Born the end of 1945, I’m now almost 76 1/2 years old. That’s a lot of years to have watched people and events in the world, although I learn new things every single day. The observations here are based on what I’ve personally observed and lived through and I write this for those who live with the good things that have come from the past.

Growing up in the 1950s, my own childhood would be considered idyllic. We were a white family, living in a nice house, neighborhood and city, Tulsa, Oklahoma. We played in the yard, roamed freely, had advantages. I went to a lovely private school for my elementary years, a place where I was only around people like me, along with several who were very wealthy and had chauffeurs and cooks. We had a maid, but my mother worked alongside her to keep everything perfect. I think these are the “Good Old Days” that many idealize and long for. There are some things that were definitely sweet and innocent, but there is a reality that I began to see even then.

The only people of color we knew were people who worked for us or at the country club or restaurants. They all lived on the north side of Tulsa and my only views of their homes were when my mother would sometimes drive one of our maids home. My mother grew up very poor with a widowed mother during the Depression. My father grew up with a father who owned a growing business. As a small child, I only saw my grandparents homes as wonderful places to explore, but I would start observing differences early.

I was a quiet little girl who spent a lot of time reading and watching, listening and snooping around. Like most children, I saw and heard a lot more than I said. Children in those days didn’t ask as many questions and weren’t asked their opinions on much. My parents were great, but they weren’t sharing their everyday concerns and problems with us. I would now consider those days, in general, as the days of secrets and lies, not so much in my family, but in general.

After the war, women who had worked while their husbands served mostly became housewives and mothers. Men who were on the rise in companies were looked down on if their wives worked outside the home, seen as unable to support their families. If you wanted to be promoted, your wife was home building a beautiful home and waiting for you to arrive home after work with a clean home, cooked meal and children ready to greet you. My parents married at the end of the war and Mommy had worked for years so she was happy to assume this new role and teach us that Daddy was to be the center of our universe and we were to be forever grateful to him. The fact that he was a sweet man and they loved each other so much made this easy to buy into. Daddy worked hard, they entertained their friends, we had fun as a family and were picture perfect for the era.

Daddy always gave my mother an allowance. She used this to pay the maid, buy groceries and keep the household going. She handed him the bills and he took them to work and paid them. There were no credit cards in those days, but you could get a charge account at stores, with the permission of your husband. My mother was a good manager and managed to save money for herself out of her allowance. I always thought it was kind of sad that Daddy didn’t give her gifts but handed her a check through the years. I understand now that she was saving all of that until she had her own money and independence and didn’t have to ask him for every little thing. Not many women had this luxury or were smart enough to do this. I didn’t appreciate her independence until years later.

Women didn’t have that many rights in those days. Husbands had to co-sign or approve anything like the charge accounts. My mother didn’t have a checking account for decades because she had those charge accounts and cash. I remember when my husband and I were first married while in college in the mid-60s and applied for our first credit card, then a $100 limit, together. We had moved along by then to have joint accounts. Everything we ever did as a couple was in both our names. We never thought of doing it any other way. There was an incident when I was in my 30s where I was purchasing some clothing for him at a store where we had charged for years and the clerk said she would have to have my husband approve the charge. I was so angry. He couldn’t believe it. I can only imagine if that had happened over and over.

Back to my growing up and observing. While in high school, I began to notice that adults seemed to drink way too much. My mother never drank, but there was a lot of drinking. My father kept bottles of liquor in his desk drawer at work and had a drink when he got home from work. That was common. I’m sure he offered drinks to business associates who came by the office and had a drink or two when he worked late. I also began to hear things from the adult conversations. I realize now that many of my parents friends had affairs, but divorce was scandalous and the women had no way to make a living if they left their husbands, so they stayed. I watched many of them celebrate their Golden Anniversaries, knowing that their marriages had been up and down through the years.

I’ve also learned though the years that human behavior has not changed. There has always been rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse. Nobody talked about it. There were secrets everywhere. We know now that children suffered abuse from trusted teachers, scout leaders, church leaders, family members. Women were beaten and tortured in their homes. Before she died, my mother mentioned that one of the reasons that her mother never remarried after being widowed at 28 and left with three children during the Depression was that she was afraid of marrying someone who might harm her children. I found out as an adult that a boy I went to high school with, a handsome football captain, was beaten by his father. He actually lived away from home and snuck back before school every day so nobody would know. Brothers I met late in life were beaten regularly by their father who did everything he could to demean them in their lives. We had no idea that things like this happened in our idyllic “Good Old Days.” There were secrets everywhere.

My mother and I were talking about abortion many years ago and she told me she had one. Her doctor did it in his office, telling her she didn’t need another baby right then. She just took his word for it. She was so insightful and knew it was never a black and white issue. By the time I was in college, I had had a good friend commit suicide because she found out she was pregnant at 14, and saw girls leave school for time away with their far away aunts, where they either had abortions or had the babies and gave them up for adoption. Some of them were never able to have children after the experience. No telling how many girls I knew who went to scary people or did their own abortions. I once visited an abortion clinic when it was made legal and saw a 14 year old girl and her grandmother, a college athlete and his girlfriend, and mother of three who was alone. None of them looked anything but sad, but at least they were gently taken care of and able to go about their lives. I learned then that I had no idea what decisions people have to make and it’s none of my business.

Back to women’s issues, my college years were filled with experiences that shaped the women of my generation. My friends were very smart girls who were expected to go to good colleges and use our brains. The reality was that there weren’t a lot of career options out there encouraged for us – teachers, nurses, secretary were real choices. If you had to work, it was to take care of yourself until you could find a husband. A few were breaking out of that mold, but it was there. We were treated in different ways that the “men” we went to school with. While the guys had no curfews, we had to be in by 10 on weeknights and by midnight on the weekends. Women at Oklahoma State University were required to live in university housing (or sorority houses) until they were 23 years old or married. Many got married a young age then anyway. When I had my first daughter, I was 22 years old and the oldest new mother in Stillwater Hospital. College men were exempt from the draft for Vietnam if they were married, so there were many quick weddings. Some lasted, some didn’t.

I was not a big protester, although I certainly read all that I could. I marched for Academic Freedom, signed petitions to give coeds more rights on campus, and heard Gloria Steinem when she visited campus. Women were getting bolder about asking for their rights. When I realize now that my grandmothers couldn’t even vote until they were in their 20s, I realize how long it has taken for women to be recognized as equal human beings.

In junior high, I met my first Jewish friends. Their parents had their own country club because they weren’t allowed to join the other clubs until into the 70s or 80s. It didn’t matter how successful they were or how generous they were to the community, it took years for them to be accepted. I was proud when one of my good friends became the first Jewish President of the Junior League of Tulsa in the 1980s. Ridiculous that it took that long.

I had my first friend who was a person of color when I was in college. She was the only girl in our dorm and one of the few on campus. She was great fun and offered us insights into her life in Arkansas. Growing up in Oklahoma, you would think we knew many Native Americans, but nobody was claiming that heritage then. A friend I met as an adult told me how she was looked down on in Tulsa growing up, obviously not in my lily white neighborhoods. She earned her PhD and educated many of us on the reality of the tribes. Now everyone wants to find some Native blood in their family, a far cry from the earlier years in the “Good Old Days.”

When I was in junior high and high school, guys would ridicule each other using words like “queer” and “fag.” Talk about a big secret in those days. My mother had two women friends who came to visit us that she had known when she was younger. She just adored them and explained them vaguely, but I caught on that they were a couple. It was hard to conceive then. Through the years, I had friends who left their families as they came out, but remained terrific fathers and friends to their former wives. I remember a close friend from high school who called me to tell me she was gay. She had been through a horrific marriage and had a child. I took that announcement in, realizing how hard it was for her to tell me, and told her I was just happy she had found love in life. I got it. I had that experience more than once as friends came out and other friends found that they had gay children. Something I had not really had an opinion on was an issue I understood and could appreciate for my friends. I was learning how many people I knew who had lived secret or suppressed lives for so many years.

Religion was a mixed bag in our house growing up. I always leaned towards going to church and found it a place where I could spend time thinking and learning more about people. As I grew up and took leadership positions, it was apparent that the perfect life of church members was just a microcosm of society with adultery, lies, bullying and, we later, learned abuse. When I worked with Domestic Violence victims in the 1980s, we found that churches were one of the obstacles because they were still telling women that they needed to stay in marriages and obey their husbands and their wedding vows. Churches have come a long way. For all the attempts to be more perfect, the reality of being human is even more apparent under the spotlight of religion. I once told a grandson, who asked, that the difference in churches or congregations is in the people, the structure, the governance. You might feel most at home at one denomination in one town and another one somewhere else. They have their own identities. We are fortunate to be able to choose our means of worship.

Back to the women’s issues, the first big volunteer job I had in 1973 was to publish a cookbook as a fundraiser for an organization. The recipes were listed under our married names (Mrs. Alan C. Fraser). This amuses/horrifies me today because I had always taken pride in using my maiden name with my married name. We were young and proud to be married, I guess. In the decade to come, many of my friends found themselves divorced because their husbands had affairs and left them, unlike my parents’ friends who stayed together and probably led separate lives or made each other miserable in some cases. These women, in their 30s and 40s, found themselves with college degrees they hadn’t used and a workforce where they weren’t welcomed. I’m proud to say that many built lovely careers on their own. Actually, I found myself in the same position when I became a widow at 52 and had to build a life and career/careers. We were getting stronger and gaining more respect and resources. Women can be their own worst enemies and I’m always sad to see those who choose not to support each other.

I’m not going to talk about the diseases that ran through the “Good Old Days” and the medical breakthroughs that save people today or the children who had undiagnosed learning disabilities or the pollution caused by industries and the inequalities in pay between the workers and the executives. You get the point. The “Good Old Days” weren’t all bad, but they certainly weren’t times to return to. Sure, it would be nice to be as innocent as I was a child, but I grew up and learned and continue to learn.

People are capable of extreme good and unfathomable evil. We make strides and then fall back. As a woman, I can truly say I have watched so many advances made through the efforts of smart, determined women and understanding, supportive men. A few years ago, I thought I would be able to live out my life watching my grandchildren and their children and so on inherit a better life and world. Now I’m not so sure.

Many of my most respected friends are depressed and angry and concerned about the direction society is taking. Of course, I also have friends who are excited and even those who think we are going to go back to the “Good Old Days.” I think I’m most depressed about the polarization and the inability of anyone to sit down and find common solutions or even to recognize that some of these issues are a problem.

One thing I am sure of is that I have watched and learned over the past 7+ decades because of the people I have met who have taught me the reality about some situations in life. When I see things I believe to be wrong, I have to speak out because if I don’t, the results will be partly my fault. You can’t ignore problems and hope they will go away. Those weren’t the “Good Old Days” they talk about. They were just the Old Days. We are supposed to be getting better, or at least trying. Aren’t we?

There’s a difference in hoarding and collecting. Hoarding, in my mind, is keeping things because you might use them some day. I do way too much of this and try to thin out the stuff every year. It’s a remnant of having parents and grandparents who lived through the Depression. Or not wanting to waste things. Or keeping them for someone else. I’ll move on to Spring Cleaning soon. I promise.

Collecting is almost a blood sport. It’s in my blood because I had a father who collected stamps and cigar rings as a child and coins as an adult. His sweet mother would lean down to pick up the cigar rings from gutters for him. We rolled our eyes at his coin collecting as he bought bags of coins from people in remote towns to bring home and clean, looking for the rare penny or nickel or silver dollar. He hid them in our air conditioning vents and my mother threatened to spend them all. She wouldn’t have, but it was funny to watch him dig through them and she enjoyed the drives to meet people he heard about who would sell him coins in the days before the internet.

My mother didn’t collect until later when she started going to auctions and antique sales. I spent a lot of time going with her and learned to bid watching her go head to head with dealers to get a piece she wanted. She loved being the winner of a bid and loved even more meeting all the people who were selling items and learning about the story of the pieces. She told me that a collection is at least three pieces and she would sometimes get three of something and say that was her collection and wait to find something else. Her competitiveness was another story.

When I was a young married lady, I read that you should group your collection and did that with some things and found I had several collections or larger ones than I thought. Santas were the biggest one. I had Santas from my childhood and had always loved them. Once I grouped them for the holidays, it all exploded. Since my birthday and anniversary were also in December and I worked on several Christmas projects with craftsmen and artists, I started getting more. As I told someone, if you get ten a year and you’re in your 70s, you have a whole lot of them. I picked them up when I traveled, when I was in antique shops or at sales, and received them as gifts from family and friends. That’s what happens once people know you collect something.

Here are a very few of the ones I have. My collection includes silly ones, antique ones, artist originals, cheap and expensive ones. Whatever catches my eye. I’ve found them (or figures that look like Santa) in a flea market in Vienna and a shop in Hong Kong. The tall skinny one in my kitchen window is the one I’ve had the longest since he was there when I was a child. The Lego ones are from Denmark before they had them here and the wooden ornaments are from Hawaii. Some are from dime stores, some from fancy places. I have them all over the place, big & little. There’s no room in this story to show them all.

The thing about anything I have is that it comes with either a story or a memory. I think that is what I like most about collecting and collectors. I’m not much of a minimalist, not in any way. I like to see what people are about, what they like.

My mother loved talking to people and I’m sure most of her collections came from meeting an antique shop owner or someone who told her the story of a piece and she had to have it. We both loved buying art from artists we met on the street when we traveled or from supporting artists we became friends with. She and my father purchased several bronze statues of cowboys from a man they met and corresponded with for years. They liked knowing him and his story and supporting his work.

She also collecting things like miniature antique leather books, preferring ones with topics or stories that interested her, although she had some lovely ones in foreign languages. We both loved anything miniature and she had a fun doll house that she loved to furnish with things she made or found. She started collecting magnifying glasses, many with handles from antique umbrellas. I have part of her collection, which I have added to. I’ve found that I actually use them these days, so they’re kind of scattered around the house.

I recently found a couple of small ones to go with this one of hers with the tassel. You can also see some antique inkwells. Three of them were her collection and others are mine, one found in London and another found at an estate sale.

One of the first times I traveled to Europe, way back in the early 70s, I saw people collecting pins which they wore on Alpine hats. I didn’t want the hat, but I started collecting the pins and included some antique ones I found there. I still collect them, but have they are harder to find and so I have a magnets. It may be silly, but I get a nice feeling when I remember interesting places I have been. I must not have much of a memory because I depend on photos and things I pick up to trigger mine.

Sometimes we start collecting because we are just interested in something. This map of Oklahoma hung in my father’s office from the time I was little. I think he got it when we moved to Tulsa in 1948. He used it to map places for his salesmen to go and to find spots for his quail hunting trips. It’s yellowed from the smoke that was in the rooms back in the days of smokers. I claimed it years ago and it led to a collection of books and things about Oklahoma. I had to move some of them for space recently.

Once I was at an antique auction with a friend and there were a bunch of small English wooden boxes. We learned the word “treen” and became interested so we bid on some. I’ve only added a couple, but do love wooden or treen boxes. Note that one was chewed on by a puppy sometime through the years.

For a few years in the 80s, I worked on and chaired an antique show for a non-profit and we brought antique dealers from across the country. I listened to their lectures and stories and loved so many things that I couldn’t afford. I got interested in the little wax seals that people used to use to seal their letters and thought that was something I could look for that was affordable and a way to support the dealers. I don’t look for them as often these days, but I do see an interesting one every now and then. I love to picture people writing with their pens dipped in ink and then sealing the letters with a dab of wax and their monogram. The reddish Asian one is from Hong Kong. Supposedly, it was a Chinese version of my name, but I doubt that Karen translated very well. There’s a small one with a stag being attacked by a dog on top that was supposed to be a prop in a movie, although I always thought that was a stretch and probably just a good story from an antique dealer to sell it. It’s still interesting and antique.

Hearts are one of those things I just suddenly had a bunch of. I had picked them up in art galleries and antique stores and sales and gift shops and been given them. There is one from Tiffany that was a gift and some wooden ones made from driftwood on the beaches in Oregon. There are glass ones from the volcanic ash in Washington and artist ones from museum gift shops and I see a clay one from an artist in Sedona and another glass one from a young artist in Oregon. I had grouped my heart frames and then the hearts started piling up. Good grief. They are kind of fun though and make me smile. I have more hanging artist ones and others just kind of around. Whatever. I have a friend who collects hearts because her last name is Love and another who collects them because her birthday is on Valentine’s Day. We all have our reasons.

There are some strawberry things around my house because the name Fraser comes from the French word for strawberry, fraise, and there are strawberries in the Fraser clan badge. Not too many, just a few I’ve found.

The thing about collections is that you start to see the things you like everywhere. It gives you something to look for when you are traveling or shopping. I’ve also found that many collections lead to doing research on the item and learning more about its history, along with meeting some of the most interesting people.

I called collecting a sport and it can be. Going to auctions or estate sales or combing through flea markets and antique shops can be competitive. Sometimes you are just looking at everything, but mostly your eye stops on either something that you like or have been looking for. You see something and want to know more about it. Many collectors become experts on their collections. I have a friend who started collecting vintage hats and clothing and recently donated her collection to the Tulsa Historical Society where she has her own exhibit.

I love standing in line to get into an estate sale and seeing what everyone else is looking for. I feel like I need to race to the things I want, but most people are collecting things I would never have thought about. They have become interested in things and are building their collection. I’ve met people looking for vintage toys, pyrex ware, old cameras, certain kinds of glass. Tom Hanks collects vintage typewriters. There is a competitiveness in being the one who finds the rare item you are missing, just as my father looked for certain stamps or coins. I don’t know if there is such a thing as having a complete collection of anything, but people keep trying. People like having a piece of history, many considering themselves keepers of something that may have been thrown away but needs to been kept for future generations. I do lament the things that we tossed and would like to see again from my lifetime, even knowing that we can’t keep everything. Some of collecting is nostalgia, a way to keep memories of our own lives. Rarely do I think people are collecting because they plan to sell the items and make money, unless they are dealers.

There are people who collect sneakers these days just as there are people who collect cookbooks and first edition rare books, vintage albums, sports equipment. There are people who collect art, including photographs, paintings, sculptures. I have a friend who collects etchings and has a museum quality collection, which is lovely. She is an expert on her pieces now and knows what to search for. Another friend collects tea strainers. I have a daughter who collects Toby jugs and another who is interested in mid-century modern furniture. A son-in-law collects bourbons. There is a surge of young people (younger than I am, which includes most people), interested in antiques. One of my Native American friends collects items from her culture and an African American friend collects the kitchy kind of figures, such as Mammy dolls, sold in earlier days. They are preserving their own histories.

There is no one reason or thing to collect. I can attest to the fact that it makes you learn, leads you to meet new and interesting people, takes you to fun places and can make you smile. What happens to our collections when we are gone is that they either are interesting enough to be in a museum or display or they are passed along or they go to sales for the next generation of collectors to add to their collections and enjoy.

My son was a collector from a young age. He started with his Star Wars toys and teddy bears but moved to beer cans. I would take him to the flea market and watch that nine year old bargain with dealers over a can he spotted. He was always an expert on pop culture. He moved on to lunch boxes and had quite a collection in his lifetime. His wife still keeps them and I have one of them to remind me of that little kid who inherited the family obsession.

As I said, the things I collect usually come with a memory. Sometimes they are just things I enjoy looking at or learning about, but they almost always have a memory attached of how I got them or who gave them to me or where I was or who I was with or what they mean.

And all those memories are good.

My parents taught me at an early age to value the work of artists. My father tended towards carved wood or figures while my mother was more eclectic. When I traveled with them, I learned that we could bring art back easily since paintings could be rolled or laid flat in our bags. Since I seem to have never been able to develop any ability to create anything with paint, I also learned to appreciate those who could.

Throughout my adult life, I have met many artists through various projects who became friends. Nobody has had an impact on me like my friend, Nylajo Harvey, who recently passed away at the age of 95. When I was a young mother with three daughters, I became aware of her work and wanted to own a painting. I decided I might as well have her paint my daughters since it cost about the same as buying another piece. This was a giant splurge for me, but I knew it would be worth it.

When I met Nylajo in 1975, I was 29 and she was 48. I was happily married with daughters aged 6, 4 and 2. She had been married and divorced three times and had two daughters with one of her husbands and two sons and a daughter with another. Her younger daughter and son were in elementary school. At the time, she had a glassed room at the front of her house that was her studio. The house was over 100 years old and was located across from a popular park near my home. I herded my little ones in to pose for the first time and was amazed that she could set them up and capture their personalities in a short time. After that, I would bring them one at a time. I don’t remember having many sittings with all of them – thank goodness.

I found myself stopping by to see her when I would take the girls to school or had a sitter. Of course, I was checking on the painting, but we were becoming closer friends all the time. We would talk while she painted, even with other people stopping by to see her and visit also. She was smart and interesting and we were just instant friends. She must have had us over for dinner, because she and my husband became friends also. For Mother’s Day that year, he brought home a little painting he knew I loved at her house.

Having seen her art before I met her, I was aware that she had earlier periods where most of her work was in pastels, then in blues. When I met her, we shared a love of bright colors, which she incorporated into the portrait of the girls.

She had instantly caught my middle daughter’s impatience with this whole process, my youngest daughter’s sweet baby self and my oldest daughter’s oldest child taking it seriously attitude. It was a delight. Just before she was finished, we learned that I was pregnant again. She laughed at my husband showing up to tell her to stop the painting until we knew what to do. Our solution was to wait for the baby to be born, guessing it to be another girl, and then paint the infant into my oldest daughter’s lap. There wasn’t a way to tell very much about a baby until it was born in 1975, so we waited until November.

Amazingly, our fourth child was a boy and Nylajo said she would wait and paint him when he was older, little knowing what a trip that would be. She often told me that she liked me and my children, telling stories of hiding in the closet when some other families showed up. We all liked her, too.

By the time my son was three, he had already locked into wearing a cowboy hat every day, one that looked like the hat Hoss Cartwright wore on the “Bonanza” tv show at the time. I had bought it at Neiman Marcus because it was so cute, little knowing that it would become a worn out, dirty family icon. Nylajo wanted to paint him in the hat and asked that we bring his Wonder Horse to the studio to paint him on. Those sessions had to be among her craziest sittings as he would rock the horse wildly, sometimes sitting backwards. He was not the ideal kid to sit still for a portrait. But, she succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and captured my little one’s personality perfectly.

At some point, I had taken a couple of photography classes at Philbrook Museum and showed Jo some pictures I took of my kids. She did paintings from two of them, one of my son (again in the cowboy hat) and one of my youngest daughter. She gave those to me and I later gave them to those two.

My mother was about 10 years older than Jo and they also became close friends. When my mother found out that Jo owed about $5,000 on her house, she paid it off so that she would own the house outright. Money was always tight for our artist friend and my mother said that the only reason her widowed mother and my mother and her two brothers had any dignity during the Depression was because they owned their home and would be able to stay there even when they couldn’t pay the gas bill. I doubt my mother wanted to be repaid, but Jo gave her several large paintings in thanks. She would also give her little gifts, such as this small piece painting on a lid or something she found.

I think Jo was the one who first told me that it was a good exercise for an artist to paint large and small. I have this small painting, probably 2″x3″, that I love for the tiny details that let me know what is happening in this moment.

I have many of her paintings. I loved her images of children and have a couple of children’s parades. I also loved her portraits of women, flowers, so many. She had many themes.

Through the years, I was busy with children and volunteer activities and work, but managed to see Jo when I could, always trying to stop by her birthday parties in July or her annual show in December. She knew everyone in town, from artists to her wealthier patrons, and knew what was going on with everyone. It was always a lively party where I met interesting people through the years. Her dinner parties were special as she put together congenial, interesting groups, to enjoy her home cooked meals at beautifully set tables. She told me she also considered cooking an art as she made pots of soup to freeze, often sending some to my mother in her later years.

Nylajo was one of the most unique women I was ever fortunate to know. When my grandson needed to interview someone who had been alive before World War II for a high school project, I took him to meet her. She was 90 at the time. Listening to her answer his questions, I learned even more than I had known about her before.

Nylajo was born in 1926 to a banker father and a mother who was a teacher. She had one brother and three sisters and were a close family. Contrary to popular belief, she was not Native American. I recently looked up something to write this piece and found one of her paintings for sale online, and it was described as by this known Native American artist, which made me laugh. I always loved her name, but it is not Native American.

Jo always wanted to be an artist. As a child, she was told that she could draw better than she could write, and she took that to heart. She attended high school in Springfield, MO, and grew up loving sports, being a runner, a softball player and even playing football until her mother found out. She loved trout fishing with her father. Her first job was tinting photographs in a department store.

She won an engineering scholarship to Purdue, so she went there first. The men were all away at the war and women were being recruited. She learned that wasn’t for her, so she got a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute and studied to be an artist. During that time, she dated the son of Thomas Hart Benton and told me of meeting him in his home.

Another story she told me was of working for an architect and meeting Frank Lloyd Wright. I later purchased a painting she did entitled, “The Night I Met Mr. Wright.” Jo was known for her thick red hair which she wore in a long braid down her back for many years. In this painting, she was young, with her red hair flowing. She described him to my grandson as being really short and wearing a black cape, really interesting.

She got married for the first time in 1948 and became a mother that year at age 22. She never had much to say about any of her husbands to me as they were all long gone when I met her. She was so independent that I can’t even imagine her with anyone.

Talking to my grandson, she told him that she learned the basics from her teacher mother: honesty, kindness and truthfulness. She also fully learned the English language. She was reading a book a day well into her 90s and spoke to me about the books she was reading the week before she died. She could talk about anything with anyone. She got her first tv when she was 62 years old.

She told us that her most important decades were the 1940s-1960s when she was raising her children and found who she was. She was a strong, loving mother. She loved to be with people and often spent time in a neighborhood bar, where one of her paintings was displayed, probably given to pay her bar bill. She was a drinker and the first person I know who was 86ed from a place, the neighborhood bar, of course. Her parties were lively and she had her drinking buddies. She partied with Leon Russell and probably other artists of the area. I don’t think she considered herself one of the boys – she didn’t need to. She was very much herself always. I don’t remember her swearing or being obnoxious, although I’m sure she could. She was extremely well mannered and a tribute to the values her parents taught her. She was honest and outspoken and funny and smart.

She never felt like she was discriminated against as a woman, probably because of her self confidence, and she didn’t discriminate against anyone. She did not suffer fools and alienated many people through the years, although many worked their way back to her. She did not change who she was – ever. She could be difficult, probably with the drinking, but she had a large group of devoted friends who showed up to help her set up her shows (she was always painting until the last minute) or to take her to the store after she quit driving or to be there for her. I was not her best friend, just a long time friend, one of so many.

Jo adored her children, speaking of each of them as if they were the most interesting people she knew. They were some of her favorite subjects in paintings through the years. She enjoyed them and was able to travel with her youngest late in life. I have no idea what kind of a mother they think she was, but they loved her.

She enjoyed her children as adults. Maybe too much. After two of her daughters had died of alcoholism, she quit drinking. Having lost a child, I understand what a blow losing them was to her.

Since I didn’t see her all the time, I never knew what had been going on in her life when I stopped by. One time she was recovering from cancer, having refused the treatment. She lived at least another 20 years. Another time, she had fallen off a ladder while doing something on her roof (two story house) and had many broken bones. Her invitations to her annual show were often photos of her doing something fun and adventurous, such as riding a motorcycle. Here she is on a boat named after her.

Through the years, her lush red hair turned gray and her braid got thinner. Here she is visiting after my mother died.

Jo was a tiny woman with a big voice and terrific laugh. She was a fabulous hostess and I loved being in her kitchen, shown here a few years ago. I’m only about 5’4″ these days, so she was tinier than her oversized personality indicated.

When I took my grandson to meet her, I was struck with how great a listener she was – not just because she couldn’t hear as well at 90, but because she always had been.

From our earliest years as friends, I had always known she would be there, always curious and always compassionate. She was my confidante through the years, listening to all the ups and downs my own life took, never being judgmental, just being there. She could comfort you by being so wise and so loving, just as my mother was. They truly were kindred souls. When I lost my husband and, later, my son, she grieved with me.

A couple of years ago, I stopped by to see her and found her uncharacteristically sad. Her brother had died unexpectedly. They had spoken every week for an hour or more and he had just been chopping wood when she last heard from him. He was in his 90s and still going strong until he was gone. She suddenly felt a huge void. For the first time, she didn’t feel like painting.

When the wonderful new park, Gathering Place, opened in Tulsa, I persuaded her to visit it with me. I drove her up to the door since she couldn’t walk as far anymore. I took her outside to see the wonderful seating areas.

I wanted her to see the beautiful architecture and designs in the Lodge, so we went inside where I caught this image of her against the wall. She was having so much fun and delighting in this new place.

I drove her around to the Boathouse and took her inside the fascinating exhibit room there. She was her usual self, taking it all in and happy to be there. We didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to wear her out.

A few weeks later, she told me she was doing a retrospective show. They called it “Nylajo’s Last Picture Show.” She had been buying up her old paintings from estate sales, so had many to re-sell along with new ones. I was shocked at first and then realized that she was outliving her old patrons. When I stopped by, she was in her usual place at her easel. I took several pictures (why had I not taken more through the years?) and one was used on the invitation to the show. I just wanted to always remember her as she was when I had first met her – painting.

The show was great fun with many local artists coming to see her. She had influenced so many through the years, more than I will ever know. My son’s daughter was about 10 and threw her arms around her, to Jo’s delight. Her eyes twinkled as she remembered my son with me.

When the pandemic hit right after this show, she was locked at home with her books and cooking. I sent her a card, a cutout of Picasso. She called me, delighted, and said she had him standing where she could see him all the time. She never failed to tell me that from then on. As time went on, I stopped by when it was safe and found her as sharp as ever, interested in me and life around her.

I went by right before Christmas to leave her some bourbon pralines and could see her curled up, sound asleep on her couch. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I left the treats. She called me later to tell me they were her favorites and to say she had not been able to sleep all night and had fallen asleep, which was something that often happened. She told me about new books and I told her I’d be back by. I was going to go last Thursday, but heard late the night before that she was gone. I hoped it had been easy since I had just talked to her, but found that she had multiple organ failure and great pain and fought it all the way. Of course she did.

Grieving for someone who lived 95 incredible years is a little selfish. I am really sad because I will miss her so much. It’s not that I saw her all the time, but that I knew she was there. She made a huge impact on my life with her strong personality, her great affection for me and my family, and the wise and witty conversations we shared for all those years. For all who appreciated her work or were lucky enough to share a little of her world, there is a gap to be filled by viewing her lifetime of work or just remembering her for who she was. When those who knew her gather, there will be new stories to share. Nobody knew all of them.

She was one of those people who only needed one name to tell you everything about her.


Tracking your family history is an amazing journey down so many trails leading to more names and places and mysteries that make us realize how our personal stories are intertwined with so many others as we strive to see how our present day lives evolved from the layers of our country’s development. A casual question to my mother in her later years opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even envisioned as part of my own story. I think I asked her what her father and grandfather did for a living in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Fortunately, it was so fascinating that I made her tell the story again and made a recording of her telling me all the details.

To begin the story, I have learned that my great-grandfather, E. Z. West (Ephraim Zachariah) and his wife, Hattie, moved north from around Grapevine, Texas. Hattie was born in Alabama and somehow ended up in Texas. I’m surmising that her family kept moving west in search of a better life along with countless others. She and E.Z. had three sons, the youngest dying at age 8 and buried in Grapevine. They moved with the other two sons, Ben (my grandfather) and John to the area around Ardmore. They were probably part of the “Intruder” movement of white and black non-citizens who moved onto land owned by the Chickasaw Nation and eventually quit paying the Chickasaw natives for the use of the land. I’m not sure what year they arrived, but thousands of people were coming to the area to take advantage of all the opportunities. I don’t get the impression the Wests had a lot of money and I see them in their covered wagon looking for a place to settle in this newly developing area.

I know there was a house in the country owned by the West family because I think my mother and her brothers were probably born there. At some point, they began to purchase property in the new town of Ardmore, where E.Z. built a house with a wagon yard next door. This is the part that was new to me. I knew the house because I had been in it many times as a small child when my aunt and uncle lived there. I had no idea what the wagon yard was. I asked my mother when she mentioned it, thinking it was a place where wagons were built or repaired. She explained that a wagon yard was a place where people who came into town stayed and parked their wagons, kind of an old time motel. She picked up a scrap of paper and drew me a picture of the wagon yard as she remembered it.

She was in her 80s at this time and remembered details, even though she only remembered being in it once or twice as a child. Since she was born in 1921, it was not too long before the wagon yard was leased to be a lumber yard. She showed me on the drawing where there was a store for the people to buy supplies and how there were little rooms with a fireplace for them to stay. At the same time, she drew a picture of the house, remembering what every tree in the yard was and where every piece of furniture was, what my great-grandmother wore and what she ate. I couldn’t believe I had never heard this story before, but that’s my fault for not asking sooner.

Here is a map I found later, showing the wagon yard, much as she had described it.

I looked up wagon yards and found they were probably the biggest business in town. Between 1893 and 1925, there were 39 wagon yards in Ardmore, Oklahoma, which was a major importer of cotton at the time and farmers were bringing their crops to town. Rooms in hotels were $1 a night, while wagon yards only charged about 15 cents, so they were crowded and popular. Photos of the times show the main street absolutely blocked with lines of wagons going down the street.

Here is a photo of E. Z. and Hattie with their son John from when they were in Grapevine. John died at the age of 19 and is buried in Ardmore’s Rose Cemetery along with his parents.

This mystery has taken me years to uncover – not that I was spending that much time on it. I would get interested again and the beauty of the internet would unlock another piece of the story. I kept finding out more along the way, even traveling to Ardmore to see if I could find more information in a casual way, unlocking dates on, etc.

I know my great-grandparents began to purchase more property around town. My grandfather, Ben, died at 50, leaving my grandmother with three children during the Depression. My mother spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who was a widow by this time since E.Z. died in 1920. Here is a picture of my mother and her brothers with Hattie, probably around the time Ben died.

I know that Hattie left each of the grandchildren a house of their own, along with other property in town. Here I am as a child in front of the house that my great-grandparents and later my aunt and uncle lived in, across the street from Ardmore’s Central Park. Since I was born in 1945, you can see that the house was there for a long time. Today, there is a performing arts center on the property along with a law office.

My fascination with wagon yards continued and I recently found photos of a couple of examples in other towns.

But, wow! I hit the jackpot recently when I opened a book on Ardmore history and found a photo of what I had been looking for all these years, my family’s wagon yard, the largest in town. This photo was taken after E.Z. died and my great-grandmother was leasing it, but there it is. Many have referred to it as the West End Wagon Yard, but the name came from my family, the Wests.

I know this is the one because that is the address where my mother described it and where I remember playing as a child. It’s such a thrill to uncover some real family history when rummaging around so many images and so much information on the internet.

Here is an aerial map of the place today, matching everything my mother told me and I remember.

I’m proud of the pioneering spirit of my family in Ardmore and happy to bring a story to life for my own children and grandchildren. It puts a lot into perspective for me as I keep searching for stories that explain why my family is what it is. It helps me understand personalities in the family as well as what our roles in the country’s history were.

An interesting side note is that at the same time the wagon yard era was coming to a close, my paternal grandfather in Kentucky had graduated as an engineer and was becoming involved in the automotive industry, specifically the aftermarket with parts, which took him to Ohio, then Wichita, Kansas, and eventually to Oklahoma. It seems my family followed the evolution of transportation in one way or another from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

It all makes me feel a part of the story of America as I connect with my ancestors’ stories and begin to feel I know them better. There is so much to learn about the people who are the reason I came to be where and who I am before I am the ancestor story myself.


NOVEMBER 22, 1942-NOVEMBER 29, 2021


NOVEMBER 11, 1944-AUGUST 16, 2006

Bill Vint left Tulsa, Oklahoma to study acting in New York City under Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. Around 1968, he decided it was time to move to California, where he was accepted at Actors Studio West and studied under Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Martin Landau and Lee Grant.

His brother, Alan, arrived in California soon after and was also accepted at Actors Studio West. Together the brothers presented the original play, “Bob,” which was a breakthrough writing achievement for Alan, who directed the play starring his brother, Bill.

Alan had his first big film role in “Panic in Needle Park,” appearing opposite Al Pacino. Bill had his first big film role in “The Other Side of the Mountain.”

While appearing in film and television, the brothers also continued to work at Actors Studio West.

Bill appeared in “Bob,” “Why…is a whirlpool,” a one man original, and “The New Bottom,” another one man original.

Both brothers were active in the formation of The MET Theatre in 1973. Alan appeared in “Bus Stop,” and Bill appeared in “Picnic,” both of which won LA Drama Critics Awards. Bill also appeared in “Only Game in Town” and “Laura” at the theatre. Alan later served on the Board of Directors.

Their careers spanned many years of television and film appearances with some of the great stars of the day, working with many of the top directors.

Bill was honored to be named a Lifetime Member of Actors Studio West by a unanimous vote of the Executive Committee based on his body of work at the studio as an actor, writer and director. He cherished this membership until his death.

The Ken Burns series, Muhammed Ali, reminds me of a family story about my cousin and Ali. I had heard this story through the years and had seen photos, but it really came home to me when I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky several years ago to look at some family papers kept in the Filson Historical Society.

Driving through the streets of Louisville, I began to picture my family traveling there by carriage from Uniontown on the Ohio River to visit family and friends. I loved the elegant old houses that are being restored and the buildings that were standing as they arrived in downtown. While walking around the downtown, I found a statue of Mother Catherine Spalding, known as the first social worker in the area. My grandmother was a Spalding and easily could be related to Mother Catherine, which made me very proud to think about.

My grandmother was raised Catholic but converted to the Episcopal Church when she married my grandfather. We had many Catholic relatives on her side, including many priests and nuns, who we only saw occasionally. The one we did know was my grandmother’s niece, Susie Huff, who became Sister James Ellen as a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Louisville, the order founded by Mother Catherine Spalding. Susie was my first cousin, once removed.

Sister James Ellen (I understand she was sometimes called Sister Jimmy Ellen) was known to be a lively woman. She corresponded with my brother for years and I found many letters between them in his papers when he died a few years ago. She was very special to him as evidenced by the personal nature of the letters.

We had heard the story of Sister James Ellen’s friendship with Muhammed Ali, who is such a great figure in this city. I happened to be in Louisville in July, 2016, a month after Ali had passed away. I visited the Muhammed Ali Center, where his fans were still celebrating his life.

I left very touched by the greatness of his life and the effect of his words on the people who were there with me. I purchased a copy of his memoir in the gift shop, where I found that he had mentioned my cousin.

Sister James Ellen first met the young Cassius Clay when he was boxing in the gym across the street from the library at Spalding College where she worked. Here are his words.

I found a story in the newsletter of the Sisters after the death of Sister James Ellen in 2001.

“As a teenager attending Central High School, Ali, and James Ellen Huff, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, developed a close friendship. Sister James Ellen ran the library at Nazareth College (now Spalding University) across the street from the gym where Ali spent his days boxing. Sister James Ellen hired Ali, who at that time used his birth name of Cassius Clay, to work in the library so he could earn a little money. She said she liked his “zest.” She was known to often give Ali encouragement, frequently share laughs, and even return from dinner with snacks for him before he went to train. Once she found him asleep on a long library table! After the world came to know him, she put a sign over the table that read, “Cassius Slept Here”

Ali and Sister James Ellen are described as kindred souls and when Ali won the gold medal in the Olympics, she was one of the first people to whom he showed his medal. The two would remain lifelong friends exchanging letters, and phone calls, until Sisters’ death in February 2001.”

When Ali arrived to show his Olympic gold medal, Sister James Ellen (shown here in the front) sent word to the other sisters to come see their young friend. The absolute delight is shown in all their faces. The photos and story were featured in a story in The Washington Post at the time.

Muhammed Ali and Sister James Ellen remained dear friends until her death and I found these sweet photos of the two of them.

Ali and his wife sent a large bouquet of white roses to Sister James Ellen’s service when she died.

I searched for the site of this friendship and found Spalding University and the library where there is now a Huff Gallery, named for Sister James Ellen. The University has now purchased the building where Ali trained and also has several Muhammed Ali scholarships.

This special story makes my heart happy knowing that these two people from very different worlds formed a lifelong friendship as each had a lasting impact on the world. I love that I can claim even a touch of connection to these two incredible souls.

My only son, my youngest child of four, died ten years ago at the age of 35 after a long battle with cancer. He left us memories, his wonderful wife and his daughter, who was 15 months old. I’ve written about how it feels in the years after you lose a child, but it’s always different.

One of my grandsons was available to help me, although it was a very hot, humid day, so we tackled a little bit of the stuff in my garage. There were four shelves that were full of my son’s things, but I didn’t know if some of them were just things he collected when my mother or his father died or what was in the containers. We started pulling them out and found all kinds of treasures that warm a mother’s heart.

There was a plastic box with clothes and my college age grandson grabbed an old fanny pack and a red corduroy lined hat with flaps. If there was one thing my son had, it was his own style along with a vast knowledge of everything pop culture. He collected vintage clothing and lunch boxes and Scottish things and whatever caught his fancy. His old Star Wars toys are in other boxes and he would know the name of every character to this day. The original was his first movie when he was about a year and a half and all of it was such a huge part of his life. I also have his Lego blocks, having stepped over them and picked them up for years.

There’s a box out there with photos and school papers and notebooks that I just closed up for another day. I did move it from a cardboard box to a plastic container. Here are some of the other items we discovered in our archaeological garage dig:

There was a big box with his teddy bear collection. Again, he would know all the names. There was the little panda we got when we visited the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. when they had first arrived in the USA. There was the bear that he posed with in his one year photo. There were some other animals and puppets that actually came from the gift shop I owned when he was in high school and college. And this one was on top:

I needlepointed this for him when he was about three or four years old. His father was a sailor in the Navy, so it was a special bear for many reasons. He’s on my bed for the moment.

There were several books that he loved from his childhood. He didn’t have our copy of “Where the Wild Things Are,” his favorite, but he had taken this one that I must have read hundreds of times.

There were magazines from pop culture, such as a People magazine with Jerry Garcia on the cover along with others that are probably collector’s items today. There was an anthology from Tulsa Public Schools that I swear I had never seen with this published poem of his.

I now have a sealed valentine box of chocolates with Elvis to make me smile. The fact that they are Russell Stover chocolates is also fun since those were his father’s favorites.

I will sit down on days when I want to go back and learn more about my son and explore his drawings and writings. He tended to doodle, which his father did and his daughter does, in his notes, although most of his notebooks seem to be only used for a few pages, which matched what his attention span was. There is so much to explore.

One of the big pieces was an art project from his high school days. I think he was President of the school Art Club. Anyway, it was a big open box with lots of strips of film clipped to the sides. I had my grandson throw it in the dumpster that my son-in-law and daughter across the street were filling from their garage. A piece of plaster had dropped out of it and, when I picked it up, I realized that it was a plaster cast of the bottom part of my son’s face. This took me a minute because my son’s face had changed due to the treatment he received for the cancer he had in his mouth. I took it inside and my grandson threw the rest of the project away. I had seen other bits of plaster still in there, but didn’t look. Now I got curious and had my son-in-law climb into the dumpster and retrieve the plaster pieces. What we found were a complete face along with a sculpted piece of it. Pretty amazing. I have taken the pieces to be framed, but here they are.

I’ve always said that one of the nicest things to find is a photo of a lost loved one that you had never seen before. It’s like getting a piece of them back. I’d say that our little bit of cleaning in the garage brought me more pieces of my son than I realized were on the shelves. It seems there is a reason I sentimentally keep so many things that others throw out without a thought.

Now that I know what’s out there, I know I will return to the boxes to dig through papers and objects and recover little memories and new knowledge of who my son was and what his impact was on so many. It’s so comforting to know he can return to us through our memories and these pieces of him. I wish you had known him. I’m glad to know there is more for me to learn about him. We all miss him.

I was born in 1945 to parents who had ancesters who lived lives of comfort and struggle, wealth and poverty, in small towns and the country. My ancestry is pretty much from the British Isles with 33% Irish and 14% Scottish and a smattering of whoever else was around. Some of my relatives landed in Maryland, worked their way to Kentucky and eventually to Oklahoma. Others moved through the farms of the south to Texas and on to Oklahoma. Some owned slaves and some were servants themselves, some were business owners and some were farmers. I’m constantly finding out new things to help me understand who they were and how that shapes me today, but I know enough to keep me very humble.

As a child, I was an avid reader. Television wasn’t in homes until I was in elementary school, so I spent my spare time outside playing or reading anything I could find. We went to the library and I would bring home a stack of biographies (which were very diluted for our young minds, as I know now), fairy tales, fantasies, mysteries, all of it. I devoured them. In our home, we had a set of books, My Book House, which were published in 1937, that I read over and over.

The first volume was nursery rhymes from around the world. The illustrations in these books are so ingrained in my brain and I still think they are lovely. In these days of looking at things that depict others in ways that may not be pleasant to them, I was interested in giving some of these a new look with my more enlightened 75 year old eyes. The second volume was the one I probably read the most as I can remember everything I looked at when I went through it.

What I found is that the stories come from all over the world and opened my mind to traditions from every culture I could imagine. The authors included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Song of Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth, Aristophanes, Aesop, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandberg, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, Leo Tolstoy, and Hans Christian Anderson. There are folk stories from Ireland, New England, Holland, France, Hungary, Norway, Chippewa Indians, East India, Czechoslavakia, Russia, American Negro Folk Tales, Africa, and stories from opera and ballet. This is just one of the basic volumes for the smallest children. A woman named Olive Beaupre Miller edited the books but there is no credit for the illustrations. What I know from just this is that I learned at a young age that all cultures have rich literary traditions to share.

Here is one of the stories I have always loved, Little Black Sambo. I look at the illustrations today and really don’t think anything but that it is a delightful story of a black family. I’m not sure I know how my friends of color will react to the images though.

As a child, I related them to Africa and the way the people lived there without any prejudice. Here’s another image

Even as a child, I understood that this was from the past and that Indians in my time didn’t dress like this. It’s actually a lovely poem. Again, I’m not sure my Native friends will react the same way.

And, yet another image.

I don’t know if the Chinese dressed like this in 1945, but I didn’t grow up thinking this was the only way they looked. I knew they did at some time from photos I’d seen of the old west. Again, I was just learning to wonder about the people who live in other countries.

Many years later, I worked with a program called “Different and the Same,” developed by Fred Rogers’ company to teach diversity to 2nd and 3rd graders. One of the 9 lessons was about how all people want the same things for our families but we may have different customs. I took a book I had which showed children around the world in different houses with different clothes, eating different foods, but all going to school, being with their families, celebrating their holidays. I think this early literature I was exposed to taught me this without having to overtly spell it out for me. I got it.

When I was old enough to go to movies, the first one I saw was the Disney gem, “So Dear to My Heart,” which was a sweet story. I still remember being enchanted by the animation mixed with the story.

I get the current reactions to the films I grew up with, even though some of them are older than I am. I absolutely loved “Song of the South,” and Uncle Remus because it fit right into my love of folk tales and folk songs.

I think I understood that there was something wrong with the situation being shown so lovingly, but I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the horrors of slavery when I was little. The song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is one I sang to my grandchildren and I can remember propping them in front of the tv to watch this video of the song. My oldest is 24 now, so we weren’t being corrected yet.

My oldest daughter was a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, which I read along with her. I hadn’t seen them as a child. I loved the stories, but I get the big uproar now.

We even have some of the Dr. Seuss books around that have the offensive illustrations, which I can see easily.

As I’ve written this piece and thought about it, I’m still learning. As a child and as an adult, one of my most solemn rules is not to hurt people’s feelings. The Golden Rule is one of the cornerstones of all I have tried to teach my children and grandchildren to live by. I even wrote a blog piece about it. It isn’t about offending people – it’s about hurting them. I absolutely understand why certain images perpetuate things that aren’t true and cause one group of people to consider others in a hurtful way. Good for those who are pointing these things out.

I’m coming to terms with these things in our society and in my own personal thinking of the ways I treat other people, whether they come from different places than I do or are people who grew up close to me. As I look at the things that shaped me, I’m not going to throw out all these books and videos that I loved as a child. I’m going to use them to teach myself and others how to be better by taking the good that is in each of them and using the things that are now known to be hurtful to teach and learn. Children are capable of understanding what is real and what it is someone’s interpretation of it if they are given the chance. They’re also capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

As a child, I was smart enough to understand that the illustrations and stories I was reading and seeing were just a part of the world. I had a broad enough education to put them in perspective. I guess that’s what being narrow minded means – not having the perspective to compare different stories with reality. I don’t think I ever have stopped growing and learning, which allows me to add to the stories I learned as a child and filter them into what I have learned now.

Writing this, my heart hurts for those who have not been open to lifetime learning, which teaches the good and the bad about humanity so that we can live in a world that is ever smaller as our societies are more and more linked together to solve the problems that face our planet and our individuals. But, my heart sings as I remember the stories that delighted me as a child and led me to want to learn more, which led me to more understanding of how we are all so much alike as human beings. We have so much to learn from nature, from history, from literature and the other arts, and from each other. Keep your minds open to the richness that is our world as we find our balance together.

Thirteen years ago, I spotted her at a fall bazaar. She was the smallest of the litter and the only female pup waiting to be rescued. I already had a dog (Molly) and two cats (Mickey and Guy), but who could resist this little Westie? I’d had this breed before and they are adorable, feisty terriers. I applied and went through a home visit with the Westie Rescue people to see if I was an appropriate owner (something I never had to do to have four kids) and then went to the vet to pick up this little one as soon as she could leave her mother. I mean. Really. What a cutie. Her name was Annabel. I tried to find a great Scottish girl name and Annabel was just fine, so I kept it.

Please note the little lamb toy that she has had since she was a baby.

Because Molly was a Labradoodle, she had the retriever trait of carrying something around in her mouth all the time. Annabel didn’t have anyone else to mimic, so she carried that lamb everywhere. I put it away at some point in her life so the big animals wouldn’t chew it up and found it this last year and gave it back to her. It’s like she never stopped carrying it. I find it all over the place in my house. Here she is recently.

From the very beginning, Annabel fit in with the other animals.

Annabel was Molly’s little sidekick, following her everywhere, doing whatever she was doing. She has a little hop skip she does now from Molly stepping on her foot when she was little. She was always walking under Molly or racing beside her.

Black and white, big and little. They were the best of friends and did everything together. They loved to go to the groomer, coming home clean and foofy, as we call it, with bows in their hair.

I haven’t mentioned Wanda, who came to live with us at some point. She belonged to my daughter-in-law and son and I ended up having her the last nine of her 16 or 17 years. She was a sweetie and got along with all of them, except when there was food involved, which is when the terror in terrier came out in Annabel and she might go after anyone. Annabel was the fastest at snapping up dropped food from under the other dogs’ noses.

I tried to keep Annabel clean and groomed, but she is a born mess. She is true to her nature and digs for moles in the yard, yaps at squirrels and chases rabbits and barks for whatever reason. Maybe that’s to let the world know she’s there since she looks awfully tiny out in the big ole’ world.

She also likes to play in the snow when we have it, romping around like a little kid.

I tried for the show dog look, but it was useless since I wasn’t going to brush her all the time, so we’ve gone for a shorter cut.

At least Westies don’t shed like my other dogs and cats did, so that’s a plus. She just always has a dirty face and her white coat looks less white next to my daughter’s Westie. It’s ok.

When she’s not on guard, she used to nap with her friends or in a sunbeam or on the deck.

One thing we never mastered was taking walks all together. Molly would run ahead and Annabel would choke trying to catch her and she would run under Molly’s legs or around mine. Besides, Molly’s legs were a lot longer than Annabel’s and a walk around the block was a big deal for the little one. The times they managed to run out the front door or escape the back yard, it was actually pretty cute to watch them race down the street together. I had to get in the car and go catch them, knowing that getting Molly first would bring Annabel with her. They would both be grinning when I caught them in their big adventure.

I tried the dog park with them. Molly was great, but Annabel would go into a frenzy because she had to stay in the small dog side away from her friend. It was a disaster unless I took Molly alone.

If anything unusual was happening in the house, such as me cleaning for a party or packing for a trip, both dogs would settle to watch me in what I called their worried position, with Molly lying down and Annabel tucked in beside her. I tried to explain to them that I would be through soon or be back soon, but they always were concerned.

This last year was a good one for the dogs. I’ve been home and was able to pay a lot of attention to them. Molly’s age was taking its toll and I spent a lot of time sitting outside in the sun talking to her and watching her last months. Wanda left us a year or so ago and the cats were killed by a coyote that started roaming our urban neighborhood, so I had gone from five animals to two pretty quickly. Now Molly’s time was coming to an end.

I think animals know a lot about life and death. Molly had grieved when my dog before her died and then I got the cats and Annabel and she was happy being the matriarch of this funny family. As much as she craved affection from me, she loved having her friends. I wasn’t sure how Annabel was going to take this. In the last few months, Molly couldn’t jump up on the couch or into the car and I found Annabel getting in bed with her a few times.

She had to know. Molly was falling down and couldn’t hear and I was having to help her get outside. I treated her like I would like to be treated at the end. In the last couple of days, Annabel would check on her and be by her side.

I didn’t know if she would mourn her best friend, but I think she knew and she’s older herself so maybe she sensed the time had come. Maybe she’s enjoying just being the only dog rather than being just the youngest and the smallest. She certainly has more of my attention than she’s ever had. She has no idea what a pandemic is, but I think she’s very happy with it.

Now it’s just the two of us, Annabel and me. I’ve started taking her in the car with me rather than leave her alone. She got a new cute collar and harness so we can take more walks. She wakes up in the night and waits to be lifted onto the bed with me. She’s not really a lap dog, but she has been in the chair with me a couple of times. She’s still on the alert for squirrels and ready to bark at the slightest movement outside.

Annabel is MY little sidekick now and we’re ready for the new year!

I miss her. I miss Miss Molly. On her 9th birthday, I wrote a blog on Good Golly Miss Molly (her whole name) and that was well over six years ago. Now I had to let her go and it was so hard. But she was ready.

Molly was about four months old when she adopted me. It was love at first sight for both of us.

My oldest grandson was there at the beginning and he went with me for the end. He’s 23 now and Molly was 15, almost 16.

So many memories of that sweet puppy as she grew older. The first time she saw a swimming pool, the Lab side of my Labradoodle came through with a flying leap.

I remember looking out the window one summer day to see her jumping up to bite at the flowers hanging down from the neighbor’s crepe myrtle. It was a glorious scene as the flowers fell around her. I remember her running through snow and playing with the other animals in our house. And, I remember her barking (I couldn’t get her to stop, no matter what I tried) and counter surfing and trash dumping and doing the ornery dog things she did. I remember how they tried to frill her up at the groomer, which always left her looking at me like “why?”

She was just the ultimate shaggy love of a dog, who lived for nothing more than to love me.

Over her lifetime, I worked at jobs that kept me away from the house during the day and sometimes into the night. I wasn’t here playing with her, but she had company with my other pets. Sadly, we lost the cats to a coyote last year, so we were down to two dogs – Molly and her little sidekick, Annabel. I’ve told their stories in the other blog. Now I’m retired and home more, but not all of the time.

And then came Covid-19. We have been pretty much locked down for months and it was her dream come true. I was here with her all the time and we made the most of it. I talked to her and petted her and was here for her. I knew I wouldn’t have her much longer and this was a gift for us both. This past few months, she was still sleeping on the furniture…

…and playing outside…

…and looking at me with that look.

She was getting grayer and slower and I knew she wouldn’t last forever, but I look back now and see how fast she started really really aging. She was slower, her sight and hearing were going, and she began to lose her footing sometimes. She couldn’t jump up on the furniture and I saw her looking at the couch and realizing she couldn’t get up there anymore. I was seeing it, but not seeing it. Or not wanting to see it. She slept so hard that sometimes I touched her to see if she was still with me. And she rallied. Over and over. Last week, she was going to the kitchen for dinner and she moved fast enough for her ears to flop. I thought she might make it to her 16th birthday.

The end was really pretty quick when I look back. Her back legs started going and I realized how many times I was going outside with her just to remind her why she was there. She walked endlessly around the yard and would stand in one place, like she was trying to remember why she was there (I can relate, unfortunately).

I had to take her to the emergency vet over the weekend when she collapsed and didn’t move. I thought she was dying right there with me on the floor beside her. One of my grandsons helped me get her there, but she stood up before they took her inside (Covid rules) and was so alert that I just took her back home, where she gave a little trot as she went back in the house. She wasn’t going to die in some strange place. Not that day. She made it through Sunday and then I made the call to the vet on Monday. It was one of the longest days ever, waiting for the inevitable. I kept the house quiet and let her lie on her bed in front of the fireplace. She didn’t eat a thing all day – a first for her in her entire lifetime. She went outside and walked her endless walk and slept and I talked to her. Before we left, I put her on her leash and we walked up and down in front of the house. She actually gave a bit of a leap to get out to walk, but it was really the slowest walk we ever took. I thought of all the times she pulled me down the street, even as recently as this year, and the contrast was dramatic.

The end was peaceful. I never saw a living being so ready to just rest forever. She was tired and she went to sleep. My grandson and I had tears as we left the vet’s office. It was hard. No matter how right you know it is, how long she lived, how great her life had been, it was hard for us.

Isn’t that the way it always is? I know from all the losses in my life that we are never ever ready to lose those we love.

Good Golly Miss Molly. You were just the best.