By Edna Coulson Hall
Even now, as a far removed elder of my rural Ohio home-based family, I enjoy a reputation that tinges on myth. I was the one who left, the one who sallied forth in the midst of a fierce blizzard to see what it was that lay south of the Ohio River and west of Cincinnati.
My journey began in January 1964: South to New Orleans where the original plan for a three-day stopover stretched to three weeks. Finally heavy rains and a flattened wallet convinced me to turn westward.
Texas was a half week crossing. Next came New Mexico. I hardly blinked. In Arizona I saw my first road runner, my first desert palm. I stopped at a roadside trading post just east of the California border.
Inside I was drawn to a table piled high with rugs I thought of as Navajo despite being told I was in Yuma Indian Territory, I checked my not-so-ready cash. I could sleep in a motel with abundant delayed maintenance and call a sleeve of soda crackers and jar of off brand peanut butter dinner or I could buy a rug. The store owner hovered.
“Pretty one you got there. All made local. No two alike. You won’t be sorry. Good price. Let me lay it out for you.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t have the money. Really. I’m pretty much broke.”
“Hell, Little Sister, you need a job? I can help you with that.”
Little Sister? Was that Arizonian for Miss? And a job? What was the man talking about? I looked around. I was the only customer in sight. Clearly the man, Big Brother(?) didn’t need help. I stepped backward toward the door. “Just a sec,” he said and disappeared behind a burlap hung doorway.
In my attempt to escape I knocked against a row of little papoose style dolls and was trying to set them straight again when the man reappeared waving a torn scrap of yellow tablet paper. “Lookee here,” he crowed. “I gotcha a job interview with Colonel Oakley himself at the First National downtown.”
I held a papoose in each hand and stared at him. Appointment? Oakley himself? Where? “Ah, where?” I said.
“Straight on down the road to Main. You can’t miss it.”
He took the dolls from me and set them on the counter and clapped his hands together. “Best get a quick move on,” he said. “I told Col. Bob you’d be there in ten minutes.”
I hardly remember the rest, but the following Monday I was officially made Secretary to Col. Robert Oakley, grandson to the famous Annie-Sure-Shot Oakley, Trust Officer of the First National Bank of Arizona, Yuma Branch. I worked there until September when I had saved enough to resume my travels. I eventually settled in San Francisco.
People still ask how I had the nerve to make that long, long trip all alone. My question went to my mother. “How could you let me go that awful blizzardy day? Didn’t you think about hiring a couple of people to kidnap me and haul me off to some obscure location where wayward teens were reprogrammed via Tough Love.”
Mom said, “Because I thought if I asked you to stay, you would say no to me and leave anyway, and that would break my heart.”