are less stories than diary, transcriptions of conversations and events written as stories. One of my friends at the time — after reading one — said, “These aren’t stories at all. That’s our conversation yesterday when we got coffee! Don’t you have any imagination?” He was right about them not being stories, not really, kind of but not really.

I went at the black one without even looking at what I was shredding and then, OOPS! I looked. I stopped shredding and read. Not the way to fight the hoarder gene! I wrote most of these story-like-things in the few years before my life broke. Now I have either to bite the bullet and shred, or type them into my laptop and ask the nice people at Amazon to bind them into a book I would never sell.


Dinner Party

A couple of days ago, my blogging pal at Half-fast Cycling Club posted about the three people he would most like to have dinner with at a dinner party. I remember writing that very thing a looooonnnnngggg time ago and thought, “That’s even more interesting now.” Back then I think I said “Goethe, Voltaire, and T. E. Lawrence.” I realized it would be a different dinner party this time, different guests and a very different party.

Why Goethe back then? There’s the proverb that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” That’s what happened to me with “Wolfie” back in 1998 when I read Italian Journey. Goethe had struggled with and written about one of the most persistent problems of my life (personality?) Later I saw a photo of the lantern he gave his guests after they visited him so they could find their way home. I printed out the photo and framed it. Voltaire? The endlessly useful reminder that all we can do is tend our garden; not only is it ALL we can do; it is exactly what we SHOULD do and it’s enough. And Lawrence? Strange as it may sound, he was my childhood hero.

This wondrous dinner couldn’t be at my house. For one thing, I only have two dining chairs, and then there are my absurdly friendly dogs and my basic lack of furniture (thanks dogs). I decided I would take my guests to Ninos, one of the half dozen local Mexican restaurants but the one that has been voted “Best Green Chile in the San Luis Valley.” That’s how we spell “chili” down here. Live with it. Considering that we are between the two biggest producers of green chile in the world (Hatch farms in New Mexico and Pueblo farms 100 miles north of me in Colorado) green chile is a serious business here and a staple of our diets. As it happens, I even made it when I lived in China.

Then I thought of all the people who might appreciate it, and I decided to invite my dad, my former boyfriend, Peter, and my Swiss medievalist historian friend, Rainer Hugener. I picked them because I’ve had dinner with them before and we always had a good time with very interesting conversations. I’d have to fly Rainer (and his awesome girlfriend Kirsten) over from Zürich and resurrect Peter and my Dad but so what?

My dad would be incredibly happy to see where I live and he would love the chile, after nearly 50 years in the cold ground, especially. I remember eating green chile burritos with Peter in Denver, so I think he’d be fine, though what we have down here is a little more old school and authentic than 1970s Denver. It’ll be new for Rainer and Kirsten, maybe, but I ate at a Mexican restaurant in Baden, so who knows?

Naturally, my dad and Peter would be liberated from the health problems that sent them to the Netherworld.

I think my dad would find Peter, Rainer and Kirsten very interesting to talk to and, as one of the pioneers in computing (I have a paper he wrote in 1957 — using a UNIVAC, which means punch-cards — for a presentation at a university in Alabama on the future of computers in education), he would be totally fascinated by our phones. I might bring along my laptop, but I would definitely have to bring a phone for him; luckily, I have my old iPhone SE. He would want to do EVERYTHING. The rest of us use it without being particularly in love with it, and that would make it wonderful to watch my dad. The three of us alive now would probably get a new appreciation. I can hear him say, “See, MAK? What did I tell you! Even SMALLER than toasters.” When I was a little girl, my dad told me that someday computers would be as small as toasters and every home would have one. I would have to tell him that my “toaster” has a computer IN it. He’d love the chile, both red and green, and having a Modelo or Dos Equis.

Peter (who would drink Tequila shots) would not care at all about the new technology, but that’s OK. He might be interested in my books — certainly surprised by them — and maybe fascinated by the whole “Indie” publishing options we have now. If he learned I evolved into a Swiss medievalist historian — and that is how I know Rainer and Kirsten — he’d be REALLY surprised. I’d give him a copy of the book I wrote about “us” — a story he’s already read both as our lives and as a draft. I’d tell him that part of one of his letters hangs in my studio because his words are inspiring, and that I knew him still very important. He’d say, “STILL?” as if how could it be any other way? And we’d laugh.

I know my dad was never in Europe, but Peter was, many, many times and studied at the Sorbonne. I don’t know if he traveled to Switzerland — it doesn’t seem like his kind of destination, but who knows? In that conversation I would learn. There wouldn’t be much small talk because none of them are small talk people. There would be a lot of joking around because they’re all intelligent and funny. The misery of talking politics might be eliminated since my dad clocked out in 1972 and Peter in 1987.

Rainer and Kirsten would (maybe) experiment with the food and drink Margaritas. Historians make jokes (yeah, really) — medieval historians tend to have a rather “medieval” sense of humor which I know my dad would appreciate and probably Peter, too. I love being around Rainer because I can totally relax, and it was the same with Peter and my dad.

My plan — rather than gathering the wisdom of historical and literary greats (who might have been total assholes in real life) — would be just to have a good time with people I like. I would not want the evening to end. Rainer and Kirsten could stay with me and we could spend the next day seeing the timeless wonders of the San Luis Valley — which (even my small town) still looks kind of like the old west — and, who knows? Maybe my dad and Peter would find a way to come along?

Hell on Wings, Part Two, Parigi (Paris…)

Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle, and I was rid of my two extremely annoying row-mates. Each gave me a cordial good-bye and growled at each other.

I exited the plane to see a young man holding a wheel-chair while the mink-clad Nonna sat down in it. “Are you my savior?” she said to him in heavily accented English, accented with Italian. Her fifty+ years living in Las Vegas with the man who’d fallen in love with her after the war, an Army boy liberating Genova, hadn’t smoothed a bit of that away. “And you! Goethe! Dove vai?” I’d met her on the flight from St. Louis to New York. I carried a large biography of Goethe. She’d greeted me on that flight with, “Goethe LOVED Italy!!!” and we had become traveling friends…


“Oh that’s RIGHT! Andiamo insieme!” She took my hand and somehow I felt privileged (do not ask me why — I couldn’t begin to answer that question).

“Can you carry this for me?”

“Sure.” I took her brown-paper wrapped package, and only later wondered why, as she was on wheels, she didn’t just set it in her lap.

“It’s jelly.” Like hell it was jelly. It was a mink jacket.

The good thing about accompanying one’s Italian grandma as she is whisked through an airport in a wheelchair is that you are whisked through, too. We were taken directly to the Alitalia desk. “You talk to them. You’re young, and I’m not sure I can communicate well.”

Again, mysteriously, I felt honored. I didn’t think, “Whoa, you’re the native speaker. I’ve just learned a bit of Italian from friends in Switzerland and a CD rom!” Completely confident, I went to the desk and explained our situation. I was answered in Italian and all went fine. Finally our ordeal was over…but not really. We had not gone through customs. We did not appear to be international travelers, in spite of our American passports. Our marginal but adequate French, her flawless and my adequate Italian, our appearance (mother and daughter?) provoked no questions. We appeared to be just another bi-national family returning to the home country. Later we would pay for these moments of fluidity and ease, but for now? We got nice seats on the next plane out.

All the seats on the small Alitalia flight over the Alps were equipped with what I’d call “mandatory” entertainment. We had to watch Mr. Bean whether we wanted to or not. By then La Nonna and I had been traveling for 22 hours. We were hungry and dehydrated and had reached a higher plane of human understanding by that point — or much lower. Hard to say. “Non me piace. What ever happened to peace and quiet?” La Nonna grabbed the steward and said, “Si prega di spegnere la nostra televisione.” (Please turn off the television)

Mi dispiace, signora. Non posso. Lei vuole qualcosa di bere?” (I’m sorry, Missus. I can’t. Do you want something to drink?”)

Si, si. Grazie tanti.” She thanked him but with an edge in her voice that said clearly, “You cannot pacify me with wine or Coca Cola.”

We flew over Mont Blanc — it was amazing — and then over Monte Rossa. The plane soon began its descent into Malpensa. We got off the plane and walked across the concrete (no wheelchair for La Nonna this time; she was strengthened by the air of her home land). “See, Goethe? La terra di Garibaldi! The air of liberty!”

Who was “La Nonna” you are no doubt asking, and what happened then?


Sometimes you go out for a walk only because your big white dog is yammering at you from the back yard yelling, “Human! It’s time! It’s time!” You agree, it is time, but the winds are gusting at 40 mph (64 kph) and it’s not all that warm. Not all that cold, either, but combine the wind with the 36 F (2 C) degree temps and it’s not Key West.

So you put on your fancy new wool and fleece mid-layer and your ultra-light semi-puffy jacket. You grab your new Buff, because, dammit, the wind in your face walking north isn’t going to be fun OR healthy. Your little fleece hat is in the pocket of your ultra-light jacket.

Things go OK until you get out in the open and you and your dog are blasted sideways, but you walked to school uphill both ways (actually, it’s true…) in the snow in Nebraska as a kid and this is NOTHING.

The wind has scoured the air and the clouds are low, bringing the sky within reach. Only a couple of undaunted ravens attempt to surf this wind. Un-trapped dead leaves dance past your feet. The patches of snow have not so much melted as evaporated.

You hope to see “your” herd of deer. You regret saying to them that you’re not friends. You’ve thought about it in the meantime and you think you might be. You hope you’ll see them, but the usual place is a mile straight into the wind the whole way. It doesn’t sound at all like fun, so you turn, resolving to take a Bear walk which is slow, rambling, lacking direction but revelatory of animal visits to your dog, anyway.

The fierce wind blocks out all sounds except the cry of a surprised raven. You stop while Bear does a thorough examination of the ground around a cottonwood. You look toward the train cars to see if your deer are anywhere around, but they aren’t. The walk continues when suddenly you notice someone has tagged the tank cars with the word, “Wild.” You love it.

You go on with no destination, stopping often for your dog to examine the ground. The sun has gone behind a small cloud, and the wind and light have brought a mountain close. The world has emptied of humanity and nothing remains but you and your dog, the immense Wild! beyond the train cars, the light and the mountain. In the strange solitude of this “ordinary” walk, you remember what you love and that it loves you.

For the Birds

When I’m not working on a novel, I have had a project, a piece of “creative nonfiction” though when I started it in 1978 or so I don’t think the term existed. It’s autobiographical fiction or fictionalized autobiography or autobiography about learning to writer fiction. Maybe it — like one of the protagonists — defies labels. 

It’s a strange piece. The speaker (it’s a first person story) is at that moment in life where she doesn’t know what to do, who she is. She has a lot of abilities but no direction. She’s poised for flight but doesn’t know if she has wings.

So I ended up titling it “Fledging.” It’s had several titles in its long evolution, but from this promontory, looking at it from the distance of forty years and knowing how the stories turned out, I can see what she was doing. And writing this book was part of her attempt to take wing. Who and what was she? Painter? Writer? World-traveler? Wife? No clue…

I don’t think it’ll ever be for sale. Maybe it’s just a thing I had to finish for myself. It’s got lots of bad writing — which makes sense because it’s about a person learning to write and only starting to discover her voice and understand the importance of refining skills.

I wrote it with a typewriter, retyped it innumerable times on my original Smith/Corona and then on my Smith/Corona correcting typewriter (replete with a small memory card), retyped it on my Amiga and then again on my Mac Classic and again on my MacBook Pro. This one? The one before? The one before that? I don’t know. 

Anyway, I love it and I’m proud of it — and her. That girl survived, endured and kept writing thanks to her plasticity and resilience. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here in Heaven on this gorgeous blue and powdered-sugar snow day. 


Mom’s Illogical Demands

“We spent all that money on raincoats for you two! You didn’t even take them to school!”

“We didn’t know it was going to rain.” Wasn’t that HER job, to say, “Take your rain coats it looks like rain”?

“Get in here. You’re drenched. Get in the tub.”

“Me first,” says your brother, knowing there are cartoons.

OK now that made sense. Come home from school with your little brother, you’re both soaked from the rain storm and she tells you to get in the bathtub.

“Why?” you ask.

“You’ll catch your death. NOW!!!!”

You both run to your rooms. You wonder what you’re supposed to do while your brother is in the tub avoiding death.

“Get out of your wet clothes!!” yells your mom. “Throw them down the basement stairs!”

You take off your school clothes and run through the house in your underwear, open the basement door and throw your dress, slip, and socks down the basement stairs. Now you’re more or less naked in wet panties. This is madness.

“Billy! Get out of the tub, dry off good! It’s your sister’s turn!”

You hear the water begin its journey down down the drain.

“Dry off good! Maureen, get in there.”

Dry off and then get wet. You’re cold now, but you were fine before. Shivering, you go into the bathroom, turn on the water and get into the tub. “Can I have bubblebath?” you yell.

“I don’t care!” she yells back. “Just get into that tub.”

Your brother passes by the bathroom door in his pajamas. His red-blond hair spikey from being dried with the towel. He makes a face at you as he goes by.

“Stop looking at me!” you yell.

After a while your mother yells again, “Get out of there and get dried off. I need you to set the table.”

Life is an unsupportable burden. First you’re in trouble for getting wet in the rain you couldn’t predict or prevent. Then you’re yelled at for not getting into the bathtub already peopled by your brother. Then you’re yelled at for being IN the bathtub. You heave a sigh reflecting deep world-weariness as you let the water out of the tub. You drag your legs over the side, take your leaden towel from the rack and endure the effort of drying off your skin.

“I’m coming,” you yell back.




I’ve been watching the film Longitude because, well, I like it and second to get a better sense of the 18th century. I can see me watching Mutiny on the Bounty next.

The story in Longitude is about John Harrison who was a carpenter who loved clocks. He devised four different (the first one was immense!) clocks that could be used to determine longitude at sea. This was a very big deal because there was no way to do this. Harrison’s clocks worked, but did not turn out to be the tools that would ultimately be used onboard ships.

It became Harrison’s obsession to develop this clock — for several reasons not the least of which was the prize of 20,000 pounds. It was also because ships were lost at sea and people died AND such a tool would give the British fleet a competitive advantage.

This must have made a huge impression on me because, last night, I dreamed I was in a car with my friend L and we were lost. In the dream I looked down at the place where I often put my cell phone. There was Harrison’s clock. “Siri,” I said, “Whedahfukahwee?”


What’s funny about that is that I have never talked to Siri. Where I live — the uncharted waste of Southern Colorado — I have no data. I set sail into the the immense emptiness of the San Luis Valley with a paper map and  written directions.


Rainbow Girls — Going to Billings with Hank, Mom and Kirk

It’s a summer night in 1957 and I lie on the back seat of the 55 Ford with my three year old brother. Together we about fill it with our sleeping bodies. The car has stopped. I wake up. “Where are we, mom?”

“Wheatland, honey.”

My Uncle Hank says, “I’ll go see if he’ll open up and sell me gas. The store lights are on. He can’t have been closed long.” The green neon Sinclair dinosaur in the window lights the parking stalls in front of the station. Pink and white neon lines the roof-line.

Once the car has stopped I sit up look out the window at the Wyoming night. Beyond the gas station, the city park, soft, summer darkness, out across the plains forever.

Suddenly there is a burst of girls in long frothy dresses, running and laughing. They run past us, their dresses lit momentarily by the neon of the gas station lights.

“Rainbow girls,” says my mom, thoughtfully. “The Lodge must be nearby.”

“What are rainbow girls?” I ask.

“It’s a club for teenage girls, honey. Your Aunt Dickie was a member.”

“They’re wearing long dresses!” I am five and in love with long dresses.


“Formals. They wear formals at their meetings.”

Uncle Hank comes back with the service station owner who unlocks the pumps and fills the tank. We’ll make it to Billings. My grandfather has died and my dad flew up that morning to be with his mother. I’m sure my uncle explained all this to the man.

Life prophesies itself.

1965, Bellevue, Nebraska. My dad has become a Mason and I am about to become a Rainbow Girl. My mom and I go to a Rainbow Installation of new officers. Installations are open to the public. I like the ceremony. I’m surrounded by girls in long dresses. I haven’t forgotten the night in Wheatland.

“An international Masonic organization for girls of teen age,” says the booklet I take home with me that gives me information about the group.

The Installation is beautiful. Each color of the rainbow represents a quality of life and of the spirit. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet are the names of the first seven offices and then there are three more that are white — the color made by all the colors together in the light spectrum.  Red = love, orange = religion, yellow = nature, green = immortality, blue = fidelity, indigo = patriotism, violet = service. The white ones? Faith, Hope and Charity.

I hold two offices before I move away. I am yellow, nature, and violet, service. Oddly enough, the qualities represented by those two colors will describe my life as it turns out to be. My frothy dresses? I only have two. I sew one of them during my Gone With the Wind phase. It is white dotted Swiss with a big skirt and a sash. My mom makes the other, white lace fused on pale green backing. Very early 60s.

I loved it. I loved the pageantry and the colors and the ritual — and I learned something about music. The processional march we used was the March from Aida. Years and years later, at the Arena in Verona, I saw Aida and when the march began I was, for a moment, a girl in Bellevue, Nebraska watching the officers enter the room in their long dresses while a record played.