Her start in life was rocky. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, "out of wedlock" and given up by her fourteen-year-old mother, she was first adopted by a Swedish couple hoping to fix their marriage. Needless to say, that didn't go well. So back to the Children's Home Society she went. Along came John and Annie Skinner of Owatonna to the rescue. This time it was a good match. She was three years old. John Skinner was a teacher and finished his career as superintendent of schools in the town of Fairmont, MN. He and Annie (who hailed from Missouri) valued learning and gave their daughters a good education and a strong sense of self. My mother went on to the University of Minnesota, where she studied journalism.
I always thought it a shame that she never practiced her craft. She would have been much happier in life, I believe. But such were the times: a middle-class woman didn't work. (Not that she was unhappy. Un-self-actualized, though, you might say.)
While I was attending graduate school in Wisconsin, my mom came out for a visit, and we took a driving tour to Minnesota: saw the house in Owatonna she grew up in, found her parents' grave. And, as it turned out, the tiny graves of two infant boys—which is why the Skinners decided to adopt. My mom's younger sister came along a couple of years later.
Today, I know, she would have enjoyed the drive David and I took this afternoon, winding along back roads near Elkhorn Slough. She loved to get out and see the world. Toward the end of her life when she wasn't driving anymore, and I'd visit her at her home in Santa Monica, she'd often ask for the simple gift of a drive to Malibu; she liked to see the ocean, and it was a special treat when the San Vicente Boulevard coral trees were in bloom, blazing orange—her color.
One of her favorite places in the world was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. My brother or I would take her there every few years in her last years. Here's a happy picture of her there from sometime in the late 1990s. (It's not an especially good photo. I'm hoping to find and catalog more as I work through all my stuff. . . .)