Monday, May 21, 2007


Subject and I sat on her deck in a backyard shaded by an enormous spreading oak, surrounded with purple petunias and occasionally interrupted by the raucous cries of mockingbirds as they dive-bombed the family cat. Born 1954, raised in LR.

I graduated from high school in ‘72, so I was pretty young in the late sixties. The ‘60s impacted me in the ‘70s. The last couple of years of high school I would sit on the back steps and smoke pot, hanging out with the hippies -- my best friend was into that culture. When I graduated, I got married and moved away. My first husband and I went in with friends and bought land in Madison County [Arkansas]. We were very young and idealistic. We went back to the land -- that was our little commune. We felt like society was crumbling. We were born-again Christians at that point. We had been living together in a house in Little Rock, and we wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what. One of the guys who was living there had this religious conversion and came home and told us all about it, and we went, "Oh wow!", so we went in that direction for awhile. We decided we were either going to buy a bus and take off around the country, or get land. One of the women who was living in the house at the time met somebody who had some land up here, and we came up to look at it, and bought it. A real spontaneous thing.

We were looking first for whatever would come our way, but then, it was ok, things are pretty crazy out there [in the world] let’s go find a place out in the country and live out there.
Idealistically, in a very youthful idealist way, we thought we would live off the land, build a house, eventually clear land, have a garden, all that. Reality set in pretty quickly. We had no money, maybe a few hundred dollars between us. We thought we were going to buy eighty acres -- it was $75 an acre -- but after we moved in, we found out that the front 40 had already been sold, so we had no road access. We had to walk through the woods to get to it. We dragged lumber, built platforms for tents, lived in tents, dragged beds a quarter of a mile down a mountain -- in the rain, I remember E and I dragging this mattress down this hill and stumbling over a dead dog - we called that Dead Dog Trail, and that’s how we got to our land from there on out.

There were four tents, and we had this little area with an open cooking area where we did our cooking and set up housekeeping. There were springs around, and we would haul our water down. Everyday we’d haul one of those big igloo things of water down. It was a good thing we were young. It was a very hard way to live, but we were very happy. We loved it. Truly an adventure. We lived there through the summer until October, at which time this wonderful old man, Glen, who lived out there by himself came and got us and said you guys are going to freeze. It was cold at night -- we were driving into Fayetteville everyday to work -- the girls worked -- the guys were supposed to be building a house and we were working. So Glen came down and saved us, moved all seven of us into his house for the winter -- two dogs, three cats -- plus we adopted this other gentleman who had lived out there all his life -- another wonderful character. Glen must have been in his sixties at the time -- used to make moonshine, lived in the house that his father had built when they came from West Virginia -- it was a trip. He was great.
We lived there through that winter, made friends with the neighbors. I ended up with a lifelong friend who was his niece. I helped her with her chickens.

I think it became obvious after awhile that we’d never have enough money to build a house. We let go of that idea, then things started breaking up - people decided to go back to Little Rock to earn money, and ended up staying there and getting divorced -- we moved to Fayetteville and had a baby. Then we moved back out there, and lived in another little house out there for awhile -- in a house down below the woman who raised the chickens. Stayed there for awhile. Ended up finally back here. Being out there always felt right. It always felt true. Part of it. The Christian part got all convoluted, and I rejected it completely, and for a long time I didn’t have any spiritual faith at all because of that awful experience. It took me a long time to come back to some spirituality. The belief I had must have been a belief in nature, a connection to God and nature and what was real that never really went away. That was always part of what stayed with me -- still does.

After the marriage split up and I was living in Fayetteville, I became more of an activist. I was in school, and I joined ACORN. That’s when it was first forming here. I was a helper in getting that organized. A good friend of mine was the organizer. We were working on getting sales tax taken off food and drugs -- we were trying to get people into the organization. The main group in Little Rock had been working on poor people’s problems -- housing, jobs -- social justice. I also became a member of the board of legal services at that time -- partly because I was poor and there was stuff going on -- like, I don’t have any money and these people are trying to tell me I can do something, I can have some impact. I know at lot of my work then was because of how it would impact my life, but from that grew the bigger picture that ok, there are a lot of people out there who need help, and somehow if we all do it together, it might have some impact.

I was going to school, working two jobs, and had the baby. It was hard for her, and it was hard for me. I wanted to go to school. I had never considered college when I was in high school, because my parents were such a mess, and I knew that wasn’t a possibility for me. At that point in my life, I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I went for a couple of years -- the government was very helpful -- as a single parent, they put me through school -- paid for day care, helped with housing -- that was my consciousness then, like oh, there are programs that can help people help themselves. Then after a couple years in school not really knowing what I wanted to do, I went into the two-year nursing program. It was very intense, but wonderful, and for me, on a personal level, gratifying -- I was a good student, I found out I was good at science, and that I could organize myself and learn how to be a professional. I had always thought I wasn’t good at science, but I found out I loved botany, biology, anatomy and physiology -- it was something I could grasp, not like quantum physics or something -- you could remember it -- how the body works -- I loved knowing that -- it was miraculous to understand some of that. But I never wanted to be a nurse -- never -- it was a career -- I could support myself and my daughter, which is the reason I did it. It was a shame in some respects, but it was realistic.

I met E right before I graduated. I had always wanted a good relationship. My daughter was five when we met. I started nursing about the time we decided to stay together. I worked the first year in oncology -- I was charge nurse 3-11, one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I didn’t realize until I quit with an esophageal stricture from stress what it had done to me. At the time, I just put one foot in front of the other. I learned nursing skills I probably wouldn’t have learned anywhere else, and it was amazing in the perspective that it gave me, and I cherish it to this day because I did see several people die, remarkable people, a remarkable experience. My job was to push morphine, keep them comfortable, relieve their pain. The connection with those people was amazing, to see how people rise to the occasion when they’re dying and who they become. It was phenomenal. I can remember several patients very clearly. For the most part, I can’t remember anyone whose spirit didn’t come through for them. It was more enlightening than depressing, although it was sad to see people have to suffer the way they did. But in the midst of their suffering, they gained something they might not have any other way.
At the moment, I’m reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and whenever I read it, I remember those people. I keep coming back to what that experience was for them.

I got pregnant, stayed home, and had K--. When she was 4-6 months old, I went to work at City Hospital, very part time. Geriatric -- a real eye opener. Some people I’ll never forget, and a good perspective on aging and how hard it is for people. Nursing can make you kind of bitter, or it can open your eyes to the way people are and you can see the goodness. I think mostly that’s what I took from it. I came to the understanding that I’m not a floor nurse. I don’t deal with sick people well, not a real caregiver type, but what I came around to in nursing was that I did like the science of it, and I ended up in surgery. You put them to sleep and you do all the mechanical stuff, and it was fascinating. That’s where I ended up spending most of my time in nursing.

I got involved in fighting a disposal incinerator at the hospital, because I had a child in day care there and the incinerator was right next to the day care. The stack wasn’t very tall, and they were burning stuff while the kids were out on the playground, and I figured this couldn’t be good. It seemed to me a silly situation. Why didn’t all the hospitals get together and have one incinerator somewhere away from people -- I mean, weren’t they polluting the air in the city where they had to live and try to keep people healthy? It seemed crazy to me. And didn’t they need scrubbers and all that? When I started looking at all the paperwork that had been done, and all the legalities, it was just that they slipped through a crack that enabled them to do it that way which was really stupid. All I was able to do was get them to raise the stack and quit burning during day hours. I had the soil analyzed at the day care, just to make sure there weren’t dioxins in it. The soil analysis came back ok, and that appeased me a little bit, but it still seems like a dumb thing.

My biggest involvement has been raising three kids, both of us working. We kept land E had in Winslow, and we worked on it when we had money to spare, went there with the kids to spend the night and hang out. That’s always been part of keeping sanity in our lives. We had our mid-life crisis together, he got out of real estate, I got out of nursing, and we opened a coffee house. That was pretty much out of the blue, not something we ever thought we’d do. I was burnt out with nursing - I was working full time in surgery, and what I realized was that I couldn’t strike a balance -- I was on call, would work all night, and have to go back the next day. I had one shift where I had a realization. I had worked all day, all night -- about 22 hrs straight - my final surgery was with a skin retrieval team from Little Rock who came up to work on this cadaver and take the skin off of it, after I’d been up for nearly 24 hrs, and I was by myself with them in the room because the patient wasn’t alive, so you don’t have to have a support team to keep them going, so it’s just me and these two guys skinning this patient, and I’m thinking this is the twilight zone. I don’t want to do this anymore - this is too weird for me. I’m going to do something else with my life. That was some sort of turning point.

So it took awhile, but we opened the coffee house, which was very energy and time consuming, and then we had trouble with our landlord, so we opened another place, sort of to protect ourselves, and it’s kind of gone from there. Once we opened a business with our name on, it was a wonderful opportunity to become involved, because people thought differently of you somehow -- I’ve never wanted to be in a spotlight -- but Friends for Fayetteville grew out of an awareness of several people at once -- serendipitous -- oh, Fayetteville is growing, things are changing -- we didn’t like some of the stuff that was going on and thought we might have an impact -- if we could get together and talk about it.

The original people involved were planners, architects -- people from the university -- activists that had lived here a long time, who had seen the changes and saw the direction things were going and were concerned, didn’t want to lose what we had here -- we’ve addressed traffic, widening of streets, where the main arteries will be -- how you want things to grow and develop -- we got tagged as an anti-growth group, which is not true, because it’s obvious things are going to grow. You can’t stop it, it’s just that you want it to go well and be planned, maybe leave a few trees, keep it a nice place. We had community meetings where specialists would come and answer citizens’ questions about what could be done, how things had been done in other places - we researched other cities that had a lot of codes, like Boulder and other small college towns that had grown a lot, to see how they had done things -- like making a green belt along the by-pass, creating an overlay district, which brought all the property rights people out of the woodwork and started an uproar, which seemed pretty unnecessary, but I guess that’s how politics work. The extremists pop out on both sides, and something in the middle will happen. We were a good mix, able to work together. We’ve always been an inclusive group and that was always the goal -- we’ve been able to get a lot of help. The city government was grateful, because there had been no citizen group speaking for planning and doing things well.

I am very hopeful because of my kids, because of kids I’ve seen come thru the coffee house, customers and people I’ve met; there’s good stuff going on out there, good kids that we’ve raised. I’m really proud of them, I think we’ve done a good job -- they’re our hope. For example, my oldest daughter - she is a very spiritual person in a way that I really respect, in a very realistic way, and has a lot of energy -- she’s going to do something. I’m not sure what, but I’m sure she’s going to do something. She’s very centered. I think what we’ve done for our kids is raise them respecting them for who they are, empowering them --- we didn’t necessarily get that [as kids]. We had to find it. Once we got it, we understood that’s what needed to happen. I think we’ve done it. Lots of my friends have just wonderful kids. If there’s any hope at all, that’s where it’s going to come from.

The other part for me is that I’m really personally hopeful because I have found some spirituality for myself -- it came from a lot of trial and error and fire, letting everything go, thinking it was all a bunch of bunk, and then coming back around to it -- it’s been honestly attained, not because somebody told me how to believe but because I got it myself, and I trust it. I believe that what matters is what we put out there, and that we can choose to approach things from a negative viewpoint and think that this is bad, and there’s all these bad things going on, or we can choose to see things from a positive point of view, look at the good stuff that’s going on and if you’re putting the good energy out there, it’s going to add to what’s already happening. It’s a choice -- we can all make a choice about how we look at the world. If enough people choose to look at it in a positive way and have an impact and make change, I don’t think there’s any limit to what can happen. There’s so much good stuff out there. I see such a potential for good things to happen.

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