“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, March 26, 2024




A Mentor

 Every child should have a mentor. 

After completing my second and third year of school and into my fourth, living in The Dalles, my folks bought an acre of land outside of town next door to the Oaks farm. 

And there, the Oak's oldest daughter, Lois, took a little nine-year-old under her wing. She would pull me up behind her on their big, part draft, part saddle house King, and we would take off. We would ride to the little quick-purchase grocery for a soda or play around an earthen track near the house. In the summer, we wear swimming suits under our jeans, take the horses to the creek, and play in the water. 

 Her little sister always rode King's elderly mother and was a shy, withdrawn girl, so there was no contest between her, Lois, and me. I'm amazed that Lois didn't get tired of me, for I was often there and loved her and King.

 The Oak's house was where the action was. Mrs. Oaks was a buxom woman, a Ma Kettle sort if you remember that movie character, with bosoms that could hold a dozen baby chicks—sometimes farm women would hold baby chicks in their bosoms if the weather got too cold. She invited anyone who came into the house for dinner, even a stray dog or girl from next door.

 Four children were in the family, two older boys who were really men by then but still lived at home. They teased us occasionally but left us alone, except when we all climbed onboard a Case tractor. A Case has metal covering the body of the tractor and fenders covering the wheels. We kids hung onto that tractor for dear life while the driver, one of the brothers, tried to knock us off. In my way of thinking, it was not the safest thing to do, but in those days when we didn't have padded playgrounds, and if you went down a metal slide in the summer, you were likely to get blisters.

We thought nothing of standing in the bed of a speeding pickup with our hands on the vehicle's hood. And when riding the horses, we didn't let fences stop us. See the things Lois taught me. The Dalles was built on basalt, so the ground was rocky interspersed often with good ground soil. Farmers, to limit digging post holes, would sink a post, not the standard 6 or 8 feet, leaving a long gap between posts. The wires between the posts were held apart by floating posts.

Because of that long expanse of wire, we could usually find a place where the wire was limp enough to lie down.

Being farm kids, I wasn't really, but I was learning; we respected fences and always ensured they were secure behind us.

At the Oaks' house, I helped in the kitchen after the evening meal as Mrs. Oaks fixed the meal and the girls washed the dishes. I remember Mrs. Oaks peeling potatoes sometimes 3 times a day. 

One day, I saw a saddle on King. It was the first time I had seen him saddled for Lois, and I rode him bareback. Mrs. Oaks would ride him as a protector, for Lois had gotten a new horse, Lydia, who was prone to bucking. 

 There would be no bucking on Mrs. Oaks' watch. And there wasn't. That mare's brain saved her behind.

 I just love those farm women who could fry up the bacon, handle the house, the farm, four kids, and an errant horse and still have time to make taffy, which we kids pulled, and donuts, which we kids dipped in powdered sugar.

When hay season arrived, I joined in raking the windrows of hay into piles so the boys could load the piles into the truck and drive home to store them in the barn for the winter. In the cool evenings, we girls would run the horses through the field, trying to get them to jump the piles of hay. Usually, they plowed into them, scattering our hay out again.

Those kids would catch mice with bare hands as one scampered from beneath a pile the boys had picked up to throw into the truck. I learned to hold one by the tail. I tried that once after my dog Silver caught a ground squirrel, and I thought I was rescuing the squirrel by grabbing its tail. It swung around and bit me. I was afraid I would get rabies, but I never told my mother because I knew it was a stupid thing to do, rather like putting scissors in a light socket.





 I Was in Hog Heaven Next Door to The Oaks


However, One day, an event changed my view of life again.

I was nine years old.

Mike and I were wrestling on the floor when he lifted my shirt and ran his mouth over my small, budding breasts. I held them and ran to my bedroom. He had been fun. He had played with me, and now I was faced with something I knew wasn't right. 

  He invited me into his bed one night when Mom was gone and touched me, and I would never go there again. Some mornings, I would awaken with his hands under my pajamas. What is this big fat deal? Is it titillating to push yourself onto someone? I didn't want it. I didn't initiate it. I wasn't a temptress. I was nine years old.

A psychiatrist once told me I needed to get in touch with how much I enjoyed it. I thought over my dead body.

Now, I would tell that psychiatrist to go F himself. 

  I know enough about psychology to know that often, even unwanted touching can feel good, and that sets up a girl for even more trauma. 

When I was twelve, Mike needed me to drive the truck through the orchard while he loaded tree trimmings or boxes of fruit. In the truck, he would try to kiss me. 

 He liked to take me on fruit runs. Get the kid away from mom, right?

On one such attempt to kiss me, I flew a rage, flapping my arms, swinging and spitting on him. He backed off and never touched me again. 

That day, I took back my power.

Sadly, however, we moved away from the Oaks to the tune of a terrible stomach from me. Mike had gotten a job in Hood River as a bartender at an exclusive Country Club. Mike never drank. When he was in the service, his buddies would tease him that he could get drunk on Pepsi. The owner of the Club liked that about him and convinced him to move. And mom worked waiting tables for the one month we were there. I don't know what happened to break the alliance between Mike and the owner, but after one month of attending the fifth grade in Hood River, we moved back to The Dalles, and I was next door to the Oaks for another two years. That broke my association with the Catholic Church as I began conventional school as a fifth grader. 

The summer I graduated 6th grade, Mom and Mike bought a 32-acre fruit farm. I often visited the Oaks and rode King, but it was always different from living there. And then, when I was 12 years old, I received the most precious gift of my life. 

 Whether it was out of guilt or generosity or if Mike was buying me off, I don't know. I didn't care. The gift was my horse Boots. How I loved that horse. Mike never touched me again, except he wanted a good night kiss before he left for work, as I often fixed his lunch for his night shift. I exited the room before he left.

Mike had many endearing qualities, like his generosity and fun nature. He would brag about me and compliment my efforts or accomplishments. He accepted me as a daughter, and back in Illinois, I suspect that Grandma didn't like him because she saw something we didn't. Of course, he would soon take her daughter and only grandchild away from her forever. I hesitated to put the negative aspect in this book, but would my story be complete if I didn't?

 I had written of it in the book Mom's Letters… and mine by Joyce Davis. I thought I was done with it. And it is true that when you stop telling the story, it drifts away, not completely forgotten, but no longer irritating you. It becomes a dim memory. You've done it. You've completed it. I fell off a horse once (more than). I got a concussion once when Boot fell with me. I had strep throat once. Mumps, measles, chicken pox, it's over. Gone. I don't want to dwell on it anymore. 

It is a challenge to know when you are avoiding and when you are complete with an issue. You must notice how you feel. Your body will tell you, although I know you might wallow in the mud for a while.

 I know many girls are pressured by a man, an authority figure they like or love and trust, only to have that trust broken. It is so prevalent that I felt mine was simple. Still, we should not trivialize such an event or make it insignificant. It can affect women for life. And usually does. Many women I know had some uncomfortable advances or experiences with men. One of my friends was forcefully placed head-first in a garbage can when she wouldn't let that man touch her. While upside down in the can, she saw rats. She feared rodents, mice, and rats for the rest of her life, yet she lusted after men. Displaced phobia, I suppose. I once heard of a horse who developed a fear of black hats after a man wearing a black hat abused him. Strangely, it wasn't the man he feared but the hat. With my friend, it wasn't men she feared; it was the rats.

And girls keep quiet.

As I did for years.

  I have put those years behind me, for I know Mike's neurosis and see his flaws. It had nothing to do with me. I was there, convenient. 

But I tell you, it was hard to confront him, and I never did it face to face. It was a love/hate relationship. When we depend on that person, when they are an authority figure, when our livelihood depends on them, we are in a bind. Yet the groping makes us hate them. Even at age nine, I knew what he was doing to me wasn't right.

 From my view as an adult, I see the dynamics. I know the pressure and how it feels to be torn. A time after Mike had passed away, a few of the young family members got together and discussed that there was a sexual problem among most of the boys of that family. 

Somebody blamed the father. I believe there was one man, a straight shooter in the bunch, a trusted one. I felt betrayed by the family if they knew such was going on. However, after Mike was gone, most people in that room were younger than me. And more apt to talk about such things than the previous generation.

When I complained to my daughter that we need angst in a book, she said, "Without it, you have no story." With that encouragement, I wrote this episode.

 My daughter is wiser than me. 

I thought I was protecting Mom by not telling her how Mike had treated me. Mike never warned me against it, neither did he threaten me. I thought Mom would divorce him if she knew, and then where would we be? And she would blame me for breaking up the family. I only told people once I was grown.

My sister, Jan, was wiser than me, and when she was older, she told her stepmom. The stepmom told her to "Forgive and forget." Jan told both Mike and the stepmom that unless they agreed to therapy, she wouldn't have anything to do with them. They didn't, so she didn't.

 Many so-called experts say that the mother knows. I've thought about it and can accept it if it is true, but I sincerely believe she didn't. Once, she heard that a little girl's mother discovered her daughter had been touched when the bath water stung, and Mom had a fit.

I was on my way home after a trip to attend a Ramtha week-long event, and while in a hotel room, I decided it was time to confront Mike. By then, I knew about screaming into a pillow, often used in our training at the World Healing Center in San Diego, California. So, a pillow caught my scream and provided a pressure release valve. I told Mike I was calling about the sexual issue.

He said, "Forgive me, my innocence."

I didn't know what to say, so I let it go.

My therapist said he was sweeping it under the rug and to write a letter to him. I did.

I sent him a letter saying if he ever touched my girls, I would rip his face off, and if he ever touched my sisters, I would have him arrested. 

He had already touched my sisters, but I didn't know that until years later. 

When Mom and Mike were ready to adopt a little girl, I foolishly thought that Mike wouldn't do that, not to his child, not his own baby. I rationalized that I was older when I came into the family. It was different. We weren't related. 

But Jan told me years after Mom's death that he took her on the fishing boat, giving him an opportunity. 

  Men who do this don't see how it robs girls. I felt guilty that I had not protected my sister. I was off living my life across the country and in college. Mike wasn't a terrible person. He was deluded, confused, and flawed. He had probably been damaged in childhood, for I know his oldest brother was worse. One hopes their flaws don't hurt others, but Mike hurt my sisters.





One night in Hood River, I was home alone when one of Mike's brothers came barreling in on his motorcycle. He was a good man, nobody to fear, but my dog, Silver, thought differently and rushed to protect me. He didn't harm the man, but it became fun for the brothers to pretend to come after me to rile Silver. 

 After I learned that Silver was so protective, I was never afraid when Silver was with me, even on a country road in the dark.

 Silver was a medium-sized Australian Cocker Spaniel mix. I thought he was the most intelligent dog in the world, and I loved that dog with unbridled passion. He had the herding instinct of an Australian Shepherd—and was colored like one, silver, white, and black—but was about the size of a Cocker Spaniel with ears tipped over at the top. 

 Lois and I found him when we were riding King. The owners said they had too many dogs and would put Silver down. 

 I ran home as soon as I could and cried to my folks that they were going to kill that dog that I later named Silver. We had to get him. They drove over the following day, and Silver was my dog for the rest of his natural life. 

 He would guard the two baby ducks I kept in a box one summer when my mother was visiting her sick mother (when Grandma died). That was over Easter, as I recall when my mom sent me a big box filled with green paper grass, candy, and little figurines. 

I was staying with our best friends, Dottie and Eddie. And while I was with Dottie, she got three duck eggs from I don't know where, and we hatched them under one of Dottie's sitting hens. A chicken egg incubates in three weeks, a duck egg takes four, and that faithful hen stayed the course.

 I would occasionally take the hen off the eggs and dribble water on 

the eggs as a mother duck would after a swim. Two eggs hatched, one little duck died, and that left one. The one Silver guarded. We named him Peanut because he looked like one as a baby.

I realized later that the duck had probably imprinted on Silver, for it would grab the long fur under his neck, and they would romp. Peanut grew up to be a beautiful Mallard drake with a brilliant green head and curly tail, their defining features.

Dottie and Eddie were a constant in my life from when I was nine years old until I married. We were always friends—just separated for a while. When my family lived in San Diego, I could drive the two hours to visit them in Edwards, California. It was there that Eddie died, leaving Dottie devastated. 

Their union was sweet; they called each other "Bubba," but it was marred by Eddie's drinking problem. Luckily, he was a happy drunk. He was the sort of man who would have you laughing one minute after you met him, and everybody took notice when he walked into a room. But he had demons we didn't know about. Strange, isn't it? Those apparently happy souls have something we don't understand: fears, guilt, or we don't know the cause, and sometimes neither do they.

While Dottie and Eddie lived in The Dalles under the church's influence, Eddie was sober. When they moved to another environment, he entered in with the boys.

Alcohol was not a part of my family. Mom might accept a drink if someone offered, but other than that, it was not an issue.

 Mom and Dottie had been friends since junior high, and Mom introduced Dottie to Eddie. When Dottie and I took a trip to Hawaii together, I learned that Dottie had accompanied Mom to visit my father when she told him she was pregnant. 

After Mom and I moved from Illinois to Oregon, and Mom and her best friend were separated, Dottie wrote to Mom that Eddie was looking for a new job. Mom suggested they move to The Dalles and they did. 

 Eddie was a welder. During the war, he was an underwater welder who worked under a diving bell and repaired ships. The Dalles had a shipyard, and he quickly got a job there as a welder.

During my stay with Dottie, she kissed me goodbye as I left for school in the mornings. I know she felt that Mom wasn't very demonstrative, but I don't think she was trying to compete with her. Dottie was just being Dottie.

 I loved both Dottie and Eddie. Eddie would tease me relentlessly but good-naturedly and in the early years, he let me comb his hair and pin-curl it. He would play-box with me but left me to my own devices when I fell into a raging creek.

While fishing, I slipped off a log following Silver over a stream. The water was so swift it swept my legs out from under me, but I had managed to grab a root on the bank as I fell. I was left holding that branch while my legs were flapping in the current. I yelled for him, and he arrived like the movie cops did after the hero solved the crime. He appeared the moment I flopped myself onto the bank.

I know he was watching to see if I could pull myself from the water. 

 I took some pleasure when we waded across that stream, and Eddie was shocked when every time he lifted a foot, the current was so strong he could hardly put it down.

Luckily, Silver could manage that log. 

I was talking about Silver, which morphed into discussing Dottie and Eddie. It emphasizes again how the mind works.

 One subject brings up another. I don't know if this zigzagging needs to be organized; I hope not, for I like its organic nature. It flows like that stream; it hits rocks and redirects. Logs sometimes fall into the water, damming it up. 

To my disappointment, Mike ended my visit with Dottie and Eddie. Whether he missed me as he said he did or was embarrassed by Dottie, I don't know. He would come home from work at 7 am and crawl in bed with me. Dottie thought that wasn't appropriate and told him so. And he took me away.


The glory of that situation was that I stayed at his mother's house within walking distance of Dottie's. At Mike's folks' place, we learned of Silver's excellent herding ability as Silver began guarding that one remaining baby duck from my Uncle Al's dog. Later, when we had chickens on our fruit farm, and one would escape the pen, we would send Silver to catch it. He would hold it down with his paws and lick its face until we retrieved it. 

I remember little of that stay except that I sat under the tree in their side yard and sewed doll clothes. By then, I had grown out of paper dolls into a grown-up lady doll (I never liked Barbie because I thought she was ugly, and the company made all the slick, professional-looking clothes for her. All you had to do was put them on and take them off. I liked the designing and sewing of the clothes. As I called her, my lady doll made the designing and sewing easy because she was small, and I had abundant scraps of cloth left over from Mom's sewing. 

 Mike's youngest brother, Al, lived at home while I was there. He was only four years older than me. We didn't have much to do with each other then, but Al had two Shetland ponies. They were mid-sized horses, not little things, and he and I would ride together. My horse would kick up his heels in a little buck if tickled at the top of his tail, and Al would sneak up on me and tickle the horse's tail. 

Al also taught me to swim at the town's Auditorium swimming pool. During that time, Al was somehow giving his folks a hard time, and they threatened to take away his dog. I thought that was the meanest thing I had ever heard. Thank God they didn't.

Over the years, Al and I went into and out of each other's lives. He became a helicopter pilot, followed by a Commercial pilot for Pan Am. He called himself a big machine operator and said flying was ecstatic, interspersed with moments of terror.

After his death, I awakened one night to the call of my name. I saw a close-up of Al's face as if I were staring straight at a computer screen. "Joyce," he said, "it doesn't hurt to die." I was struck dumb and failed to ask him anything else, and he left. 

During the winter after my grandma's death, and we were all back home in Chenoweth beside the Oak's farm, we had a snowstorm that filled the driveway to over a foot of snow. One night, I went outside to check on Silver. I found him wandering in a daze down our long drive from the house. I carried him back to the house, where his neck was pulling his head back, and he couldn't stand. Mom said he would be dead by morning. 

I went to bed and prayed and prayed that he would live. Come morning, I crept out into the living room, afraid of what I might find. There was Silver alive, lying in a chair.

However, he was one sick dog and became paralyzed. We believed he had distemper, and daily, my folks would try to convince me to have him "put to sleep."

 He continued to lie paralyzed with my folks, trying to convince me he would never recover. I refused and tenderly cared for him, spoon-feeding him broth, and as he was so well house-trained, he didn't or couldn't eliminate, so we gave him castor oil, which forced the issue. Sorry, Silver, it was necessary.

He lay unable to walk for weeks until he wagged his tail one day. We cheered for that, which meant he was regaining feelings in his hindquarters. I held him and assisted his walking until he fully recovered—well, not entirely; he had a quiver in his hind quarters for the rest of his long life, mainly when he had gone on long walks or ran alongside Boots and me. 

 Mike realized that you don't allow a dog in the house during the day to play with your kid, so make him sleep outside at night, not during a severe winter like the one we had that year. 

 Silver and Suzi, another dog we had for a short while, produced puppies. One beautiful, almost white puppy went to a family. Later, the family's father told Mike that the dog had saved his little boy's life.

 As the father was about to drive out of the driveway, not knowing his son was behind the vehicle, the dog somehow alerted him.