Tag Archives: death

Change is Inevitable

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I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about chaos for me.

Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back, and we signed the deed over to her.  We were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.

Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.

While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.

At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?

In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring life and creating art.

Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig. The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife hashtag.

While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually have some fun in the summertime.

So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange, and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.

Oh Death

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And then Weasel was gone too.

Weasel was a short man whose swagger told you he was tough. He said what was on his mind, even when his words made him unpopular. Folks always knew where they stood with Weasel because he said what he thought needed saying.

I met Weasel at the Bridge, the place where I met many of the people I hold dear in my heart. He sold old beads, new drums made by a local Native man who was his friend, and whatever little odds and ends he thought would bring in a few bucks. He’s an old horse-trader, people said of Weasel, although there never seemed to be actual horses involved.

Weasel fathered a child late in life. I heard stories about how that had come to pass too. By the time I knew Weasel, he and his son’s mother had made their peace. Weasel sure loved his boy. He was always proud to talk about the kid’s achievements in the classroom, Boy Scouts, and 4-H. On the rare occasion that Weasel brought the boy to the Bridge, both of them beamed. The love and respect they felt for each other was obvious.

Some of the other vendors told me Weasel had suffered a heart attack a few years before I arrived on the scene. He’d lost a lot of weight, I was told in 2012, and he was more careful about what he ate. He seemed to be doing a lot better, everyone agreed.

I’ll never forget the pep talk Weasel gave me in the early days in my life without my ex. I was homeless—didn’t even have a van back then—and carried everything I owned on my back. I slept in a picnic pavilion at a rest area at night and spent my days selling the hemp jewelry and sage bundles I constructed. I was trying to make my way in the world, just like the other vendors at the Bridge.

I’d gotten a late start on this particular day. I wasn’t able to squeeze in between William and Tommy like I usually did, and I ended up in the slower sales area next to Weasel. I couldn’t afford a table yet, and my sage branch display barely kept my bracelets and necklaces out of the dusty New Mexico dirt. When there was a lull between customers, Weasel came over to talk to me.

He’s been watching me, he said. He saw that I showed up every day to sell the things I made. He saw I worked hard to make my own way. You don’t ask nobody for nothing, he said. He saw that in a community where some folks seemed to enjoy making trouble for others, I minded my own business and didn’t try to cause strife for other vendors. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. He told me that I was going to be ok. Then he bought me a meatloaf sandwich from the woman who made her money selling lunches to the vendors. (Not too many weeks later it was Weasel’s birthday, and I had enough money in my pocket to return to the sandwich favor.)

Five years later when I returned to the Bridge with The Man, he and Weasel hit it off. Weasel may have been a horse trader by profession, but his art was carving. The Man was just starting his journey as a carver when he met Weasel. One morning Weasel stopped at The Man’s table and told him he was doing good work. Weasel wouldn’t say that if he didn’t mean it, I told The Man.

Last summer when he left the mountain, The Man ended up at Weasel’s place. Weasel was starting a retreat for artists on his land. He’d bought a couple small travel trailers and stocked them with beans and rice and coffee. He wanted artists to have a place to work where they didn’t have to worry so much about food and shelter and money.

The Man and I were in southern New Mexico when Weasel passed. We were planning to head up to northern New Mexico as soon as it warmed up. We were going to stay at Weasel’s place in one of the travel trailers.

The Man talked to Weasel on the phone on what turned out to be one of the old horse trader’s last days in this world.

What do you need? Weasel asked after The Man identified himself. Weasel was ready to offer help.

The Man explained our situation, and Weasel said sure, come on out. He said he’d be in the city the next week for a doctor’s appointment and a visit with his son and his son’s mother, but we were welcome to come over whenever we wanted and hang out at his place until he returned. He even made sure The Man remembered the combination to the lock on the gate.

I don’t know what the doctor’s appointment in the city was about or if Weasel made it there. Five days after The Man talked to him, Weasel was dead.

He was at his son’s mother’s house washing dishes when it happened. He mentioned that he couldn’t catch his breath, then collapsed. The EMTs arrived in an ambulance 14 minutes later, but it was too late. His heart had given out on him one last time.

I was sad when I heard the news, and The Man took it really hard. Weasel was his friend. He’d planned to spend more time with Weasel, carve with him, help him make improvements to his homestead. He missed Weasel, but I think he was also sad for the possibilities of the friendship that never came to fruition. It was going to be such a great summer with Weasel, The Man said wistfully.

Maybe it’s the missed possibilities that make us saddest when someone dies. We regret the words we never said and sometimes the words we did say. We regret the things we never did together, the lessons we never learned, the help we never gave.

I hope that Weasel died with no regrets. I can’t imagine he left this world with words unsaid. I hope he’d at least made a try at all the things he wanted to do.

Weasel was not a perfect man. He was a fighter and maybe not always for a righteous cause. I would have never wanted to be on his bad side. He could he harsh, and I witnessed some of his business dealings where I felt he was being a little slick with the truth. However, at his core, he was a good man. He was a loving father and a true friend.

I feel saddest for his son. At 12, he’s on the cusp of the years when a boy particularly needs a positive role model to teach him how to be a good man. What’s that kid going to do without his father? Yet, he got 12 years more than a lot of kids get. He got 12 years with a father who loved him and enjoyed being with him. He got 12 years with a father who was firm, but fair. He got 12 years with a father who respected him and was his biggest cheerleader. He got 12 years with a man who’d grown up enough to be not just a good father, but a great father.

The Bridge won’t be the same without Weasel. Who will throw lucky pennies in front of vendors’ tables? Who will walk down the row of vendors wishing everyone a good morning? Who will fight the good fight when the powers-that-be tell us we can no longer make a living selling our wares to visitors? We don’t have Weasel anymore, so we’ll have to do those things ourselves. Weasel respected self-sufficiency. He’d be glad to know he taught us something.

Another Good Man Gone

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William died some time ago, but I haven’t been ready to share my thoughts and feelings about him and his passing with the world.

I knew William from the Bridge. He was a good man. He was one of the area’s native people, one of those Indians, he always called himself with pride. He sold at the Bridge, alone when I first new him, then later with his mother.

When I was homeless and sleeping in a picnic pavilion at a rest area, William was one of the few men I wasn’t afraid of. He and another nice guy named Tommy set up next to each other every day and could always scoot over just a little to make room for me. William always treated me politely, respectfully, as a friend.

William struggled with alcoholism during the more than five years I knew him. His mother thought he was doing ok if he only drank beer. She pretended his drinking 18 cans of Bud Light nearly every day was no cause for concern. If he was only drinking beer with a low alcohol content, she could believe the amount he drank wasn’t an issue.

Some days I got really annoyed with William. When he was drunk, he’d lie to the tourists at the Bridge. If visitors saw him with beer can in hand or at lip, he’d tell them it was his birthday, which he thought would make it ok to be drinking alcohol in public, at work. If the birthday fib let to a sale, all the better. He told potential buyers that he collected all the rocks on his tables and polished them too, even though I knew all his rocks came from other vendors. He even bragged about collecting rocks from other people’s mining claims; I was almost positive he’d never done any such things and was only repeating stories he’d heard from unscrupulous rock guys. I suppose he thought claim jumping sounded exciting and was a good story for the tourists. In the end, I realized it wasn’t my place to get upset by William’s lies; he was only doing what he thought he had to do to earn the money he needed to live.

William had been elected vice-president of the Bridge vendors association and was so proud of his position, even though in reality it meant very little to anyone else. I’m the president of all of this, he’d tell tourists while gesturing broadly. Sometimes he’d boast I’m the president of this whole bridge.

He was also proud of the times he’d stopped people from jumping off the Bridge. I never witnessed him doing such a thing, but William had stories about stopping people from jumping by hugging them or tackling them or ushering them back to solid ground. Even if none of these events actually occurred, in his heart, William wanted to save everyone who was sad, distraught, suicidal. In his heart, William surely wanted to be a hero.

William had a daughter. He’d become a father when he was just 18. The girl grew up in California with her mother who William said had a drug problem. The daughter was barely an adult when William died, but at least she had a dad throughout her childhood. I think of that girl and my heart aches for her. How difficult it must have been for her to grow up with a father suffering from alcoholism and a mother suffering from drug addition. I wonder if she’s following in her family traditions or if she thinks it best to remain a teetotaler.

When I was around, friends would occasionally try to talk to William about his drinking. Of course, he didn’t want to discuss the problem. I’m just me! William would proclaim, or he’d say loudly I do what I do! He didn’t think he could be anyone other than who he already was. He didn’t think he could do anything other than what he already did.

Sometimes when I saw and heard William interacting with tourists, I wondered uncharitably how he could stand to be a stereotype. I guess like many of us, he just wasn’t ready to be someone else or do anything different.

I’m not sure exactly how William died. I was in California when it happened, working on top of a mountain. I learned about William’s death from Facebook, that twenty-first century town crier. William had been sent to live with his aunt in the city. In the past, this aunt had been able to impose discipline (and sobriety, I suppose) on William when his mother could not. I don’t know if his aunt cut off his supply of beer entirely and the cold turkey sobering up killed him, or if it was just too late for him to benefit from ceasing to drink alcohol because his liver was already shot. In any case, the family is proud to say William was sober when he died.

William was a father and a son and a nephew and a brother and a friend. Like the rest of us, he had his faults and his stumbling blocks, but he was a good man. He loved the Denver Broncos and his daughter and selling at the Bridge. In his way, he really was the president of the whole place. He cared about the other vendors and the tourists who visited there too. He only wanted to love everyone. He only wanted everyone to get along.

By way of farewell, he’d tell vendors and tourists alike, Love, peace, and hair grease. When I remember William, I picture him standing in front of me, sunglasses on, swaying slightly, and I can hear him say, Love, peace, and hair grease.

William was a good man, and he is missed.

Love, peace, and hair grease, William. I hope you are healthy and whole and free now, soaring above us all, an eagle in the sky.

Bald Eagle Flying Under Blue Sky during Daytime

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/bald-eagle-flying-under-blue-sky-during-daytime-60086/.


Love for a Son

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On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to focus on romantic love and forget about all the other kinds of love that live in the human heart: love for siblings, love for children, love for friends, love for animals, love for parents, love for caregivers, love for students, love for teachers. On this Valentine’s Day, I want to remind you of these other loves and share a story about one woman’s love for her son.

The farmers market was almost over. Some of the less patient vendors were already packing. I’m an until the bitter end kind of gal, so I hadn’t put away a single item I wanted to sell.

Two women walked up to my table. They seemed to be Native Americans, probably from the local tribe if I had to guess. They appeared to be in their late 50s and were maybe sisters or maybe cousins or maybe close friends. In any case, there was an easy companionship between them.

We were about a month from Valentine’s Day, so I showed them, as I’d shown everyone who’d approached my table that day, the stone hearts cut from labradorite, rose quartz, agate, and carnelian that I had for sale. I also pointed out my new septarian concretions and the Arkansas quartz points I’d picked up earlier in the week. The women discussed the stones, slipping seamlessly from English to their native language, then back again.

Heart Stones

The woman to my left had long, dark, curly hair, and she wore glasses. She picked up a septarian nodule and it slipped from her hand and fell onto the concrete sidewalk. She couldn’t apologize enough.

Septarian Nodules

Don’t worry about it, I told her. That rock is a million years old.* It’s been through a lot. 

Her companion giggled at my joke, but I could tell the woman who’d dropped the stone was mortified. Of course, I prefer my merchandise not to hit concrete, but there was no sense being mad at someone who’d had an accident. I know the woman had no intention of being disrespectful towards me or my stones.

The woman with curly hair returned the septarian nodule to the bowl with the others of its kind and began sorting through the heart stones. Her companion had wandered to the next table before the woman with the curly hair found the perfect heart stone, a red agate.

My son died six years ago, she told me. I stopped what I was doing and looked into her eyes.

Oh, I’m sorry, I murmured. I never know what to say to people when they confess their heartbreak.

He loved loved loved rocks, she said with a big smile. I’m going to leave this on his grave, she explained, showing me the heart stone in the palm of her hand.

I miss him, she said quietly. I love him so much.

I’m sure he loved you too, I told her. Loves, I corrected myself. I’m sure he still loves you.

He does, she said with absolute confidence. He tells me he loves me. He tells me he’s ok. He tells me he’s happy. 

The woman paid for the heart stone and caught up with her friend who had moved on down the row of vendors.

I enjoy selling stones that make people happy. I like selling Arkansas quartz points to kids who look at the clusters as if they were diamonds. I like selling septarian concretions to people who enjoy the way they feel in the hand. I like selling ammonite pairs to folks who give them as meaningful gifts and kyanite pieces to jewelers who use them to create pieces of wearable art. Most of all, I like selling stones to people who share their pain and joys with me and let me know they’ll use the stones to maintain a heart connection with the people they love.

*According to BestCrystals.com, septarian nodules were actually


formed between 50 to 70 million years ago…

so that stone was more than a single million years old.

I took the photos in this post.

Fatherless Daughter

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It’s been a year since my dad died of C. diff, and I feel as if I need to say something in recognition of that fact.

In most ways, my life hasn’t changed much without my dad. Before he died, we didn’t talk very often. I’d call him once a month or so, out of obligation, if he didn’t call me first. I tried not to bring up anything controversial during those conversations because I didn’t want to fight. I was weary of having conflict with him, although he didn’t seem to have any such aversions. He said whatever he wanted whenever he wanted with seemingly no thought of whether he might upset me.

Once we both had cellphones, I found texting with him was ok. Maybe he thought about his words before he tapped out the letters or maybe it was just more difficult for him to bait me in writing, but texting made checking in less likely to end in my anger or frustration. When he got his last smartphone, he somehow changed his settings so every text he sent to me was marked urgent. I laughed at his technological imcompotence, but I’d be glad to see one of those red exclaimation marks on a text from him now.

I miss my dad whenever something goes wrong with my van. My dad and I could discuss automotive issues without getting too personal. He enjoyed showing off knowledge I didn’t have, and I honestly appreciated his advice. Recently my van stalled and would’t start again. More than anything, I wanted to call my dad and ask for his opinion. It hasn’t fully sunk in that I’ll never be able to ask him for automotive advice again. When I do remember, recognition comes with a jolt of–if not quite sadness–a sense that something is missing from my life.

I think about him too when I get a good deal or have a frugal success. Dad will be so proud! I think when I realize I’ve tucked away screws I can use in place of the ones I’ve just lost in the dirt or get a flat repaired for free at a friendly tire shop. Again, I feel as if something is missing when I realize I’ll never be able to share my victories with my father.

Recently a friend of my sibling was watching the news and saw a report about extreme weather in the Gulf South. The friend wrote to my sibling, Dad ok? in reference to my father.

My sibling wrote, Hahah! He’s fine…sort of; he died last year.

The friend replied, I’m sorry…Was watching the news…and thinking of him.

I found the whole exchange hilarious, and it took me a long time to stop laughing. I chimed in, Hurricane ain’t gonna hurt Dad no more!

My sibling responded, I know, right?!!…it actually made me oddly happy and I laughed, that I don’t have to worry about the weather in Dad’s life anymore.

For me, it’s a relief to not have to worry about anything in Dad’s life anymore. I don’t have to worry about him being washed away by a hurricane. I don’t have to worry about him not having enough money to pay his bills. I don’t have to worry he will get sick and I’ll be the one expected to care for him. I don’t have to worry he’s going to say something to piss me off, and I don’t have to worry that he’s going to die because he’s already dead.

Despite the title of this post, I don’t actually think of myself as a fatherless daughter. Having a dead father is not some huge part of my identity, but every now and again, I do miss the best parts of my dad.

Celia’s Rainbow Gardens

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I heard of Celia’s Rainbow Gardens after my first trip to Quartzsite, AZ for the 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Someone else who’d been at the RTR wrote about the gardens on her blog, and I was sorry I’d missed them. But I missed the gardens again both times I went through Quartzsite on my way to California, and I somehow managed to not make it out there when I was in town for the 2016 RTR. I vowed I would go to the gardens in 2017, and I did.

Celia’s Rainbow Gardens, located in the Quartzsite Town Park encompass 8 acres of the 40 acre park. The gardens were inspired by the dreams of Celia Winer, an 8-year old girl whose goal in life was to make the world a better place.

The Roadside America website says,

One of the “memorials to dead people” found in Celia’s Rainbow Gardens.

Celia was not yet nine years old when she died in 1995. The town, assisted by local RV’ers, built a garden of rocks in her memory that continues to grow with memorials to dead people.

As someone who likes cemeteries  I enjoyed walking around and looking at the memorials in the gardens. Many snowbirds come to Quartzsite year after year. Many of these folks never know each other in their hometowns or even their home states. When a member of a Quartzsite snowbird community dies, it must be nice for the survivors to have a place in the town where the friendship thrived to pay their respects and remember their friends.

There are more than just “memorials to dead people” in the gardens, and it’s not just a “garden of rocks either.” It’s a botanical garden of sorts, with lots of different species of cacti, palm trees, and other plants. The aforementioned Celia’s Rainbow Gardens website says “[a]ll plants, trees, cacti etc. will eventually have identification markers…”

There’s an archway with bells at the entrance to the gardens. This area is called The Hero’s Bell Garden. An article called “Vets Remembered Inside the Garden

archway [is] made of telephone poles with a cross beam on which two huge iron bells [are] suspended. These bells can be rung during special services.

On the Celia’s Rainbow Gardens website, there is a map with information describing many of the areas of the gardens. Near the front of the gardens is

Celia’s Oasis—A special area in memory of Celia and other children
who are remembered…It [is] surrounded by a low wall with the handprint bricks made by the children Celia went to school with.

There’s a palm tree plaza where

[t]he large palm [sic] in this semi-circle were donated by Main Event owners Howard and Marilyn Armstrong, and were planted by his crew.

There are benches in this area and throughout the park so visitors have places to sit and reflect, pray, or meditate.

There’s also an area with a

mining equipment display donated by BLM, showing some of the early equipment used in the mines in this area.

Of course, nothing in Quartzsite which might draw visitors from out of the area is complete without at least one reference to a camel, so there is a camel silhouette in this area too.

Celia’s Rainbow Gardens offer folks the opportunity of some quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of Quartzsite commerce. However, even in January, the sun was strong and I got warm pretty quickly. The gardens are nice to visit, but as when you do anything in Quartzsite, even in the winter, bring a hat and some sunscreen and a bottle of water.

The Roadside America website gives directions to get to Celia’s Rainbow Gardens.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Katrina Tree

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When my dad died, my sibling insisted I travel to Mississippi for his memorial service.

I was house sitting in Tracy, California when he passed on Monday afternoon. My dad’s wife scheduled the memorial service for the upcoming Friday evening. By Tuesday I’d bought a $600 round-trip airline ticket. By Thursday morning, I was flying out of Oakland, on my way down South.

My sibling and my sibling’s partner met me at the airport in New Orleans. They rented a car, and the partner drove us through the darkness surrounding Interstate 10, all the way to Ocean Springs. The three of us visited awkwardly with my father’s wife (who was holding up exceptionally well), then headed to Bay St. Louis where we would spend the night.

We stayed at the home of my sibling’s partner’s aunt and uncle. The aunt and uncle were out of town, but they graciously offered us the use of their empty home. It was dark when we pulled into the driveway, but my sibling managed to find the hidden spare key. It wasn’t long before we were passed out in the spare bedrooms, exhausted and probably still shocked at the unexpected death of the patriarch.

The next morning we were blessed by being able to sleep until we woke up naturally. My sibling cooked breakfast and we planned our day. I needed to stop at a thrift store before we saw my dad’s wife again so I could buy a new shirt. (I only had one shirt with me, the one I’d worn the night before. I thought my dad’s wife would only see me once before the memorial service, but it turned out she’d see me twice, and I knew she would notice if I had on the same shirt I’d been wearing the night before.) Before we went back to my dad’s house, my sibling wanted to show me the “Katrina Trees.”

My sibling and the partner and their son had visited my dad and his wife the previous summer. During the visit, my dad and his wife had taken them to see several “Katrina Trees.” The “Katrina Trees” were trees that had been killed by Hurrican Katrina in 2005 and later carved into large-scale sculptures. My sibling wanted me to see at least one of these trees that meant so much to my dad and his wife.

The tree-sculptures are located all along scenic Highway 90. There are now approximately 50 sculptures throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast,

The website for the city of Biloxi says,

The trees were victims of the saltwater storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

There was no plaque with the tree, no explanation or artist information. I did some internet research and determined this tree was carved by chainsaw artist Dayle Lewis of Indiana. My conclusion was confirmed by “Lewis 2012” carved into the bottom of the sculpture, just under the heron.

Lewis has carved angel sculptures out of six live oaks killed by Hurricane Katrina’s 40-foot saltwater surge. The trees can be found throughout Bay St. Louis.

I read an article on the Florida Times-Union website which shows a photo of the tree I visited with a story of  three Katrina survivors and a dog, but I think they used the wrong image. While both trees were carved by Dayle Lewis, the tree where the three people and the dog spent the night during the hurricane was described in an article on the WGNO web page as “probably the plainest of them all.” The article goes on to say,

The most elaborate of the four angel trees looks out to sea, just like the original one — it has several angels carved into it, along with some herons, ladybugs, turtles and pelicans. One of the angels has white eyes — of all the angels that adorn the four angel trees, it’s the only one with white eyes.

The tree I visited is clearly elaborate, faces the sea, features turtles, herons, and pelicans (sorry, but I don’t remember any ladybugs), and includes an angel with white eyes.

We didn’t stay at the tree very long. I took photos, and my sibling hugged it, then we headed back to my dad’s house to prepare for his memorial service. We didn’t stay long, but it did me good to see the tree. It did me good to see such a wonderful part of the life of my father, a life that I missed for so many years.

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

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Alejandro was a good guy who drank himself to death before he turned 40. He died last week, one more to go in 2016.

His dad is an alcoholic too. He started his son down the path by giving Alejandro beer while he was still in elementary school. From then on, Alejandro was his dad’s drinking buddy, even when the alcohol was adversely affecting the younger man’s health.

Confronting Alejandro’s drinking would have required confronting his own alcohol abuse, so his father insisted there was no problem. There were problems, all right. In the last couple of years, Alejandro often shit blood for weeks on end. And there was the time a drunken Alejandro pulled a gun on a guy who’d pissed him off. Anyone who could admit the truth knew alcohol was going to kill Alejandro one way or another.

In the last months of his life, as his health declined, Alejandro refused to go to rehab. His aunt told me she made arrangements for him at two separate residential facilities, but he wouldn’t check in to either. I wonder what sort of demons he lived with that made him decide to drink himself to death.

Alejandro was a talented lapidarist who shaped and polished stones to sell to tourists and other vendors alike. His work was good, and jewelry makers valued the cabochons he produced.

When selling at the Bridge, Alejandro kept his rough stones in a pan of water so potential customers could see how they’d look after they were polished. He cracked me up one hot summer day, when, in response to a man asking why the rocks were in water, he said, absolutely serious, it keeps them wetter. He was a smartass, but he was good at telling jokes, knew how to keep a straight face, knew the proper rhythm to use to make the punchline pop.

He had two preteen daughters who loved him fiercely. He loved them too, even when he wasn’t getting along with their mother. The girls did their childish best to look after him. I can only imagine how those girls are going to miss him as they grow, the pain they’ll feel when he’s not around for the milestones in their lives.

Alejandro’s death is such a waste. He didn’t have to die. I know it’s more complicated than just stop drinking, but people manage to do it. I think Alejandro could have done it too. I think he could have gotten sober, under different circumstances. I think he could have lived to a ripe old age, seen his little girls grow up, shaped and polished a lot of stones, told a lot more jokes. It wasn’t too late until it was.

I wasn’t close to Alejandro, but he was part of my community. I cared about him. I worried about him. I was a friend to his young daughters and their mother too. I hated what was happening to him. I was sad when I found out he was gone from this world.

I hope for Alejandro–as I hope for everyone who dies–that he no longer knows pain, physical or mental. I hope he is at peace.

He will be missed.

Podcasts

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The first time I ever heard a podcast was when I moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. My traveling companion had loaded her MP3 player with music and words for our journey. At some point we listed to an episode of Stuff You Should Know about fluoride.

SIDENOTE: On that road trip, we also listened to David Sedaris read essays from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day. My favorite story in that book is “Jesus Shaves.” We had to stop playing it before it was over because my traveling companion was laughing so hard she was crying, making driving dangerous. (The image to the left is connected to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it to shop, I will receive a commission from your purchases.)

If you don’t know, a podcast is

a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.

The first podcast I really, really liked was RISK! Here’s what the RISK! webpage has to say:

 RISK! is a live show and podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public” hosted by Kevin Allison, of the legendary TV sketch comedy troupe The State. The award-winning live show happens monthly in New York and Los Angeles…The weekly podcast gets around a million downloads each month. Slate.com called it “jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.”

If you want to hear people tell true stories about sex, drugs, feces, humiliation, and sketchy parenting (among other things) while using lots of curse words, RISK! is the podcast for you. It is not a lie, cliché, or hyperbole when I say I’ve laughed ’til I cried while listening to the stories of RISK!, and sometimes I’ve just cried.

If these are the kinds of stories you like, you can listen to RISK! for yourself.

I like to have a podcast on while I’m doing work with my hands, typically work that doesn’t take too much brain power. Washing dishes? Podcast. Making hemp bracelets and necklaces? Podcast. Creating hats from yarn? Podcast. Cooking a meal? Podcast. Folding clothes? Podcast. Gluing little bits of paper into a collage? Podcast.

I revisited Stuff You Should Know a few years ago while house sitting in a secluded location. The house had no television, and it was just me and the dogs out there. I missed human voices. Hearing the banter of the hosts of the podcast, Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark, made me feel less alone.

Stuff You Should Know led me to Stuff You Missed in History Class since both programs are produced by the same parent company, How Stuff Works.

Stuff You Missed in History Class has gone through a series of hosts since its beginning. My favorite hosts of the program are the two current smart and sassy women, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. I enjoy their comfortable presentation style while feeling confident they did their homework before hitting the record button. The amount of reading and research these women do for each episode is amazing. Holly and Tracy give us more than just the history of rich white dudes. I appreciate their inclusion of episodes about feisty women and LGBTQ folks fighting for civil rights.

While downloading podcasts from iTunes, I discovered Death, Sex & Money. The show’s website calls Death, Sex & Money

[a] podcast hosted by Anna Sale about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.

I appreciate the way Anna Sale asks really personal questions while managing to express deep kindness and intense curiosity. She really knows how to get root of the matter without seeming pushy or mean. Of course, many of the episodes are heart-rending, covering topics from dead mothers and fathers (sad) to dead infants (super sad). The episodes focusing on sex and money tend to be a little more fun, although no less thought-provoking.

One of my favorite episodes of this show is an interview with Lucinda Williams. Lucinda starts off honest and raw and stays that way for nearly half an hour. Also fantastic is the five part series about New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina.

My newest favorite is Myths and Legends, featuring my podcast boyfriend, Jason Weiser. (Shhh! Jason doesn’t know he’s my podcast boyfriend. Neither does his wife.) Not only do I enjoy Jason’s calm, soothing voice and his snarky-funny comments (he holds nothing back when he talks about The Little Mermaid), but the stories from around the world are fun to listen to. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I put the volume of my phone down low, start this program playing, and let Jason’s tranquil voice comfort me all night.

Here’s what Myths and Legends has to say for itself:

This is a weekly podcast telling legendary stories as closely to the originals as possible. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.

That’s what I’m listening to these days, when I’m not listening to music. I hope these suggestion inspire my readers to listen to some new, educational podcasts. Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite podcast.

Me and My Uncles

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My dad was dead, and I was hurriedly planning a trip to the Deep South.

Do you think Uncle Duckie will be there? I asked my sibling.

I hadn’t even thought of him, was the reply. I don’t want to see him.

Neither did I.

However, when I spoke to my aunt, I found out Duckie had been by my father’s side in the days leading to his death. He’d been helping my dad’s wife with arrangements. Hell yes he was going to be there. We’d certainly see him.

My dad had three brothers.

Stewart, the oldest, was stillborn or died very soon after birth. He was never counted when we spoke of my dad’s siblings, however. Apparently a baby who died so soon was barely part of the family. I only wondered about this as an adult. Was this loss of her first child what made my grandmother so mean, or had that happened long before she was a grieving mother? Did her fear of losing another baby cause her to throw up walls around her heart when dealing with her other kids? Grandma has been dead for over a decade, and I’ll never know her truth.

The oldest child to grow up in my dad’s familty is Uncle Ronnie . He was a career military man. My father often characterized him as so smart, he’s stupid. He’s in his 80s now, and, I discovered at my dad’s memorial service, as deaf as a post.

Uncle Duckie is next in the line of children birthed by my paternal grandmother. He’s been a sleezeball and a racist and a pervert as long as I’ve known him. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandmother beat him. Well, she beat all her kids, but particularly Duckie. At least once, my grandfather had to intervene because he was afraid she was going to kill the boy, who was a toddler at the time. He says he still has the scars. I don’t doubt it.

There was one girl child in the family, born a couple of years before my father, who was the baby.

No one expects to lose their youngest sibling first. He cut in line, my aunt said.

The only material possession of my fathers I could contemplate wanting was a ring that had belonged to his father, the grandfather who died before I was born. One of us should have that ring, I wrote to my sibling as we made plans to travel to the homeland. My sibling thought the ring should go to my dad’s only grandchild, and I readily agreed. I didn’t need the ring, but I wanted it to stay with someone who had a tie to it, someone who’d appreciate it.

When my sibling and I arrived at my dad’s house the night before his memorial service, his wife had a handwritten when-I-die letter he’d composed several years ago. In the letter he said he wanted his grandchild to have the ring.

Duckie asked me for the ring, my dad’s wife told us, and I told him yes, but that was before I found this letter. She said she would tell Duckie my dad wanted the ring to go to the grandchild. It was my dad’s last will and testament, after all.

Later, when we got in the car, my sibling said, Can we talk for a minute about that motherfucker Duckie trying to get the ring?

I allowed how since our grandfather, the original owner of the ring, was Duckie’s dad too, I could understand he would want it. However, you could have let my dad be dead a week before he started asking for family heirlooms.

The next day, when we pulled up in the driveway of my dad’s house, Duckie was standing outside.

There he is, I said.

Time hasn’t been kind to Duckie. He looks like an old version of Gonzo from the Muppets. What am I talking about? Duckie is literally 80 years old. It would be weird if he didn’t look old, but his nose…Gonzo. I’m not kidding.

As my sibling would be the one to deliver the ring to the grandchild, I said before we got out of the car, Be sure you get the ring before we leave. I didn’t want Duckie weaseling it into his possession at some later date.

My dad’s wife broached the subject of the ring before my sibling or I could bring it up. She summoned us to the room with the closet housing my dad’s safe.

Did you tell Duckie he wasn’t getting the ring? I asked.

She said she had.

What did he say? I asked.

He didn’t say nothing, she said with her Tennessee twang. He wasn’t happy. I could tell by his face. But he didn’t say nothing.

Conflict averted. Thanks for putting it in writing, Dad.

I didn’t see Uncle Ronnie until he arrived at the church for the memorial service. He looked good. He looked younger than either my dad or Duckie. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed his age as early 60s, not his real 80+ years. However, as soon as he started talking embarrassingly loudly, I knew his hearing was gone.

He told my sibling, I don’t hear women’s voices.

Maybe he has high-frequency hearing loss, making it literally more difficult for him hear female speech (http://www.hearatlanta.com/inability-to-hear-womens-voices-is-a-symptom-of-high-frequency-hearing-loss/), but I had to wonder when he was ever in the habit of listening to what women had to say.

Although he was sitting in the pew behind me, I clearly heard Ronnie tell Duckie how he had basically raised my father. My grandmother wasn’t there to refute the statement.

Ronnie then told Duckie our ancestors were royalty and there’s a castle with our name on it back in the old country. It seems a bit strange to keep such information a secret for all these years, but I suppose Ronnie has his reasons. (I suspect one reason it that this royalty and castle idea is a figment of Ronnie’s imagination, as are the alien abductions he tried to tell us about later.)

Then Ronnie approached me.

You’re the oldest, he announced loudly enough for most everyone in the church to hear.

When your daddy changed his religion, he continued, he gave me his Bible. Would you like to have it?

Oh, no, you should keep it, I said brightly but quietly.

Good, he said loudly. We’ll exchange addresses and I’ll send it to you.

I guess he couldn’t hear my woman’s voice.

Before the night was over, Duckie had invited a married fundamentalist Christian woman from my dad’s church to sit in his lap. When someone asked him if his 54 year-old niece was his wife, he said, I wish! while sitting right next to his actual wife of five decades.

When one of the people from my dad’s church asked Ronnie something about his wife, he responded for all to hear, We’ve been married 57 years. We’ve tried everything!

Later he tried to give me a bed built by one of our ancestors soon after his arrival in the New World. Ronnie has not only the bed, but a list of everyone born in it. Apparently, I am the only one of my cousins qualified to own the bed because since I’ve never married, I still carry the family name. When Ronnie mentioned offering the bed to a museum, I enthusiastically endorsed that idea. I’m sure there is no room in my van for an ancestral bed.

And then it was done. My dad was dead, and his memorial service was over. I’d never have to see those men again, dead or alive.