My name is Dorothy Gale. Dorothy O. Gale. My dad named me after his mother, and my mother let my grandmother pick out my middle name. Let’s just say my grandmother was a lunatic, and my mother was a hippie chick from the 1960s; while that worked well for the two of them, it stuck me with one of the dumbest damned middle names on the planet. Moon Zappa’s got nothing on me. My middle name is Ozma, purportedly some “lost princess” out of Grandma’s stories. I am just eternally grateful that my father put the smack down on the two of them when they tried to make that my first name.
Grandma’s maiden name was Gale. That’s another convoluted story, but lets just say Grandpa was killed in the war (no, I don’t know which one) and Grandma decided to go back to her maiden name before Dad was born. My philosophy? Don’t ask, don’t tell, but I’m not that stupid. If you knew Grandma, though, you’d let her live in her little fantasy world and humour the old darling.
I spent most of my childhood on Grandma’s farm in Kansas listening to her stories about some wild wonderland called Oz, mostly a place called The Emerald City. I was always kind of a geek. It seemed a little too sweet to be real, but when I asked her about outlying areas, she would just shudder and say, “Oh dear, those places were scary! I tried to avoid the mountains and anywhere close to the deserts of death. You just never knew what was around the next corner!” It sounded like an adventure to me, but okay. Grandma wasn’t that interested in talking about anything but pretty fields, castles, how a lion got courage, how a scarecrow got brains, how a tin man got a heart, and raved on and on about some chick named Glinda.
Glinda was a piece of work, from what I could tell. Later on when I was in college, I read all about her in a psychology course I took. She’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under “narcissistic”…with a side order of OCD. I tried to explain this to Grandma, but she refused to acknowledge that this little fairy story of hers might carry some elements of reality.
Actually, though, her version of things was totally revisionist when it came to fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and all of those old Nordic and Eastern European children’s stories were intended to scare the shit out of children. Told the way they were supposed to be told before the censors tried to separate children from the real world that surrounded them, there were some pretty graphic morals to those stories.
Not in Grandma’s world.
She totally freaked out when I joined ROTC in high school. Girls didn’t play “army”. If they wanted that kind of exercise, they became cute little cheerleaders or gymnasts. Well, Grandma, this girl wants to play MARINE, not army, so you’re half-right on that. Besides, it wasn’t playing. If there’s one thing Dad taught me, it was to establish goals early and do your level best to reach those goals. ROTC in high school took me to ROTC in college, and from there to OTC and off to Afghanistan. Twice.
The military, for all its fun moments, was a serious business. What made it more serious was Afghanistan. Dear God, what a culture shock. For all they taught in training in the US, they could not prepare anyone for the reality. That’s how it is in life. You just don’t know until you’ve had the experience yourself. And to relate that experience to others? There’s just no way for outsiders to fully grasp the enormity of it. I have a lot of stories I’ll never tell anyone for that reason.
Every now and then I think about Grandma’s Oz and wonder if there were parts of that Oz that were like Afghanistan. It wasn’t the deadly deserts part, really, but it was the mountains. I know the mountains in Colorado to be beautiful and wonderful, so they couldn’t have been the kind of mountains that Grandma inferred were so dreadful. They had to be more like the ones near Peshawar to be that scary to her. Or not. Who knows? Grandma’s Oz has only one leftover legacy in my life, and that’s my middle name.
Well, there’s one other thing, and that’s Toto. Toto was Grandma’s little doggie sidekick in her stories. I named my little sidekick after hers. Mine is a Colt .45 ACP, like the one I carried as a Marine, complete custom from Springfield Armory…and then I did a little customising of my own. Hey. We all have our pets. This is mine.
Follow Dorothy: Locked and Loaded this summer. You’ll find that Grandma told some pretty tall tales.