I’d Let That Lonesome Whistle Blow My Blues Away

Nick and I arrived in Reno just after the worst snowstorm they’d had in years. Big piles of snow were everywhere. One of my new coworkers picked us up at the airport and drove us to our new place. Her name is Sue and she is a wonderful person and a wonderful friend. I’ll call her New Sue to avoid confusion. New Sue had received her MFA in directing from USD, so we had people in common. She’s the best director I’ve ever worked with.

Nick and I settled into a one-bedroom apartment that we were informed was located in the barrio. White people seemed very concerned for our safety, but I have never received more offers of rides or opportunities to buy weed in my life.  We had our first cell phones–I’d insisted on the flip open kind so I could pretend it was a Star Trek communicator. I had to take the city bus to work, which meant I spent time on the Reno strip every day. One day Nick and I decided to walk north up the strip to find a restaurant. We noticed a storm moving down the mountain toward us. It moved fast; we were drenched in moments.

Mount Rose

I started my time at UNR with a cross-weave silk dupioni extravaganza. It was a Shakespearean-era show and I try not to brag, but it was absolutely beautiful. “Epicene” is a play about secret identity and hidden agendas. Cross-weave fabric is woven of two different color threads, one going up and down, the other going side to side, so it changes color with movement and lights.

Cross-weave Dupioni Silk

I followed the show of crossweave silk with the bang of making Macbeth’s witches disappear a vista. A vista roughly translates as “in plain sight”. The student scenic and lighting designers and I worked closely with each other to create the illusion of actors disappearing before your eyes. I clapped my hands with glee when the illusion worked. As a student of theatre, you will hear the phrase, “Theatre is a collaborative art” enough to make you want to throw things. Unfortunately, people’s definition of collaboration isn’t always the same. 

There are three witches who have just disappeared in this picture!

I’ve worked with directors who think ‘collaboration’ means ‘do it my way and don’t ask questions.’ These directors stifle all creativity. They tell their actors how to interpret characters, how to say lines, how to move. They dictate to the designers what the sets and costumes will look like. They tell choreographers what the dances should look like and they tell the PR people how to market the show. No one likes to work with these directors because they micromanage creativity into nothingness.

Micromanaging directors are usually the first and loudest in screaming ‘collaboration’ and they’ll proclaim that everything they do is art. But you can recognize their work by the unenthusiastic and mannered acting, by sets and costumes that don’t mesh, by the weak attempts to replicate something they saw elsewhere. One of these types of directors at UNR claimed to ‘not understand costume renderings’ and insisted on coming to fittings and trying to change things. He also tried to bar me from attending dress rehearsals, since I’d ‘already seen the costumes during fittings.’ Yeah, but I haven’t seen them in action, against the stage, under lights. 

But if you have a director who truly believes in collaboration and really are allowed to collaborate? Theatre is wonderful! Everyone comes together to play and create and true magic can happen! When you let your designers do the job they trained for, when your actors are allowed to explore, when everyone is listened to, the production is happy and it shows in the final product. New Sue was one of the good, truly collaborative directors and I loved every show I did with her. 


Bram came to Reno to visit during spring break. He showed up with a handlebar mustache. I hated it. I tried not to let him know how much I hated it: what you do with your body is your business. But he must’ve seen it in my face because the mustache was gone the next morning. Bram and I took a city bus tour: we rode as many of the bus routes as we could in one day. Nick and I took him to all the good restaurants we’d found that we could walk to, and of course we had to go explore the strip. When Bram went back home, Nick and I started searching for a place for our family to live. 

Peavine Peak

We found a place up in Stead, Nevada about 20 minutes north of Reno. Stead used to be a USAF base until 1966. The old base housing was still standing and the houses were owned by private citizens, but we lived in a new subdivision west of that, in Lemmon Valley, near Silver Lake at the foot of Peavine Peak. Living near Silver Lake made my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder fangirl squeal. Not the same Silver lake, but still. Now all we had to do was bring Bram, Monica, Puppy, and Kitty home. We flew to South Dakota as soon as school was finished.

Our house on Spey Drive. There’s a beautiful view of the high desert and mountains from the back porch.

Once again we loaded everything we owned into a Uhaul and set out across the country. Monica elected to stay in Vermillion because she didn’t want to leave her friends and boyfriend again, which I totally understood, even if I really disliked the boyfriend. Nick took Puppy and drove the car and I rode in the truck with Bram and Kitty. We chose hotels based on whether they had a parking lot we could pull out of instead of backing out, and whether they allowed pets. We stayed in some very questionable hotels!

Bram found work as the IT guy at a waste management company in downtown Reno. Nick got a job at a place in Stead that printed and assembled magazines. Bram found himself a primary care physician and we started talking to fertility doctors about having a baby together. Bram’s boss insisted I go see his kinesiologist about my feet. I giggled my way through the session. Having a computer read my palm to tell the practitioner where I hurt was hard for me to swallow. But laying bottles of pills on my stomach to see which ones made me stronger, was more than I could accept.

Church Fine Arts, home of UNR Theatre

Bram and I went grocery shopping on Saturdays and began an eating tour of Reno. We’d go down into Reno and pick a local place to eat. Bram discovered he wasn’t a fan of authentic Mexican food–too many onions. But he loved very spicy Thai. I discovered I love Indian food, but the spices in the air give me migraines. We learned the differences between Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisines, and ate authentic Italian meals. We discovered what we thought were the best burgers in America. A place named Black Rock Pizza made the best pizza we’d ever tasted. We found several wonderful sandwich places. I had my first tastes of pho, sushi and teppenyaki.

After the meal we’d go shopping, checking out tourist shops and hippy stores and little hole-in-the-wall shops around Reno. We’d look for used bookstores to add to my Star Trek book collection, and we’d stop at Barnes and (one) Noble every weekend and buy at least one book for each of us. We went to fabric stores so often the employees learned what we liked and set aside fabric to hold for us. We visited art stores to get supplies for both of us.

At home I’d work at replicating the food we liked to make it healthier for Bram to eat. We experienced our first earthquakes, which are terrifying, and our first BBQ, Brews, and Blues Festival. I taught myself to quilt and started making quilts from costume scraps. I learned to make salsa. Bram began painting miniatures. In the evenings, we’d walk around the neighborhood. Wherever we walked, we picked up interesting things we found on the ground so Bram could use them in his art. 

El Dorado BBQ, Brews, and Blues Festival

Bram went to work earlier than I did, so he took the car and about an hour later, I’d take the bus to the University. He got off before I did, too, so he’d drive up and spend 30 minutes in my shop every day. My students grew to love Bram as much as everyone else who met him did. Bram built an Anne Frank installation for one of the museums: a replica of the attic Anne and her family lived in while hiding from the Nazis for two years. It was eerie. 

Bram took care of all the money, like he always had since moving in with me after the car accident. He set up online banking and automatic billpay and direct deposits. He started downloading music for me so I could have all the music I’d lost to wicked stepmothers, emergency escapes, sudden moves, and ex-husbands. He started giving me an allowance, money outside the weekly bookstore , quaint shops, and restaurant visits. I couldn’t remember ever having money that wasn’t urgently needed to pay for something. I didn’t know what to do with it. I literally couldn’t decide how to spend money on myself, so I squirreled it away in my bedside table.

Monica and her boyfriend broke up and she moved to San Diego with her best friend, Taylor. Her boyfriend’s parents sent him out to California to get him away from Vermillion, hoping it would improve his frame of mind. So he and Monica got back together. I still didn’t like him.

One day she called me up, crying, saying she had to get away. He was crazy. I told her to pack everything she could carry and get to the bus station. Bram and I could come get her, but it would take a few days to get there. If she could get to the bus station I could wire her the money I’d squirreled away and get her away from him immediately. Monica had to walk to the bus station, dragging her belongings behind her in a duffle bag. But she made it and came home.

Now we were all together again. Monica worked at a drugstore and then a grocery store, and then she answered an ad and was hired as a magician’s assistant. She and Taylor applied to Arizona State University; Monica wanted to join the dance program there. Monica went to Arizona to audition and was accepted. She applied for financial aid, but was turned down. Bram and I made too much money and they wouldn’t take into account that half our income went to paying off school loans. Monica couldn’t attend ASU and it has always been one of the sorrows of my life. Monica tells me if she had attended she wouldn’t be where and who she is today, so I try to pack away this sorrow as a useless waste of energy. But I’m still sad. 

At the same time I was happy; the most content I could ever remember being in my whole life. My students were wonderful-eager to learn, talented, smart, creative. We liked each other. Monica enrolled in the dance program at the community college. Nick was considering giving college another try. We had a beautiful house. We ate meals together, sitting around the table in our bright dining room. Bram and the kids still wrestled while I read or sewed. We ate delicious healthy food. Bram finally seemed to have his diabetes and cholesterol under control. New Sue and I went to lunch weekly. Puppy was happy Monica was back. Kitty slept on Bram’s pillow.

We spent our days in the bright Nevada sunshine, our nights together as a family, and our weekends exploring. It was a good, happy life.


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