Monday, June 27, 2011

My First Trip to Jail and the Cardboard House

My first trip to jail was with my Dad, Bob when I was about six years old in 1955. My baby brother, Mathew, Mom, Dad and I were living around the Bluewater Lagoon in Parker, Arizona on the Colorado River in a mini travel trailer parked next to a cardboard house. The cardboard house was our den. It was a big room made from disassembled very sturdy packing boxes. There were two or three open air windows and a door way without a door and a flat roof. Inside the structure was a propane stove, old ice box and a few lawn chairs with a army cot bed. The cardboard shack was our entertainment center back before any poor folks owned a TV. It was where I cooked up my first gourmet mustard and onion sandwich at the tender age of six. (No wonder I prefer to eat out to this day over cooking at home.)

Nearby our home, I learned, after trying to smoke with another young juvenile boy, that I didn’t have the stomach to smoke tobacco. The cigarette we smoked no doubt was one I had rolled for my Dad and Mom with their loose leaf tobacco, rolling papers and cigarette roller. Rolling smokes was something for me to do and as a kid and I enjoyed doing it. My child mind at some point decided to actually try smoking. The neighbor boy down the road and I gave it a try. Afterwards I vomited profusely. Dad found out, laughed, figured I learned my lesson and at the age of six I gave up on smoking tobacco.

It was also there I learned about quick sand. I was warned about the potential threat on the river bank. It was also here that I had my first clue that there was a difference in the male and female anatomy. This discovery came while out swimming in the Colorado River at the Blue Lagoon. That same trouble making boy smoker asked me to show him my “hamburger” and in exchange he would show me his “hot dog“. The “show” never took place, thankfully. Later after asking my Dad what the kid was talking about, Dad advised me it would be best for me to avoid that boy at all costs thereafter.

Some way or another about this time we came by a couple of ducks. They each took to nesting under the back wheels of my Dad’s car and one day when he was backing up, he accidentally ran over them both. I was devastated, my Dad felt horrible and it was my first taste of death.

Many evenings as the huge golden desert sun would set in the west, my parents, baby brother and I would take walks on the banks of the Colorado River. On one such walk we met an older, generous kind couple. They must have felt sorry for me, going barefoot in the hot desert sun because the next day they brought me a new pair of shoes, toys and miscellaneous treats! One evening shortly thereafter as we were taking one of our customary walks, my parents strayed ahead of my brother Matt and I. Matt, was learning to crawl, and suddenly he commenced to crawl like a wild hyena right into the Colorado River and commence to try and drink the river dry. Now having this very rare pair of new shoes, I suffered my first dilemma. Should I get my new shoes wet and dirty, or go get my brother and try to save him from choking to death on the river water and join the dead ducks on the other side of the rainbow? Although I saved my brother from the grasp of the water and drowning, there are times I wonder if I made a mistake. (Chuckle)

Speaking of water, our drinking water during this period was pumped and hauled from a small rural public pump near by and of course, we bathed in the Colorado River. (All good practice for my future life in Alaska). We were poorer than dirt and needless to say there were no jobs in the desert vicinity, which didn‘t help financial matters. Dad’s car tires were wearing thin and with our constant coming and going across country, flat wearing out. One day, while out and about getting water, Dad spotted some tires in a field he thought were abandoned, perhaps a gift from Heaven. Actually they were placed there by the Devil, I decided later. The Devil must have wanted my Dad to get arrested for “stealing tires”. The local police picked my Dad and me up shortly after we retrieved the tires from the field. They took us to the local jail and I fought my first police man as he tried to unlock my hands from around my Dad’s neck. It was my intention to stay with Dad at all costs. Someway they managed to unlock my 5 year old grip and my Dad spent the night there in jail. They took me back to stay with my poor Mom and baby brother alone for one very, very long night.

The next day Dad was released from jail but without getting to keep the tires. Then we headed further south down the road with our crappy mini travel trailer and lousy tires to live in El Centro. There I attended kindergarten and Dad would look for some sort of job. Saying goodbye to the cardboard house and the Colorado River was a piece of cake. It would be fifty-five years (March 2010) before I returned to that exact area with my dog Moonshine and husband. Moon would swim where I had as a five year old. The cardboard house was long gone, as well as the empty desert vistas and in its place were oodles of manufactured homes. Oh the changes time does bring.

My Moonshine in the Bluewater Lagoon March 2010

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bedtime Prayers with Dad by My Side

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1940s
During the times I lived with my parents as a small child, my Dad was without a doubt my favorite biological parent. My poor Mom was someone I tolerated, God Bless her and may she rest in peace. The most memorable bedtime ritual for me was Dad having me repeat the Lord’s Prayer after him. This nightly occurrence started when I was about age five. Eventually I memorized it. Sometimes we would say the other simpler and shorter prayer that went: “Now I lay me down to sleep, if I should die before I wake, pray my Lord, my soul to take“. We would end this mini prayer with “God Bless” any and everybody we could think of blessing.
In retrospect I’m surprised my Dad even knew the Lord‘s prayer much less taught it to me, his first born.

My Dad, Robert Thomas Phillips, was the second baby son and final child of older parents. His father, my grandfather, Thomas was born in 1877 and fought in the Spanish American War in the Phillipines. Dad’s Mom, my first name namesake and paternal grandmother, Mary was born in 1890 in upstate NY. Both grandparents were products of the Victorian Age. Dad was two years younger than his older brother, Howard, a lifelong bachelor and small time mystery writer.

Dad was born September 2, 1922 in East Syracuse, NY. Bob, as Dad was commonly called was raised as a non practicing Catholic and most of his life was actually a wantabe pagan. However from time to time Dad would practice religion to the point of even becoming a licensed minister in the late 1980s in Carbondale, Illinois. This I know to be true as I have a photo of Dad performing a wedding there outdoors. What church licensed Dad, God only knows.

Although Dad was born on Labor Day, he really wasn’t into working. Dad became well educated and respected education to no end, always encouraging me to obtain a college degree no matter what, but my Dad was lazy and messy. He was the baby of his family what can I say? The second child of much wanted children and spoiled. 

After high school Dad went to Wilson’s Teacher’s college in Washington D.C. but dropped out and began his working career as a small time baseball player. He played in Georgia while trying his hand at acting. He got married but his first wife was killed shortly after in a car wreck in Chicago. He eventually joined the army in WWII where he served briefly as a cook. Dad and Mom met after WWII by both writing and exchanging letters to the “Lonely Hearts Club Magazine“. They dazzled one another with fabricated stories on how wealthy they each were.  Mom said she was an aspiring actress living temporarily in Oklahoma and Dad a rancher from Wyoming living temporarily with his parents in upstate New York. Once they married in January 1948, after honeymooning in Niagara Falls, Dad had a heart shape tattoo on his right arm stating “Bob loves Bobbie“. Dad eventually graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1971 with a degree in Social Work. It so happened to be the same year I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in secondary education.

Dad tried his hand at many professions like myself. My all time favorite as a kid was when he drove a Good Humor Ice Cream Truck in Southern Cali. When I was a toddler Dad worked in the Chicago steel mills until Mom and he decided they would be better off in California mainly because it wasn‘t near as cold. In LA Dad worked briefly as a welder. Eventually my folks became dependant on the government for supporting their growing family of five. It all began during President Johnson‘s War on Poverty. So to say my Dad knew the social work and welfare system from the inside out is an understatement, and for him to obtain a degree in it, only seemed fitting. After Dad finished this degree in 1971 he got a job driving cab in Carbondale, something he was doing in the 1940s in Chicago when I was born. He always said driving cab was his primary profession.

Dad was a Liberal with a capital L, even to the point of being accused of being a Communist during the 1950 McCarthy era. When I was five years old in Southern California, before Dad took me back to my grandparents in Oklahoma to live, that there were two grim looking men in black suites that came to our door asking to speak to Mr. Phillips. Although not quite 5, I knew it wasn‘t a good will visit. Fortunately Mom was there and began hollering for Dad and carrying on so much that I think the FBI ended up feeling sorry for him and let the whole thing go. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Dad would probably more accurately be described as a socialist, being for the underdog and the oppressed working class. However in 1973, Dad made a historic statement by painting his car with anti-Nixon statements and driving it from Carbondale, Illinois to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a very conservative area. My folks were there to visit my first husband, me and my Grandfather Robert. There is a photo postcard my brother, Matt, made of my Dad’s special Impeach Nixon car while in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It happens to have my Okie maternal Grandfather Robert looking on with disgust and disbelief.

Now if there were ever two people diametrically opposite it was definitely my Dad and my maternal grandfather Robert Hillary DeLozier.  At my first wedding September 4th, 1971 Grandpa Robert was the one who “gave me away“.  Dad arrived late at the First Christian Church. He said he got lost. I don’t think so. He’d been a cab driver in Chicago and been to the small town of Chelsea, Oklahoma many, many times. I think Dad was hurt and maybe embarrassed because I hadn’t asked him to do the “giving away” bit.  I hope he  understood that since I’d lived with Grandpa, his father in law all through high school and before, spending college summers working while living with Grandpa, as well as other vacations, it seemed like Grandpa was the right person to ask. Plus I married into a big time Republican Oklahoma Oil family and of course Dad did not approve.  In the end the marriage only laste 7 years.  It was a bad fit for me from the beginning and of course an even bigger disappointment for my liberal Dad who conveniently couldn't find the church on time that wedding day.

Robert (Bob) Thomas Phillips circa 1990s

Dad passed April 18, 1999 in Carbondale, Illinois 14 months after Mom's passing.  He died in the VA hospital. Although we didn't always see eye to eye, I sure miss talking with him and repeating those nightly prayers together.

Mary Alta Buckingham - Memoir  of my Dad 2/25/2008, revised 6/6/2012 for Father's Day 6/10/2012

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” and My Grandpa Robert

The most influential person in my life and still is to some degree was my maternal grandfather, Robert Hillary DeLozier of predominantly French American descent. Grandpa was born June 15, 1902 in Chelsea, Oklahoma and died there leap year February 24, 1988. My Grandpa was the antithesis of my Dad, his son in law, Bob Phillips. Both people very dear to me, but as opposite as night and day. Grandpa Robert loved to work, was not well educated, only completed the second grade, but encouraged me to excel in school and provided me the opportunity to do so. He was clean and tidy to a fault and although never rich, very thrifty. His favorite sayings included “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. I learned early on these wise adages do simplify and enrich life without a doubt.
Robert DeLozier circa 1940s

Upon rising in the morning the first thing my Grandfather expected any household member or guest to do was wash their face, brush their teeth, comb their hair and dress. Absolutely under no circumstances was one allowed into the kitchen or to be seen by others until these items were completed. To this day I still consider this to be the mark of civilized mankind and am appalled at those who do not live by the same code.

Now I would never say my Grandpa Robert was a saint, for he loved to smoke his cigars or a pipe, and he’d have a nip or two or three of whiskey every Saturday night. The whiskey was suppose to be hidden in his bathroom clothes closet. On Saturday nights while watching Lawrence Welk or the Tulsa wrestling matches on TV, Grandpa made several trips to the bathroom and yes he always came out smiling.

When my Grandmother Alta died suddenly of a stroke at 60 and I was 15, Grandpa rose to the occasion and became a surrogate Mom for me until I graduated high school. He fortunately had raised three daughters, so he had experience with girls. Thankfully, I always felt completely at home and at ease with my Grandpa. For example, his tactful way of trying to find out if I was in need of monthly sanitary pads was to ask me before he went to the general store if I had “come sick”.

As far as being a good provider, Grandpa Robert was top of the line. With Grandma gone I became the yearly organizer of Grandpa’s dump truck business tax figures for the local income tax man, Fraley Insurance.  Grandpa and I also changed churches. We began attending the First Christian, leaving the Church of Christ behind. Once again we heard gospel music with supporting musical instruments.  Each Sunday after church, Grandpa bought a Tulsa Daily World and I would read him the parts I thought important. Grandpa didn’t really read with only a 2nd grade education and he could only write a bit. Numbers were his forte and he lived to the tune of “waste not, want not”.

Robert DeLozier with his dump truck nearby, circa 1967
One of the best things about Grandpa Robert was his great sense of humor. He had all kinds of nick names for me as well as others. My names included Rat-Hole and Whistle-britches. For people he thought weren’t doing what they should, he referred to them as “sorry wads“.

Now my Mom his middle daughter, Bobbie Jean’s lifestyle did aggravate him to no end. The main source of this aggravation, was my folks lack of responsibility in producing kids and their lack of tidiness. He thought three kids was the max and less was more. I remember Grandpa, asking Mom, “why do you keep having more kids, Bobbie, when you aren’t taking care of what you got”? He would go on admonishing her to “get in there and do what needs to be done”, referring to cleaning and cooking. He would remind my Mom that she had not been raised that way, she knew how to do and she just needed to do it. Unfortunately Grandpa was whistling in the wind, trying to talk sense to Mom or Dad. They were free spirits with no common sense or any desire for any. Grandpa and I got to keep it all. And when they would visit, usually unannounced, Grandpa would say upon their departure, “I hate to see them come and I hate to see them go”.

Another endearing quality of Grandpa’s was his thoughtfulness. After I left home, he always remembered my birthday with a birthday card. When I moved to Alaska in 1978 he would continue to send me one yearly and include a silver dollar in it. I still have the birthday cards as well as the silver dollars. Fortunately, I haven’t yet had the need to spend them.

Grandpa Robert was an Oklahoma cowboy and only wore only cowboy boots, owned no shoes except house shoes, loved horses, animals and country music. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were his favorite musicians. As a young man he called square dances, was involved in rodeos, kept riding horses next to the house until I was in high school. Then the horse property became a trailer rental spot, next to which we always had a huge vegetable garden even after my Grandma passed on. The first year after Grandma Alta passed, I sold the veggies by the bushel for peanuts. We had more than we could process without her.
Grandpa Robert and me, Mary Alta circa 1949
Grandpa Robert was never happier than after a hard day‘s work hauling gravel in his dump truck for Rogers county. That is with the possible exception of doing the laundry or washing dishes. I do believe his first love was scalding the dishes after washing them. He couldn’t sit down after dinner, which he usually cooked until things were cleaned and ready for the next meal.

In his younger days Grandpa wanted to be a horse jockey, but his Mom, Addie Mae Wilson DeLozier nixed that idea saying it was too dangerous. So he went into hauling, hay or whatever needed hauled with horse and mule teams including pulling oil rigs, and moving people from east to west and north to south in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Texas but no further. My Granddad did not have much of a wander lust. Grandma once wanted to go North to Montana for a change, but he knew his place, and that was his home in Chelsea, Oklahoma. He was happy with Chelsea and I was truly blessed to share that special time and place with him.
March 3, 2008/revised September 27, 2010; June 16th, 2012