Friday, March 02, 2007

March 2, 2007
Her given name was Lillie Louise but everyone called her Bobbie. She was nicknamed after her father Bob Guess and to hear the family tell it, she was his shadow. The third of five girls, she was born in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Her mother's name was Louise, an orphan from Tucumcari, who was fostered out to a family in the bootheel of New Mexico, where she met and fell in love with a tall, rangy cowboy named Bob Guess. They owned a ranch in the Animas Valley, and Bob's brother, John Guess owned a ranch nearby at Steins Pass, just south of Doubtful Canyon, named for the fierce Apache raids on travelers—it was know to be doubtful whether you would survive.

In about 1929 Bob Guess made his move and leveraged everything he had built up in the Animas Valley to buy the ranch of his dreams on the Gila River, about ten miles downstream from Duncan, Arizona. Bad timing. The Depression wiped him out. Selling a couple starving steers, he bought a car and with his wife and five girls he walked away (1933), taking his family to Mohave County where he had once worked as a cowhand for Tap Duncan on the Diamond Bar (1912).

I took my mother and her older sister Sadie Pearl out to the old ranch house near York in the late 1980s and they walked the overgrown banks and pointed out where the garden was and where the corrals were. It was all gone except for a vague foundation where the house sat. Both Aunt Sadie and Bobbie showed me "their rooms," the kitchen and the porch where they waited for their handsome cowboy dad to come riding up. Oh, how those girls loved their Daddy.

At the Diamond Bar, Bob Guess started over, working as a cowboy and hoping to get back in the game. During WWII he bought a lease on a ranch on the way to Oatman but it was not to be. He died, in 1945, in his early fifties at the Kingman Hospital from complications from an ulcer operation.

I was born the next year and named Robert, in honor of him. Another sister, Patsy, also named her son Robert and to distinguish between the two of us, the family called him Robert Jerl and me Robert Allen.

And they still do to this day.

Bobbie attended Mohave County High School and graduated in 1939. She was an excellent student and when her only son went to the same school, some teachers would shake their heads and wonder how the son could be so inferior to the mother.

When WWII broke out an air base was established east of Kingman and all of a sudden 500 single females (and some not so single) had their pick of 10,000 young Army Air Corp soldiers. Although she dated a Lieutentant and was engaged to one of the biggest ranching names in the area, she ultimately chose a buck private, a blond Norsky farmboy from Thompson, Iowa.

After the war Bobbie and Allen Bell moved back to Iowa, but mechanic work was tough and Bobbie got homesick, so they moved back to Arizona and Allen ran a Whiting Brothers Gas Station in Peach Springs and McConnico for a while, but he got homesick and so they moved back to Iowa. My father found a Phillips 66 gas station in Swea City, and we moved there in about 1953. My mother gave birth to a baby sister, Janet Kay, who died, unexpectedly some ten days later. The doctors at the Catholic Hospital in Buffalo Center said it was a fluke, there was nothing wrong with her and, by all means, have another. She did, another girl, Sharon, who was stillborn.

Obviously depressed (there are hints of more serious problems) Allen and Bobbie moved back to Arizona for good in 1956 where they lived with Bobbie's mother and widow Louise (she had remarried Ernie Swafford), while Allen opened Al Bell's Flying A on Route 66. He was the only employee and Bobbie would take him his dinner every night so he could keep working.

It was Doctor Arnold who discovered she had rh factor, a blood problem. As tests showed and he explained it, sometimes if your first child is a boy, he will live, but any subsequent children will die, poisoned by the incompatable blood. A simple blood transfusion would probably have saved them both.

Bobbie smothered her son with attention and love. Nothing was too good for him. This unfortunately extended to making the son wear a scarf to the grocery store, a practice he finally halted at about age sixteen. No, just joking, it must have been twelve (which is still too old!).

She was a great mother. We did have our differences. I don't think she was too fond of my cartoonist career or my rock and roll career, and if you had met her she would have raved about her son, on and on, and you'd think that the only thing the son ever did was write and provide paintings for Arizona Highways.

My parents were divorced in 1970 and she married Lou Cady, Jr, also a former WWII airman, in 1973. Lou and I also had our differences but I always felt an affinity for him because he had to constantly endure the myths and propaganda about her "perfect" son.

In the last several years Bobbie suffered from Alzheimers and given what Lou endured I would personally nominate him for Sainthood. When I went to see her last week, she said she missed the ranch and she wanted me to have it and she didn't want Lou to have anything. He was standing right next to me. There's plenty more of that, but I choose to remember the mother who drove me to and from Little League practice, stayed up all night when I had a fever, went to the work the next day at the Highway Department (secretary), worked all day, came home, made dinner, then did my father's books for the gas station until 10:30 at night. Then got up and did it the next day. Why? Because she loved her family.

That's the woman I'll never forget.

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