I wasn’t blogging in 2000 when the University of Arizona awarded me an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Let’s just call it war reparations. Those of you who’ve seen me do presentations are well aware that in 1964 I was refused entry into the U of A’s Creative Writing program. I was working fifteen hours a week in the English Department. When I approached the Creative Writing professor about enrolling in his class he said, “You’re a girl.” To which I responded, “So?” He replied, “Girls become teachers or nurses. Boys become writers.” End of story. I ended up first with a teaching degree and later an M.Ed. with a major in Library Science.
I need to mention that my Honorary Doctorate came via the School of Library Science rather than the English Department where, according to a recent graduate, they are still teaching students the art of writing “literary fiction” as opposed to “genre fiction,” or, as I sometimes like to call it, the literary equivalent of castor oil. (No, I have no strong opinions on the subject, and it’s sheer coincidence that the crazed killer in the first Walker Family book, Hour of the Hunter, turns out to be a former professor of Creative Writing from the University of Arizona!)
But I digress. This week Proof of Life is debuting at # 8 on the combined New York Times Bestsellers list for Hardback/E-books. (I’d rub that professor’s nose in it, but he’s been dead since before my first book was published in 1985!) And this week, while on a book tour, Bill and I spent three nights at Tucson’s Arizona Inn where I spent big chunks of those three days outdoors getting my steps.
For those of you who have never visited there, I wish I were an artist and could paint a picture. It’s is a true oasis, carved out of a wild piece of desert by an Arizona pioneer named Isabella Greenway, the widow of a copper baron named Jack Greenway. At the time she established the place as a home for gassed World War I soldiers, it was on the far outskirts of the city. Now it’s in the center of what’s called “midtown.” It is a true oasis in the desert—a place of lush lawns and colorful flowerbeds, complete with plenty of magnificent butterflies and hummingbirds. Brick paved paths wander between casita style buildings—some with flat roofs, some with red tiles.
All of the buildings are a deep, orangish pink. Not a bright pink, but more of an Arizona sunset pink. The shutters, door frames, window trims, and awnings are all bright blue. Most of the outdoor furniture has blue cushions as well, except for the Alice in Wonderland chairs around the ping pong table. Those throne-like pieces are comprised of a blue painted wooden frame with bright yellow cushions. Oh, and all the outdoor umbrellas are bright yellow as well. Much of the Inn’s furniture, both indoors and out, was manufactured in the sheltered workshop Isabella Greenway ran for those disabled vets, one where she paid union wages all through the depths of the Depression.
It’s impossible to wander those manicured lawns past aged cactus, towering palms, and leafy mesquite trees without being grateful to be there. But while I was walking, I was recalling Bill’s and my history with the Inn. In college, one of my friends was Isabella Breasted, Isabella Greenway’s granddaughter, and it was with Isabella # 2 and her mother Martha Breasted, that I first visited the Inn for the first time while still in college. In the mid-eighties when Bill and I first stayed there together, we filled out our registration form and were agog to see that the form called for our names as well as the names of our maid, chauffeur, and valet! The registration form in use this past week wanted our names, cell phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. No chauffeurs or maids need apply.
In the late seventies, when my father retired from the life insurance business, the then agency manager was planning on sending him off with a low-brow party of coffee and doughnuts in the agency office. I went around the chintzy manager and finagled a luncheon at a banquet room at the Arizona Inn when the menu was grilled red snapper.
In the late eighties, Bill and I sat in the bar at the Inn one quiet Saturday afternoon, wondering if it would be possible for me to earn enough money writing books to support our family. Fortunately the answer to that question turned out to be a resounding yes, and he was able to retire in 1994 at age 54.
Which brings me around, eventually, to December of 2000, and winter graduation where I was to be awarded my honorary degree. We had invited thirty or so people to come to the event, and we had booked rooms for all of them—my parents included—at the Arizona Inn. My mother, who had only a seventh grade graduation, was 86 at the time. My Dad was 84. They were both thrilled to be there. They drove the hundred miles from Bisbee the night before and stayed in one of the casitas directly across the croquet court from the dining room.
Kids and grandkids who were flying in from Seattle had late arrivals, and I knew having the folks wait up for dinner with them was not going to work. I also knew that, their early evening meal usually consisted of hot cocoa, toast, cheese, and fruit. So I called up room service and asked for that to be delivered to them. The next morning at breakfast my mother said to me, “This is the nicest place. Do you know they deliver cocoa and toast to your room in the evening, and you don’t even have to order it?” I never told my mother that I had placed the order, and since we were paying for all the rooms and related charges, she was never any the wiser.
And so, doing my steps at the Arizona Inn this week was like stepping back in time, sorting through fifty plus years of history. I may have been on a book tour and bouncing all over the country, but it was good to be back home.
It turns out you really can go home again.