Saturday, September 26, 2020

Zela Trip: Day 1

Day 1
(My log for that day)
Anaheim to Prescott AZ
We began our trip finally. At times it seemed that we would never get started. We planned to drive to Prescott the first night and stay with Zela’s brother, Uncle Bo (Robert Green) and his wife Aunt Afton. The drive was beautiful. The summer storms had turned the desert a lush green. Above is a picture of the Colorado River. Early in the trip I decided to take a picture of every major river. It seems a little silly, but after studying water in college for so long it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The first day was really hot. The car began to over-heat, so we had to turn off the air-conditioning. After starting the trip and getting 14 mpg, I began to question using Zela’s car. Like all Mitchells, she has terrible luck with automobiles.

Image 3: The Colorado River CA- AZ Border

Not really earth-shattering stuff, right? But that was my entry on day 1. Before we turn to Bo and Afton, I guess I should mention my obsession with rivers. I grew up all over Southern California. During most of high school we lived right near the San Gabriel River. It was a “river” in the LA sense. I mean that it was a giant concrete storm drain – if you saw Grease the movie – you remember “Thunder Road”, that was the LA River. The San Gabriel River was like that. My friends and I would ride our bikes from Cerritos down the river to the beach all the time. It was a pretty straight shot next to the 605, no hills and no traffic. And no water. Therefore, I was kind of fascinated with rivers with water. I did get over that pretty quickly in the middle of the country, where rivers with water turned out to be much more typical than I expected. Who knew?

But when we set out my experience was pretty much limited to Southern California and films. And since most films before that time were filmed in Southern California standing in for a remote local, I naturally assumed the world looked like the area surrounding Los Angeles. I “knew” it wasn’t like that; but knowing and really understanding are two very different things.

On our first day, a tempo was set with Zela where she would tell me about the family members we were going to meet. Often along with other stories. The brother Robert Elmo she described was almost nothing like the Uncle Bo I knew and loved (and sometime dreaded). 
Image 4: Uncle Bo (Elmo Green)

My impression of Uncle Bo was that he was a man who loved to talk and could turn a two-minute story into an evening long slog. Here is a typical Uncle Bo story. 
“Well, when I was drafted, I had a week to get to San Francisco, so Afton and I decided to drive up the coast. She wanted to see Big Sur. We took our car; it was a red Ford. Or was it blue? Anyway, we drove up and I think we stopped the first night in Ventura. Afton, honey, was it Ventura we stopped at?”
Aunt Afton from the other room, “When?”
“When we drove up the coast.”
“Which time?”
“When I was going in the Army. No wait, it was a definitely the old blue ford. And we stopped in Ventura. Or was it Santa Barbara?”
His stories would proceed this way from hours at a time. By the time food was ready, we were off on a sidetrack about Pismo Beach, the drive to San Francisco long forgotten. Uncle Bo loved to tell stories that were entertaining, but went on and on. For those of you that know me, I think I picked up that particular Green trait. 

And Aunt Afton was the love of his live. The entire Green family (my grandmother’s maiden name) was amazed that Elmo had found such an amazing woman. As much as everyone loved Uncle Bo, Aunt Afton was universally understood to be way out of his class. 

Image 5: Aunt Afton (Afton Morgan Green)

First, she was beautiful. The Greens were many wonderful things, but natural beauties they weren’t. Afton was considered gorgeous by all who remember her. She was the age of my Grandmother when I met her, so a bit past her bloom – but you could still see it.

Second, she was educated. Zela was the first Green to finish High School (although Uncle Bo and Aunt Dot did follow in her footsteps). Afton had gone to college. This was, in the 1930s, a major accomplishment and impressed my family. Afton was not only educated, but smart. She could maintain a conversation about anything, but never seemed like she was superior. She encouraged me on a million levels, but education was the biggest. Whenever we spoke, she asked what I was interested in and where I wanted to go to college. Not in a typical, “what did you learn at school today, Scott?” sense, but really what was interesting to me in the world.

Finally, she was personable in a way only a few people can be. She was inquisitive. She listened to the answers to questions. And she didn’t expect a person to follow a script. She was the only person on the trip who was not shocked and appalled I was a bartender. She understood that it gave me time to take a month off, make a lot of money and figure out what I wanted to do. 

I loved Afton like crazy, and completely understood how she drew Uncle Bo’s heart.

Bo and Afton lived in Hawaii for many years and loved it. They moved back to the mainland because Afton had a pretty rare medical condition, at least pretty rare when they found it. She was allergic to formaldehyde, and to a terrible degree. Nearly all synthetic materials give off formaldehyde for many years. To help her through this, Uncle Bo had moved them to Prescott Arizona, which has (or did in 1984) great fresh air. The home and 5th wheel trailer they owned had been stripped of carpet, wallboard, insulation and most non-natural materials. Synthetic materials stop releasing formaldehyde after about 15 years, so Uncle Bo was always on the lookout for old carpet being ripped out, or old couches being thrown away. Most of their furniture was wood, and he tried to find very gently used older carpets and furniture for things that could not be wood.

Her allergy also effected how she had to eat. She wasn’t allowed to eat the same thing more than every 3 days. Of anything!

Now for you and I, this would be frustrating to the point of anger. She had to keep a journal of food in addition to the only old or wood furniture rule. But for Afton, it was just part of life. She took this very well, at least when I was around. Her only frustration with this was that she could not move back to Hawaii without some real pains. Her daughter and grand-daughters lived in Hawaii, and she loved it there. But her allergies made it very difficult. 

As a follow up, many years later Afton and Bo did move back to Hawaii and lived in an apartment / mother-in-law unit with Julie and her husband. They went when Uncle Bo was not doing well and when Afton needed help with him. I think Uncle Bo finally agreed to it when she needed the help. If he couldn’t take care of himself, it didn’t make sense for Afton to be in Prescott.

I used to work near the LA Airport, and I drove up to the airport one lunch to say goodbye to Afton and Bo as my father and Zela took them to the airport. It was back when you could still go to the gate. I remember knowing it was the last time I would see them. Even though it was for bad reasons, she was so excited and happy to go back to the island and see her daughter and grandchildren.

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