Family Archeology

There were not many places in San Diego where a person could count on seeing seals, but one of them was (is) La Jolla Cove. Unfortunately on the day pictured in the featured photo there were no seals in sight. It was a fun drawing, anyway.

One afternoon soon after my mom died and her stuff came to my house in San Diego, I was cleaning out her old photos, and I found a photo of my dad. It took me a moment to register that my dad was sitting on a railing at La Jolla Cove. My dad does NOT look happy in the photo, and I would love to know the story behind his expression — other than the sun being in his eyes. Since he is facing south, I am pretty sure it was taken in the winter. He was probably 18 or 19. The historical moment would have been WW II — obviously.


I felt a little strange when I realized where he was. I was sure he’d told me he’d been stationed in San Diego — somewhere. Then I put the pieces together. I remembered him telling me about getting drunk in Tijuana, being busted down to buck private, and put in the brig while his “outfit” shipped out. I remembered he’d told me stories about being out at the Salton Sea about 100 miles east of San Diego and where, during the war, there were radio towers (all I knew). The pieces begin to click into place.

Then, I found this:

The drawing cracked me up. I’m sorry for the guy who died of thirst, though. I like the word valley in quotation marks, too.

I spent a lot of time out in that desert when I lived in California. I never saw it like THAT but I could still recognize it. Based on the little compass at the bottom I could see my dad was looking north and in that direction are the San Bernardino Mountains, Mt. San Jacinto the most visible from there when atmospheric conditions are right (winter). He’s drawn a low range in front of the San Bernardino and those are the mountains that ring the desert. His drawing is a little like these photos put together. He’s drawn the ocotillo and cholla cactus.

Only a couple hundred years ago, we couldn’t take photographs and people had to draw the scenery they encountered on their travels. I guess my dad and his fountain pen entered that tradition.

Posing with Pictographs in the Anza Borrego Desert sometime in the 1980s.

WW II Coyote Dog of the Salton Sea

My dad spent some of WW II out at the Salton Sea east of San Diego working on radio towers. His best war stories came from those days. Most of the other guys in his “outfit” were from Puerto Rico, and he liked them a lot. He was just a kid — 18 or 19 — and had missed his “opportunity” to ship out a couple of times because he was “in the brig” after getting drunk and picked up by the military police in Tijuana. I guess it was a long way (in more ways than one) from Montana to San Diego.

The Salton Sea is an extraordinary phenomenon, a rift lake, that is fed by the Colorado River which, over the millennia, depending on its flow, has left the Salton Sea filled with fresh or salt water or left completely dry. Naturally, this has been altered by modern humans farming in the Imperial Valley north of the lake. In “olden times” a person could navigate from the mouth of the Colorado River to the south, where it empties into the Sea of Cortez, up to the lake, but that’s pretty challenging now.

They lived in big barrack tents out there in the desert. I know that there was a Navy base at the Salton Sea. A lot is written about it. The Navy tested sea planes in that remote and easily concealed location, but I have found nothing about the network of radio and radar towers my dad told me about.

In my dad’s stories the one that fascinated me most was the story about the coyote/dog they found as a pup. They brought him into the barracks tent, fed and tamed him. My dad loved him. Every story my dad began to tell me about the war resulted in the story of the coyote/dog.

When I moved to San Diego in my 30s, I started hiking in open chaparral just east of the city. Most of that area had also been a military base in the war, in fact, before the area became Mission Trails Regional Park, the Navy came in and did a very meticulous search for unexploded ordinance. I began to imagine that my dad had maybe trained on the very trails on which I walked. I also spent a lot of time out in the same desert in which my dad had been stationed. I saw for myself the “Chocolate Mountains” and the Salton Sea. It was eerie, haunting, and wonderful all at the same time.

The chaparral is coyote Heaven. The first coyote I saw was a big surprise. A friend and I were walking down a hill and the friend, who was behind me, went, “Sssst!” I turned around, to see why and my friend pointed. My dog, Molly, and I looked in one movement, and there was a coyote, watching us. After that I saw them very very often. After awhile, I thought of them as the wild dogs I would connect with on hikes.

I’ve written all my coyote stories elsewhere but if you’d like to read them, I’ll post them here. 🙂

Featured photo: My dad posing in front of La Jolla Cove near San Diego.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/28/tuesday-rdp-coyote/

It’s a Small World, After All

Yesterday I learned that my little town had a POW camp during WW II. It’s a little hard to imagine this, German soldiers being brought all the way here, but they were. In fact, Colorado had several of these camps.

My friends and I went on an adventure yesterday to Del Norte (our primo destination) that involved lunch, a short stop at the fabric shop, and a long stop at the Rio Grande County Museum. I guess I’m just going to take you with me.

I picked them up at my neighbor’s house and we hit the road in Bella. Lots of chat in the car and me driving, looking at the mountains, noticing a herd of buffalo close to town that I’d heard of and never seen. Stock around here have a lot of different ranges and are trucked from place to place as well as sometimes driven on horseback. I didn’t say anything because my friends were pretty involved in the conversation.

We had lunch at the comparatively new Colorado Grille. Why the “e” I don’t know, must be residue from the days of “shoppe” etc. Lunch was good, the conversation was better. The waitress called me “honey” and I’m afraid the moniker has stuck. It is pretty funny. She was perky beyond all rational levels of perkiness, but what can you do? My brain was a little fuzzy when we set out, I think from all the books I’m contending with, but it cleared up over lunch, thank goodness. From there we went to a florist shop up the street.

There one of my friends engaged a young cowboy (about 9) in a chat. I just listened until she suggested he call me “honey.” Neither he nor I was having that. He’d been to the dentist and was relating the import of that experience to my friend who very charmingly drew him out. Cowboys around here pretty much start at birth. Later on I heard him walking, dragging the heels of this c’boy boots the way my mom would yell at my brother and I for doing, but it’s a great sound for a kid. “Don’t drag your heels! You’ll wreck your boots!”

Then we went to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk because I needed ribbon and elastic for my epic sewing project. Kathy has a daughter who is severely disabled and spends time in an elaborate chair under the watchful eye of a Labrador retriever. As we got there, she was on her way out. The Labrador and a little shit-zu/pekingese mix met us at the door. They came right to me. Kathy hugged my friends and when the dogs were finished acknowledging my presence (I honor that Lab with all my heart) I said to Kathy, “I’m kind of a dog person.”

“I noticed. So did they,” and she hugged me.

I got my “notions” and we headed to the museum.

The biggest treasures in that museum are the people, Louise and her husband, Alex. I love all the things that are there, but I love those two people more. They’re good, they’re passionate about their home where both their families have lived for many generations, they have incredible knowledge. Alex is struggling with dementia, but he KNOWS he’s struggling. Sometimes he knows me (no one knows why he would, but he does) and other times he doesn’t. But he always tells me a story.

Yesterday he told me about being stationed in Europe during the Korean War. My best guess is that the story took place somewhere that was German controlled during WW II possibly the Alsace. Alex had said he had been sightseeing with buddies in Holland, Belgium, and “other places.” He told of being in a town that was circular. That’s pretty common for medieval towns that have survived into the present, labyrinths of concentric, narrow streets. Alex said he and his buddy couldn’t find a way out and they asked all kinds of people for help but no one spoke English.

They finally found a man who could help them. Alex then asked the man, “Where did you learn English?” and was stunned to hear that the man had been a POW in Monte Vista, Colorado. What’s more, he’d known Alex as a little boy. The town was even smaller then and the POW camp was essentially in Alex’ neighborhood.

I came home and wanted to know more about the POWs. I haven’t found much, but I haven’t talked to the people at Monte Vista’s historical society. I found a fascinating article on POW camps in Colorado, though. Most of the POWs were captured in the North African campaign. They worked during the harvest season in the potato fields, taking the place of the Americans who had gone to fight.

The Featured Photo shows sketches done by a German POW. The Rocky Mountains, the Colorado State Capitol, and a tunnel — I think it’s the Moffatt Tunnel.

Here’s a link to the entire article in case I have piqued your interest. https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2018/ColoradoMagazine_Summer-Fall1979.pdf

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/05/rdp-thursday-cinch/

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.

TNT

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.

573818747191c234599c887b45505821

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.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/detonate/