A Blue Quarter

Betty

 

February, March, and April. A quarter of a year. A blue quarter for me. I’m a little morose because my wife, Betty, died six years ago today. I considered using “passed on” or “left us” or some other euphemism, but that would serve no purpose. She died, pure and simple. Her death came after a four-month struggle – two months in the University of New Mexico Medical Center’s ICU and two months at Kindred Hospital, where she passed away around 5:30 a.m. on February 12, 2009.  One month and one day later, March 13, was her birthday. April 8 was our wedding anniversary. So – the Blue Quarter.

Each year, I expect the sadness to dissipate … to go away. It doesn’t. It changes in subtle ways. Lessens a little even. But it never goes away. In my usual “slow to catch on manner,” I’ve learned a few things from this bad stretch of the year. None of them rise to the level of earth-shattering life lessons, but perhaps sharing some of them will be cathartic – at least for me.

I am a survivor. After a long marriage like ours, this was no longer a certainty. We had become very reliant on one another, each contributing in his or her own way. I surrendered too many routine chores to her because she did them better and more efficiently. I didn’t cook (and still don’t), but I haven’t starved yet. Laundry machines and driers and dishwashers were beyond me, but I’ve been able to tame the ornery beasts. At least, my shirts don’t have rings around the collars and my dishes appear clean. I seldom did housekeeping but now … well, let’s not discuss that one.

My two sons and I have drawn closer, developed a relationship that’s different from the one we shared before. Each has handled her passing in his own way … theirs quite different from mine, incidentally. But we share things we didn’t before. That was likely my fault, so it almost seems like my reaching out to them is to assuage guilt feelings over the lack of depth in our prior relationships. Perhaps that is true, but regardless of the cause, I am on a better standing with each of my sons now.

I’ve built a new life. I am not the same person I was when Betty was alive. At least my lifestyle isn’t. I’m less insular; a tad more social. Before her death, we shared one another’s interests and activities. I now concentrate on my own. Even though I’ve moved on, I haven’t left her behind. I think of her often, although not daily, as once was the case. And I’m comfortable with that because I understand that in some way I honor her memory by doing so. After all, she left me strong enough to stand on my own.

This blue mood I experience each year is good for me. It reaffirms the life we once shared together. It wasn’t perfect. In fact, we were probably the typical dysfunctional family. But what we had was ours, and it lasted for a very long time. Besides, as is also proper, this quarter grows a little less blue and a tad more reflective each year.

I could cite a slew of lesser lessons, but that’s enough self-indulgence for the time being. I simply wanted to honor my wife by sharing this with people who have become important to me since her death.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Don

 

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The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, the Place and the Book

I don’t know about you, but I really like the photograph in my masthead. That’s likely not the proper term, but if you’ve read any of my posts you know I’m not great with technical lingo. This beautiful shot (the work of my neighbor, Dr. Joe Bridwell, a retired geologist and a world-class photographer) was taken in the Bisti/de-Na-Zin Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, one of the eeriest, most beautiful places in a state loaded with scenic spots.

Another Albuquerque author, Don Travis (dontravis.com), has written a mystery novel featuring the area. He has given me permission to show you the spectacular cover art for THE BISTI BUSINESS, (Martin Brown Publishers of Kokomo, Indiana) and tell you a little about the book. The novel is actually the second in a series featuring BJ Vinson, an ex-marine, ex-APD (Albuquerque Police Department), confidential investigator. The first book was THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT. Perhaps he’ll let me feature Zozobra in a later post. Travis’s books tend to center on the State of New Mexico as much as they do the human adventures of his protagonist. I recommend them highly.

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Bisti Business CoverWhen a phone call from a Napa Valley wine mogul sends BJ Vinson all over northern New Mexico in pursuit of an orange Porsche Boxster in the possession of his client’s son, Lando and Lando’s boyfriend, the hunt for a classic car suddenly becomes a frantic race against time to find two missing young men being shadowed by a mysterious stranger. After BJ watches the car plunge over the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge and fall 650 feet into the river below, he must follow a trail as twisted as the empty wreckage to a Navajo Reservation where some of Lando’s personal belongings show up without explanation. The discovery of a body in the Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness area at the base of an eerie hoodoo is written off by the County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI as a drug buy gone wrong, but BJ isn’t so sure. To him, it looks as if the problem had its genesis in Napa Valley. Then Lando’s older brother shows up to help, and BJ realizes that while blood may be thicker than water, more will be spilled if he doesn’t find Lando before a clever and desperate murderer severs the Alfano family’s ties for good.

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Sounds interesting to me. Check it out.

Thanks for taking the time to read and look around the site.

The Birth of THE EAGLE’S CLAW

As I believe I mention in my About page, I’ve written for most of my life. A tubercular child, I grew up believing I couldn’t participate in sports, so I turned inward. I used library books to write themes on subjects that claimed my attention. As likely as not, it was something about Native American cultures. Early on, I was fascinated by the Iroquois Confederacy, likely prompted by James Fenimore Cooper’s  Leatherstocking Tales. Hats off to Mr. Cooper. He provided a sickly child countless hours of enjoyment.

From these themes, I began to write short fanciful stories without realizing I was creating fiction. I was simply enjoying myself. At any rate, as I grew older, I exercised my creative impulse in another direction. I began to draw and paint. I liked oils and got to where I could produce a credible still-life. Landscape, however, was my goal. But before I got there, I started noticing something. On top of my job pressures (I was a workaholic) and the press of everyday life with a wife and two sons, I found that as I worked on a painting, I got more tense. By the finish of each piece, I was a wreck. Fear of messing it up, I suppose. This got so bad that painting was no longer a recreation allowing me to relieve the stress of my life. It contributed to the stress.

So forty years ago, I put away the brushes and took up the pen again. (Actually, it was a Corona portable typewriter.) I decided to tackle a novel. But I couldn’t just do any novel…no, it had to be on a grand scale. So I bean writing “The Eagle’s Claw.” My wife and children put up with me shutting myself up in my home office after a long day’s work. When I finally pronounced the novel completed, was 288,000 words. Mr. Ben Ames Williams might be able to get “House Divided,” a marvelous 1,000-page historical novel, published, but Donald T. Morgan didn’t have a prayer. Nonetheless, I couldn’t bear to cut great patches out of the manuscript. So I put it away and began writing other things, finding a modicum of success under two pseudonyms.

This past year, I decided I had learned enough about writing to tackle my pet project again. After not having looked at the manuscript in decades, I hauled out “The Eagle’s Claw,” and had another gander at it. The writing was atrocious; the story was good. At least, that was my judgment. From this perspective, it wasn’t difficult at all to start cutting the book down to size. When I finished, I found it to be a better book at 145,000 words. Alas, that was still too long, about half again the size of the normal book on today’s market. One of my publishers, Robert Brown of Martin Brown Publishers, sent me an entire treatise on why it was not economically feasible for a publisher to take on the book. And his arguments made sense…economic sense. Nonetheless, I wanted “Claw” published.

A very good Albuquerque author, Sarah Baker, who is a friend and fellow SouthWest Writers member, teaches a class on self-publishing on Amazon, and as this appeared the only avenue for getting my baby (I was terribly involved emotionally with the book and its characters) published, I enrolled in the class. When another friend, Dr. Joseph Bridwell, (who happens to be a world-class photographer) agreed to help create the cover, I decided to take the step. The result is the Kindle ebook whose Prologue and first Chapter are available on this website.

By the way, Dr. Joe did the banner for this blog. Kind of eye-catching, isn’t it. The dramatic rock formation is one of many in the Bisti-De Na Zin Wilderness area in Northwest New Mexico. We have a beautiful state.

Hope this was of interest. I’ll try to do better about posting in the future.

My War with Inspiron-One

My last post went into some detail about problems with my new computer…my late, lamented computer. Alas, it has been (or soon will be) returned to the dust from which it came.

My two Guardian Angels, Larry and Joe, are likely sorry they ever applied for the job. But they have become so crucial to my safety in the enigmatic world of Computerdom, they are snared. I have even endowed them with names: Guardian Angel Larry, and Guardian Angel Joe. As I am given to abbreviating everything possible, I assigned them acronyms. But that took some work. Larry S initially became GA (for Guardian Angel) L. But as GAL didn’t seem appropriate for such a manly man, I tried GAS. That, of course is even worse. It dawned that these were electronic guardians, so I tried EGAL, and that seemed to suggest egalitarian, an entirely acceptable name.

Now GAJ (or even EGAJ) is virtually unpronounceable, so Joe B became EGAB, which is eminently appropriate as Joe holds a total of five academic degrees, one of which is a PhD, so he tends to explain things in great detail (failing to realize that 90% of it sails right over my head).

Now to the third member of the triumvirate…namely, me. I have traipsed to EGAL’s office so many times, I began to feel like the proverbial bad penny showing up at awkward times. After a month of this, I was the badest of the bad, so that naturally meant I was a zinc penny. I speak of that coin issued during WWII when copper was a vital war material. The government solved the shortage problem by issuing a zinc penny, surely the ugliest and least desired of all coins. So to my mind, that was the badest. (Forget the fact that numismatics seem to covet the thing nowadays.) So, I became the Zinc Penny.

To recount the situation briefly, through EGAL’s and EGAB’s good offices, I purchased an all-in-one computer with all the bells and whistles just over a month ago. It took hours upon hours to set it up, all of us working diligently to install this, update that, and customize the other. By all of us, I mean EGAL and EGAB. I sat nearby barely comprehending where I was, much less what was going on.

Then the problems started. Display Driver failures. Screens jumping, momentary freezing of all activity. Then the attacks became more personal:

Occasionally, when I hit Control+S, my independent-minded machine would reply with a snarky message that I had “insufficient memory or disk space, and Word cannot display the requested font.” Well, buster, you lie! I didn’t request a font, and besides, this is a 1T, 8 Gig system, so no way was it full to the brim.

Well, Inspiron-One (we’ll call him I-One from now on) retaliated by blanking out my weather and time gadget (that’s what they call it, really). Do you have any idea how helpless you are when you know neither the time nor the temperature?

I returned from a dinner break to find the computer frozen. And I mean frozen. Nothing would work. Not even that extreme measure Control+ALT+Delete. I-One didn’t even blink. He just sat there and stared back at me. (By the way, I’m convinced that tiny camera aperture at the top of the machine isn’t for my convenience. It’s to let the blessed thing spy on me). So I just turned the stubborn computer off. Except it wouldn’t turn off. Angered because I was certain I-One was gloating, I pressed the off button and held it down while I uttered a few epitaths. That fixed the sucker. He gave up and died.

Yesterday morning, EGAL called me down to the office. When EGAB and I walked in, I-One sat there smirking at me. Now you have to understand that my background image is a black and white photo of my late mother when she was in her twentiesor thirties. So it’s extremely disconcerting when I-One uses her to do his smirking. I turned away and didn’t cast an eye his way again.

EGAL explained that he had spent two hours working with people in Dell to electronically examine every part of that sassy piece of hardware and concluded it was perfect. Not only that, he was sure the Word program was perfect. Now had it been me on that phone call, I would have folded my hand and accepted a lifetime of adversarial conflict with a machine that hated me.

EGAL is made of sterner stuff. He reminded them of one thing: That perfect piece of hardware wouldn’t interface with that perfect piece of software. Ergo, we wanted our money back.

I am now awaiting the delivery of a newer model of the Del All-in-One computer. I earnestly pray it is a kinder, gentler version.

Thanks for reading.

 

Donald T.

Computers … The New “Indoor Plumbing”

Computers are the new “indoor plumbing,” at least in the sense they are gadgets that started out as a luxuries and grew into absolute necessities. I am a writer, so I need some method of putting words on paper. My handwriting has become illegible…even to me…so another way had to be found to accomplish this goal. I no longer have my Remington typewriter (and wouldn’t have the patience to erase or white-out errors), so what was a luxury (the computer) has now become an abject necessity. Therefore, as a twentieth-century man trapped in a twenty-first century world, I’ve given in and allowed “indoor plumbing” into my life.

A few weeks ago, my computer began sending signals it was ailing. In fact, it underwent an “out of body experience,” meaning that it died for a short period. It did not share with me the wonder of that happening, so I don’t know whether or not it encountered the electronic equivalent of the “bright, white light,” but it certainly left me fretful and feeling exposed. So I decided to buy another computer and use the ailing machine as a backup. After all, it only costs money, right?

Wrong. My machine was delivered last Tuesday afternoon, and I went over to pick it up Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. to discover it has other costs…time. I haven’t done a lick of writing since Tuesday night until the moment I started this post. And were it not for two angels named Larry and Joe, I’d be more of a puddle of quivering jelly than I am. Neither of these gentlemen look very angelic, but appearances can be deceiving. They volunteered their time and efforts to get my new device (a Dell Inspiron One in all 9 GB, 1T HD, 2305 with a Windows 7 platform and Office 2013) up and running. For you neophytes let me explain those technical terms: It is a computer; it looks pretty sitting on my desk; and it does what it needs to do. That’s as technical as I get.

Reality set in early (and hard) right after I arrived at Larry’s office last Wednesday morning to find Windows was telling us they had 121 updates to install before we (read Larry and Joe) could do anything else. One-hundred-twenty-one updates translates into three and one half hours. Even then I was too obtuse to see what was headed down the pike. Larry and Joe likely began the morning thinking they were dealing with a halfway intelligent individual, but they were rapidly coming to revise that assessment.

“What’s your default driver, Don?”

“Driver?”

“You know, Internet Explorer, Modzilla…that sort of thing.”

“Well, I usually use AOL.”

(A well-hidden sigh of exasperation.) “Yes, but who do you use to drive that.”

“I use that little circle that’s colored red and green and yellow.

“You mean Chrome?”

“Yeah that’s it. Chrome. Or it could be Google.”

“Chrome is Google.” (“You dummy” was inferred).

Next we engaged in a game I call “User Names and Passwords.” I’m sure it’s a game, but I have yet to figure out how you win it. Of course, I was of no help to our team. My passwords were back at home, and who can remember that many secret codes?

“You don’t store them on the Cloud?”

I quelled an urge to ask what the “Cloud” was and shook my head, suspecting that my standing with these guys was slipping fast. This was confirmed when I offered to buy lunch for the three of us.

“Not really a lunch kind of guy,” came the reply. Translation: “I wouldn’t be caught dead in public with you.”

But I’ll give them credit. They suffered through a bunch more “I don’t knows” from me and eventually sent me home with the computer around 5:00 p.m. I don’t believe the expressions on their faces said “Dummy” any longer. They read more like “Dolt” and “Dodo.”

Of course, there were more fiascoes once the thing was plugged in and sitting on my desk, but that’s enough for today. While I have no problem exposing my ignorance and ineptitude when it comes to things electronic (and mechanical, when it comes down to it), I’m not interested in convincing everyone I’m totally useless. After all, we each have a purpose in life…even if it is to serve as a horrible example.

In all seriousness, thanks so much to those two guys for working so hard for me. If it wouldn’t embarrass them to be associated with me, I’d tell the world their last names. As it is, they’ll remain Larry and Joe, two unlikely but genuine angels.

Thanks for reading.

 

Donald T.

Seventy Seven and Counting, It’s Been a Wild Ride

The following is a piece of memoir I read to SouthWest Writers here in Albuquerque a few years ago. Thought you might appreciate it as a part of our getting to know one another process.

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 In his heart, he knew it was a stillbirth.

The bright October sun streamed through the tall windows of a second-story apartment, sharpening the smell of blood and sweat and afterbirth in the little bedroom. The physician hoisted a newborn by its ankles to deliver a series of slaps to the tiny rump. Nothing. No reaction at all.

Although the baby was small—only five pounds—the delivery had been difficult, complicated by the mother’s severe toxemia. The small-town family doctor delivered another loud smack. Harder this time. Still no response. He laid the still form on the bed and swabbed its mouth with gloved fingers. No obstruction there.

As the clock ticked away precious seconds, he motioned the midwife assistant forward, and together they frantically labored over the inert child. Nothing worked. After placing his stethoscope to the still chest one final time, the man glanced at the exhausted mother lying on the bed. Her pretty features sagged from illness and exhaustion.

Judging her more or less out of it, he swiped his damp brow with a forearm and turned to the anxious father perched on a windowsill on the far side of the room.

“I’m sorry, Travis, but it’s not unexpected given Birdie’s condition. She’s the one we have to worry about now.”

The father stood and pressed thumbs into the corners of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. “Was it a boy?”

“Yes. You have to be strong now…for your wife’s sake.” He sighed from weariness and sorrow. “I know you were hoping your son would grow up to be a first baseman, but—”

“WAAAHHH!”

They whirled at the sound of an angry wail and saw the midwife holding the baby. As they watched in astonishment, she calmly removed her finger from its little rectum and handed the squalling child to the doctor.

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I’d heard that story all my life but didn’t really accept it as anything other than family legend—until I met Mrs. Ward four decades later. She had been the midwife in that little Oklahoma drama.

My father did not get the first baseman he wanted from that child. What he got, instead…was me. My mother recovered from her illness and lived to bear a daughter and twin sons. She passed away peacefully twelve days shy of her ninety-seventh birthday.

I have speculated many times over the course of my life on the psychological implications of drawing my first breath in that manner. You see, I’m often accused of being anal-retentive.

 

The Eagle’s Claw is Finally Out

I’m pleased to announce that THE EAGLE’S CLAW is now available on Amazon as a Kindle Book. This is the first novel I wrote some 45 years ago. Heavily influenced by Ben Ames Williams’s, HOUSE DIVIDED, I ended up with a 288,000 word tome of well over 1,000 manuscript pages.

Well, “tomes” are out of favor now, so no one was interested in taking on the project. Nonetheless, this is a manuscript to which I had an emotional attachment, so I wanted it to see the light of day. Ergo, I did some heavy editing and self-published it as an ebook. I hope to follow up with a print version.

Set in the years immediately following World War II, THE EAGLE’S CLAW is the story of two young men raised on an Apache reservation in southern New Mexico. Román Otero, is a mixed blood orphan child raised by a reclusive grandmother who is widely regarded as a witch. Under her influence, he wants nothing to do with the white world. Yet Ro’s rescue of the son of a nearby rancher sets off a chain of events that pull him reluctantly away from the reservation.

Jose Peyote, a pureblood, lied about his age and served in the Pacific with the US Marines. He envisions a future for himself in the outside world, but quickly learns peacetime America is not the same as the nation on a war footing.

What follows is a story of conflict, love, hate, prejudice…and ultimately tragic violence. I hope you will read the book and provide me your feedback.

A WORD PICTURE OF MY HOMETOWN, CIRCA 1949

Broken Bow is a lumber and farming town situated in the rolling hills and green forests of the “Little Dixie” Baptist bible belt of southeastern Oklahoma. The town sits nine miles west of Eagletown, an important Indian trading community on the Arkansas border back when the two states were known as Indian Territory. Eagletown, now reduced to no more than a non-descript service station, huddles beside the highway as busy travelers whizzz past without noticing.

Broken Bow began life as an Indian village called Con Chito. Over the generations, it waxed and waned and died and revived until two brothers by the name of Dierks incorporated the community in 1911, naming it after their hometown in Nebraska.

The town of roughly 2,500 souls fastened itself to the narrow blacktop highway coming in from Arkansas and the railroad tracks paralleling it. Most commercial businesses clustered along the two paved downtown streets running north from the highway and a couple of graveled roads pacing them on the east and on the west. The Dierks Lumber Company sawmill, the town’s largest employer, lay on the other side of the railroad tracks where the highway turned south and ran twelve miles through open farm country to Idabel, the McCurtain County seat, and beyond to the rich river bottoms. From there, it crossed into Texas after another twenty miles.

Broken Bow was the kind of place where no one knew his own address. A family lived three blocks east of the feed store and one block south, second house on the left, or some such descriptive direction. There were no street signs when I was a child. And no postal delivery…except for rural routes. Town mail was collected from rented boxes or the free general delivery window at the post office.

Generations of children measured their growth by running down the sidewalk on Main Street and jumping to touch the rafters of the wooden overhang protecting pedestrians from the blazing sun or heavy rain squalls. The drug store on the uphill corner of this block-long shaded section boasted a soda fountain, making it a magnet for the younger set.

The town’s most popular Saturday night pastime was parking head-in to the curb along the main drag, as near the drug store as possible. Entire families sat in their cars and trucks to indulge in some serious people watching until it was time for the picture show half a block down on the other side of the street. This was a good way to keep up with budding teenage romances and the state of the neighbors’ marital relationships. Sartorial splendor was considered anything beyond a gingham house dress and bib overalls.

The Broken Bow High Savages annually engaged the Idabel Warriors in the “Little River Rumble,” one of the oldest football rivalries in the state. Back then, the schools were segregated, of course, and remained that way until 1964. In fact, although we were in the midst of the Choctaw Nation, I don’t recall attending class with any Indians except two boys a few years behind me. However, the school secretary was a Native American…a Hopi import from distant New Mexico. For what it’s worth, the first year two black players were permitted on the team, Broken Bow High won the championship in their division.

I fondly remember the town as an easy-going, not much happening place where my grandmother and I would rock on the porch in the early summer evenings, while my grandfather sliced open a plump, red-meat watermelon. The setting sun would catch in the topmost branches of the chinaberry tree in the front yard and play among leaves ruffled by a gentle breeze. Often, as heat waves slowly dissipated on the asphalt highway and the delicate scent of roses and hydrangeas and morning glories flooded the porch, we’d hear a family on the far side of the railroad tracks harmonizing familiar gospel songs. Sometimes we joined right in. I’ve always wondered if they could hear us as clearly as we heard them.

Finally a Little Action

I’ve already published one brilliant, witty post (Site Under Construction), so can’t really call this the first. Nonetheless, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting me and pledge to have much more interesting things to say in the future. As a 20th-Century man, I’m still feeling my way around this strange new medium (as you have likely already figured out).

I was born and raised in the little town of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and as you will see on the About page, took a meandering trail to reach Albuquerque.

I am totally in love with my adopted state of New Mexico, so a number of future posts will be devoted to expressing that attraction. From time to time, I’ll venture into some flash (or at least short) fiction, and I will occasionally expose some of my personal foibles in this space.

Give me a bit more time to work out some of the finer details, and then I will try to make this an address worth visiting.

Thanks,

Donald (to my family back in Texas), Donald T. (to my brother-in-law in Oregon), and Don (to the rest of the world)