Making Memories A Priority – Herndon Ranch Remembers

I want to find a way to capture these memories and stories from my life before they are gone.  In one month I will be 50 years old, and my parents are still alive, but their siblings are either gone or in Hospice.  Before long, my sisters and I will be the senior generation.   I know there are different ways to capture the memories, and I am striving to gather some together to honor the place that Herndon Ranch has played in my life.

It was a typical Wednesday; I logged on the computer and checked email and Facebook for messages.  Sunny Herndon posted a message on Facebook that my Uncle Steve had passed away the night before, so I called my Dad.  Dad had heard from my cousin Kary.  Kary was with Steve when his nose started to bleed and wouldn’t stop, apparently due to the blood thinners he took for so long.  He was transferred from the Naturita Clinic to the Montrose Hospital where he fell into a coma and later died.  Dad learned that they were going to have an open house on the Ranch on Saturday.  He decided to fly to Albuquerque and we could drive to Norwood together.  I picked him up from the Airport on Friday evening and we drove Durango that night.

Dad asked us to contact Phyllis Amy because there were a few things he needed to tell her.  Chris texted P. Amy while I drove and she replied that Dad had told here these things three times already.  She was with my Mom, Amy, in Sacramento while Dad was away.  We stopped at The Range in Bernalillo and Amy & I continued texting.

Throughout the weekend visit, my phone would log 195 texts between myself and my sister; from what we were having for dinner to what Amy wanted me to discuss with Dad about the long term plans for him and mom.  It is quite unusual for my sister and me to text at all, but this was a unique visit.  There had been a struggle between Dad and Amy months ago about his ability to care for our mother in their home.  He has several protruding nerves through his spine that pinch and alter his sensations.  Trauma to the area could cause severe damage, perhaps paralysis.  My two oldest sisters, who attended a visit with Dad’s doctor, are concerned for his safety.   Amy was hoping this was an opportunity to help us all understand and help Dad, without stepping on his toes by throwing out his slippers.

As we continued to drive through the dark New Mexico landscape, Dad told Jacob a story about Grace & Steve’s first days of marriage.  Grace & Steve met at the University of Colorado during World War II.  They decided to marry before Steve was shipped out in the Navy, and drove across the country during their honeymoon before he boarded the USS California in Long Beach.  After he boarded, Grace toured Los Angeles with a family friend, Frank Zimmerman, but was quite forlorn and tearful throughout the tour.  One day while they were driving, the radio announcer reported the USS California has been attacked by the Japanese and 25% of the personnel were killed or wounded on board.  Gracie was devastated.  Moments later the reporter announced that the attack has occurred three months prior.  At that time it was too dangerous to announce these types of attacks to the public when they occurred because it alerted the enemy to important strategic information.  Those few moments were some of the most devastating moments of Gracie’s life, and thankfully Steve came home healthy after completing his tour of duty and lived together with Grace for more than 60 years.

Dad & Chris slept in at the motel while Jacob & I went to the Durango Community Recreation Center.  Jacob swam in their pool with the water playground, lazy river, whirlpool, and water slides.  I attended a group cycling class like the one I would have attended at the YMCA if I was still in Albuquerque.  When we finished showering and dressing, Chris & Dad picked us up and we drove through Silverton, Ouray, Ridgeway, past Telluride to Norwood arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon.

The living room was already filled with guests from the community.  John & Lory had pictures of Steve and Grace blown up on display, and a collection of photos on the table to look through.  On the wall were their individual pictures in their youth, one with Steve in Navy blues, and on a horse in middle adulthood.  There was a portrait of the two of them on their wedding day and with Grace on a motorcycle in her middle adulthood.  Included on the table was a photo book from their wedding that my grandmother, Katherine, put together for my dad.  He could not attend since Dad was stationed in the Philippines when his sister married Steve.  Dad said he had seen this book at the time, but it had remained in Gracie’s possession all these years.  Dad teared up as he read captions written by his mother of his sister’s wedding.  Grandma described the color of Gaga’s dress and the pansies on her hat in the black & white pictures.  Grandma explained that the Maid of Honor was the sister of Charles Percy, the Illinois State Senator who was a lifelong friend of the family.  Another guest recalled when the first Herndon ranch house was built (visible in the background of a picture of Steve on his horse).  People gathered around dad to hear him talk about his memories with his sister and Steve, and dad happily told his stories and listened to theirs.

One of the letters amongst the pictures on the table is a letter from Grandmother Katherine on Grace & Steve’s anniversary.  My Grandma had gathered the passages in Grace’s previous correspondence and documented her reports of meeting and falling in love with Steve.  It is a beautiful commemoration of the beginning of the quiet love story between Grace and Steve.  I got choked up as I read it aloud to Dad and other guests.  I thought about the models I had for enduring love and dedication to family from my grandmother and grandfather, through their children and spouses.  I know there are places where we have faltered, but our family strives to stay connected through our stories.

As the night wore on and the guests departed, Dad discussed strategies for connecting with Kary with John & Lory.  Lory drew a map to help us find the duplex she occupies in town with the assistance of Section 8 housing.  We called Kary’s number and heard Grace’s voice recorded on the voicemail before giving the phone to Kary.  No one knew the password to change the message when they gave Kary the phone, and she often doesn’t answer the phone nor listen to messages.  Dad left a message saying we wanted to see her and would come to visit in the morning before leaving town.  I helped clean up the kitchen while John & Lory headed home for some much needed rest.

Chris & I slept in Grace & Steve’s room, while Dad & Jacob had the two bedrooms where we used to sleep when we came to visit.  Those are the bedrooms that John & Dave shared and Kary had as kids.  Later, Kary’s son, Kristopher occupied the farthest room when he was living on the ranch.  The only time I remember being in Grace’s bedroom was when we visited a year and a half ago to say goodbye to Grace before she died.  I was curious and explored the room that she and Steve for over 60 years.

I found jewelry that I remember Grace wearing on occasion, clothes, slippers and books.  It seems that most books in Grace’s house have an article or some note paper that led to her interest in the book.  These slips of paper provide insight into how stories and information traveled into Grace’s world, whether a recommendation, an article in the paper that sparked her interest, or a gift from a friend.  Each book contains a story that brought Grace’s awareness to the book.  The notes are as interesting to me as the books themselves.  A few books came home with me.

It is funny the things that attracted my attention as I walk around the Herndon Ranch for perhaps the last time of my life; a picture of Grace on her 70th birthday Kayak trip, pumpkin butter, a blanket, a hairdryer and hair bands.  I asked for a copy of the picture of Al Herndon, Steve’s grandfather, was the pioneer who came to Norwood and started the ranch.  One of the guests at the open house asked me if the brand was going to be retired.  She named the brand that symbolized who owned the livestock over the three generations of ranchers (I forget now how she described it), but since the Herndon’s are no longer ranching, the brand should be retired.  Chris heard from someone that the ranch had been left to the Nature Conservancy.  I wonder what will become of the passive solar house they built, that I spent so many summers visiting.

I want to remember the woman who spent her 70th birthday Kayaking with her children and grandchildren.  I want to be her when I am 75, not my mom.  I want to wrap myself in her memory like a blanket, eat her pumpkin butter and read the notes she put in her books.  I want to hold on to this memory for the rest of my life, so I can tell my son, and his grandchildren.

The next morning, I got up and set out breakfast for the family.  We didn’t know if we would find Kary, or if “Two Candles” would be open for breakfast.  I called the “Happy Belly Deli” and they were closed on Sunday.  Uncle Steve often made pancakes for breakfast when he was here.  I made coffee in his little 4 cup pot and set out a selection of cereals for the family, as Aunt Gracie might.  Grace would have put the milk for cereal in a pitcher, rather than leave it in the plastic jug.  Each place setting would have a napkin to place the utensils upon.   The butter was often in a hand crafted pottery cup, not on a dish like at our house.  There was a butter knife inside to serve.  We didn’t need butter for our breakfast that morning.

Dad tried to call Kary again.  We packed the car with luggage and wheelchair.  I thought I saw someone in a red jacket walking across the ranch, but thought it looked like a man.  I used Lory’s map to find Kary’s duplex.  No one answered the purple door, so I left my card on the door saying “Uncle Phil & I came to see you.  We love you, Lisa.”

As we piled back in the car Jacob said he left his toy shark in the pan of water on the counter.  I told Jacob I set out a baggie for him to pack it in, but he left it there.  We had a parenting moment, letting him wrestle with the idea of leaving his toy shark behind.  When no one in the car objected to going back for it, we turned off the main road toward the ranch, and passed Kary on her bike riding away from the ranch.  I waved “Hello!” She waved and mouthed “Bye.”  Apparently, she was on her way to visit with us, just as we left the ranch.  If we hadn’t gone back for the shark we would have missed her.

We headed for Two Candles where Jacob & Chris played games at one table while Dad & I talked with Kary.  Kary circled through three different subjects as we talked together, returning to each topic in waves.  She talked about Kristopher’s commencement and job in Durango at the bike shop, she talked about the problems with her computer being “full of trash” and she can no longer locate the files containing three books she is writing, and she talked about watching helplessly as her father bled until he dropped into a coma and died.

I think the conversation about the computer was a metaphor of Kary’s current condition.  When dad said he wanted her to know he was on her side, she said she didn’t want there to be any sides.  When we asked how she was doing, she talked about her computer problems.  When we asked about what were her plans for her future she talked about Kristopher’s job in Durango, and her plan to apply for odd jobs in Telluride.  When Dad announced that it was time to go, we gathered up the boys and headed home before the storm delayed us further.

It started to snow as we left Norwood.  One reason I own a 4WD vehicle was so I could drive over the mountains in Colorado to visit the Herndons through snow.  Yet, in 49 years, this was the first time I had driven over these mountain passes in the snow, and it might be the last. Norwood will never be quite the same again.   Dad sat in front to talk with me, while Chris & Jacob rode in back entertained by headphones.  Once we got through the three mountain passes to Durango, Chris resumed driving, and I sat in back with Dad to continue our conversation.

While I was driving, Dad and I talked about the book I am reading, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor.  I shared how fascinated I was to hear her discuss what it felt like to have her right brain shut down during a stroke.  I had experienced rare moments like the ones she described during meditation after Yoga practice.  The first time I head this author speak about her stroke I realized that I, and anyone who knows how, has access to that feeling of connection with everything in the universe, by connecting with our right brain. Dad listened closely o what I described and I agreed to send him the TED.com link to her talk.  Many times during this trip, Dad said that people his age no longer fear death.

Dad and I talked about his hopes for his future.  What I wanted to know was how he would know it is time for him to make a change in his living arrangement.  He said that when he faces several challenges at the same time he cannot surmount, it will be time for him to move from living independently to an assisted facility.  I could see in his face that he knew I was using some therapeutic techniques on him, especially when I asked him to identify observable conditions that would show him a need for a change.  We all know it is inevitable that at some point they will need to be in assisted living, our question is how will he know when?  Not only did I want to understand what meant, but as his daughter, I wanted to remind him of the criteria he set when my sisters or I saw them happening in his life.

Dad said he needed information from Kaiser about the options of having a care manager, who is responsible for hiring and scheduling all the caregivers who are coming in.  For him, this is the most over whelming and exhausting aspect of remaining at home.  He heard that Kaiser offered this assistance, but you have to know how to ask for it and be persistent.  He was committed to seeing what P. Amy found and considering it in light of the information he gathers from Kaiser.  P. Amy wanted to know who decided to put Grandma Katherine and Bobbie in Pioneer House and Towers.  She also wanted to know how he & our mom felt about it, but I never got to those questions with Dad.

Dad & I spent the morning getting Jacob off to school, packed and reviewing the business of the trip.  We compared our receipts from what we spent on the trip and split the bill in half.  There was only $12 difference between us.  Once more I packed his bag and wheelchair in the car to drive him to the airport.  At the curbside, we pulled out the wheelchair, and Dad sat in it before we put the brakes on.  His chair slid backwards and toppled, and Dad very skillfully tumbled gracefully out of his wheelchair.  I could see from the way he did it, that my Dad knew how to take a fall and not get hurt.

A man nearby came rushing to our assistance.  Dad rolled himself back, stood up with his helping hand and climbed back into the chair.  As he had said so many times during the trip, Dad thanked the man for his assistance by saying, “One of the things you learn when you have a handicap is how many helpful people there are in the world.”  This time I was careful to be sure the brakes were on the chair.  I pushed him inside to the ticket counter, and tried to wait with dad until there was a human attending to him directly.  It is hard to do these days with the restrictions on leaving your car in the drop off zone at an airport.  I trust that Dad got back to Sacramento safely, or I would have heard about it by now.

I plan to invite the family to share stories based on this memory of my last visit to Herndon Ranch.  I hope you are inspired to share your memories and we will keep their quiet love story alive in our hearts for generations to some.  Please share your pictures and stories via mail or email and I will scan them and include them in the collective story.

One Response to “Making Memories A Priority – Herndon Ranch Remembers”

  • Lisa Johnson, LMFT says:

    I have created a photo book on Shutterfly from the Open House, and plan to add the pictures from the wedding and the text that my grandmother shared. I hope family members will share pictures and stories of the Herndon Ranch to ill up the book.