This is a true story.
Two people met in Oceanside, California. It was roughly 1920. Different backgrounds but a similar dewy-eyed desire for growth of a deep and personal nature.
She was from Russia, a Jewish girl, Tanya Lerner. Her father’d been a surgeon, amputating legs on steppe battlefields. As a child she’d seen pogroms and the typical array of Cossack nightmare prompting certain generations to Get the Hell Out. They landed in di Goldene Medine in 1906, when Tanya (bat Nathan ve Celia) was eight years old. She left New York in 1920, bound for Oceanside’s Rosicrucian Fellowship. Perhaps her father’s death freed her to study what she wanted — the occult, astrology, and (a likely shanda for the family back home) Rosicrucianism.
In Oceanside she met Marshal, a carpenter at the Rosicrucian Fellowship. At that time, in the parlance of today, Marshal was one big Red Flag. He was still married, to Margaret, and father of Marshal Jr. Margaret had dumped him for reasons of money — she wanted it, he’d grown up with it and didn’t care for it. Marshal Sr. campaigned for reunion. Margaret said Forget It. He kept trying. She didn’t care. It was in this bereaved marinade that Tanya met her future husband.
As women sometimes learn, as Tanya did, Marshal wasn’t Marshal. Marshal was actually Roy. He was Australian, not British. Born Roy Bennett Richards, son of an affluent rancher, student at a chi-chi private school for boys. His father abused his mother, and to the States his mother brought her boys, in 1908, to Oceanside.
Today Oceanside is a Marine town. Coastal, yes, but despite the best efforts of developers and restauranteurs, lacking Del Mar’s luster. The Oceanside of Roy Bennett Richards probably glimmered with dust along with Pacific greens and blues. A nascent poet, young Roy likely noticed the dull gold sand change color at dusk. An early environmentalist, the new county coast road of 1910 must have seemed quite the incursion.
Roy wrote, got quite prolific. Changed his name to Marshal South, first as nom de plume and then a full persona.
He was Marshal South when mourning Margaret, when this Jewish girl in So Cal, Tanya, met him.
Marshal seemed to burst through his grief. No gloomy carpenter, Marshal stood ready to live as he wanted. Which, for Marshal, meant living on top of a big desolate hill in the Anza-Borrego desert.
His love for Tanya animated him, or perhaps her attention and devotion to him — for when push came to shove, Marshal had charisma — gave Marshal the gumption to plan his dream homestead. They’d live like Indians in the desert. Marshal would be Desert Prophet. Though Arizona Highways magazine gave her no such label, Tanya served as Desert Baleboosteh.*
It was very much a “wither thou goest” scenario.
*Yiddish for housewife