THE WAY IT WAS

Here in the southwest Colorado mountains we are in the throes of a major two-day (so far) snowstorm that keeps everyone inside until it stops. I was watching it snow and noticing how the snowflakes are sticking to the outside of the front windows of the house.. It took me back to many years ago when we were building this house and particularly these windows.

We lived in our rental until this house was legally habitable and then moved in, though the house was not finished. We were still in the early years together, which in my opinion allows you to accept things that would normally drive you nuts. We both were working twelve hour shifts, me in my bookstore and him as chief of police.

But back to the windows. Of all the things that came to my mind, it was the fact that we were able to live with so many things that were extremely inconvenient. For example, we had no window glass and no completed bathrooms or kitchen, though we had running water. I happily washed dishes in a bathtub and cooked meals on a gas camp stove in what is now the guest room or outside on a grill. Our only functioning toilet was in the basement bathroom with only a white sheet for a door. We actually entertained out-of-town guests for a dinner one night under these awkward and primitive conditions. I’m sure they wondered what was wrong with us. They never visited again.

We had to drive forty miles each way to pick up items to install. It was on one of those adventures that as we were coming home and got to the spot on the highway where we could see our house, we both were delighted to see that we actually had glass in our windows! We could hardly wait to get here to enjoy it. This meant we could have heat from the woodstove and stop wearing our snow suits inside. And we could permanently move in.

When we were putting up the fence on our dog pen my husband would have me hold the metal fence posts while he pounded them into the hard, rocky ground. Let me tell you that hurt. When silent tears began to roll down my face, he stopped and said, “Get in the truck!” Without a word, he drove up into the mountains to a shady spot beside a stream where both he and the dog jumped into the cold water. We drank Cokes in the cool high country shade then came back home to start again.

It’s funny how remembering what seemed to be exhausting times so long ago have now become happy memories. But for the record, I never want to build another house again.

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SHADOW IN MY HEART

On Thanksgiving someone asked me when I am going to write another book. He reminded me that I am a writer and encouraged me to write again. Truthfully, even though I knew I was neglecting my writing, I wasn’t particularly concerned about it. I don’t know if that is normal or something that has only happened to me. Writing is still there, but I’m no longer driven by it the way I used to be.

For reasons I do not fully understand, I seem to have lost my muse when my late husband died eighteen months ago. Some little spark went out of much of my life leaving what is rather like an emotional shadow. I do have an untitled manuscript half written, but I do not work on it daily or even weekly and that’s not the way we writers normally behave.

His question really struck a nerve with me. This person isn’t someone I thought even believed I am a writer and if he did, I doubted he would care one way or the other. I suppose it was some sort of Thanksgiving gift for which I am grateful. Hopefully, it will inspire me to pull up that manuscript I mentioned and work on it with intensity.

When I explained when and why I stopped writing, this man suggested that I write about my husband’s loss and how it made me feel, how I cope with it, etc. Personally, I don’t believe that would be of particular interest to my readers, but I know what will.

Therefore, I am both surprised and thankful for this man who has been in my life via my daughter since I lost my beloved grandson twelve years ago. Frankly, I didn’t know he had concerns for my well being, so I consider his simple question and encouragement to be a gift I received on Thanksgiving I will do my best to try and get back on the path I am meant to trod. Funny how God works in mysterious ways.

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CHANGES

Here where I live – in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado – you cannot avoid sensing the fact the seasons are changing. Only a few scattered leaves have turned golden already, but there is a difference in the air that is palpable. Even though I love fall with the spectacular colors and the crisp bite to the atmosphere, it has always felt just a little bit sad to me. This has been going on for years and I’ve yet to understand why. I chalk it up to some personal quirk.

When we lived back in Cincinnati, we would go with a gathering of friends to the Smoky Mountains each October. I loved riding for a little over three hours with the top down on my husband’s Alfa Romeo convertible. As a group, we’d rent a rustic cabin on a mountainside and spend days hiking the trails and shopping in Gatlinburg. Evenings were enjoyed at one of the fabulous restaurants for dinner, all of us tired and often sore from the challenging hikes we seemed to prefer. Back in the cabin, we’d wind down by socializing around the crackling fireplace with burning wood that popped and sent sparks shooting in all directions. To enjoy fall, I don’t think there is a better spot in the southeast than the Smoky Mountains in October. The leaves are a rainbow of color. They crunch beneath your feet and smell musky through the air you breathe. You can hear them rustle when the wind ripples through the trees. If the sun was out, great. If it rained, no problem. We hiked, no matter the weather, because that’s what we went for.

I have often wondered if my particular draw to the Smokies is because I have ancestors who settled Cade’s Cove and lived there. The Oliver house was owned and lived in by my ggg-grandfather and family. Oddly, I have a picture of me on the front porch of that house, many long years ago before I knew that little fact. Genetics work in mysterious ways because I was drawn to that particular place.

Jackie on the Oliver Cabin porch in Cades Cove, Tennessee

Fall is different here in the gorgeous mountains I moved to forty years ago and love with all my heart. We don’t have as many deciduous trees, but our aspen trees can present a display of gold, orange or even red that will take your breath away. Backed by enormous gray mountains and surrounded by thick stands of evergreens, it is a picture cameras cannot capture. The smell of pine wafts strong and clear on the thinner high altitude air. Then comes that morning you look out the front window and see the very first dusting of snow on the mountain tops. It won’t last throughout the day because the sun will melt it off, but that’s when you know for sure that a Colorado fall has arrived. But we’re not there yet. It’s coming soon.

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THE SECOND YEAR

When my husband died fifteen months ago, I was repeatedly told that all I had to do was get through that first year. My entire life was new and different and it wasn’t easy, but I did it. Perhaps a degree of shock cloaked me through those first twelve months alone because I now find the second year to be much more difficult and I’m only three months into it. The words that now keep creeping into my thoughts are “Where do I go from here?” I am far beyond the age of retirement, so getting a job is no longer a viable option. My daughter and my grief counselor both keep telling me to write again and that does seem the logical solution.

This topic is not what I normally write about, but when you first become a writer, other experienced authors always tell you to write what you know. For me, at this particular time, I comply.

The hordes of friends who were there for me at the beginning are long gone. They never call, as they used to do often. I call them, but the bond we had before has changed. I cannot determine if they are fearful that I will suddenly burst into tears or try and burden them with conversation about my loss, which I would never do. It’s a quandary. But I’m told this is common following spousal loss.

A year ago, I made myself walk into certain events alone. My goal was to meet new people and make new friends, and it worked.. One person in particular turned out to be a close friend and I am so thankful for her. Not a widow herself, but long single, we have much in common.

It has been hard to learn how to do those “man” jobs my husband normally handled and I often have to be creative about how to lift or carry some items into and out of the house. For Christmas this year, I want a little red wagon. The yard work is now all mine too, along with the cars and everything else. But my daughter works her buns off helping me with such things. Guess who now gets to step out the door and chase off the bears who come up onto the deck? I have done it already and we’re just getting into fall and the bears roaming freely pre-hibernation.

We women should prepare ourselves for this potential eventuality, but I did not. However, onward and upward I trudge with the words my new friend constantly tells me, as we hang up the phone or part company after an adventure out together. She always says, “Chin up!” She learned that wisdom from her own dearly departed mother and now they’ve become good words for me to live by as I now return to my writing.

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WHERE DOES DANGER REALLY LURK?

Having recently read a beautifully written article by the wife of a fellow member of Public Safety Writer’s Association about a horrific accident her husband had while on duty as a police pilot and the tremendous injuries they endured, I complimented him on her fabulous article. In his reply he made mention of the fact that, as a law enforcement officer, he always thought if he were injured or killed, it would be from a gun or traffic accident. He never considered it would be from the unusual circumstances he experienced and survived.

His comment to me was inspired by my mention of the freak way my own husband’s death occurred. During his forty-two years as a cop, his life was hazardous on so many countless occasions, but he survived them all. His demise came from a fall in our own bedroom in the middle of the night on soft carpet, years after he’d retired. During that fall he sustained two brain bleeds from hitting woodwork. That’s how it began and it escalated over the next six weeks until I lost him to sudden aspiration pneumonia in just two days. Since his death was totally unrelated to his dangerous profession, all those days, nights and years when I worried about him on duty were for nothing.

I can’t count the number of times I was terrified that my husband would be killed on duty. He did sustain some serious injuries such as being unconscious in his patrol car with his K-9 on board while up to his neck in a burning river water after a high speed chase. His fellow officers thought he was dead as they pulled him out. But he wasn’t. And that is only the tip of the iceburg.

These days when I mention something I’m worried about to my daughter, she says, “Whatever is going to happen will happen, Mom. There’s no need to worry about what might take place .” She learned this the hard way when she lost her older son to a fatal fall from a mountain ledge on, of all times, the wee hours of her birthday.

Today is one year since my husband’s police memorial service and I suppose that is what inspired me to write this. The weather is appropriately gloomy and raining. I hope it’s a bright and beautiful day wherever you may be.

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BACKIN’ THE BLUE by Jackie Taylor Zortman

Yesterday was July 4th and I spent most of the day alone with my cat. I lost my husband a year ago, so this is new for me. On the other hand, perhaps it is not. He was a forty-two year veteran law enforcement officer who spent the final twenty-two years of his career as the chief of police for our busy little Colorado mountain town. He always said that July 4th was the very worst day of his year (followed closely by New Year’s Eve) because the town is packed to the rafters with tourists. It’s usually blazing hot and as the day wears on, a large portion of the crowd has been drinking for many hours. When the sun starts to go down, the fun begins and lasts far into the early hours of the following day.

Trying to relax before going to my son’s house for a picnic, and through the tears of missing my very own resident cop, my mind wandered back to a few of the July 4th’s I spent with him. Sometimes he’d work a full twenty-two hours and I didn’t see much of him. I can’t count how many times he’d pop home quickly to have a fast bite to eat or to change his uniform because it had blood on it. Nothing scares a cop’s wife more than seeing her husband running upstairs covered in blood while he’s on duty. Most of the time, it wasn’t his own, thankfully. Other times, some of it was. One year it was due to a fatal car crash where he tried to help the injured couple inside while waiting for the ambulance he’d summoned. Sadly, they did not make it.

But fun times would sprinkle in here and there on this busy day, as well. One year I got to ride with him in his squad car as the lead of the flare parade of vehicles down the mountainside highway into town just prior to the fireworks. It was dark and people crowded on both sides of the road, During our drive down, suddenly one man dropped his pants and mooned us. Apparently that wasn’t unusual because it didn’t bother my husband in the least, though it certainly surprised me. Then when we reached town, crowds of folks were cheering and waving at us and that truly was heart-warming to witness.

I was so proud to see each side street that had access to the highway had a uniformed officer standing tall in the middle of the street to block the traffic for the flare parade. They were from several different departments and wore various uniforms, but they all looked clean and professional in spite of the fact that their day had been long and strenuous with many hours left to go. Those officers are sunburned, exhausted and dehydrated though they would never show it. Remember that the next time someone says all they do is drive around in their easy job.

I’ve concluded that you have to actually live with and love a law enforcement office to truly understand how difficult and dangerous their job truly is. It saddens my heart to see the hatred and disrespect that is displayed to them today. As my husband once told me, “We don’t have any satisfied customers.” Sadly, that is true.

Why I felt compelled to write this today is beyond me. It’s the first thing I’ve been able to write since my husband died. However, my hope is that the next time you see an officer doing his job or simply pass him on the street, you have no idea what it would mean to them to hear you simply say you are glad they are out there. Should that not be in your heart, please don’t hate them or wish them harm. They know many don’t like or respect them, but they are ready to put on that uniform and go to their job, willing to die for you.

Meantime, be careful out there.

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A LONG AGO VALENTINE’S DAY

My beloved late husband always thought Valentine’s Day came way too quickly after Christmas. He didn’t think he was the best shopper for this particular event and flowers and candy never seemed to cross his mind. Lucky me, he normally headed to the jewelry store instead and I have to say he did an outstanding job in that venue. This coming Monday will be my very first Valentine’s Day without him in thirty-seven years.

Actually, it’s my first ever Valentine’s Day without someone in my life because I had a first husband who was the father of my two adult children. We were married twenty-five years. We began dating when I was eighteen years old and he was twenty-one. Like most young and single girls, I was also dating other guys, as well. One of them had become a pretty regular companion and gave me a nice pearl choker for some occasion.

On the first Valentine’s Day dating potential Hubs #1, we went to a dance at the Topper Club. It was an elegant ballroom on the second floor of the south wing of Music Hall in the downtown area of Cincinnati, Ohio, the town where we grew up and lived. All the big bands, orchestras and singers were featured there, one at a time, of course. I wore a knockout red dress and beige silk stiletto heels with the aforementioned pearl choker around my neck, plus matching clip-on earrings. He was quite dapper in a gray suit, white button-down dress shirt with cuff links (remember those?) and a tie.

We and our friends were having a splendid time that evening and future Hubs #1 and I were out on the dance floor enjoying a slow tune. To my dismay, all of a sudden he grabbed the pearl choker around my neck and jerked it hard. It broke and pearls plinked rapidly to the hardwood floor. I was astounded and began picking them up. Other dancers had stopped to stare at us, mouths agape. I glared at him and stomped back to the table.

But before I got there, he grabbed me by the arm and asked, “You didn’t like that?” I just stood there dumbfounded and said nothing. That’s when he reached into the inside chest pocket of his suit and pulled out a long, thin gray box. Handing it to me, he said, “Well, maybe you’ll like this.” When I opened the box, inside was a beautiful and obviously expensive cultured pearl choker. It was then I discovered he had a rather dramatic personality or, if you prefer, a unique sense of humor. I still have that choker to this day and only now realize how old it has become – much like myself.

Don’t ask me what brought this story to my mind. It suddenly flashed back into my memory when I decided to write a Valentine’s Day blog. Sadly, Hubs #1 also passed away several years ago. However, if he’s looking down, he will smile that I remembered.

(Your comments are always welcome. You can post them here, find me on Facebook or email me)

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WHITE FEATHERS

The Feathers Inside the Vase of Petals

Immediately after my husband’s memorial service seven months ago, I began finding white feathers. Most of them were found in unusual places inside my home, such as deep inside the huge vase of dried petals from the white funeral roses. I found three there and had personally pulled each petal off those roses and dropped them individually into the empty and dry vase, one at a time. In addition, each feather is obviously from a different bird and are different unique shapes. The feathers are rather small as you can see in the above picture. Following the loss of a loved one, feathers are believed to come from the spiritual realm and they tell you that you are not alone. They bring peace and calm.

I believe these feathers are messages from my beloved late husband to let me know he has successfully crossed into the spirit realm and is now watching over me. Thirty seven years ago, he carried me over the threshold of this very house as his bride on the day we returned from our honeymoon. Today it feels as though the entire place carries his energy and spirit. After all, his blood, sweat and tears fell upon many of the materials that make up a house and now surround me in my haven. We shared close to forty wonderful years together here and it is truly home. How blessed I am to have a home my husband built himself, filled with love for years and then left for me. But I digress, so back to feathers.

Native Americans believe feathers are a connection to the Divine. They hold powerful meaning as they represent higher wisdom, peace and the end of disaster and the new beginnings that come after death. They also represent great warriors. My husband was a forty-two year veteran law enforcement officer who is reputed to have been exactly that – a great warrior. I was stunned to hear the stories people told me at his funeral about how my husband had helped them in various ways during the twenty-two years he was the local chief of police here where we live. Before that, he was with the Wichita Police Department, retiring as the senior homicide detective. Yes, he worked the infamous BTK killings during his twenty years there and years later received a challenge coin for it. Again I drift from the subject, so let’s return to it.

In Shamanism white feathers cleanse the energy of objects and people and are used to cleanse the aura and chakras. They represent purity and carry a high vibration that transmutes negative or unwanted energies back to universal consciousness.

Most white feathers are considered to have come from white doves and represent the Holy Ghost. I don’t think all my white feathers are dove feathers. I find it strange that they’ve all been a different shape and size from the others. I do not go searching for feathers, they simply suddenly appear in my life. Sometimes I find them outside and many times they appear inside my house. The last one I recently found was stuck on the side of a plastic phone Rolodex box sitting on the bar between the kitchen and great room. I have no clue how it possibly could have gotten there.

To be honest, I do not know why this feather subject suddenly began pulling me to research and write. Perhaps it is to get me back to the unfinished manuscript for my fifth JAKE book. I have been told again and again that all I have to do is get through this first year. Meantime, I hope you enjoy my article.

Your comments are always welcomed by me and you can leave one at the end of this blog or email me at jtzortman@ouraynet.com. Otherwise, you can find me on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you.

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The Tree

We built our house thirty-eight years ago and have lived in it for thirty-seven. It is situated about fifty feet up from the road below and is next to the base of a mountain. There is an ancient tree atop a place on the mountain top that I have admired through my windows for every single one of those years. It has not a single leaf on it and stands there proudly, totally naked. Over the years, I’ve never even seen it lose a limb.

Many times I have wondered exactly how old that majestic tree is and how many storms it has weathered. We can have fierce winds with blizzards of snow or rain storms and even worse is the real tree killer known as lightning. Since this tree is right up there, proudly presenting itself, it is inviting all of those to demolish it. But it prevails. One has to admire and wonder at the strength this beautiful old tree must possess. They say oaks are strong and I often wonder if it is a mighty oak.

Think about it. If that magnificent old tree could talk, can you even imagine the stories it would tell? My house is sitting on land that was once a mine, and you know the tree saw a lot of activities during that era. In addition my daughter-in-law told me when she was in school my land was known as “Hooky Hollow”. That explains itself and I don’t need to tell you what went on then.

For me there is something magnetic about this old tree. I watched it while we built our house. It saw my husband carry me over the threshold as a new bride. It saw my children marry and watched my grandchildren carried in as babies. Today it has watched my great-grandkids. It has seen life and it has seen death. I lost my wonderful husband days short of four months ago and the tree watched him many times over the years we’ve lived and loved in our home.

I don’t really know why this particular tree fascinates me and draws my eyes to it so often. I check on it every day and it has never disappointed me. It has a special grandeur that pulls me to it. Oh, how I wish it could tell me what it knows.

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9/11 – WE DIDN’T FORGET, WHERE I LIVE!

Site for the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony

The little mountain tourist town in which I live is small in year-round population. However, it is big in heart. Today we gathered to remember the horror we witnessed twenty years ago. Since it was 8:30 in the morning, the crowd was not large. But it was very heartfelt. It was held outside of City Hall, with the ambulance and fire truck bays adjacent and the county court house diagonally across the intersection.

A bagpiper played Amazing Grace prior to the opening statements by the mayor and heads of the first responders – police/fire/sheriff/EMTs, etc. I had to compose myself when the bagpiper played prior to the ceremony. The last time I heard the same bagpiper play that particular song was at the end of my husband’s funeral a few weeks ago.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin as bagpipes played.

People ask where you were when you heard what was happening that fateful day twenty years ago. My husband and I were fixing breakfast when the phone rang and a friend simply said, “Turn on your television.” Without another word, she hung up. We snapped it on and were glued there the rest of the day. It was shocking. It was scary as hell. It was something we never thought we’d see happen in our country. But it made people forget about mundane matters like political/racial/religious/social status/occupations and such. We were all just people who were exactly the same. We were surviving the unthinkable together. Nothing mattered except helping our fellow human beings, whatever it took.

Officers of the Ouray, Colorado Police Department

Unfortunately, the love and camaraderie we shared that day did not last long before things went back to the way they had been before our country was viciously attacked. I have copies of LIFE Magazine with pictures on the cover of the events of that dreadful day. I saved them because I knew people would want to read about it sometime in the future.

The ceremony I attended this morning felt good to publicly remember those who lost their lives or loved ones twenty years ago and remind us it could happen again. We gathered then and we gathered now. It’s a simple thing to do, but lives are so incredibly busy that we sometimes forget.

Having said that, I’m now going out to proudly hang up my American flag.

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