In keeping with my life as a human ping pong ball, I chose to study archeology, anthropology, and African Studies at UC Santa Barbara. I have degrees in each. I planned for graduate school and applied to some prestigious halls of learning. At one, I met a refusal (despite graduating at the top of my class) because the quasi-famous archeology professor in charge mistook me for someone else. "Oh, so you're Miss Patterson," he said in a white South Afrikaans twang. "I thought you were some fuzzy thinking Black woman looking for her roots." After telling the Prof what he could do with himself and his department, I decided academia was not for me.
Instead, I ran away from Santa Barbara and fled to North Fork, a small town on the petticoat fringe of Yosemite. My trip there was with a dynamic man who picked me up in a bright yellow school bus and hauled my educated self up a mountain six hours away. North Fork took pride in claiming to be "The exact geographical center of California."
He was a house builder, an architect, a mesmerizing bolt of energy with wild eyes and the imagination of a combination Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Jim Carrey – with a little Jane Mansfield thrown in. If that sounds dysfunctional and a bit crazy, it was also a wild adventure, and I married him anyway. On a random weekday, we drove by a little church tucked into the Pines and found the preacher finishing cement inside a septic tank. He crawled out, wiped his hands on stained overalls, and snapped his Stihl Saw suspenders with his thumbs. I became a Mrs. – not for the first (or last) time.
In the small town that's now at the center of my "Song of Jackass Creek" mystery novel, I quickly discovered that my college education was as useless as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Jobs in North Fork included waitressing and working at the sawmill. In order of the aforementioned careers – I'd been fired from food service after flipping butter through the pass-through window onto the face of the cook who'd just called me "Hon;" been ordered off the grounds of a factory when I'd removed my boots and was (justifiably) berated by the foreman who also fired me and to whom I sang, "These boots are made for walkin," (and that's just what I did).
At the same time, the husband, whose true aberrant self emerged more every day, decided we could build an entire house in one week. It was the pinnacle of the owner-builder movement – lots of unqualified people were building structures that would not meet with county approval and were best attempted on property that was remote and nearly inaccessible. Ours was on top of a hill, overlooking the narrow road into town. Visible to all. Nonetheless, together we built a board-on-board house that was supported by wooden piers, constructed in the shape of a rounded letter "M" so that, by virtue of its curves, was self-supporting and would not collapse. It took exactly seven days to complete.
I then addressed my lack of a job by creating one that I knew nothing about. I started a little newspaper called The Timberline Times – a tabloid-size paper that ran about 12 pages. At the same time, I discovered two important things – we were expecting a baby, and the husband liked to wear my underwear.
My little paper became popular, and I got to be a local celebrity. The guy who owned the gas station let me have free tankfuls so I could travel to do stories and sell ads. Advertisers felt sorry for me working "in my condition" and bought ad space. And, due to the lack of healthcare in the region, I hooked up with the local midwife.
Just before the paper was due to go to the web press in the valley, I was hunched over the old-time layout boards, pasting up stories before the days of digital publishing, when the labor pains started. Stopping to breathe between the Box Feed Store ad and a story about a baby goat, I managed to get the layout done and out the door. By then, it was night. Dark descended on the mountain where street lights were nonexistent, and all navigation was done by headlights and memory. We'd never before been on the dirt road to the midwife's home deep in the woods, and the husband barreled along, fueled by adrenalin to the sound of me moaning like a banshee. At a fork in the road, under the arbor of leaning oak trees, a red fox lept over the car's hood. I screamed, "RIGHT!" (I don't know why). And we landed at her home, where a post-Thanksgiving party was in full swing, and the water bed was vacant. It wasn't ten minutes before the baby boy was born with one eye wide open, delivered by the veteran midwife.
We spent two days in our board-on-board house, and then the brand new human and I were back at the newspaper office, reveling in all the attention and happiness we brought to Main Street North Fork. For the rest of the time the baby and I lived there, we traveled together to sell advertising (he was an effective motivator for merchants to say "Yes" to me). We eventually left the town, just he and I, to pursue new adventures. On the way out, I gifted his father with some of my old outfits, which I knew he'd one day appreciate.
This, my friends, was how I entered my career in journalism through the backdoor of opportunity.
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