(The Ketterings and their wagon company are at Fort Laramie – the women are relishing a chance to do laundry … and perchance, trade a little with the friendly Indians.)

In a very few minutes, we had spread out all the damp laundry over the grass and the mountain sage bushes; the day was so warm and the mountain air so thin and arid that I thought it would not take very long for even the heaviest flannel to dry thoroughly. Ma and Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy had already hurried from our collection of tubs, the fire and kettles – back to our wagon camp, to meet Choctaw Joe and the small party of Sioux women wading through the grass towards us.

There were three of them, the youngest of about Shiboone’s age. She was leading a pony by a bridle, the pony drawing a sort of frame – two long poles crossed over it’s back, with the ends trailing on the ground, and a large bundle tied to a woven panel of cane and leather bands lashed between the trailing ends of those poles. Much later, I learned that the contraption of poles and cane was called a travois, since the Indians knew nothing of making wheels and using carts. The other women were older than the girl – and their leather dresses appeared to be more elaborately trimmed. I envied those Sioux women on account of their hair, which was long and dark, bound up into braids as thick as my wrist. Such long braids, whereas my own hair made a pair of measly little plaits, which barely came to my shoulders.

As we came, panting from the effort of running in the thin mountain air, Choctaw Joe was saying, by way of introduction,

“This is Han-tay-wi, her sister, Kimmi-Mila, and daughter Eh-hawee – they have come to offer goods to trade.”

“Tell the ladies that we are most pleased to make their acquaintance,” That was Mrs. Glennie, most regally formal, as if she were receiving them in her own parlor, and not in the space of trampled grass between our wagon, and the Glennie’s wagons and tent. “I do not know if we have any such goods as might please them, and that we can spare…”

“You’d be surprised,” Choctaw Joe replied. Meanwhile, the younger woman was untying the cords which bound together the big bundle and spreading out the contents; three or four enormous robes of buffalo hide, with the thick wooly brown fur still on, a stack of painted hide boxes full of some crumbly brown stuff – pemmican, and six pair of moccasins, all trimmed with fancy colored stuff, and elaborate fringe. It wasn’t beadwork, I learned, much later – but flattened and dyed porcupine quills. Two of them were large, to fit a man, but the others were smaller. There were some other things – pouches and sheaths for knives, all made of leather, and trimmed with fringe, beadwork, feathers and porcupine quills.

“Oh, my!” Ma whispered, upon seeing the buffalo robes and the moccasins. Although it was only June and at the height of summer – we had felt the cold as we traveled higher into the mountains. “Those things certainly look as if they would be warm at night!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Choctaw Joe looked as if he were hiding a grin, even as he cast an assessing eye over the robes. “Nothing better, softer or warmer to sleep on than a prime buffler robe. These are tanned and softened up real nice, too. You can’t go wrong with one of them, Miz Kettering.”

“Then let me look in the wagon, for what we can spare,” Ma had a determined look on her face. Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy were also eyeing the robes, with an acquisitive expression on their faces. I was looking at the next-to-smallest pair of moccasins and thinking that they would just about fit me, and the smallest would be perfect for Jon.

But that was a frivolous thing, and up to Ma to decide, anyway. I think the oldest Indian woman saw me looking at the moccasins, though, with longing for them all over my face. So did Choctaw Joe.

Ma emerged from our wagon, with a bundle in her hand – one of our store-bought blankets that came from the east, and some other things – a campfire turning fork with a busted tine, her needlework basket and a small iron kettle which we had hardly ever used on the journey so far.

“These,” she announced calmly. “And three good steel needles and a paper of new pins. For two of those robes.”

“I want one of those robes, too,” Mrs. Glennie looked enviously on Ma, as Choctaw Joe relayed Ma’s offer to the three Sioux women in their language.

Choctaw Joe listened to the response that the oldest woman made to him, and grinned. “A generous bid indeed, Miz Kettering. Very generous. For that, Han-tay-wi will add in a parfleche of good pemmican, and two pair of moccasins – she is an honorable woman and does not want the white folks to think she is taking unfair advantage.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Han-tay-wi’s sense of honor and generosity,” Ma replied, as Choctaw Joe looked in my direction and winked. I was thrilled beyond words – my own pair of moccasins, and another for Jon, too!

Although the pemmican looked perfectly disgusting. Choctaw Joe later explained how it had been made from buffalo meat, dried and then pounded to powder, and mixed with dried berries and made into bricks with the addition of melted bear fat. It was what sustained the wild Indians during winters, when they couldn’t hunt. I don’t know how anyone could relish eating it. I said so to Pa, later on, and Pa laughed, and told us about scrapple that the Dutch folk made, back in the east.

“If you’re hungry enough, Sugar-Plum, just about anything that won’t bite you back tastes good.”

Mrs. Glennie emerged from the Glennie’s tent with a blanket and a shawl hanging over her arm – the shawl was a pretty printed challis one, with a long silk fringe. She  wanted a buffalo robe in exchange for the shawl and the blanket, and two pair of the moccasins, and one of the fancy leather pouches with beadwork on it. I could see Han-tay-wi’s eyes light up, when Mrs. Glennie spread it out for them to examine closer. The three Indian women bent over the shawl, talking to each other as they stroked the fringe.

“Yessirree bob, you’ve got them something rare, there,” Choctaw Joe murmured, and Mrs. Glennie came close to laughing. “I have never favored that shawl – it was a gift from Mr. Glennie’s sister Althea Murchison, and dear Althea deliberately chose it in colors which I find to be quite ugly – and she knew that very well! But it was so very expensive that I had to thank her for her generosity and exquisite taste every time we encountered her …”

“You don’t care for your sister-in-law then,” Mrs. Herlihy ventured, knowingly.

“She is a woman of many extremely dislikable virtues,” Mrs. Glennie replied, and I could see that Ma was trying to hold back laughter.

Mrs. Glennie did get her buffalo robe, and some other interesting Sioux pretties. I wondered if the Sioux women spent their parlor hours, knitting and crocheting, making embroidered and Berlin wool-work and tatted lace, just as Ma and Aunt Rachael and their other woman friends back in Ohio, to keep their hands busy and to show off to their friends. Mrs. Herlihy had nothing much to offer, but some fine steel needles, and a box of odd bits of scrap metal from Mr. Herlihy’s forge works, but she got the last buffalo robe in exchange for it, as well as three or four of the hide boxes of pemmican.

“They’ll make arrow heads from it,” Choctaw Joe commented, knowledgeably. “Better than from obsidian – don’t break and shatter so bad. And you’ll be right glad of that there pemmican, Miz Herlihy, if we come to camping cold in the mountains with our supplies running low.”

“Oh, it won’t come to that, I’m certain,” Mrs. Herlihy chuckled comfortably. “Himself says that we’re moving briskly enough that we should be well over the mountains and into California before the first snow falls. As for the pemmy-whatever, the lads eat as if starving at every single meal. I could stand by the fire and put food into them with Himself’s forge shovel, they eat so much and never bother to taste before swallowing it … the great hungry lumps that they are!”

The three Sioux women seemed very pleased with their takings from the session of trade, but not half as pleased as Jon and I were, that night, with that heavy buffalo robe drawn over us, against the chill of the night … or I was, later on when I grew out of my shoes, and they rubbed such blisters on my feet that Ma said I could wear my Indian moccasins.

But all that came later, when we were crossing the great barren desert.


My daughter and I, with Wee Jamie in tow, had to make a road trip to California earlier this month to pay a final visit to my mother. We knew that it would be a difficult visit, saying goodbye to her. We also knew that we couldn’t stay long as my sister’s house is small, and her life is complicated enough. And that we have clients, projects and pets at home, so that we ought to keep the visit brief. My daughter suggested that we come home to Texas by way of I-40, which follows the old transcontinental Route 66, famed in song, story, TV series and all. At any rate, my daughter insisted – it would be more interesting a journey than the 20-plus hour drive through desert, desert and more desert on IH-10. She was very tired of driving or riding the train along the same route and seeing the same old ugly desert for miles and miles. Good enough reason to drive along another route, enlivened every fifty or so miles with another small town, or interesting city … and then she suggested that we make a side trip to see the Grand Canyon, arguing that it would be a while before we were in that part of the country again, we would only be an hour drive out of our way to see the Grand Canyon … so why not? It had been a long time since we had a road trip adventure, she argued.

Why, yes – it had been a long time … and after I thought about it, I agreed. And it would be a chance to check out the splendid Fred Harvey establishment – the hotel that the company built at the edge of the Grand Canyon – El Tovar, which hosted kings and presidents and celebrities of every kind since being built more than a century ago. Maybe, if the lunch menu wasn’t that excessive and they didn’t require reservations, we could have a meal in the restaurant … just like my daughter and I had tea at the Brenner’s Park Hotel  in Baden-Baden, when she was only a year and a bit older than Wee Jamie. My only worries concerned how Wee Jamie would handle hours in a car, and the usual road hazards when it comes to long hours on the highways.

So – that’s how we came to be driving away from Flagstaff very early on a Saturday morning; it was cool among the pines at such a high altitude. We had nearly forgotten what pine trees and tall jagged mountains even look like. There was still snow on some of the highest crags – but in the space of half an hour  we dropped out of the pine forests and back into high desert. There were two or three cars in line at the front gates to the South Rim. My daughter flashed her ID and her veteran’s national park pass, and there we were in the park, following the directions on her phone’s GPS program to the visitor venter in Grand Canyon Village. It was still so early in the day that there were empty places in the visitor center parking lot. Got out the lightweight umbrella stroller that we keep in the car (because the regular stroller takes up too much room in Thing the Versa’s trunk) and walked up to the wall by the path which leads along the rim …oh, my.

I think it was a bit like walking into a holy place – vast and hushed. So deep. Banded with color, tones of rust red, dark pink, sand, dark grey. Fringed with dark grey-green vegetation, cracked and creviced, jagged peaks and crevices, and away down, down at the very bottom, a little patch of glass-green water. We walked along the paved trail, pushing Jamie in the stroller; a different vista around every bend. My daughter laughed – here we were, with our cheap Cocomelon stroller, walking among all those hikers with serious boots, packs, staffs and water bottles. Jamie stayed strapped into his stroller all the way; it made us a trifle nervous, as there were no barriers along the cliff edge, nothing to block the incredible view around every turn. And nothing much to stop anyone falling for about half a mile, too. Wild horses would not have moved either of us off that path, or onto the Bright Angel trail, which zig-zags all the way down to the bottom of the Canyon, not even to take a heart-stopping picture. This did not stop other people from doing so, which made my skin crawl to see. No, I so do not do heights. Not so much the heights – but the likelihood of falling from them which distresses. We did encounter a park ranger there, and I asked him straight-out how many times they had to peel idiot tourists off the cliffs, to which he sighed and replied, “Too many times!”

At the Yavapai Point vista there is a tiny stone structure with windows all along the front aspect – it was agreed by experts a hundred years ago that the very best view of the Canyon was at that place. There were exhibits along the opposite wall, outlining how the land evolved – millions of years of sediment, a vast lake, upthrust of the continent and finally how the Colorado River carved the canyon. The river is no larger now than it ever was, so the exhibit informed us. But the Canyon itself … it was so vast, and the way down so rough that it was a barrier to travelers and explorers crossing the American desert for decades. I’d be willing to bet that the unofficial and unrecorded reaction of the first non-native travelers to the Canyon were something along the lines of “Oh, f**k, no, we’ll never be able to cross THAT!”

We checked out the Hopi House, now a gift shop and art gallery, wishing that we could have afforded some of the genuine black-on-black Santa Clara pottery. That would have done us as a souvenir; my daughter has noted how many cheaper souvenirs of a vacation or a visit have turned up at yard sales or in thrift stores. We also wondered how often visitors taller than ourselves near-to-concussed themselves on low doorways within that very authentic building.  Alas, reservations were necessary for lunch at El Tovar, and the sample lunch menu was pretty pricy, although I am certain that the elkburger was awesomely tasty. We left the park, noting that the line of cars waiting at the gates was now at least  half a mile long, suggesting to us that we were leaving at a good time. We snagged lunch at a sandwich place on our way back to IH-40 and didn’t get to Albuquerque until nearly seven that evening. But Jamie was a magnificent traveler for all that – I assume that he derived a great deal of amusement and distraction at watching the scenery flash past at 70 MPH.

I still want to go back to Grand Canyon, though – my dream now is to spend a few days at El Tovar, and see the Canyon at sunset and under a moonlit sky.

25. May 2024 · 1 comment · Categories: Domestic

I will be out of pocket for about a week, as my daughter and I with Wee Jamie must make a fast road trip to California. We have been notified by one of my brothers that my mother has been put into hospice care, and that she wants to see the three of us, one more time. So, pack up the car, and hit the road – back next  week. We’re planning to return by way of 40, or the new version of Highway 66, and stop off to see the Grand Canyon, as we will be out that way, and my daughter insists that we are overdue for an adventure, and when will we be out that way again?


Circa 1966 – me, baby brother Sander, JP, Mom and Pip.

This is the picture that I used for the cover of my very first book – the family memoir cobbled together from posts on the original milblog in 2002-2004, which everyone found so terribly amusing and insisted, solo and chorus, that I collect them all in a book. Mom always said that in it I made her and my father sound much more amusing than she thought they really were.


The matter of a certain literary style and practice came up a couple of months ago – and I was reminded again of the discussion in a weird way, when my daughter and I watched the Night at the Museum movie series. This was in the interests of not freaking out Wee Jamie terribly, who is soaking up information and stimuli like a small, child-shaped sponge. I vaguely recall watching the first of the series, but my daughter did not, so I must have seen it in a theater, possibly when the Gentleman With Whom I (Once) Kept Company was on one of his yearly visits to Texas. Cute movie, and one which loaded in a lot of established actors in supporting roles (Ricky Gervais? Seriously?) …but anyway. (It is kind of cool, though – imagining an animated dinosaur skeleton playing ‘fetch’ the bone, and behaving like a playful puppy…)

The museum of the initial movie setting reminded me of an elementary school field trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park, which also covered the La Brea Tar Pits, with all the life-sized landscaped dioramas, and the stuffed critters, mounted dinosaur bones and the remains of paleolithic critters excavated from the tar pits… all terribly retro and rather quaint, actually. There’s a natural history museum here in the old upscale part of San Antonio, the Witte Museum, with pretty much the same sort of exhibits, established around the same period, now with the addition of lighting and sound effects.

In any event, I began to think on how these kinds of exhibits became so very popular in the 19th century: I mean, the showman P. T. Barnum started with his exhibit of natural curiosities, scientific exhibits, wonders, and marvels early on. People flocked to see them in the flesh, and twice natural size – because most ordinary people didn’t often see extraordinary things; dinosaur bones, ancient Eqyptian temples, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, African elephants … such were curiosities, and rare ones at that. So going to P. T. Barnum’s flamboyant exhibits, and later on to more staid and scholarly local museums of natural history – well, there they were; all the exotic natural history and fabled creatures that you could wish to see, before movies and television brought them to us in living color in theater and living room.

On one of the book/author blogs which I follow (can’t recall which one or when, or even if it is an original insight!) another writer made what I realized immediately was a perceptive observation, regarding those verbally florid Victorian novelists who went on for pages and pages, describing scenes, settings and characters. Modern readers find this terribly frustrating, as this tendency bogs down the plot something awful. The reason Victorian authors did so was because most of their readers then had no mental archive of visual references to build on! When someone like Sir Walter Scott wrote about medieval Perth, or Dumas wrote about Renaissance France, or Lew Wallace about the Roman-era Holy Land, they were setting the necessary scene for readers in necessary and exacting detail for a reader who perhaps might at best have seen a crude black and white line drawing, or a hand-colored lithograph of a castle, Jerusalem, or the skyline of Paris. There was nothing in the 19th century reader’s visual vocabulary anything like what movies, television, even color photographs in glossy coffee-table books provide modern readers. We have the advantage of already having those visuals in mind, and don’t need to have them spelled out at length.


12. May 2024 · 4 comments · Categories: Domestic

It’s one of those things that came upon us in the last few years – what with periods of erratic employment, residence in Utah where the LDS practice is to keep a couple of years supply of foodstuffs on hand, the occasional natural disaster, the Covidiocy and the Great Texas Snowmagedden, and a certain primal fear that I don’t know where it came from – we have kept an insanely well-stocked pantry, and a full-to the brim freezer in the garage. For emergencies, you know. My daughter cannot turn down a tempting bargain on the ‘remainder’ shelves at the local grocery store, and I have memories of being overseas at the end of a very long resupply chain. I certainly didn’t grow up with this; Mom routinely finished out the day of Dad’s paycheck being deposited with a couple of cans of tuna and a half-empty bottle of Worcestershire Sauce in the pantry. Although the paternal grandparents did have several years’ worth of canned goods in their garage, and vivid memories of the Depression and WWII rationing… so maybe this impulse skipped a generation.

My daughter and I both dream mad dreams of a walk-in pantry, with floor to ceiling shelves, drawers and bins, all neatly organized, and all the foodstuffs in air-tight containers and neatly labeled, readily accessible. My daughter may yet achieve this dream, but at the moment, the pantry is a small square closet about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth – that, and the front hall closet, which is about the same dimensions. Both are stacked to the brim with canned goods and shelf-stable things like canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, rice, dried beans, flour, sugar and pastas. One is fitted out with shelves (all densely packed), the other is stacked with tubs. So, today we tackled the closet with tubs. The tubs had been packed rather randomly; a lot of stuff jumbled together. Today, we repacked the tubs: all the rice in one, dried beans in another, assorted pastas in a third, flour, sugar and semolina in a fourth, and all the tomato and tomato sauce in one on top of the Tetris-style stack. We had kind of forgotten how many packages of spaghetti we had stashed away – much of it the really good, imported stuff. (Bought on sale, of course. What, do we look like we are related to the Rockefellers or the Gettys?) You see, an important element in keeping a full pantry is to rotate stuff, not stash it away for years and forget about it all. I’m pretty certain that the oldest stuff in the grandparent’s garage had to be thrown away, through being dangerously outdated. At least now, I can look at the tubs in the closet, and know what is there …

We really ought to start eating those Corsicana fruitcakes, though. Bought at half price, after last Christmas.

We LIKE fruitcake. Got a problem with that?