How did I get here?

At the end of this year I go on Medicare—and the next year I start collecting Social Security. While I have my share of aches and pains, I don’t feel “elderly” or like a senior citizen. But I imagine if I went out and did something crazy and they wrote about me in the newspaper, they would probably toss in some adjective to let the readers know I was old—in their estimation.

I suppose in years I am considered old. But that’s not always a bad thing; age does have some perks. It gives us the experience to look back on life and reassess how we view things. One thing I have been reassessing—how did I get here?

Before I go on, I want to tell a story my husband tells. Before entering high school his school counselor asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Being just thirteen, he told her he had no idea. She did not receive the answer well and berated Don for not knowing what he wanted to do when he grew up.

We often laugh at that counselor’s naïve belief that people choose careers by thirteen—especially when we found ourselves—me in my late forties and him in his early fifties—trying to figure out (once again) what we wanted to do when we grew up.

Careers people settle in are often not about an early plan—it’s often about a deck of card they are handed and how they choose to play the deck. Some people follow their passions—while others seize opportunities they find along the way. And sometimes, it is a combination.

Early on I wanted to write fiction. As a child I loved making up stories. In sixth grade I wrote the class play. The summer of my freshman year in high school I wrote my first novel. And as a senior in high school, I was co-editor of our school newspaper. During college I wrote a screenplay, which I later adapted to a novel. 

My major in college was Communications, and before enrolling I decided to change my career path and tell stories through a camera instead of words. My emphasis was photography—a career I never seriously pursued after graduation.

Until about ten years ago, I might have considered myself one of those people who seized opportunities along the way, without some grand masterplan. My first job, beginning at age 13, was working for the Havasu Palms store, at my parents’ resort, something I did every summer throughout high school and college. 

I also did other side jobs during this time—canvasing for Westinghouse and selling Avon. After I got married I worked for a while at the water company my husband worked at—he basically got me the job. After that I substitute taught, before becoming a mother.

I opened a gift shop for a while when we moved to Wrightwood—big mistake. And then I went back to my first love—writing. But instead of fiction, something I didn’t think I could earn a living with, I started a community paper and wrote non-fiction—local articles on history and current events. 

I had the paper for over five years and then that deck of cards dealt me a hand I felt obligated to play. My husband and I moved with our children to Havasu to take over my parent’s resort when my father became ill. 

We managed Havasu Palms for over ten years, and when the lease was about to expire we opened our own restaurant. Like my gift shop years before, a mistake.

This takes us to the time my husband and I had to reinvent ourselves, me being in my late forties and him in his early fifties. While we both had college degrees, well-paying jobs were scarce in Havasu. And who wanted to hire us? Already that age thing was working against us.

To get by, we briefly substitute taught, but then got our real estate licenses and started a new chapter in our lives. It was a lot of fun, and we did relatively well, but had you asked me in college if I wanted to sell real estate, I would have laughed at the thought.

With the economy downturn of 2008 I left real estate—my husband remained—and I returned to my first love, writing.

I realize now, I have come full circle. I am exactly where I am meant to be.  Looking back, I understand the gift shop and the restaurant were things I was supposed to do—but not succeed at. They were life lessons, my story fodder for the career I had been training for all my life.

You see, during all those years, I still wrote. When my children were small and I was a stay at home mom I wrote short stories, a recipe book, and then a book of poems which I published years later—with the help of my daughter who illustrated the book for her senior project in art school (Motherhood).

I never stopped writing stories. When I had the gift shop I wrote a (never to be published) romance novel. When I managed Havasu Palms I wrote another romance novel (Coulson’s Lessons) and my first Havasu Palms book (Where the Road Ends, Havasu Palms Recipes and Remembrances.) 

Today I feel extremely blessed. I’m actually making a living doing something I sincerely love—something I have wanted to do since I was a small child. It took me a number of years to get here, but I have enjoyed the ride—even those times of extreme hardship and sorrow. As one of my writer friends, Suzie O’Connell, says, it’s all story fodder.

(Photo: Late 1980s Bobbi Holmes editor/publisher of Mountain/Hi-Desert Guide.)

Wrightwood’s Halloween, more story fodder…

Elizabeth, Bobbi and Scott Holmes

Writers often insert bits from their own life into their works of fiction.

The first book of fiction I ever published was Lessons. It was released under my pen name, Anna J. McIntyre and later was retitled, Coulson’s Lessons, and became book three in the Coulson Family Saga—a series with five books.

In Lessons, the main character, Alexandra, becomes involved with the local chamber of commerce, and then she gets involved with the community’s annual Halloween trick or treat, where local children trick or treat at the local business, instead of going from house to house.

Alexandra’s Coulson Halloween came from my own personal experience. I was actually the one who instigated the program for the village of Wrightwood, California, about thirty years ago. From what I understand, it’s still a thing in Wrightwood.

Back then, I was publishing a community paper called, Mountain Hi-Desert Guide, and I became active in the local chamber of commerce. Our kids were in elementary school at the time.

One Halloween, after the new mall in Victorville, California, opened, they advertised for the community to bring their children to the mall to trick or treat.

Back then, it seemed the entire village of Wrightwood descended on one neighborhood to do its trick or treating, the Apple Orchard area.  Since many of the cabins in the other neighborhoods were not occupied by full time residents, Wrightwood wasn’t the best place to take kids for trick or treating. And I always felt sorry for those living in the Apple Orchard, who were slammed each Halloween with swarms of village kids.

My husband Don and I decided to take our kids to Victorville that year, instead of staying in Wrightwood. While the mall had a good idea, it seemed every business was handing out the same cheap candy. Part of the fun for the kids is to sort through their haul. Having a bag full of the same candy rather spoiled that.

While the mall sort of missed the mark, it gave me an idea, which I brought to the Wrightwood Chamber of Commerce the next year. Why don’t we sponsor a local trick and treat for community kids, where they come to the village and the local shops. It will be our gift to the community.

The chamber bought the idea, and I ran with it. However, there were two things I insisted on back then.

  1. No Advertising in the local newspaper. I knew that if we advertised or even ran an article on the upcoming event, we’d have kids swarming up from the surrounding desert communities and overwhelm us. The original intent was to host an event for our local community.

Instead of newspaper advertising, I ordered imprinted trick or treat bags, which I distributed to the local elementary school. Every child in the school took home a trick or treat bag—and on that bag was information about the  upcoming Hallween event.

  1. The second thing I insisted on, I wanted variety on what was given away.

The Chamber provided candy to its members to pass out on Halloween. Instead of going to Victorville to purchase candy at some discount store, I purchased the candy locally, and made sure we had a variety.

As it turned out, the local grocery store ended up donating bags and bags of candy for us to distribute, so it actually cost us less than had we gone off the hill to make our purchase.

It’s been almost thirty years since that first Wrightwood Village trick or treat. From what I understand, it continues today, yet the word has gotten out, and it’s no longer confined to just the village kids.

Where I live now, in Lake Havasu City, we have a similar event. Every Halloween main street swarms with trick or treaters. We’ve lived in our house for over a decade, and I can’t remember getting a single trick or treater on Halloween night.

(Photo: That’s me and my two children, Scott and Elizabeth. Halloween, 1990, on the front porch of the Mountain/Hi-Desert Guide office, Wrightwood, California.)

Our Family’s Christmas Book, Wrapping up the Year

Christmas BookBefore we wrap up the year there is one thing we always do—write in our Christmas Book. It’s a family tradition we started 24 years ago. The Christmas Book is something like an annual family diary. Initially, it began by each member in the family sitting down on Christmas night and writing a page in the book. Our daughter was nine when we started the tradition, and our son was twelve. In those first years, they normally told about gifts they received along with drawings. For Don and I, we recapped Christmas and the year.

One might assume I started the tradition; after all, I’m the writer in the family. But actually, it was my husband, who wanted to start a Christmas family tradition of our own.

When our children became adults and moved out of the house, they would write in the book when they came home for Christmas—and when they married, I gave them their own books. I don’t think they are as faithful as we are in writing in their books, and I think someday they will regret not capturing all those memories. Of course, they’ve spent the last few years with a cell phone in their hand—one with a camera—so their lives are pretty much captured in pictures.

Pictures are nice—but so is a written account of our lives—something we have in our Christmas Book.

Stay safe tonight—and Happy New Year!

(Photo: Don, Scott, and Elizabeth, the first year writing in the family’s Christmas Book. 1991, Wrightwood, California.)