About Lois West Bristow

Photo of Lois as a young girlThe bullet points of a resume covering eight decades and multiple careers do not lend themselves to small spaces. Instead, just as the watercolor-artist paints broad strokes on paper to set the background of a painting, the background strokes written here color the fabric out of which of my life has been made. Details and dimensions emerge from the content in the writings, speeches, stories, and poetry shared here.

July 23, 1929 was the hottest day of the year. I was born at the hottest time of day. Air-conditioning was unheard of in small rural hospitals. The Garfield Hospital in Monterey Park, California was a small, semi-rural hospital. My older brother Stafford preceded me by 17 months, and my younger brother Rabern followed me by 12 months. My birth name was Lois Mary Prante. My father was a boys’ vice-principal in East LA and later principal of a high school downtown Los Angeles. Mama stayed home and held everything together.

In the 1930s the great Depression was in full swing, and the small town of Monterey Park remained much the same from the late 1920s until the mid 1940s after WWII. Population: around 600 to 750. I remember the Star Market, a hardware store, a drug store with the soda fountain and swivel stools, a Mode-O-Day dress shop, and a shoe store. It was the town where Laura Scudder’s potato chips and peanut butter were born. We used Laura Scudders peanut butter because my mother knew Laura Scudder and because they refused to use wormy peanuts.

When I was two we moved to the hills not far from town where we had several acres. We raised horses, had a cow, and grew most of our fruits and vegetables. It was a small farm in a neighborhood of scattered modest homes. When a development company subdivided a large tract of land near us and then went bankrupt, the lots were put up for sale for $5 down and $5 a month. The neighborhood filled up quickly and was forever changed. Our home was definitely an oasis of sorts. My father was hardworking and within very few years, a large barn was constructed, fruit orchards planted, large gardens areas cultivated, corrals and fences built, and alfalfa pastures planted and later, a swimming pool. The local elementary school would bring their classes on field trips to see our farm. Our father also believed children should learn to work very hard and become accomplished at numerous tasks, a characteristic I learned to appreciate only much later as an adult, and even then there were limits. I deliberately forgot how to pluck and clean a chicken and was determined never to milk another cow.

My father was a brilliant and dynamic man, an outstanding educator, writer, and lecturer who inspired many. He had disciples whose admiration for him bordered on worship. He also had a dark side, a deep and all-consuming rage born of a cruel and humiliating childhood. My brothers and I were the recipients of this unresolved segment of his personality, which impacted our lives significantly. My brothers became successful attorneys whose lives were shadowed by our father. My salvation was being born female and having my mother, a deeply intelligent, warm, loving, and quietly strong woman.

During WWII, girls married their soon-to-be soldier or sailor sweethearts shortly after high school graduation before the boys went off to war. I went to college, and by the time I turned 19, was sure I would be an old maid. A tall blond handsome engineering student saved me. This problematic marriage lasted 20 years and resulted in three wonderful children: Sheridyn, a daughter, born in 1952, Brad, born in 1953, and Derek, born in 1957. Brad was killed in an accident in 2003 at age 49. My children and grandchildren are my greatest joy, and Brad’s death, my greatest pain. Five marvelous grandchildren are now adults, and yes, I am guilty of dotage. Although my life has been and is filled with warm, wonderful, long-lasting relationships, my love for and enjoyment of children and grandchildren remain among the most meaningful relationships I have known.

My life has been long and at times challenging, fulfilling, interesting, heart breaking, ordinary, difficult, exciting, and joyous. The experiences and insights gained are shared through the bits and pieces throughout these writings. One thing I know for  sure is that we learn from each other. I trust that there are those who might learn from what I have to share, and I in turn will learn from what you share in return.