Entering the Garden of the Gods to Meet My Maker…and His Mom

We got to Rifle, Colorado a month too soon. After a few painful days of climbing in finger freezing temps, Soleil and Ari and I headed east over the mountains to Manitou, Colorado Springs where my grandma Patterson and Auntie Allyson live. 

14 15I hadn’t seen my grandmother since I was 21, and before then, since I was 10. She’s the mother of my biological father who I’ve always called Daddy Stephen. He died Aug. 13th, 1975–four months before I was born. Despite being my ‘real’ dad, he’s always been more a myth to me.

Things I know: He was the oldest of ten children and grew up in Manhattan/Hermosa Beach, California. He hated school. He was an outsider, a biker, a bad boy–uncomfortable in his own skin. His nickname was Goat. Battling addiction, he joined the army to get clean and expunge his record. He scored exceptionally high on the Army aptitude test and told his mom, “I never knew I was smart.” He was a Vietnam veteran but was lucky to have been stationed in Korea where he worked as a mechanic on the General’s plane. After the war, he got a doberman puppy. When Brew got hit by a car, he gave his prized stereo system as collateral to the veterinarian to save Brew’s life. He met my mom in Santa Barbara at a friend’s house. Standing 6’4” to her 4’11” (it’s a miracle I exist), they were married and pregnant inside of 15 months. She liked to cook her Sicilian family recipes for him and his siblings. He sold his Harley to buy the wedding ring. He drove a yellow MBG named Mother Goose that we painted red after he died. He got a promotion, inspector at Hydrox. They were moving back east, close to my Italian side, to start their own family. He planned to go to law school and then, one day he didn’t come home from work. An old army/biker buddy named Smoky rode into town and needed a hookup of speed for the long ride back to Texas. Hours after he should’ve been home, my mom received a phone call from a guy supposedly named Bob Clark. The voice on the other line said, “Your husband was barely breathing when I left. Here’s the address.” Barefoot and pregnant with Brew by her side, she pushed her way into the house and found him upstairs, dead on the floor. A heroin overdose. He had a bump on his head and foam at his mouth; his paycheck and license were gone. She tried to kiss him awake, and when that didn’t work, she shook him and pounded his chest until the police showed up. An officer called her “the junkie’s wife.” He was 26 years old, a boy. At the funeral, Brew climbed onto the casket and cried. My mom became a widow and a mother at the same time. 


My dad and Auntie Allyson circa 1950

There’s still so much I don’t know, so much I’ll never know.  The tidbits of story never seem to add up to a whole person. I wonder about the reach of his kindness–was he fair? Did he protect the underdog? Was he compassionate? A good friend? And what about the depth of his darkness. Why was he so troubled? Did he kill anyone? What did he do in his biker gang? Did he read books? What kind of law did he want to practice? I get the impression he was as cryptic in life as he is in death. It makes me sad to think of him balled up so tight, that he died before he had a chance to unfurl his wings. 

On the other hand, I spent hours getting to know my grandma, an exquisite pleasure, a tangible endeavor. We looked at old photos, and she told me about our family history, as I quickly typed notes on my computer. She grew up in Los Angeles like I did, and, like me, she insists the city be called by its full name. With such a beautiful name, Los Angeles, The City of Angels, why would anyone say L.A? She saw Glen Miller at the Hollywood Palladium where, fifty years later, I saw Jane’s Addiction. She met my grandfather at a beach party where I, too, attended bonfires when I was young. 

12139But what I found more extraordinary than our geographic intersections–after all I potentially share those with 18 million other Angelenos –was the likeness in our passions and character. I’ve never felt such an affinity, down to the sway back, the love of art, wine, and travel; the collection of quotes, the liberal slant, the giant hardbound dictionary in every room, the bookshelves lined with literature (a complete set of Emerson!), and the same stubborn resilience–a certain blend of grit and grace, a willingness to laugh while crying. 

I walked around the house and gleaned all I could, filling in our conversations with physical clues. 

She bequeathed me her collection of religious art


11Soleil loved the Koi pond. She got to feed the fishes with whiskers twice a day. 1My grandmother worked in an antique shop for years. She always gave the most interesting presents: porcelain dolls, tintype photographs, family portraits. 5My grandma’s house sits at the entrance of the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark. 
272616I loved hanging out with my Auntie too. She’s now the eldest of the siblings, since my father died. Like my dad (and all the kids, really), she was independent at a young age, but unlike him, she gravitated towards surfing and girl scouts, unburdened by angst. Today she restores antique furniture with unparalleled talent.  242022My mini-me. She’s got the walking hair toss down to a science. 23Ari’s a secret hair tosser too.
19She’s a natural this one. Must run in the family. 18

On the way to Manitou, we stopped at the Denver art museum where they were having a samurai exhibit.

Check out this fearsome warrior. 8There was a great art room, too, that Soleil and Ari fully enjoyed.  If you’re ever passing through the Denver area, I suggest a stop here for lots of free and fun kid activities.67

After our trip to Manitou, we headed back over the mountain to join back up with Tree. Since the weather was still frigid, we took off to Smith Rocks in Oregon, because we’re nomads, and we can. We spent about a month in the Northwest before heading back down to Rifle where we are now. Temps are perfect and we’re rock climbing three days a week. We all have projects, even Soleil. Life is grand!  

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  1. That is WAY AWESOME Stevie—I’m glad for you to gain understanding. . .

  2. kaycee b. says:

    This story gave me chills. You are so lucky to still have a living grandmother to fill you in on family history.


  4. What a wonderful experience. I hope you continue to keep in touch.

  5. That’s wonderful.

  6. That is beautiful

  7. I just got chills reading this… on so many levels. .. God I love you xo

  8. That is awesome Stevie

  9. Tonya Keitt Kalule says:

    Hey there
    I love this article about your reuniting with you father’s family. So important for Solei. I can’t believe how much you look like here.

    Still watching the journey.

  10. This is so special . Family is so important. I am happy you made great connections!!!!

  11. These trails will lead to yourself. It’s a beautiful thing, seek all you can!

  12. Stevie.. I ❤️you..

  13. I love this story and you presented Patterson so well. What a class act she is and so far ahead of her time. She is the epitome of class, grit, and beauty. So thankful for you sharing her with me.

    • Thank you for saying so. It’s always a challenge to describe someone. I’m happy to hear my description rang true to you, and that you adore her too! Looking forward to hanging out again in August/September. xo.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Well now, that explains it! Lovely!!!!!

  15. I love that you did this! I’ve been meaning to visit as well, and reading your post inspired me.

  16. If by chance you drive back through Denver on your way to your next adventure, would love to say hello. Tree used to be buddies with my dad, back in the Hood River days.

  17. What a gift!

  18. No way Stevie! Sounds like such a great visit. So happy you were able to spend time with your family ❤️

  19. Stevie, thank you for sharing such a beautiful experience, wrapped around such a sad memory. You never cease to amaze and inspire me❤️

  20. I bet your grama had the time if her life.getting to know you and your little one!xxxoooo

  21. Wonderful and touching…

  22. Brilliant. 🙂

  23. That is! His name was Stephen, so my mom named me Stephenie with an E instead of an A and always called me Stevie from the day I was born. Good memory!

  24. Your grandma’s a stunner! Good genes there! 🙂

  25. Priceless!

  26. That’s funny. I hope you weren’t watching anything exciting.?

  27. I love this so much. I had a similar experience with my paternal Grams that I was estranged from from a young age. Genetics are fascinating.

  28. Same thing with my mother too. Her father died in a construction accident three months before she was born.

  29. What a beautiful sweet glimpse of your life, thank you for sharing

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