Let’s not call this an obituary, let's call it a eulogy.
Angie was a tough little woman. She was a warrior, turned tradesman to keep the peace in her life.
In her final weeks, she told me stories that I still regret not asking her to pause, so I could run home and get my voice recorder. Stories about lost love and young couples on vintage motorcycles - engines rumbling over crumbling bridges in the moonlight, back in Missouri where she grew up. From her fixed place on the bed, lying with the cancer, she told me about the commune she once lived on in Northern California. The seven-person village on an old gold claim, the mining shack-turned-cabin and root cellar, the abundant fruit trees, grape and berry vines, all planted by the original miners in the 1800’s. They banged pots and pans at the black bears in the garden, and there was also the stalking mountain lion which she never saw, but whose eyes she sometimes felt in a chilled clearing.
She lived like a woman who’d been given a second chance on life, and coming from a painful childhood, once she was grown up and moved out, she was born again. Her zest for life found her in some vivid situations, not always fun, but a little wiser for the wear.
In Northern Arizona she found her home and community and fell in love with the Grand Canyon and the beauty and the sorrow and the song of its Native people. She was an activist, a protester, and she’d later admit, briefly, a monkey wrencher. She believed in a better world, and did her part to create one while at the same time building her own, literally, in her own backyard.
Her vintage trailer, always with the smell of good coffee and old books, sat at the edge of the forest, on the top of a hill, and out in the yard she built a maze-work of sundecks and pathways below her quaking aspens.
She always kept a little spring garden in the dooryard but it rarely made it through summer. Still, she’d offer guests a sweet pea pod from her dwarfed vine or one of the three little strawberries, which she’d no doubt been watching ripen for a week. Her desire to watch the garden bloom was in constant battle with her conscience for water conservation, for she was the type to have not only one, but two bricks in the top tank of her toilet to displace and save water. But all this was offset by her guilty pleasure for a hot and fragrant bath some evenings, or maybe it was the cause of her conservation, paying penitence for those sinful starry night baths in her sunroom. Oh well ... the aspens were happy for the runoff anyway. She was a woman who worked hard, maybe too hard, but always had a little hidden stash of chocolate at the back of the cupboard, chocolate or a bottle of wine, both being stretched out and savored over months.
Groovy is not a word that’s used much these days, but Angie used it and Angie embodied it. She was mostly a homebody, working on mending a fence to keep the skunks out and the dogs in, or you might find her crawling under a travel trailer in the weeds to sew up a hurt spot in its underbelly. But when Angie did go out for a rare occasion, she was all bracelets, rings and beads, aged leather, indigenous silver and turquoise and layers of good-luck finds from the thrift stores. She was a short little woman, exactly five feet, with long silver hair hanging down around her trunk like a willow. She talked loud and laughed louder, and she’d sometime clip a beautiful bone-handled knife in a sheath into her boot.
Angie had the coolest junk and treasures: She had an obsession for vintage trailers and placed eight of them in the old Oregon Trail configuration, all huddled around each other with Angie in the center, the nucleus. They were a stock in trade for her, these relics from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s and she’d let one go from time to time and then pick up two more. “Better than money in the bank,” she’d say, and they’d only grow in value. “And besides, these are homes. A quick home may be a needed thing someday.”
She was wise, tried and true, but naïve and girlish, too. Around her space were old farm trucks and tractors, “Lawn art,” she’d call them, and then the same in miniature, little toy trucks and plastic horses setup in frozen scenes in the walkways. Around the corner, one might find a crude totem pole wearing a silk scarf around its neck, a holster on its waist, with real bullets, and twin cap pistols. Grazing in the weeds, rickety sawhorses wore old saddles and cast odd shadows when the sun was low. Angie did have a horse as an adult, briefly. That horse was named Lily; she was a grumpy retired forest ranger horse who’d bite at Angie when her back was turned, kicked Uncle Bill once when he walked up in her blind spot with an apple, and she threw me off her back into the dust at full gallop.
Her scene was always whimsical and abstract. She had a living breathing vintage shop, something escaped from the route 66 and now living in her backyard. She was silly, but deeply spiritual too, a witchy woman with ghost stories and bookshelves of ancient texts. Smiling stone Buddha statues stood as gatekeepers. Dry birdbaths, full of figures and crystals and curious stones lay as offerings to the sun gods, and after the monsoon rains fill them brimming, to the honeybees as enchanted watering holes. Even though she was hidden away on the back of the property, her scene was a roadside attraction at heart. She built it just for herself and for her small tribe of visitors, complete with pink plastic flamingos and barn wood fencing and a shaggy dog named Rio who’s been known to sleep peacefully outdoors in a snowstorm.
Angie did start to open up her scene to others in the last years of her life here. She did this by way of creating of one of the most unique Air B&B sites in town, hosting people from around the world in two spotless 1950’s trailers with sun decks and aspens and slow drip coffee.
“Pinky is for lovers,” she used to say about the smaller of the two trailers. She named it after its all-pink appliances. Even the toilet was pink. Lovers indeed, couples were always booking Pinky for honeymoon stopovers, and dessert leftovers and empty bottles were relics often left behind. Her reviews were one-sidedly positive and although it was a lot of work, she understood that she was offering not just a bed and a shower in this crossroads town, but a fond memory, a mental picture postcard for her guests to take back home to the real world. The future of Angie’s “AZ Vintage Village” is uncertain, but we’re hoping to keep its doors open and pink flamingo lights on.
Angie burned a fuel of old-school homestead labor motives, a self proclaimed A-type personality with all the skills of planning for the seasons and saving. Even as a young girl, she’d saved up for a horse and paid to feed and board it, and never lost sight of her goals. She had daydreams of going to seed somewhere down on the Hassayampa River, on a plot of land that she was already making payments on, and down there in the desert, she saw herself on the back of a mini burro, maybe with a long bending wheat stalk in her teeth and leaving muddy hoof prints along the banks of the river.
Angie was a character right out of one of those heavy novels she read in her chair beside the fire, read till her head dipped for that last time and dreams came. Being an outspoken woman, she was private and mysterious in some ways too. After her death, instructions were followed as to how to find and crack the safe and where to dig up quantities of silver bars and coins in the yard, and her squirreling away was surprising and impressive to all involved. Especially considering this woman’s trades and gigs were very modest over the years. Finding those hidden treasures invoked the feel of the ones we all used to create as kids, part time-capsule, part piggy-bank.
Angie wanted to write a book, and she’d tell me about the work she put into it here and there. She never let me read any of her writing, but if she wrote like she talked, she’d have a lot to say and say it true and real, too real at times.
When I first met Angie, I was surprised to learn that she was a Tai Chi and Qi Gong instructor in town. She taught classes for a group with Parkinsons - some of the most passionate and dedicated students, she’d later say. The practice brought them more into their bodies, and they couldn’t thank her enough for that. She had other small classes in a modest room at a community center, just breaking even on the room fees and gas most times, but she found a devoted group of students, some of which would come to her home on those familiar Friday mornings when she was too weak to teach. They’d practice right there for her in the sunshine and the sound of the aspens, and she would smile and absorb the energy that they created.
Angie always maintained that she hadn’t just found a practice in Tai Chi, but instead, a savior. She was a true wounded healer, overcoming immense pain and anguish to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but she rarely lost her sense of humor or her quirky sense of style. “I’m a Pisces,” she’d say of her extensive boot collection or the life-collection of impeccable Pendleton wool blankets. She was a connoisseur, and I find myself lucky to be heir of a few of Angie’s treasures, like a weepy potted bonsai, a cherry travel trailer, a six shooter gun and a skittish little dog named Shen who now sleeps on one of those folded wool blankets at the foot of our bed and nervously licks her paws all night.
Angie found her bit of peace here in the pines and she met Grace too. Grace was her only child; a sweet, loving handful at times, and one Angie raised into womanhood all on her own. Born with Down Syndrome, Grace added an extra bit of challenge to this single mom, and a hesitant mom at that. But in her way, Angie met the path of motherhood with her deep strength and strong will. “It took her three months to latch but I never gave up. I wanted my girl to have the very best chance I could give her.” She explored every opportunity to improve upon her genetic difficulties, and Grace grew up to be not only as strong as a mule, but the highest functioning kid with a disability I’ve ever met. She’s hilarious, surprising and a living testament to Angie’s love and strength.
I’ve seen Angie run herself into the ground fighting for that kid, making sure that she was never pushed aside or disrespected by the establishments of school, society or schoolyard politics. Grace values relationships, family and delights in food and music, performing in the local theater or going to a school dance in red carpet style. She erupts with laughter and has full conversations with the actors on TV and old movies, actually becoming part of the show, and she engages herself in a kind of spoken-word stream of consciousness dialogue that never ceased to catch my interest and perk a smile on my face.
Angie and Grace were a dynamic pair, and Angie always talked about getting her dream motorcycle, a BMW with a sidecar for Grace. It never happened in this life, but I smile as I see it right now in my head, leather caps and goggles and all.
We’ll all miss Angie. She was a rock and she was a child. She was a child throwing a rock. She was the sound of an old window breaking in an abandoned country shack and the dedication to clean it all up, apologize and make it safe again. I could write a book on this woman, a child at 53, a tough little woman who owned multiple trampolines and jumped with her silver hair flailing and a huge smile on her face. Last summer, she spent weeks fixing up a kid’s playhouse which she’d found on the curb; she put a new roof on the thing, new glass in the windows, scrubbed the floors and intended to use the space to read on rainy days. Walking up to her place you might find her doing Tai Chi with a wooden sword like a ninja, practicing her throwing knives, shooting a kid's bow and arrow into a hand-drawn target on a hay bale or zipped up between the claustrophobic walls of her infrared-sauna tent.
She was a rare creature: a scrap book of pressed flowers from the south rim of the canyon, a dying quote from an old western novel, the wise feather brush strokes of a Chinese text on the liver’s connection to the spleen, a crumpled up journal entry from childhood written in the calming perfection of her longhand, or the lucky throw of a rusty hatchet, stuck in the stump of an old apple tree with her initials carved just above the spot.
Some windy day, as we talked about, we’ll bring your ashes out to the Grand Canyon and set them free. May your spirit soar on raven’s wings. You are loved. And I’m glad that in the final weeks of your life, you finally truly understood that and let yourself be swaddled up by the people around you, your true family.
Happy trails ... to you … until, we meet, again