Ash Fork Madness©️
Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
copyright 2019 Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
It was not only curiosity that brought locals in to the gas station to talk with me. When I first appeared there they were already programmed to wander in and chat with the former owner Luisa Mena, whether or not they were buying gasoline. Railroaders gathered around the track truck included me in their happy talk while I pumped their gasoline, rock doodlers with their loaded rock hauling trucks would check with me to discover G.B.’s mood of the moment — before offering him their load of rock for sale, and they too would join the confab. When it was our month for the school bus and water truck contracts, the drivers paused to update me on their news of the day, and the local men, women, teens and children came in on their way to and from school or shopping in Zetler’s Market. Shirley, our E.M.T., arrived most mornings to see what G.B. had done to my blood pressure. The residents of the Kaibab and Juniper dropped in to tell me of their progress “back at the ranch.” But there was one person who came in at least eight times each day.
Ella was an elderly lady of dainty form and finely featured, with a beautiful smiling face. She was the tiniest little thing and always seemed to be slipping around inside her shabby genteel attire.
Not having a car or a family Ella did all her shopping at Zetler’s Market, and being well into her eighties, she got her daily exercise by repeatedly walking the few blocks from her house to the market, and then carrying home one or two objects at a time. At least once a day, if not countless times, she never passed by without stopping in to visit me. She would settle in the chair beside my desk and tell me enchanting tales that echoed out of the nineteenth century and even back to Arizona’s territorial days – tales of pioneers, her family and Ash Fork.
She told me about the “hanging tree” across the tracks and the ice house where, she told me confidentially and in a whisper barely heard, “Sometimes the town kept dead bodies in the ice house.”
During her stories Ella would sit primly with her hands entwined on her lap, and often burst loose with laughter that rang like Arcosante’s copper bells in the wind. She was never crude and never swore, but she gave the railroaders, rock doodlers and everyone else good banter, always leaving me laughing as she hurried away lest the “Devil himself ” (G.B.) catch her wasting my time.
A large number of people in town were quilters, including many of the women working and living in the quarries. As I had always enjoyed sewing dresses, I decided to give sewing a quilt a try. Not being precise by nature meant my squares were messy, but like my paintings, very brightly coloured. Over the weeks Ella watched my quilt squares add up until one day when she told me a story about a quilt made by her mother’s young cousin, Sarah.
“The lovely young Sarah had fallen in love with a handsome young man and they became engaged. During their engagement she worked on a quilt for their marriage bed, sewing into it all the hopes and dreams for their future. Sadly, while Sarah was still only seventeen, her beloved fiancé was killed. Broken hearted and vowing never to marry, she carefully wrapped in white cotton all the quilt squares and all the tiny pieces of fabric which she had so carefully cut. Then she placed the bundles at the bottom of her hope chest, never to work on the quilt again.”
The day following the story about Sarah, Ella arrived at the station carrying a small paper bag that she placed on the ice chest. I decided that she would return for it, so I let it lie. And she was back with a second, a third and a forth bag. Late in the day she finally popped in to sit down and visit.
“Miss Charle, I have something to give you.” She began to open one of the bags as I watched in anticipation — until I had to run out to a customer. As the driver pulled out of the station I hurried back to my desk. Ella has disappeared, but spread out for me to fully appreciate was the young Sarah’s quilt squares: the faded fragile voile, cottons and ginghams, that had never been stitched into the her marriage bed quilt.
On one of my rare days off I strolled along the unpaved lane called Railroad Avenue admiring a hedge of heavenly blue morning glories and a tangle of deep yellow climbing roses. Behind the gas station I scanned the old brick façade of G.B.’s building, and then skipped between pot holes until I noticed some cats behind a low fence at the edge of the lane. They leapt up to prowl alongside me on the two by four at the top of the fence, and I stroked them all as I studied the large, shabby, cobbled together looking house behind the fence. It stretched lengthwise along a very narrow and very long shady lot, and appeared to be deserted, so I was startled when one of its rickety doors opened and from the dark interior a voice called out, “Hello Miss Charle!” It was Ella.
“Oh, I didn’t know you lived in this house.” I said, thinking how odd it seemed for such a tiny lady to live in such a large house.
“Oh I lived here before it was properly born. You see, every time I needed to rent another room I just got some lumber and started building. The rock doodlers and railroaders helped me with ladders and two handed jobs, and then another room was done quick as Bob’s yer Uncle. Oh we’ve had booming times here in Ash Fork. Would you like to look inside?”
“Okay Ella. Thank you. But I can’t stay long. G.B. will start to hunt for me anytime now.”
“How do you stand that man? You should be married to a gentle man who speaks lovingly to you,” she said with great concern.
“He does, when he isn’t hollering.” I said with a smile to ease her concern.
At that we entered the dark, low ceilinged house and began to slowly walk down the very long hallway. On either side, strung out down the hall, were many tiny bedrooms — I supposed for the many boarders she once had. The floor tilted into a room to the right and then it tilted into a room to the left. Back to the right and then to the left, and I began to feel as though I was walking through a sooty old train trying to maintain my balance.
At last, at the the far end of the house we came out of the darkness into a sunlit and shabby old kitchen. I declined a glass of water but we sat chatting for a little. When I left I hurried to find G.B., eager to tell him that I had been to visit Ella.
“Guess what G.B., I was just taken through the longest shabbiest house I have ever seen.”
“Oh did Ella show y’all her home?” When I nodded excitedly he added, “Back when the railroad was real important, this here little town was a rip snorter!”
“G.B., she told me! And she told me how she kept adding on rooms to rent – doing a lot of it herself! And she said how after work the doodlers and trackmen helped her build them. That was so nice of them to help her. I can’t imagine that sweet little butterfly, young and beautiful, flitting about moving ladders and carrying boards to add rooms to her house.”
G.B. stared at me silently, yet his eyes held a wild smile. I frowned and wondered what he was thinking. I usually knew.
“What is it? What are you smiling at?”
“Charle, after livin’ here fer two years, an’ talkin’ to her an’ ever’ person in town most ever’ day, do y’all mean to tell me, y’all don’t know that Ella was Ash Fork’s Madam an’ y’all just toured the old whorin’ house?”
“G.B., what a horrible thing to say about that sweet little thing!”
“GOD DAMMIT CHARLE, Y’ALL’RE SO DUMB! Why do y’all thank rock doodlers an’ railroaders’d start buildin’ fer free after workin’ hard all day?” And then totally puzzled he added, “How the Hayll have y’all walked through this world all these years without noticein’ a few thangs!”
“But she is so gentle G.B., and sweet . . . .”
“Charle ever’ one in town saw her throw big ol’ track workers out her door by the seat of their “overhauls” and suspenders, an’ set ‘em to stumbling ‘cross the yard any time they messed with her! She had ever’ one of ‘em and her “girls” scared a-her.”
I did not have any words or air with which to speak. I walked out into our garden while every impression of Ella and each story told, flashed through my thoughts to be “adjusted” into her new persona.
I resisted the urge to ask questions that would trigger those tales, because I realized she wanted me to keep her high on the pedestal which I had inadvertently slipped under her.
Posted by Charlotte Madison at 07:50
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|For over forty years, painting related totally to the American Southwest. It was people of the dry hot desert, solid mesas, cacti, stone and canyons that made my heart leap.
When I realized I would never see the desert again, I began a search for something to paint. Nana suggested, B.C, vineyards and took me to Penticton where I did one painting. Nana and Gary then began to take me on Mystery tours of the island and always included a vineyard. But they all were so green! So many leaves so many trees - I don't do trees and I rarely use green - dont really like looking at green, but I got started on a duty series not an inspired series.
I guess it was July or early August when we were driving home from a winery visit. I was grousing about painting the Festive Flying Grape series
when Gary said "Start another series, you can work on more than one at a time."
For some reason those words triggered the words "I could paint the Island artists!" Nana and Gary agreed and it was the topic of conversation all the way home
For a while I was afraid I wouldn't get volunteers to pose but it is rolling and each one offers something special to inspire me. And it is lovely to feel all I am doing was sparked by Gary and like all I do, supported by Nana.
April Update 2012
Sixteen fine artists, many of national repute, have posed for Artists of Vancouver Island and many are booked or promised. There will be no poses after June 30,2012. When I have painted all twenty-five I will turn my thought to . . . what next?