The Meaning of It All

by Ann Ulrich Miller
© 2011 (all rights reserved)

An article from the APRIL 2011 issue of THE STAR BEACON.


This month I’m sharing part of a chapter from my autobiography, Throughout All Time. It was a spring in which a lot of changes (and challenges) occurred in the months ahead.

From Chapter 22...

In the middle of April in 1999, Ethan and I agreed to adopt a couple of mules. We had been talking for quite some time about getting horses or mules and keeping them on the property. Julian had said we could put up a fence and keep horses if we wanted.

On April 23, 1999 we brought home “Miranda,” an 18-year-old brown molly, and “Koko,” a 14-year-old black john mule that could only be used for packing. Koko’s name was officially “Dammit” when we bought him, but we thought he deserved a more compassionate name.

The mules were both challenging and a lot of fun. Ethan spent the summer building them a new barn. We had many amusing episodes with the mules. I had been around horses very little, but had taken some riding lessons my seventeenth summer from a young lady in Wisconsin. I don’t think Ethan had much experience with horses either, but he had an internal knowing and natural ability working with the mules that must have come from his previous life as a mountain man.

The man who sold us the mules had talked us into buying all his tack, along with a four-horse trailer that needed a little repair but was adequate and would prove to be beneficial years later, when we pastured the mules on Garvin Mesa during the summers. We had spent time and money building fence on the property. There wasn’t much there for the mules to eat — sage, mustard grass and a lot of rocks — so Ethan had to buy hay. We spoiled the animals by giving them treats, usually a carrot or some sliced apples.

In October we bought a third mule, “Jenny,” who was white and smaller than the other two. Jenny was high-strung like Koko, but you could ride her at least. Miranda was very gentle and friendly, where Koko and Jenny were nervous and skittish much of the time. Jenny was supposed to be my mule, but I believe I only rode her two or three times in all the years we had her. She was much too fast and uncontrollable for me.

Scott, however, could handle Jenny. Scott was a natural and took to riding without any problem. We used to take the mules on walks along the Fire Mountain Canal. They always seemed to enjoy the outings with us, and we grew to love them. But, for the most part, they were just big, expensive pets.

Marty’s graduation from high school was that May. I drove to Chadron, Nebraska with Ryan, to attend the ceremony at Marty’s high school. I was invited to Jeff and Val’s home for the open house afterwards and was feeling rather uneasy.

Scotty was happy to see me and showed me his room and his pet geese, which he kept outside in a pen. They lived in a good-sized house out in the country with plenty of lawn to mow. I spent time conversing with Ron and Marge Ulrich, Jeff’s parents, who always treated me with kindness. The awkwardness of being around Jeff was often enhanced by Val’s insecurity.

Marty had actually finished high school in January 1999 — a semester early — but he came back to Chadron to participate in the ceremonial graduation.

Just days after he had finished his high school in Chadron, he had moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he attended part of the winter semester at the University of Nebraska.
Unfortunately, Marty never completed the term and flunked out. Too much independence at his young age, after being so strictly controlled by his father and stepmother the previous year, only led to his desire to party and goof off.

Too late I had offered Marty the chance to come live with us in Paonia when he finished his senior year. I thought it might be a good idea for him to take some time off from school and think about what he wanted to do with his life. But he had already paid some money toward his college and thought it was too late to change his decision. I now wish I had pressured him to come to Paonia anyway, because he might have saved himself a lot of grief and a whole lot of financial trouble that would plague him for years to come.

However, the lessons we face in life are most likely pre-arranged. I don’t know if my intervention would have been in Marty’s best interest as far as that goes. The choices he would make in the next seven years would bear consequences, and yet I feel now that without those challenges in his life, Marty wouldn’t have come as far as he did, at least in a spiritual sense.

I’ve often looked back at one of the psychic readings I had gotten from Ursula in El Jebel, Colorado back in the ’80s. I remember what she said about Marty, who was born on Nov. 1, 1980. I had lost a baby to a miscarriage just before I got pregnant with Marty, and the reading disclosed that Marty’s soul had been insistent on coming in when it did. He was an important ingredient in the Life Plan of many, and I’ve pondered this over the years as I’ve watched my second son face each obstacle in his life and evolve from it.

When he had an awakening from Arda Golden Eagle Woman a few years later — after Marty came to live with us in 2001 — she was floored by him and had a hard time trying to convince me of what she’d seen. “He knows exactly who he is!” Arda told me. When I tried to get her to explain, she wouldn’t go into detail, but I know I was incredulous based on what was going on in Marty’s life at the time. Later on I would grow to understand and accept the significance of his being.

Going back to January 1999, soon after Marty arrived in Lincoln at the dorm, he shopped around for a car to replace his clunky Taurus. He found a sporty 1992 Chevy Beretta. He wanted that car so badly he could taste it. But the price tag was kind of high at $4,995. He called me and begged me to co-sign a loan with him so he could buy that car.

I was reluctant. Why couldn’t the kid find something more practical and less expensive? Co-signing for five grand just might come back one day and haunt me. But in the end — against my better judgment — I gave in and co-signed the loan so he could buy his dream car.

I’ll never forget the evening, just a couple of weeks later, when Marty called me, shaken. I was alone because Ethan was in Arizona. “Mom, I’ve just been in an accident ...”

Those words shot my heart rate up at least twenty beats per minute. I was horrified. “Are you all right? Was anyone hurt?” I was not concerned about the condition of the car ... yet.

Marty reassured me that he was all right and hadn’t even gotten a scratch, thanks to his air bag. He had been delivering pizza for his job, when he and another teen-age boy had a head-on collision at a stoplight. Marty was turning left on a yellow light and the other boy, coming from the opposite direction, was doing the same thing. Luckily, no one was hurt. But the 1992 Chevy Beretta — that had cost us five grand — was totaled.

After a police investigation, it was found that the other driver was at fault in the accident, and so Marty got off the hook. The other boy’s insurance paid for the car, and I was off the hook from having co-signed the loan. But it had made me a nervous wreck.

Over Memorial Day in 1999 my parents stopped in Paonia. They were on their way to Wisconsin to attend the graduation of two of my nephews who were Marty’s age. Dad was his usual, happy-go-lucky self and seemed to enjoy this visit more than usual. He made a big fuss over the mules. We didn’t know at the time that this would be Dad’s last trip to Colorado. He gave me a big hug before they left, and he told Ethan, “Take care of my little girl.”

My dad with the late Star Beacon
columnist Julian Joyce in May 1999

On June 11, 1999 a much loved man made his transition from this earth. Mom and Dad had spent the last two weeks in Wisconsin, attending the graduation and visiting friends and relatives. They had just left Jim and Linda’s house in southern Wisconsin and were heading back to Nevada, when Dad got a headache and started feeling ill. They turned around and went back to Jim’s. Linda called Jim and they drove my parents immediately to the hospital in Janesville, and by that time Dad suffered a massive stroke.

I was working the afternoon at High Country News when Jim telephoned my house. One of the boys was home and took the call, then phoned me at work. I called Jim back and found out Dad was in the hospital. “You’d better get here, if you can,” he told me. I knew then it was serious.

Dad was declared brain dead and was taken off life support the evening of June 11, and he made his transition within the hour. Family members were at his side, including my sisters Laurie and Alice, and brother Jim, as well as our mother.

School was out, so Ryan and Scott were in Paonia with us, but Marty was living in Illinois at that time. He had moved from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Bloomington, Illinois, where he had talked a television station into hiring him as some kind of technician. I called Marty and told him I was driving Ryan and Scott to Wisconsin the next day, and I’d stop in Bloomington to pick him up, so we could all go to Madison.

The funeral was quite an experience. It was emotional but uplifting. Dad had made many friends and acquaintances over his lifetime. He had spent most of his seventy-eight years in Madison, and had been mayor of the City of Monona when I was a teen-ager. He had been popular and well loved, as evidenced by the multitude of people who came to both the visitation and his funeral service. I gave a short speech at his funeral and was moved to tears by my nephew Paul’s eulogy and especially when my nephew Lucas sang Angels Among Us.

The night after his funeral, we gathered at Laurie’s house. The kids had guitars and we all sang and filled the house with music and memories well until midnight. You could feel Dad’s presence and — music lover that he always was — I know he was enjoying all this camaraderie and song.

Throughout All Time is now available as an ebook through ($6), or you can order an autographed print copy at a reduced price ($10 postpaid) from Earth Star, 216 Sundown Circle, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.




This page updated April 4, 2011


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