In the desert looking for love and radioactivity


My mother and father met in Arizona in a little town out in the middle of the desert. Mother had the bad habit of marrying abusive men and had just fled her second marriage to come live with her mother. She arrived in desperate need of a dentist, having had several teeth removed, without any anesthesia, by her second husband’s fist. She left two children behind with their paternal grandmother and brought the two oldest with her, a boy and a girl from her first marriage. They traveled three days by bus from Alabama, with no money for food. Other passengers took pity on the children, who didn’t even have shoes, and shared some of their food. Her own mother didn’t recognize her when she got off the bus.


Once her teeth were fixed, mother started working as a waitress in a restaurant owned by her Aunt Vern. Mother’s mother, my grandmother, worked there as a cook. At first, mother and the two children stayed with Aunt Vern — a hard woman known to cheat her employees, even those who were relatives. After a few months, they were able to move into their own place. Neighbors and customers donated beds, a table, chairs, and a stove.


Early one evening, on the other side of sober, my father walked in. Originally from Texas, he was in Arizona for a job. As soon as he saw mother, he asked her out on a date. She told him to go home, sober up, and come back at 9 p.m. when she got off work. She never expected him to show up, but he did, and he had sobered up a bit. As they were leaving the restaurant, he said , “I want you to know that I’m not the marrying kind. I just want company, somebody to share a beer with and to dance with.”  She responded, “That’s fine with me.”


I guess the beer and the dance weren’t enough for either one. They married not long after they met.


The desert doesn’t seem like a very romantic place to find someone. Not many go in for moonlit walks among the cactus and rattlesnakes. But that’s where they found love. Later they moved back to the vast desert area of  west Texas, and one of their favorite things to do was to drive out into the desert with their geiger counter and go prospecting for uranium. In the early 1950s there was a uranium craze in the southwestern and western states fueled by the nuclear weapons program developed by the U.S. government. Prospectors armed with geiger counters searched the desert looking to strike it rich.


My parents never found any radioactivity, but I like to think they found what they were really looking for. There’s more than one  way to strike it rich.

23 thoughts on “In the desert looking for love and radioactivity

    • I’m partial to the photo. So glad you liked the story. My mom recorded some portions of her life. We should have started pestering her earlier. Now, all of her siblings are gone, and there’s hardly any one left who was there. That’s one thing good about blogging about events in your life. Your kids will have a record.

  1. I started to comment, two or three times and everytime, decided I didn’t have the words to even begin, to express my thoughts on her,,, well, everything… Toughness, resiliency, love and perseverance, she had it all… All gifts to you in retrospect…(but they sure knew how to look cool in pictures back then, didn’t they?)

    • She lived a very colorful life. When she was young, she was wild. She made a lot of bad choices, but in her old age she was a changed woman. She knew how to encourage people and was very forgiving. And yes, they did know how to look cool. I love the rakish angle of my dad’s hat and how my mom leans into him as if to say, “Ladies, don’t even try, the man with cool hat is mine.”

    • I love those stories too. I have to admit when I first listened to my mom’s recording about this, I couldn’t believe it when she said, “That’s fine by me.” After what she’d just been through(twice!) plus the needs of her children, I thought she would be a bit more cautious. But no, she just wanted to have fun.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. I agree with the other commenters who said you should get to work on your historical novel or biography. I’m sorry for the loss of your parents… It must be comforting in part to know that she did find her true love in this life after so much hardship.

    • Thank you for your encouragement.

      My dad died so long ago that I don’t think of him much. But I miss my mom a lot. Some of her hardships were the result of other people’s choice, and some of them came because of her own choices. I know that when she grew older, she regretted a lot of them and asked her children for forgiveness.

      And, yes, I’m glad she had that time with my father. Her time with her fourth husband was hard.

  3. When I began the post, I thought the story was going in a totally different direction. The ending was a surprise. It is great that your mom took another chance and found happiness. Sometimes we don’t recognize it, often not until we are looking back.

    And that car is awesome……it says a lot right there.

    • She always said that my daddy was the love of her life. He was a good man, but as I learned once I was grown, very controlling. He died when I was eight, so all of my memories of him are wonderful.

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