Thursday, August 02, 2007


Jedi and I are off to Las Vegas, the land of sun and fun. I am meeting my granddaughter there and, through no fault of my own, we are staying at Hooter's, where I may be the world's oldest Owl. One of my brothers, Harlan, whom we call Deed, lives in Las Vegas. He came out to Vegas when I lived there, staying with me for almost a year until he found employment and became settled.

He was an ironworker and had worked on such projects as the Mackinac Bridge. But the lure of Las Vegas led him away from Michigan, where the winters are long and cold, so he came out to join me in Las Vegas. It was a small city then, with no towering buildings. We lived on a street that ended at the Strip and began near a street called Maryland Parkway. It was a rather fancy home then, by Vegas standards, but today the area might be described as a midcity ghetto, rundown and neglected.

Deed and his family moved in with us, and it is to our credit that we remained friends after that long sojourn together. He found construction work right away and all I can remember is the five or six gallons of liquid he drank after coming home from working all day in the sun. He would start with orange juice and tomato juice, and polish it off with any kind of juice available, plus jugs of water. I have never known anyone to drink so much liquid without fainting....or exploding. But he was so dehydrated from long hours in that hot sun that it took that much liquid to replenish his body's supply, or so he claimed.

Eventually, Deed went to work for the Atomic Energy Commission and remained there until his retirement. He and his co-workers would build iron structures and they then would be blown up, so that the effects of nuclear explosions on ironwork could be studied. Today, that area, which they called Jackass Flats or Mercury, is closed to the public.

At that time, my kids had found an iguana in the desert, brought it home, which is probably illegal, and proceeded to make it a pet. Oh, it was ugly! It was the ugliest thing you could imagine, like a cross between a dinosaur and a lizard, but it was suprisingly mild and lovable. The kids also found a desert turtle, a creature about the size of a large plate. This, too, was illegal to keep as a pet, but we were so ignorant we didn't know the rules. Between the iguana and the turtle, we were an ugly group, but we were very happy. The only thorn in our happiness was the turtle's love for the neighbor's rosebushes.

Every day, he traveled across our yard and into the neighbor's yard to munch on her rosebushes. It didn't help that the neighbor lady was the type who literally swept her grass every morning. I finally had to tether him and ours was probably the only house in town with a turtle on a leash. Finally, I had had it with the turtle, and I told my husband to take him into the desert and allow him to go free. So, one night, after the kids went to bed, this is what he did.

The very next morning, the turtle was on the doorstep, still carrying a twig of the neighbor's rosebushes in his mouth. Three times, my husband took the turtle into the desert, going farther and farther with each trip. Three times, the turtle came home, sometimes traveling several miles to reach us. So, out of pity and love, we decided to keep the turtle, despite the aggravations.

Then, he disappeared. I had him tethered in the yard and I looked out and he was gone. The kids were mournful, but I breathed a sigh of relief.

About four months later, the kids were playing in the yard and suddenly began cheering and shouting. I ran outside and there was our turtle, plugging determinedly along the sidewalk, heading for home. After talking with friends who considered themselves experts on the subject of turtles, it was thought he had been hibernating all those missing months.

I loved Las Vegas, loved the mountains, loved the sunsets. I even loved the excitement of the Strip and the downtown area. One dressed for the Strip in those days, donning one's best togs and feeling classy. The downtown area was the spot for slacks and shorts.

For a while, I worked at the Stardust as a cashier, even though I had a difficult time keeping my money straight. People talk about Vegas and its sinful ways, but everyone I met was just an ordinary person, the same as one would meet anywhere else. I met many friends there, and enjoyed every morning coffee I shared with Sunset Mountain.

The city has grown now into a metropolis. The buildings are now several stories, there are carnival rides and every other attraction you could imagine. Gone is the old Las Vegas, where Howard Hughes holed up in the Desert Inn, and Frank Sinatra could be seen at the Sands. Elvis hung around, as did many other celebrities. John F. Kennedy came for a visit, and I was able to take my mother to meet him.

Eventually we came back to Michigan, to our families, to our elderly parents, to the place of our birth. But, for a long time, my heart ached for that view of Sunset Mountain. Coffee has never tasted as good since.