Table of Contents (click on link to go to a section):
1. IN THE BEGINNING
I was born in Paducah, Kentucky on April 16, 1947. My parents lived in a small town called Benton, Kentucky, which was approximately 28 miles from Paducah. Benton had no hospital at that time, so my mom went to the hospital in town to have me. Here is a small map showing where Benton is located.
Shortly after I was born, we moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where we lived with my maternal grandparents in a large house, with my three uncles: Anthony ("Toe"), Frank, and Benjamin ("Junie"). I had lots of relatives around and was probably very spoiled! My grandma always was my favorite person in my family. We stayed in St. Louis until I was four years old. Then we moved back to Benton.
2. LIFE IN BENTON, KENTUCKY
In 1953, when I was six years old, I started going to Benton High School -- which had all twelve grades in one building. (Now Benton has an elementary school, a middle school and a separate high school.) A short time later, in November, my mom had my first brother named David Benjamin Gilliam ("Benny"). I was quite put out having to share my home with another sibling. He seemed to get all the attention!
My dad liked to hunt, so we always had hunting dogs. I first remember having a pointer. Later, we had a breeding pair of weimaraners and black labs. In the summer of 1955, we had two litters of pups -- one from each pair. I loved those puppies and we ended up keeping three of the black lab pups, with whom I played all summer. I named my pups Lady, Tramp, and Jock (from the Disney movie). We spent the summer exploring the countryside around Benton. Benton had about 2,000 people back then, so parents did not worry about their children roaming around the town. Life was so much nicer then!
Christmas eve in 1955, my aunt Julia and uncle Carl and cousins Nat and Cherye were visiting and we were sitting around the fireplace, with the snow coming down outside, when suddenly, we heard a knock at the door. A man asked my dad if he knew anyone who had a black lab, because he had just hit one in the road next to our house. Unfortunately, it was my boy Tramp who had escaped from the barn! My dad took Tramp and put him on the floor in the basement. He stayed there for several days and, all of a sudden one day, my dad told me that he was going to take Tramp to the vet to make him better. Poor Tramp had lain on the floor for days, unable to get up, and I trusted my dad to make him better for me.
About two weeks later, my parents were sitting in their chairs in front of the fireplace, reading the newspaper and listening to music on the radio. Curious as to how he was doing, I asked my dad, "When is Tramp coming home?" My dad looked at my mom and she looked at him -- and a quiet fell over the room.
My dad looked at me and said, "We thought you would forget about him, so we decided not to tell you that Tramp died." I was devastated. I felt a lump in my stomach that I had never felt before. I felt my face flush -- my eyes filled with tears -- and I began to loose control. I felt so betrayed. I wasn't sure if the tears were the result of Tramp having died or of having my parents think that I would forget about him, thereby relieving them of the burden of having to tell me of his death. I went to my bedroom and climbed into bed. I continued to cry, wondering what had become of Tramp. I went to church regularly at the local Church of Christ, and I had heard of heaven and hell. Plus, my dad's father, who I called PeePaw, had recently died, so I knew what death was, since I'd attended PeePaw's services and saw his dead body in the casket. Soon my dad came into my room to attempt to comfort me. I said, "Is Tramp in heaven with PeePaw?"
He responded, "No, honey, dogs don't go to heaven. Heaven is only for people. Dogs are not people, they are just animals, and when they die, they are just dead and gone." I was completely devastated! His cold heartless words made me feel even worse, and I cried more deeply. I was so miserable to think that my little Tramp -- who I loved so much -- was lying somewhere decomposing into nothingness -- because God wouldn't let dogs go to heaven. That was when I decided that I did not like my dad's religious beliefs, if that was the way they looked at things.
Shortly after Tramp died in December 1955, my dad decided to move us to California so he could get a good job as an electrician, be close to my mom's family, and escape from his friends with whom he drank too much. I had no idea what would happen in California, but I did not think that I liked it. In early February 1956, when I was 8 years old, my dad gave away my two remaining labs -- Lady and Jock -- to some people in the country. So, I lost all 3 of my dogs within the span of 2 months! I was so depressed, but nobody paid any attention. I was just a kid.
3. CHILDHOOD IN SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
I don't remember the actual trip to California, but I remember being deposited with my Aunt Bert and Uncle Charlie in San Diego. My parents, however, moved up to Inglewood, California with my little brother, where my dad apparently had a job as an electrician (he had been one at the Tenneesee Valley Authority at Kentucky Lake before the move). So, there I was -- at the age of eight -- getting used to the loss of my three beloved pets, my family abandoning me, and all these strangers that I was foisted upon: my aunt, my uncle, my cousin Sandy, my cousin Joe, and my little cousin Kathy. They were all strange to me and my uncle was a child molester! I was miserable because I had lost my three best friends (Tramp, Lady, Jock), my hometown, and my family. Nobody understood why I became depressed, morose, and sullen. I enrolled at Montezuma Elementary School for the remainder of the third grade and was a very good student -- what else was there to do?
It turns out that my mom was pregnant with my younger brother, who was born in July 1956. They let me name him, and I named him Robert after a blond boy upon whom I had the wildest crush! They gave him the middle name of Wesley after my dad's grandfather. I was 9 years old when he was born and still was living with my relatives. My dad got a job in San Diego, so they moved to a small duplex in the area of town called Clairemont in September 1956. I enrolled in Whittier Elementary School for the fourth grade.
We stayed in Clairemont until I was in the middle of sixth grade, at which time my parents bought a brand new, 3-bedroom, 2-bath, home in a newer development in Chula Vista. It was 1959, and I think they paid about $12,000 for it! I enrolled in the sixth grade at Kellogg Elementary School, and Mr. Bickel was my teacher. He was a good teacher. He read to us every day, which I loved.
In Chula Vista, our house was on the outskirts of town at that time, so my girlfriends and I would explore all over the countryside from Chula Vista to Otay Lakes. I had a really good time with them -- about 8 of us. We had wonderful times together: riding bikes all over, going downtown to shop and buy french fries and Green Rivers at the soda shop, building forts in the canyons with tumbleweeds, having slumber parties where we ate like pigs and told ghost stories, playing girls' basketball at the Recreation Center.
In the fall of 1959, I enrolled in the 7th grade at Castle Park Junior High School. I liked school, got good grades, and was in the advanced placement classes for all subjects that were offered. My favorite teacher was Mr. Bannister, who taught Social Studies, whose favorite quote was, "To thyne own self be true, and it shall follow as the night the day, that thou canst then be false with any man." I really admired him, and have tried to follow his example.
I enrolled in 10th grade at Hilltop High School. I only went one year, however, since they built a new school nearer my house the following year -- Castle Park High School. I was in the first junior class in the fall of 1963. Our colors were red, black, and white, and we were called the Trojans. I enjoyed it, but was anxious to leave home and see the world, so I applied to Pepperdine for early admission, because I had enough credits and an A-average. I was accepted for the fall of 1964, but at the last minute I became too afraid to go to Los Angeles alone and decided to go to Lubbock Christian College with my best friend, Rita. I should have gone to Pepperdine!
4. THE YEARS AWAY
I spent the year of 1964-65 in Lubbock, Texas at Lubbock Christian College. I have not been back to church since. I met some of the most hypocritical, judgmental, and two-faced people there, who believed that all people from California were wild sinners on the road to hell. Many of them were sinning more than anyone I ever knew. I have to admit that I met some very nice people, too, some of which I'd love to see again. I also met my future husband, James Smith, who was from Denver, Colorado.
I returned to San Diego in the summer of 1965, took a couple of adult school classes to earn my high school diploma, and enrolled at Grossmont Junior College in the fall. I did not realize the importance of where you go to college at that time and I just wanted to go close to home and cheaply since we did not have much money. I did not know about scholarships.
In early, 1966, Jim Smith, who I had met in Lubbock, came to California to visit his father in Lompoc and dropped by San Diego to see me. We started going together and, when he returned to Denver, CO, I went, too. We married on July 19, 1966, in Denver and got jobs -- putting our educations on hold. I worked as a disbursement clerk at the First National Bank of Denver at 17th and Welton Streets. I was the Distribution Clerk, who distributed the trust funds to the beneficiaries of the trusts the bank administered. I remember that a young, beautiful female attorney worked on my floor -- Anne Gorsuch (later Anne Burford, who became head of the EPA under President Ronald Reagan). She was an inspiration to me to go back to school and get a good job. I would eventually go back and get a B.S. in Physics and a law degree -- partly because of being inspired by her at the bank that year.
Jim did not like the snow and cold weather, so we returned to Southern California in March 1967. Jim, Jr. was born April 24, 1967. In June 1967, we moved to Garden Grove, and I got a job at Security Pacific National Bank in downtown Los Angeles. I soon became bored with my job as a Report Preparation Clerk, so I looked for another job. I found a job as a secretary at Dames & Moore, Civil Engineers, in Westwood -- near U.C.L.A. I became very interested in engineering and decided to major in physics. I graduated from Cal State University - Los Angeles in June 10, 1972, with a B.S. in Physics. Our second son, Jeffrey David Smith, was born a few days later on June 15.
I stayed home for a few months, but eventually got a job at TRW in Redondo Beach. My first day of work was February 19, 1973. I was a Member of the Technical Staff in the Materials Technology Department. I worked on various projects related to space science experimentation planned for the Space Shuttle. Later, I transferred to the Heat Transfer and Thermodynamics Department and worked on analysis and design of satellite thermal control systems. I enjoyed that work a lot and only left it so that I could eventually move back to San Diego (or so I thought).
In 1975, I divorced my husband Jim because we developed differing views on life goals. I bought my first house in Torrance, CA, in October 1976, and finally started doing some fun things. I played soccer, basketball, women's softball and co-ed softball for several years, until I decided to go back to school in 1983. At that time I applied to law school and spent four years, including summers, going to Loyola Law School at night. I graduated in June 1987 and passed the July bar that year. I took a position as an associate attorney at Parkinson, Wolf, Lazar, & Leo, in Century City, waiting for my younger son to finish high school. I bought the almost-12-acre lot my house now sits on back in August 1987, when I was living in Torrance, California. I planned to build a house on my lot as soon as I could after my younger son was out of high school..
In 1990, I started looking for a position in San Diego, and my headhunter sent me to Southern California Edison Company to interview for the position they had for a gas attorney. SCE planned to move the Gas Fuels Department to San Diego after the pending merger with San Diego Gas & Electric Company went through. Everyone thought the merger would go through, but it did not. I was still stuck in L.A.!
I decided in 1993 to move to San Diego anyway, so I rented my house in Torrance to others and leased a house in San Diego near my family. I started researching my construction project in 1994. In 1995, SCE assigned me to the nuclear work, so that I could reduce my commute and not leave the company. I had a satellite office at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where I worked several days each week.
5. BACK IN SAN DIEGO
I sold my house in Torrance in March 1997, bought a small RV to live in temporarily and moved to Camplands By The Bay, in Mission Beach, California. I spent all my spare time, researching and planning my new house. I broke ground in late October 1997 and moved into the house in April 1998. I lived there in the country with my dogs, cats, pygmy goats, miniature horses, and pigs. When I moved into my new house, I started out with Labrador Retrievers, like I had in Kentucky. I obtained my first three (3) Labs from Kasey Mando, who lives in El Cajon near Alpine. I met her in May 1997, when I bought my first miniature horse from her. She also breeds and shows dogs. In March 1998, I bought 3 Labs from Kasey, including Blossom Valley Stormy ("Stormy"), who became my foundation bitch. Stormy had her first litter of pups on February 3, 2000, when she was two years old. I bred her to Ania Becker's wonderful stud dog, Rockin Oak Typhoon ("Ty"). Ty is an AKC Champion who produces extremely nice puppies, who do very well in the conformation ring. Her first-born pup from this breeding was a yellow female, who was spectacular, so I kept her and named her Blossom Valley Sunny Delight ("DeeDee"). She is named for Sunny Samantha, who she loved dearly from the beginning. I placed the remaining eight puppies in wonderful homes. The following year, I bred Stormy again to Ania's Ty, so that I could get another puppy to keep and show. She had eight puppies on April 23, 2001, but only seven survived. I kept two yellow females and one black female to see which of them turned out the best. They were named Blossom Valley Sand Storm ("Sandy"), Blossom Valley Snow Storm ("Snowy"), and Blossom Valley Wind Storm ("Windy"). I co-owned Blossom Valley Tempest Storm ("Tempest") for a while with Kaitlin Rawls -- a very sweet young lady who always wanted a black lab puppy. I placed the last black female puppy, Blossom Valley Rain Storm ("Rainy"), with Kasey Mando; the last yellow female puppy, Blossom Vly Dolce Bell Storm ("Bell") with Carol Hale's family, and Rancho Felix King Buck ("Buck") with Jesus Felix of Alpine, CA. When my 4-23-01 pups were about six weeks old, I met a woman in Norco, who had a wonderful litter of yellow puppies sired by CH Saddlehill Driftwood ("Drifter"). I took one of those wonderful puppies home and named him RoseJay Typhoon of BV Ranch.("Ty"). He has the most "laid-back" temperament of any Lab I have known, and he produced terrific puppies.
6. MOVE TO AGUANGA, CA
In 2010, I was tired of driving 140 miles each way to work and back so I decided to move closer to work and to Riverside County, which is much nicer to dog breeders. I started looking the first weekend of April 2010, after having driven to Palm Springs via the short-cut from I15 to Temecula Parkway to SR371 to SR74 to Rancho Mirage, where I had an offsite meeting of the Southern California Edison Law Department. In June 2010, I found a foreclosure that I bought and kept until 2013. In 2013, I bought the place I now have. I retired in September 2013 and now devote my time to my herd of alpacas, miniature horses, Sicilian miniature donkey, retired Arab mare, pygmy goats, and dogs.
I haven't had the opportunity to breed any Lab puppies for several years, but a friend gave me a great granddaughter of my Stormy a couple of years ago and another friend gave me a stud dog that needed a home, so I finally am having another litter of puppies in late June 2018. I look forward to having little Labbies running around!