Unless you’ve lived in a four seasons city, you just can’t understand how transformational and redivivus the vernal expectation of spring. My mind feels like someone has loosened the screws, and a willowy feeling fills the body so when I walk my steps waver, without any alcohol. This spring is like a substance prescription after one of the gloomiest winters of my life.
He pushed her on a swing, so high she touched the sky, viewed the world through his eyes, lived for a time without lies, then as mystically he appeared, he let go of the swing, and she fell on her wing, broken but with the will to begin again. A broken heart hasn’t stopped her from loving him.
For ten days she stared unblinking, just thinking of her spoken words, how they made their way to his ears and returned the sounds she so wanted to hear. She wiped the tears as some people find love at the core of their fears. The strain of regaining her former spiraling spirit and beating heart may not come for months. She says to herself out loud, ‘it must, I must.’ As written, sung, painted, and performed for hundreds of years, love is undefinable as it is something supernatural.
“Did you want to be like the people in Rancho Santa Fe?”
He laughed out loud and said, “I don’t want to be what I’m not. I am the happiest man alive.”
“Tell me again why you are so happy?”
“I told you about when I was stuck in Buna– I made a vow to God that if I got out of there alive, I’d never complain about life again
“You kept your promise.”
“ Yes, and I have the most wonderful friends in the world—and you’re one of them.” I gave him a hug and a kiss and asked him to tell me more about his life in Solana Beach.
“ Was your wife happy too?”
“ Oh yes.”
“ How long were you married?” I asked.
“ My wife and I were married fifty years, nineteen forty-one until she passed away.
She was so good to me when I come back from the war. I used to get up in the middle of the night and wander around, didn’t know where I was and she always got up with me. I had bad dreams and got lost, didn’t know where I was, and would hide in the closet. She was so careful with me. I just didn’t know what I was doing like spilling things at the table, and not remembering things she told me. It went on for a long while, but she never got angry or lost her temper. She was so good, and after I got better, we started having fun again, and we were doing good. I was at the dairy and they bought me the house on Barbara Street.”
“ The dairy bought it for you?” I interrupted.
“Yeah, 208 Barbara, that was it. We lived in that little house while I worked at the dairy– I worked seven days a week, from midnight until noon, then I’d have my lunch and rest awhile. Then we might go out and we’d party. “
“ Before you went to work?”
“ Oh yeah, it was the only time we had together.”
“ I feel like a wimp,” I mumbled.
“ Well, you work hard, and I don’t know it just seems people need more sleep today or something, I don’t know what it is.”
“ We haven’t been in a war.”
” Maybe so. I think people seem to marry for different reasons these days. Janet and I had the same background, we both knew what hard work was about. She didn’t complain, she was very good with money, she wrote down everything we spent. I guess we were lucky.”
“ I think it’s more than luck, you appreciate life every day,” I said.
“ I do, like you too, I am so glad you are my friends, and we can sit here and talk and have such good times.”
Then Rudy took my hand, and apologized for shouting at me earlier about not turning the hose off all the way. He said he wanted to take me out for dinner because he felt so bad. Maurice grinned, and I gave him a hug and a kiss. He went into the back and came back with a little bouquet of sweet peas for me.
“ These are for you,” he said.
“ Oh Maurice, you’re making me feel terrible,” Rudy said in jest.
“ I don’t mean to, it’s just that I love women so much. I told my wife every day, every morning she woke up I told her I loved her. We never went to bed angry.”
The house Maurice lives in and has lived in since 1950, is a tidy two-bedroom farmhouse. The house is painted white, with black shutters framing the front windows.
Tucked in the front entrance on one side are a twisted juniper and the other side a bush of poinsettia. He planted roses and hollyhocks and a few more varieties that were always postcard perfect. The porch out front changes with the season. The first year we met Maurice placed a sofa on the porch and two chairs. When Rudy and I stopped at the end of the day, Maurice would be outside sitting in the rocking chair, his hair still wet from his shower, and in his hand a jigger of Jack Daniel’s. In the front room, Maurice covered the walls with mementos and pictures of his friends. He didn’t hang any paintings of any kind, so when you sat on the couch and looked around you were looking at his life. He has a television and watches the news, old westerns, and the country music station. He especially likes the rodeo shows. He has remarked on occasion that he thinks television is very bad for you. His old sofa so worn from visitors when I sit down next to Maurice I sort of fall into his lap. We sit so close, unlike we do now in these large stiff hi-tech furnishings. In front of the sofa is a long glass coffee table, one of Rudy’s favorite stops as he walks in the door. He dives for the peanuts and the chocolates. There are always treats on the table, and you will not wait long before Maurice goes into the kitchen and brings back a plate of home-made pickles.
The first time Rudy ate his pickles, he yelled out, “ Damn Maurice, these are incredible I could eat a whole jar!” So Maurice went in the back and brought out a jar of his homegrown pickles. The kitchen is small and in the corner is a antique table where he keeps his baking utensils and one chair. He has a collection of antique jars and cooking tools on a shelf that whines around the kitchen ceiling. His refrigerator is an adventure in itself, shelves are packed with wrapped leftovers, sauces, meats, cheeses, and vegetables, so packed that on several occasions when I tried to put something back in I couldn’t find an empty place for it. Naturally, he uses a gas stove but growing up in Iowa all they had was a wood-burning stove. In the hallway, the walls are framed with more friends and family. There is one beautiful girl, that seems to be in every room. When I asked who she was Maurice replied, “ That’s Linda. She’s my sweetheart.”
From the photographs we learned all about Maurice’s life; his mother and father, brother and sister, his wife, Janet, his grandpa and grandma, and the hundreds of people in between. His home is a storybook, all you need to know about Maurice is revealed unaltered.
His bedroom is at the end of the hallway by the back door. His bed is covered with a handmade quilt and about twenty decorative pillows. The bathroom is very colorful with green and red towels, and more photographs of Linda. Then he opens the screen door to the backyard.
” This is my garden,” he said smiling ear to ear.
It reminded me of Fantasia. To be continued
Millicent Rogers home Taos, NM
The throw of the dice this week falls on the silhouette of a Taos night out in 2006. It begins with the sunset — a bubble-gum pink sash that swirls like taffy just above the distant hillside. The transcending forms and colors in the sky distract me; it silences me, it keeps me from turning on the television or answering the phone.
The sunset has settled into my routine. It’s something I watch every night. In the midst of dressing to attend an art auction at the Millicent Rogers Museum the sun has vanished. The sky turns Taos blue; a luminous oil pigment canvas blue that appears like an endless tunnel you can walk through. As I descend the staircase, and cross over the ménage of piles shoved in a corner to allow SC to paint, I think, “This is going to be my home. I’m still here” Adventures in Livingness
In the courtyard where new flagstone has been laid, and the exit is blocked by a mud ditch, Rudy hitches me on his back and carry’s me out the side entrance through Tony Abeyta’s yard. Tony’s yard is piled with sand from our flagstone project, and my high-heeled black suede shoes are not at all practical for crossing New Mexican sand dunes. This is how the evening begins.
Out in the parking lot, we circle around once and stop in Robert’s gallery. He has offered me his turquoise squash seed necklace to wear at the auction. The necklace is from Turkey, and sells for $1,800. Millicent Rogers events always attract women with extravagant jewelry, and Robert knows I have no such possessions. He hands me the necklace, and says, have fun.
At times like this, I am able to forget the faces and routines I lived in Solana Beach, and feel swept into a labyrinth of unfamiliar vignettes. There are two police cars in the rear of the parking lot, the church looms like a fortress of wet mud, and SC is listening to The Band CD we picked up in Santa Fe. I slide into the car making sure my shoes don’t fill with gravel.
Parking for the Plaza where we lived. San Francisco de Asís Mission Church.
Along the desert road, there is very little street light and cars approach you at disarming speeds. For newcomers, the pale yellow line that separates oncoming traffic, roaming animals, hitchhikers, leather clad bikers, and abandoned pets, is of no comfort or value. Boundaries are vague, so are civilities between people, and sometimes conversations elope into poetry.
At the Millicent Rogers Museum the director Jill, who is there to welcome each guest, greets us at the carved wooden doors. This museum was once a home, like most museums in Taos.
Each room is an envelope of Native American jewelry, ceramics, painting, weaving, textiles, and metal work, sealed with an ethereal presence of Millicent Rogers. She set global trends in fashion, art, and living, by coming to Taos and bridging her New York chic with southwestern sensibility.
The museum collection includes some of her own designs that evolved from her residency in the desert. She moved here in 1947 and died here in 1953. She could have chosen anywhere in the world to live, and she settled in the unaltered, surreal lunar beauty of Taos.
I wandered through the tightly packed rooms, alternately viewing the guest’s attire and jewelry. The woven wraps, belts, and hats worn by men and woman form a collage of individual expression. Almost everyone seems to attract attention by the texture and color of his or her attire. It is festive traditional look, southwestern accessories paired with jeans or silk dresses. If you come to Taos, look for a belt buckle, one piece of Native American jewelry and one piece of art.
When the auction was announced, I found myself admiring the same etching as a woman next to me. She remarked that the artist was also the teacher of one of her children. I came to learn that Ellen had six children and 11 grandchildren. She was petite with curly blonde hair, and I liked her instantly. I told her I was a writer.
“So am I,” she answered.
Rather than talk about her work, she began talking about her daughter, also a writer.
“I’m so lucky,–all my children and grandchildren are creative and artistic.”
It was obvious that her life was a garden of earthly delights, and that she had raised many roses. When the auction began, she vanished, and I made a very swift viewing of the art before returning to the two etchings. They were both sold.
As I was walking out, I bumped into Ellen. She was clutching the etchings.
“So, you bought them,” I said.
“Oh, yes, I had to have them.”
She left me with a beaming smile and a closing remark that I hear very often: “Welcome to Taos.”
I love hearing that so much I don’t want to stop saying, I just moved here. After the auction we decided to stop in Marco’s Downtown Bistro, where we joined an improvisational party. It started when Marco introduced us to his friends, Pablo and Joan, visiting from Santa Fe.
The dim glowing melon adobe walls of the bistro, Marco hugging everyone, Joan’s melodious high-pitched laughter, Pablo telling jokes, Rudy laughing, and then Philip arriving to tell stories crossed over from strangers in a bistro to a fast rolling film. The conversation, and laughter surfed breathlessly from one person to another.
Joan remarked, “My 15 minutes. This is the best for me. The first time you meet someone, your both talking without any effort. It’s so perfect.”
We closed the bistro past midnight. Marco had gone home. Joan decided to stay at a friend’s house. Philip agreed to drive down to Santa Fe the next day, and we took Tylenol before going to bed.
Not every night out in Taos is like Joan’s 15 minutes, but chances are you will have something to write home about. Photos of Gallery LouLou Taos, NM
Maurice did things for us that no one had. It started with small gestures, like inviting us inside every time we passed by his house. Even if he was on his way to deliver furniture he’d scuttle to the kitchen and give us homegrown tomatoes, and oranges, or hand me a bouquet from his flower garden. These were the early years of my story submission rejections. I was so consumed with rejection that the only person in the world that made me feel human was Maurice. He didn’t understand what my torment was about, but he knew how to make it go away. Sometimes all it took was a big hug and a kiss. Maurice always met me with a hug and kiss, though I didn’t realize at the time how much he knew what I needed.
That Christmas I felt the spirit because of Maurice. I went to Sav-On and collected a basket of decorations, and though we had no room for a tree, I did what I could. Instead of wishing I could dash into Nordstroms and shop like a madwoman, I dug a little deeper and searched for appreciation gifts for friends.
By the time the season had ended, I was fixated on Maurice. It is strange to write about him now. The story I wanted to write was about Del Mar, and Solana Beach, California during the thirties and forties. I searched the indexes of the Del Mar Library and the local bookstores and shared the antiquities with Maurice.
We were sitting on his cushy pillowed sofa one evening in 1994, sipping chilled southern comfort, and snacking on saltine crackers and cheese. There is always a subject of interest with Maurice. He is seventy-five years old, lean and tough as a stalk of corn, with blue eyes that twinkle even if he’s not in the light. His wealth came from the uniqueness of how he lived.
“Tell me what you remember about Del Mar.”
Old Del Mar.
“Oh so many good times, not like it is today. I knew just about everybody, we were like a family.” Sometimes Maurice shared memories while driving around Del Mar and Solana Beach. Suddenly he would start talking, and I’d would listen with childlike curiosity. I recall one evening at the old Cilantro Restaurant while having dinner with Maurice. We sat at a table facing the Rancho Santa Fe Polo field. Maurice began to tell me how it used to be. Rancho Santa Fe
“I used to plow those fields there, all the way up to where the hills begin. I worked out there all day, and I loved it. That land belonged to the Conleys’. I remember that the whole field was underwater for one year. Hard to believe–but it was.”
“Sure I did! I was a farmer, a dairy farmer, and I delivered milk to Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee. I remember Christmas she comes out and gives me some extra money.–I always loved going there at Christmas. They was always so nice to me, you know. The Conley’s had a hog ranch, they were the ones I worked for. The year it flooded from El Camino Real to the racetrack we lost a bunch of pigs and a cow under the bridge. It only happened twice that I know of.”
“ What was Rancho Santa Fe like back then, when you were a farmer?”
“Well, it was different than today, then it was rich people, I mean really rich. I don’t know where they got their money but they had everything–you know expensive cars, cooks, and maids.” Maurice chuckled, “ I couldn’t understand what the cook did all day. The man my wife worked for, Ronald McDonald, he had a butler, maid, cook, and a big house, a really nice house. But today, anyone can live there, people who just inherited a lot of money. There was just a few families back then– everyone knew who they was. One time a young girl who lived up there was stuck on the road–her car broke down, so I drove her home. You did things like that. There were two really well-known families there, the Clotfelters were one, they had a son, Tom. He stopped by my house at Christmas and brought me a fish, he liked to fish. The other big family was Avery, he had everything. He used to get jobs for the Mexicans in the Ranch. Everyone knew him, he kind of ran the whole town, was really active in the community. Another fellow, Joe White, went around to the homes and put in the meters for the water district. We used to play cards with him and his wife, Marilyn– have a few drinks and have a such a good time. ” Maurice stopped and shaking his head remarked that there were so many wonderful people in his life, and how lucky he was to live in Solana Beach.
Downtown Rancho Santa Fe.
The Rancho Santa Fe I knew began when I moved there in nineteen-eighty-three. It was a place you heard of right away, and so I drove up to take a look around. Like thousands of others before me, I dreamt of living in the Ranch under a canopy of Eucalyptus trees with a horse stable and a grove of oranges. It was a blissful place to drive on a Sunday afternoon, very few cars on the road and the homes bathed in sunlight. But when I walked down Paseo Delicias, the main road in the village, I felt like an outsider. I did not feel that detachment in Del Mar, or Solana Beach, or even La Jolla. But the Ranch has eyes, it seemed to single you out and therefore no one on the inside made contact with you. You could dine at the charming Mille Fleurs and drop a few hundred dollars but you would not be invited to mingle. I asked Maurice if he wanted to live in the Ranch. His expression was curious as if I was pulling his leg.
“No, I never wanted to live there.”
” I’m just a regular guy.” To be continued.
6/1998-Solana Beach, CA.
ONE EVENING, Rudy and I were sitting on the porch, it was in summer and we would sit out till after eight o’clock at night talking about different parts of Maurice’s life. He is really busy in the summer, he works one day a week gardening for a man in Fairbanks ranch, and he spends a lot of time delivering furniture for the shops in Cedros Design District, and helping his friends with their gardens. He never seems tired; he likes to sit on the porch at dusk, watch the sunset, have a jigger and tell stories. I had not met a man that could tell me things like Maurice. There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t talk about. I will tell you in the next series how I met, ‘the happiest man in the world.’
“ Maurice, how old were you when you were drafted?” I asked.
“ Well, I was thirty-one years old, that was in 1941, you know when the war broke out. I had to leave my wife, and that bothered me, but I wanted to go overseas, there were so many nice real young boys, there were two boys from Chicago that were only eighteen years old, they lied to get in, and they were the best soldiers you ever saw, they weren’t afraid of anything.”
“ Where did they send you, I mean after you left San Diego?”
“ Well first I went to Camp Roberts for training, thirteen weeks, but I got out in nine weeks, then they send me to Fort Ord to get my gear and rifles and clothes to go to New Guinea to fight the Japanese. We left San Francisco on April 21, 1942, I remember going under the Golden Gate Bridge, cause we hit a bad storm there. We was on a luxury liner and then we were sideswiped by another ship. I was in the bed at the time, and water started coming in through the porthole so I run for the door, to get on deck but I couldn’t get it open. I thought we were hit by a torpedo, then I got sick, I was real sick. Well anyway, then we finally settled down, and I think we hit coral sea without any escort or anything and finally got into Adelaide, Australia after twenty-one days at sea.” Maurice paused like he had to catch a breath. I watched his face, thinking he may want to stop.
“ You remember so much, do you mind talking about it?” I asked.
“ No, I don’t mind, it changed my life, everything about it.”
“ Where did they send you after that?”
“ Well we trained for awhile in Adelaide, the people in Australia were so happy to see us. I remember they met us at the beach with tea and cookies cause the enemy were getting real close. Then we went up the coast to New Guinea to Port Moresby, we got there on Thanksgiving day 1942. As soon as we got off the ship the bombs hit us, it was the hundredth raid that night. Then the next morning we were supposed to get to Stanley Range, but we were in such a hurry because the enemy had built cement pillboxes. So we got in this plane, a hull, and they flew us, twenty-one at a time. When I got to the island of Buna, there were dead soldiers all over and so much jungle. At night the tide came in, so I found a mound to lay my head on, but my whole body was underwater. We were losing men so fast, so on Christmas 1942 General McArthur ordered us to advance, regardless of the cost of lives. My division was one of the first divisions to stop the them, the Thirty-Second division. After we were immobilized, and a lot of our men were killed, they sent in the Forty-First division to take over. I got pictures, you want to see them?”
“YES, RUDY,” SHOUTED. Maurice went inside and Rudy and I sat there just talking about how soft our lives had been, never having been in a war. Maurice came back with a Life Magazine, from 1942, the headlines were Attack at Buna. We sat next to Maurice on the couch and he sifted through the magazine showing us the photographs of his division. He picked out one photo in another stack in his lap and told us his wife kept this one, she was sure it was Maurice. It looked like him to. The soldiers were young, but they didn’t look young, they looked like men. The things he told us that night were hard to believe. They didn’t get supplies at first, they had to wait till everything was shipped to Europe, and then they got what was leftover which wasn’t much.
“I ate cocoanut bark for two weeks and had to drink my own piss to stay alive, there was no water. I can remember so well the first enemy I saw, sneaking through the jungle, he was only thirty feet off, and I don’t know if I shot him, but he dropped, and I don’t like to think I killed anyone, and it bothers me to this day that I had to kill, but that’s what we did. The Japanese were good soldiers, they had better ammunition than us, their guns were always real shiny. We fought all day, and we always ran out of ammunition before they did. Christmas day of forty-two we went into a trench to get ahead, the fellow ahead of me was cut wide open, and the guy behind was shot, and I just laid there on the ground. If you moved you’d be shot. It was so bad, I laid there all day and night. “
“ Did you think you were going to die?”
“ I didn’t let myself think that, I made a promise to God, that if I ever got out alive I’d never complain about anything in my life again because nothing could be worse than that day.”
“ You kept the promise didn’t you,” I asked.
“ Yes, I have.”
“ And that’s why the war changed your life?”
“ That’s right, every day is a beautiful day after you’ve lived through a war, at least for me.”
BUNA came into our conversations many times over the years. The things they did to survive is what he remembered; like brushing his teeth with black charcoal because it polished the teeth even though they made them black. They bathed in dirty streams, or in the puddles in the street made by the tires of the trucks. They had to relieve themselves in their pants because moving was dangerous. They didn’t have modern medical supplies. When Maurice had cavities he was sent to the infirmary and the dentist told him to just grit his teeth, there was no Novocain. He got gum disease, leg rot, malaria, and he lost his sense of smell.
“But it was much worse for some of the men, so bad you can’t imagine.” He talked about the kinship amongst the troops, it was unlike anything he’d ever seen or experienced, all the guys looking out for each other. Buna was a strange place to be, I’d never heard of it before Maurice told us. After they took over Buna, one of the beaches, was named Maggot Beach, because so many dead Japanese and American soldiers laid there, in the hundred-degree heat, and the flies got to them, and it was a terrible sight, it smelled so bad he remembered. Maurice was sent to the hospital for two weeks, then he started working in the kitchen and got to be the first cook.
2001. OUR CONTRY IS AT WAR AGAINST TERRORISM. Rudy and I wanted to know Maurice’s thoughts on the way it is now, and how he felt. We sat in his living room watching the news and talking in those first few weeks after the attack on America. It seemed like Maurice couldn’t believe what had happened, I’d never seen him speechless. He didn’t know what to say for a long time.
“The ground troops are the only way to get this enemy. Now with these terrorists– we have a different war. I don’t know what our government will do but they should give our troops overseas that die big funerals, news on the television and newspaper, that’s the right thing to do. In WW11 they didn’t do that for any of us, they just wrapped the dead in a tarp, and dug a little hole in the ground. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of boys, all they got was a stick where you was. I think they got some of the dog tags mixed up, you didn’t know who was who. When you think about what we went through, and how close you were to each other, everybody was so close, and if someone was shot, you couldn’t stop and help them, you had to keep going. The natives were so nice to us, so good to us, they picked up the wounded guys and carried them to the hospital, they wouldn’t do that for the Japanese. Now everything is on the television so you’re part of it.” Maurice began to weep silently. I hugged him. Rudy interjected.
“What were the natives like?”
” Back then we called them headhunters. They didn’t wear any clothes at all, but after we got there some of them started wearing our clothes. They lived in bamboo huts, pretty neat to live in, Rudy, you would have liked those tents. Anyway, they had these powwows, they’d catch a monkey, and hang him up, build a fire under him, and cinch the hair, then sit down and eat the monkey raw, I saw a lot of that. You didn’t dare look at the women, they’d shoot you with an arrow, they had poisonous arrows, the women were so terribly dirty, but they seemed to be happy. After we took Buna, they liked to shoot up the trees and show us how they got the coconuts, they were so fast. I guess some of them are still alive today, the jungle was so thick and full of mosquitos, a lot of them had malaria, they had no medicine, they ate herbs and things, to make them better. I’ll never forget them, they were so good to us, when they took me to the hospital they put me on a stretcher one time, they were so careful, didn’t move me at all.
“ You couldn’t speak at all to them?”
“ No, they had their own language, I couldn’t understand it, no one did.”
Maurice went into the house and came back with a photograph of a female headhunter. It was strange to think of this person as a woman, she was so primitive. Rudy loved the photograph. Maurice gave it to him. t. Rudy knew he would never see anything like it with his own eyes, so he cherished that picture and the story Maurice told us as if it was his own experience.
THEN THE LIGHT OF DAY TURNED FOGGY. Maurice said it was time to go in because it was getting cold. He told us how much he loved us that night, and what good friends we were. When Maurice talked of his experience in the war, it was like a chiropractic adjustment on my struggle, and I had renewed strength to just keep writing.
It was the first time for Rudy to hear first hand about WW11 because his father had been stationed here making torpedoes. My father enlisted but they wouldn’t take him because he didn’t have citizenship. It bothered him too, he was the kind of man that would die for this country in a heartbeat.
A year or so later, some woman came to know Maurice and asked about his experience in the war. She said she would write a book about it, and so he gave her the photographs and Life Magazine and waited to hear from her. She never came back, and Maurice was really shocked because she had seemed so sincere.
I wanted to know more about his life after the war, but the time didn’t come until one night when Rudy and I got into a nasty fight. To be continued.