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.
It was no surprise when mild mannered Mr. White answered the phone with his notorious “HELLooooh!” Brenda and Mr. White had been an on again, off again, married, not so married couple since the early 90’s and although the last time I spoke to Brenda they were not together, and she was living with her sister in Victorville, it was easy to assume the moment I heard the cheerful voice of this old friend, that they were back together. “Oh my God!” were the first words from Mr. White’s mouth when he recognized my voice.
“Mr. White, how are you?”
“Fine! Fine and how are you?”
“I’m okay Mr. White. Well, actually, I’m a little out of sorts at the moment because I’ve decided to answer this request to call, that Brenda had written in a Christmas card and I’m nervous about speaking to her. Is she there?”
“Oh! I’m really glad you decided to call her, Susie, she is going to be so happy when I tell her. She isn’t here right now, she’s up in Montana with Rob and April.”
“Who’s Rob? Do you mean Robert?”
“Yes! Robert. He doesn’t like to be called that anymore, he strictly goes by “Rob” now.”
“Oh. Well who is April and why are they all in Montana? Are they on vacation?”
“Actually no, no, Rob and April bought some land up there and bought one of those manufactured houses that looks like a log cabin and so Brenda has been up there helping them get settled. She’s been up there for over a month now but she’ll be back next week. April is Rob’s new girlfriend. It’s pretty serious, I guess.”
“Wow, that’s interesting.” I said.
“Yeah, they were on a trip when they stumbled upon this place up there that they fell in love with so she had some money and decided to move them out of California. They were living with us here, renting a room from us.”
“Isn’t it kind of cold there this time of year?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, said they’re freezing their butts off but they love it.” As he coughed his famous cigarette cough that choked his words for several moments my heart sank thinking about how beautiful it must have been for them, how they should be falling in love with the place where buffalo roam and the eagles fly. Soon after he recovered, I noticed a lilt of sadness in Mr. White’s voice and asked if he missed her.
“You sound lonely for Brenda.”
“Well, it’s hard, Susie. I think she’s going to move there with them, eventually.”
“Seriously?” I questioned.
“Yeah, the more I talk to her the more I realize that she wants to get out of California and go up there with him. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen.”
“So are you telling me that if Brenda moves to Montana with Robert you won’t be moving with her?”
“I’m not leaving California again. I’ve followed those two vagabonds for years. I’m too old and too tired to keep doing it Susie, this is my home and I like where I’m at now. I just can’t keep following them around this country whenever they get a whim to up and leave.”
“Where are you Mr. White?” I asked.
“I moved to Sun City. It’s a retirement community out here in the high desert.”
“It sounds lovely.”
“It is. I rent a very nice home and I don’t want to leave it.”
“I don’t blame you. I love our house too. I’ll never leave this house. It’s home now.”
“Oh well, you guys have a beautiful place out there in Northridge. You should hang onto that house; it’s probably worth a fortune.”
“None of that means anything to me.”
“Yeah I know but, well, you know, I always think about money!”
“I’m more concerned with happiness and living a peaceful life.”
“Finally it looks like Robert will be settling down so he can have that too.” Mr. White said.
“That’s interesting news, Mr. White. Thanks for the information, will you let Brenda know that I called?”
“Oh yes, yes, of course I will. She’ll probably be calling me soon, tonight or tomorrow. I’ll tell her the next time I hear from her.”
“Okay, well, thank you so much. It’s great to hear your voice.”
“Yes, yes, it’s great to hear yours too. We’ll talk to you later.” He said.
Montana. My God, they were in Montana. Robert had bought a house and land in Montana. My Montana! I felt my heart race with excitement, fascination…and envy! Just the mere mention of its name brought back those old memories of St. Gerard’s School and Sister Carmel Mary. How I longed to see Eva Yamamoto again, and wondered whatever had happened to her, where she was and what she was doing with her life. I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hand, cupping my chin, and thought of the old schoolyard where we played volleyball and softball and sat on the steps at the back of the church, talking and playing jacks. I could hear my voice singing in the choir and the flopping of the poster board up against my shins as I walked to my father’s car with my finished project on Montana and that A on the cover of my written report. I looked outside through the wall of French windows and doors in our living room and dining room to see the sun setting on the pool and a dragonfly dancing across the water. I closed my eyes again and could see the images in my mind of the great big blue sky in Montana from those pictures in the encyclopedia and thought how strange it was after all of these years, that my nephew had decided to settle there. It was completely, utterly unexpected, and strange.
Attempting to suppress my curiosity and let go of the anxiety that was building up as I waited to hear from Brenda, was another lesson in failure. Now that I had planted a new seed of friendship and was walking down the long road of forgiveness, I jumped out of my shoes each time the phone rang. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and I fantasized about being friends again. Only, I didn’t want to go back to the old friendship, I was wanting to move forward with a deeper understanding of how she worked, what made her tick, and an internal instinctive guard that would protect me from her habitual manipulations. In other words…I admonished myself before I ever picked up that phone to reach out to her, that I’d better watch my back and be very, very careful about getting into conversations about “Rob.” Yes, my mind swirled with so many anxious thoughts about the entire situation, past and present, with these two people who had once meant the world to me. What will I talk about with her? What don’t I want to say? What do I want to keep to myself? How much do I want to know from her? Do I even want to hear about what she’s been doing in Montana? Can I handle hearing the mere mention of his name? I exhaled in deep concentration.
The silver colored Lexus swiftly glided with beautiful ease and precision down Parthenia to Van Nuy’s Boulevard. Jo’s crippled hands grabbed a tight hold of the steering wheel as she turned left into the parking lot of Robinson’s/May warehouse store. “I’m glad you came with me today Susie, you needed to get out of there and stop waiting for the phone to ring.” She said.
“I know Jo, thanks for suggesting this; I love hanging around with you anyway, so it kills two birds with one stone.” I told her. We walked into the warehouse of discount items, clearance items and seconds. There was so much to see in the brightly lit department store. We were in search of a nice wedding gift for a friend of Jo’s who was about to be married. As we strolled along the isles, I became mesmerized by the beautiful housewares and gifts. So many nice things to buy, I allowed myself to be lured into the expert marketing skills of the person in charge of merchandising this store. For a discount warehouse, it was wonderfully designed and my wallet was bursting to get out of my purse! As we discovered a large section of linen and bath accessories, my eyes fell onto a tall stack of feather beds marked $29.00. They were a good quality mattress made in the USA, thick and fluffy and white. “Jo! Check out these feather beds! I’ve been looking at them online and know what they cost. A feather bed like this sells for close to $200.00. I think I want this!”
“Anything that helps to make you sleep better will help you feel better so you’d better get one!” She held onto one end of the feather bed and together we lifted it onto the sales counter then we walked around for a while longer until she discovered a lovely hand cut crystal serving tray that she thought appropriate for the wedding gift. Soon we were loading the feather bed into the trunk of her car, stuffing the huge thing into the small space and then tucking the crystal tray into the bed to protect it on the drive home. Jo drove up into our driveway and helped me unload my purchase. We came into the house and went straight to the master bedroom to lay the feather mattress on top of my bed to see how it fit and felt. We both lay on top of this wonderfully fluffy new addition to my home, laughing and giggling as we soon were attacked by our three dogs, Cutter, Lilly and Dinky. We screamed like little girls as Cutter nuzzled my neck with his wet nose and Lilly and Dinks were howling and climbing on us both. Above the noise, in the background, I thought I heard the telephone ringing.
“Shhh, shhhh, be quiet! Is that the phone?” I asked?
“Yes, it sounds like it…” Jo said.
“Dogs! Move! Get down, hurry!” Quickly obeying my command all three of my little friends jumped off the bed as I rolled over the edge and planted my feet on the floor. Running into my office that was connected to the master bedroom suite I reached across my desk and picked up the phone. “Hello!” I said, just in time before the answering machine would have picked up the call.
“Hi Sue, it’s me, Brenda.”
Trepidatious is an understatement when describing how I felt as every word from her mouth hit me like a hammer. I must admit here and now, that I was completely taken in by her exuberance. She was thrilled that I had finally answered her Christmas card and praised “Jesus” for guiding me back into her arms and the arms of my “family.” Her southern drawl was highly apparent as she burst into quotes from the bible.
“It’s all God.” She said. “I prayed and prayed on my knees every day since the last time I heard your voice. I said please Jesus, please hear my prayer. Please father God, give her back to me, I can’t live without my Susie.”
“I’m glad I called, Brenda.”
“No! You don’t understand, Sue. This thing nearly killed me. I’ve been so sick since you wrote that letter. I’ve been sleeping in a hospital bed, back and forth to the hospital and the doctor. Haven’t been able to eat, sleep. I haven’t lived. All I can do is wail and cry and scream up to God. I screamed so loud one day that the neighbors next door got worried and came over to see if I was being murdered.”
“Wow.” I said.
“Wow? That’s all you can say is Wow?”
“I’ve had my moments of talking to God too, so I understand.” I said in a somewhat bland tone.
“Sue, I want to see you. Can I come to see you?”
“Are you home now, in California?” I asked.
“Yes, I just got home yesterday.”
“All right, do you want to come here?”
“Yes, I’ll drive to Northridge; I don’t care about anything else. I just have to see you.” She said.
Three days later I clicked open the gate at the top of our driveway so her little dark blue car could drive through. She parked right in front of our family room. The moment she opened the car door she was greeted by Cutter, Lilly and Dinks. Cutter jumped into her lap and smothered her in kisses as the two Huskies ran in circles while singing their howling songs of longing. It was several minutes before she emerged from her seat to straighten her clothes and stand up straight to stretch out her long legs and shine with a bright smile of love and relief. The air was filling with her familiar scent of perfume and her hair was perfectly coiffed with bleach blond curls from her hot rollers that she took with her wherever she had to go. Her makeup was expertly applied and her clothes were right off the rack, from a local thrift store, no doubt, but none the less, very nice. All five feet eleven inches of her long lean beautiful figure towered over my short fat body as we embraced for what felt like an hour. Tears poured down from her eyes onto her face and I remember feeling kind of guilty that I did not measure up to the dramatic emotions there on display in the driveway. I don’t know, she was just carrying on so much, it was kind of over kill, in my mind, and so my stomach began to flip flop again with nervousness and fear.
“Come in Brenda, do you need help bringing anything in the house?” The back seat was filled with black plastic bags and bed pillows. The front seat held her large brown purse and her hot rollers set and on the floor of the car were plastic grocery sacks.
“No, I’ll leave my stuff out here for a while; I just want a cup of coffee right now. I’ll get my little ice chest I brought that’s in the trunk. You know I don’t go anywhere without my own coffee and creamer. I have to have my flavored half & half!” She popped open the trunk that was filled with foam rubber egg crate bedding and feather beds and blankets. The cooler was stuffed down under the bedding and she struggled to pull it out. She walked into the house and started a pot of coffee then went back outside to her car. She reached down into her purse and opened a pack of Misty Blue 120’s Ultra-Light cigarettes. She lit the long skinny smoke pole that hung from her bottom lip as I backed up and onto the brick landing of the porch.
“Oh, I forgot you quit.” She said.
“How long has it been?” She asked.
“Four years now.” I answered.
“Wow, I’m proud of you, Sue.”
“Thanks.” I said shyly.
“You’ve changed.” She observed.
“Yes, I know.” I agreed. And then from there we walked through the carport to the gardens. She examined my now tilled over rows of vegetables then walked into the rose garden where the canes of the newly cut plants stood at attention with their sharp thorns threatening anyone who walked too close to them. And although their splendor had been interrupted by seasonal upkeep, the garden remained beautifully groomed and so appealing with the carefully planted baby tear groundcover crawling across the heavily mulched topsoil and my rose lady fountain flowing with fresh clean water. Quietly, we walked arm and arm as I proudly escorted her on a tour of my little bit of paradise. Since the last time she had been here, together, Kurt and I had completely redesigned the back yard. She was amazed by the hand built redwood fence with the gorgeous lattice top that served as a backdrop for the rose garden that replaced the old and thinning box hedge. She scanned the property from top to bottom and admired all the rest of the landscaping. The trees had all been trimmed back, my tropical plant forest garden was lush from the winter rain and the pool glittered in the sunshine. Everything looked fresh and beautiful as the lemon flowers added a spicy aroma to the air.
“This place looks so beautiful, Sue.”
“I can’t believe how different it all looks. You guys have been working really hard back here.”
“You can say that again.”
“You could be in one of those house and garden magazines, it’s that nice.”
“Thanks, Brenda that means a lot, coming from you. Are you hungry? Would you like some lunch?” We walked back into the house and as I put together some tuna sandwiches she walked from room to room exploring the inside of the house. I could see that she was becoming very comfortable and relaxed and that was good. Soon we were talking as if nothing had ever happened between us, but naturally, the subject of Robert eventually arose and we both had to get it out into the open. I tried not to be bitter, to keep my cool and just stay calm. We talked for a couple of hours as I let her tell me about Robert’s new life in Montana, his girlfriend, their home and land and all about the move to “The Last Best Place” during a ferocious winter. While she described their adventure and how it all began, her face was lit up and she became animated from joy. I listen intently and found myself being pulled into her fantastic tale of fulfilling a dream by hard work, endurance and perseverance.