One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. "You'd be destroying what makes it special," she said. "It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.
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Some people who've read my story think I had a terrible childhood and that I was neglected or even abused, while others feel that my parents, while certainly flawed, also had truly wonderful qualities. And that's the way it should be, because in real life two people can look at the same president and one will see a hero and the other a villain.
Mom always said people worried too much about their children. Suffering when you're young is good for you, she said. It immunized your body and your soul, and that was why she ignored us kids when we cried. Fussing over children who cry only encouraged them, she told us. That's positive reinforcement for negative behavior.
The sound of thunder awake me, and when I got up, my feet sank into muddy water up to my ankles. Mother took Buster and Helen to high ground to pray, but I stayed behind with Apache and Lupe. We barricaded the door with the rug and started bailing water out the window. Mother came back and begged us to go pray with her on the hilltop. "To heck with praying!" I shouted. "Bail, dammit, bail!" Mom look mortified. I could tell she thought I'd probably doomed us all with my blasphemy, and I was a little shocked at it myself, but with the water rising so fast, the situation was dire. We had lit the kerosene lamp, and we could see the walls of the dugout were beginning to sag inward. If Mom had pitched in and helped, there was a chance we might have been able to save the dugout - not a good chance, but a fighting chance. Apache and Lupe and I couldn't do it on our own, though, and when the ceiling started to cave, we grabbed Mom's walnut headboard and pulled it through the door just as the dugout collapsed in on itself, burying everything. Afterward, I was pretty aggravated with Mom. She kept saying that the flood was God's will and we had to submit to it. But I didn't see things that way. Submitting seemed to me a lot like giving up. If God gave us the strength to bail - the gumption to try to save ourselves - isn't that what he wanted us to do?
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Dad was on the porch, pacing back and forth in that uneven stride he had on account of having a gimp leg. When he saw, he let out a yelp of delight and started hobbling down the steps towards us. Mom came running out of the house. She sank down on her knees, clasped her hands in front of her, and started praying up to the heavens, thanking the Lord for delivering her children from the flood. It was she who had saved us, she declared, by staying up all night praying. "You get down on your knees and thank your guardian angel, " she said. "And thank me, too." Helen and Buster got down and started praying with Mom, but I just stood there looking at them. The way I saw it. I was the one who'd saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us. Dad came alongside me and put his arms around my shoulders. "There weren't no guardian angel, Dad, " I said. I started explaining how I'd gotten us to the cottonwood tree in time, figuring out how to switch places when our arms got tired and keeping Buster and Helen awake through the long night by quizzing them. Dad squeezed my shoulder. "Well, darling, " he said, "maybe the angel was you.
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even though I was getting better education at home than any of the kids in Toyah, I'd need to go to finishing school when I was thirteen, both to acquire social graces and to earn a diploma. Because in this world, Dad said, it's not enough to have a fine education. You need a piece of paper to prove you go it.
The water you kids were playing in, he said, had probably been to Africa and the North Pole. Genghis Khan or Saint Peter or even Jesus may have drunk it. Cleopatra might have bathed in it. Crazy Horse might have watered his pony with it. Sometimes water was liquid. Sometimes it was rock hard- ice. Sometimes it was soft- snow. Sometimes it was visible but weightless- clouds. And sometimes it was completely invisible- vapor- floating up into the the sky like the soals of dead people. There was nothing like water in the world, Jim said. It made the desert bloom but also turned rich bottomland into swamp. Without it we'd die, but it could also kill us, and that was why we loved it, even craved it, but also feared it. Never take water forgranted, Jim said. Always cherish it. Always beware of it.
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[Mom] said she didn't want her youngest daughter dressed in the thrift-store clothes the rest of us wore. Mom told us we would have to go shoplifting. "Isn't that a sin?" I asked Mom. "Not exactly, " Mom said. "God doesn't mind you bending the rules a little if you have good reason. It's sort of like justifiable homicide. This is justifiable pilfering.
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As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get used to certain luxuries that you start to think they're necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don't need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things-though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart-and at the ranch, I could see, we have pretty much everything we'd need but precious little else.
Since Mom wasn't exactly the most useful person in the world, one lesson I learned at an early age was how to get things done, and this was a source of both amazement and concern for Mom, who considered my behavior unladylike but also counted on me. "I never knew a girl to have such gumption, " she'd say. "But I'm not too sure it's a good thing.
The way Mom saw it, women should let menfolk do the work because it made them feel more manly. That notion only made sense if you had a strong man willing to step up and get things done, and between Dad's gimp, Buster's elaborate excuses, and Apache's tendency to disappear, it was often up to me to keep the place from falling apart. But even when everyone was pitching in, we never got out from under all the work. I loved that ranch, though sometimes it did seem that instead of us owning the place, the place owned us.
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Those shining stars, he liked to point out, were one of the special treats for people like us who lived out in the wilderness. Rich city folks, he'd say, lived in fancy apartments, but their air was so polluted they couldn't even see the stars. We'd have to be out of our minds to want to trade places with any of them.
I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they're necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don't need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things-though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart-and at the ranch, I could see, we'd have pretty much everything we'd need but precious little else.
Dad's death didn't hollow me out the way Helen's had. After all, everyone had assumed Dad was a goner back when he got kicked in the head as a child. Instead, he had cheated death and, despite his gimp and speech impediment, lived a long life doing pretty much what he wanted. He hadn't drawn the best of cards, but he'd played his hand darned well, so what was there to grieve over?
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Living there [Horse Mesa] was like living in a natural cathedral. Waking up every morning, you walked outside and looked down at the blue lake, then up at the sandstone cliffs--those awe-inspiring layers of red and yellow rock shaped over the millennia, with dozens of black-streaked crevices that temporarily became waterfalls after rainstorms.
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As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get used to certain luxuries that you start to think they're necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don't need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things--though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart--and at the ranch, I could see, we have pretty much everything we'd need but precious little else.
...even though I was getting better education at home than any of the kids in Toyah, I'd need to go to finishing school when I was thirteen, both to acquire social graces and to earn a diploma. Because in this world, Dad said, it's not enough to have a fine education. You need a piece of paper to prove you go it.
Since Mom wasn't exactly the most useful person in the world, one lesson I learned at an early age was how to get things done, and this was a source of both amazement and concern for Mom, who considered my behavior unladylike but also counted on me. "I never knew a girl to have such gumption," she'd say. "But I'm not too sure it's a good thing.
I hate Erma," I told Mom... "You have to show compassion for her..." She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. "Everyone has something good about them," she said. "You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that." "Oh yeah?" I said. "How about Hitler? What was his redeeming quality?" "Hitler loved dogs," Mom said without hesitation.
I wondered if the fire had been out to get me. I wondered if all fire was related, like Dad said all humans were related, if the fire that had burned me that day while I cooked hot dogs was somehow connected o the fire I had flushed down the toilet and the fire burning at the hotel. I didn't have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.
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