Neva's transcript, transcribed by Holly Phaneuf Erskine, Neva's grand daughter
Sept 1997, Glenwood Springs, CO
INTERVIEWER: so let's begin with a little bit of your family history. Where and when were you born, who were your parents, and go from there.
NEVA: All right, I was born in Marceline, Missouri, which is in the Northern part of the state, a very small, coal mining town. My grandfather homesteaded the property that we all lived on. (note: the grandfather she mentions is William Harrison Combs.)
Not only my grandfather had a house, but my aunt had a house, and my mother had a house, and her brother had a house. So, there were his two daughters, and a son. And, uh, my grandfather fought in the Civil War. And he was walking home, walking back! from, I mean, to Wisconsin, and um, with a friend, whose last name was Swan.
And they were going through Missouri, and they liked it. They thought it was so lush and beautiful, and they decided that they would go back to Wisconsin, marry their sweethearts, and come back and homestead.
Now, I haven't any idea how big this place was. I would say that my grandfather and each of his three children may have had as much as ten acres. But I was a small child, and things loomed big (chuckles) to me then.
And I realized that maybe it was only five acres they each had. But everyone had a vineyard, an orchard, and garden, and place for a cow, or cows and pigs, and they were self-sufficient little places. And I have my grandfather's diary. Civil War diary...before the Civil War, he wrote it, he was a school teacher and he uh, he wrote this diary every day, fairly tedious diary.
But his life as I later learned about it, was very interesting to me. Uh, he was a school teacher, in a one room school, this comes out in his diary, and if there had been a town meeting, the school house the night before, there would be tobacco juice to be cleaned up before the school could start. And he always started his diary with what the weather was. And I thought, well, that's fairly tiresome. But then, when I taught myself in a country school, I always noted, first thing, what the weather was like! (giggles) Because it made a difference. Whether my students stayed in this one room all day long, or whether I could let them out periodically for recess.
So, I forgave him, for starting his diary...But it was mostly about, you know, he had to walk fourteen miles to get the books, either that, or ride in a lumber wagon, to the town get the books, because no two students had the same book. And he wanted them to at least have one set of books that were all the same.
So, he said that he walked in, to town, fourteen miles, fourteen miles back, to get the books for his students, I haven't any idea on the new students...uh, he wasn't one to beat his student as was the custom in those days. He might have used the rod, I don't
know, because that was pretty prevalent, even with my own family. You, uh, had a little switch. And that little switch meant authority.
And my mother said, all you have to do is switch their legs just a little, and so they'll know who's boss. And (laughs) she laid it on more heavily for my brothers, but, uh,
So I was interested...not at the time, at the time I just knew that we had a nice home that my father had built, there was a maple in front that my mother and father had carved their initials on. And, I had at the time, three brothers, all older than I.
And another brother had died in infancy, when he was first born, so there had been four boys before I had come along. So I was a long awaited daughter as far as my father was concerned, so I became a kind of a special person in the family. I didn't like it very much.
I was more like a pet. And I was a little baby sister. And I think I have always tried to be older, like this latest birthday I was eighty-seven, but then I say, "now, I am in my eighty- eighth year!" and glorying in the fact that I have started the next year. Because I didn't like being little baby sister. And I think some of the energy that has gone into my achieving certain things, such as degrees, has been to show--I didn't consciously think of it--but to show my brothers, that I was someone other than little baby sister.
But it stayed with me all their lives, they are gone now. So the little baby sister remains. (laughs)
but it stayed with me all my life. And even when I had children, and grandchildren. When my brother, my oldest brother, would see me, or I would go to see him in California, "How is my little baby sister?" (laughs)
So then, later on, in dialoging with my brothers (this is an Intensive Journaling technique where the dialoging is internal) and of this particular fact that I did not like being called "little baby sister", my oldest brother said to me, "but don't you do that? with your nieces, and your grandchildren?" And I realized that I did! I did! And when I met my niece at the airplane, at the airport in Aspen, I said, "there's my little girl!" And she was a grandmother. But she had been the little girl that had stayed at our house in the summertime. And then when my nephew came to visit us here, he's retired, he's a grandfather, I patted him on the head, my little boy, because he was just a little boy, when I was in college. And although I keep up with him I cherish the fact that I knew him then. And that seems to be the dearest thing, about them, is the fact that they were very little. And I knew them at that time. And I, that was endearing. Very endearing to me.
INTERVIEWER This early childhood, neighborhood and experience. Talk about that home and the people in it.
NEVA: All right. We owe it all to my grandfather, who was William Combs. And he homesteaded this land and at the time it just seemed normal for me to be living next door to my aunt and that my uncle was up the road and my grandfather had died before I was born, but there was their house, and the little grocery store that he ran, which was then, in my childhood, run by a granddaughter, but it all seemed natural to me. But what I remember back, and which seemed very natural at the time, but contrasting to my own kitchen, as my mother's kitchen, it was a big kitchen, a big country kitchen.
And I think that's the reason I stretched out my own kitchen, to make it big! (laughs) Was the, her kitchen, which was big, it had a table in the center where we all ate together. And there was a wood stove. And there was always a wood pile, and my brothers had to furnish the wood, to keep the stove going, they had to bring in the wood! And that was their chore, that they did.
She had a churn, a barrel churn, that she would turn, sit in a chair and turn it, with a crank, and it would go head over heels, and every revolution of this a drop of cream would drop on the floor. And there was my cat, ready to lap up that one drop of cream, and was ready for the next one, waiting for the next. I was quite amused by that.
Also there was an incubator, at certain times of the year, the very early spring, and it was interesting to me as a small child. I lived there when I was eight. As a small child, to see the little chickens come out of their shells, and my mother would bring out an egg, the chicken was having trouble, getting out, and she'd tap it with a pencil. To give it a little crack, and it would eventually come through, or wouldn't, but it had a little help from her.
One morning, my father showed me a little handful of newborn baby mice. And I thought that was very interesting, and that they would be ongoing, part of the kitchen, but the next day, they had disappeared. And I never knew what happened to the little bunch of mice there.
But the making of the butter, I can still see how she did it, and how she would say, you mustn't kneed it too much, she had a wooden paddle, and here was this lump of butter, that would eventually happen after the churning. And she would press the milk out of it, but don't do it too much, or it will become oily. I think I could still make butter! Though I've not seen it done like that since I was eight years old. And so that would be almost eighty years ago.
INTERVIEWER Where is this house located?
NEVA This is in Marceline, Missouri, it was in the country, it was just across the county line. I can remember my parents speaking of the county line. They lived on the other side of the county line, in Franklin county, I think it was. And of course it was a regular kind of farm, we had a horse named Kit, and we had another horse named Nell. As far as I know they were our only horses. So they did, there were several kinds of wagons, there was a spring wagon, for hauling small amounts of things, and there was a lumber wagon, a bigger wagon, that would take both horses. There was a surrey, that we went to church in, two seated (laughs) surrey, probably, with the fringe on top, and there was a buggy, that would just take one horse. And I can remember my mother, getting out the horse, either Kit or Nell, and the buggy would be out, I don't know whether she pulled it out herself from the barn, but then the horse would back up into the shafts, and she would put the harness on, and the two of us would set off for town, which was a mile or two away, probably, to do the monthly grocery shopping. Because everything else was raised.
And there was always a bag of candy, that we got. This was a mining town, and everything was owned by the company. This was a company store. When we paid our bill, we were given a little bag of candy. And I could eat a couple of pieces off the top and save the rest for my brothers. And that is so vivid to me, now. And since my kitchen is in such great contrast to that, with a microwave and all of that, but there was a butchering, that took place, and uh, the hog for instance, we had hog's head cheese, we had scrapple, we had pickled pig's feet, and everything was used, every part, of this animal was used, so the same thing with the beef animals, but the butchering was really a part of life that you get used to on a farm. Animals are raised to eat, and they are killed by the men, and there is blood. And that is a part of the life on the farm. To see the bloody carcass and all of that. It did not phase me in the least, because I grew up knowing that, that was what I had on my plate at the table eventually.
INTERVIEWER Who else gathered in this kitchen, in this country home?
NEVA Well, my father of course, and my brothers, my three brothers, and my aunt and uncle lived next door, and there were cousins, and on special occasions, particularly Christmas, there would be back and forth, but usually we stayed in our own little farms, And I suppose the grownups, I had a cousin that I played with next door, cousin Raymond, I played with him, and we had a chore that we could do together, we could bring in water from the pump, and we brought that in, so we did that together.
I remember on Christmas, in my aunt's house, they always had oranges, and I thought that was a great luxury, we never did, we never did have oranges. But I would like to tell about, since I am on to Christmas, here, what my mother did, for Christmas, and it never seemed to fit the kind of person she was, but she was forty-five years old when I was born and yet what she did was a lot! A lot of work for Christmas. We didn't have evergreen trees, so she would get a tree branch, it looked like a tree, it looked like a dead fruit tree, and she would have saved up old pieces of cotton cloth, and torn them into strips, and wrapped the tree in white strips of cloth so it was a white tree. And the garlands of cranberries and popcorn was a part of it. And it was always put in the parlor, a part of the house that we never used, except if we saw visitors coming, then the parlor was opened, and we sat in these rather big and uncomfortable chairs. In a part of the house that was not a part of our living at all. It was kept--the blinds were closed, so the curtains wouldn't rot, and the door was closed, and we didn't go in there, don't mess it up, it had to be kept ready for company. (laughs)
So there was a dining room, which we used more like a living room, a sitting room, and my father had various jobs when I was at that age.
He worked in the coal mine. And he would come home with a lantern on his cap. And I thought that was very interesting, and I would go to meet him, because he would have saved his donut, cookie, or whatever, dessert, and there it would be in that musty lunch box, but I would open it up and eat it! (laughs.) Because he had saved it for me. And I always thought it was a very special thing for him to do.
I remember him sitting on the kitchen floor with a big piece of leather. And on the floor beside him he would cut out soles for shoes for my brothers and for me. And he had all the tools that a person, that a shoe repair person would have, and he would hammer the soles on the worn out shoes. But when he came to my shoes, he had a little black dye, and he blackened the edge of the soles, because he said a little girl must look nice. And that always touched me, that he would do that special thing, because I was a little girl.
And I think I always liked being a girl, and if my brothers didn't want me to follow them, they would call me Tommy. "OK, Tommy," and I would be so embarrassed, and I would quit following them, because I wanted to be a little girl. So that is very fresh in my memory.
He also had a job at another time, working on the pipeline, which took him away from home. And he would come home I guess periodically, so my mother had the run of the place, and she was always a better farmer than she was, anyway. He didn't take much to working with the land. He said the crook in the hole was to hang it up on a tree, he thought. So he tried, working on the pipeline, which took him away.
So I remember, this is a very early memory, I remember wakening from a nap, and hearing some commotion, and awakening, I found on the bed beside me, a big doll that he had brought home for me from one of his trips. And it was a very, to me, a doll, was the most wonderful thing, I could have. And it was the greatest doll I had ever had, a big doll, a big doll, and the story of that big doll is almost the story of my life, what happened to it later and how I felt, and how it had really its wig went somehow or other, my mother did made some clothes for my big doll, of black velveteen, which she trimmed in red rick rack, which I thought was very nice, and a hood to go with it, and one day I was dressing the doll, and I said to the doll, "Now you are going to see your grandmother." And I put the hood on, and was struggling with the jacket, when the doll's arms and legs fell off.
And I was devastated. And my mother laughed, she thought it was so funny, the look on my face. And she kept telling the story, "you should have seen how she looked!" And I might have done the same thing, but it hurt me so. That she thought it was funny. And so my father, mother, somebody, tried to string it together again, but the arms and legs always dangled, but it was still my big doll, and I carried it around with the arms and legs dangling.
So finally, after we'd moved to Kansas, and I was through, I guess, through with playing with dolls, never, really, because I bought dolls for myself when I was in college, I retired it to the attic, in a cradle. And, uh, later, when I was married, and left home, I expected my doll to be in the cradle, in the attic, anytime that I returned!
I knew, at a certain point, that our house was being demolished, in order to make room for a very modern filling station that my father was putting in. So I just asked my brothers when I came back home, to the home that wasn't there, instead we had a "tourist court", as they were then called, where my doll and cradle was, and they just laughed, and said, "oh, we just took them to the dump!" And I was so hurt. They couldn't have known, that that meant that much to me, could they? And I really held that against them, that put a rift, I thought they certainly should know that if I put it in the attic, in the cradle, that I valued it, and would like to have it, but it was gone, my doll was gone. And that was a sad, sad day in my life (laughs.)
So perhaps that's the reason that after I went to college, I started buying dolls again for myself. The kind of dolls that I'd always wanted, the arms and legs would move. And I was teased about it, because a college girl doesn't buy dolls. And so at Christmas time for a joke everyone gave me a doll! (laughs) But I always thought a big doll was the best thing a girl could have.
Neva Monroe, top photo, from the 1929 Ottawa High School Register
INTERVIEWER: When you were a girl, what would have been the perfect sort of day, do you remember?
NEVA: Oh, yes, there were many perfect days. I played a lot by myself, except for my cousin who was my age, my brothers were older, they ganged up and wanted to play together, and didn't necessarily want me along. But my younger brother, who was about four years older than I, when there wasn't anything better to do, he would play with me. So that was a perfect day, when he would do that. And also I always had cats to play with. And I had my dolls. My family of dolls, that were under the dining room table in the dining room that we never used. And I was very careful to play with each of them equally, because they were so real to me, that I did not want to hurt any of their feelings. And so although I would have favorite dolls, I would try to include all of them, when I played.
But the cats, they were always available to play with. I can remember a bobsled ride, which I thought was very special, that was while we were still living in Missouri, Marceline Missouri.
I can remember going to the house of the Swans, I didn't know at the time, that this was the man who tramped through Missouri with my grandfather, that I would sit on his lap and braid his beard. And the Swans were very close to us. They had a family, and we would go to see them. That was special and memorable.
I remember being, going in a spring wagon to the cemetery, because on Memorial Day we always went to attend the graves. Not that I did, but there were baloney sandwiches which I thought were such a rarity and such a delicacy, it was so different from the home meals that we always had. Baloney sandwiches, there were always green onions, because it was that time of the year, and radishes, and there were big buckets of peonies, in the spring wagon, and of course the children were in the spring wagon too.
And the graves were pointed out to us, who was buried where, and since my grandfather had actually sold the land to the town site, that formed the town, of Marceline Missouri, they had lots of relatives buried there. And my mother would try to draw my attention, well, this is where your grandmother or your grandfather is buried, but I didn't seem to, I just wanted to run around. Run around and play. And I can still remember very vividly our trips on Memorial Day.
So that's about the end of our living...there...my father decided to move to Kansas, because he thought the schools were better there. My brother, one of my brothers was dyslexic, and wasn't learning, and we didn't know about dyslexia at the time. And we decided it was the country school he was going to. And so my father wanted to have better schools for us.
The Monroe Filling Station. These are likely two of Neva's brothers plus her father David Ulysses Monroe.
So he moved. There was someone from our town that had to move to Marceline, or move from Marceline to Ottawa Kansas. And he had a cab factory, he manufactured cabs for trucks. So my father got a job working for him. And he bought a little house, first of all he rented a house for a month. But we never moved into the rented house, and my father prided myself that we had never, ever, had lived in a rented house. He bought a little house which he fixed up and added on to, and we lived in that.
Finally this cab factory decided to close down, and my father bought out the person he was in partnership with, and he started his own little business in our back yard. And he did that for some time, I don't remember, but I remember how he would paint the little red line, that was to outline, the window of the cab, and how he would work in the back yard.
And then he got the idea that the coming thing was filling stations and tourist business. Here was a man who didn't have much of anything, or not had not had very important jobs, but he had some vision at this point, so when I was in the, about the seventh grade, he bought a piece of land at the edge of town, and he built a house, and then when I entered high school or maybe at the beginning of college, came the Depression, but he still had a dream, he had a house, and he had a filling station. But he wanted to have "tourist cabins" as they were called then, because people traveled with their pots and pans, and each one of these cabins had a kitchen.
And he didn't have any money, and he persuaded the lumber company to give all of this lumber to him on credit. So he built cabins, he knew how to do that, and my brothers were getting big enough to help. He built them, and it became a very flourishing business. And my father was a prosperous man, after the Depression. But during the Depression, that's another story.
And I have some...Looking back, after that time, a nephew of mine asked me to describe the Depression years for him, as far as we were concerned, and I did that, I wrote it out, so I have...at the time, the Depression didn't bother me one bit. I was clothed and fed, and by that time I had entered college.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, before we leave your childhood, I would like you to review what feelings you had during your childhood, perhaps when you were a little scared. Do you recall a scary moment or event?
NEVA: Yes, I think there was fear, there was always fear, kind of a standard fear, I think that may be common to children, which was the world was going to end. Or, we did have a book of Teddy Roosevelt's hunts in Africa, and I used to look through that, and see those animals, they were ferocious looking animals, and I thought maybe they would somehow get under my bed, and so I was very careful not to hang my feet over the bed. There was that sort of thing.
I can remember being very anxious if my brother was late in coming home from school. I sometimes felt, as a, that my mother doted on the boys, and they were very helpful to her, she wasn't very strong as I was growing up, because she was forty-five when I was born, and so she was getting into mid life, with all of its problems, and my brothers would come home from school, and help her do the washing, and do all of these things that I was too little to do. Or since they were there, they did them. And I was sort of left to play. And I did a lot of playing. And my grandmother visiting one time said "that girl isn't worth her salt!" And that hurt my feelings considerably. And I think I went off in the corner and cried, and my oldest brother came and comforted me and thought it was a bit funny (laughs.)
But it was true, I wasn't. But later on I learned to do a few things, like peeling potatoes, I can remember, big dishpan full of potatoes, and I would think that I could never get to the end, and my wrist would be so sore, but no use complaining, because I had all those potatoes to peel.
And I remember scrubbing the kitchen floor. And I found out if I shut the doors later, it would look cleaner, if I didn't shut the doors (laughs).
INTERVIEWER: Time when you were really really happy?
NEVA: I think growing up is more of an unhappy childhood, I just read a book about, or heard on on tape, about Angela's Ashes, and the author said, a happy childhood isn't worth writing about. And he was thoroughly miserable! For being very very poor, and for being Irish, and for being Catholic. And so it made a wonderful story. And so I am having a hard time thinking of...there were gratifications, and my father would buy me a hat, just because I was with him, and I teased for it. Feeling that somehow, and everybody laughs, "well, he will buy her anything that she wants", which wasn't true, I didn't really think that, but it was fairly interesting to me, that if I really teased for something, I would probably get it, within reason, and within the means of my family.
Times of great happiness...I did enjoy school, and I can remember in Missouri I didn't really like school that much, my first teacher was my cousin, and she was fine, the second teacher in the second grade didn't pay much attention to me, which was fine, and I decided in the second grade that I would be invisible. And we had these seats, two students to a seat, and I didn't have any seat mates, so I could lie down in my seat, and the teacher wouldn't see me and call on me, and did that for the year, and she seemed to be happy to have me lying down in the seat.
So I had a year, I remember being fascinated with the multiplication tables. I liked the rhythm and the sound of saying those, but otherwise I didn't get a very good education, so when we went to Kansas I was put back a grade. Then, somehow, school clicked! And I found it so fascinating, and I could remember the sense of learning, the sense of learning something every day! And that happened particularly in the fourth grade, I just couldn't believe how much I was learning! And my grandmother who would visit us often, she would go from one family to the other, she didn't have a house of her own, but she had a pension, and she said we were all glad to see her, because of her pension. And she would sit waiting for us to come home from school. And she would quiz us on current events. Of course we hadn't heard any current events in school. "Well they are not teaching you anything in school" she would say. And so we were thoroughly put down at that point. But she gave us hope.
"Pa's own cousin" had been a miner in Leadville Colorado, and he kept at it. He kept at the mining and he even bought his partner out. Because his partner had given up finding anything, any minerals. And Pa's second cousin, whose name was Johnny Routt, stayed with it, and made a fortune, out of the mine. So my grandmother would tell us this story, and it didn't occur to me that he was a fairly distant relative. But her name had been Routt. (This was Colorado's first governor, John Long Routt.) But she liked to tell it like he was someone right in our immediate family. And if he could make it, why then we had it in us to make it, too. So that encouraged us all throughout our lives. I did me, anyway.
I had a teaching job, first job at Colorado Mountain College, it was at Leadville, and I was happy to be there, because his two mines were the Evening Star and the Morning Star, he called them. And I thought, well, he must have had a streak of poetry in him, or he wouldn't have named them that. But by this time, my children were grown, and I was a grandmother, and I was teaching, and I didn't think much of pursuing his life. But he did become governor of the state, first territorial governor, and then later on a governor and I could find him in the history books.
And so it gave kind of a status to us, otherwise, kind of nondescript family! That I didn't know of any great achievements in the family. But that gave a kind of a hope that, oh, yes, if he did it, and he stuck with it, and made a good life for himself as far as we knew, and so I can remember that part.
But I was kind of a nerd at school, I would prefer studying to social life. I was shy. I had a few close friends, a colored girl, a black girl, we used to call them colored, who walked to school with me, and she was a good friend. Her name was Sadie. And my mother always smiled when Sadie was waiting for me, to see us go off to school together.
My mother always taught us, and my father too, although he was not as vocal, in his teaching, that we must respect other races of people and later on my husband and I taught in a school of black girls in South Carolina. And that was a very interesting time of our lives. But that's a teaching, from my, particularly from my mother. She always respected everybody. No matter what race they were, and that added to their charm, and interesting qualities of their life because they were different. And so it was instilled in us from the very beginning.
INTERVIEWER: How about a time when you were mad, was anger allowed to be expressed in your family?
NEVA: No, no it wasn't. I remember being very hurt, I think it was in the seventh grade, and as I say I was on a big kick, of getting my lessons, I was really enjoying them, and even doing lessons for my older brothers, which didn't help them to like me any better (laughs) but I remember I remember having my geography workbook all up to date. And I went to school, and I remember this little girl, her name was Arzilla Darling. And she had gone to school with me, even gone to high school with me, but she asked to borrow my notebook. And she borrowed it and kept it past the time I was to hand it in. So I went in late. I went in late with the notebook and the teacher wouldn't accept it. And she, and I tried to explain why I went in late. And why I couldn't get it in on time, because Arsilla had borrowed it, and didn't give it back to me. She borrowed it and copied it. So I, that hurt me, it hurt me terribly. But I didn't tell anyone.
The notorious Arzilla Darling! From Neva's Ottawa class of 1929 High School yearbook
I went home, and went out to the outhouse. We were a little above some of the people in town, we had a flush toilet, but it was on the alley, and I went out there and sat in solitude, and I don't know why, my mother didn't invite any kind of grievances, and particularly anything anyone has said, she said, well, don't pay any attention to it. And so I had learned not to pay any attention, but I couldn't quite get over the hurt.
That I had failed in the geography class, when Arsilla Darling was truly the darling of the teacher! So that sort of thing, and I never did tell anyone about it. It just seemed that you were supposed to grin and bear whatever happened to you. My mother was a stoic. She didn't think complaining was a good idea. She wasn't entirely unsympathetic if we were ill. But she never complained herself. And she used to speak of how her own mother had spoken of pain, and said "it isn't so bad once you get used to it", and she would deal with her pain in that way. And my mother tended to be the same way. She would just grin and bear whatever came along. And no one particularly wanted her to be that way. But she was, she was that way.
INTERVIEWER: OK, last basic emotion, sadness as a child? A moment or an event?
NEVA: All right, I suppose I was still a child, as I was entering high school, I felt fairly insecure anyway, but I was heartened by the fact that my youngest brother would be a senior that year, and he was the popular, outgoing kind of person.
I was going into high school, still feeling very much like a child, in experience in the world, but my youngest brother was a senior in high school. And he was an outgoing...and he was a popular athlete, and I thought, well, it will be good to be a freshman with him a senior. And that would make it easy for me. And I would really be okay. I would be okay. But that summer, before I would be a freshman and he would be a senior, he was killed in a railroad accident. He was on his motorcycle, and that was a very, very sad time, not only for me, but for my whole family.
My mother, uh, I thought she would never get over it. And I don't think she ever did. Because she didn't allow herself to grieve. She just started working. Harder and harder. And we had this big tourist place, and she had sheets to launder, and a lot of work to do, and instead of talking to somebody, she just worked. And the sadness, it was a very sad time, so I had a hard time, dealing with that, and particularly because he had been the closest to me, of my brothers. And later on, when I was doing dialoging (part of her Ira Progoff Intensive journal training) in the Journaling workshop, I dialoged with him, and got it straightened out. About why he had left me so abruptly when I needed him so much.
That was the first tragic death in our family. And since then, it has just been the dying of older people. And so that stands out as a time of great sadness for the family since it was an accident. uh hmm.
INTERVIEWER: reviewing again, from your childhood, the little girl that was Neva, if you could say something to that little girl now, what would you say to that little girl that was you, then?
NEVA: I would probably say to that little girl Neva, you could speak up! And maybe you could have changed your family pattern a little, from being stoic, and taking everything that comes, maybe you could have changed them. And uh, but it never occurred to me that I could possibly do that. That I had to take everything that happened. And that I couldn't feel sad. And that I certainly couldn't find any solace for sadness. I could feel sad, but it was my own affair, and I had to keep it to myself.
And my mother's admonition, "just don't let on" kind of stayed with me, and so I tend to push down, maybe that's the reason why later on in my life when I found journal writing such an impetus, and such a release, and such a thing that I wanted to teach, maybe it was because I had had the childhood of being silent about anything that hurt, or about anything that I felt in my life. So, it just now occurred to me that that is probably the reaction and the reason why it just seemed to me God-sent. The journal workshop.
As I took it as a participant, and as I gave it, I could feel that was drawing out of childhood experiences times of hurt. Times when everything had to seem all right. It wasn't allowed to act like there was something wrong. So I put those together pretty well.
INTERVIEWER: So that giving permission to little Neva to speak up includes to say that she is hurt.
NEVA: Oh yes, definitely, speaking up, to say that this hurt, that this bothered me, say that an injustice had been done to me, and that my mother should go and talk to the teacher, it didn't occur to me that I could possibly do that. I didn't have that power. Then. I didn't have the power to feel it. I had the power to try to forget it. So, that is an interesting observation for me.
INTERVIEWER: let us move on to your early adulthood education
NEVA: Okay, I think it started with my deciding that I liked to learn, and that I found that made my parents pleased that I could get good grades at school, and get on the honor roll, and get on the highest division in school. And so I took great pleasure in bringing home my report card, and telling them I was on the honor roll. And once I--this is a terrible thing that I did (laughs)--I asked my cousin, who lived next door, and who didn't bother about such things as honor rolls, she was popular and a much more normal (laughs) I think, than I!--But I said, "would you please tell my folks when you get home, that I am on the honor roll again?" (laughs) So I gave her the job, of telling that, which was pretty, I think, low down of me, thinking back at it. But I don't know, but of course I told them as soon as I got home, too.
But getting education, and I think, words, fascinated me. I can remember my grandmother reading to us, from an old beat up poetry book, and looking back, I know the poetry wasn't terribly good. But I loved the sound of her voice. And how words sounded. And that started me...in a whole thing about words. And everything, every part of my education has had to do with words. When I heard that about words, I remembered what I'd said about words, I thought of the scripture, "in the beginning was the word!" (laughs) And so much of our life, has words...seems to be a conveyance of meaning.
And in my graduate studies I studied General Semantics, (I recall she studied Korzybski's General Semantics for her thesis) which was a study of when words are true, and when they are not true, and so often we get misguided by words, because they sound all right, and they are convincing, and the speaker has charisma, and we think, well, what he says must be true, but then there are ways of checking it out.
Can this be true? And "Allness" statements can never be true, you can never say "all" about anything, and you can't categorize groups of people. And that was a very valuable study for me. The General Semantics. It helped me to sort out what I heard. And what I spoke. It made me more hesitant in my speaking. Because I knew that there are certain things that you can say that can get attention, but they cannot possibly be true. So when I listen, particularly to politicians, I know, I know certain things cannot be true, because it is just against the laws of nature that they are true, because no two things in nature are alike. And you can't lump people together. No matter if they have the same color skin or whatever. So that was very valuable to me.
And I taught General Semantics in college. But mostly literature. I thought that literature was a way of learning psychology, and history, and although it was fiction, it was truth. Truth came through. And besides, it was an art. And so I really enjoyed the teaching of literature.
And I came upon The Journal (Ira Progoff's Intensive Journal writing) and then that really immersed me in words, my own words, words that I said to myself and didn't say to anyone else. And I could put them down on paper and I could see what I was really thinking and it was very valuable for me and because it was so valuable for me, I could see it would be valuable for students.
So I tried it out on students at the College (Colorado Mountain College) and I saw that it changed the way that they held themselves. I saw that it changed the way that they held their bodies. They became more graceful. They became more articulate, as they talked to themselves, and wrote to themselves, and wrote the experiences of their lives. So, my work with journaling with people has been validated, and I feel that that's been my important work, and I have done it all over the country, and into Canada, and its been so rewarding as I see people honor themselves. And know what they are thinking. And dare to take away the facade, dare to get into a space of their inner knowing. That's been very rewarding to do that.
INTERVIEWER: How did that begin for you?
NEVA: well, I read about it. And then I read about it again. About Progoff, and how he is giving these workshops. I don't know what publication I read about it, so I called New York City, where the headquarters of Dialog House is, and I said, "will there be any workshops near me?" And they said, "yes, in Colorado Springs." So the following weekend I took a student with me and we went to Colorado Springs, and we went to a convent there, near the Broadmore Hotel, I don't remember what it was called, and we were in silence except for the writing. And of course I was a participant. And I knew, absolutely knew, that this is what I must do. Not only for myself, but for my students.
And so, coming back from that weekend, I initiated in my class, one of my classes--it was Explorations in Literature, where I allowed the students to choose their authors, and books that they have always wanted to read, as long as it more or less fit into the good literature--and then I secretly changed it in my mind, Explorations in Literature and Life. So they explored their own lives, and wrote about themselves and we did that, and it worked so beautifully.
I remember one girl, whose brother had committed suicide, just a week before school. And she had come to school with that burden. So every quarter she took that journal, she took that Explorations in Literature and Life, and she worked through that trauma of her brother's committing suicide. So it gave them a tool. It gave them a tool they wrote dialogs with their parents, and they said, "I am going to send this to my mother", and I said, "please don't do that! Just have it in your mind. And when you see your mother, you will deal with your mother on a different basis. You will have some truth, there."
So, it has been the most rewarding thing, and I give credit to Ira Progoff, who was a Jungian scholar, invited by Jung himself, to study with him, and a definitive book on Jung. So that was a stroke of genius. So I have been very fortunate to come upon that. I feel my life has been guided, one thing has followed another. Just as I have needed them it seems. And I am not sure what I need...at the present time (laughs). That is another question! Another phase of my life, maybe the quiet to reflect to get somewhat back into...I have been asked to give another workshop and I don't know whether I will or not. I have to think it over.
INTERVIEWER: This might be a good place to review what some might call your religious journey, spiritual journal. What were you taught at a child, and where are you now?
NEVA: Oh! Well, I grew up in the Bible belt, and I didn't know it was the Bible belt at the time! In Kansas, everybody went to church, at least three times a week, twice on Sunday, and midweek prayer meeting. Everyone did it. There were a few people who were designated as, uh, "they don't go to church." (laughs) And that was all that was said about them. But almost everyone did, and it was our social life, it was our community life, and I took it all in as a child, and I thought, well, I certainly should read the Bible, and know all this since it was so important.
And I came upon, in the Bible, I thought it was pretty rough going, and it didn't interest me too much, and I came upon the passage "Know the truth, and the truth will set you free." And I took that to mean my personal truth. (laughs) And so I started exploring all the religions. And I felt perfectly comfortable in doing that. It seemed that I had been given that message (laughs) to do that!
And so I don't have any boundaries around any of my belief systems. I came upon a Course in Miracles, oh, probably fifteen years ago, and it stopped me in my tracks. And it got my attention, and I felt that it was speaking to the modern age.
And I honor the Bible, and I used to have my students read the Bible as literature, not from the Bible, but there was a book I had, called The Bible as Literature, and I knew that good writers expected their readers to know...they would make references to Bible stories without explanation, and I told my students you must know this body of literature, or else you can't read great bodies of literature. Because there are many references. So, along with anthropology, and mythology--I had them read mythology--so, the Bible stories are among what I think are really great literature, and I have taught it on a graduate level. The Bible as literature. But I feel that it's just a treasure of great literature, and even more so when you do not take it literally.
When you are free to take it...as you take it. So, that's...I feel great freedom in reading anything and I don't like fences around belief systems. I like room for everyone to explore and believe.
INTERVIEWER: well, what degrees have you, where did you go to school?
NEVA: Well, we moved to Colorado, I had my undergraduate degree (I believe this was Laurence KS, where she met Norvel) in my home town, because it was during Depression, and there was no such thing as going away to school, and I didn't even think of going away to school. It was good enough, that I got my undergraduate degree there. And then some twenty years later (laughs) when I was married and we had moved to Kansas because my...or, we had moved to Colorado, because my husband (Norvel Daniel) had a job with Colorado Mountain College, and I also had a job there, as a teacher, I decided to go back and do graduate work.
And my son (David Daniel) said, "mother, you must be retarded! You are just now doing your graduate work!" But I got into it. It seemed that twenty years was necessary in between for everything to sort of settle into place, and so the first classes I took, I took five hours of Shakespeare, advanced Shakespeare, and five hours of General Semantics. And that also stopped me in my tracks. I applied one to the other. General Semantics to Shakespeare. And I ended up giving a reading, a paper, at Chicago, in Chicago, the Speech Association of America, and this little speech was published in Communications Journal. And it was the first time I had ever had anything published. I felt pretty good about that.
But General Semantics was another one of these jolting things that came to me. How we can make our speech, and how we can make our words, fit reality. And how we know when words are true, and when they are not true, and that has colored all my thinking, and listening, and speaking, and made me less...fluent. I have decided that people who stop a little, and think as they talk are more apt to be speaking words that could be true, than if they are fluent and eloquent, so I value that education very, very much.
So I went on...we were living in Denver, and I kept taking courses, and I got all the courses to my PhD except statistics, which I didn't want to take anyway, and we moved away, and by that time, I didn't see any good reason to pursue the PhD, although my husband thought I should for some reason of ornamentation or something, but I didn't, and I don't mind that I didn't. But I have the education. So, that was very valuable to me.
My, I met my husband in college, in my undergraduate years, and here again words were a big part of it, because he carried a notebook, into which he had copied poetry. And I thought that was wonderful, to meet a man who have poetry in his notebook! And so we were married about two years after we both had graduated from college, and our children, we had two daughters, twenty two months apart, and I thought that was wonderful, to have two daughters together so that they would be companionable to each other.
Neva and Norvel at Laurence University, KS
And then seven years later, we had our son, and I can remember the joyous words at that time, you didn't know you had, that what you would have would be a boy or a girl, but I remember hearing the words, "it's a boy!" and it just reverberated in my heart, "it's a boy!" And seven years I was even happy to take care of him when he cried at night (laughs). I was happy to get up! And take care of him, and I really doted on him, because I had been seven years without a baby, and of course my daughters, they thought it was wonderful to have a little baby brother, and they helped me take care of him. So he was a great advent in my life. So...I said "advent", and I guess that is what I mean! Advent or event. And he's been a pillar. Someone to lean on, it just seems to me, especially after my husband died, eight years ago, to have a son, somebody that I could call on, somebody that I could lean on when I needed to, so he has been a blessing to me. As all my children have.
My daughter Judy and her husband (Mike Wadyko) have joined our household. And he is working on his PhD (in history) and he came in the nick of time, both of them, because I needed them. This past summer, and needed them very much, and don't know what I would have done if they had not been here. I took a little nose-dive as far as health was concerned. So we are mutually helpful to each other. He is working on his PhD., and has written it, and is now revising it, and will sometime fairly soon will have completed it, so that will be a good milestone for him.
And they have become indispensable for me, to have them here, with us. And of course, Sharon, who has been with me, all along, through thick and thin, has been my angel, I would say she is the great delight of my life, because she is so sensitive. And she's the one who initiates the bird feeder, and who goes out to the garden to gather all the produce, who picks the fruit off the trees, who looks out at the sky late at night, and I find on the stove a little note telling me what the moon looks like. She is so sensitive.
If I ask for a piece of cantaloupe, she serves it to me on a crystal plate! (laughs) She does all of those little things that are far beyond duty. She has been such a loving presence in my life. All the way through. It just seems that I have been blessed to have her here.
INTERVIEWER: tell me more stories. anything from the children's earlier years, a moment that you were very proud or pleased?
NEVA: yes, well, I've always been very proud of my children. I love them dearly. There have been difficulties. My son had difficulty in learning to read! (Holly's note: Neva is referencing the dyslexia that runs in our family. Recall one of her brothers had this as well, which she mentions in the beginning. Synesthesia--which I feel is a gift at least to me--also is present on her side of the family in some family members. There is an interesting thing going on with language perception on this side of the family that I am personally very interested in understanding better.)
And that taught me about dyslexia, which I hadn't understood before. And I think his teachers didn't understand it at all. So he had some frustrating years at school. He learned to work and to overcome his difficulty, and to have a graduate degree, and to end up with a very good job, working at Pueblo as a counselor, the State Mental Health (hospital). So, I feel that he's a person that has persevered, and came out on top.
Judy --the personalities are all different--Judy, very energetic, very bright, always seeing and pointing out things that I hadn't noticed, and uh, keeping a kind of liveliness going in the household. She was a bouncy kind of person. She still bounces! And that delights me, to see her do that.
Well I would have to acknowledge my parents, and grandparents, maybe not at the time, but as I learned about them later, what their lives were, and I value them, I value them for raising me, for taking care of me, and I think of a fourth grade teacher, her name was Miss Beebermeyer, and that was when I first got the feeling of great learning coming into my life. And its...that's stayed with me forever.
My Professor Ritchie in college, he was my literature teacher, and he, he told me once that I thought with my eyes. And I read very eagerly all the books that he gave us to read. And so I thought that he did a great deal. Of course my grandchildren, I have five grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchildren. Grandchild, on the way. So, they have all enriched my life.
When a grandchild, Yvonne (David's daughter), she used to come here as a little girl because she was nearby, the other grandchildren were further away, and she liked my flower gardens, and she would...she learned the names of all the flowers, she was four or five years old, but she learned the names of all the flowers, and so now that she has children of her own, and a little girl, she made a flower garden on the military base where she lives with her husband and three children. And she's taken a video of her flower garden, which I've never seen. And she's teaching her little girl all the names of the flowers. And so when she was here not too long ago, I saw her fumbling with the upper gate, she and I, when she was the same age as her little daughter, used to take walks, up on the path, and I said, Yvonne, it's easier to go through this gate, I knew she was looking for the path, which was probably overgrown with weeds by now, but she took her own little girl up on that path. Yes.
And so I've been very proud as one of my grandchildren became a doctor (Joe) and another one recently got her PhD, that was Holly, and Joe is a doctor now, and all of them...there's Robin, who is really the pioneer mother, who considers her family first, and goes through thick and thin to take care of her family, and who will be a grandmother herself, when I become a great grandmother, and she's looking forward to that event. And then of course my son's children Aaron and Yvonne, they've all been so close. And when they come here and when I see them arrive, the've come from different directions, but they stop on their way in, in the garage, and they talk to each other, and I think that is so wonderful, and that's what I like, that has been their gift to me, to see that they value each other, and that they talk to each other, and they are glad to see each other!
And it isn't as if they are strangers. And I think that what they have done is show solidarity. In their families. My children support their children, in all the important ways. And the children like each other. And the family comes together in mutual appreciation. So I like that very much, and I feel that has really rewarded me greatly. Yes, they are not bickering! (laughs)
OK, I couldn't leave out the people who have influenced me. Ira Progoff, he's uh, ten years younger than I am, and I really owe him a great deal, I have read all of his books.
And I feel that he brought a great deal of insight into the journal process. I think it was definitive. And journaling was not well-known, I mean, their were those who kept journals, like the Adams family, they kept historical journals, to hand down, but to keep a personal journal, where you really said things that you didn't mean for mean for other people to read, and you didn't write them to be read, but you wrote them to, to listen to yourself! And he...and that was a great breakthrough! And there have been many many offsprings of his work. And I think he is a monumental figure.
He gave a workshop with Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, and Joseph Campbell called him one of the great, the Journal is one of the great inventions of this century, and I believe it is true. It is one of the great inventions. And I was so fortunate to get on to it. And believe in it, enough to carry it around and give it all over the country, and in Canada.
INTERVIEWER What is your favorite invitations, when you are doing Journal workshops yourself?
NEVA: Well, I asked them to make a little tent around themselves, and to stay within their own space. As much as possible. To write, and then stay within that space. And not to close the book and then pick up something to read that happens to be lying around, but to stay in that space. Although they've jotted down...to stay in that space and see if more wants to come. To honor inner space. The inner wisdom that is available to all of us if we are quiet, periodically, and invite it. I think probably that is the best thing.
If you are writing it down, and you are thinking of someone in mind to read it, and invariably I have people who say "I am writing this for my grandchild." Then I know they are not writing their own truth. They they are writing what they want the grandchild to hear about them. So their own truth is something that we face. And we honor, honor it. And we nurture ourselves, and heal ourselves, when we allow ourselves to be in that kind of space.
INTERVIEWER: Where do you go to be quiet?
NEVA: (laughs) this is a quiet house! My household is quiet. And I have lots of gardens, I have a nice little shade garden that runs parallel to the front of the house, along this way, no one ever walks that way! Everyone comes in through the garage. And I feel good about that too, I don't mind if people see the garage! It's a classic garage with clutter and stuff stored around, it is not in any good order. But I really would like people to go through my shade garden, which my good friend Doug Evans, who is a professor at the college (Colorado Mountain College, where Neva taught) he did that for me, he did the shade garden, and I enjoy it very much, I have seats there, at the back yard, I have a fountain, I like the sound of water, so those are some of my favorite places. We have a big, long couch in the living room, I like to turn on music and lie there and listen to music, and its a long couch,Sharon if she likes, can lie on the other end of it! We both value that couch, because two people can lie down on it. And although the cats have scratched the stuffings out of it, it is still prized.
My husband was in Education, the same as I, although he traveled around a great deal. I became very independent, ran the household, took care of finances, while he went out, periodically. He was a great storyteller. And I used to listen to the same story that he would tell the children or grandchildren, and it didn't turn out the same way, he embellished, he didn't let anything stand in the way of a good story.
So he became pretty well known to the children as a great story teller. And I would listen, "is that the way it is?" And it didn't matter, he's interested in telling a good story, so if he puts in something here and there, to embellish it, well, OK, that's what he's thinking. Very good mind, very good memory. Remembering not only the words that he wrote down, in his notebook, but able to recite them or say them.
We had a long marriage. We celebrated our fiftieth anniversary and then some, we went through thick and thin as people did, in our generation. There were good times, and there were not so good times. But it never occurred to either of us, that there was anything more to do than to work it out. And to do the best we could, through difficult times. Very different from the way people separate at the slightest kind of differences they have, and keep searching for their true love (laughs.)
INTERVIEWER: I know that you have kept journals. There must be hundreds...are they secure, or does it matter to you? If the whole world, someday, has them.
NEVA: No, they weren't written for the whole world, and it's better that I destroy them. Because in as much as I was trying to find my own truth and going through all the process of finding that, there were things that were private to me.
And I could not have written honestly if I had been writing for somebody to read. And I actually, what I have come to, is this little book of writing morning pages. Three pages. In the morning. And not ever going back to read them. It is the writing of them that's important. It gets you in touch, first thing in the morning, of how you are, what's going on in your life, and then to throw it away. Throw it away! It is just getting in touch with yourself. Knowing what is going on, and not denying it.
As I have gone through this past summer, I have become depressed. And I would try to hide it from my family, but I found that when I just was able to say, "I am depressed!" then I could deal with it. And the depression...I came out. I came out of it. But if I had tried to hide it from myself, I was depressed, and weak, and not very well, and all of that, it would have been more difficult to come out of it. And so I've tried to be honest with myself in facing whatever I'm facing. So I think that's very important and the journal is not written for someone to read. So I have to look through and be sure that I have taken care of all of that. And any of the morning pages that I write. I used to think well, if anybody reads them, they are reading them at their own risk, because I say whatever is on my mind to say! But I wouldn't want to hurt anyone, either. So I want to be sure that my morning pages or any other of the Journal work is not just lying around to be read, it was for my own reading, and very valuable for me, to go back over it.
INTERVIEWER: What do you believe of soul, god, the afterlife, the things we are familiar with in traditional beliefs...I am assuming you don't hold fast to your early childhood training.
NEVA: Well, the afterlife, I don't remember! (laughs) I don't remember what it's like! I have a feeling that I have lived many lives, and I have been told by various people who claim to know (laughs) that I have, and that actually one person said that I was with the Essenes, the same group of people that Jesus studied with, and I find myself very attracted to the sayings of the Essenes, and to the Gnostic gospels, which are kind of off the record, and I really delight in them! And they are coming forth in the sea scrolls. The lost sea scrolls that were discovered. And the Essenes went to the trouble of putting them in clay pots. And wrapping them in leather, so that they would be preserved, although some were burned, for fuel.
So I've been greatly intrigued, I've always wanted to read what I wasn't supposed to read. That wasn't in the books and so I have enjoyed reading the Essenes and the life of Jesus and his wonderful physique. And how he told his disciples, some basic things about taking care of their bodies. And what he did...take care of his body.
And so, I just feel that it's good to know all those things of which I consider as true as anything. Written because most of the Bible was written after the fact, a great many years after the fact, but I still value it as literature, and as "truth", and I don't hold on to anything, because I don't really know, and I think to be in this cloud of unknowing (laughs) is a good place to be!
But I do think that my life will continue, and perhaps I believe in reincarnation, that I will come back, and whatever I've gained in this life will not be lost. I hope not. (laughs) I don't want to start all over again.
So I think thats...when I read about certain things about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, you can scare yourself to death about what happens when you die! (laughs) So, uh, I don't spend much time...uh, I have read it! And I thought, well, I don't know what to do with this information! I'll uh, I've read another version, another version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that said "when you die, you can't be any deader than you are, so don't be afraid." (laughs) So whatever you encounter...you can't be...it's not going to kill you, because you are already dead!
So I thought, well, that's a good idea! I will try to hold that in mind. (laughs hard)
INTERVIEWER: OK, so we are coming to the end of our recording session, I'd like you to do a pretend with me. You get up some morning, and you notice out in your garden, a spaceship has landed, and tapping gently on your window is a benevolent looking little grey man, and you let him in, and he says, well, I am inviting you to go exploring in the universe with us. And we'll do the solar system and beyond. And you say you'll go. And he says, you go ahead and take ten minutes you can jot down a note or two to leave behind you because this is a very long journey and I can't guarantee we will return you. So take those few minutes and leave a note here on the kitchen table to whomever you wish. A note or two, to say what ever you wish, as you take off in the space ship. What would say, and to whom?
NEVA: Well, I would probably say the same thing to all my family, and to all my friends. Get to know yourself, and live your own truth. And nurture yourself. I would say the best way I know how of doing that is to reach out to other people, to write in the journal, stay together as a family, help each other through bad times, my family does that pretty well, and I would like them to keep on doing that.
And I would say that also to friends. Reach out to people who are having a rough time, because we know that Princess Diana and Mother Theresa left us a great legacy, reaching out to less fortunate people. And I think that our lives are, they have to be all inclusive. We cannot shut ourselves off against the world, and forget people who are less fortunate than we are. So I would say that to them. And to trust themselves. And to know that almost everything is possible if you trust yourself. (laughs) I have that written as a motto. I see it, too often, when I wake up in the morning! And so think I would...throw that in for good measure! (laughs)
INTERVIEWER: I request that you read this.
INTERVIEWER: Or tell me the circumstance in which...
NEVA: The circumstance, uh huh, or I could tell you about Dulce Domum which is out on...my house.
Yes, the Dulce Domum means "sweet home". And it came out of...it's Latin, and it's also Italian. I used to read the story of the Wind in the Willows to my children. We read to the children a great deal. And one of the little animals in it, in the Wind in the Willows, called his home Dulce Domum. And when I noted that in my mind, and when we got settled here, in Glenwood Springs, we lived here the longest of any time, and we built our own home here, I decided I would call it Dulce Domum.
So I have a sign at the front door, and the back door, and hanging on the olive tree, Dulce Domum, and it has that quality of "sweet home", and I hope that quality extends to anyone who comes here. As for the poem, it is The Song of the Quick Running Squash, when I first started gardening, seriously gardening, vegetable gardening, I happened to have, in La Junta, a piece of very fertile land!
It was a vacant lot that I bought along with a house that we bought, and everything grew in that garden! I decided to bury my compost in the ground. So I made a ditch, and put the compost in the ditch, and then covered it up. And then, lo and behold! The grew! There were potatoes from potato peelings, strawberry plants from the strawberry hulls, and various things that I threw into the compost, grew!
Everything grew very exuberantly! And I'd read a poem one time, to my children, about the quick running squash, the squash that just grew and nobody could catch up with it!
And so we had a squash that grew, by the side of a tree, in the garden, and it climbed up the tree! And there it was, hanging from the tree! My son said, mother, I'm afraid to go in the garden, it might come down on my head! He was just joking, but it looked rather dangerous. And very much out of place. To have that squash hanging up in the tree.
And then I thought of all my exuberant garden, I liked this quick running squash. I, everything I have done in my life, my teaching, my workshop programs, they have all been done with exuberance. I have gone through thick and thin with my work, just as anyone does, work is always work, but there has always been that overriding exuberance. That I was doing what was important. What I really wanted to do, and I was so happy to be doing it. So I felt that the squash that grew six inches a day, was a good metaphor.
So one morning I awakened, about four in the morning, and got up, and I was supposed to go to Vail the next morning to give a little talk at the breakfast club, about the Journal, and I got up, and this poem just came full-bodied to my mind, because it had been working...I hadn't been trying to write a poem, but there it was!
It came full bodied, and all I had to do was to jot it down, and I thought it was a metaphor for my life! Because of its exuberance. And one of my granddaughters Holly, wrote not long ago, on the email, that of all of her garden, she liked the squash the best. Because it had so much energy in it. And I think she has energy in her, too. And she has heard this, as all my children have:
I wanted to be a quick running squash plant Growing exuberantly six inches a day Glorious green energy surging, surging! through my veins
Pushing my vines capriciously up into the tree
at the garden's edge.
Huge golden throated blossoms, trumpeting, trumpeting!
Then the emerging fruit
enormous pale green bellies
Filled with seeds and immortality
Absurdly hanging from the tree branch
Ah, what a fruition!
And I think that's a metaphor for my life, because (laughs) I have been in some very absurd positions! Exuberance takes you there! (laughs)
But its always been, the energy has always been fun, and glorious, and I sometimes wonder, how I got into such a place, or such a position, and I let my garden grow exuberantly, a little too exuberantly, we have to keep back the weeds.
INTERVIEWER Thank you. You have been listening to Neva Daniel, September, 1997. Kathy Boyer, interviewer. Is there anything else you would like to say?
NEVA (laughing) well, I have been looking at those snakes over there! And I might explain them!
INTERVIEWER Tell me about the snakes that are over here on your table!
NEVA all right, yes. And people gave me those snakes. But not until I had bought a big snake, and put up on my wall, in the living room, a big snake, made of mesh, wire. And a sudden decision, after church, one day, I said, Sharon, we are going to Redstone. I have seen a snake in the art gallery there. I said, we are going to buy a snake!
(laughs) And so, the reason I wanted to go buy the snake was because of a dream I had of snakes coming up out of the basement, and making themselves at home in my house. Coming out the back door, and sunning themselves on the rock out there.
And I felt very much at home with these snakes. And then the thought came to me, what will I do about the snakes when my son comes? Because I wanted to present myself to him as a proper, conventional woman, not too weird, and having crazy ideas, and so I didn't know what I would do about my snakes.
And so that question was left, in my dream, what to do about the snakes? And then several nights later, I awakened, fully awake, and I said to myself, when my son comes, he will have to see the snakes. And accept the snakes. Because I know who I am. And I respect who I am. And I think he will do the same with my snakes. So the decision came after church, and we'd go, and we bought the snake, and we put it on the wall, and other people picked up on it, so I get snakes given me every now and then.
Recently a student came by who had taken several of my workshops, and she had had a dream about me, that I was in the dream showing another person how to make a snake.
And as she was telling me her dream, I could see myself sitting down, constructing a snake, vertebra by vertebra. And this student, Jody, went, has taken a trip to Alaska for two months, and she's coming by, and she said, when I come by, I want you to tell me how to make a snake. So I've been thinking, how do you make a snake?
And so I have just now, sitting here, just thought of how you do make a snake, vertebra by vertebra. You acknowledge yourself, and accept yourself, every part of yourself. And expect those around you to acknowledge you as you are, vertebra by vertebra, and to see you whole. And so when she comes, we will sit out in the back yard, and I will tell her that I think a snake represents wisdom, coming up from the basement it is a deeper wisdom, and that's a part of who I am, and that wisdom...so I'll be all ready to tell her how to make a snake when she calls me up. And comes by.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.