My Barhopping Grandparents

The Queen of the Silver Dollar

Chapter 2: My Barhopping Grandparents

On the day my mother tried to place my sister and me into Juvenile Hall, then had to settle for taking us to my grandparents, she’d already found homes for my other three siblings.

My oldest sister, Marina Slip Gnu, was 17 at the time. She was sent to a friend’s house. I suspect that after she got out of jail, my mother worked as a prostitute for awhile. And I think she moved Marina back in with her, and pimped her out.

A few years ago, Marina tearfully told me about this. I thought she was crazy at the time, as Marina has had a history of serious mental illness, all her adult life. But after much reflection, I’ve put two-and-two together. It now makes sense.

It became too much for Marina, and she ran away from home and disappeared. For months, nobody knew if she was dead or alive. Then my father hired a private detective, who tracked her down in Texas.

There, she’d met an Army sergeant, and they’d married. They would stay married for more than 20 years, have four children, and become very wealthy. But not happy. Mental illness and spousal abuse led to a divorce. Money doesn’t buy happiness, and my oldest sister is proof of this.

My 12-year-old brother, and 14-year-old sister, were shipped off to an uncle’s house. He was my favorite uncle and kind of wealthy. Well, he had a swimming pool, so he seemed wealthy. I felt envious of my brother and sister’s good fortune. My uncle’s wife couldn’t have children, so he felt thrilled to take in my brother and sister. And my mother would have a hard time getting them back from him.

My 15-year-old sister, River, and 9-year-old me, were driven by my mom to Los Angeles the morning after our family’s big split. There we stayed for the next four months, living with my grandparents, before my mother could afford to take us back.

My grandparents began barhopping during the Great Depression, at taverns that probably looked similar to this.

My grandfather was a hell of a nice guy, but also an alcoholic. He was a functioning alcoholic, though. He made good money as a machinist, then would blow it all at the bar, partying and whooping it up.

My grandmother was also an alcoholic. And she was a party animal, having been introduced to the bar scene during the Great Depression, by my grandpa. She could be harsh, but overall was very kind to my sister and me. She loved us but didn’t have much time for us, what with all the partying she wanted to do with her husband, down at the bar.

So my sister and I were usually left alone to raise ourselves. But we were accustomed to this. All of my siblings and I had learned to take care of ourselves from a young age. We became very independent, as children, and have remained so as adults.

Although I was usually neglected, my grandmother did hold a very nice birthday party for me, when I turned 10-years-old. Well, she was a party animal, so she was an expert at throwing a good party. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever had a birthday party, so this is one of my favorite childhood memories of her.

If my grandparents had not taken us in, I’m sure my sister and I would have been left to the mercy of the foster care system, and its unpredictable lottery of caring and abusive foster parents. So I feel grateful they opened up their home to us.

And it wouldn’t be the first time. My grandfather died at age 68, from too many years of hard partying. I was 21, and soon after his death I found myself unemployed and needing a place to stay. My widowed Grandma allowed me to move in with her for six months, until I got back on my feet. And thus, she saved me from homelessness.

Later, I was able to return the favor. My wife eventually became her caretaker. And when she became too old to live alone, we invited her into our house. She lived with us for more than three years, and during that time she took us on a wild ride. I did mention that she liked to party, didn’t I?

Fasten your seat belt, we’re in for a bumpy journey. The remaining posts in this series are about our adventures with my wild, eccentric, barhopping Grandma, during the final years of her life.

This is the latest installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 3: The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Click here to read Chapter 1.

Stolen Quote: Front Page

The sports page records people’s accomplishments, the front page usually records nothing, but man’s failures.

Barbara Walters

I think she’s referring to something from the olden days that people called a “newspaper.”

Day of Diaspora

The Queen of the Silver Dollar

Chapter 1: Day of Diaspora

One day when I was in the fourth grade, I was pulled out of my classroom and hauled off to Juvenile Hall. But initially I was summoned to the principal’s office. There I found my mother and my sister, River, waiting for me.

I wasn’t in any trouble. My mother had just taken River out of high school, and had now arrived to pluck me away from my grade school. In the car, Mom put on the kind of sales pitch one would need to put on, to convince a child not to be frightened.

“Guess, what son?! Today you and your sister get to go to Juvenile Hall! That’s a real fun place, where you get to play all kinds of fun games. They’ll treat you real nice there, and you’ll get to make a lot of new friends.”

“Yeah, Tippy, you’re gonna love Juvenile Hall,” my sister chimed in. She didn’t want me worrying, either. River always looked after me, and was trying to lure me into a positive mood. But I’d heard of Juvenile Hall before, and had always thought it was a place where bad children were sent. I said as much.

“No, good kids can go to Juvenile Hall, too,” my mother corrected. And you’re a good boy. They have a special place there for good boys and girls, where you’ll be treated very nicely.”

Juvie

By the time we arrived at Juvenile Hall, my mother and sister had me convinced that this place was better than Disneyland. Why, I couldn’t wait to get inside and enjoy all the wonders of Juvenile Hall.

My sister and I sat on a bench, at Juvie, and watched my mother speak with an official-looking person. He was frowning and shaking his head. I overheard him saying something about how these kids didn’t belong here. And then my mother came back and led us away.

I felt disappointed. They’d done such a good job at selling me on Juvenile Hall, that I started complaining after my mother broke the “bad” news to me.

She took us home to a darkened house. My stepfather was no longer there. I was told that he and my mom were getting divorced. That was the best news I’d heard in a long time, as my stepfather was a very abusive man. My heart sang. But my other sisters and my brother weren’t at home, either.

This was the day of diaspora, for my family. My mother had five children, and this was the last day all five of us would live together under the same roof.

Over all the decades that have ensued, I’ve been able to piece together snippets of information that have slipped out, here and there, to decoct a basic idea of what was going on at that time, and unravel this family secret.

It seemed my mother had come up with an “ingenious” idea for making money.

She had opened up a bank account in two different banks, with very small deposits. I’ll call them Bank A and Bank B. Then she wrote a large, rubber check from Bank A, depositing it in Bank B. Before the check could bounce, she wrote another large, rubber check from Bank B, back to Bank A, to cover the first rubber check. In this way, she quickly built up large phantom balances in both banks.

Then she went on a spending spree, and paid for it by writing large, rubber checks. When businesses contacted her banks, they received confirmation that the checks were covered, due to the large rubber checks she’d previously deposited. And so they accepted these bad checks.

This is a crime known as check kiting and paper hanging.

Of course, my mom’s house of cards eventually caved in, and she had to face the music. I know she was required to pay back the money she stole. But I also suspect she had to do a small amount of jail time, though she’s never admitted to this. That’s why she tried to place my sister and me into Juvenile Hall. She needed someone to take care of us during her incarceration.

But Juvenile Hall wouldn’t have us. My sister and I were not criminals, so they could not legally take us in. Why my mother ever got the idea that they would house us, I don’t know. Maybe she wasn’t thinking very clearly during those trying times.

Mom ended up calling her parents and confessing her crime. And my grandparents agreed to take care of River and me, until she got out of jail and had enough money to take us back.

The god of irony and goddess of karma were playing cruel tricks on my mother and grandparents, on this day of diaspora. Family history was repeating itself. That’s because shortly after my mother was born, her parents had also left her with her grandparents.

It seems my mom’s parents didn’t want a child. They were party animals and alcoholics. And children got in the way of all the partying they wanted to do. They had no time for raising children, what with all the booze that waited for them, at the bars.

But then, due to the unavailability of birth control in those days, they had more children, and my mom’s mother needed a babysitter if she was going to keep up with her husband’s barhopping. So at age 10, my mother was retrieved from her grandparents’ care and forced to become a nanny to her younger brothers.

This was a bitter experience for my mother, which she never forgot or forgave. She’d bonded with her grandparents, and now she’d been ripped away from them. She blamed her mother for this, and her relationship with my grandmother would be rocky for the remainder of my grandmother’s life.

Yet now my mother had to eat crow and place my sister and me under the care of my grandmother. The same grandmother who’d placed her under the care of her grandparents. Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and now my mother was doing exactly what had been done to her, when she was a child. This fallen fruit was bitter and rotten to the taste, when she picked it up off the ground.

It was bitter and rotten for me also. My heart felt lonely and empty, like a vacuum had sucked away everything that made life worth living. I was only nine, going on ten, and I missed my mother terribly while under my grandparents’ care. They were actually good people, in their own way, but they weren’t my mother, and every child needs their mother, no matter what sort of crime she may have committed.

But life is change, and everyone must reckon with the forces of great change at some point in their lives. I now had somebody new looking after me, whom I’d only known casually up until this point. My grandmother.

The months that followed began an on-again, off-again relationship with this grandmother that would last for many years. It was a relationship of crossing paths and give and take. Of mutual rescue through the storms of life, and mutual friendship and animosity. Over the years, we would care for each other, and we would battle each other.

And I must admit, she was a tough old bird to care for and battle against. I couldn’t have done it without my wife. In fact, she took on the greater portion of this challenge, by far. This is a series of posts about some of those cares and battles, with a lady whom my wife and I came to refer to, as the Queen of the Silver Dollar.

This is the first installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 2: My Barhopping Grandparents.

Arbor Day

Big Pine, a noteworthy tree on the Big Pine trail in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s arguably the largest pinyon pine in the United States. However, it’s also dead, possibly a victim of climate change. Out in the wilds, a dead tree can be left alone. But you’d want to remove it, if it was in your own front yard. And what a pain that can be. Hopefully I’ll return from Yosemite with pictures of trees that are still living.

I’m still on vacation, trying to survive the wilds of Yosemite National Park, which receives 5 million visitors per year and has all the modern amenities.

But today, April 30th, is Arbor Day, and I couldn’t resist pre-scheduling this post before decamping for the modern-day wilderness. It’s a famous poem penned in 1913, about the wonder and beauty of trees.

By the way, if you have trees in your yard, maybe you can relate to the sentiments of this poem. Trees are a lot of hard work, huh? You have to water the thirsty bastards. They shed leaves that require raking. Storms rip off branches, necessitating the use of chainsaws that can instantly slice through fingers and ankles. Wildfires torch them and then they, in turn, set your house ablaze. Or sometimes they just teeter over and crash right through the roof of your house.

Trees are dangerous, dirty, and cruel taskmasters. Humbug! Who needs them? Now that I’ve set the mood, here’s the famous poem:

Trees

by Joyce Killmore

I think that I shall never see,
A plant as hideous as a tree.

A tree whose sucking mouth is prest,
Against the foul Earth’s dirty breast.

A tree that stands in clods all day,
The muck, the yuck, the slimy clay.

A tree that may in summer wear,
Snakes and vultures in her hair.

Upon whose bosom crows have slain,
A robin’s hatchlings, in the rain.

Poems are made by tools like me,
But only a clod will plant a tree.

Stolen Quote: Wilderness

There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.

Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve visited Yosemite only once in my life, when I was 15. We traveled the scenic, Tioga Road. But it was night, so not very scenic for me.

My wife and I are soon heading for Yosemite National Park on a vacation, but this time we plan to experience it during daylight hours. We’ll be back in a week or two. Or maybe a month or so. Or maybe never. One never knows what perils they might encounter while traveling. Such as bears. Yosemite has bears. Egads.

But with any luck, I’ll be back soon. See everyone later! (maybe)

Stolen Quote: Work

My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group–there was less competition there.

Indira Gandhi

But why not try to be in both groups?

Dead Battery Hike, Part Three

Note: This is a continuation of a hiking story. Click this link for yesterday’s installment.


Tales of Little Morongo

Chapter 6: Dead Battery Hike, Part Three

Our toilworn feet tripped over boulders, probed through debris from past flash floods, and dodged green and gray piles of cow manure, left by Huckleberry’s herd. The trail meandered down canyon, coaxing our sapped spirits onward, as if to say, “Not much further . . . keep going . . . it’s just around the bend. And if not this bend, then maybe the next.”

We concentrated on lifting our heavy legs, one step at a time.

About a mile down I spotted something familiar on a north slope of the canyon. A slight hint of green. “I think that’s it, Jake.”

Tiny seeps like this leak to the surface sporadically, throughout the Mojave Desert. They’ve been known to save the lives of foolish hikers like Jake and me.

Sure enough, we found a tiny spring, just a small seep, surrounded by a few mesquites. Huckleberry Hound had devised a meshlike filtering apparatus, with a narrow black tube that ran downhill from the seep to a nearby water trough. At the trough there was a way to unclamp the tube, so we could fill our canteens, then reinsert it back into a float valve.

A bull and several heifers lounged in the shade of some Desert Willows about 50 feet away, as we parked our tired asses in the shadow of a mesquite. “Look at the balls on that bull!” Jake joked.

Yes, and it’s balls that got us into this predicament, I quietly reflected. It took a lot of balls for us to hike in here, and it will take a lot more to hike out.

The light of day lasts only so long, so we eventually pulled ourselves back onto our feet and wandered on. Jake was looking shaky. I kept glancing back at him to make sure he hadn’t collapsed. “I’m alright, I’m alright,” he’d reassure me.

Another mile and we found ourselves in a shady boscage, confronting the Pierson Ranch gate. The cool umbrage of cottonwoods brought welcome relief. But the gate did not. It was locked, as usual. I knew a way around it, but this required some scrambling. I could do it, but I wasn’t so sure about Jake.

I picked my way up and over first, with Jake carefully following after. And to my pleasant surprise, the old man made it.

On the other side of the gate we were exposed to the windows of the Pierson Ranch house, about 200 feet away. I felt anxious. “Jake, we better get outta here. They’ll see us and come out with a shotgun.” But Jake was having none of it. Before us lay a cool pool of water. Pierson Spring. The old man waded into the pond, filled his hat, and poured precious, cooling hatfuls of mossy liquid over his head, one after another.

It revivified him. After a five minute shower he was electric again, and ready to go. Thankfully, none of the Piersons had spotted us, and we were able to slink down the road until out of sight.

We had about a mile-and-a-half of canyon remaining, but that was one of the longest miles-and-a-half I’ve ever endured. The canyon floor baked in the afternoon sun. We were like fish, frying in a skillet. I felt my brain switching on and off at times. Talking and thinking were kept to a minimum. We had to conserve our energy, or we’d soon become dead meat for the coyotes and turkey vultures.

Jake stumbled along behind me, trying to keep up. The salubrious effects of his cool shower had worn off quickly. I slowed my pace. Near the mouth of the canyon, I saw him suddenly veer off and head for a low cliff. Had he gone doolally from the heat? I wondered. Then he collapsed at the base of the cliff, in a thread of shade, and lay fanning himself with his hat.

“Jake, are you okay? Y-you just stay there! We’re not far from the ranch. I’ll go get some help for you.”

“No, I’ll be alright,” Jake muttered weakly. “Just give me a few minutes.” And so we laid back a little while, against the cliff, in this tiny excuse for shade. Finally Jake started to fidget around, and then he staggered back onto his feet. “Let’s go,” his voice crackled.

A half-mile of staggering and stumbling later, we reached my sister’s horse ranch. As we approached the front door, we delighted in the welcome purr of a swamp cooler, emanating from inside the ranch house. My sister had told me the day before that she and her husband would be away, but that she’d leave the cooler on for us. Bless her sweet, precious soul, my atheistic brain mused.

I fell against the door as I reached for the knob. Cool air awaited us, and we were both anxious to breathe it, feel it, and absorb its sweetness through our smoldering skin.

But it was not to be. The doorknob would not turn. It was locked fast, and I had forgotten to obtain the key from my sister.

Our brains were so muddled from the heat, that we had a hard time figuring out what to do next. We were on the verge of heat exhaustion and needed that cool air to save our lives. Our thoughts swam and sank in the sweat of our desperation. Should we break a window and crawl inside? Did we even have the strength to do that?

And then an important detail emerged from the haze of Jake’s baked brain. He had parked his pickup truck here, the day before. All we had to do was get inside, start the engine, and fire up the air conditioner. The key was in his pocket.

We laughed maniacally at our stupidity as we stumbled toward the old truck.

We scrambled up and into the baking cab. Jake fumbled with shaking hands, as he aimed for the key slot to the ignition. After a few rattles of the keyring, he managed to sink the key. Oh please, engine, start! Start!

This was an aging quarter-ton, with a history of hundreds of thousands of miles, and a decrepit engine. Jake had used it as a runabout truck for his machine shop business, and had held onto it after he’d sold the business and retired, eight years earlier. This old bucket of bolts required tender-loving care to stay on the road, but Jake was sentimental about it, and reluctant to trade it in for a newer beast.

Fortunately, he’d been faithful about nursing it along with routine oil changes and other required maintenance. And now hopefully, the truck would return the favor and save us from heat stroke.

Jake rotated the key. The engine turned over. It sputtered, and began coughing itself to death. More sputtering. But then, with a whining whir and roar of salvation, it found spark and fuel.

It started.

This has been the final installation of my six-part series, Tales of Little Morongo. Thanks for reading! Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

Stolen Quote: Good and Bad

You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.

Lou Holtz, American Football Coach

So I won’t brag about my 35 million intergalactic followers, which I’ve posted inconspicuously at the top of my sidebar. Nor will I disparage Jim Borden for his non-astronomical amount of just 1,714 Earthling followers.

Dead Battery Hike, Part Two

Tales of Little Morongo

Chapter 5: Dead Battery Hike, Part Two

About five years after my Dead Battery Hike, which I posted about in Dead Battery Hike, Part One, my father-in-law was impressing me with tales of some monumental foot treks he’d conquered. Why, Jake had hiked Mount Whitney. He’d traversed some long-assed trail around Mount Baldy. He’d summited San Gorgonio–Old Grayback itself! And he’d trophied a number of other imposing trails in California.

I didn’t doubt Jake. He was very athletic. He had set records for his age group, running marathons, and was once invited to a track and field event in Germany, to compete against world-class athletes.

I wanted to fit in, in my own wimpy way, so I meekly mentioned my Dead Battery Hike. He listened with interest. So on a whim I suggested, “How about I take you on that hike, Jake?”

To my utter surprise and great disappointment, he took me up on that challenge. Now the gauntlet had been thrown down. There was no backing out. We were men, after all, and had an obligation to prove our machismo, even if it killed us.

And it could. This was mid-June, a time of year when the high sun and punishing heat has been known to send many a seasoned hiker to an early grave.

We should have started our journey around 4:00 am, so we could reach the shady walls of the canyons before sunup. But we needed a driver, and my wife wasn’t about to wake up that godawful early.

Jake had parked his old pickup truck at my sister’s horse ranch, the day before. Our plan was to start the hike in the desert flats north of Pioneertown, follow the route I’d taken about five years earlier, on my Dead Battery Hike, and finish up at the horse ranch. Then Jake would drive us home in his pickup.

Our feet touched dirt around 6:00, while the sun was already up and cooking. My wife blithely motored off, oblivious to the nearness of death, as we marched toward the maw of Pipes Canyon.

Tramp. Tramp. Tramp.

I pointed at a house surrounded by the carcasses of old, junked buses. “That’s the Snake Lady’s house, Jake,” I informed him, like a cicerone. “She’s crazy. She doesn’t like people coming near, and has been rumored to throw live rattlesnakes at them.”

We eyed her property warily, as we traipsed on by.

We changed course at Key’s Ranch Road, which brought us shortly to the mouth of the canyon we sought. This is now the home of Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, but at the time it was just private, unguarded ranchland.

Up Pipes Canyon we sweated. At one time the dirt road here could be managed by a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle, clear up to Big Bear. But storm damage had left it so severely damaged, it could only be navigated by foot, tank, or bulldozer now. And even by foot, it was tricky in parts.

But Jake and I made it up, down, and over all the various rips and tears in the landscape, without incident. We passed by the old sheepherder’s homestead, abandoned decades before, and took a tour of his dilapidated house. Then onward we forged.

My memory seemed a little foggy. “I know Indian Canyon is around here somewhere,” I confessed to Jake. “Maybe we passed it already. I’m not sure.” Well hell, it had been over five years since I’d last navigated this terrain. And there were no distinctive landmarks that came to mind.

Jake eyed me nervously. “Should we turn back? Or do you think it might be ahead?”

I stopped and surveyed all around. Finally I shrugged, “Let’s keep going a little ways further.”

Around the next corner, at a sharp, northward bend of Pipes Canyon, there it appeared, waiting as it had for thousands of years, and it all came back to me. We turned south at the fork in the trail, and headed up an acclivity.

Indian Canyon begins as shadeless desert, at around 4,800 feet. But as one gains altitude, the chaparral grows higher, and pinyon pines and scrub oak emerge to cast cooling shadows. It tops out at 5,200 feet, before a 1,400 foot heat bath, down a south-facing declivity in open desert, toward the burning bowels of Little Morongo Canyon.

By the time we reached Huckleberry Hound’s makeshift cattle gate, at the top, we were tuckered out. We stopped a spell and rested in the umbra of a scrub oak. That’s when I pulled a gun from my daypack.

“Hey Jake, check it out. I brought my pistol, just in case we run across marijuana growers. Wanna try it?”

“Sure,” Jake was always eager to fire a gun.

He shot at a pine tree in the distance. I think he hit it, but it didn’t go down. I fired a round at the defiant tree, also. Again, it stayed put. But we sure showed it a thing or two.

With that piece of macho action out of our way, we pointed our boots downhill, toward the hellacious gauntlet of Little Morongo Canyon. That’s where Huckleberry Hound ran cattle, as mentioned in a previous tale about Little Morongo.

Our canteens were getting frighteningly easy to carry, and sweat was blinding our eyes, by the time we stumbled onto the hot canyon floor.

I peered all around. “I know there’s a spring around here somewhere, Jake. In fact, lots of ‘em. Let’s head for the Pierson Ranch. I think there’s one along the way.”

Jake was 68 years old, looking shaky, and feeling his age. This man, more than 30 years my senior, had outwalked me on prior hikes. “Hey Jake, would you wait up a minute!” I’d find myself begging. His long legs and quick stride would leave me in the dust, exhausted and ready to collapse.

But not today. This time I was the yare one, while the old man had been trailing behind me.

He gazed at me with a desperate skepticism, his eyes seeming to plead, “Are you sure there’s water around here?” But he stoically breathed nothing, other than, “Okay, let’s go.”


To be continued in a few days . . . but if you’re thirsting for more, here’s a Western tune about water, sung by Johnny Cash:

This is the latest installation of my six-part series, Tales of Little Morongo. Come on back in a few days for the final installation, entitled, Chapter 6: Dead Battery Hike, Part Three . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

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