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.
But it was December 2005 now and although my life was back to being balanced and my mental status was improving, (thanks in part to the my spiritual devotions, but also due to monthly visits to a psychologist in Los Angeles who was treating me for clinical depression associated with the severe knee injury I sustained while working in the flower shop,) my body seemed to be failing me again as I was unable to control my physical pain issues that had been building up over the course of many years of working in the service industry. I sustained one injury after another to my back, neck, knee and wrist. Although I hobbled around and going back to work was out of the question, I endured the rigors of the gardens and kept up with the inside of the house as well, all 3000 square feet of it, along with as much physical therapy that I could stand. Weekly acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, and aquatic therapy were all part of getting me back on my feet so that I could resume my contributions to our financial status. Murphy’s Law provided much anxiety and frustration, however, as one thing after another piled onto my failing body. Afraid of the addiction associated with taking pain narcotics, I instead became addicted to over the counter pain relief and frequently had additional issues with stomach pain and long lasting bouts of diarrhea. So now we added Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia to the stable of my many diseases and disorder titles.
Walking with a Canadian Crutch all around the house and property put a strain on my self-confidence too. Attempting to hide my bruised ego from all who knew me had little effect on the Sunshine Club. Linda, Stella and Diane all knew me well, and they were very aware that losing my health as well as losing Robert had caused not so subtle changes in my personality. Always known for my gregarious laugh, outrageous sense of humor and my love for pulling pranks, those traits were quieter now. It was apparent to the people in my tightest circle that I was becoming a bit shy, reserved, serious and non-trusting. Afraid to trust anyone, actually. Afraid now, of so many things.
These were the issues I was dealing with in my life, while moving forward was the agenda itself. Learning to cope with bereavement and remorse was no easy task but I managed to mottle through. Always on the lookout for alternative measures that would provide improvement to my general overall well-being became a hobby for me and I enjoyed visiting health food stores, Zen shops and Lake Shrine. Trying to recapture the energy and personality that defined me was time consuming but necessary, because, I had changed. Rejection had permanently changed me, and that was the most difficult truth to face. It was as if I had lost a part of my soul, when I lost Robert. His treatment of me, and of Kurt, chipped away a piece of the person that makes me, me. I was as good as I could be now, and although I was missing some parts of myself, I was in a better place, a peaceful place now. I was as happy as I was going to get.
The card from Brenda sat on the counter bar for two weeks. Christmas had passed and the New Year promised to be a thrill ride for the Sunshine Club, as we were all turning fifty years old on our birthdays. So much to look forward to and yet I had this dark cloud hanging over me. The white envelope with the card inside was screaming at me with that loud scribble of hers. “I miss you Sue, I want MY SUSIE.” Each time I walked by the envelope my mind traveled back to that letter I wrote with Georgia’s help. And I knew I couldn’t talk to Georgia about this card because I was certain she would admonish me against contacting Brenda. I knew exactly what Georgia would say if I told her I was caving in to Kurt’s insistence to “be polite and answer the card because she’s reaching out to us.” Georgia would have jumped into her car and driven over to the house to rip that card into tiny little pieces and then thrown it into the trash where it had previously landed.
Their faces haunted me. Their voices were ringing in my ears. My heart was aching for the old days of love and laughter and I fantasized about our lives going back to what they once were, before I became shunned, before the anger and pain. Before the nights of crying into my pillow and getting up to vomit. The love we had was extraordinary and it ran so deep. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were capable of repairing the past two years and nine months so that we, as a family, could once again depend on that love.
Several times a day I held the card in my hands. I tapped it on my forehead, the counter, the refrigerator, and the walls. I even tapped it on Kurt’s head and he would laugh and say “Just get it over with and call her because I’m getting tired of this.”
“But I can’t do it,” I cried.
“Yes you can.” He would say.
“No Kurt, I can’t go there again. I know them, I know her, and this isn’t going to work and I really wish you would allow me to throw this stinking card into the trash where it belongs.”
“Susie, they are your family and you love them and miss them and they love and miss you too so knock it off and call Brenda. She made the first move. She took the first step. Now it’s your turn.”
“Are you absolutely positively sure in your heart of hearts that we should open this door again?”
“I really feel that you should call her. But, it’s up to you.”
“Oh! There you go! You’re backing down! A second ago you said…”
“I know what I said but it’s you who has to make the decision and now I don’t want to talk about this anymore, it’s driving me nuts so just do whatever you want.”
What do I want? I asked myself. What do I want? There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to ask themselves that question. Now it was my time. What do I want? Seeking peace in my life for the last two years had saved me from the heartache. But wasn’t forgiveness an important part of the peace process? Would I ever truly live a peaceful life without forgiving them? Without forgiving Robert? I wasn’t sure if I could ever really know ultimate peace.
I remember when I was little, one Christmas I asked Father what it was that he wanted most for Christmas. “All I want is peace and quiet.” He said.
“Peace and quiet? What good does that do? Don’t you want a game or a bike or some skates or something good like that, Papa?”
“No. I would like to have a little donkey that I could ride out to the mountains and just sit on that donkey all day every day so I don’t have to deal with any of the craziness that goes on here.”
“Ride a donkey! You want a real donkey for Christmas?” I laughed and laughed and then he began to make loud donkey noises and bend over to pantomime a donkey while he brayed and brayed right there in the kitchen while he stirred his spaghetti sauce that was simmering on the stove.
“You’re laughing now but one day when you are old you will understand what I’m talking about. Peace and quiet will be the most important thing in your life, eventually.”
Those words were not forgotten. Forever engraved on the inner lining of my brain I will always remember those words and now I was living those words with a huge and potentially threatening situation and my head was spinning while my heart was pounding and my stomach was ill with the sour taste of indecision.
On a bright and sunny day in early January, Jo and I walked up Shoshone then walked left onto Jellico. The moment we turned the corner and could no longer see our homes, she said, “Okay, what’s wrong?” How arrogant it was of me to think that an intuitive woman like Jo would fall for my attempt to hide my troubled soul.
“Oh Jo, just more of the same.”
“Well, spit it out honey, let’s talk about it.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Yes you do. We always know what’s right. We simply have to choose to do it.”
“How do I know what’s right? I could make a terrible mistake.”
“Okay, so you might make the wrong decision but life doesn’t come with guarantees. In your heart, you know what you should do but if you follow your heart and it turns out badly, at least you can live with the fact that you did what your heart told you to do and in that, you’re doing what’s noble. If you make a noble decision with good intentions, and then things don’t work out, at least you can stand up with your back straight and say by God I tried.”
Tears were trapped in my throat as I uttered, “Really?”
“Yes, really. Follow your heart, Susie. And don’t be afraid to fail.” We were quiet all the way to the end of Jellico but as we turned onto Encino we talked about Jo’s upcoming knee replacement (her third) and how she wasn’t looking forward to the pain and the long and grueling physical therapy that would follow the surgery. Poor Jo, her rheumatoid arthritis was taking a toll on her and I respected her and admired how she courageously fought back every day to live a full and worthwhile life. Jo was an inspiration to me. Her thoughtful mannerisms and wisdom-filled reflections helped guide me in a way a mother would do. I loved her with all of my heart and at the moment we walked back up to Napa to make our way home, I stopped and put my arms around her and told her how much she meant to me. She laughed and swatted me away, in her soft, gentle, shy and embarrassed way.
Kurt was at work and the house was quiet. I sat on my porch swing after a short walk around the rose garden, looking for signs of new growth after the recent cut back of the old canes and blooms. “Hmm, nothing yet,” I said to myself. “Well, we need a good rain to bring out some sprouts.” Our Siberian Husky, Lilly, looked up at me as if she understood what I was saying. She sat down now, under my feet where she loved to stay as I thought of my husband, my people, my life…and I prayed. Chanting, singing, praying and meditation filled the next two hours and now night was approaching so I made my way into the kitchen to prepare my dinner. I walked past the stove to the refrigerator and noticed the card again, sitting on the counter bar. A heavy sigh leaked out of me, and then I picked up the card and opened it. Sitting down at the table I lifted the phone off of its cradle and dialed the number Brenda had written in the card next to the words, “Please Sue, call me.”