Flight of the Snow Bird:Tucson in Winter

We just spent the past few days with long-term Wyoming friends in Tucson. Our friends used to escape Wyoming’s long hard winters in Tucson but now they have sold their Wyoming home and moved permanently to Arizona. They live in a Robson community for 55 plus seniors called Quail Creek near Green Valley, Arizona. The advertising says, “Living here is like being on vacation every day.”

Desert Beauty is all around one in Tucson

We spent our mornings drinking coffee on the veranda, swimming in the heated outdoor pool, and going for walks. We spent our afternoons exploring the gorgeous desert landscape and viewing Native American and cowboy art. We ate wonderful food at exotic restaurants ranging from a five course Valentines dinner to a lunch on the patio of the resort used to film the movie, “Tin Cup”. We spent an afternoon in the quaint community of Tubac. We saw kitschy art and gorgeous Native American Art. We were stopped by American soldiers driving back, checking for drugs coming into the country. One afternoon we attended a lecture on “Asylum”. The politics of the wall and border are very salient in an area less than an hour from the border.

The temperatures hovered in the low seventies during the day but dropped drastically at night to the 50’s requiring jackets.

I go every year to visit my friend who I have known for thirty years. I would visit her if she lived in Alaska. But over time, I have come to welcome this break from Idaho’s winter. We enjoy the sunshine but we enjoy each other’s company more. As I age, I have come to appreciate the joy of shared memories. We laugh spontaneously over silly things we did in our youth. It’s great to be in vacation land but it’s better to be in vacation land with our very good friends.

Good friends make every trip more fun

Reflections on Martin Luther King’s Birthday

My dad grew up in the South in a small town called Lancaster, the deepest, darkest backwaters of South Carolina.  He attended the Citadel for college, alma mater to Robert E. Lee, the civil war general.  Founded in 1843, Citadel graduates fired the first shots in the Civil War.  A rigorous military school, academically comparable to our national military academies, the Citadel was not a bastion of progressive thought.

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Citadel Campus

plantation home
Similar to my grandmother’s home

My ancestors, I am not proud to say were the plantation owners who came from England  in the 18th century.  English gentry, 2nd sons without land establishing large successful plantations based on slavery.  My sister and I can still remember visiting my grandmother, Daisy, who lived to be 102.  She owned a large plantation home, a replica of “Gone with the Wind”.  The plantation land had been sold by the time we arrived in the 1950’s to visit.  But her home and surrounding plot was still a compound with a family duplex built in back.  Sections of the house had been walled off so her black maid could have a place to live.  A big white mansion had screened front porches for sleeping during the muggy southern summers and large fans throughout because it had no air conditioning.  The rooms were huge with high ceilings. We never saw the kitchen, hidden somewhere in the back.  The black maid accommodated our food needs.

When we visited our relatives in Lancaster, we could have been dropped into the book, “The Help”.  Silent black women dressed in soft pastels with white aprons would appear and take our orders for sweet tea or Coca-cola.   As small kid from Wyoming,  I found being waited on and sitting quietly in a fussy dress while adults conversed around me quite bizarre and uncomfortable.

We drove to the south whenever we visited. Days of traveling on endless turnpikes with visits to historical monuments and battle fields.  I remember asking my mom, “Why are there signs saying whites only and colored on the bathrooms.”  Her response, “We don’t do that in the West.”  Not exactly an answer but I  got the message that this was not a way to live. 

 

My mom and dad were like, the current royals, Megan and Harry.  Dad met my mom in Wyoming when he was stationed at Warren Army base. He was smitten and wrote her throughout the war.  They married right afterwards. Dad joined the family business in Lancaster taking mom far from her western roots.  They lived in the duplex on the compound.  Mom used to describe black people lined up to pay their rent every Friday outside my Grandfather’s bank.  She did not approve of making money on the backs of poor black families. My dad was a partner in the family department store, the only one in Lancaster. Dad took his funds out of the family business and moved west.  I think because mother couldn’t stand the genteel standards of the southern women and the inherent racism in the town.  But in fairness to my Dad, the war had changed him.  He had fought with men of many different races and traveled the world eventually being stationed in India.

My sister and I were born and grew up in Wyoming, certainly not a bastion of progressive thought.  Yet, my sister and I are both liberal Democrats. We have seen and experienced racism as an ingrained culture.  We know what it’s like to be dropped, like Alice in Wonderland, into a world that is very different than our own.  We both have adopted children of different nationalities.  We have traveled the world and been open to new experiences.  The seething, undercurrents of racism in the 1950’s in the south have stayed with me always.  I don’t want to use restrooms delineated by color or belong to organizations that exclude entire groups of people.  I believe in welcoming all into our churches.

Martin Luther King Day reminds me of my upbringing.  I know he had a tremendous cultural and social battle to wage.  Unfortunately, that struggle continues.

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Why I March: One Voice Can Make a Difference

We watched Peanut Butter Falcon on Netflix over Christmas vacation.  The amusing, emotionally touching movie is a coming of age story starring a Down’s Syndrome young man (Played by Zack Gottsagen).  Another young man with Down’s Syndrome is featured in Stumptown a television crime drama. Paralleling Falcon, Ansel Parisos (Played by Cole Sibus) is struggling with how to live as a young adult in Portland.  Both of these shows are remarkable because individuals with Down’s Syndrome staring in major television roles would have seemed an impossibility thirty years ago.

My first job out of graduate school (1978) was director of the Wyoming ARC/Developmental Disability Council.   The Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act was passed in 1975.  The purpose of the federal law was to insure a public school education was provided to all handicapped children. We had a lot of trouble in Wyoming getting schools to accept disabled children into the classroom. Parents didn’t know they had rights to insist the schools provide services. I remember speaking to the Wyoming Appropriations Committee about the law and having the Chair of the committee interrupt me and say, “These kids are like Angus in among the Herefords.  If we had any of these kids, we would see them and we just don’t.”

I was young, feisty and full of energy. That comment made me furious. I thought if you want to see handicapped children than I will make sure we go out and identify them.  The Developmental Disabilities Council provided a grant to the University of Wyoming to conduct screening clinics in Wyoming’s small rural communities that summer.  The teams identified more than 650 preschool children who were in need of special education services.  There is no voice more passionate or pervasive than a parent who is told their child needs services but the legislature is too miserly to fund the services.  Believe me, the Chair of the Appropriations heard from those parents.

During this period, we were trying to fund early intervention preschools and adult work programs all across the state. We had a statewide funding formula which  cost millions of dollars.  Oil-rich Wyoming coffers could certainly afford to pay for these programs but conservative legislators were not convinced. We had the votes in the House because the Speaker of the House, a very conservative Republican was married to a special education teacher.  He recognized the need.  But we did not have the votes in the Senate.

I worked phone lines every day and every night.  I wasn’t calling legislators.  I was calling parents to call their Senator(s) and asked him to vote yes.  The day of the vote the Senate gallery was packed with parents and children.  The votes were tallied. The yes/no’s flashed up on the screen.  We were one vote short.  The bill was going to die.  I could feel the disappointment of the parents squeezing my heart.  One Senator from Newcastle, Wyoming, a tiny town in Northeast Wyoming stood up.  You could hear a pin drop at that moment. He changed his vote to a yes.  He said when he made the change, “I cannot go home and face my constituents if this bill dies.  Wyoming needs to serve the developmentally disabled.”  The gallery went wild. with applause and cheering.

Over thirty years later, handicapped children who had access to early intervention services are moving into our communities, working in our businesses, starring in television shows and movies.  They’re showing us that advocacy work on the side of justice pays off.

The Women’s March is this weekend.  I march in principle.  Black, white, Hispanic, Native American, yellow, male, female, LGBTQ-A, handicapped, old, young; we all deserve an equal chance to succeed in this great country.  We are a country where one person’s voice/vote can still make a difference.

 

Rollin’ in the Last, Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer!

Rollout those lazy, crazy days of summer…You’ll wish that summers could always be here (Nat King Cole, 1963)

2016 was my first summer of retirement.  What a glorious time, I have had! Pete and I opened summer with a grand circle tour of the Wyoming and Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Driving from Boise to Jackson Hole, the  Teton’s highlight was biking at twilight along the Snake River. Then on to Buffalo, Wyoming to visit family and enjoy Wyoming’s wonderful summer weather where cool breezes keep the air moving and the need for air conditioning down.  In Cheyenne, Wyoming where I grew up, I am still blessed with many long-term friendships.  These friendships have remained strong  over 20 years of living in different cities with annual visits home.   All but one friend  and my husband beat me to retirement. Some of my friends have had health struggles.  One friend is recovering from a stroke, another a heart condition, another just getting over a knee replacement surgery.  All have new grand children to report on. When I sit down with my Wyoming friends, it feels like yesterday when we left.  Over the years and across the miles, our shared adventures and linking life lines have kept us together.

We finished our roadtrip with our annual visit to a Colorado Rockies game, a must for us and plans to meet Wyoming friends in Arizona next year to watch spring baseball.  Our final stop before heading home was Golden, Colorado where Pete has family and the hops from Coors Brewery fills the air.  Clear Creek runs through town, like the Boise River but much smaller.  These rivers provide the focal point for both communities though their original historical roots are quite different. Golden was a mining town and Boise was the  Lewis and Clark route, the Oregon Trail and home to Fort Boise. Our drive home took us across Utah,  setting of glorious rock formations.  Traveling in Utah always leaves me thinking about Mormon families pushing their hand carts across the vast landscape, a hardy group for sure.

The  friendship/family tour was our only trip this summer.  Boise (consistently ranked as one of the top outdoor cities) is a fabulous place to spend the summer and we also own a cabin in McCall, Idaho welcoming us over the long holidays including Memorial Day, the Fourth of July,  a late July family vacation and most recently Labor Day.  Labor Day trills  the siren call of summer’s end.  The air is starting to turn and Boise hosts the fabulous Boise Balloon Festival.

 Our cabin in McCall is tiny (about 1200 square feet) but it has big arms, welcoming 5 co-ed college students (guests of my son) and Pete and I two weeks ago. Labor Day we hosted Kayla’s 17th birthday extravaganza with  4 of her friends. Kayla’s birthday is September 6th. We celebrate her birthday every Labor Day in McCall. In recent years,  neighbors from Boise have bought a place too. We share or more accurately mooch  dinners and boat rides from them.  Our kids are together in college and they have a daughter from China who is a freshman in high school. The weather never cooperates with our beach and water plans. But somehow we manage to get out on the water. One Labor Day, we were wrapped in blankets on a boat. This year I actually got a brain freeze as I shot across Payette Lake on a jet ski.

So what I have I learned from my first summer of retirement?

  • Family and friends matter  more as one ages, make the time to cultivate and grow existing relationships.
  • Good health is a blessing and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Exercise regularly, eat right and make time for preventive health visits.
  • Be thankful for every day God  has given me.  Jump out bed and enjoy the day!

Mustang Girls

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My sister, Jane, at her 50th high school reunion in Cheyenne, Wyoming with our 1965 Ford Mustang.

I grew up in Wyoming, the cowboy state. Wyoming has a population of about half a million; spread over approximately 100,000 square miles (about 6 people per square mile). Winters are long and cold. The wind blows most of the year, great in the summer for blowing away mosquitoes.  Wyoming cowboys and girls (the few there are) are a hardy, independent, eccentric group.

I was reminded of how quirky Wyomingites are with a story my sister shared from her fiftieth high school reunion last week in Cheyenne.

First, she sent me a picture of a 1965 yellow  Ford  Mustang with a black faux leather roof. Her note said, “This is our car.”  The picture did look amazingly like the car Jane and I drove in high school and college.  I texted her, “Does look just like our car.”  She texted back, “It is our car.” A guy at her reunion had bought the car from our dad for $600 in about 1977, refurbished it and kept it in pristine condition all these years.  Only in Wyoming with such a tiny population would you run into someone who knew you and owned your car for almost 40 years.

I remember the day in 1965 when, Dad brought the mustang home. He drove up in front of our house in Cheyenne.  I looked out the picture window and was thrilled.  The car was only a year old, very few miles,  yellow with a hard top, automatic gear shift in the center console,  creamy leather interior smoothed like butter over bucket seats.  Quite a “ride” for two girls from Wyoming!  The mustang went back and forth to high school though we lived about four blocks away from school.  Then it traveled to college when my sister needed a car her senior year for student teaching.  I was a freshman at the same school so I was one of the few freshmen on campus with access to “wheels”–a literal joy ride!

The Mustang stayed with me all through college after Jane, graduated. The car had two busy summers while I was in college. During that period, I was Lady-in-Waiting (1971) and then Miss Frontier (1972) for Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest out-door rodeo.  I spent those summers traveling with a Native American Dance troupe, attending civic functions around Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado, and riding my quarter horse, Debbie.  The car took me everywhere “pony  style”, the nickname for the Mustang’s compact design . Because the “Frontier Days Royalty” had all kinds of outfits for the rodeo, the tiny trunk was frequently filled to the gills with a variety of colored boots and hat boxes filled with expensive felt cowgirl hats.  The back seat carried white silk blouses and buck skins (the official outfit), along with several hand-tailored western suits for night shows and rain gear.

The Mustang and I travelled down to Arizona when I attended graduate school at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. The problem with the Mustang in Arizona was it didn’t have air conditioning.   I only went to graduate school during the school year so the heat problem was limited to late August and early June.  But driving back to Wyoming was a bear.  My sister flew down to drive with me the spring I graduated (1975).  The car broke down in transit back to Wyoming.  Now ten years  old, Dad got me a  brand-new Mercury Bobcat to go to Washington State University in Pullman where I worked on my doctorate.

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 Bobcat and I in Pullman, Washington

 

After the Mustang retired from driving girls, the car was parked behind our house in Cheyenne, out in the open.  Dad used it as his golfing car, carrying his golf clubs out to the Country Club every day in summer.  A young man at the time cruising the alley spotted the car and stopped to inquire if Dad wanted to sell it.  And so a good long-term family friend went to another apparently forever home.

If the Mustang could talk, it would have many tales to tell. Jane and I would drive  from Cheyenne to Hastings, Nebraska for  college and back  on I-80.  We were almost always speeding. The speed limit at that time was 75.  One time, when we were going almost a 100 miles an hour, I could feel us barreling off the road.  I remember shouting at Jane as we were heading off, “Slow down!”  She calmly replied, “Too late now!”  as we swerved into the high grasses.  Fortunately for us, much of the road between Wyoming and Nebraska is flat plains.  We just rolled to a stop, backed up and were off down the road again.  Thinking of our escapades now gives me shivers.  But in the late sixties we would drive like the wind, with reckless abandon, racing everywhere to the next big adventure.  After all we were Mustang girls, who grew up on the wild, windy, Wyoming plains.

Ride around girls,

Ride around girls,

Don’t you ever slow that Mustang down!