In this, her second memoir, New Prairie Woman is Susie Rosso Wolf’s depiction of her journey from Los Angeles to the historical town of Three Forks, Montana. On these pages you will discover the grandeur of “The Last Best Place” through her writing, poetry and photography, the challenges of living in a twenty foot trailer in sub-zero temperatures and how love, perseverance, and the miracle of faith can lift a soul up from the depths of the deepest, darkest waters.
Born in Santa Monica, California, I was raised in the small bedroom community of Sunkist Park that borders Culver City, Playa del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice. I attended Venice High School, West LA Community College and California Institute of the Arts. My studies included English, English Literature, Poetry, Creative Writing, Choir, Classical Voice, Shakespeare, Musical Theater, Television and Film Acting and Art History. In 1980, I relocated to the Pacific Northwest and in 1982 I married Kurt Wolf in Corvallis, Oregon. During the course of our long journey together, I have remained devoted to not only my husband, but to my friends and family, and the arts. What defines me most is my passion for expression through art. I’m an avid reader, writer and poet.I also enjoy painting and photography. Additionally, some folks consider me a pretty good cook.
There were many long periods of time when he was quite young, during puberty for instance, when I was absent from Robert’s life, only keeping touch by telephone. After moving to Oregon in 1980, Robert was a constant companion to my father and together they would drive from Culver City to Portland to visit Kurt and I after we were married. They visited us in our Southeast Portland home and we developed a bond that was deep and meaningful. I had become ill from reproductive complications, had several surgeries and Robert (who was actually named Bobby back then) cared for me with loving attentiveness. Brushing my hair, rubbing my feet, helping to make sure I was taking my medications, cleaning the kitchen, serving meals and walking with me to ensure I received plenty of fresh air and movement were all of the sweet things this special boy did for his auntie. There was never any doubt in my mind that he loved me.
Years went by and Robert grew into a troubled teenager as a result from surviving his parents’ broken marriage. Soon after my father died, it was obvious to me that Robert was into his own mind, his own desires, and his own mindset. He didn’t like taking orders from anyone and he certainly wasn’t going to be bossed by anyone, particularly my brother. When Kurt and I moved back from Oregon, into the old Rosso house to share residence with Robert and Brother, the deep bond we had forged in Portland grew stronger. And when we all moved on to live our own lives a few years later, and Kurt and I relocated to Northridge, we were always available to help Robert whenever he needed us. We bent over backwards trying to make sure he knew he was welcome in our home, that he had family who cared about him, while his own parents were busy with new relationships and their own interests.
Bouncing from sofa to sofa, town to town, state to state was Roberts’s way of life. After a short stay with his mother who lived in Victorville, he met a beautiful girl and married her. He was constantly searching for the perfect job, the perfect place to set down roots, first for himself and then for his young wife and his two baby girls. Instability, a reckless temper, bad disposition, and adding his mother to his household were the causes of an unfortunate divorce. Eventually, both Brenda and Robert wound up broke, and homeless. Robert decided to move into a tiny little travel trailer in Louisiana after scoring a job in a grocery store, so he sent his mother to live with us because she had nowhere else to go, again. For as long as I could remember, we had helped the two of them in one way or another. But I never minded helping them, because I loved them both so much. Brenda was a sister to me, and my best friend. Robert was my nephew, my brother’s son, but he was more than just my nephew. He was my strength, my blood line; a reminder of my father’s blood that ran through both of us. He was my baby, my brother, my father, my own son. He was my family. And before he died, I promised Father that I would always watch out for his Bobby. “Don’t ever lose Bobby,” he said. And I promised that I would always help him as much as I could.
The years were rolling by quickly and the older we grew the more illnesses I faced. Surgeries, injuries, and serious lung infections all contributed to ongoing opinions about my health. Some people opined that I was a fraud, a fake, an attention junkie. The insulting hints and comments made by some family members were very hurtful but I would brush myself off whenever these ideas leaked out to me, and tried to hold my head up high and arm myself from the slinging arrows. I knew the truth about my failing health, so I shrugged my shoulders and forgave those who accused me of “acting.” So, I was not surprised by the intensity of his interrogation during that last phone call from Robert, the night before the removal of the cancerous lesions, down below.
“What kind of cancer is this?” He asked.
“It’s in the family of cervical cancer. It’s actually a form of a virus that lays dormant for up to twenty years. It’s called the HPV virus. The lesions manifest when the body’s immune system drops, suddenly appearing in an emergent manner. Five-thousand women have had this cancer this year in the United States, forty percent of them died.”
“Are you saying that you’re going to die?”
“No. I don’t know that. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea what to expect until after the surgery when my doctor tells the outcome. He said something about sending tissue scrapings from the lesions to the pathology lab for biopsy. I guess we’ll know more after that.”
His voice was devoid of the concern I once knew from the boy who loved me and cared for me. As much as I would have appreciated seeing him and receiving his moral support, when he asked in a gruff voice that sounded as if the entire situation was nothing but a pain in his side, if he needed to go to the hospital in case I died on the table, I told him no.
“No, your mom is here, I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?” I wanted to say no, I’m not sure. I want you to come to me, to hold me, to sit with me in the hospital room before they wheeled me into the operating room. I wanted him to sit with Kurt, to comfort him. But I could hear in his voice that he was perturbed with the notion of me having one more operation. One more trip to the hospital.
“Yes, I’m sure.” I lied.
“Okay, I’ll talk to you later.”
“All right Robert, talk to you later. I love you.”
“Love you too,” he barely uttered. His voice creaked out the lethargic sentiment with the deafening sound of his disgust. Not once mentioning the surgery scheduled for the next morning or wishing me good luck for a speedy recovery. He hung up the phone leaving me to feel that I was less than nothing.
Each month that passed was an excruciating example of inhumanity. My throat filled with tearful choking every time someone mentioned his name. I was desperate to hear from him, and despite my humiliating pleas to Brenda, begging her to remedy this situation, she continued to torment me with her sick and suspicious mind games. One day she would be against him and the next day she would be supportive of his point of view, his decision to send me to the guillotine. Embattled by his bizarre behavior and her deception was no easy feat for a woman who survived years of illness and months of intolerable suffering. It was sick what they were doing to me and I was sick. I knew I had to change my situation. I was being made to feel like a loser; unwanted, over dramatic, crazy, insecure, unstable. Shaky from the self-examination and depression, I simply realized that it was up to me to take control. Now a veteran of this emotional foreign war, bitter, wounded and bandaged, the decision to give them a taste of their own medicine came with great remorse.
A natural force of self-preservation rose up within me. By the end of the year my mind was clearing as I made myself busy with my daily life. Together, Kurt and I overcame so much but now we were both finally able to focus on each other and our little family; he, me, and our three dogs, Cutter, Lilly and Dinky. Nature played a beautiful part in my healing as butterflies, dragonflies and birds of many sizes and colors flew into my gardens and danced upon the top of the pool water and in the Rose Lady fountain. Hummingbirds drank plenty of the fresh flowing beverage as it poured from the lady’s spout. The blessing of a solid marriage and deep friendships carried me through a major storm. Each one of my girlfriends in their own way came to my rescue with loving guidance and understanding. In particular, I enjoyed the late afternoon visits with my neighbor, Josephine McCarthy. Along the edges of the patio sat two porch swings, at opposite ends of the yard. Several times a week Jo would walk over to the house to visit with me in the rose garden. A retired hairdresser for the movie studios in Hollywood, she had a very long and successful career working on Hollywood’s most famous movie stars and entertainers. Jo had been around the block a time or two and her instincts about people were strong and usually right. During the course of our special friendship Jo gently guided me to understand that sometimes people can just be “plain mean.”
Although I was completely resolved in letting them go and I was satisfied with my decision in sending that letter, occasionally, an overwhelming sadness would wash over me. It happened when I sat still, and felt myself missing them so much. I missed my friend. I missed my buddy. I missed the people I had known, not the people they had become. I tried to forget them, to flick them into the atmosphere like dust particles, but thoughts of them crept into my brain on a daily basis.
Sherwood Forest was an upscale neighborhood bordering the campus of Cal State Northridge. Jo and I would walk down Shoshone up to Jellico and then back around to Napa. Every afternoon we enjoyed a good long walk together that helped her Rheumatoid Arthritis and my work related knee injury, back injury and my weight issues. As we hobbled along together we talked about our lives, our families, and our health. We shared so much and I grew to depend on her sophisticated values, morals and vision. Jo had deep insight and unlike me, she was savvy to people who were users. After weeks of convincing Jo that I was really trying to shake them from my thought process and that I was trying to think of new projects to take on so I could distract myself from the pain I was carrying around with me, Jo stopped walking and grabbed my hand. She looked right into my eyes and said, “Isn’t the trying exhausting? Trying to stop thinking about them is wearing you out. Trying to not feel your pain is killing you. You’ve got to do something to get over this, to truly move on. Stop trying and just do it. Trying is not realistic. Just let go of this before it destroys you. Do something different than what you’re doing now to get over these small minded people, because talking about it all the time and worrying about it all the time and saying that you’re trying to forget them is ridiculous. You’ve got to go inside, Susie, dig deep to get past this.”
The stillness of my little world was interrupted as our neighborhood’s resident Blue Heron flew over our home and landed in our pool. As the enormous steel colored bird looked up and noticed me sitting on my porch swing he instantly lifted up and flew directly over our back fence and into our neighbor’s back yard, landing in her well regarded Koi pond to snack on a little lunch. Intrigued by its aggressive dining skills, I allowed my consciousness to drift away from the depth of my meditation, for just a moment, to admire the mystery of nature. But quickly I turned up my eyes and returned to the peace and harmony of my chanting affirmation that filled every cell within my being, healing it with the power of its vibration on every breath: “peace in…calm out…peace in…calm out…peace in…calm out…Om, Guru, love, Om Guru, love… love…love… joy… joy… joy!”