Getting the Boot

“I’m not a toy. I’m your sister!” So said my 3 1/2 year old step-granddaughter to her 1 year old little brother who was suddenly fascinated by her foot clad as it was in a rubber rain boot. I am sure to him it didn’t feel like a sister, but what the heck was it?

She pulled her legs under her, folded her arms around her chest, turned slightly away from him and pouted as she should at 3 1/2. The kid has NO problems setting borders.

This morning Bear (2 years old) was playing roughly with Mindy (10? 11? years old) and I  had to say, “Bear, stopas it was bordering on elder abuse.

I was really tempted to say, “That’s not a toy. That’s your sister!”

When I was the age of my step-granddaughter, I had a book about a little girl who went to the store with her mom to buy boots. Back then (I’m saying back then, good god) we put boots over our shoes, hence overshoes. The little girl and her mom got on a city bus and went downtown. They walked down the city sidewalks to a shoe store and went in. The clerk was eager to help them. They sat down and the mother said they needed new overshoes. The clerk brought out two pairs. Only two pairs. They were identical, but one was red, the other was black. The little girl wanted the red ones. They were VERY lucky that day because by the time they left the store, it had started to rain. Mother pulled on HER overshoes and the little girl had her NEW overshoes, and under mother’s umbrella, they went to the bus stop and then home.

It was a beautifully illustrated book; I remember the pictures even now. They were watercolors that went with the story and the story was told in four or five lines on each page. Both the little girl and the mother wore grey-blue coats and hats, not warm hats, but the kind of hats women wore in the 1950s. The city was not unlike downtown Denver (where I went sometimes with my mom, dad, Aunt Martha) and, as my mother read the story, I could imagine going to Denver and buying overshoes.

But when my turn came, we went to Downtown Englewood ( a LOT closer ) and it was my dad who took me. As MY overshoe story unfolded, it was mixed with the story in the book. I knew what would happen because of the story. We went to a shoe store. My dad asked to see overshoes in my size. The man was eager to help us and brought out three or four boxes of overshoes. I expected two. There were no red ones. All of them were black, some with zippers, some with buckles “Those are for boys,” said my dad and he pushed them to the side. And some  were boots you just pull on.

I was a feminine little thing back then and I chose black zippered boots with fur around the top. I wanted to wear them out of the store — of course — and I strutted down the street on that sunny October day in my new overshoes.


Nordic Skis in Canton

In 1982, when I went to China — south China, on the Tropic of Cancer — I took two pair of skis with me. My ex brought his, too. Yes. We were going to ski Tibet. We hauled those skis through the airport in San Francisco, through the airport in Hong Kong, to the airport in Guangzhou, around Guangzhou (Canton), finding a taxi that could carry them to our university north of the city. They sat in our “spare” room for a year. We assiduously kept the wax lingering on the bottom of them from molding during the ENDLESS rains of winter and the soul-sucking heat of the rest of the year.

At year’s end, we hauled them back to the airport in Guangzhou and onto the plane (an Aeroflot) to Shanghai, to the hotel where we were staying and then to the airport from which we returned to America. At that point we also had a large Chinese carpet along with the two footlockers we’d taken in the first place. The airline officials said it didn’t matter what our stuff weighed or how big it was, but we each could have only ONE piece. We found the BIGGEST string bags made in the world and piled all our stuff — skis and all — into these giant string bags that were graciously accepted as baggage.

And so the skis flew back to America with us to be lugged through the San Francisco airport once more, to my ex’s ex’s house and then back to the airport, and from there to Billings, MT (they almost forgot to load my carpet, though, grrr. I stood up and yelled when I saw the baggage cart driving off with my carpet on the top…) From Billings they returned to Denver where they saw a lot of action in the worst winter in decades. Roads closed and they were the best way to get around. Ultimately, they went to San Diego where they saw some good snow but were, finally, given to the Goodwill.

This morning I went on eBay to find skis. I found great skis and good Italian leather boots, barely used, and bindings at an awesome price. Now all I need are poles.

I now think of those perambulating skis as a metaphor for youthful dreams. No one knows when they set out for the ski trip in Tibet how far it is or how convoluted and downright impossible the journey.

My new skis are going to be great for what I will be able to do which is not much as Bear must be leashed and I’m an arthritic old lady. My senior citizen dreams are really pretty much the same as my youthful dreams, though I have a better sense of my own size and scale. I am looking forward to skiing on the local golf course, 1/2 block away. No, they’re not the back-country skis of my youth, but I think they’ll be all I need.

Actually, I can’t wait!!!!

“Life is an Overcoming”

“Life is an overcoming,” said Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra 

I was sitting at one end of the sofa. My very crippled and messed up dad on the other. I was “dad” sitting. He was watching TV and occasionally suffering a leg spasm. I was in high school, going through my sophisticated phase and reading “forbidden” or questionable books. Nietzsche was questionable to my teacher, Miss Cohen for reasons that I think are now obvious. We talked about the book and in it, she explained, came Hitler’s idea of the ‘Übermensch’.

That isn’t what I found at all.

From the first chapter, it’s clear that he has a different view of things, a human centered view. One of the first things he says as he prepares to walk down to the village from the mountain is directed at the sun, “Oh great star, what would you be if not for those for whom you shine?”

And down he comes.

Still no “Übermensch.” I found all kinds of ordinary, simple people and a half-mad oracle. I got the impression that the oracle was a little out of his mind, still, he brought a message of stoicism and hope to the village people (YMCA!) who were struggling with misery and darkness that was, in Zarathustra’s mind, mainly in their heads.

“You tell me your lives are hard to bear, but if it were otherwise, how would you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the afternoon?”

My dad had a more severe spasm and nearly slid off the sofa. I was there to catch him. He motioned to his urinal. I said, “No problem, dad.”

He said, “Errrrwwa errr eading?”

I said, “Thus Spake Zarthustra,” handing him his urinal.

“Werrr ooo ike it?”

“So far.”

My dad finished. I took the urinal to the bathroom, flushed the contents, rinsed it out in the tub. Back in the living room, “Listen to this, dad. It’s beautiful.”


I read the beginning, the prologue.

WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake

of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, and rising one morning with the rosy dawn, he went be- fore the sun, and spoke to it thus:

You great star! What would your happiness be, had you not those for whom you shine?

For ten years have you climbed here to my cave: you would have wearied of your light and of the journey, had it not been for me, my eagle, and my serpent.

But we waited for you every morning, took from you your overflow, and blessed you for it.

Behold. I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I would rather give away and distribute, until the wise among men once more find joy in their folly, and the poor in their riches.

Therefore must I descend into the deep: as you do in the evening, when you go behind the sea, and give light also to the underworld, you ex- uberant star!

Like you I have to go down, as men say, to whom I shall descend.

Bless me, then, you tranquil eye, that can look on even the greatest happiness without envy!

“Isn’t that beautiful, Dad?”


“That’s just the beginning!”


I loved Zarathustra. I knew nothing about who or what he was supposed to have been, but I liked the idea of his going off by himself to figure out his right relation to the universe. The message of life being “an overcoming” really struck home for me given the situation we — my family — were all living at the time.

As for Hitler, all I could guess  was that he didn’t really understand it. I suggested this to my English teacher, Miss Cohen, and she nodded. “Possibly that’s true, Martha,” she said. “But what horror that misunderstanding unleashed.”


So this morning I revisited ZarathustraIt’s still beautiful.

You tell me, “Life is hard to bear.” But for what purpose should you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?

Life is hard to bear: but do not affect to be so delicate! We are all of us fine beasts of burden, male and female asses.

What have we in common with the rose-bud, which trembles because a drop of dew has formed upon it?

It is true we love life; not because we are used to life, but because we are used to loving.

Goin’ to School

My little brother looks so bewildered in this photo, and sleepy. After our dad immortalized this moment, we headed out the back gate, across the Gustavson’s yard (otherwise we’d have had to walk on a busy street, a REALLY busy street with streetcars running on it) and on our way to school. Englewood, Colorado. 1958.

It was three blocks.

Of course I had no idea that it was also the first day of ten years of walking to school with my brother. 🙂

There were the days in Montana when we were staying with my aunt and uncle and Kirk started first grade. In Montana, their first grade was Kindergarten the first four months and first grade the second, so effectively Kirk went to Kindergarten twice. My mom always believed that’s why he never got the idea that you go to school to learn, not to play. But…

My aunt and uncle (and cousins) had four steers in the pasture. They were going to sell the steers that fall. I’m glad I did not have a perfect understanding of that because to me they were pets. Bret, Bart, Hobie and Chester I thought were their names. They were really Bret, Bart, Hobart and Festus or something, named after TV westerns I was too little to stay up and watch.

One of the main crops in that part of Montana in the 1950s was sugar beets. Trucks loaded with sugar beets roared down Central Avenue (which we had to walk beside AND cross) spilling beets along the way. “Pick up as many beets as you can when you come home, kids,” said my uncle. “We can feed them to the cows.”

Kirk and I were little kids, and we couldn’t carry a lot, but we usually came home laden with sugar beets. We got to put them in the cowshed with the other beets we were picking up from the railroad tracks on weekends when we all went out in my uncle’s truck and drove along the frontage road getting the beets that had fallen off the train.

In other walks to school, in Nebraska, we crossed a football field that was on one of the higher hills in our town beside the Missouri River. This place was amazing. Crossing the field one day I found a cecropia moth. In winter, the wind blew hard across the top and drifts could be higher than either of us were tall. Sometimes they piled up against the snow fences placed at either end of the football field and Kirk and I would climb up the crusted snow and jump down five feet to the foot of snow below. Other times the snow came at us (the walk home was straight north) like stars and spaceships. The mufflers my mom knit for us were usually crusted with ice by the time we got home on a winter day.

I liked walking to school with Kirk. I liked Kirk. I have a lot of stories like these — priceless to me, evoked by a photograph.


“C’mon MAK. Let’s go for a ride.”

“Where are you taking her?” My mom was angry at me again for something.

“There’s a record at the music store I want to look at, Helen. C’mon, MAK. Get your coat.”

I put on my ski jacket. It was the early 60s, I was 14, and the jacket was pure — and new — fashion. It was reversible. One side a flowery pattern in mostly orange, the other side — the usual side for me — black because I didn’t like orange.

“Listen, MAK,” my dad said turning the key in the ignition. “Stay away from your mom when she’s been drinking. Some people are funny when they’ve been drinking. Some people are mean. Your mom’s mean. When she’s like that, just get away.”

We backed out of the driveway.

What was he talking about? I was already living in the disconnect a lot of kids of an alcoholic parent live in. But from then on I took my dad’s advice and got out when the fireworks began.

In the wings of our lives was a move from Nebraska back to Colorado, my dad’s soon-to-be-rapid physical decline from Multiple Sclerosis, my family’s disintegration. That night we stood in the neon-lit music store in Bellevue, Nebraska and bought an album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Most of my generation knows this one, grew up with this one, but one song was particularly important to my dad.

I Loved It

For two years — sixth and seventh grade — I attended a private, academic prep-school in Omaha. It was my favorite two years of school. It was an Episcopalian school which meant we went to chapel every Wednesday. We also had religion as part of our basic curriculum.

I had to ride the bus because school was pretty far away. Riding the bus through Nebraska’s farmland in any season was wonderful. The bus drivers were off-duty firemen, really nice guys, both named Ed.

I even had a friend at school, a best friend, for the first time in my life.

We wore uniforms, gray flannel skirts, white blouses and a red or gray cardigan in winter, a pastel, shirtwaist dress in fall and spring. It was great not to have to think about what I was going to wear in the morning. It made it a lot easier to get on the bus at 6:30.

Later in life I returned to the uniform idea and invested in “outfits” for teaching, stuff I would never wear in my real life, suits. Not only did they make me look like the real deal, I could sleep in an extra 20 minutes. 🙂

King o’Dirt

“Dude, I scored.”

“No way.”

“Way. You know her. Big-tits, bleached blond. ”

“Craig’s MOM?”

“She let me.”

“Dude. Yuck. That’ disgusting. She’s a ho. We going to King o’Dirt or not?”

“How are we going to get there?”


“That’s like, I dunno, fifteen miles?”

“Martha will take us to Mission. We just gotta’ get to Martha’s house.”

“We can take the trolley to downtown then ride from there. What’s that?”

“Five miles or something. Not that far.”

“Will Martha do it?”

“She will. I bet she’ll take the video camera. It’ll be rad.”



Note: It’s doubtful the word “brassy” was used in this conversation.

TNT Boxes

When I was a kid, we had lots of TNT boxes lying around. Empty ones, but still they had “TNT — Highly Explosive” lettered all six sides. They were wooden boxes and really handy for making shelves, footstools and playhouses for one’s little girl. My dad did this for me when I was two. He took a bunch of TNT boxes and painted them green (the family favorite color and left over from painting the living room) and set them up in the back yard. I don’t have a strong memory of the playhouse, but I have a picture.


My cousin Linda and I thought that was pretty uptown. You can only see a couple of the TNT boxes in the photo. The TNT boxes form the foundation for the end of the “table” where my cousin is sitting. (Some youngster will find this photo and post it on Pinterest as “Mid-century Modern Childrens’ Playhouse.” Just wait)

He used the TNT to launch rockets carrying radios and weather balloons. And, of course, in the early 1950s there was still a lot of Army surplus stuff left over from the war. They were kind of like this, but with the tops off and no locks and different words.


Thanks Pinterest! for this photo of a “vintage” dynamite box.


Later we lived two miles from the nation’s largest gathering of B52 bombers, and, as it was the height (interesting use of the word ‘height’) of the Cold War, the possibility of detonation was real. I knew at a young age what a megaton was and how powerful our nukular arsenal was. My dad explained it to me through the familiar unit of 50 pound TNT boxes. I think he drew a picture.

That was when my dad told me about Alfred Nobel and how his invention had changed the world of warcraft (see what I did there?). TNT made him rich, but it also left him with feelings of great remorse that led to the Nobel Peace Prize.

“For some reason, peace is harder for people than war, MAK.” I understood that fine. I lived in a family where tempers flared, not in a family in which people got angry and sang Mr. Rogers’ song about what you do when you’re mad.

Some people’s dads flew bombers during the war; some liberated Rome; some were there supplying the fighters on Guadalcanal, like my Uncle Hank. Some stood in the Marine color guard in Nanjing when the Japanese surrendered, like my Uncle Stocky. Many died what we call a “hero’s death.” Not my dad. 🙂

The featured photo is of my dad sitting in front of La Jolla Cove. It wasn’t until I saw a photo of myself leaning against that railing in the exact same place that I understood where he’d been during the war, or the geography behind, “You’d better pray you never have to clean a latrine with a toothbrush, MAK.” This was his fate after, “…getting drunk in Tijuana, busted down to buck private and thrown in the brig.” By the end of the war, this had happened to him twice. When he was mustered out, he was a Tech Sergeant.

I am proud of his war achievements somehow. They included taming a coyote dog and making him a pet. I think my dad might not have been quite like the other kids…

Postscript: I just found his wallet with his discharge papers. He was: Radar Repairman; Gun Laying Equipment Expert; Expert Rifleman (no wonder: he hunted with his dad all his life). He had a Good Conduct  Medal and a Victory Medal and was stationed in the American Theater. He went to school in Davis, NC for radio and radar repair.

Radio Days

Sunday mornings I listen to the RADIO. Its signals are no longer radiated through the atmosphere, but come through the miracle of cable Wi-Fi. It’s a station in San Diego. 94/9. The DJ, Steve West, is a guy I listened to back in the day, the 80s when the alternative station was 91X. Yes folks, it’s an oldies show called Legends of Alternative. Steve West plays alternative and punk, sometimes playing songs I request (through the miracle of Facebook). I’m pretty sure his favorite band is The Cure. If it hadn’t been for his radio show, which was always on when I was driving home from school around 1 or 2 pm, I would  not have heard many of the songs that are my life’s soundtrack, such as “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush and “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys.

I grew up with the radio. My dad was a radio man when he was in the army. Having failed to ship out twice with his outfit(s), he ended up out in the California desert with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army finally sent him to school, and he was trained to be, as he described it, “a radio man.” He told me the whole story, but long before I was old enough to have the context points that would help it stick in my memory.

When I was growing up, our basement had lots of cool WW II tech stuff in it — hand-cranked generators, telegraph buttons (?), field phones (my brother and I LOVED playing with those), and an assortment of various strange radios. My dad had been a HAM radio operator while he was in college in Montana, so there was all that radio equipment, too. I thought of a radio as a box with sound coming out of it; for my dad a radio was a platform with tubes, wires, coils and antennae.

When I was very small, my dad worked for the University of Denver. Imagine how much fun this must have been. He shot up rockets carrying weather balloons dangling radio transmitters into the atmosphere to “find” radio waves emitted by, I’m pretty sure, the bomb that had been tested at Alamogordo, NM.

The most spectacular radio in our lives was his Zenith Trans-Oceanic. Once he and I (I was 10 or 11) had built his office in one corner of the basement, had stained the pine bookshelves mahogany (brown), put all the books away, set up a small sofa, put in his desk, arranged his things, we were ready for the ceremony of, “C’mon MAK. Let’s see if we can listen to Russia.” Usually we just got Juarez. “C’mon, MAK. We can practice our Spanish.”

I couldn’t choose between my favorite radio songs for this post, so here are my top three.


There are lots of boats around here, but the kind of “unmoored” that applies most often in the San Luis Valley, at my house, anyway, is “unmowered.” I have to fix that situation tomorrow…

But I feel “unmoored,” adrift. Sometimes I think, “Where do I fit in this place, in this life, right now?” and I have no idea.

What I thought I’d do when I moved here is now the last thing I imagine doing. My thoughts of being an artist here in Southern Colorado are far, far, far away. This place is crawling with artists. I learned about competition among artists very soon after I emerged into that world and I didn’t like it, not at all.

The pace of things here has been difficult for me to get used to. I lived such a long time under pressure to get things done, piles of papers graded, reports turned in, to class on time, etc. Even in THAT world I was “hyper-efficient” because it was the only way I could get time to myself. Now? Mañana. I got paid from the local bookstore yesterday for a book they sold last September. When I had an electric outlet in my kitchen repaired, the guys showed up more or less out of no where six days after I’d called.

I truly have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going with my life. It’s not the first time. When I got back from China in 1983 I felt this way. It was as if my life’s great dream had come true and then it was over. I was back in Denver with a husband who didn’t like me much and a future I couldn’t see clearly. Everything had built to that ONE thing, getting out of the country, getting some of what I called “exposure.” Coming back felt strangely like failure.

One evening I walked down to the local supermarket — King Soopers in Capitol Hill — a notorious, famous and wonderful supermarket. Outside, in a wheelchair, playing for tips,  sat a man I knew, a jazz saxophonist. Tom. When I left for China, he had not been in a wheelchair. I asked him what happened and he explained he’d gotten the flu, it had attacked his spine and left him paralyzed. He said he hadn’t even been able to play, but he kept working toward it and now he could play a little bit. I sat down with him instead of going in the store.

“Where you been? I ain’t seen you around.”

“China. I went to China and taught English for the last year.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. China. That must’ve been something.”

“It was.”

One night I was hanging out in front of King Soopers with Tom, and a woman came up, a woman I had once worked with. “Martha!” she said. “What are you doing these days?” There was a judgmental edge in her voice. And, considering that I was sitting on a bus bench next to Tom in his wheelchair, godnose what she thought. I just looked at her. What right did she have to my history, a recitation of my adventures?

Tom answered. “She’s livin’. She’s jus’ livin’. That’s all any of us are doin’ and if you think somethin’ else, you’ wrong.”