Just in time for Halloween, my two award-winning ghost story ebooks are on sale for the next three days at Amazon.com. Hurry and pick them both up for .99 each for the next 24 hours because the price will increase $1.00 each day until they reach the full price. It’s a special promotion on Kindle Countdown Deals.
Archive for the ‘Little Arizona Stories’ Category
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 . . . .
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.
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 . . .
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.
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?”
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!
Winning the ONEBOOKAZ 2016 Young Adult eBook award in March 2016 kicked off a marvelous adventure of touring Arizona’s libraries with my young adult novel, The Haunting of Josh Weston. My roadie, Bob, and I started with the Tucson Festival of Books. Seven libraries and hundreds of miles later our tour ended in Chandler, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb. The librarians and their patrons were so much fun, booklovers every one!
ONEBOOKAZ is at an end and my book is the last YA novel winner. There aren’t going to be anymore ONEBOOKAZ contests and awards. It was suggested that I make available paperbacks of my book for tour signings and for book clubs and libraries to order. The ebook edition was available on the ONEBOOKAZ site for Arizonans to read for free during the tour. Now that ONEBOOKAZ is ended and the free online reading no longer available, Sonrisa Multimedia has published an electronic Kindle edition on Amazon.com of The Haunting of Josh Weston
This little Arizona ghost story has been very good to me, and the book’s fans aren’t just limited to my family and friends and other Arizonans. It was nominated for three national awards, prior to winning the ONEBOOKAZ contest. Now with the paperback and Kindle ebook editions available, I’m hearing from teens and from the growing audience of adult readers who enjoy stories about weird families living and learning together, despite the stimulating meddling of a crazy ghost or two.
I’ve always treasured librarians. My mother-in-law is a retired librarian, who trained her son in the dark art of cataloguing and organizing data. That’s what brought us together. I needed help organizing data for an adult education research project I was directing at UNLV and Bob stepped into my office with exactly the skillset the project (and I) required. Then and now. He’s ever my beloved patron and currently serving as a roady for my book tour of Arizona libraries.
Last Saturday Bob the Roady and I toured to the Tempe Library for their Book Festival. What a wonderful venue for booklovers and authors to meet each other in a beautiful setting. The Arizona State Library hosted me and my OneBookAZ 2016 literary contest winning book, The Haunting of Josh Weston, at a great table downstairs outside the Teen Room. I also served on a Teen Reviewer panel and got updated on their favorite reads, as well as what they saw as the new hotness in YA books. Dystopian fantasy is still of interest, but super heroes are the next big thing for some. I say how about a cool ghost story set on a hidden ranch in northwestern Arizona?
We’re at the Yuma Library on Saturday, April 23, at 2:00. I’ll be giving a workshop on the Power of Place in Your Story, as well as signing books. See you there, I hope!
I like to believe I was born in the perfect place, to the perfect parents at a perfect time for what I wanted to accomplish in this life. But I was restless. From that 2:00 o’clock hour on a scorching August afternoon in Northwestern Arizona when 8.3 pound me was pulled out of a 100 pound young Norma Jean, I dreamed of being somewhere else. Anywhere. Anytime. And I was in a hurry to get there.
I didn’t appear in this world with travelin’ shoes, just the lifelong urge to find some that actually fit. One early day my long, even then, feet carried three year old me out the front door and down the unpaved street. I made it several dusty, hot blocks to the first sidewalk of downtown Kingman before a pickup truck pulled up beside me.
“Where are you going, Melinda?”
I looked straight ahead and kept walking. Faster now as I was about to pass the slouchy wood building with sagging screen doors opening on the street, a creepy place where funny old men “flopped” and little girls must beware.
The pickup stopped, blocking my escape. “Melinda,” the driver repeated, climbing out of the cab, “where’s your mother?”
Blistering wind whirled dust around me in a miniature tornado. My eyes stung as I squinted at my options: floppy old men lurking on my left and right in front of me, Mrs. Oswalt, a tall mother in a cotton dress whipping around her long legs who confined her little boy in the truck where she intended to capture me.
She took my sweaty little paw and bent eye level with me. “Where are you going, honey?”
I gave up and announced, “I’m going to the Corky Pig!” I let her lead me to the pickup.
She stopped and looked down at me with a frown. “But that’s way up on Hilltop. A couple of miles from here.” She continued to mutter this refrain the whole ride home as if to make an impression upon me of the impossibility of my quest. When my mother answered the door, Mrs. Oswalt pushed me forward, releasing my hand, and repeated this horror story to her.
As long as my mother lived, when we talked about my congenital wanderlust, she would protest how she hadn’t even realized I had left my room to walk to the Corky Pig, a hole-in-the-wall barbeque place miles away from our little house. They’d taken me there one time. “And it wasn’t that good,” Mom would always laugh.
But as the Mmmmmmelinda song goes: When a girl’s born restless and has a taste for adventure, she’ll put on her big boots that are made for walkin’. That’s just what she’ll do and walk all over—for barbeque. Or to the Dairy Queen with a penny, but that’s another sunny tale.