Parents and Siblings

Jeanmarie’s Parents, Siblings, et al…


You sang us our radical politics as we bathed in that hard desert water. You sang to us the sleeping dove in the sandy wash, hootenannied us through Vietnam. How many times can your kids hear a song before it becomes who they are? Mule tailed deer and jackrabbit, sage, saguaro and jumping cactus. You, the Texas-Oklahoma-Arizona man, the Engineer’s Club in Toronto where you took me for my eleventh birthday, told me I was beautiful and then fell asleep as Albert Finney burned up the screen in Scrooge. You told me not to tell Mom you fell asleep, but I did, and she laughed. You laughed, we all laughed. We all inherited your insomnia, but unlike you, I can’t doze off in a chair or here, on a long layover in Albuquerque trying to find words to put your life in focus. Trying to make sense of the world without you in it. Trying to know how to live without you on the other end of a phone someplace. Always. Heaven rest you now, Daddy. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Memories of My Father – Lent, 2013

#1 – When my daughter, Emily, was little and playing catch out in the back yard with her brothers, Daddy said, “She throws like a boy!” I started to correct him – “No, Dad, she doesn’t throw like a boy -” and he interrupted with “That’s right! She throws like a girl who knows how to throw!”

Memory #2 – Everyone in my 5th grade class, taught by Mrs. Wood, in Kearny, was charged with making a model of a log cabin. Daddy helped me by cutting short lengths of saguaro skeleton that he then showed me how to stack and fashion into a square. He cut them so there were windows and a doorway, even. He showed me how to make “adobe,” which we used to fill in all the cracks, including along the flat roof. My teacher was so impressed with the uniqueness of my project.

Memory #3 – In the mid-80s, when I lived in Reno, a card came in the mail – for no particular occasion. It was the painted image of a spectacularly colorful exotic bird. Inside he wrote, “This card expresses just a little bit of the color you bring to our lives. Love, Dad.”

Memory #4 – We were living in a Townhouse in Willowdale (Toronto) on a street called Showshoe Millway. In the spring, Dad took me shoe shopping. I don’t know why, with five siblings, I had Daddy all to myself for a shopping trip. But he bought me penny loafers – black, shiny and beautiful. He was delighted at the difference from the traditional brownish ones and said he had a surprise for me. We walked into a bank and he bought a roll of new dimes, brilliantly reflective 1971 Canadian dimes. He happily put them in my shoes where they looked as if they were made to be there. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

Memory #5 – Our first winter in Canada, we went tobogganing for the first time. It was great fun, but I twisted my ankle. I couldn’t walk at all, so Daddy came to get me and carried me to the car, took me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a bad sprain. My ankle was wrapped and I was given crutches and something for the pain, but it made me throw up. So I couldn’t sleep, and Daddy sat with me and iced my ankle and then wrapped it again and sang to me. It was in the middle of the night, and he had to get up early, but he took care of me until I finally fell asleep.

Memory #6 – I was a teenager in Arizona when Daddy showed me Orion and pointed out his sword. Daddy turned out all the lights and we sat out behind the big house that had a back yard looking at the second green of a golf course. The sky was impossibly full of stars – the Milky Way was clear too, and all the constellations that were visible in our hemisphere that night. My experience of Daddy’s spirit is inextricable, now, from the stars in the heaven that surrounds us.

Memory #7 – in 1969, our family took a summer trip to Puerto Vallarta Mexico with some other families from Kearny. We were a big passel of kids and our parents and we had to get shots before we went – I remember feeling as if my arm would fall off from the Typhoid vaccine. Anyway. At some point, we were all going on a guided tour on horseback, but I got really scared on the horse. I was terrified. It was up so high and it was such a huge animal, I just couldn’t do it. So I stayed behind – I remember one of the adults wasn’t going either, so I must have stayed with them back at the incredibly cool place we were renting. I felt like such a loser, and I knew I was missing all the fun. I guess I took a nap, because I woke up to Daddy sitting there and he kissed my forehead and handed me a gift he had bought me “because I didn’t get to go on the ride.” It was a beautiful hand mirror, in a brilliantly colored frame with a handle. I felt so much better and even special, because of that.

Memory #8 – We were little, and living in Kearny. We moved to Toronto the spring after I turned 10, so this was long before that. Maybe I was 7 or 8. Daddy came home from work during the day (must have been summer, because we kids were home) with a bandaged eye – he had somehow gotten a sliver of copper in this eye, and had it removed at the hospital. He lay on the couch and my mother tended to him. I went back into my room, not wanting them to see me crying, and I found my sister there, also in tears. That was the first time, for both of us, that we realized our father was mortal.

Memory #9 – In the late 1980’s, my parents were living in Reno, where I lived with my husband and kids. They lived up on Skyline, with a beautiful view of the Sierras. They had a large garage that had plenty of room for their big cars, but it was also roomy enough for a shop. Daddy set up a wood shop and went to work making furniture. He made a beautiful bench for my daughter, Emily, with a seat that opened up to a generous space for toys or clothes or hope. Very strong – built out of two-by-sixes, the kind of thing that will be around for centuries. He painted it with a luminous whitewash and my mother detailed it with a gentle design reminiscent of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs she adores. Daddy burned into the back a dedication – something that says “this is for Emily” forever, made by his hands and made to last.

Memory #10 – When I was ten, Daddy taught me to play the guitar. He had always played, and I loved the music he put in our lives. The easiest song he knew, ‘Clementine,’ had only two chords. I worked on it every day, pressing each finger individually on the correct string and fret, slowly developing to the point when I didn’t need to look anymore – I could feel the placement and soon I didn’t have to think about it at all. So Daddy and I played and sang it together. He was a mining engineer and I was his little girl. I sang harmony a third above him.

In a cavern
in a canyon
excavating for a mine
was a miner
a forty-niner
and his daughter Clementine.
O, my darlin’
o, my darlin’
o, my darlin’ Clementine
you are lost and gone forever
dreadful sorrow, Clementine.

Memory #11 – When my first child, Domenic, was born, I was a single woman. A girl, really, only 19. My parents and little brothers were up in Reno that weekend – Mother’s Day weekend – and I woke up Saturday morning with the signs that I would be having my baby that day. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to eat once I went to the hospital, so I asked Daddy to make his unbelievable pancakes. He made up a big batch of them – indescribable wonders – and we sat and ate there at the little table in my apartment at Water’s Edge, on the creek, where the tall trees lined the road that was the view from my window. Then Daddy said he needed to get me a car, couldn’t leave me without a reliable vehicle, and we all piled into the parent’s ride and drove to the Ford dealership. I picked out a new, 1979 Mustang, and Mom and I sat in the office while the salesman kept us entertained as Daddy and the boys were out in the lot doing I don’t know what. My labor had been getting increasingly intense, and Mom had been timing my contractions. I was having them at a steady 5-minutes apart, and I knew it was time to go to the hospital. So Mom drove me in their car and Daddy and the boys stayed behind. Once all the papers were signed and Daddy had paid from the love in his heart, they followed in my new car.

Memory #12 – The day I gave birth to Domenic, my first born, my parents and two little brothers were in town. It was Mother’s Day weekend and so perfect that I naturally went into labor on Saturday morning. Once I was at the hospital and the doctor had checked me and confirmed that I was in true labor and going to deliver, I was moved into my own room. I was so young and silly – I just thought I’d visit with everyone all through it. Jim Grifall came to say hello, and my friend, Kit Means, was there the whole time. Daddy was at my right side and Mom was on my left, but after a very hard contraction, with tears in his eyes, Daddy left the room and Kit followed him. Later, after it was all over, Kit told me that she and Daddy had sat together talking for hours. She held his hand and he cried and told her about my difficult childhood, how he wished it had been different – things I guess he never felt he could tell me directly. We never talked about it, but my childhood memories began to lose their sting, since Daddy wept my son into that bright, spring day.

Memory #13 – As a child, I was terribly afraid of the dark. I was also fanatically frightened by bugs. In the darkness, when I woke up in the night, I seemed to see millions of bugs coming at me, from the ceiling. I had terrible nightmares, walked in my sleep, woke up screaming. Daddy always came and got me, put his arms around me and stayed with me until I fell back to sleep, feeling overwhelmingly safe and loved. How tired he must have been, always getting up before dawn, starting his car and warming it up as he came through the house kissing all his babies goodbye.

Memory #14 – Daddy loved coffee. He was, like me and so many of us, incapable of functioning before having that first cup in the morning. Beyond that, he loved it with breakfast, and lunch and with dessert, and in the afternoons all by itself. The notion of decaffeinated coffee mystified him. When we were in Round Mountain, out in the Big Smoky Valley in central Nevada, we’d sometimes go to Carver’s cafe for breakfast, where they serve good old fashioned country food and there’s a bottomless coffee pot. More than once, when it was really busy and the one or two servers were running their fannies off, Daddy picked up the coffee pot and went around and served it to the restaurant full of people, most of whom worked for him. He was the “big boss,” but never stopped being folks.

Memory #15 – People from Arizona know how to get cool. There are multitudes of tricks that take the edge off the impossible heat out here. But nothing is quite as wonderful as Daddy’s Grapefruit Frosted. He used fresh grapefruit juice, usually off a nearby tree, and put it in the blender with ice and sugar. I never have gotten the quantities just right. As with his pancakes, there was magic in his hands and though we can come close, we can’t duplicate the magnificence of Daddy’s concoction. This summer, I’m going to make it my mission to create my own version – maybe I’ll use maple syrup instead of sugar. Whatever I do, I know I’ll think of Daddy with every batch.

Memory #16 – My first trip on an airplane was in 1971. Just an hour flight, Toronto to New York. I flew alone with Daddy – it was to be a dreadful summer with my great aunt in Masapequa Park. But that came later. On the airplane, we sat in first class, as Daddy always did. I was all dressed up, the way we did back then, when air travel still had a kind of elegance about it. Since it was a short flight there was no meal or movie, but there were fine serving glasses and I guess I had coke or something. I was very afraid, but when the turbulence hit, Daddy told me it was “just a little bumpy air,” and I felt less frightened. He was so unconcerned, that it calmed me down. To this day, when I’m on a flight and there’s turbulence, I hear him reassuring me – “It’s just a little bumpy air.”

Memory #17 – Daddy was an Eagle Scout. When we moved to Toronto, where there were fireplaces in all homes, Daddy taught us to build fires. When we had camped, maybe he had taught my brothers how to build fires out of doors. But I was a 10-year old girl who hadn’t paid attention. I appreciated camp fires when it was time to roast marshmallows, and that was about it. So in Toronto, Daddy taught us how the crumpled newspaper goes on the bottom, then the kindling, then larger pieces. Only after you’ve got a lot of serious heat steadily generated do you put on a log. When the conditions are right, the flames hug the dry wood and it generously bursts into cheerful, warming light. It’s magic. We learned, very quickly, the importance of opening the flue. Oh, yes. My first solo fire smoked the house and all its contents like my favorite kind of cheddar. I was scared to death that I was in trouble, and held my breath. Daddy just chuckled, showed me where the handle was that let the house exhale, and I breathed my own sigh of relief.

Memory #18 – Daddy loved Halloween. One year, when I was a teenager and my little brothers were bitty ones, I helped Daddy make a haunted house in the garage. He had the best time recording himself as a ghoul who wanted to eat children and invited them in to get candy and then let themselves be eaten. He had echo or reverb or something – I don’t know what the equipment was, but it was reasonably high tech for a little home recorder in the 1970’s. He had all the funny traditional stuff – “cobwebs” they had to pass through to get to the cold spaghetti “brains” and olive “eye balls.” I played a witch that stepped out and screamed and cackled and scared the dickens out of them before they ran out the exit. Daddy met them outside with a big bowl of candy, and visited with their parents, unless the kids were too small to go through on their own. It was such fun.

Memory #19 – When a new bird appeared, Daddy reached for his book and binoculars. I don’t know how he did it, but he always knew to which page to turn to find the species. Then he’d look at it smiling and we’d pass around the binoculars and view the creature ourselves. It made the world more magical – flying animals that came from all over the world, had often migrated from the north or the south and made their way to Daddy’s backyard where there were always feeders high up and away from the ever-present dogs and kitties Daddy loved as well.

Memory #20 – I know I remember a lot about Daddy and food. I realize it was a huge part of the relationship we all had – meals. I’m sure that true of most families. So we ate very well – Mama is a fabulous cook, and so was Abuelita. Daddy was also, when he chose to cook. He did mostly breakfasts and barbecuing and stuff like that. Nothing topped his garlic bread, though. Good lord. My mouth waters thinking of it. He would make a rich butter-garlic sauce and dip each piece of bread in it and then toast it. If I hadn’t gone vegan for Lent, I would whip up a batch right now. Yum.

Memory #21 – Our mother is from New York. She was born in Brazil, is ethnically Spanish-French and her people had been in Venezuela for three generations before her. She came out to Arizona in 1955, with a friend, and stayed. She went to work as secretary to the dean of the School of Mines, and that’s how she met Daddy. He loved to tell the story of the first time he saw her – she was so beautiful, exotic and sophisticated. It’s hard to imagine how the two of them could be more different – she a finishing-school, east coast gal and he a dusty boy from Texas-Oklahoma who ended up in Ajo Arizona. He never managed to get her into Levis, but she did get him to symphonies and the theatre, and even got him to perform in some of the plays she directed. With Mama’s urging, he served on the board of the community theatre in Casa Grande as fundraising chairman. They raised a great deal of money under his tenure, but he said “All I did was send out a few letters.” He was embarrassed by all the fawning that ensued – never very comfortable being the center of attention – but he usually managed to propose a toast, tip a glass to whatever it was, and get himself out of the limelight as fast as he could. I want to honor him with all these memories, but I can hear him saying, “Okay, thank you, honey. Now let’s move on.”

Memory #22 – Daddy played this on the guitar and sang the old song. I sang the counter-point. He would pull out the guitar and just start in knowing I would join him no matter where I was or what I was doing. I find myself straining to remember the last time we sang it together, wishing I had known then that it would be the last time.

Memory #23 – I played Guenevere in the musical ‘Camelot’ at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre in 1982, and my family drove all the way up there from Round Mountain. Daddy was over the moon, so proud of me. I gave him a copy of the audio recording of the show and for years afterward, he played it for anyone who visited him at home. I was so embarrassed – I just didn’t get it. I’m now about the age he was then. If it were my daughter, on that tape, I’d play it for anyone who’d listen. Time does heal, but can also be so damn cruel.

Memory #24 – In 1968, Daddy converted to Roman Catholicism. He had been raised Baptist-Methodist and his oldest brother, Charlie, was even the Methodist Bishop of Oklahoma. He and our Aunt Adele were the loveliest people you can imagine. So it was a big deal that Daddy married a Catholic woman and then converted. But he was devoted to the congregational community – really the town revolved around it, that Arizona region is so heavily Latin American that it can’t be escaped (and none of us wanted to escape, anyway!). The evening after my confirmation, when I had gone to bed, my sponsor, WynneGay Mansager, came to me and suggested that I should pray very hard that my Daddy become a Catholic. I took it very seriously and did add it to my nightly prayers (that also included the wish that I never use drugs). When Daddy came to me and told me, some months later, that he had just been baptized a Catholic, I felt fully responsible. WynneGay’s parents, Nonie and Dewey, were Daddy’s godparents. Funny grown ups and their games.

Memory #25 – On Daddy’s 40th birthday, Mama gave him a bar. It was beautiful – all wood, with lots of shelves and little cupboards on the bartender side of it. It lived in our “rumpus room” in Kearny, and then our family rooms in Toronto and Casa Grande and Arizona City. I’m not sure it made its way to Nevada, but it was a wonderful thing. Daddy loved to entertain – they threw some marvelous parties, especially around the holidays. I think it was 1975, when we were in Casa Grande, at Christmastime, that I first noticed his cheeks and nose were especially rosy and his eyes were shiny and he was smiling continually as he stood behind that bar making drinks for his friends and family. It was a different kind of mortality I realized Daddy possessed – a delightful, jolly kind of mortality that happens when those who toil and provide are allowed to let their guard down and celebrate in love and safety.

Memory #26 – The last time I saw Daddy in the flesh was in October 2008. It was crisp and autumny in Houston where my parents were living (and Mama is there now) at my sister’s splendid home. Daddy was still doing his daily constitutionals and I joined him. One morning, my sister’s little dog escaped and Daddy set out after him. It was charming – the Grandfather calling with urgency and love and the little critter so happy to be free and eager to remain so, but also wiggling and wagging his tail every time he heard his name. Eventually, the little guy cooperated when Daddy urged him to sit, and Daddy picked him up and we strolled back to the house, laughing all the way.

Memory #27 – I was nearly five when I was preparing to go to my friend’s, birthday party and Mama took me to get her a present. I was enchanted with the Raggedy Anne doll, and wanted to also get the Andy, but Mama talked me out of it. Those were all the rage then, of course. This was 1964. Anyway. When we went to wrap the present, I cried. I didn’t want to give away the doll. I had fallen in love with her. Daddy watched from the sidelines. I remember yearning for Raggedy Ann and Andy for what seemed years. My birthday was less than three months later. I woke up that morning with two big, happily wrapped boxes at the foot of my bed. Daddy had gone right out and gotten me those dolls, and they had slept in the top of my parent’s closet, waiting for me to turn five.

Memory #28 – When we lived in Arizona, each spring Daddy took us on wildflower gazing rides. We learned very early that it was illegal to pick wildflowers – the first such law that warmed my heart, even though I didn’t understand it or the politics around it. Daddy took it very seriously and didn’t even want us to touch them, they were so fragile. So we traveled along the old roads in the rurals and marveled at the brilliant colors and the poppies growing right out of the rock carved out of the mountains along route 77 and off onto the dirt roads where we’d park along the washes and get out and go exploring and have picnics under the mesquite and palo verde. I remember noticing how much better food tasted outside, and I spent a lot of time imagining that we lived out there, settlers of the old west, Daddy strumming his guitar and Mama with my little brother on her lap. 

Memory #29 – In 2008, while visiting Daddy and Mama at my sister’s in Houston, I told them about a production I once worked on, called ‘Stille Nacht,’ about the Christmas truce of 1914. Our piece was based on the beautiful song, “Christmas in the Trenches,” by John McCutcheon. I found the song online and played it for them, and Daddy wept.

My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen field of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lyin’ with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground
when across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I “Now listen up me boys”, each soldier strained to hear
as one young German voice sang out so clear.
“He’s singin’ bloody well you know”, my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony.
The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more
as Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished a reverent pause was spent.
‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was ‘Stille Nacht”. “Tis ‘Silent Night'” says I
and in two toungues one song filled up that sky.
“There’s someone comin’ towards us” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
as he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.
Then one by one on either side walked into no-mans-land
with neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well
and in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photgraphs from home
these sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
this curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wond’rous night
“whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone for ever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned it’s lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

Memory #30 – Daddy’s humble beginnings never fully left him. He used to have saltines broken up in milk. Crackers and milk. Delicious. It was completely bizarre and disgusting to my friends, both in Arizona and in Toronto. Who would eat a wet cracker?!! I recently found the treat in a “White Trash” recipe book. I had no idea. I just knew it was yummy and I loved having my own serving while Daddy ate his. Usually in front of the TV while either golf or football was playing. I always asked him “which one is our team,” or “who do we want to win?” The television was black and white, so it was either the guys in the black, or the white. Or the golfer wearing such-and-such kind of pants. I never cared, but I pretended to. What I loved was sitting there with Daddy, having crackers and milk.

Memory #31 – I remember the dress was size six, and robin’s egg blue. It had a deep velvet, sapphire sash. The shoes were black patent leather and I wore those dainty white socks with lace trim. Mama was already at the parish hall helping with the food and decorations. I think it may have been someone’s wedding day. But Daddy brushed my hair – I loved when he did that, so softly, and gently followed the brush with his other hand. He tied my sash that day, and I had the overwhelming impulse to say “I love you.” He kissed my cheek and said, “I love you too.” Then he went one way, and I went the other.

Memory #32 – One year, in Casa Grande, Daddy and Mama did George Burns and Gracie Allen for a variety show fundraiser. I think it was for the community theatre. But Daddy was the straight man, and Mama was the funny one. They did a classic Burns and Allen routine and it brought the house down. Even though Daddy was probably 18 inches taller than George Burns, he stood there holding his hat and cigar and just looked at Mama and delivered his lines with his Texas-Oklahoma accent, then threw in the occasional “oi” vowel (as in “surgeon”). Mama, of course, was a dead-ringer for Gracie Allen. Afterward, as always, Daddy sat there smiling, thrilled for her and for himself for having such a talented, beautiful and celebrated mate. It was remarkable how he managed to hold her up in the limelight, and, in doing so, without trying, gain personal respect and admiration. I guess that’s one of those things – if we work for it, it eludes us. If we genuinely focus on what’s important – loving and celebrating our dear ones with no agenda other than feeling the joy of doing so, we achieve it. That was one of Daddy’s great talents.

Memory #33 – When we lived in Arizona City, must have been 1977, Daddy put my brother’s Volkswagen ‘Thing’ in the back of a pick up truck. I guess the car was small enough and the bed was big enough, though it sounds unlikely. But that’s what it was. And the car wasn’t operational at the time. I don’t remember all those particulars. What I remember is that Daddy instructed whomever was there helping – my brother and maybe a couple of other guys – to use two long 2x4s and leverage that car into the back of that truck. I saw it happen, seemingly effortlessly and quickly, yet I couldn’t explain how it happened even the moment following. It was magic. That was the day I came to appreciate my father’s engineering acumen. I stood in awe then, and I do now. Daddy was a wizard of the secret arts that did things like build the pyramids. Since that day, I’ve been something of an engineer groupie. Whenever I meet an engineer, I tend to bow and scrape like an idiot.

Memory #34 – I was very young the first time I saw the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I didn’t get all the nuances, I thought it was extremely strange that Scout went as a ham on Halloween. I thought that was the worst costume ever, and I remember kind of obsessing about that, even with all the drama that ensued on Halloween night in the film. But the part I found most disturbing was the verdict of guilty, when it was so obvious that the man was innocent. When the verdict was announced, I responded loudly, not sure what I said, but Daddy said, “No, honey, this is an all white jury in the rural south. A negro didn’t stand a chance of getting a ‘not guilty’ verdict.” I was dumbfounded. When the film was over, Daddy talked to me about prejudice. He admitted that he still felt it inside himself and always worked against it. Later, in the late 70’s and 80’s in Round Mountain, he had a reverse-discrimination policy that any Black person who wanted a job would have one. There were only two people who tested that policy – a young grad student from Nigeria and a man with a family, a regular working Joe, who I think still lives out there. Some people thought the policy was wrong, even though there were so few applicants to whom it applied. Daddy was very pro-active about equality for women too, and there were women working in every department at the mine in Round Mountain. He admitted that there was probably discrimination still going on there, because it’s very difficult to overcome such things, but he put the policies in place to help us all evolve out of it. I’ve always felt pretty proud of that.

Memory #35 – Retiring was very hard for Daddy. He liked having projects and being busy. He set up a wood shop out in the shed and started fixing things. When I stayed with my parents briefly, here in Tucson in 1997, I had some things shipped, including a cedar chest and a handmade glass topped coffee table that had a folding base. Both of those things arrived with sections in splinters (but the glass was intact!). I was bitterly disappointed, but what could I do? I left them in the carport and went in to cry in my coffee. Two days later, Daddy asked for my help in the shed – we carried the chest and table base back inside – repaired with his two hands and his trusty wood shop tools. It was an unexpected gift – as were so many, from Daddy.

Memory #36 – Daddy was a worrier. I inherited that trait. If someone is five minutes late for anything, I’m sure something terrible has happened to them. I’ve tried to relax that trait, as I know Daddy tried (and failed), but the one time I decided to really not worry was when one beloved friend (maybe 15 years ago or more) who was always fashionably late in those days, on that particular afternoon was in a car accident just a couple of blocks from my house. So I took it as a sign and embraced my paternal genetics. Daddy would be on the road looking for us – whoever we were – if we were 5 minutes late. He would head out in the direction we were coming from and we’d meet out there on the highway and then he’d turn around and escort us home.

Memory #37 – Daddy had a beautiful voice. He wasn’t an ebulliently religious man. He was quiet about it, but it was deeply embedded in his character. Even though he converted to Roman Catholicism, he had these old Baptist hymns in his heart and brought them out now and then. I used to ask him to sing this song, especially during Holy Week. He let it be and just sang it. The drama is inherent in the music and the words. No need to force it. I tried to find a version of someone singing it the way he did – a cappella, simply – but all I can find are heavily accompanied, over-dramatized versions. I hear it in my head, though. Vividly. 

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose
with a mighty triumph in his pose
he arose a victor from the dark domain
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Memory #38 – One of the great benefits of having a father who appreciated science and scientific principles and the magic of technology was that Daddy started having home computers from Day One. I was computer literate and started training people on computers when I was in my very early twenties. It was a terrific skill that sometimes sustained a crazy artist woman like me. Thank you, Daddy, for that too.

Memory #39 – We always knew it was really summer vacation when Daddy didn’t shave. He usually had a month off and we usually did something – went camping or traveled someplace, all of us in the station wagon. But kissing Daddy’s normally clean shaven face was suddenly like rubbing up against a horse blanket. It was a happy sign – he didn’t leave in the mornings, but instead made big breakfasts – pancakes during the week! – and went fishing or wood-gathering or bird watching or a million non-essential things. We’d sit around at night and have a fire and sing and roast marshmallows. It was always a sad day when Daddy’s beard was gone again.

Memory #40 – Palm Sunday. When we moved to Toronto, one of the first outings we had was to the Science Centre. Daddy loved it as much as we kids did, and he walked through all the hands-on exhibits with us, explaining them and demonstrating beyond what the exhibits themselves had to teach us. We especially liked the space exhibits, models of the planets and the Milky Way Galaxy, and Daddy explained to me what a star was and how we’re all made of the same stuff – matter and energy – as the stars. The last time we spoke was on Daddy’s birthday, December 29th. We talked about a lot of things – especially Jimmy and Cesar, my little dogs out of whom I know Daddy would get a major kick. We talked about my new company and about how Gene is living his dream, being part of the Entomology Department here. We talked about the Science Centre and how I learned about static electricity there, and there’s so much of it here in Tucson. Then he said, “If you’re in Tucson, you must have seen my family.” I changed the subject (not reminding him that his parents were long buried here and that all his siblings are gone) and asked what he’s doing for his birthday, and he said he didn’t know, but they were going downstairs pretty soon and would find out. I knew my brother Danny and his four kids were there and that they would all have some kind of celebration in my sister’s beautiful house and that her children would be there, and her grandchildren. I knew Daddy would be surrounded with love, and that made me feel happy, though I also felt deeply sad that I wasn’t there too. Life was full after the new year and I had so much going on – I reminded myself several times in the early mornings that I wanted to call and talk to my parents once it was late enough and they’d had their coffee. I forgot though, until it was night and they’d gone to sleep – I forgot each time, even on the 6th of February, when word came from Danny that our father had collapsed. Within minutes I learned that Daddy had died. It’s been forty days since his funeral, Lent is at its end, and spring is here. I’m reminded of the words in Kate Wolf’s song, Eyes of a Painter: “I see his eyes burning tonight like the stars in the sky he once knew.”


Donald L Simpson 1987

Daddy, 1987

Donald Leroy Simpson died at his residence in Houston on 6 February 2013. He was 83. Born in rural Deaf Smith County Texas 29 December 1929, his family soon moved to Oklahoma where they fled the dust bowl and finally settled in Ajo, Arizona. Donald graduated in 1948 from Ajo High School where he lettered in football and basketball. He worked for the US Forest Service before joining the U.S. Army and served in Japan and Korea. He graduated in 1956 with a BS in Mining Engineering from the University of Arizona and married Maria Luisa Jugo in September of that year. He worked as an engineer for Phelps-Dodge in Ajo for a year, and then for Kennecott Copper Corporation in Ray for 13 years, relocating with the town to Kearny, where he and his family were deeply involved in the community. In 1965, he attended Harvard Business School, where he received a Certificate from the Advanced Management Program. His family moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1970, where he worked for CE Lummus, which sent him on consultations for mining operations all over the world. In 1975, he returned with his family to Arizona where he was superintendent of Hecla Mining Company’s electrowinning plant at Lakeshore Mine outside Casa Grande. In 1978, he took over as general manager of Smoky Valley Mining in Round Mountain, Nevada, which became the largest heap-leach gold mining operation in the world. In 1986, Echo Bay Mines, then owner of Round Mountain Gold, transferred Donald and his family to Reno Nevada where he was Vice-President of Western Operations. In the 1990s, he lived in Denver and Wichita and finally retired to Tucson. In 2007, he and Maria moved to Houston, Texas. Donald was an enthusiastic golfer and tennis player as well as a guitar player and singer who introduced to his children American folk music. He was one of the founders of The Tailings Pond Trio, that performed at community events in Ray and Kearny. The family sang together at countless hootenannies and other celebrations. He is survived by his wife, Maria, and children Don, LeslieAnne, Jeanmarie, Daniel, Jeff and Scott, 13 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. He was buried with military honors at Houston National Cemetery on February 12. Contributions may be made in his memory to the Donald L. Simpson Community Center in Hadley, Nevada.



Mom, ca. 1960



Don, ca. 1960



LeslieAnne, ca. 1960



Dan – the Tucson Years



Jeff – around age 10?



Scott – The Jones era.

This all pales in comparison to my brother Don’s family page. Check it out!

  There’s lots of pics of the grandkids and even some of the GREAT grandkids.   Duncan Simpson’s Website (Don’s son, my nephew)!