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Taos, New Mexico USA

 

 

                                                        “The Troops”

                                                                                    by

                                                            Barbara Waters

                                                 (from Celebrating the Coyote)

 

 

Frank was a terrible driver.  He could have survived only in the “Tank,” his 1966 Ford Galaxie.  His driving reduced one grown man to tears and to threats of leaping from the moving car.  A friend’s young daughters prayed to those above, “We need you, Troops.  We need every bit of help you can muster.  Frank Waters is behind the wheel again!”

From these girls I got the idea of calling helpful spirits the “Troops.”  Summoned during each of Frank’s many illnesses in his late years, they never failed to come through. They became very much my own by marriage; and they have been my own special support, too, in times of need.

The forces of nature comprised one platoon.  Another consisted of healers.  And spirits of Frank’s departed friends made up another important platoon.  The most elite platoon of all the Troops contained Frank’s departed relatives, especially his sister, Naomi, and her husband, Carl; his mother, May Ione; his father, Frank Jonathon; his grandparents, Joseph and Martha Dozier; and all their offspring.  Readers come to know this group well in Frank’s thinly disguised autobiography Pike’s Peak.  

Frank's sister Naomi and her husband

My friend Judith Bronner, who is a librarian and a photographer, spent some time with me in Colorado Springs in February of 1996 on our way up to Boulder, Colorado, where we participated in the public library’s second annual “Book Discussion Day” focused on The Man Who Killed the Deer and Frank.  The Troops were much with us in Frank’s old hometown.  In Colorado Springs we visited his former home, Frank Waters Park, and Evergreen Cemetery.  This was a healing pilgrimage for me.  It renewed my positive sense of continuity, besides putting me closely in touch again with another heartland where Frank’s voice still can be heard.

As Frank himself did, each year his birthplace has grown more lean and gaunt.  This trip it was painted a mustard yellow with earth-red trim.  During a previous visit, the house next door had been the same color and bore the sign “House of Metaphysics.”  It seemed that the energy of his grandfather and his metaphysical library, so crucial to Frank’s development, hovered closely about.  Now these two and five other houses in a row are owned by Bijou Street Rentals and rented out as separate rooms or apartments.  

  Bijou Street home

Although Judith lamented that this historic spot is now a “boarding house for transients,” I didn’t feel too badly.  After all, it was pretty much that in Frank’s day. Whichever relatives were down on their luck moved in temporarily or permanently with Frank’s grandparents at 435 E. Bijou Street.  This made life difficult, especially around the time Frank left home in 1924.  Many days, bread and white gravy were all they had to eat.  For the rest of his life Frank could scarcely stand the sight of white gravy, let alone eat it.

Until his father died, Frank and his sister lived with their parents at 229 E. El Paso Street right beside the railroad tracks and a half block off Bijou Street.  Mother and children then tried living for a few months with Waters relatives in the farming community of Garden Grove, Iowa.  When this didn’t work, they moved back into the Bijou Street house for good.  Frank’s mother had lived there as an adult before her marriage.  Frank and Naomi had been born in their grandparents’ front bedroom on the second floor, a family tradition.  Now they occupied the third floor with their mother.

Judith and I learned that today these top two rooms are rented out separately.  The other two floors each have three renters with a shared kitchen.  The man living in the front Birth Bedroom with its little balcony is a groundskeeper for Bijou Street Rentals.  He has cleaned up the Dozier backyard and tends a minuscule triangular flower garden in front.  He has two small American flags pasted on his bedroom window.  He found them in the street after a Fourth of July celebration.  It seemed a fitting synchronicity that the Confederate flag once flew from the balcony two feet away during Fourth of July celebrations.  A brass plaque identifying the house as Frank’s birthplace is still nailed to the front door, so the caretaker knew about him, but not about two friendly ghosts called the Kadles.  The news did not set well when I asked if he had heard them creaking about.

“I never hear nothin’.  ‘Cept real live folks when they go up them stairs and come back down,” he said with dour finality.  “I don’t believe in ghosts neither.  Never have.”

After he had left, a young man came out on the porch for a smoke.  “What are you doing here?” he asked nervously, as if we were pot-smelling canines. 

“My husband used to live here.  That’s he mentioned on the sign,” I explained, nodding toward the plaque.  “He and his family always heard these two ghostly trappers squeaking up and down the stairs, especially near the third floor.  Have you ever heard them?”

“For god’s sake don’t say anything like that in front of my brother!” he exclaimed, stubbing out his cigarette without smoking it.  “He just moved in here two days ago.  He’d freak out totally and move right back out!  I don’t live here.  So long.  I have to see how he’s doing with his shower.”

We felt sadder about the Kadles getting the cold shoulder than ourselves.  I tried to polish the little rectangular plaque with a Kleenex.  Frank was so proud, so happy, the sunny day a group of local historians installed it. 

Frank Waters Park across the street was clean and tidy.  Brown and icy then, in summer it would be a long sward of emerald grass beside a rocky brook.  A gang had defiled three Mountain Red granite boulders with Frank’s quotations and biography etched into them, but they were fairly clean again.  This kind of gang work was an endeavor that not-so-innocent Frank and his friends might have relished in their heyday, given the opportunity.  Two other couples ate their lunches nearby at the same time we did.  Gentled by murmuring water, it was a peaceful place, both inside and outside linear time.  Originally called Shook’s Run, this stream had run north and south the length of Colorado Springs.  To Frank and his boyhood friend Charles Hathaway, it had been the equivalent of Huck Finn’s Mississippi River.

Many of the elite Troops rest at Evergreen Cemetery, where Judith and I headed next.  Three years earlier I had installed on the family plot two red granite headstones honoring three key relatives in Frank’s life.  For his father a modest upright stone gives his name and dates: December 31, 1862, to December 20, 1914, surrounding an antlered deer’s head.  Underneath are the words “Source and Inspiration.”  Frank’s grandparents share a matching reddish stone headed “Dozier.”  On the left is Martha, March 3, 1850 -- July 13, 1927; on the right Joseph, April 18,1842 -- May 11, 1925.  Below, referring to his grandfather whom Frank highly esteemed, are the words “Shepherd of the Flock.”  Until these new stones were purchased, the lone headstone in this family plot had been a small one marking the grave of Frank’s young first cousin Arleene Ascough, who had died at age twenty-three in 1927 while Frank was living in Los Angeles.  His only niece was named after her.

It is a fascinating triangular plot.  On it, one great evergreen stands alone in the oldest section of the cemetery facing down into a wild wooded arroyo.  The wind soughs through gnarled branches whispering words from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” as though they were written to honor the Dozier occupants of Plot 38:

 

                               .....And here were forests ancient as the hills,

                                    Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

                       

                                    But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

                                    Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

                                    A savage place! as holy and enchanted

                                    As ever beneath a waning moon was haunted

                                    By woman wailing for her demon lover!.....

 

Charles first found the plot for me in 1992 after Frank and he had reminisced for the Fall Heritage Series of the Colorado Pioneer’s Museum.  Charles thought it was a shabby-looking place, vastly inferior to the sterile newer section where lies his family plot. This time, the “savage place” drew me to it after only a minimum of stumbling around, for I identified with that imaginary “woman wailing for her demon lover,” so similar to myself and to La Llorona wailing for her lost ones.

 

When the two new family stones were purchased in 1993, a search of cemetery and city clerk records unearthed the amazing news that the remains of twelve persons reside in enchanted Plot 38 at Evergreen!  Now there’s a family who sticks together.  

  Daniel Lee Dozier

Frank’s great-grandfather Daniel Lee Dozier is buried there, along with Daniel’s daughter Mary and his son Joseph, his daughter-in-law Martha, her sister Molly, their mother Martha, Arleene, and Frank’s father.  A relative or close friend named Marion “Onie” Smith joined the others.  A baby is with them, and two children named Albert and Mamie Dozier, who died in 1880 of diphtheria and tuberculosis.  

As mentioned, Frank’s father had died of pneumonia; and, like many, his great- grandmother had died of “chronic pneumonia,” which was to plague Frank’s final years. We feared it.  After one hospital bout with pneumonia in Tucson, a big horned owl came to brood in our palo verde tree shading the back porch.  Frank believed, “When the owl cries, the Indian dies.”

Quite candidly I told this old owl, “Look, I’ve got enough on my hands right now without worrying about whether you are good luck or bad luck.  I’ve read legends that say one or the other.  But we can’t take a chance just now.  So get lost!”

It did.

In 1941 Frank’s mother died of heart trouble in Los Angeles and was buried there in Roosevelt Cemetery with her sisters Mattie and Dixie and their husbands Doc and Al.  Frank too had some problems with his heart.  He’d always had an irregular heartbeat, and in 1994 his heart had to be shocked back into proper rhythm before we could return to Taos. Then doctors discovered he had been born with an undetected hole in his heart that prevented proper blood circulation.  They decided, “If he’s lived over ninety years with it this way, we’re not about to start tinkering with it now.”

I see Frank in his great-grandfather, my favorite of the clan.  There exist a daguerrotype of Daniel Lee Dozier as a youthful plantation owner and a patriarchal photograph of him taken at the beginning of this century.  In the first he is an eager young fop wearing a wide cravat, starched white shirt front, and jacket.  In the second a full white beard and white hair frame saddened eagle eyes sunk deep beneath thick jagged brows just like Frank’s.  Rod Goebel said while painting Frank’s portrait, now in the Frank Waters Room at the University of New Mexico, “I could paint Frank’s eyebrows alone and people would recognize him.”

Daniel Lee saw too much in his eighty-eight years.  Born in North Carolina in l816, he gambled away the family plantation by the mid-nineteenth century.  In Pike’s Peak Frank has him die almost fifty years ahead of time, perhaps as punishment for losing the farm.  Daniel’s  father was Joab Dozier of North Carolina, his mother Mary Lee of Virginia.  Her sister supposedly married Robert E. Lee, who would therefore be Daniel Lee’s uncle.  It seems doubtful that Lee married a Lee, but it makes a good story and has not yet been researched.  Frank’s southern grandmother and great-grandmother were the ones who insisted upon flying the Confederate battle flag every Fourth of July from their front balcony.  This custom kept young Frank busy with his fists and could be one reason he took up boxing lessons and worked out with a punching bag in his third-floor rear bedroom.

Daniel had two sons, Romulus and Joseph.  Daniel moved to Colorado Springs with Joseph in 1873 and lived to see his son a success as a contractor and builder of local churches and schools, including Cutler Hall, the first building on the Colorado College campus.  Frank attended this college for three years.  He majored in engineering but resented having no English or writing classes and dropped out to work in the oilfields of Salt Creek, Wyoming.

In his novel Pike’s Peak, and in the trilogy from which it is condensed, all these characters live on, made wonderfully immortal by Frank’s poignant words.  Fictionalized as March Cable, Frank heads at the end of this mining saga toward Evergreen Cemetery with an armful of prairie wildflowers: “white wild onions, bluebells, scarlet Indian paintbrushes, sand daisies, columbines and lupines.”

“But when he reached the cemetery he had some difficulty finding the family lot.  It was unmarked, sunken grave [his father’s] and fresh one [his grandfather’s] devoid of headboards pending the erection of small stone markers which March had ordered.  He flashed a look down the gulch.  It was filled with tin cans.  The pines soughed faintly, a magpie screamed.  He knelt and self-consciously but carefully spread the crimson flowers over [their] graves side by side.”

To think it took sixty-eight years for those markers to be placed at last!  In 1993 I had not realized that my idea to erect them may have originated in Frank’s books, where they were only an unfulfilled dream.  Frank had remained unusually noncommittal and had not encouraged their purchase.

Three years later my heart leaped up as a joyous flock of black-and-white magpies, Frank’s favorite bird, circled and recircled above Judith and me, crying out approval of the headstones and shared love of this magical spot.  Judith kept a feather as a souvenir.  After cleaning the stones of magpie offerings, I broke a dead antlered branch from the sentinel pine.  Some spring I too shall return with bluebells, columbines, and crimson wildflowers.

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