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Stories by Laura McNeal

Fallbrook’s home ec teacher spoils daughter's hot chocolate with strychnine

The body lies in a position of repose, a 12-year-old girl in pajamas, on her bed, in Fallbrook, California. Her blue eyes, though open, see nothing, and for ten more minutes, no one sees her. ...

November 7, 2002
Horses and their San Diego women

It's nine o'clock on the day before the last day of Diane Wilson’s horse-showing career. Outside her window, the pointy hills of Escondido are wet from the rain. Inside, it’s warm because she has just ...

March 7, 2002
What’s going on in City Heights’ Waldorf School?

After the morning verse, the class sings a medieval round in preparation of the May Faire, and then it’s time to recite the choral passages of the play they’ll perform next month: scenes from Homer’s Odyssey.

February 21, 2002
Sheep to Sweater in North County

The Shepherdess Rancho Borrego Negro is home to white sheep, black sheep, black fish, a black-and-white sheepdog, and a couple of near-black llamas, but for Kathy Gluesenkamp, the hardest thing to produce on the Ranch ...

May 17, 2001
Sanctuary: A San Diego Man's Homage to the Missions

Between 1769 and 1823, Franciscan padres, Spanish soldiers, and Native Americans built an astonishing chain of settlements — 21 missions and four smaller asistencias — between San Diego and Sonoma. The money to start them ...

February 17, 2000
Black birdmen

During World War II, Germans called them the schwartze vogelmenschen or “black birdmen.” White American bomber crews called them the Black Redtail Angels. Various other white Americans called them spades, spooks, coons, or sambos, and ...

February 3, 2000
When we had an orphanage – San Diego Children's Home

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, they were called orphans, and they lived in a home on five acres in Balboa Park. Those who weren’t orphans were “half-orphans,”“abandoned children,” or “those for whom we temporarily ...

September 10, 1998
Old-style San Diego: when women wore hats

Although Beatrice still has, at age 72, all of her gloves, it was the hats she loved. "I tell you," she says Some people go buy shoes when they're depressed. I sued to buy hats."

September 3, 1998
Tarantulas – the Clara Barton of arachnids

Six days later, another tarantula crawled into a friend’s house across town. His kitten stalked it and his wife screamed. By then we had learned that tarantulas are “beneficials” who kill insects in the grove.

January 22, 1998
Rats and Lilies

The rules of gardening and housekeeping are clear on rodents and lilies. Lilies are good, rats are bad. Childhood reading had ill-prepared me to whack off rats’ heads. I was raised on Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry.

December 11, 1997
San Diego avocado growers fight off thieves

Despite the revolver, the man got out and tried to push the car. It wasn't until Jeanne fired a shot in the air that he stopped, got out of the car, and put the avocados back into the bin.

November 26, 1997
I track the previous owner of my sewing machine to Sun City

The next week, I met Mrs. Ferguson, aged 82, during Mike’s regular Thursday visit to Sun City Gardens, a triangle of blue-carpeted buildings by the freeway that overlooks, on three sides, the hot suburban desert.

October 30, 1997
What's on a San Diego cheerleader's mind at UC Irvine

It's noon on a midsummer Saturday in a camp of the church of cheer, and eight million blades of grass are about to die. For the next four days, UC Irvine’s Mesa Court Field will ...

August 28, 1997
Booze and death for the Fletchers in Borrego Springs

At midnight on August 24, Kent rang the doorbell at the Fletcher Hills house of his grandfather, Ed Jr. The housekeeper testified that Kent asked to come in the house and sleep, but she told him that was against his grandfather’s orders.

San Diego Mormons explain longevity

That the children may live long, And be beautiful and strong, Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise Drink no liquor, and they eat But a very little meat... - from a 19th-century Mormon song ...

July 17, 1997
At Sharon’s Worm World in Ramona, they live on horse manure.

Sharon has found vermiculture to be fun and profitable, but her friends and relatives thought it was a nutty idea. “They thought I was absolutely crazy.” They’ve changed their minds now that she’s making money,

June 12, 1997
Henry Huntington once bought a whole garden simply to preserve wisteria,

My husband, too, is a temperate, practical man, so the walls of our house are barren, but certain members of the vine family are making their greedy way. We planted two wisteria by the front porch.

January 30, 1997
St. Johns, Arizona – my mother's hometown

Outside the windows, chimes touch together. They ring exactly as they did when someone lived here, when Blue Willow china was set on the table and cows were milked in the barn.

January 2, 1997
Important features of squirrel husbandry

By June the Beecheys and their dark-eyed young promised to become an Egyptian plague, and my husband, who carries spiders out of the house instead of flushing them, suggested poison.

November 28, 1996
I wanted to own the weasel until he opened his mouth

Outside my American window, the weasel was winding himself through the bird of paradise and dashing into plastic conduits. We put the conduits there for our own use, but the animals use them as subway tunnels.

October 3, 1996
The tough female school bus drivers of Fallbrook

When Sherry —the sort of woman who could play Mary in a live Nativity scene — decided to become a bus driver so her husband wouldn’t have to work such long hours, her father was horrified. “Oh, Sherry, no!"

September 19, 1996
Checking one more thing – Bal Jagat foreign adoption

Next to the bed, in a box painted like a clock face, is a short history of our attempts to have a child. The folded pamphlets assist me in Understanding and Recording My Ovulation Cycle, ...

August 22, 1996
Welcome, GOP Convention Delegates, to San Diego, City of Shame

The maid had been referred to the Wilsons by Neil Morgan’s wife. The legality of her work status was still not known, said Davies. He said Wilson’s ex-wife Betty had handled all of the other details.

August 8, 1996
The lizard – a 180-million-year-old friend

I dropped a roly-poly in the bucket as though I were an animal trainer at Sea World, and then I made a twiggy ramp that would encourage the captive to show me his delicate, blue-tinged undersides.

June 27, 1996
San Diegans married 50 years

The first lesson I learned in church was that a finger thins itself to hold a wedding ring, making a bed for the metal that slips back and forth all day, smooth and familiar and ...

February 8, 1996
Diary of a Fallbrook orange grove

The other trees in the neighborhood are flamboyant this time of year: blood-red pomegranates, nippled lemons, waxy persimmons, navel oranges, all of them still flecked with cinders that floated down in a brush fire.

January 4, 1996
Local Manzanita tribe wants to cut itself off from Washington

The Sycuan, Barona, and Viejas casinos spent about $10,000 each to send local leaders to Washington. “Since the Sycuan [hand] has only 100 members,” the spokesman said, “we can afford to send other members.”

September 28, 1995
Bury My Olla in Anza-Borrego

I explain about Frank Salazar and his position in the office up the hill. I say he gave me permission, but she says, “He can’t tell you that. You have to go through the whole tribal members.”

August 31, 1995
Quilts of Silence: Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph's Coat

The names of quilts are like children’s games that are played with a loop of string: Feathered World without End, Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph’s Coat. Some quilters, including Reggie, know the names at a glance.

April 20, 1995
I was a substitute teacher at Pendleton, La Paloma, Fallbrook Elementary, Potter Jr. High, and Fallbrook High

I’m the substitute, so I sit at a stranger’s desk beneath a poster that displays a Ferrari in the driveway of a mansion. “The rewards of higher education,” it reads. A boy named Eric, who was called to the office during the first hour, is working on his test and talking to two girls, so after three warnings, I give him detention. “You bitch!” he shouts across the room.

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