Friday, January 14, 2011

Daughters of the Shadow Men Memoir:

Chapter 1:  My earliest memory of high spirited Navahoes riding their horses through the pond by our homestead house

I made up my mind when I wrote my memoirs I was going to do it in such a way as not to depress myself for our family history can get me down in the dumps fast if I don't watch out. It was that kind of family.
Before I ever entered the world, my father had become an alcoholic, but an alcoholic usually isn't regarded as such an abusive figure unless he has a wife and family to torture. My mother proved to be a woman who took greater offense to drinking than most women.
Nobody drank in my mother's family. Oh, her father's youngest brother who rebelled against religion became an alcoholic but he never had any children, and his wife continued to adore him no matter what he did. So my theory is that I had probably heard many quarrels about drinking before I was even a few months old. 
I seemed, even to me, to become a world weary young tot who far surpassed my Grandmother King in my knowledge of her son's lies about his drinking. She wanted to believe him when my father told her he had not been drinking even when he was staggering. I would know just about how much he had drunk. And what we all could expect once we got back home--hours of my mother fighting with him before his buzz would wear off enough for him to sleep.
I am trying to say that I was probably thinking about the problem of my dad's drinking while I was still in my cradle. 
My first actual memory is an odd one. I have a very vivid memory of myself seated in my little homemade highchair looking out the window of our homestead house. I couldn't have been two because we only lived in that house a year, and my high chair was so small I didn't sit in it after I was very old. What I was seeing out the window that interested me so much were six or seven Navaho men on horses galloping through my grandfather's large pond. They were whooping with joy. I had never seen such happy cowboys. I was thinking what a difference there was between the Indians and my father and his cowboys who were a sadder more serious bunch.  I was wondering why they were noticeably more grim than the happy go lucky Indians who had come up from the reservation to trade rugs for horses. I seemed to be trying to figure out the reason for things even at that young age. 
So in my first memory as a very young child I was trying to analyze my dad. Odd but the Kings I discovered later were given to analyzing which drove my mother crazy. She never liked that trait in us which I was already exhibiting so young.
I have several other brief memories of those early years of riding on huge horses with my father. Sometimes I would be on a horse by myself praying whenever the horse approached a ditch or some bars that it wouldn't take a notion to jump over them. If the horse jumped I might be jolted and lose my grip on the saddle horn.  I'd fall a long ways to the ground I would think, so horses jumping over bars must be avoided if at all possible. If I thought our horses might be frisky enough to jump over bars I would ask my dad to please take more bars down so my horse would be sure not to jump over them. My dad would frown when I showed signs of fear, and seemed to remember that I was just a girl after all. But if my horse was a gentle old mare I would think it would be too tired to jump. It would just likely step over the bars. So I would try not to say anything.
Some of these rides on horses must have been both before and after I did fall from a runaway horse when I was three years old. I used to clamor to ride horses even at the same time I feared them. My father had come home that day from riding for cattle 'down below' and my mother and he were walking down the lane toward my Grandfather's ranch. Mother had been up the lane visiting and was carrying Marion, Uncle Reed's daughter, who was only one year old. Margie, who was two, and I were walking along side her and my dad. 
At once I began to beg to ride Daddy's saddle horse. This must have been quite a common thing for me to do. My dad finally gave in and lifted me up into the saddle and put Margie on back of me. Lastly, he placed Marion in front of me. He still retained the reins. We were riding a gray gelding named Dumbell that he had not owned very long. He was always trading for a horse. No amount of scolding that he could not afford another horse ever stopped him from making these horse trades when he was partying. 
Daddy was already saying that Dumbell was not smart enough to be a good cow pony so he would keep him a while to see if he could turn him into a kid horse. I suppose one reason he let us ride him was to try him out.

Dumbell failed the kid horse test almost at once. He suddenly jerked the reins out of my dad's hands and took off running! Daddy managed to snatch our cousin Marion off. Margie fell to the hard ground a little ways further and was lucky not to have been hurt badly. I am sure she got an awful jolt that might have injured her more than anybody knew.  I grabbed the saddle horn and clutched it with all my might thinking I must not fall on that hard ground in the lane once Dumbell picked up full running speed. 
Instead of stopping to the corrals, however, he turned and started running up a sandy hill toward the fields. I started picturing what he might do to the top of the hill where there was rocks sticking up out of the ground. If I happened to fall on a rock I reasoned I could be hurt very badly. I decided I would have to throw myself off Dumbell while he was still running up the sandy hill, hoping to land in some soft sand. I looked for a place I might aim for.  As soon as I saw some heavy sand I let go of the horn and launched myself out away from Dumbell's side as far as I could.
Unfortunately I landed on a drying sagebrush. A piece of stem was driven by the weight of my body into the flesh under my chin. When I felt pain and blood running, I started screaming as loud as I could. 
My dad came running very fast up the hill and picked me up and brushed me off. He told my mother he could see I was not hurt badly and said a few teasing words to me about screaming.
I was mortified over him teasing me and mad because I could not tell him or anybody else how I had planned a jump from the horse so I would fall in the soft sand. Nobody would believe I hadn't just fallen off after I screamed. I thought I was a smart little girl to think so well in an emergency and my dad needed to know that. But I had been so frightened I could not help but scream about my wound.

I think I was establishing myself as a brainy child even then which proved to be quite dangerous given my mother's penchant for jealousy and belief in corporal punishment. But the King men greatly admired brains and cool thinking in an emergency,  especially in one related to them by blood, so their esteem must have been what I was going for.
I also must have figured I needed to be very smart to survive in the dangerous world in which I found myself. The horse world. The cowboy world.

 It would have been along about that time that Uncle Max, my dad's youngest brother, got killed from being thrown from a bucking horse. I can remember Uncle Max coming into the ranch house where we were living at the time. Somebody said he and Uncle Reed had just come in with the pack mules carrying the mail. Max came in the house and said hello to me. He may have played with me a little. That is my only memory of him before he had his fatal ride on the bucking horse. Mother said he always made a fuss over Margie and me because he liked kids.
The King sons had been raised on horses people said later so it would have been very unlike Max to have gotten hurt if he had not been drinking. I can just imagine how drunk he must have been judging from the way my dad drank. Daddy would soon be staggering he drank beer or even whiskey so fast once he started. I imagine all the Kings drank fast which is why drinking affected them worse than it did men who drank slower.
All the cowboys went over and over the story of how Max came to be thrown. They said he did not try to catch himself. He just fell, a dead weight, and hit his head on a stone on the rodeo grounds that had not been cleared of all hazardous rocks. Riders were expected to look down and dodge the rocks when they were thrown from bucking horses.
I remember Daddy saying he had a feeling when he saw them pick his unconscious brother up off the ground and carry him off the rodeo grounds that he would not ever come to and he didn't. He said he was not strong enough to survive such a blow. I wondered for years what he meant. He seemed to think he was physically stronger than both Max and and his older brother Reed. 
Well, everyone knew Reed was not strong. He had nearly died twice when he was a child of pneumonia and meningitis. But I guess for some reason, maybe because he was the baby and considered spoiled, Daddy did not think Max would be able to survive this hard blow to his head that rendered him unconscious.
Reed didn't go to the rodeo. Reed I knew had suffered a nervous breakdown. He would drink no matter how bad alcohol was for his delicate mind. He kept having to be hospitalized when some bad crisis occurred. Not too many years before he and his best friend drank poison moonshine.  They both got very sick, and Rodney died.  After Rodney died Reed started talking to the spirits.  He usually said he was talking to Rodney. 
When Max was hurt in the rodeo, they hadn't wanted Reed to go to Escalante for fear he would drink.  He was talking to the spirits again and they were hoping to prevent another stay in the state mental.  
On the third day after Max was hurt, Mother volunteered to watch Reed so Daddy could go back to town alone because they received word that Max was probably going to live only a few more hours. Daddy left to say his last good-bye to his youngest brother. 

Late that afternoon Mother said Reed came to her crying saying that Rodney had come and told him Max had just died. Max was in the spirit world now. Mother said that a doctor thought Reed's mental troubles may have gotten a lot worse with his own close call and Rodney's death.  It was for sure that he was now living with one foot in the other world. Mother, of course, was jolted by his information.  Max did die that afternoon, and Mother was convinced Reed had been told the very moment his spirit left this world and went to the hereafter.  She did not even think Reed knew Max was hurt, but I think Reed knew very well something was terribly wrong.

When Reed spent hours sometimes laughing and talking to his spirit friend Rodney, he would say that Rodney told him jokes. Reed loved jokes. I was intensely curious about a joke a spirit might have told Reed. I wished that I could just ask him to tell me the joke, but we children were warned not to try to talk to Reed, let alone about his conversations with the dead.
The adults were always shouting at him for saying he was talking to the spirits. They cursed him because he would not do any work. So they would tell him to forget about the spirits. They accused him of trying to get out of work! He wasn't as strong as most men, so he might have gotten more exhausted from the hard work they had to do in those days than his brothers did. Maybe he half way did find out that if he acted crazy enough, they would leave him alone and do all the work themselves. 
I always wished that the adults had been kinder and  more curious like I was, so they could have found out more about the spirit world Reed seemed able to access at will.
But if they had been kinder he probably would not have preferred the spirit world. Still the fact that his mind was swinging between heaven and earth was unsettling. I did appreciate Mother letting Reed tell her about Rodney bringing her the news Max had died. She said they hadn't told Reed Max had been hurt for fear of sending him completely mad with grief, so they would have to take him back to the mental hospital in the middle of all their own upset. 

Reed and Max were the best of friends at the time of Max's death. They had the mail contract together and this was one of the few jobs that Reed had been successful in keeping since he had become mentally ill, probably because Max was kind to him. Daddy loved to party with him because he was so witty, but they tried to keep Daddy and Reed apart when they were drinking. Daddy was thought to be a very bad influence. 
But I really didn't know how Reed could have been so witty and completely mad.  I loved to hear Reed's jokes, like he once he joked that he knew how to handle Clyde.  Apparently people found my dad hard to get along with.  Reed said he just let Clyde take him down to the river and whip him and after that he got along with him just fine.  That is a wonderful example of Uncle Reed's wit.  
When Max died was the first I became really aware of Uncle Reed. Up to then I don't remember seeing him or knowing a lot about him. I did think however that Reed would be able to keep right on talking to Max after he was dead. He knew how to do it. He wouldn't miss him as the rest of the family would because he would be talking to him in the spirit world as soon as Max came to and recovered from his head injury and realized where he was.

Now my Grandmother King whispered all the time but I was not sure she was talking to spirits or just thinking very hard. I tried to get close to her to hear what she was saying when she was whispering but I did not succeed in hearing anything except a name or two. If I had to guess I would say she was thinking out loud rather than talking to the spirits. She just did not seem to have been as nervy as her wild crazy son Reed. If spirits had tried to talk to her I think she would have refused to listen to them, but her sons, especially, had caused her to worry a great deal most of their lives. Hence her constant whispering which sometimes could get so intense it sounded like hissing. 
After Max got killed, I know she was worried sick about her other drinking sons. She even came up with a scheme I thought was kind of preposterous but if it gave her any relief everybody was in favor of it. She came to my mother and told her she wanted her to drive my dad on his drinking parties, even though, mind you, my mother hated his drinking. Grandmother said she could not bear to lose another son. Mother agreed I am sure because Daddy went along with the idea.
Daddy was notorious for giving Mother the slip once he got into town and anywhere near a drinking buddy. Women weren't welcome in the pool hall, so he could always say he was going there to get rid of Mother. I don't know what Mother did once they got to Escalante, she never said, but knowing her, she would have found someone to talk to. She wasn't above flirting with Daddy's buddies either. She got so she could tolerate them quite well. Just as long as she was not married to them she could laugh and joke with guys when they were drunk as they could be.

Every weekend the partying parents would drop Margie and me off to Grandma's and off they would go. Daddy would drive before drinking but would surrender the wheel to Mother once he had got hold of a bottle of alcohol. Grandma would even give us our weekly baths while she had us, as our parents always went partying on Saturday. Grandma always liked to make sure we did not have an excuse to stay away from Sunday School.
I recall a neighbor, Alvey Leavitt, visiting around about the time we took a bath once he knew what was going on. I got very indignant as I thought he hoped to catch sight of us little girls naked. It made me mad that a grown man could be so nasty, but I did not put it past Alvey Leavitt the way he leered and peeked around Grandma who would try to direct us when we were naked away from him. She would tell Alvey to sit down and wait in the kitchen until we were through, but he would peek. I saw him!
I am sure he came for some of Grandma's sugar cookies or apple pie, too, as he was 'batching' it with another old man in a ranch house across the way named Alf Wadcott. This other old man would visit Grandma too, but not to try to see two little girls bathing. I remember I thought Grandma was kind of his girlfriend for he was quite a handsome old guy and probably always had girlfriends. He would call Grandma to come and help boost him back on his horse. Once Grandma boosted him up so far and fast he almost fell off the other side. I thought that was so funny. 
Grandma did seem to get some comfort from believing she was saving her son Clyde from getting killed from driving drunk, All that happened was that Mother got pregnant with LaRae and that put an end to her going to drive Daddy home after he had been drinking. When Mother got big enough so she was not comfortable she stayed home while Daddy continued his partying ways with no let up that I remember.
In the meantime I still have vivid memories of staying with Grandma who was very kind to us. She never saw any need to spank us once. So I was naturally a good deal more fond of her than I was of Mother who believed in spanking children for everything and anything.

 My first memory of Mother was waking up with the thought that I did not like her, that I could not remember ever liking her! She had spanked me into a good case of dislike as near as I can tell. She was just too handy with her strong hand. She could hurt a child, spanking them on their backsides, as she seemed not to know her own strength.  She would hurt their feelings even worse if they did not think they deserved it. It's not as if we were ever deliberately naughty. We knew better. 
Most of the time I thought we accidentally made her mad. And she would grab us and whale away. We would try our best not to do anything that would make her angry but that was impossible. She seemed to get angry and impatient just because we were children and it was her damned job to take care of us. How could I really love such a brutal woman?
Now I better stop before I get depressed with this family history. Next I will go into how Margie, my younger sister, acted when Mother started spanking her. It was kind of funny if it had not been so scary.


  1. interesting chapter...a lot happened in those early years.

  2. Very interesting Gerry. Put a caption to the photos so we know who's who. Names pop up before we know who they are. How about a short intro to each one as they appear, Fascinating part about jumping off of Dumbell. I could see it.


  3. I hope writing
    this brings you
    much needed relief
    in your life

  4. This is a very compelling first chapter. Your writing has amazing movement and vivid action.You cover a great deal of ground very quickly, and contrary to most memoirs or biographies that move chronologically that contains information that tends to be tedious and boring, you have achieved a great beginning, in that your first chapter hooks because the information is dramatic and character driven. So important to the beginning of a book, capture the audience immediately! Referring to DB's comment, the only name, 'popping up' that I think needs a couple of sentences to establish, is Uncle Reed, because the initial information is so jarring. Not that the surprise isn't good, I think something else to kick him into his spirit talking might be good. The only other thing I noticed was you say that your mother "could hurt a child like hell" that phrase just pops out because its out of character of the voice you have established, which is the voice of a very measured story teller. My God, though, after that whole chapter only two tiny things that I noticed is quite a feat. The voice you have established is a good one, and one that doesn't push an opinion, the actions of the characters are enough to let the audience decide easily. Writing can't get any better than that, it puts the choices of judgement and interpretation into the hands of the reader. Really, really, enjoyed the read.