Going to the Chapel…

My husband and I were married 40 years ago today in what was once the First Baptist Church in Phoenix, Az. Today, the former church is listed on the National Register of  Historic Places.  I like to think that it’s because we were married there that it ended up on the registry.

We chose (mostly I did), to say our vows there because it was where my parents had been married in the same church.  Although many couples are often wed in the same church as their parents, especially if they live in the same town, neither my parents nor I was from Phoenix.  At the time of our weddings, we just happened to find ourselves in that city.

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father outside the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

In my parents case, my Dad, who had recently returned from World War II, was on the road with a trailer full of greyhound dogs. His oldest sister and brother-in-law raced greyhounds and travelled the country going from dog track to dog track. When my Dad came home, he was “in pretty bad shape,” as he said.  My aunt Nola and uncle Paul gave him a job as a trainer to help him put his life back together.  It meant hauling their greyhounds around the country to wherever the season was open. But before leaving his hometown of Parsons, Ks., one of my Dad’s other sisters, Gail introduced him to a girl with whom she worked with at the First Federal Savings and Loan and who she thought was “just right” for my Dad.  Her intuition was good and, as my Dad liked to put it:  “I knew she was the girl for me.”  In fact, just two weeks after they met, my Dad told his new girlfriend that if she didn’t marry him he’d rejoin the Army. Then he left with the dogs.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

When he got to Phoenix, where there was a big greyhound dog track, he asked his sweetheart to come marry him there.  What a big decision for my Mom. Not only had she never traveled much further than Parsons from her tiny hometown of  Verona, Mo., but she barely knew my Dad.  She must have known he was the one for her too as she, then 25, and her oldest sister, Oleta, drove together to Phoenix. Soon after they arrived, the young couple was married in the chapel of the First Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix that stood at the corner of Monroe and Third Avenue.  They were married 65 years, until my Mother died in 2012.

Twenty-nine years later, Michael and I stood in the same church before a small group of friends and family to exchange our vows. I was working in Phoenix as a journalist, first as an intern for the Arizona Republic, then as an arts editor for the Scottsdale newspaper where my husband, Michael, also a journalist, and I met.

Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the santuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candleabra on the left.
Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the sanctuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candelabra on the left. My brother, Richard, then a professional photographer, captured our wedding on film for us.

When we decided to marry, we choose to do so in Phoenix where we had friends in common and where my extended family lived.  My parents once again traveled from Kansas to Phoenix for a wedding. By then, the church had vacated the building and had moved to another location. The City of Phoenix now owned it and housed some offices inside . The main sanctuary was no longer in use except for an occasional large meeting. The organ was gone and the altar had been removed. We obtained special permission to hold our ceremony there.

This style of wedding photography, marketed as 'misty's' was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father took this of us in the church on our wedding day.
This style of wedding photography, marketed as ‘misty’s’ was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father made this photograph of us in the church on our wedding day.

The sanctuary was thoroughly cleaned before we began decorating the aisles and front with the holly sent to me by my aunt Imogene in Oregon, her gift for my December wedding. The organ was removed when the church left so for music, the arts editor of the Arizona Republic, where Michael was now working, gave us a string quartet for our ceremony.  We hired a minister, someone I had recently interview for an article, and was set.

With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.
With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.

Although I don’t know for certain, ours was probably the last wedding to take place in that church.  The city continued to use it for offices for while after, but in 1984, a massive fire took the roof and gutted the interior. It remained structurally sound but threatened with demolition, a non-profit organization, headed by Terry Goddard a former Phoenix major and state attorney general, bought and saved it in 1992. Twenty-two years later, they had the money necessary to restore it.   Now, with the rehab just completed this September, it is being marketed to businesses for commercial use.

The church is now called the “Monroe Abbey” and is an imposing structure in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1929, its Italian Gothic style, designed by George Merrill, is architecturally significant in a city otherwise dominated by Spanish style architecture. “There’s no other building like it in the Valley,” Dan Klocke, vice president of development at Downtown Phoenix Inc. has said. “Because of its scale and its uniqueness, it could potentially attract a lot of visitors to downtown.”

Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.
Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.

A tenant already occupies the hallowed halls of a smaller adjacent church dubbed Grace Chapel, which is connected to Monroe Abbey but wasn’t structurally damaged in the fire. Others have leased space elsewhere within the huge 40,000 square foot interior.

For those closest to the project, the resurrection of the building represents more than just saving an old church, according to Downtown Phoenix Inc.“There’s a tremendous amount of flavor and place making and just a sense of who we are, where we’ve come from that is embodied in these buildings,” Goddard has said. “I think it’s tragic when they’re lost and I think whenever we can hold onto one of the monuments of the past – that’s something we should do.”

The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix' historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Poenix Business Journal.
The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix’ historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Phoenix Business Journal.

As advocates ourselves for the preservation of historic structures, we couldn’t be more delighted that the place where we and my parents were wedded has been given new life.  It reopened this year and it’s the best 40th anniversary gift we could receive.

 

 

Finding Faces of Phoenix in a Surprising Place

Travelling is an adventure.  No matter how many times I have visited a place, I seem to discover something new, something that I overlooked before or failed to take in during previous visits. This happened to me on a recent trip to Phoenix.  I lived in that city for five years a long while ago. The city has grown tremendously since then although the city’s core remains much the same as it was then.

This trip I stayed with good friends Eileen and John whose home is around the corner from where I last lived in Phoenix, just one block from Phoenix College.  At the time I lived there, Phoenix College was not nearly the size it is today. Early one morning, I decided to stroll through the campus just to see what had changed.

The oblelisk-like moasiac sculpture stands 18-feet tall.
The oblelisk-like mosaic sculpture stands 18-feet tall.

At the end of my walk, I headed down the parking lot towards the little duplex where I once lived. But before I got to it, I came to an obelisk-shaped sculpture towering on the corner. I had to gain a closer look.

The three-sided artwork is filled with faces from the Phoenix community.
The three-sided artwork is filled with faces from the Phoenix community.
Topping the sculpture is a steel abstract of the Phoenix bird.
Topping the sculpture is a steel abstract of the Phoenix bird.

The three-sided sculpture was filled from top to bottom with faces.  What a curious piece, I thought. Each face was different.  Their expressions drew me in. I moved around and around the piece, looking up and down, trying to get a better view of the ones placed higher, towards the metal abstract Phoenix bird topping the structure.

I must return to the house, grab my camera, come back and photograph this intriguing art piece, I thought. When I did, I asked Eileen if she knew anything about the sculpture. Indeed, not only did she know about it, but her own face was among those on it!  Together she and I walked back to the corner where it stood. But as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find her face amongst the many. “My daughter knows exactly where it is,” she told me, “I’ve forgotten”

My friend Eileen's face is among the many on the sculpture.
My friend Eileen’s face is among the many on the sculpture.
The expressions of the sculpture's faces draw you in.
The expressions of the sculpture’s faces draw you in.

The piece, I later learned, is titled “Faces of a Community” and represents the diversity of ages, cultures, and people who make up the Southwestern city of Phoenix.  During the making of the artwork, my friend’s face was molded in plaster by one of the artists, locally renown maskmaker Zarrco Guerrero.  The mold was then used to create a clay likeness of her face which was attached, along with the many others, to the final piece. The pieces were glazed in blues, terra-cotta and creme colors and carefully positioned up and down the obelisk.  It would have been fun to watch as the artists’ placed each of these faces and the manner in which they established the relationships of one to another.

The final piece was installed in 2002 and was the end result of a collaboration between artists Helen Helwig, Niki Glen, MIchael Anderson and Guerrero. Students, teachers and community members all participated in making the life casts and moulding the faces. Today, the 18 foot tall sculpture anchors the northeast corner of the campus where, undoubtedly it attracts students and visitors, like myself, who just happen upon it and provides a perfect way to finish or begin a walk around the Phoenix College campus.

The faces were cast from life models and reflect the diversity of the Phoenix city.
The faces were cast from life models and reflect the diversity of the Phoenix city.

 

 

 

 

MIM Shows Stradivarius String Masterpieces

You may have heard a Stradivarius violin, but have you seen one?  Up close?  I had a chance thanks to a special exhibit currently at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix.

While in Phoenix recently as a board member with the Bellingham Festival of Music (BFM), I and BFM President, Karen Berry met with MIM’s director of marketing, Karen Farugia. Afterwards, I had some time before heading off to meet friends. It wasn’t enough time to visit the MIM’s permanent collection (which I’ve done) of 6,000 instruments, but thought I could manage a quick tour of MIM’s special exhibit in the Target Gallery:  Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker.  I bought my ticket and stepped into the gallery.

Phoenix' Musical Instrument Museum, known as MIM, is one of the city's newest museums.
Phoenix’ Musical Instrument Museum, known as MIM, is one of the city’s newest museums.

The exhibit, which opened in mid-January and continues through June 5, welcomes you with a multi-screen video introduction to the area where this legendary violin maker lived and worked: the Northern Italian city of Cremona.  The video gives a brief overview of this rich, historic city which yielded so many early master violin makers, in addition to Stradivari, and explains how the city’s proximity to the Fiemme Valley forest provided these craftsmen with the fine materials they needed to produce what became some of the premier instruments in the world.

The Stradivarius exhibits starts off with a multi-screen video about Cremona.
The Stradivarius exhibits starts off with a multi-screen video about Cremona.

The violins of this exhibit have been artistically (and no doubt carefully) hung within a clear, climate-controlled plexiglass case so that the viewer can walk entirely around them to get a close and complete look at them.  In addition, every ticket to MIM comes a set of earphones so that as you approach the instruments on display, you also hear the sound of the instrument played by musicians who are masters of it. But what’s striking about the Stradivarius exhibit, is how incredibly gorgeous these stringed instruments are, indeed works of art in appearance as well as sound. Their beautiful, burnished wood shines in the light reflected from overhead.

A visitor to the Stradivarius exhibit reads the description on the wall while listening to the music of the instrument on display.
A visitor to the Stradivarius exhibit reads the description on the wall while listening to the music of the instrument on display.

First on display is the exquisite violin made by Andrea Amati, recognized as the father of the violin. Amati was a luthier in Cremona who, according to some histories, was asked to make a lighter instrument than the lyre and viol di gambas that he was building at the time. The viol di gambas resemble the modern-day cello in that they are played upright between the knees. Amati came up with a design that was smaller and lighter although similar in appearance to the viols. He added the fourth string which soon became standard to violins and is credited with developing the methods used in constructing the Cremonese violins. Only 20 of his instruments survive today. One of them, known as the ‘Carlo IX’ created for France’s King Charles IX in 1566, is in the MIM exhibit.

The beautfiul Amati violin with its contrasting neck, fingerboard and tailpiece.
The beautiful Amati violin with its contrasting neck, fingerboard and tailpiece.

As you can see from my photograph taken at the exhibit, Amati used a lighter colored wood for the neck, face of the fingerboard and tailpiece and decorated it with fine, delicate black line design. On the backside of the violin, he added a golden crown and fleur d’lis, still visible but fading with time. Interestingly, whenever Amati made violins, including this one I believe, he made them as part of a matched set. They were used, with the viola, viol da gamba and lyres for example, to provide dance music for those at court. It’s a bit humbling to stand in front of this historic instrument and realize that its maker gave us the start of our beloved violin of today.

The ribs of Sacconi's violin on display at MIM are gorgeously embellished.
The ribs of Sacconi’s violin on display at MIM are gorgeously embellished.

Equally as stunning is the “Violino Barocco” by Simone Fernando Sacconi, also displayed at MIM. This violin is so named because its neck is shorter and its fingerboard like those from the Baroque era of music.  It was built in 1941 by the Italian maker who is regarded as one of the foremost violin makers of the modern-day. Sacconi, who died in 1973, devoted himself to extensive study of Stradivari’s techniques even using his antique tools. Although difficult to photograph through its display case, you can still see here the exquisite design of this violin’s ribs and get an idea of the lacelike intricacy of the bridge.  To view it in person is breathtaking.

The bridge of Sacconi's violin is amazing unto itself.
The bridge of Sacconi’s violin is amazing unto itself.

But of course, the instrument in the exhibit that draws your greatest attention is the one violin made by the master himself, the “Artot-Alard’ violin of 1728. It is the first time that this particular violin has ever been on display in the United States. Made when Stradivari was 84, it is a fine example of his craftsmanship.  Look closely and you can see the close, straight grains of the spruce wood used to make it. Undoubtedly, this is as close to a Stradivari that I will ever get so I stood before it as I might an art masterpiece, which it truly is, taking in its beauty, admiring its deep color and imagining what it must be like to actually play it.

A detail of the Stradivari violin on exhibit at MIM shows the close grain of the wood. A detail of the Stradivari violin on exhibit at MIM shows the close grain of the wood.
A detail of the Stradivari violin on exhibit at MIM shows the close grain of the wood.

I could have lingered there in the exhibit for an hour but my time had run out.  I managed to watch the short video on the “Science of the Stradivarius”, which you can see here by clicking on this link:  http://bit.ly/1pFwDEq.  It’s an excellent and fascinating explanation of how these incredible instruments were constructed.

Should you find yourself in Phoenix between now and June 5, I’d encourage you to plan some time to spend at MIM and this special exhibit. And if you miss it, don’t miss MIM next time you’re in the city. It’s truly a place where you can spend an entire day.  It’s a topic for a future blog post!

I had only a short time to visit the Stradivarius exhibit at MIM but was glad I did!
I had only a short time to visit the Stradivarius exhibit at MIM but was glad I did!

Love is in the Air

‘Spring, as the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “is a time when a young man’s” (or woman’s) “fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  Judging from the number of wedding photos posted by friends on their Facebook pages the past couple of weeks, nothing has changed since Tennyson penned those words in 1842.  In fact, I shared a few pictures with my family members of my own parents’ wedding who were married on April 9, 1946.

My father, who passed away a year ago only three days after what would have been their 68th wedding anniversary, said that the day they were married was ‘the happiest day of my life.” They celebrated 66 anniversaries together. It’s become rare to find couples of subsequent generations who have stayed together that long and who are still so deeply in love.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

I have on the mantel of my living room fireplace a framed photo of my parents on their wedding day. They were married in Phoenix, Az., when the city had not quite reached the population of 100,000.  My father had recently returned from serving in Europe in World War II. (His unit, the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion saw more days in combat than any other in Europe except for one.)  Upon his discharge, he headed home for Kansas.  No sooner had he arrived than one of his older sisters introduced him to a young woman with whom she worked at the local savings and loan bank.  I think it must have been love at first sight although my Dad never put it quite that way.

My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.
My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.

My mother was a beautiful young woman who had volunteered at the local USO. She loved to dress stylishly and somehow managed to do it on her small salary as executive secretary to a bank president. She had moved after high school from her tiny hometown of Aurora, Missouri to the then prosperous railroad town of Parsons  when she received a scholarship to attend the Parsons Business College. She had excelled in the courses of shorthand (a vanishing, if not gone, art of note taking), bookkeeping and typing. After graduation, she quickly landed the job at the bank where my father’s sister also worked. His sister was convinced that my Mom was the ideal girl for her handsome, younger brother.

"She must have really loved me," my Father would recall years later.
“She must have really loved me,” my Father would recall years later.

They were introduced and two short weeks later, my Dad told her that he wanted to marry her.  As he put it, “I told her that if she didn’t marry me, I was going to re-enlist in the Army.” Now that was determination. Shortly after his proposal, he left town to travel with his older sister and her husband and race greyhounds.  My uncle owned a large kennel of dogs (another story for another blog post) and needed someone like my Dad to help out.  My Dad said that his sister convinced him to come with them because, in his own words, “I was a mess after the War and that helped to straighten me out.”

He wound up in Phoenix where there was (and still is) a greyhound race track.  I think he wired–rather than mailed–his beloved to come join him so that they could be married.  My mother had, by then, a little time to think over his proposal and must have loved him as much as he loved her because she accepted.  But when she asked her boss permission to take a week off to go to Phoenix for the wedding, he declined and told her that if she went she would lose her job.  She went anyway. Later, my father would tell me; “She must have really loved me to take such a chance, quit her job and go to Phoenix to marry a guy who didn’t have anything at the time.”

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

She and her oldest sister traveled down to Arizona. I don’t know if they went by car or train but they went together. It must have been quite an adventure for neither of them had ever been out of the Midwest.  I never heard the details of that trip from my mother but I’ll bet it was exciting for them both. My mother packed a gorgeous, tailored suit as her wedding dress. My aunt chose her best suit to wear as the ‘matron of honor.’

My Dad dressed in a sharp, light-colored double-breasted suit. (They don’t make those kind anymore). Whether he had brought it with him or bought it with his earnings from the dog track I don’t know. But the two of them together looked stunning and very much in love.

They were married in the chapel of the majestic First Baptist Church built in 1929 of Italian Gothic design. The church, abandoned 40 years later by the congregation, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has fallen into decline after fire there in 1980 but just last year, historic preservationists and architects in Phoenix launched an effort to restore it to its former glory and re-purpose it for new use.  When my own husband and I were to be married in Phoenix, where we were both working at the time as journalists for the local newspaper, I chose to have our own wedding in that very same church.  The building was owned by the city at the time and was being used for city offices. We had to obtain permission from the city then go in and clean up the sanctuary–the chapel was closed–in order to have our ceremony there. But we did it and I’m very grateful we did.

Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in  Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.
Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.

My parents were unable to pay a professional Phoenix photographer to record their wedding day. Instead I have snapshots, probably taken by my aunt with some instruction by my Dad who was leaning towards a career in photography but hadn’t yet begun it.  None exists of the ceremony itself. The few photos I have were taken outside the church entrance and at Encanto Park, a beautiful old park with a large lagoon in Central Phoenix’s still-posh Encanto neighborhood. They tell the story in themselves of a young couple, so in love, on their wedding day.

 

A Christmas Story Rerun

“I always tell people about you at this time of year.” Richard Elmore said as we met and hugged in the lobby of the theatre that is home to the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Richard, or Dick as I know him, had just finished a Sunday afternoon performance of Robert Schenkkan‘s play, “The Great Society” in which he portrays FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover.  The play is a dramatization of Lyndon Johnson’s second term in office.  Playwright Schenkkan’s companion piece “All the Way”, about Johnson’s first year in office, won the Tony Award and is also playing in concurrently at the Seattle Rep in partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from Ashland, Ore.

“The Great Society,” which I saw, is a powerful and well-crafted piece about Johnson’s tumultuous second term and his fall from grace as the quagmire of the Vietnam War pulled him further and further under and away from his agenda of social programs and civil rights. The play’s themes are sadly still current and harken to the recent events in Ferguson, MO. and elsewhere that confront President Obama and the country. Dick, as J. Edgar Hoover, is the devious FBI director whose loyalties go only as far as his serving his own interests and personal political agenda.

Actor Richard Elmore and I with a towering life-size LBJ cut-out after Elmore's performance  in The Great Society.
Actor Richard Elmore and I with a towering life-size LBJ cut-out after Elmore’s performance in The Great Society.

Dick has been a member of the Oregon company for 30 years playing more parts than his short bio in the program can list. When I learned that he was to be in Seattle with the play, we arranged to meet after the show and catch up.

I first met Dick in Phoenix when he was first starting out as an actor in local productions there. I was working as a theatre reviewer and journalist for the Phoenix papers at the time. We became friends. Eventually I moved to Los Angeles and Dick headed to Ashland where he soon established himself as a resident company member with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

But before that, the two of us teamed up one Christmas for an article that I had suggested to my editor at the Arizona Republic’s magazine.To tell the truth, I hadn’t remembered about it until recently when my oldest son and I were watching a 1999 television movie “Season for Miracles.” (We both agreed it was a pretty sappy show.)

“I once wrote a Christmas story,” I told my son who, frankly,doesn’t know that much about my journalism career. That year, as I told my son, I proposed to my magazine editor that Dick and I go out into the neighborhoods of Phoenix at night five days before Christmas and pose as a husband and his pregnant wife in need of help and a place to sleep for the night. Sound familiar? We wanted to test the Christmas ‘spirit,’ just to see whether or not it was still alive and whether anyone would be willing to take us in just as the Bethlehem innkeeper did for Mary and Joseph centuries ago.

Posing as a modern-day version of Mary and Joseph, Rickahrd Elmore and I went door to door in Phoenix seeking a place to stay.
Posing as a modern-day version of Mary and Joseph, Richard Elmore and I went door to door in Phoenix seeking a place to stay.

We went from house to house, knocking on the doors of homes both large and small, festively decorated with lights as well as those that weren’t, of those well-to-do and those less fortunate. It was cold, even for Phoenix. Dick had our story rehearsed. We were passing through Phoenix when our car broke down. We had no money and just needed somewhere to stay for the night so that he could try to fix our car in the morning. I tried my best to look helpless and pregnant, thanks to a well-placed pillow under my clothes.

When Dick agreed to masquerade with me as the Biblical couple neither of us really knew quite what to expect.  Most people, we suspected, would simply turn us away or not answer the door at all. To be sure, that was the case with many. But much to our surprise, some of those who came to the door actually invited us inside, offered us something to eat, phoned the local Salvation Army, gave us money to get a room at a nearby motel and, in three instances, opened their homes to us for the night before I revealed our true identities and told them about my assignment. It was a remarkable and heart-warming experience. I think it restored our own faith in the goodness of ordinary people.

I hadn’t thought about that journalistic endeavor for many years. Apparently, Dick has never forgotten it because no sooner had we hugged each other in the lobby than he told me:”I always tell people about you at Christmas and about that night that we went out in Phoenix.” It’s a Christmas memory that we share. It was a gutsy charade, even then, we both agreed. Dick and I mused whether or not imposters such as ourselves those pre-Christmas nights would still be invited in to anyone’s home today. I don’t know. I like to think that they would.

My original article follows if you’d like to read it.

A Place to Spend the Night 

by Cheryl Crooks
Doris Kroll and her daughter, Lisa, were stirring the pots of fancy Christmas cooking on the stove top when a knock sounded at the front door. She looked at the kitchen clock.
Ten thirty. She looked at the kitchen clock. Her husband, John, had already retired for the night. The family poodle barked at her heels. She flipped on an outside light and cracked the door of her Scottsdale home. “Yes?” she said, peering into the darkness.

A man, wearing an old Army jacket, stepped from the front of the house into the halo of yellow light.  A pregnant woman stood  behind him.

“I’m sorry to bother you at this late hour, ma’am,” the man said, “but we’re from out-of-town and our car just broke down.” The man was a Phoenix actor Richard Elmore. I pretended to be his wife.

Five days before Christmas, we decided to test the Christmas spirit by going door to door, seeking room for the night, just as Joseph and Mary had done centuries ago.Their reactions to our plea for a place to spend the night had not been unexpected. So at the third house, when Max Coulson asked us to come in, we were surprised. Mrs. Kroll listened quietly as he told of our misfortunes. After a moment she said, “Would you like some coffee?” and invited us inside.

“I just got home from art class,” she said, seating us at the kitchen table. In the adjoining living room was a ceiling-high Christmas tree with wrapped packages beneath. The kitchen was bright and warm and smelled sweet from the confections. “We’re making candy,”she said. “I’ll fix your coffee in a minute.”

“If you only had a place for my wife, I can sleep in the car, but she’s pregnant,” Elmore said.

“My daughter has a spinal disease so I can’t give up her bed but you could sleep on the couch,”Mrs. Kroll said. “I feel badly about letting you sleep in the car,” she said to Elmore. “It won’t be very comfortable. At least I can give you a blanket.”

“I don’t believe it,” my “husband”said, returning to the car afterwards. “Her husband was unemployed, her daughter had a spinal disease and she was still giving you a place to stay.”

The evening hadn’t begun as well. People at the  first two Scottsdale homes turned us away  with, “Call the police or the Scottsdale Family Society, they’ll help you,” and a polite but firm, “We’re cramped here, we’ve had a lot of people come for the holidays. Sorry.”

“Tell my wife what you just told me,” he said, ushering us into the family room where his wife, Loretta, and their two children were watching television.

“My wife is pregnant and, well,we were just wondering if you might be able to put us up for the night,” Elmore said. “We have no money.”

“What can we do to help these people?” Coulson said after Elmore had explained our predicament.

“Why don’t we fix them some coffee?” Mrs. Coulson said.

“Thanks, but we don’t want to cause a lot of trouble,” Elmore said.

There must be someone we can call,” Mrs. Coulson said. She walked to the telephone on the breakfast counter and began to thumb through the directory.

“If we could just sleep in your backyard,” Elmore said.

“Oh no, you couldn’t do that. It’s too cold,” Coulson said.

“Maybe the Salvation Army,” his wife said, lifting the receiver. She dialed the number.

Just down the block from the Coulson home, Gene Cash was pushing his motorcycle into his garage. We approached him.

“I suppose so,” Cash said, when asked if he had a place where we could stay “I have a spare room. If that’s not what it’s for, what is it for? Besides, you would be good company.”

We were speechless. No one took in strangers anymore. You couldn’t trust them.

It was 11 p.m. when we knocked on the door of Ruth and Meade Long’s Scottsdale home. They were getting ready for bed. Long answered the door. As Elmore began to tell our story, Mrs. Long joined her husband  at the door.

“Give them some money, Meade,” she said.

Long mumbled something to his wife. He seemed reluctant. Because Long had been laid off his job, their income had been reduced to the money Mrs. Long earned cleaning houses during the day. She stepped away from the door and picked up her purse that was on the living room table.

“Here,” she said, handing us ten dollars. “There’s a Motel Six just down the street. You should be able to get something there. I’d be afraid to let you stay here because our dog bit the mailman today.”

“This sure is changing my attitude about people,” Elmore said as we drove away. “Really makes you stop and think.”

The next evening we decided to visit a neighborhood in central Phoenix. We walked up the steps to the front door of a brick house. The porch light was on. Elmore pressed the bell.

“Who is it?”a man shouted from inside. The stocking feet of a man lying on the floor watching television with a beer can sitting him could be seen through the door window.

“Hello?” Elmore said.

“We don’t want any,” the voice said.

“We don’t want any? What does he mean,’We don’t want any?'” Elmore said as we headed towards the house across the street.

“We have company and have no room here,” the man at the next house told us, “but go across the street to that house. Tell her Matthew sent you. She has a little house out behind hers.”

Elmore and I walked to the corner house to which Matthew had pointed. Mary Carr opened the door just as Elmore was about to knock. She had on her coat and scarf and was on her way to a school board meeting. We told her what Matthew had said.

“You can’t stay out there,” she said, referring to the house Matthew had mentioned. “That’s just a shed. It’s dirty and about to fall down. But come in.”

We followed her into the living room.

“Sit down, sit down,” she said, motioning to us. She took off her coat and threw it across the dining room table. “Let me see if I can find somebody to help you,” she said, picking up the telephone book. “The first people I think about in these situations is either the Salvation Army or the Crisis Intervention Center.” She found the number, reached for her telephone and dialed.

A chain link fence enclosed the yard of the next house we decided to visit. Inside, several lights were on. We knocked. Someone peeked out the front window .

We knocked again. A man appeared at the door.

We don’t have any room,” he said and shut the door .

We turned away to try to find room elsewhere.

“Just a minute,” the woman who answered the door at the next house said. She closed the door and disappeared. We sat on the front step wondering if she had gone to summon the police. Just then, Derek Van Deren opened the door. He was wearing a pajama top and wrinkled trousers. He looked as though he had been asleep. “Yes?” he said. He listened patiently.

“We don’t have anywhere here for you to stay,” he said. “It’s too cold to sleep outside. Have you gone to the Salvation Army?”

We told him we hadn’t.

“I can drive you down there,” Van Deren said. “They’ll be able to find a place for you. Let me put on my shoes.”

From the Van Deren neighborhood, we drove to the Encanto Park area where there are many expensive, two-story homes. We r waited at the front door of one. No one answered, but two silhouetted figures in the lighted upstairs window watched us depart.

Around the corner was another two-story home that had been gaily lit for the holiday season.The tall, green Christmas tree, elaborately decorated, was visible through the picture window. Packages hid the base of the tree. A wreath hung on the front door.

We rang the bell. Two faces looked out a side window. None appeared at the door.

The lights were also on at the neighboring house. We decided to try there. Elmore rang the bell. A dog barked.

“See that eye?” Elmore whispered. In the center of the large straw wreath trimmed with a big hung on the door was a tiny peephole through which an eye was studying us.

We rang again. Still no answer.

“Come on,” Elmore said, taking my arm.

As we started down the front sidewalk, the door opened slightly.

“What do you want?” a young boy called. He barred his foot across the opening to stop the dog from bounding out.

“Are your parents home?” Elmore said.

“They’re, uh, busy right now,” the boy said.

We explained that we were looking for a place to spend the night.

“Oh,well really, my parents aren’t here,” the boy said, still hiding behind the door as if he had been instructed to do so when talking to strangers.

“Thanks anyway,” Elmore said, and we turned away

“Wait,”the boy shouted and slipped through the opening, pushing the dog back inside. He was 11 or 12, had blond hair and no shoes on his stocking feet. Let me think,” he said, pacing back and forth on the lawn. His hand rubbed his chin, a mannerism he must have copied from an adult. He looked thoroughly frustrated.

“Go to Central,” he said. “You walk straight down this street and then, uh, well.

He obviously did not know what we should do once we got to Central Avenue, but to him it seemed the place for us to go. Central  Avenue was, after all,a very busy street.

“Thanks, anyway,” Elmore said, reassuring him that we would be fine.

“Merry Christmas,” the boy said, waving to us from the front porch.

“Merry Christmas,” we said.

The boy went back into his house.

“What do you know. It takes a child to show the way,” Elmore said, shaking his head as we left the neighborhood.

Most of the homes were dark when we arrived in a northwest Phoenix neighborhood. But one small house with a string of colored Christmas lights that out lined the front window was still lit up. We knocked at the door.

“No,I’m sorry, we don’t have any place for you to stay,” the woman who stood in the doorway said. She closed the door and watched as we walked away.

Response to our door-to-door search for room for the night had not been as fruitful as the evening before. Of the eight homes we had visited, only two people had offered to help and none had asked us to stay. We would try one more home before quitting. The door opened. A young man’s head crooked around the edge of the door.

“Just a minute,” he said, closing the door. A minute later the door opened again. “Come in,” Dan Brewer, who looked to be in his 20s, said. “I had to put some clothes on. I just got out of the shower.”

He led us through the entry hall into the living room where his wife, Tammy, was sitting on the couch in her robe feeding a bottle to their 4 -month-old daughter. “Sit down,” Brewer said. “Where’s your car again?”

Elmore repeated our story. Brewer left the room and returned with a can of caulking putty and a putty knife. He sat on the floor, cleaned the knife on the rim of the can and put the lid on as Elmore apologized for intruding.

“What do you want, boy or girl?” Mrs. Brewer said when her husband had left the room again.

Elmore and I looked at each other.

“Oh, uh, either, as long as it’s healthy,” he said.

“What do you think is the matter with your car?” Brewer said, re-entering the room. He wiped his hands on a towel.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem,” Elmore said. “I think I can fix it in the morning.”

Brewer exited again. Mrs. Brewer began to talk about her baby and asked about our expected child. Her husband entered the living room again, this time carrying a large, double sleeping  bag. He laid it on the floor and began to spread it out. They were giving us room for the night.

During the two evenings, we stopped at sixteen Phoenix area homes. At each, we had asked for a place to stay for the night. We were turned away at nine. Four others offered to help and three had taken us into their homes. It still beat what happened at Bethlehem.

 

 

Snow Falling on Desert Mountain

I hadn’t planned to post yet another piece on my blog this week, but the snow that fell in the Arizona desert cancelling the day of PGA play in Tucson and making national news was just too much to resist.

I once lived in Phoenix where I worked as an arts reviewer and editor for the then Scottsdale paper and the Arizona Republic.  Can’t say that I ever recalled it snowing in the “Valley of the Sun” during the five years that I resided there but there was always plenty of the white stuff further north on the Colorado Plateau.  I think Sedona’s red rocks are even more gorgeous when trimmed in snow. And the Grand Canyon is absolutely spectacular when it looks like a beautiful Boston creme layer cake.

Snow tires aren't very common in Phoenix and neither are snow plows so driving on any roads covered with snow there can be hazardous with even a tiny bit of snow.
Snow tires aren’t very common in Phoenix and neither are snow plows so driving on any roads covered with snow there can be hazardous with even a tiny bit of snow.

One year,  I went up in early December with my cousins for the purpose of  taking a Christmas card photo for them.  We spent the night in their camper and nearly froze.  The milk in the refrigerator did, in fact, freeze!  But I got some great pictures for them and one for my own Christmas card that year.

So many tourists just go during the summer months and miss the beauty of this time of year there.  The North Rim of the canyon is closed throughout the winter but the South Rim usually remains open.

Seldom do you see the saguaro and ocotillo cactus surrounded by white.
Seldom do you see the saguaro and ocotillo cactus surrounded by white.

The grand old log El Tovar Lodge becomes a wonderful retreat from outside.  You can cozy up by the big fireplace in the lobby and have a hot buttered rum to take off the chill.  And while I haven’t checked lately, I’ll bet the room prices are considerably less this time of year as well, making it an even more appealing destination.  But look at road conditions before you go because it can be pretty dicey and change suddenly.

The barrel cactus would be a great foundation for a snowman if it weren't so prickly!
The barrel cactus would be a great foundation for a snowman if it weren’t so prickly!

Unfortunately, none of my photos from my treks north during that time have been digitized so I can’t share those with you here.  But thought you might enjoy a few taken two years ago when snow made a guest appearance while I was visiting the Phoenix area.  The cacti always look so spectacular and statuesque in the snow!

These little desert quail looked like they were out for a good, but slippery, time.
These little desert quail were out for a good, but slippery, time.