They were devastated and lay awake for hours night after night listening to the sound of ocean waves breaking less than half a mile away. How could they possibly be orphans? And yet the resilience mustered by 15-year-old Jane Hall and her 18-year-old brother Dick would prove extraordinary. Both were about to leave behind their friends and teachers at Redondo Union High School, though it helped that Dick was about to graduate. Jane felt as if she was in the middle of a whirlpool. For the next few weeks, her mission was keep the house in Manhattan Beach running smoothly until she and her brother joined their aunt and uncle Rose and Randolph Hicks. The Hickses divided their time between an apartment in New York City and his ancestral farm in Virginia. There was so much to do and to think about. As Jane pulled down the sign on the front door of 1148 Manhattan Avenue that identified her as manager of the local office of the Redondo Daily Breeze, she wondered if she would ever again be in touch with the editors in Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach who had helped launch her career as a writer.
For weeks, Jane’s natural exuberance remained dormant under a cloud of grief. Please tell me “you love me better than ANYBODY in the world except Uncle Randolph and Gram and Dick,” she begged her Aunt Rose. She promised she would make sure that Dick had new shoes, a white shirt, and a black tie to wear under his robe for the ceremonies on June 13, 1930.
In the yearbook, Dick said he wanted to be “a famous lawyer,” his flaw was “studying” and his hobby “books.” His classmates predicted that within ten years he would be the world chess champion and “owner of the Toledo Blade.” He was not the least bit domestic, while obesity and arthritis limited their seventy-year-old grandmother to providing emotional support. So that left Jane to organize the packing, to being The Responsible One—a role that would be central to her self-image for the rest of her life.
Dick Wick Hall’s brother Ernest–once Arizona’s Secretary of State– had been looking out for the Halls’ property in Salome since 1927 and would continue to do so. In June, Jane and Dick made a final trip to Arizona with their Gram to ship their father’s mission-style desk, his chair, typewriter, and “about five or six hundred pounds of very good books”– by freight to Poplar Springs, the Hickses’ farm near Warrenton. Jane would find new material to write about in Manhattan and Virginia. But the dry, rugged, wide-open sand hills and mountains in what was then Yuma County remained part of her heart and soul, as she explained in an “Ode to the Desert” that had shaped her formative years.
I had one brief respite
From a city’s blare;
So I left for the wasteland’s blight,
And the torrid glare
Of a desert sun.
A bare six days in that silent heat I spent;
But the lure of the stars, and the gaunt mesquite,
And the pulsing throb
Of a raw life’s beat
All worked their spell,
And I knew what living meant.
The realization brought terrible toll
For I’m caught in the mesh
Of the desert’s grip . . .
Heart and soul.
I have seen black hills
On a flame-red sky,
And stood in the spot
Where echoes die.
I have thrilled to the feel
Of a desert night,
That soothes like a gentle hand
Each stunted tree and sickly bush
In the whole of that fevered land.
At last I have known the warm caress
Of an evening wind and I’ve felt the dawn
Brush past my cheek, and hurry on
To its noonday reek of burning sand, and blistered flesh,
And dust-dry water-holes . . .
Ah, such a brief, brief week.
Well I’m here again,
With the milling throng,
But now my aim is fixed and strong.
All I want is a one-room shack,
Painted by sunset glow . . .
I promised the desert I’d come back,
And some day, I shall go.
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