by Sanford R. Wilbur

June 2024 

   Abigail Greenbrier was a member of what might have been one of the richest and most prominent families in 1940 Salinas, California. At least, that's what her father, the honorable Thomas G. Greenbrier said, and he should know, shouldn't he? He was certainly involved in everything - business, politics, society, church - well, everything. He owned land, was on various boards and committees, and regularly ran for one office or another. He was a "big man," it  seemed.

   Abigail's mother, Clara Demarest Greenbrier, was as comfortable in the social whirl of Monterey County as was her husband in all his circles of involvement. Her name was often on the "society page" of the local paper, as she chaired a committee, organized a community event, or in one way or another made herself visible.

   It had been clear to Abigail for a year or so that "rich" and "prominent" were terms that became a little elusive when one attempted to apply them to reality. The 1938 stock market crash had been unkind to her family, she knew, but she wasn't sure that their wealth  before  that had been that great. She'd heard the term "cash poor" somewhere, and she thought it might apply to them - various "assets," but not much actual money within reach. As for "prominence" and "social status," she suspected that being on one  of those ladders in Salinas wouldn't put you very high on ladders a lot of other places. Nevertheless, she thought her parents were not alone in playing those particular games.

   As to her own projected role, Abigail had no illusions. She was 18, her mother considered her "moderately pretty," and she danced well. There didn't seem to be any question that, when the time came, she would attract a young man aspiring to join the Salinas elite, and she would become his helpmate in reaching those dizzying heights. She would also raise a couple of children along the way, and would emulate her mother in becoming one of the county's top socialites.

   The only problem was that Abigail was developing other plans. Her parents had made the mistake (actually, the result of a cash flow problem) of letting her attend public schools throughout her educational years, and she had developed a number of "middle class ideas," as her mother typified them. (Mom hoped a good finishing school would erase a lot of those bad ideas but, again, it looked like cash might be a problem.) Clearly, Abigail had developed into  a "no respecter of persons" person, and strongly believed that "a cat may look at a king." She had been enthralled by stories of the early suffragettes and although American women had been able to vote since 1920 (actually, 1911 in California), she still felt there was a lot of equality left to establish. Even though she loved her parents, and was generally happy at home, it was clear to her that - in the world of 1940 - Daddys were always the leaders, and Mommys and Daughters followed wherever Daddys led.

   To be clear, Abigail had nothing against marriage and husbands and babies. She hoped to have all of them, someday. She certainly wasn't against money, either, but if she married a rich man, she wanted him to be one who really had the cash, not one with the pretensions of wealth she saw all around her. She wasn't what you would call a rebel. She just wanted to do the usual things on her own terms and on her own schedule.


   The somewhat silent rebellion took its first external step in the late summer of 1940, when she borrowed the family car for a solo road trip. She had only driven around town before then, had never gone any distance by herself, and she didn't exactly have permission. (Well, she did leave a note.) Her planned destination was the Pinnacles, 30 miles away down Highway 101 to Gonzales, then up a country road to the reserve. It was an exciting prospect.

   Her parents were off somewhere when she packed a lunch, and started out of town. She'd known enough to check that there was plenty of gas in the tank, but she didn't have any ideas about other preparations she should make. Once on the highway, she found it exhilarating to have other cars whizzing by her, all on their way to their own destinations. This was already an adventure!

   She made the turn into Gonzales, and soon found herself alone on the narrow, twisty road that climbed steadily but gradually into the foothills. Before long, she got the first glimpses of her destination - tall spikes of orange-brown rock stretching up above the brushy hills into the blue sky. She had seen an article in the local paper recently, describing the rocky wilderness where wild animals still lived, and which had once been the home of the almost extinct California condor. She wasn't quite sure what a condor was - kind of a very big vulture? - but apparently they weren't around anymore, anyway.



   The road ended in a small parking area, occupied by one car - the first she had seen since the outskirts of Gonzales. A man seemed to be loading a large coil of rope into the car's trunk, like he was getting ready to leave. This might have been a time to be a little cautious - a young girl all alone, far from any help - but any wariness seemed to have deserted her on that breakaway day. She got out of the car, and walked toward the man.

   "Have you been up in the reserve?" she asked.

   "A little ways," he said, without turning around. "I was supposed to go climbing with a friend today, but at the last minute he couldn't make it. We were going to go into a cave that looked like it might have once been a nesting place for condors. I decided to come down, anyway, and maybe make the climb on my own, but I think it's just a little too risky."

   "Is it something I could help you with?" she asked, obviously without thinking. "I haven't ever climbed, but maybe there's something simple you need?"

   He finally turned, and gave her a quick look. "Well, it isn't complicated, but it takes a bit of instruction. I just need someone to hold on to one end of my rope while I scale the cliff to the cave. Do you want to try?"

   "Sure. Just show me what to do."

   He took his coil of rope back out of the trunk, grabbed a small backpack, and started up the trail. She got her lunch, and followed him. Soon, they were among the first of the tall monoliths. He left the trail, and took them into a side canyon. Before long, they came to a high wall. He pointed to a hole in the rock, maybe 50 feet up. "That's where I want to go."

   He tied one end of the rope around his waist, and handed her the coil. "This isn't the nicest kind of rock to climb on. It's quite smooth, without a lot of hand and foot holds, and not a lot of cracks or crevices to use to anchor the rope in place. But it isn't a long, or a hard, climb. I could probably just scoot up there without worrying about a rope. I've never fallen, but I'd prefer this not to be the day I do, so here's what we'll do."

   He showed her how to leave a little bit of rope between him and her, grab the rope with her left hand, put the coil behind her body, and grasp it again with her right hand. "Now, I'll climb up a ways. If I fell, it will only be a few feet, and I'm sure I'd land gracefully on my feet. You wouldn't have to do anything but watch my descent. Once I find a suitable spot to anchor the rope to the cliff, then my fall can only be a few feet. If I should slip, all you have to do is move your right hand in against your body, so you can hold the rope in place without it slipping out of your hand. I'll probably find one more point to anchor the rope, and then I'll be in the cave. Your job will be  done."

   He gave Abigail a moment to get in position, then seemed to go up the wall as easily as if he was climbing stairs. She payed out the rope as he went, and suddenly he was sitting in the mouth of the cave, his feet dangling over the edge.

   "Do you want to come up?" he asked.

   She didn't hesitate. "What do I do?"

   "Just tie the rope around your waist, and climb up the cliff. I'll keep the rope taut as you come toward me. Take your time, but I think you'll find the necessary hand and foot holds okay."

   She didn't race up the cliff, like he had done, but she didn't have any problem. Having the rope tight above her was reassuring, but she didn't really need it. Before long, she was sitting beside him at the mouth of the cave. He offered her half of his sandwich.

   "Well, I  can tell right now that this cave hasn't been used by condors or turkey vultures in some time. If it had been, we would be enjoying the not pleasant aroma of scavenger living - even here in the wind. I still should look inside. If there were ever condors, there will probably be bones or feathers or pieces of eggshell."

   He slipped back into the cave, which turned out to be fairly deep. He didn't find any trace of previous occupancy. "If you're ready to go down," he said, on his return to the opening, "I'll keep the rope taut, and just climb back down the way you climbed up. It's a little trickier going down backward, but you can't fall as long as I have the rope around you."

   She came down quicker than she went up. He swooped down like he was sliding down the pole in a fire house. He pulled the rope down, coiled it up, and they started back to the car. When they arrived, he tossed his gear in the trunk, said "thanks," and drove off, leaving her staring after him.

   Well, she thought, the Age of Chivalry is clearly dead. He didn't wait to see if her car started. He didn't offer to stay together until they got back to the highway. He just left her. She was indignant. Then, she smiled.

   He had really done just what she thought she wanted. He assumed she knew what she was doing. He hadn't given any indication that he was thinking of her as a girl, when he accepted her help, or when she made the climb. He hadn't called her any cute girly names. Well, he hadn't called her anything, at all. He had treated her as a gender-neutral partner - an equal.

   Obviously, he knew she was a woman. She had noticed him giving her the once-over - several times, in fact. She hadn't turned around to look, but she'd had the feeling he was making a fairly comprehensive assessment of her femininity as she walked down the trail ahead of him. But this was business, not boy-girl time. She thought she liked it, as she wasn't that interested in boys, yet.

   Still, she wished she knew his name.


   Her parents were a little upset with her precipitousness, but all's well that ends well. She described her adventure in glowing terms, but somehow omitted any reference to climbing or the climber. That was her personal memory.

   She graduated from high school in June 1941. She had been giving some thought to college, but there was the usual cash flow problem. Also, colleges weren't actively seeking girls at that time, assuming that most young women would be thinking of feathering nests, not seeking higher learning. Her high school grades were good, but not the caliber that would bring colleges to her door, waving scholarships. She decided she better get a job, and earn a little money while she gave more thought to the future. She was hired on as a salesgirl in the women's section of the local department store. The pay was okay, and the job wasn't completely boring. She stayed with it well into the following winter.

   In the meantime, Mrs. Greenbrier had not given up on her plans for her daughter's future. While Abigail couldn't have a real "coming out," like a society debutante, from her high school prom onward her mother made sure that she was at every dance in the county. Abigail didn't mind. She liked to dance, and a little flirting and light kissing with young men was certainly not an objectionable pastime. However, most of the males were interested in either more romance now, or eventual marriage. The latter was on her mother's agenda for her, but her own private play book was quite different.

   Conditions might have continued as they were indefinitely, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 changed things for almost everybody. After being mostly a passive player in the world war for its first two years, the United States immediately declared their official participation.  Almost every eligible man in America rushed to enlist to defend the country, and by January 1942 there were more uniforms to be seen on the streets of Salinas than there were civilian clothes.

   All uniforms looked the same to Abigail and it was sheer coincidence when, one day on her lunch break, she happened to look down just as a soldier on a park bench looked up.

   "Climbed any cliffs lately?" she asked.

   The smile was quiet, but looked quite sincere. "I wondered if you might live here."

   "I do," she replied. "Do you?"

   "I do, but I suspect I've won't be seeing much of it for the next few years, now that Uncle Sam has claimed me."

   She sat on the bench beside him. "Why don't I remember you from school?"

   He turned toward her, and took a few moments for a good long look. "I suppose that I am just enough older than you that I was leaving high school about the time you began. Have just graduated?"

   "Last June."

   "Well, that would explain it."

   The conversation to that point had been about as long as all the words they had exchanged at their first meeting. It seemed that the word-well had already run dry, again. She didn't want that to happen.

   "Are you excited to be going overseas? I mean, I assume you are going?"

   "Yes, I am. And no, I'm not excited. I'm more upset and frustrated. I only rushed to enlist with everybody else because I didn't want my family and friends to worry about the state of my patriotism. I also figured that, if I didn't join voluntarily, it was almost inevitable that I would soon be drafted. Why put off the inevitable?"

   That stopped Abigail for a moment. "But you do want to defend your country, don't you?"

   "Most definitely. I just wonder about the ways we choose to defend it. Take the current war. Hitler has been ravaging Europe for two years - taking over countries, killing civilians, destroying whole towns. What he's been doing to the Jews is almost too horrible to even talk about. Yet, we've sat on the sidelines, across an ocean, acting as little more than a cheering section. It takes the bombing of one air base in an entirely different ocean to get us into the fighting. I don't mean to imply that Pearl Harbor wasn't a terrible, terrible thing, but after all that has happened before, to have that be what brings us around... Well, it seems wrong to me.

   "Also, the idea that me shooting someone - or someone shooting me - is going to make much difference is pretty unrealistic, don't you think? Shooting me doesn't get to our people controlling the war. Me killing one of them won't make a bit of difference to the planners and promoters on their side. Me, the guy I shoot, and the thousands - maybe tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands - who will die in our little skirmishes are just cannon fodder."

   "Cannon fodder?"

   "Cannon fodder. In a much earlier big war, Napoleon is said to have purposely sent large numbers of his troops on what were clearly suicide missions. Apparently, he didn't expect any to survive, but he had plenty more men to take their place. One of his generals supposedly said that Napoleon was using young men as cannon fodder - food for the enemy cannons, so they wouldn't go hungry. I doubt that any of our  battles will be ones that turn the tide of war one way or another, or that will convince either side to seek some peaceful solution. Just cannon fodder."

   She didn't know what to say to that. She suspected he might be right, but she'd never thought about any of it in those terms. Anyway, she had something else she wanted to talk to him about.

   "I understand that if I was to send you a letter, the Army would be able to find you wherever you are, and would deliver it. I'm not much of a letter writer - I don't ever know what to say - but if you wanted to hear from me, I'd be glad to try. There's only one problem."

   "Sure, I'd like to hear from you. I might even write back. So, what's the problem?"

    "Well, it's just that I don't know who to send it to. Do you have a name?"

    He laughed. "I guess we never have been introduced, have we? I'm Tom - Thomas J. Goodall."

   "Thomas J., as in Jefferson?"

   "No, it's Thomas James, and I'm glad it isn't Jefferson. Maybe I'll tell you why, someday. Now, I assume you also have a name your parents and friends call you. I assume it's not Edward Whymper."

   "Edward Whymper? Definitely not! It's Abigail Greenbrier."

   "I was pretty sure it wasn't Edward, but that's the only mountain climber's name I could come up with at the moment. I like Abigail a lot better. Is there a middle initial?"

  "It's Abigail Lucy. That doesn't exactly roll off your tongue, but they were the names of my two grandmothers. I loved them both, and am happy to have both of their names as mine."

   "I like them both, very much, and I think both suit you very well."

   "Thanks. When you meet my parents, you can thank them for making a good choice."


   In the months that followed, everything they were hearing about the war made it sound pretty horrible, but life at home was pretty horrible, too. Only two months after Pearl Harbor, the President issued an order that all Japanese in the United States were to be put in concentration camps until after the war ended. There were no exceptions. Young, old, rich, poor, recently arrived or second generation U. S. citizens, average people or pillars of the community - all were told to pack one suitcase, and were put on buses to tent cities out in the desert. Most "cities" were bare dirt compounds, surrounded by barbed wire fencing, with armed guards at the gates. There, the Japanese - the American Japanese! -  would live - except, the many who died - until the war was over. Even then, it was June 1946 - a year after the official end of the war - before the Japanese were allow to leave their prisons. Those who returned to their former homes found that their property had been stolen or destroyed or taken over by others. Few had salvaged papers that proved their ownership, and they found little legal help. Along with those material losses, many found that they - once considered friends and neighbors - were now just "Japs," and no longer welcome in American communities!

   In towns as small as Salinas - just a little over 10,000 people in 1940 - everybody knew somebody personally. The Tanakas were neighbors of the Greenbriers. Both Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka had been born in the United States, and had never been to Japan. Their twin girls, Rishi and Joni, had been playmates of Abigail, and they had gone all the way through school together. Abigail never saw any of them, again.

   Not everybody was appalled or unhappy with the treatment of the Japanese. Some figured out ways to profit greatly from the spoils left behind. Others thought sincerely - but illogically - that the President was right to do whatever was necessary to protect Americans from foreign agents!

   Germans were not sent to concentration camps, but they didn't fare much better than their Japanese neighbors. Even before war was declared, shopping at stores with German proprietors dropped sharply. Later, trade almost ceased for many. One example was well known to Abigail. The Grubers owned a corner grocery that was on her route to school. She often stopped to chat with Mr. and Mrs. Gruber, and would sometimes buy a popsicle or candy bar, if she had any money. One night, Mr. Gruber was seriously beaten in front of his store, and much of his merchandize was destroyed. A few days later, the shop was set on fire, and Mrs. Gruber escaped injury or death only because she was at the hospital with her injured husband at the time.

   Salinans were quick to blame "out of towners" for the troubles, as they certainly wouldn't treat neighbors like that. Abigail had her doubts. If it was "out of towners," they proved to be spending a lot of time in the area, as assaults and vandalism on Germans continued to increase.

   Even with these things occurring, there were still regular dances. Abigail felt a little guilty attending, but there wasn't much else to do, and any little break from the general misery was welcome. The only men around were farmers, exempt from the draft because they were responsible for keeping food on local tables. They weren't Mrs. Greenbrier's "kind of people," but Abigail found most were very nice, and some were as good  dancers as anybody she had ever partnered with. The only down side was that farmers turned out to be just like the town "elite" - mostly interested in short-term romance, or long-term wedding bells. Abigail just wanted a pleasant night out.

   Abigail put off writing to Tom for several weeks. She had been truthful when she said she wasn't much of a letter writer. Also, she admitted to herself that the writing suggestion had been as much a ploy to find out his name as it was anything more serious. Third, they hardly knew each other. What was there to write about? Finally, there really wasn't much to say about life in Salinas that wasn't bad news. Did a soldier in the midst of war need any more bad news?

   In the end, it was the "bad news" that got her to write her first letter. In small town Salinas, pretty much everybody had pretty much the same information about pretty much everything. Pretty much everybody had formed their own opinions about everything - whether they were "for" or "against" - and nobody wanted to change their minds about anything. There were plenty of arguments, but they were just to let off steam, not to clarify issues or change minds.

   Abigail ached to just pour out everything she thought - everything she felt - hopefully to someone who would hear what she was saying, and help her straighten out her mind. She didn't know anybody who would hear her, let alone care. Finally, she put it all down in the longest and most depressing diatribe ever written, to send to Tom. She didn't know him, and he didn't know her, and she was pretty sure that this would put an end to any incipient relationship that might be developing. She didn't care. She was driven.  In the end, she tacked on a little happier news - there wasn't much, but there were the dances - but it seemed a pretty lame ending. She sent it, anyway.

   Just a week later, she received a letter from Tom. It couldn't be a reply to hers, yet. She quickly tore open the envelope. The contents were very short.

   "Abigail, I thought of you more than once. I don't know why I didn't come looking for you. I'm so glad we found each other, again. After the war, let's climb a mountain together. Tom"

   Abigail felt tears in her eyes. One lovely little thing to look forward to, in a decidedly unlovely world.


   The days, weeks, and eventually months passed by. Abigail was still working at the department store, and still dancing, but most of her spare time was spent with the Red Cross, preparing bandages and other medical supplies to send to the troops. The need was never ending, and she hated to even try to imagine how bad things were in the field hospitals near The Front. She thought the information on the war that reached the local news was probably pretty sterilized, with any losses or failures  much downplayed. The only clear message that came across was that the war was probably going to continue for a long time.

   A letter came from Tom eventually, probably in response to her impassioned document. She thought "probably," because most of the letter had been strongly worked over by the censors, with many words and sometimes whole sentences blacked out. Reading between the lines - or between the blacked-out sections - she came away with the impression that he was somewhere in Europe, the fighting was pretty vigorous, he was okay, and their friendship (or whatever it was) had apparently survived the letter. She was very glad to know he was still alive and probably reasonably well, but  she was exasperated that - if he had said anything personal to her - it was buried under the censor's black ink!

   She waited for a couple of weeks, then sent him a calmer, newsier letter. She talked about her work at the department store and at the Red Cross, her dancing, and about rationing. Lots of items had become completely unavailable, and most others were strictly rationed. Among the latter were sugar, coffee, meat, canned goods, gasoline, tires and shoes. About the only things with reasonable availability were fresh fruits and vegetables. Meat became especially difficult to get.

   It was almost a month after that before she received another letter from Tom. She wasn't sure if it was in reply to her previous one. He didn't mention anything that she had written about - or nothing that wasn't under the censor's ink. His big news was that he had been transferred from the field to one of the field hospitals where he assisted the doctors, caring for wounded soldiers. It was much more satisfying to help patients recover, or at least die more comfortably, than it was to be adding to the carnage. Interestingly, the censors let almost everything he wrote get through, even though it showed that not everything about the war was rosy.

   Abigail found that she was enormously relieved to learn that he was out of the daily line of fire. Something else dawned on her, however. If anything did happen to him, there would be no chance that she would be notified. She wasn't any kind of a relative, or designated contact. She hadn't realized how important it had become to her to know things like that. She needed to do something about it.

   What she did was locate Tom's parents. She and Tom had never discussed their families, - well, they hadn't really discussed anything -  but there was only one Goodall in the Salinas phone book that seemed logical - Jack and Madge Goodall, who ran a greenhouse and garden store. It felt decidedly odd going to see them - after all, they wouldn't have any idea who she was! -  but she conjured up an extra portion of bravery, and went.

   There were no customers in the store, but there was a man behind the counter, who looked about the age of her own parents. "Are you Mr. Goodall?" she asked.

   He looked up, and smiled. "That's me. What can I do for you?"

   "Are you Tom's father?"

   That got his attention. "Tom? Are you a friend of Tom's?"

   She didn't know how to begin. "Yes and no, I guess. We've only met twice, but we've been writing letters..."

   "Abigail, right?" he interrupted her. She looked at him, more than a little confused. "Madge," he called, "Come in here. We have a surprise."

   A trim woman with work gloves and a garden trowel in her hand appeared from outside. "What are you on about, Jack? Oh, sorry, I didn't know we had a customer."

   "Madge, I'd like to introduce you to Abigail." Madge looked as confused as Abigail  was feeling.

   "Abigail? You mean, Tom's Abigail?"

   "Well, I haven't given her a chance to verify it, but I’d say yes." He turned to the confused young woman. "You are, aren't you?"

   Abigail didn't have a chance to answer, before Madge rushed to her, and enveloped her in a hug.    "Oh, honey, I am so glad to see you!"

   "Unloose her, woman," said Jack. "Let her breathe, let her talk. I may have it all wrong. She  may be Abigail Witherspoon, visiting from Des Moines, Iowa, and here to buy a potted plant for her aunt Genevieve." Madge released her. "Now, young woman," Jack addressed Abigail, "Are you who we think you are?"

   Abigail gave a confused little laugh. "I suppose I am. But 'Tom's Abigail?' We hardly know each other."

   "Well, we'll set that aside for the moment. You are, and have always been, the Abigail of Pinnacles fame, who climbed to a possible condor cave with our son, Tom?"

   She laughed. "Yes, I admit to that, freely. But how do you know about it? I didn't think anybody knew about us but us."

   Madge reentered the conversation. "I think he told us about that after you two met in the park, just before he went overseas. Since then, your name has been seen frequently on any of his letters that are not too badly corrupted by the censors' black marks. He seems rather fond of you."

   "Oh, dear," Abigail muttered, mostly to herself. "I didn't think we were getting serious."

   "Oh no, honey, I don't mean he's thinking about wedding rings or anything. It just seems that you two have developed a connection that is helping you both get through these troubled years. You're important to one another, but it sounds like you both realize making big decisions in the middle of a war is not the best idea. When the war is over - if it ever gets over! - then you can get to know each other, and decide if there's anything more for you in the future."

   Abigail was clearly pondering something. "I don't think I'm being quite honest with myself. I came to see you because I started thinking that, if anything happened to Tom - or if there was any big news about him - no one would know to tell me. Obviously, I was wrong about that, because you knew about me, but if I was that concerned..."

   "Well, Abigail," Jack spoke, "As Madge says, after the war..."

   "We're going to climb a mountain," Abigail interrupted him.

   "What?" Jack asked.

   "The first thing we're going to do after the war is climb a mountain. I don't know which one, but I know it's a definite date."

   "That sounds like an excellent transition from war to peace"


   The war dragged on, year after year. Tom and Abigail continued to write occasional letters to one another. American servicemen were scattered across Europe (Tom was somewhere there, Abigail was pretty sure), but were also in the South Pacific, fighting Japanese troops on remote islands. Many who remained able-bodied served continuously until the end. That came first in Europe in May 1945 when, facing overwhelming Allied forces and following several bad military blunders, the Germans surrendered. Japan held out longer, enduring the loss of over 200,000 Japanese civilians to American atomic bombs. The imminent threat of an American land invasion of Japan brought about the final capitulation in August 1945. Americans began to come home.

   In March 1946, a young man knocked on the door of the Greenbrier house. Abigail's mother beheld the young man. He looked presentable.

   "Is Abigail at home?" he asked.

   Mrs. Greenbrier said that she was, and asked who was calling.

   "My name is  Tom Goodall, Mrs. Greenbrier, but when you announce me, would you please  just say that someone is here to arrange a mountain climbing trip?"

   He was given a very odd look, but the message was delivered as proposed. It's lucky that there was no one in the path between Abigail's room and the front porch. They surely would have been trampled in the rush that occurred.



 Winter snows had been deep in the  Sierra Nevada the previous winter, and hiking would have been difficult before July. That gave them several months  to get their bodies in a little better shape for climbing. Both were working, Abigail at the  department store and Tom at the garden center, but they walked around town every few evenings, and took longer hikes in the nearby mountains on the weekends.

   Abigail didn't know any of the mountain climbing possibilities, so Tom picked a place he thought she'd enjoy. It was Mt. Tallac, on the west side of Lake Tahoe. Tom had been there before, so knew what to expect, and how to describe it to her.

   "It isn't really a mountain climb - no ropes necessary. It's a long, steep trail through the forest, and up to the summit. It's about five miles up, and climbs from around 6,000 feet to almost 10,000 feet. That's quite a bit lower than the areas in the Sierra farther south, which means the snow melts off earlier, the wildflowers are likely to be earlier, and there's less need to prepare for mountain sickness."

   "What's mountain sickness?"

   "It's a condition that isn't dangerous, and doesn't usually last long, but isn't very nice when you have it. You can get bad headaches, or upset stomachs bad enough to upchuck. As I said, not bad but not nice. The reason is, as you go up in elevation, the air gets less dense and there's less oxygen to breathe. It takes a while for your body to adjust to the different conditions. If you went from here - near sea level  - to Lake Tahoe at about 6000 feet, and just took off hiking up to 9000 or 10,000 feet on Mt. Tallac, you would probably have some trouble. If you made the same trip, but rested all afternoon after you got to Tahoe and before you made your climb, your body would have time to adjust, and you probably wouldn't get mountain sickness.

   "Anyway, the views from the top of Mt. Tallac are really spectacular. You look directly down on Fallen Leaf Lake, Lake Tahoe takes up all the main view to the east, with Nevada mountains in the distance. To the west, you can see dozens of little lakes, and a lot of individual mountain peaks. It really is great."

   "It sounds like it. I'm ready to go!"

   They had never been alone together except during the daytime, and had never been romantic about each other. Therefore, Tom found the next issue a little embarrassing. "If we did this the way I propose, we'd have to spend two nights together in the same tent. Would that be a problem for you?"

   It was certainly something she had never considered, and she took a few seconds before she answered. "No, I don't think so."

  Well, that was one awkwardness out of the way, he thought. At the same moment, his mind decided on a little mischief. "You wouldn't try to take advantage of me, would you?"

   He thought she might be a little shocked. She didn't seem to be. In fact, she gave him what he could only describe to himself as a "delicious" smile. "Well, we can't really know that, can we, until we find ourselves in that situation?"

   His breath had a funny little catch in it. "So, I guess I just  take my chances?"

   "I guess so."

    They went on to other planning business, but in one corner of his mind, Tom couldn't forget the exchange. He shouldn't have opened that door, he told himself. Still, he couldn't stop smiling to himself.

   Abigail's follow-up feelings were a little different. Their repartee had caught her by surprise, but her response surprised her even more. She knew what "sex" was, and where babies came from, but the mechanics of the activity were pretty much unknown to her.  She wondered what it would involve if she "took advantage" of him. Interesting question. It made her smile to herself.


   In early July, they finally loaded their gear in Tom's car - fresh tuned, after sitting idle throughout the war - and headed for the mountains.  It was almost 300 miles, and the road was slower after Sacramento, but they got an early start and reached Fallen Leaf Lake in mid-afternoon. The early departure got them across the Sacramento Valley early enough that the temperature was only a "moderate" 90 degrees. It would be near 100 later in the day, but the temperature went down as they gained altitude into the mountains. It was about 80 at the lake when they arrived. They got their tent erected but, after that, just wandered around, enjoying the evergreen forest and the cold lake, and fending off mountain sickness. Abigail took a nap before sundown, while Tom read a book.

   Later, they gathered a little wood off the ground, built a small fire, and Tom heated up a tin of Dinty Moore stew. "A nice part of car-camping," he said, "Is you can bring just about anything you want to cook. If we were backpacking - hiking off somewhere, to camp away from the car - we'd have to worry about weight and bulkiness. We wouldn't want to lug too many cans of Dinty Moore. In those cases - particularly if you're backpacking for several days - we'd want our packs as light as possible. That usually means relying to some extent on dried meals - such as what I've eaten - and hated! - in the Army for the past four years. They're edible, I guess, but just barely. When I've been on longer trips, I've usually brought along nuts and other compact proteins to supplement the rations. But this," he said, as he dipped into his bowl of stew, "Is food for the gods!"

   Abigail agreed. Hers was not a camping family, and this was all new experience for her. She was liking it. She liked it even more a little later when, after the sun had gone down, Tom built a little bigger fire and produced two long skewers and a bag of marshmallows.

   "If you haven't roasted marshmallows over a campfire before, you are in for one of the greatest experiences the gods ever created. There are two ways to do it, both quite acceptable. I will show you both."

   He put a marshmallow on the tip of his skewer, and held it to the fire. He got it so close that the marshmallow caught fire. He pulled it away, shook it to put out the flames, and showed her a blackened glob on the end of his stick. "This may not look too appetizing but, believe me, a  little burnt sugar with a gooey inner area is quite pleasing." He pulled it off with his fingers, and held it up to her mouth. She ate it, and licked her lips appreciatively.

   "Now, as I said, that is a perfectly acceptable technique. However, the connoisseur who doesn't mind spending a little more time holds his skewer a little farther from the flame." He did so. "Then he turns the marshmallow slowly until the complete outside is a lovely golden brown." He pulled the glob off his stick, and offered it to her. "Actually, both taste about the same, but this way looks a little more refined."

   They honed their skills until it was quite dark. Abigail charred a couple of her marshmallows on purpose, just because she liked to see the little flaming morsels, but she did prefer the slower-cooked ones. Eventually, Tom dowsed the fire, turned on a flashlight, and they proceeded to the tent.

   Abigail had to admit to herself that she had been a little anxious about this moment. She had noted when she took her nap that the tent was rather confining, and there was certainly no privacy. Tom had anticipated her possible concerns, and had placed their sleeping bags as distant from one another as floor space permitted. That wasn't much of a concession to privacy. The tent was of the "umbrella" type - which meant he could almost stand upright near the center - but it was more the Boy Scout model than the family umbrella, and he doubted he could stretch out sideways in it.

   Her first concern was how to get into her sleeping attire. She had brought pajamas, but she'd forgotten them in the car. Also, she didn't see any way that she would be able to change into them "decently." Tom gallantly solved that problem for her.

   "What I usually do is to take off my shoes, and any of my upper clothes that I don't want to sleep in." He took off his coat and shirt, leaving him with a tee shirt. "Then, I crawl into the sleeping bag with my pants still on. It's  a little awkward, but I wiggle around until I get them off, pull them out, and set them beside me for the night." As he talked, he pulled his jeans out of the sleeping bag, and set them beside him. "In the morning, I just reverse the process."

   That seemed a reasonable solution to her. She took off her shoes, jacket and sweatshirt, leaving her with a tee shirt. She crawled into the bag, and began to wiggle around. (Tom found it fun to watch.) Eventually, she pulled out her jeans, and snuggled down into the bag. He turned off the flashlight, and it got very dark.

   She had one more thought. "What do I do if I should need to go to the bathroom in the night?"

   "I doubt you'll need to. I think you'll find you go to sleep pretty quickly, and don't wake up until morning. However, if you do feel the need, I suggest you crawl out of the bag, and just slip your shoes on. It won't be too cold, and there won't be anybody to see you. If you don't need to use the outhouse, then just walk a little ways outside of our living area, and squat down. The ground will quickly absorb the little bit of water. There's a box of tissues between us. When you're done, come back, take off your shoes, and go back to sleep.

   "Now, if you did really need the outhouse, that can be a little daunting in the dark of night. Just shake me awake - I won't mind - and I'll walk part way over with you."

   That seemed to be the end of the lesson. She thanked him, and they said goodnight. She wondered if she would have any trouble getting to sleep, or if laying all night on the hard ground would be uncomfortable. She woke up the next morning with those questions answered. Pale morning light illuminated the tent, and Tom was already outside, apparently getting a fire started. She lay a few more minutes, thoroughly enjoying the way she felt, then got out of the bag, slipped on her clothes, and joined him outside. It was cool enough to enjoy having her jacket, but it wasn't really cold.

   He looked up at her, and smiled. "You slept well, I take it? Good. I'll have us some bacon and eggs in a few minutes, and some coffee. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring any kind of milk for the coffee. Can you do without? I do have sugar."

   She had a passing thought about how little they knew about each other. "I just drink mine black, thanks, and bacon and eggs sound good. And yes, I slept really well, and I'm not even a little bit stiff. The jacket feels nice, for a while."

   He broke the eggs into the frying pan. "We won't need our jackets, or probably our outer shirts, once we start walking. We'll warm up pretty fast. However, we'll definitely need them again on the summit, when we're out in the wind. Our wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses will also be important when we get out in the full glare of the sky.

   "We only need to take one pack with us, to carry our jackets, some water and our lunch. I think it's about five miles to the summit by this trail, so we should be on top by noon. This time of year, there are often afternoon thundershowers, but we should be off the summit by the time any develop. If they develop faster than I expect, we'll just scoot down the trail until we're under the first trees, and won't be in any danger from lightning. So far, it doesn't look like thunderstorm weather, but they can develop pretty quickly."

    They finished breakfast, cleaned up the few dishes, left the tent standing but put all the loose items in the car trunk, and prepared to leave. In April, they had found some serviceable boots for Abigail, so their regular hikes the past couple of months had them broken in comfortably for her. The trail was as Tom had described it to her - steep, and relentlessly upward, but not hard walking. The forest was lovely, and the views down through it toward Fallen Leaf were very pleasant. Halfway up, they broke out into open rock, and their hats and sunglasses were welcome. The trail traversed to the left of the main mountain mass, then switched back to the summit, giving them constant views of the country to the west. There were dozens of little lakes in view, all set in what looked like a landscape of bare granite. Tom knew it was fairly forbidding - hence, the name Desolation Primitive Area - but he also knew if you viewed it up close, you'd see quite a bit of greenery and a multitude of colorful mountain flowers. It was the kind of mountain country that he really loved.

   It wasn't until they were almost to the summit that the view to the east opened up for them. Abigail was amazed. Almost directly below them was Fallen Leaf Lake, a fairly large body of water, yet it was dwarfed by the expanse of Lake Tahoe that almost filled their whole view to the mountains on the Nevada side of the lake. Other than the Great Lakes themselves, it was one of the largest lakes in the entire country. From that height, it truly looked it.

   They turned away to say something to one another but, without any previous thought, Tom pulled her to him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her rather decisively. She didn't seem to respond for a moment, then suddenly her arms were around him, and the kiss was being mutually shared with some vigor. They held that pose for a few more moments, then stepped back, looked at one another, and began to laugh. Their first kiss, their first romantic contact of any kind, and what a time and place to remember that it happened!

    Neither said anything about the incident. They found a sheltered spot and ate some lunch and drank some water. They had been alone all day, but now a couple appeared from the Desolation trail. They had come up from the Glen Alpine Springs camp - a little longer trip, but very pleasant, they said. Tom had brought his father's camera, and he asked the couple to take his and Abigail's picture together on the summit. They did.

   Cumulus clouds were beginning to build. They were a long ways from being threatening, but Tom suggested that they begin their descent. They went down much quicker than they had come up, and were back at the car by around 3 o'clock. They put the sleeping bags back in the tent, and Abigail immediately opted to take a little nap. Tom wandered around a little, read for a bit, and finally ended up asleep, leaning against a big rock near the car.

   Later, dinner was hot dogs roasted over the fire, served with a can of baked beans. Just after dark, it was topped off by another marshmallow cremation, and then it was time for bed. Abigail thought she might be a little more worried than she had been the previous night. Well, not "worried," really. It's just that they hadn't said anything about the kiss since it happened. She had certainly been thinking about it, and she assumed he had been, too. Still, they pretty much repeated their actions of the previous night, and it seemed to her they were settling down to sleep.

   Just as she was completing that thought, she heard him start to say something. "Abigail, I really, really want us to kiss goodnight. Is that permitted?"

   She actually felt afraid - not of him, but of the situation. They were very much alone, in a very confined space, in only their underwear...  She heard herself say "please." He tried to lean across the space between them, and just let their lips meet. It was too long a reach. He pulled himself partway out of his sleeping bag, slid over to her, and rested his upper body over hers as he bent down to find her lips with his. His kiss was needy. She didn't respond for a moment, and then she was returning his favor as strongly and as insistently as his. They held on a long time. He didn't want to stop, but some other feelings he was experiencing seemed to be a warning that it was time to pull away. Reluctantly, he did, but he stopped, looked down on her, smiled, and put his lips softly against her forehead. "I've had a most amazing day, Abigail," he said so softly that she could barely hear him. They, he leaned away into the darkness on his side of the tent.

   She was pretty sure she must have been smiling broadly as she drifted off to sleep.


   It was light when she woke up, but it was clearly an early morning light. Tom was still in his bag, and appeared to be deep in sleep. She decided to get up but, as she brought her jeans into her bag with her, she thought how much easier it had been the previous morning to just stand up and pull them up. She slipped out of her bag, stood, and reached down for her jeans, when she discovered that Tom was awake and seemed to be very much enjoying the show. Well, she had always considered her legs her best feature, and she suspected Tom was in agreement, as he seemed to be trying to memorize their  whole length from her feet to her panties. Her initial reaction was to tough it out, pull on her jeans just as quickly as she could, and get out of there. But some little imp seemed to land on her shoulder, and whisper "why?" in her ear. She decided on a different course of action. Doing what she imagined was kind of a reverse striptease, she bent down to begin pulling on her jeans, but then very slowly brought them upward in inch long increments, so that it took close to two minutes before they were around her waist and she was buttoning them. Tom had watched the entire proceedings, carefully noting when each new stretch of skin disappeared into fabric. She had kept her eyes on him almost the whole time, too, judging his reactions. She would say that he was very happy with the show.

   "I'm sorry to subject you to that," she heard  herself say. "It's pretty hard to get any privacy in a little tent, isn't it? I'll get out, and let you get up unmolested." She heard him laughing as  she slipped out of the tent.

   When Tom appeared, fully dressed, Abigail was just getting a frying pan ready for bacon. She tried to hide her excitement, but she really, really wanted to know what he was going to say or do. He walked over, and stood above her. She looked up, he put his hands on her two cheeks, bent down, and kissed her forehead. "I have never seen you look lovelier, Miss Greenbrier." Then, he turned and walked off toward the outhouse. She giggled happily, and put the bacon on to fry.


   It was July hot, crossing the big Valley, but the coastal fog had come inland a little farther than usual, and it was almost 25 degrees cooler in Salinas than it had been in Sacramento. Tom had met Abigail's parents a number of times in the past months, but hadn't ever really sat down to chat. Since he and their daughter had almost mysteriously gone off for three days, he thought this might be a good time to build a little goodwill.

   He and Abigail told of the climb up Mt. Tallac with great enthusiasm (certain scenes deleted). Mr. Greenbrier thought it must have been a fine adventure. When Tom went home, and her father left the room, Abigail's mother still had some questions - and worries.

   "Abigail, you slept in a tent all alone with a man for two nights. You didn't...?"

   Abigail bent down, and kissed her on the cheek. "Mother, I am as much a virgin today as I was when we left." As she walked toward her room, she realized that statement could be taken a number of different ways. Still, she felt her mother would opt for her daughter being chaste, and still as pure as the driven snow. Well, she was, wasn't she?

   To an observing outsider, the next few months would have seemed odd. Nothing really seemed to change between Abigail and Tom. They saw each other regularly, walked around town, hiked in the hills, occasionally saw a movie, and sat together and read books. They discovered miscellaneous information - birthdates, who had measles, favorite movies, and such - and stored it away in their brains for future reference, but they didn't try to actively  seek such knowledge. They kissed on occasion - perhaps not as often as one might expect, but they seemed to derive great pleasure from the practice. They didn't seem to have need for any other kind of romance. If a courtship was going on, it was a pretty sedate one.

   Abigail's parents told her that she didn't know much about Tom. Tom's parents said the same about Abigail. Both Tom and Abigail tried to figure out what they didn't know about each other that was important. They couldn't come up with anything.

   On Christmas Day, they announced that they were engaged, and planned to marry in July, just one year after their hike up Mt. Tallac. Mrs. Greenbrier was vaguely disappointed that her plans for Abigail were falling through, but she liked Tom a lot, and so her anguish wasn't very deep. Mr. Greenbrier and Tom's parents all seemed pleased, or at least resigned.


   The wedding occurred on schedule, without a hitch, and the newlyweds went off on a short honeymoon - not to Mt. Tallac, but to some secret place in the mountains. They never told anybody where it was, or what they did while there.

   Abigail's mother celebrated one victory on that occasion -  the photo of her daughter Abigail, in full wedding regalia, stretched across two columns of the Sunday society pages. (Tom was in the photo, too.) She'd had to pay for the extra column width, but that's what mother's do, isn't it?

   If, on their wedding day, Tom had been asked why he was hopelessly in love with and committed to Abigail, he could have cited a dozen reasons. Abigail could have done the same, but there was one thing that had really sealed the deal for her - Tom not only talked about equality of the sexes, he really believed in it, and practiced it in every way he could. At work, women and men employees were paid exactly the same for similar work, and all received identical benefits. There might be some specific job that a man could handle better than a woman - or vice versa - but that was decided task by task, not by "man's job" or "woman's job. Some employees - usually men -  had been known to complain about that way of doing business. Tom had invited them to seek a position elsewhere.

   At home, there were no boy jobs or girl jobs, and no male decisions or female decisions. If a naive door-to-door salesman was foolish enough to ask to see "the man of the house," he quickly found himself off the premises, without an invitation to return.

   If there was something to get done - whether it was taking out the trash, or deciding whether or not to buy a new car - it was a family issue. Whoever was handiest took out the trash, or washed the dishes, or mowed the lawn. The bigger decisions were decided by family evaluation and discussion. There were no "father knows best" decisions, no "somebody has to decide" solutions, and no compromises, in which nobody was really happy with the outcome. Tom and Abigail were true equals in an equal partnership. When two excellent babies became excellent children, and eventually excellent teens, they became equals in the decision making.

   Abigail's name seldom appeared on the society pages of the local paper, but it was regularly seen elsewhere, in letters to the editor, and in discussions of her appearances before various boards, commissions, clubs, etc. She never forgot her teenage fascination with suffragettes, or her interest in women's rights, and she continued to have a lot to say  on that. Her subject matter had broadened considerably, however. She still found it hard to believe that America had actually imprisoned Japanese Americans (!) for years. She was personally incensed that - almost 100 years after Emancipation - whole states were still trying to keep Negroes as near slave-status as they could. Closer to home, there were Army veterans, losers in the 1938 Market crash, and just plain unfortunates who were homeless. In a prosperous town like Salinas - and in towns and cities across the nation - American babies were without adequate food and care. Of course, even that much was barely scratching the surface of what she felt needed doing.

   What made her much more than just a "do-gooder" is that she didn't try to tackle everything that concerned her. She planned her strategies carefully, concentrating on issues she thought she could really do something about. Her letters to the editor were not rants or "view with alarm" pieces, but were carefully constructed essays, explaining issues and offering solutions - or, at least, paths to solutions. When she wrote the time-honored "letter to her congressman," she didn't wait around to receive the "thank you for your interest, we always love to hear from our constituents" form letter response. She carried the letter down to the politician's office, sat down with the staff, and discussed it in detail. When she appeared before committees and boards, she came equipped with concise, easy to read presentations. She actually drafted legislation that might be used by her elected representatives.

   Some people thought her "pushy," and she probably knew that - in private - she had been called a "bitch" by more than one executive who didn't like her "meddling." But there were probably more politicians and public servants who had found they benefited greatly from listening carefully to her ideas and proposals, and who had advanced their careers on the basis of her work. She didn't need credit, she just wanted results.

   There was no question that they led a busy life. They'd taken over full operation of the garden center when Tom's parents had retired. Growing kids always produced new needs and concerns. Abigail didn't relent a bit on any of her advocacy projects. And, of course, they were getting older.

   But it was an orderly life, and a mostly happy one,  and actual stresses were very few, and usually easily taken care of. And often at night, and regularly at other times, Abigail and Tom would close their bedroom door, and enjoy, for just as long as they wanted, some friendly, intense, happy, vigorous, healthy, lustful, romantic and fun love-making. During those times, they never worried about who was on top, who was on the bottom, which side they lay on, who was the leader, who was the follower, would they get that special thing they really liked - it seemed like all those alternatives were carefully examined before their sessions came to an end, and satisfaction proved to be mutual.

   Across the board, Abigail's former dancing partners would have been envious of her. She had regular (and fantastic) short-term romance, in the midst of an equally fantastic long-term marriage.

      Equality was a pretty nice condition.


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