Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My good friend, Alice Zyetz, is gone.  It's been just over two weeks and I am still absorbing the news that her heart gave out.  It was unexpected. She was doing better physically when I saw her in March than she had for some time.   She was upbeat about her recent musical\theatrical performance and getting her new business up and running.   
Alice was one of the people who encouraged me to write and so writing about her and what she meant to me is how I am adjusting to this news.   

Alice, during a potluck at her 5th wheel, Jojoba Hills Escapee Park, April 2011

The piece below was one I wrote for the Boomer Newsletter.   It was written, a day after I got the news,  in a  stream of conscious style as we often did when writing together.
  Boomers are a sub-group of the Escapees RV Club, a loose knit group of people from the baby boomer generation.  Many of the members came aboard after Alice became less active in their events, but I wanted them to know how she was instrumental in the activities that are still important to the group.


    Alice Zyetz was one of my closest RV friends, a woman I met while we were preparing to hit the road as full-timers in 1993. She is inexorably linked in my mind with full-timing, with Boomers, with my life on the road.

     She started important Boomer traditions. It was Alice who gathered several of us together at a Boomerang at Pena Blanca (near Nogales, AZ) in 1994 to try some writing exercises based on Natalie Goldberg' book Writing Down the Bones.   In later years we added ideas from Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird.   Those sessions still happen at Boomer gatherings and SKP parks. It was during that same boomerang, we realized the importance of women sitting down together to talk. That too, has become part of the Boomer tradition. The experience of hosting, (my husband, Lin Strout and I hosted that gathering), the women making latkes together which was the catalyst for women's sessions, the writing group, and the closeness of the attendees (17 rigs) remains central to my identity as a Boomer\Escapee\ full-timer.
    Alice and her husband, Chuck, led sing-alongs at Boomer gatherings. No matter how poor your voice, you were encouraged sing, drum, clap along to folk songs that helped define our generation. They got us all signing that crazy song that got faster with each repeat about “tea and smetana with the czarina around the samovar.”  Another favorite was “Rattlesnakes for breakfast.”
   Alice and another Boomer, Myrna Courtney, are the people responsible for getting me to submit my work to publications. They encouraged, cajoled, and finally used a little bit of gentle guilt to get me going. Alice praised characteristics of my writing in our writing sessions and figured out how to motivate me as I am a terrible procrastinator.
     Alice and Jaimie Hall Bruzenak asked me to contribute to RV TRAVELING TALES; Women's Journeys on the Open Road. They specifically wanted the perspective of someone who found herself widowed but chose to remain on the road. But I could not get started, until one day, at Quartzsite I was relating an recent episode. Alice lit up, “That's it,  Betty, there is your story.” But I didn't think that was enough and said so.   She said, “It's a perfect opening paragraph.” And it was. The article, "Going It Single" is in their book.
     Then they had the audacity to ask for a second piece. I procrastinated. She set a deadline for me, the most effective way to get me going. That did it. I wrote about the first writing group. In many ways, that story is my best tribute to Alice.
    We met up on the road in dozens of places from Hondo, to Puget Sound, Moab to Tecopa Hot Springs, Oregon coast to Bosque del Apache and Bodie, and many locations in Arizona. She and Chuck often rode in the back seat of our Suzuki on 4 wheel roads, praising the scenery and adventure even when the rough roads were hard on her back.
     She was there for me when my husband was dying, visiting, calling, writing.   She sang, under the oak trees, at the celebration picnic which was Lin's memorial gathering. Her beautiful voice moved everyone.
    Alice was one of the warmest, most loving women I have ever known. Natural teacher, caring mother (to all), singer and guitar player, writer, friend; she was someone who involved herself in the people around her, spreading warmth.
The poppy seems appropriate here, symbol of Alices' adopted state.  A native of New York City she came to southern California as a young woman to teach.   We often went out exploring together, delighting in the flora  and fauna  and landscapes.

In the tribute I wrote for the Boomers, there wasn't room to include the piece I wrote, years ago, which told of one of my early (though not the first) encounters with Alice.  It is from the book RV Traveling Tales:Women's Journeys on the Open Road.  It is a compilation, by Jaimie Hall and Alice, of stories by 52 RVing women.  Published by Pine Press, winner of the Benjamin Franklin award of the Independent Book Publishers Assoc, copyright 2002-07, the ISBN  is 0-9716777-2-7/978-0-9716777-2-2  Reprinted with permission of the editor.

    The weak late November sun shone into Pena Blanca canyon, a narrow sliver of desert landscape two miles from the Mexico-Arizona border.   The few hours of direct sun were no match for the nighttime temperatures in the teens.  But inside the Pace Arrow it didn't matter.   Five of us sat circled, or as close to a proximity to that shape as permitted by the oblong box in which we gathered.  Each of us held a pad of paper and a pen.
    At Alice's suggestion we had gathered for a writing exercise, based on Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones. "Just keep your hand moving.  Don't edit, let your thoughts go," Alice said.   "When you finish, we will read them aloud, but will not critique them."
    The lead weight in my stomach sunk lower.  On command I was to write on a topic, not yet assigned, and then read it to four mere acquaintances.   I could say I had to use the toilet and not return.  But Alice, born teacher, moved quickly and enthusiastically.
   "We will write for five minutes, starting with the words,  'I remember.'"
     I do not have the foggiest recollection what I scribbled, but eight years later I remember what the others wrote and my reaction.   Jaimie shared the recent final days of her mother's life.  Tears flowed, a tissue box was passed.   There was silence when she finished.   How, I wondered, could we read anything after that, and how could this woman be so open?
   I remember the rhythem of dialog in Alice's story.  How did she capture utterances so clearly?  How, in so few words, could she manifest the personalities of her family?
   Judy's gentle voice evoked a description of her childhood bedroom.  She didn't tell us its meaning; she let us feel it through her words.
    DeAnna stretched her legs and read what she had written.  It unfolded like her long, graceful limbs, enveloping us in her history just as I have learned her personality embraces and welcomes people into her world.
   Who were these people and where did they learn to express themselves so beautifully?   We ignored Alice's stricture about critiquing.  We shared our awe and appreciation for what each had written.
     In that beautiful, cold canyon, on that short November day, five women bonded.  Close female friendships were lacking in my life before then.   Those women gave trust and openess.  They will always be special to me.  But it does not stop there.  We reach out, expanding our circles, sharing with others.  It does not matter if we never return to Pena Blanca Canyon.  The experience travels well.

Thank you, Alice, for the friendship which flowered in that canyon back in 1994 and followed us through all our experiences from then on.

1 comment:

stillhowlyn said...

Hi Betty, I came to visit your site to congratulate you on that beautiful night-sky photo making the cover of Escapees Magazine. That photo certainly inspired me.

And now I read of your dear friend Alice and what an inspiration she has been to your writing and lifestyle. I think she would be very proud!

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