Vacation Posts – Arizona Chronicles Part 1 & 2

26 May

While away on vacation, I thought I’d just re-run the Arizona Chronicles.  Someday I might actually work more on them.


I suppose as a writer you must be endowed with an impressive memory.  We are told in Creative Writing 101 class to write, “What we know” and other cliché directives.  I like to believe I have an amazing memory from my childhood despite my mother’s insistence that eighty-five percent of it did not happen.  You can show her photographic evidence, and she will still deny the memory in question.  This is my story of Arizona and my memories, faulty as they might be.

I was very young when my father announced we would be moving across the universe to this strange land called Arizona.  Barely seven, I had no concept of geography and where this place might exist.  My information beforehand was gleaned from my father’s insistence it was indeed a magical place and my grandfather calling it a desert where we would die.  There was discussion of being scalped (yes, my grandfather was a racist) and scorpion attacks.

To my father’s credit, despite all the naysayers, he loaded our meager belongings onto a station wagon and headed west anyway.  At this point, I look back in total slack-jawed awe at my father.  Here was a man of wanderlust, who wanted to embark on a grand adventure and he did it.  The fact we were actually in the car and moving is even more a miracle when you realize my mother was the exact opposite of this.

Let’s get this over with.  My mother was born seventy-five.  If there is a complaint to file, she has a cabinet full.  For every suggestion, she has a tale of someone injured or dying as a counterpoint.  When I told her I was moving to NYC, she insisted I would be mugged, raped and murdered and probably more than once.  This is the mother I know.  The surprise is she agreed to move thousands of miles away from her family to live in the desert with two small children.  I chalk it up to she was fairly young herself and had yet to become completely cynical and bitter.

So bags were strapped to the roof, a bed was made in the back for my sister and myself, and my father took off cross-country to the great unknown.  I remember being excited and unable to sleep as we crawled across highways and away from the only home I had known.  Everything was bright, shiny and new and I wanted to soak it all in.  We left in the dark of night, only headlights visible, but in the distance, a silhouette beneath the moon, I saw the horizon and the possibilities that lay ahead.

This trip was the first time I tasted Dr. Pepper.  I remember a gas station in some sweltering town and a beautiful young boy handing me one.  There was a roadrunner on the side of the road that looked nothing like the cartoon version.  There were scrambled eggs in a diner like nothing I had ever tasted and a man with a turban.  Then there was the accident.

I remember crossing the highway to a rest stop.  My sister and I were in the back of the station wagon on a pallet of blankets and probably arguing.  My father was driving and probably arguing with my mother.  Then there was a large truck plowing into our car.  My next memory is standing on the side of the road, uninjured and watching my mother fall apart.  She was crying hysterically and being hugged by my Grandfather’s wife who had been in another car.  The entire back quarter panel of the car was crumpled and pushed in.

As I stood on the side of the road in the Texas heat, watching the chaos around me, I was too young to realize how close we had come to dying.  My sister and I had been in that back end and here we stood disoriented and unhurt.  Our trip had become derailed by our accident.  We holed up in a hotel with air conditioning and orange trees.  For better or worse, we were not turning back.  I remember standing in the parking lot of the hotel, with an orange in my hand, watching my baby sister toddle in the grass and the seed was planted.  I inhaled the scent of that orange and wanted more.  Always more.





So, in hindsight, I feel as if child protective services should have at least looked into this whole trek across country.  First of all, we did not even sit in a car with seatbelts.  We bounced around haphazardly on our bed of blankets and hung out the windows like savages across three thousand miles.  It is a true miracle the wreck did not do more damage than demolishing the back of the car and my mother’s already frayed nerves.  This accident was also the first time I ever heard the word Valium, the magical pill that made my mother seem nicer.  Of course, the effects were not long enough lasting.

We were a few days in a hotel in Texarkana that smelled of diesel and fried chicken.  It meant sharing a room with my mother who at varying points was either too hot or too cold.  It was also the first time in a long time we ate normal food.  I say normal because my mother could make delicious fried chicken and about nothing else.  She was infamous for her thrown together casseroles and her guilty attempts at feeding her family vegetables by serving overcooked brussels sprouts we could sip through straws.  She claims it was because we were poor, but I do believe marauding wild dogs ate better food.  When it was announced we were hitting the road again, I remember being disappointed my mother would once again be in the vicinity of a stove.

There were stories of the desert, yet I was still surprised when we were indeed in the desert.  My first memory of Arizona is a Native American adobe ruin and immediately touching a cactus.  The first hour in our new home state was spent picking needles out of my hand with tweezers and my mother commenting how hot it was.  There is not a breeze to be found in the desert in July we discovered.  There is a photo of me, wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, my blonde hair bleached white and smiling in front of the ruin.  I had yet to receive the warnings.

Okay, so my parents wait until we are driving along a tiny dirty road climbing Salt River Canyon with my mother crying we were going to plunge to our deaths with one pothole, to inform us that EVERYTHING will kill us in our new home.  We should have been given a power point presentation at the least.  The list was endless and frightening.  I half listened, as I was certain my father after days in the car with my mother would drive us right over that edge.  I remember the list being something like this:

1.    Do not pick up rocks.  There will be rattlesnakes sleeping beneath them and one bite and YOU WILL DIE.

2.    Do not walk barefoot outside.  There will be scorpions that will sting you and YOU WILL DIE.

3.    Do not stand beneath trees.  Many of the pines are old and they will fall on you and YOU WILL DIE.

4.    Do not eat any berries.  Who knows what is poisonous and if you eat one YOU WILL DIE.

5.    Do not stay out in the midday sun.  You will suffer from heatstroke and YOU WILL DIE.

6.    There will be sudden dust storms.  Take shelter or the wind will pick up sharp objects that will decapitate you and YOU WILL DIE.

7.    Watch out for red anthills.  They will swarm you and sting you and YOU WILL DIE.

8.    Never play with fire or a magnifying glass.  You will set the entire state on fire and YOU WILL DIE.

9.    Never wander off whilst in the woods because cougars and bears will see you as lunch and YOU WILL DIE.

10.    Never interrupt mother when she is having her midday nap or YOU WILL DIE.

So as the car stopped in front of a trailer, one of about ten in a small park located in the middle of the desert, I huddled with my sister and feared stepping foot onto the sand.  This was Coolidge, Arizona with its barrel cacti and yucca trees and for what seemed like for the worst we were living here now.  If my parents were trying to scare us straight, it worked.



19 Responses to “Vacation Posts – Arizona Chronicles Part 1 & 2”

  1. mkenobi May 26, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    The parents really know how to scare us to be totally obedient… Great childhood traumas born because of such legends. With me was the Bag Man, who robbed the children who played in the street until very late. Because of this, I had fear of strangers because one of them could be the Bag Man…:)

    • Cold Dead Heart May 26, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

      OOHHH the bagman…how scary! Isn’t it funny how fear is such a parenting tool 🙂

  2. Nowan Zen May 26, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    I love the way you tell a story! The words just flow as you’d struck oil!

  3. m5son May 26, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    You are a very good writer and this more funny than anything else.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

      Thanks so much! I try to find the funny in everything.

  4. kiwidutch May 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    BRILLIANT sentence : “Valium, the magical pill that made my mother seem nicer. Of course, the effects were not long enough lasting.”

    I too had issues with my mother. or lack of one.
    Work was her first love my father second and she probably had us by accident, she was “going to make it up to us” but never did.
    We were bought up by nannies and housekeepers and I barely knew her. My Father wasn’t the sort to get involved in childrearing.
    My twin sister still blames her and got bitter and twisted over our childhood, I’ve long since moved on but every now and again I wish she would have told me she loved me or had been proud of me.
    When she knew she had cancer she coped by working even more so I never even got time with her then, It did give me strong ideas on how NOT to raise my own children which I’ve stuck to ever since.
    Now that I’m older I wish I had answers to a ton of questions, but we were pretty much strangers so who knows if she would have dared the stark truth and given me honest answers anyway.
    The only thing to do is to look forward and not back … and to hug our kids and tell them you love them every day (if not more).
    You are a product of your parents but you are not the sum of them.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      A great perspective…thanks for reading, your comments and your wisdom.

  5. Miss Muck May 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Wow…. I’m lost for words to describe how I feel after reading this, let alone how you must have felt at that time as a child. Much respect……much respect. Miss Muck

  6. jmgoyder May 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    This is great!

  7. silentlyheardonce May 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    This was a charming story. You have a great story telling talent.The part about driving with no seat belts reminded me of a time my aunt wanted some peace and quiet and she gave my cousin a bottle of wine the keys to the 4 door. She took about 7 0r more of us to the beach. we were packed in no seat belts and the driver was drunk on wine.The good ol’ 70’s

    • Cold Dead Heart May 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

      Isn’t that funny…in a way that you wonder now what the heck were they thinking? It’s a miracle we survived. Thanks for reading and stopping by.

  8. Perfecting Motherhood May 28, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    After reading about your mom’s anxieties, it’s hard to understand how she happened to accept this move to the land of savages and wild beasts. I haven’t had the best relationship with my own mother for other reasons than you, but I think this teaches us to not repeat the past and be better parents with our own children.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      It’s so true about teaching us to be better parents. It’s really made me more compassionate..sometimes too much. She was a mess, and I think she moved because she didn’t feel she had a choice and maybe that’s why she unspiralled so quickly.

  9. L @ Trying Not to be Fat May 28, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Aaahaha that list is amazing. You didn’t die!! GOOD JOB!

    • Cold Dead Heart May 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      Thanks so much! It was a fun experience and maddening at the same time.

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