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Fighting the Urge to Nest

When we bought our Tucson house four years ago, the large entry courtyard was rocky dirt with a few succulents and cactus. Since the front of the house faces east to the beautiful Catalina Mountains, there was an inspiring view to reclaim. We wanted to create an inviting oasis to enjoy sunrise coffee or evening cocktails in the shade, surrounded by flowers. And we’re accomplishing that.

Now that the planters’ flowers and bushes are mature and it’s Spring, the quail are determined to move in and prepare their nests in our cool, secure courtyard. They don’t seem to care about the size of the pot. They’ll simply kick everything out they can and settle in. My sister-in-law, Susan Gunn, has shared stories of raising chickens and that after they put them to bed in the evening, she and Sherm toiled in the chicken yard filling holes. This morning I found my fairy garden thoroughly excavated, soil, cottage, and fairies ejected onto the pavers. Now it seems I’m tending a chickenyard. But instead of a shovel and rake, I use stones, larger fairies, and weighty whimsical stuff to fill the prospective quail nest foundations. I had to relocate the frog pond away from the fairy garden because the quail fished the tiny resin frogs out of the pond, only to toss them onto the pavers when they discovered fake frogs weren’t very tasty.

The only pot in the courtyard the quail haven’t yet tried to terraform and move into is a kalanchoe guarded by my pet metal javelina, Pig Iron. However, perhaps one of these mornings I’ll take my coffee to the courtyard to watch the sunrise and find Pig Iron on his side on the floor. A quail couple will explode out of the yellow pot, complaining loudly, laying a dark cloud of soil behind them, only to return after the sun sets on the back garden. And there it is—Clang! Pig Iron hits the bricks, sparking the eternal question—can a dedicated fairy garden horticulturist win against live quails’ urge to nest? Or can she reach detente with both flora and fauna, real and imagined, and declare peace in our garden? Perhaps we’re getting there, if this happy little garden is any indication . . . .

 

 

A Literary Disneyland–Tucson Festival of Books

This weekend I’m doing one of the things I enjoy most–meeting readers and writers promenading by the thousands at the University of Arizona’s annual Tucson Festival of Books event. This will be my third year to play at the Festival. The first year I signed at the Friends of Oro Valley Library’s booth with other Oro Valley writers. Last year as the YA category winner of the Arizona State Library’s OneBookAZ 2016 literary contest, my book tour started at the Tucson Festival where I appeared in the State Library’s booth and signed books. It was a great launch for my Arizona novel, The Haunting of Josh Weston, and I look forward to doing the Festival again this weekend. Hope to see you there!

Mmmmmelinda

The Eyes-Closed Perspective and a Decent Chardonnay

On the way home from the Arizona Library Association’s YA Summit in Prescott, AZ last week, I was invited to my niece Jenna’s birthday party at Art Therapy in Phoenix. As you can see from the photo, they had a great . . . something. My niece and her mother, my sister, are super achievers and take their “doing” very seriously. I, however, do not so much. I tend to fall in love with the idea of making something interesting and so experiment with these kinds of crafty, arty and music-making experiences. I learned long ago that I’m good for maybe a series of classes worth of said experience, then I move along, move along. One reason being–what the heck do I do with the end product of that experience? How many poorly crocheted bikinis (yes, I actually did one of those back in the early 70s) or sloppily knitted potholders does one need?

 

Jenna and Rhonda  Find Birthday Joy at Art Therapy.

Jenna and Rhonda Find Birthday Joy at Art Therapy.

I love doing the painting BYOB (and snacks) events with fun people. So far I have “done” three such parties. I’d like to say that each painting I turn out is better than the last . . . but truth be told, NAW.  I’m not interested in getting better at painting these studies in standardized acrylics, but I’m all about going to hang out with artistic hopefuls who like to play, drink wine and graze on really good snacks–which ARE getting better each time I go.

The Process. There is a process to this artistic creating. In fact, it’s so standardized and easy everyone’s paintings look pretty much the same. About thirty minutes into the teaching and our putting paint to canvas, I begin to feel kinda bored. I know what the end product in front of me is going to look like. That observational power isn’t born of second sight or prescient ability. I’ve simply looked at the paintings-in-progress around me. And if I continue to follow directions my picture will look like that, too.

Enter snacks and Chardonnay, yay! I wander over to the goodie table where we’ve laid out our extensive display of tastiness and indulge as I consider my artistic options concerning the Old Door in a Wall project. Full glass in hand and a plate of yummy in the other, I return to my seat to sip and snack and think. Then it hits me–my individual artistic interpretation. I paint the door dark blue, paint in lighted windows at the top and on the plate beside the door the number eleven. Tah Dah! The TARDIS and my favorite Doctor, Number 11 just landed in my painting. It’s brilliant! And as is the way with such endeavors, no one gets it. No one! Except after the class, the instructor/shop owner came round and exclaimed, “It’s a TARDIS! We’ve never had anyone do a TARDIS.” Turns out her husband is British and began to tell me all about his watching very early Doctor Who back in the 1960s. Personally, I wasn’t a fan then, not until 2005 and Doctor #10, when the show was retooled.

As you can see from my photo on the right, my painting looks perfect in my closed-eyes perspective apres Chardonnay. But then what doesn’t?

Mmmmelinda Closes Her Eyes and Gains Perspective

Mmmmelinda Closes Her Eyes and Gains Perspective

Speculating On The Best of Times

I enjoy speculating that rather than a being fixed position along a continuum, Time might be a fluid subjective awareness. Besides being fun, that kind of conjecture may keep me open to the possibilities of NOW.

A concept of Time can be expressed in context, such as I keep reminding myself that now is the best time in the history of publishing for a writer with a story to tell and sell directly to the reader. As such a writer, I’ve been serving as a facilitator of a Promotional CoOp of writers that is a subsection of the Oro Valley Writers Workshop in Tucson. We combine the best of past publishing experience of our members with emerging publishing alternatives and promotional opportunities in cooperative marketing operations.

The idea of a promotional cooperative occurred to me as I attended the OV Writers Workshop meetings.  I and one other author are usually the only ones with experience in traditional publishing. Most of the attending writers want to publish and are eager to learn how they can get their work to the readers, only to find that publishing the book may be the easiest part. Actually attracting readers or finding an audience can be daunting if almost a mysterious dark art. I’ve long heard, “I hate promoting. I just want to write” from multi-published authors throughout my career.

After our Promotional CoOp’s last meeting, I expressed the following to the CoOp members: As authors seeking publication today, either traditional or Indie, we’re all in business. More than any other time in the history of publishing, we authors have vast choices in how we can reach our readers. It’s my intention at Promo CoOp to demonstrate some of those options which I’ve experienced as a traditionally published, small press and now a self-published author of my backlist. As an Indie publisher, I continue to study the evolving market, the many publishing opportunities and new promotional venues going live every day. It’s a very exciting time for all of us as we each choose how we will participate in this new market. To that end, let us, as Captain Picard of the starship Enterprise (my husband Bob is often mistakenly for Sir Patrick Stewart who plays Captain Picard) says, “Make it so!”

Consequently, concerning the concept of Time in the context of Indie publishing today, let’s go with, “It was the best of times . . . .”

Mmmmmm NEWS

haunting-josh-westonHeading north to Prescott, AZ where it’s been snowing big time. Going to play with the librarians at the Arizona State Library YA Summit. I’ve just entered the PNWA 2017 Nancy Pearl Literary Award contest for published books. Hope my award-winning YA, The Haunting of Josh Weston, does well. I’m also the Sponsor of the YA Category of the PNWA 2017 Literary Contest.

 

 

Chasing Horny Toads–Christmas Magic

cht-xmasChristmas Magic

There were no bell-ringing Santas on downtown Kingman sidewalks and none in stores. Santa Claus didn’t show up until early evening on Christmas Eve at the Elks Club.

The guy in the red suit and white beard stood at one end of the hall by a huge tree with lots of lights and decorations. Kids and parents entered the front doors and formed a line to chat with Santa. My sister was too shy to talk to him and hung back with Mother and Dad. My conversation with Santa Claus was brief because I figured by this late date what was done was indeed done. Nothing I said at that moment would influence what showed up under the tree in the morning.

We headed to the table where the Elks handed out Christmas stockings made of red netting to each child and took ours. The disappointment began on the way to the car when I opened the top of my stocking. The unshelled nuts were okay, especially the walnuts, but the orange and the ribbon hard candy were heartbreaking. What I would have given for one of our chocolates or a piece of fruitcake, but those goodies were all gone.

Bedtime was 8 o’clock for the little kids. I was five years older, so mine was at 8:30, giving me alone time with the gifts under the tree. But Mother announced she and Dad were going to bed and that I should, too. I felt cheated, even a little mad. I’d show them. When they went to bed, I’d sneak into the living room and hide behind the overstuffed chair. Then I could play with the presents all I wanted and maybe catch a glimpse of Santa making his deliveries. I’d discover how he really got in the house, probably through our front door because it wasn’t locked. We didn’t have a fireplace, just a single 220 space heater.

I waited a couple of minutes and tucked in behind the chair. When I woke up it was too dark in the room to see anything, not even the tree. Had Santa come and gone? I was too sleepy to investigate and dragged myself back to bed.

Gift previewing began before sunup. I crept into the living room and began to feel my way around. Couldn’t really see, but my fingers interpreted most soft lumps and hard things as probably mine. I went back to bed and waited for dawn, or for the little kids to wake up so I could direct their explorations and blame them for waking Mother and Dad. After several more single and accompanied trips to the tree, I called out, “Mother, come see what Santa brought us.”

Mother wandered out in her robe, turning on lights and bringing order to Christmas chaos. Then Dad appeared barefoot in Levis and a white t-shirt, wielding his new movie camera with a light bar as bright as the sun. All Dad’s Christmas movies featured smiling, red-faced, squinting children and his wife making silent joyful noises and go-away-don’t-film-me gestures.

Paper and ribbon heaped high, opened gifts spilling out of boxes, as laughter and happy chatter filled our little house. Then it was time to get dressed and arrange our gifts on our beds, while Mother started the turkey baking in the electric roaster oven.

We grabbed our gifts and hurried to the bedroom to get dressed, make our beds and lay our gifts out for all to admire. We had to make it fast because Dad was in the living room un-decorating the tree. That meant he would soon be gathering the mountain of paper, boxes and any presents left on the floor to haul out to the trash with the tree. We absolutely knew we lost great gifts in Dad’s Christmas Day decorations purge but couldn’t prove it.

Mother prepared Christmas dinner pretty much singlehandedly, and it made her a bit cranky. As I got older I was allowed to stuff celery with pimento cheese from a jar, slide jelled cranberry sauce onto a plate, put black olives on a relish tray and set the table.

There were seldom guests or other relatives invited, except for my grandmother who breezed in fifteen minutes before dinner was served at 2:00, dress to impress. She always looked and acted so regal, which encouraged our best table manners, such as they were. Granny probably thought she’d dined with coyote pups, as she breezed out the door shortly after pie.

Leftovers put away for later feasting, we girls would wash the dishes afterward, which I thought terribly unfair because Mother used every pan in the kitchen. After the kitchen was cleaned, we’d show off our gifts to Mom and Dad and play with each other’s new toys.

Another Rucker Christmas would slip into memory as we climbed into bed to dream of sand wash sledding, perfect Christmas trees and six Hershey bars.

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Tale–Sandwash Sledding

cht-xmasSand Wash Sledding

 The Sunday two weeks before Christmas, Dad hooked up his hunting buggy, Sputnik, to the back of the pickup. Mother packed a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches made with lots of mayonnaise and chopped onion, Fig Newton cookies, fruit and a jug of instant iced tea or lemonade. She didn’t buy soda pop.

Dad always maintained a sort of chuck box in his vehicle that held survival essentials for a picnic or stranding. The rectangular metal box usually contained a loaf of Rainbow bread, a bottle of French’s yellow mustard, an onion, a couple of cans of Spam and Hershey bars. And a pint of Canadian Club whiskey for warming emergencies. He also threw in a machete, a length of heavy tow chain with hooks on the ends and the giant jack. We would need them all at some point on our Christmas tree hunting party.

The weather was usually sunny, windy and the temperature in the fifties.

The five of us piled into the pickup’s cab and drove up to the Hualapai Mountains foothills. Dad turned off on a rutted dirt road and drove about a mile through the scruffy junipers, cactus, and scrub oak. He parked off the road and unhitched Sputnik. We loaded the gear in Sputnik’s small bed. My sister Rhonda and I rode on top of the spare tire. Dad and Mother sat on the front seat with my little brother because he got carsick in the back.

Maybe it was my praying that saved me from that miserable mal de auto my sister and brother suffered on these thrill rides. More likely I didn’t get sick because I didn’t like running behind the car. Which was my dad’s cure for car sickness. My brother could have been a marathon star for all the training miles he put in behind various vehicles during his childhood.

Dad loved driving Sputnik off road, over boulder fields and side-hilling in steep terrain, taking us where no wheeled vehicle had gone before. I preferred easing down sand washes that flowed through rock-walled canyons. The smooth ride over the sand was what I imagined riding in a horse-drawn sleigh over snow was like. I asked Dad if that were so because he knew pretty much everything.

“I don’t know. Haven’t been sledding in the snow. But I have an idea.” He stopped beside a big clump of cat’s claw bushes and ordered everyone out. Dad pulled the tow chain from the back, hooked one end to Sputnik’s spring shackle and dragged the other end to the bushes. “Stand back,” he yelled and climbed in the driver’s seat. The engine revved, wheels spun sand, the chain snapped taut and Sputnik leaped forward. A rusty boat-looking thing popped out of the cat’s claw on the chain’s hook.

“Hop on, kids,” Dad called, grinning. “Let’s go sand wash sledding.”

“No, Raymond,” Mother cried, spreading her arms to hold us back. “What is that thing? It looks dangerous!”

“It’s a 1939 DeSoto car hood,” he said proudly. “A great car.” His smile faded at her worried expression and he added, “Perfectly safe. I’ll go slow.”

And away we went on our first desert sleigh ride to the tune of Jingle Bells . . .

Big sister

Little sister,

Baby brother, too

Dashing through a desert sand wash

On an upside down car hood

Behind a 65 horse V-8 open sleigh

On an Arizona December day.

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Story–Christmas Goodies

cht-xmasChristmas Goodies

In my family, the term goodies has always referred to tasty treats, usually sweet and often chocolatey. My mother was not a baker. She bought cookies in bags and made cakes from boxed mixes, which were usually off because I developed a taste for dry cake mix that I sneaked out of the bottom of the box.

Mother knew how to order the best goodies for Christmas. I found where she stashed them in the hall linen cabinet. Individually wrapped caramels were the only candy left. Not my favorite but I was starving for goodies and glommed down half the box. And instantly felt like I was about to explode. So I shared the rest with my little sister and brother.

“Melinda Kay!” Mother yelled a few minutes later. “Come here!”

Another in a long chain of UH-OH moments ensued and would have launched me out the front door and down the street if I’d felt well enough. I sluggishly pulled myself to the hall.

Mother stood at the open cabinet, holding two handfuls of empty caramel wrappers. “What in heaven’s name is the meaning of this?”

Ahhh, there it was, Mother’s eternal question—of imponderables such as President Eisenhower’s continual golfing, the popularity of Sack dresses, what my little brother had done in his training pants, and my ever flawed behavioral choices.

“Ummm.” It was too close to Christmas for truth. Maybe if I could throw up, that would change the outcome of this impending clash. I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“These aren’t candy. They’re my diet Aides caramels to help me lose weight.”

I leveled an appraising gaze on my always round little mother. “Do they work?”

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Story–Wish Booking Vs Reality

cht-xmasMmmmmmmmelinda Remembers WishBooking Vs Reality

Now that I was off the Naughty List, however temporarily, there was lots of holiday stuff to do and Mother was in charge.

She was an absolute magician at providing a great Christmas for us year after year on a limited budget. Because she was busy raising three kids, working a part time job and running a household, she had to start her Christmas planning months before December. If what she wanted and could afford wasn’t available in the few local stores, and it usually wasn’t, she would have to travel 100 miles north to Las Vegas or south 165 miles to Phoenix. Consequently, catalogs were her shopping go-to.

The Sears Christmas Catalog, known affectionately as the Wishbook, was our hotline to Santa Claus’ workshop.

It never occurred to me to write a letter to the jolly old elf, because I didn’t know what I wanted for Christmas until I opened that glorious book with glossy pictures of every toy and joy imaginable. Mother loved the hours we kids spent dreaming through that catalog. She encouraged us to choose and compare. Turn down the page corners, scribble crayon circles around favorite toys. But that was just to keep us busy, I realized rather late, like when I was in my twenties.

Mother had already decided what we were each going to get for Christmas. It was with the arrival of the Sears Catalog that she craftily began her campaign to convince us we’d really wanted what Santa brought. And it went something like this:

“Oh, look, Melinda! There’s that beautiful, big nurse doll you like,” Mother exclaimed, pointing to a row of boxed dolls lined up on top of the long produce case at Table Supply Market. “She even has a white uniform and a cap just like Granny’s.”

I dearly loved my maternal grandmother. She was a grand, magical and mysterious woman who delivered babies at midnight and slept in the day. She wore a white dress, a strange hat and a short blue cape that gave her the power to help people, save them, even. I didn’t see my grandmother nearly often enough. And that two-foot tall doll with blue eyes and short honey blond hair didn’t look a thing like her.

But the doll stood inside a blue steamer trunk with Cunard Line stickers on the sides that promised exotic adventure.

Nurse doll, Kathy Kay showed up under the tree one Christmas morning, though I didn’t remember asking for her or any other doll. But Santa Claus always knows what often-good little girls want, Mother explained.

He sure did! My eyes locked on that exciting blue steamer truck full of beautiful clothes on little pink hangers—velvet bodice on a plaid taffeta long formal gown, a dotted Swiss nightie with robe, a red, white and blue checked coat with bonnet that went with a navy blue pleated shirt and white top, a yellow corduroy three piece travel suit, and a pink and white dress with matching tam.

Mother said that my Auntie Evelyn had sewn all the pretty clothes for Nurse Kathy because Santa didn’t have time. I briefly pondered the logistics of that arrangement, but soon got lost in packing and unpacking that magnificent steamer trunk in imaginary glamorous ports of call, while the barefoot doll shivered in her white underpants in the closet

So began my lifelong love affair with luggage.

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Tale–Chocolates and a Machete

cht-xmasChocolates and a Machete

Christmas tree hunting in the Arizona high desert was hungry work. The six Hershey bars in Dad’s chuck box tormented me with the naughty question: Who gets chocolate bar number six in a family of five?

There would be no answer to that until we stopped for lunch, which wouldn’t happen until Dad found the right spot. He was very choosy about picnic location—there had to be water. Since he didn’t carry any water on our outings that meant we’d be lunching at some stock tank with a screeching windmill again. Babbling brooks or golden ponds ideal for picnicking were not to be found in the Mohave Desert.

I once asked Dad why we didn’t have a canvas water bag hanging from our car like the tourists flowing through Kingman on Route 66.

“Don’t need it,” he said and gave me a big wink. “Besides, big boys don’t carry water.”

Years later when I asked the question again, Dad remembered when he was a little boy growing up on the Rucker ranch on the Colorado River, that his father, big brother, and men used to ride out for the work day without canteens. Hence, a little cowboy, longing to be a big one, believed that big boys don’t carry water. Because a Rucker can find it in the desert or learn to do without. About noon, Sputnik rolled into a small clearing with a big round, three foot high, metal stock tank. A tall windmill’s blades squawked leisurely around in the light breeze, pumping a trickle of water through a pipe into the top of the open tank.

Eureka! Dad’s perfect picnic spot. He let down Sputnik’s tailgate and Mother unpacked the lunch on it while we kids milled around the clearing.

“Rhonda, don’t climb on the tank,” Mother called and handed Dad a tuna sandwich. She opened the Fig Newtons and poured him a paper cup of iced tea.

“Don’t touch that!” Mother yelled at my little brother. He dropped the cow pie.

Dad set his food on the tailgate. He picked up my brother and held him over the water tank. “Wash,” he ordered. Gary splashed his little hands in the cold water.

My sister came running, “I want to wash my hands, too.” She got her turn as I stalked the Hershey bars in the open chuck box.

Everything in that box was Dad’s property, which we did not touch unless invited. Had he forgotten them? Would he share? I chewed it over as I munched my tuna sandwich.

Even in winter, when the food came out yellow jacket wasps zoomed around us, making touch and go landings on our sandwiches. Everyone knows yellow jackets prefer Chicken of the Sea, but they will just as happily take a bite out of soft, young kidskin. And they scared us kids badly.

We ran around the tank, flapping arms, screaming and dodging wasps, while Dad and Mother lunched together, chatting and laughing, on Sputnik’s front seat. Finally, Dad reached into the back and pulled out the machete. “Kids, it’s time to get your tree.” He handed me the long, sharp knife and nodded toward the biggest hill. “Head up there and pick out a tree. If you need help chopping it down, yell.”

Wooooohoooo! I got to pick out our Christmas tree and chop it down, too! I loped up the hill with the little kids running to catch up with me.

“Let’s get this one. It’s just my size,” Rhonda said, putting one hand on top of the short bush and the other on her own head.

“That’s not a Christmas tree. It’s a baby juniper,” I chided. “It’s too little, anyway. We need a really big tree.”

Higher and higher we climbed into the piñon pines and IT there stood all by itself—tall, fat, and kind of pointy at the top. The perfect Christmas tree.

For such a big tree, not much of the trunk showed beneath the low branches. I circled it, looking for the right place to start chopping. I couldn’t wait to yell, “TIMBER!”

“Stand back!” I ordered the little kids and grabbed the black electric tape-wrapped handle with both hands. I swung hard.

Bong! The blade bounced off the bark, and my stinging hands almost dropped it. The machete had barely made a mark on the trunk. I backed up and reconsidered my attack.

“Let me do it,” my sister demanded. “I know how.”

“No! I’m supposed to do it.” I swung again. And again. And again. All the machete did was make the tree mad. It shook off short needles and pinecones. And threw sticky pitch at me. I was covered with it.

“Daaaad,” I yelled down the hill.

He was leaning back, feet up on Sputnik’s dash, his tan stockman’s Stetson pulled down over his eyes. Dad sat up and jumped out. He jogged up the hill and inspected my tree. “What’s the problem?”

“I don’t think I know how to cut a tree,” I confessed and handed him the machete. Even though he hadn’t really told me how I felt like I should have been able to cut that tree down. And I was pretty sure he did, too.

He made several quick chops. The tree bent over. One more chop and it separated from the stump. Dad grabbed the tree by the thickest branch and dragged it off the hill. We ran along behind our beautiful tree and tried to help him load it in the back of Sputnik. The job got done with some crushing and cracking, especially when my sister and I sat on it for the ride back to the pickup.

When we got home, Mother herded her three pitch-covered, grimy children into the bathroom to clean up. Dad fit the tree to the stand he’d made from the steel front wheel of an old tractor. It wasn’t painted or finished, just wiped of grease and dirt, and, most important, functional, which bothered me even then. Dad and I would have discussions over the years about my “concern for appearance”, he called it. Then he would repeat his personal mantra, “Shine she may run she must.”

Of course, my perfect tree was anything but. In and out of the house it went; Dad whacking off trunk and limbs until it fit not only through the front door but in the small living room. The huge hole was turned to the back, which unfortunately was to the picture window.

Once cleaned up and in our jammies, we kids decorated the tree and each other with tinsel. Yes, we threw it. Mother was very allowing of our Christmas decorating. We made paper chains and hung them around the room and on the tree along with anything else we thought pretty enough.

Every night we’d turn on the tree lights, turn off the lamps and put a record on the hi-fi stereo. Mother and Dad loved music, big band, pop and popular singers. We sat around the glittering tree, listening to Johnny Mathis sing Chances Are, and sorted our wrapped gifts into appropriate piles. We nearly wore them out by Christmas Eve, the most magical day of the year when all wishes can come true, even in Kingman, Arizona.

 

Chasing Horny Toads–Desert Christmas Tales

cht-xmasAuthor’s Note

 As a young girl growing up in northwestern Arizona’s Mohave Desert in the 1950s, I was mystified by Christmas songs about merry gentlemen wassailing, fa-la-la-ing in holly-decked halls, and riding in a one horse open sleigh across the snow.

I was the first child of a pair of wunderkind, busy growing kids and fortune in the tiny town of Kingman on Route 66. I’d never dashed through the snow in a sleigh but had often bounced around the desert in an open heap of welding and engine named Sputnik. My mechanical genius father built Sputnik on a Ford Model A frame as an off road hunting buggy and Christmas tree hauler. The vehicle was named Sputnik because Dad drove it so fast over rough terrain that passengers could be launched into space. He considered four-wheel drive a waste of money. Dad had faith in his proven ability to put any vehicle between whatever rock and a hard place he wanted. And get it unstuck, often with a monstrous jack that his truck seldom left home without. Thank God!

I learned to pray on Rucker family outings while side-hilling through the steep, cactus and juniper studded foothills of the Hualapai Mountains and bumping over the rocky plains down to the Colorado River. Dad knew that handsome and terrible desert like his own face and he wanted his children to love it as he did. Perhaps it was because I’d become a really good pray-er that our family was blessed with interesting times we not only lived through but enjoyed. Mostly.

So it is with gratitude and a joyful heart that I offer these Christmas tales of a magical Arizona childhood with my parents, Raymond and Norma Jean Rucker, and the little kids—my sister, Rhonda and my brother, Gary.

Melinda Rucker Haynes

 

On Santa’s Naughty List

There were rules about Christmas at our house.

In addition to the constant threat of getting on Santa’s Naughty List—apparently Mother had a secret reporting line to Ole Saint Nick—there would be no tree or decorating until two weeks before December 25.

Nothing Christmasy dared show up in Kingman before the first week in December, except the Sears & Roebuck Christmas Catalog.

And there weren’t any fresh cut tree lots in our windblown high desert town. Most families we knew ventured out to the foothills of the Hualapai Mountains some ten miles south of town to cut their own scrawny piñon pine trees.

My grandmother, a nurse at Mohave County General Hospital, never hunted Christmas trees with us. She ordered in a shiny aluminum FAKE tree which she decorated with blue lights and matching glass balls. That astonishing anachronism stood the next twenty Christmases in her Craftsman bungalow filled with Mission-style furniture and Navajo rugs and baskets. However, this Desert Christmas Tale isn’t about decorating or trees, but how I found myself on Santa’s Naughty List.

The days following Thanksgiving to the first of December were a particularly mercurial time for me and the other Baby Boomer kids in our neighborhood known to some as Fertile Acres. Emotions and energy ran high, often coming out in outrageous boasting like “Santa’s gonna bring me a new bike because I’ve been really good.”

Nobody was that good! That kind of stupid talk necessarily resulted in shin-kicking combat to crippling death if the bragger didn’t shut up.

A neighbor boy started in one bright, windy December day about how good he was—at just about everything. An outright lie. I’d overheard some neighbors gossip that his big family was struggling, with what I wasn’t sure. But I did know I had to cut him some slack because it was near Christmas and he was one of eight or fifteen kids. So I didn’t argue or kick him when he challenged me to a contest to see who could throw a rock through our open garage window without hitting the glass.

Tommy’s aim was all wrong. His rock thwacked the stucco wall beneath the high window. I found a bigger rock, a boulder, really. Took aim and loosed my winning throw through the open window and CRACK! I raced around the corner of the garage to the front, looking for my rock.

“I don’t see it. It didn’t go in,” Tommy crowed and pushed past me into the garage to the front of our family’s two-tone Ford Crown Victoria.

“Yes, it did. I win!” I grabbed up my rock from the concrete floor, waving it at Tommy.

Tommy’s eyes bugged and his mouth dropped open. “Uh ohhhhh.”

I came closer to see what the uh oh was about.

Mother and Dad were going to kill me!

My winning rock had shattered the windshield of the first brand new car of two hardworking children of the Depression!

Tommy evaporated. I was left alone considering my pending Number One position on Santa’s Naughty List. Maybe I could somehow save my Christmas with good, plain truth, which, according to Mother, I was not exactly known for. I took a deep breath and death marched into the house where my parents learned their formerly beloved first born was the unfortunate idiot who was playing with a tiny stone that mistakenly flew through the garage window and the car somehow got scratched.

“Oh my God!” Mother shrieked and grabbed up the phone.

She really did have a direct line to Santa!

I dashed out the back door, across the dirt yard to the detached garage. Dad stood beside his new car with the broken windshield, hands on hips, shaking his head.

Could I persuade him to cut the telephone wire to the house, do something, anything to keep Mother from phoning Santa Claus?

I was in tears now and pretty scared. “Daddy, it was an accident. Does Mother really have to call Santa Claus about what I did?”

His lips tweaked up at the corners as he fixed his twinkling blue eyes on me. “She’s not calling Santa Claus. Mother’s reporting your accident to State Farm Insurance.”

Joy to the world!