Saturday, September 23, 2017


I do not know who the “Caldoni” person was for whom our vehicle was named, but I loved that I could drive around with her name on my license plate. We bought the 1949 Chevy Suburban from a friend. She (and we always referred to it as “she”) was just what we needed then. We had four children at that point, and planned to have a couple more, so the two back seats were ideal. CoolGuy rebuilt the engine: the original straight-6, and reupholstered the seats and the sun visors–matching brown corduroy. Oh, and he installed a piece of plywood on the floor in that one place to cover the little spot where the metal had a hole in it, and you could see the road underneath. Her paint color: mostly rust and primer.

Yes—it was another in a succession of $500 vehicles that we had been driving since our marriage, ten years previously. He was an enlisted Navy man, and I was a college drop-out who worked at a laundry/dry-cleaner until we had the second child. Then, I stayed home and Mom-ed. I had a couple of children who came to our house after school for day-care, so I had a small extra income. BUT–I didn’t have to work to provide a car payment–because I was married to a mechanical genius.

I simply didn’t care what the vehicle looked like–I just wanted it to start every time I put the key in, and to keep running as I drove on my Mother Errands back and forth from the doctor to the grocery store to the beach. We lived in San Diego, so I didn’t need air conditioning nor a heater that worked. I just needed to not have to wonder if I’d get stranded somewhere. Thanks to the skills of my very talented husband, I always had a successful trip.

Many people were appalled, however, at this latest ride. One friend looked at Caldonia and said, “Gosh, all you need is a dead grandma tied to the top.” (She knew I was well-read enough to get the reference.) One of our sons (a second-grader) said, “Mom, some of my friends think Caldonia is really ugly. But, I like her!” My parents didn’t say anything about it, but I’m sure the summer I arrived for a family reunion, with our four children, and me about six months pregnant, in THAT truck, they probably talked to each other privately. BUT…my husband had replaced the transmission in my dad’s cattle truck a few years prior, (my dad was a top-rate farmer, but was not mechanically inclined) so they knew that whatever I was driving was going to get me there and back.

But, some people, besides us, appreciated her. One day, two guys knocked on my door, asking if I was willing to sell it to them. They offered more than we’d paid. They begged a little, actually. No, truly, it wasn’t for sale. They needed it to cannibalize parts to fix up one they owned that was in better shape. Nope. Not for sale. I had five children by then, and every seat was taken.

Besides, she was pretty fun to drive. She had “three on the tree” transmission. I’d grown up driving pick-ups like that on our farm, so I had the skills. The starter button was on the floor. Only the front door windows could be rolled up and down–the back windows were too rusty to slide open. It had a top & bottom tailgate opening, so we could open the back a little if we wanted to get more air flow. The radio worked! (CoolGuy can fix sooo many things.)

But, eventually, we had to give up our old friend. My husband’s time in the Navy ended, and he took a job that would move us to a colder climate, closer to our families in Wyoming. We chose it, for just that reason. Caldonia was really better suited for the weather in SoCal. We didn’t have any trouble at all in finding someone who recognized her beauty and charm. And, at the same time, a civilian guy who worked with CoolGuy was retiring, and decided to buy himself a new car. He talked about how he was going to sell the old car to a junkyard for $50, and my husband offered him more than that. But, the guy refused—he took our $50 and we ended up with a 1968 Chrysler New Yorker. That co-worker had been the only owner, and no one ever actually used the back seat because the couple had no children. The odometer had 72,0000 miles! In the eighteen years he owned it, he’d only driven it back and forth to work, or out to a restaurant with his wife.

But, that’s another car story.

This is 1984 at my parent's house. We had gone up there for our olde's son's baptism. We were packed up to return to California. CoolGuy's chopper is in the trailer. He'd gone on a ride to Yellowstone with some old friends, while I'd driven around visiting with my friends.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Most Beautiful Place in the World

I was born in the most beautiful place in all the world! Seriously…according to my mom. Actually, she wasn’t wrong. Our isolated valley high in the Rocky Mountains of western Wyoming is pretty stunning to see. My great-grandparents on both sides of my family were among the original settlers. It has long winters, but even then the scenery doesn’t fail to meet the standard of spectacular. There are towering mountains, with red cliff faces, and other peaks that are blanketed with pine trees. The aspens form a fluttering skirt of pale green leaves at the base of these mountains all summer. Then those leaves turn a brilliant yellow in the autumn. A couple of rivers meander between the bordering hillsides, and supported the beaver that enticed my trapper/mountain man ancestor. Those same rivers also created succulent meadows that the farmer ancestor realized would feed dairy cows that could sustain his family. It remains a place of beauty today.

 But, when I left the Most Beautiful Place in the World, with my newly-wed Navy husband, we got to live in….the most beautiful place in the world: Southern California! The ocean! The mountains!  The sunsets! The endless fields of strawberries, tomatoes, and flowers!! Look at the black, rich soil! Why, all you have to do is drop seeds in the ground and they just grow like crazy. Seriously, I had gigantic geranium plants tumbling down the slopes of my yard. Till then, a geranium had been an exotic houseplant that my mother nurtured carefully in the south-facing windows of our farmhouse living room. Their brilliant red blooms were a vivid contrast to vast, white world that stretched beyond the glass for so many months of the world. I could never get enough of the ocean when I lived there. The sound of the waves varied from the gentle lapping in the flood control channel of Dog Beach, to the ferocious explosions when a storm smashed the roiling green water onto the rocks at Sunset Cliffs.  I couldn’t get enough of it, early in the morning, on a lazy summer afternoon with the kids, or at the end of one of those drenching rainy days, when the clouds broke up just before the sun went down, filling the sky with a whole palette of purple, blue, and gold. 

We got a job transfer. We moved 3000 miles east to the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was quite a shock. There were more trees in the county where we lived than I’d seen in my entire life, altogether. Each road was simply a tunnel of trees. Big, gorgeous, magnificent trees! Surely this had to be the most beautiful place in the world! Fall came, those trees turned red and gold and you almost had to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day just to deflect the flaming glow as you drove through those autumn tree tunnels. All the leaves fell off, eventually, leaving the tunnels just dark, damp trunks that glistened in the wintry rain. But one February morning, there were glowing, white bits of brightness peeking out from the forests of wet, leafless oak trunks. I pulled off the road to see what was catching the morning sun and gleaming out from the dull grayness. Dogwood flowers! Their symmetrical white flowers bloomed on the branches, scattered through-out the whole county. Shortly after that, we were treated to azaleas, lilacs and then more and more flowers popped up, and tiny green buds formed on the dark limbs of the maples and oaks. One afternoon, I came up over the top of a small hill, and stretched out before me was SPRING!! The stunning special greenness blanketed the whole world. Everything that grew had a blossom, then new leaves, and as the weeks moved on to the summer solstice, the green deepened and spread, and more plants contributed their blossoms to the whole effect, until it looked like what the Garden of Eden must have been. The flowering continued all summer and into the fall, as the leaves again began their changes. Even then, more plants found their time to bloom, until only the bright green holly leaves, punctuated with red berries were alone to herald the season of the herald angels. 

About a decade ago, we returned to the West. This time—the Mojave Desert. It is close enough to visit the grandchildren, but we’ll never experience 20 degrees below zero. Have you ever been here? Did you know that it is the most beautiful place on the earth? Dawn is spectacular…the sky gradually grows lighter, then the sun peeps up over the mountain obliterating all the long shadows that preceded its appearance. But sunset and twilight are even more captivating. There were so many colors of orange and purple that slowly fade from one to another. The palm trees are silhouetted against the last bit of the deep indigo blue as tiny bats swoop up and down and around, snatching their supper from the air. Desert mountains are mostly devoid of trees. Some have small, tough plants that find a way to pierce their roots through the sandstone, and grab a hold to sustain life. The tiny leaves soak up every drop of moisture that can be extracted from the meager rainfalls. But the mountains themselves are a wonder. Without the covering of plant life, their geologic story is laid bare. There are layers of colors, and patterns of swoops and swirls that reveal the upheavals of tectonic action eons ago. The colors change tones throughout the day as the sun’s rays travel across the surface of their jagged slopes. 

 How lucky can I be, huh? I’ve lived my whole life in The Most Beautiful Place in the World.