A New Lease on Life

by | May 4, 2024 | My Wild and Precious Life

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything

or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. – David Whyte


Eventually, our grounds were full of all sorts of animals—three quarter horses, a Welsh mare that Matt named “Black Beauty,” a cow for the kids to ride, two black angus steers that Rick and Mike raised as 4-H projects, several sheep, a peacock, two pea hens, two ducks and lots of egg-laying hens with one rooster. We enjoyed taking care of all these animals.

I especially enjoyed collecting the newly laid eggs every morning. I went out to the “chicken condo” (which I had built to protect them from coyotes) each morning wearing my oversized sweatshirt and carrying a stick. I would methodically go to each hen, use the stick to pry her off her nest (whereupon each one would protest with a loud squawk) and put the one or two freshly laid eggs in my sweatshirt.

Next, I picked up the duck and peacock eggs from the ground. We had several hens, a couple of ducks, two pea hens and a peacock. Whenever I was inside the chicken condo collecting eggs, the peacock would spread out his beautiful tail feathers and prance around the pen fluttering his tail which made a wind-like whishing noise. It was as if he was showing off for me. I always looked forward to this encounter.  

The peacock eggs were very large and a beautiful turquoise color. I learned quickly that I should crack the peacock and duck eggs and beat them up for scrambled eggs before the kids came into the kitchen for breakfast because the thought of eating anything except chicken eggs grossed them out. Cracking and beating them early worked like a charm.

We also raised several litters of pigs—Matt named the mother pig “Mama Snort” and every litter produced 13 wiggly piglets. (A pig’s gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days.) I would crouch down in the pen that I designed for her for a few hours every time she had a new brood so I could make sure she didn’t roll over on the new piglets. Then I would clip their eye teeth with a special tool and cut their tails short with another instrument.

When Mama Snort eventually weighed 900 pounds, we took her to the Fresno County Fair so the kids could see what a 900-pound sow looked like. One day, as I was trying to coax her into the horse trailer to take her to visit her boar friend to make more piglets, she tried to get away. I used all my might to get her in the trailer, but she finally won leaving me lying in the dirt with a bloody leg while she bounded gleefully through the grapevines. To this day I wonder why I thought I was stronger than a 900 pound sow!

Our golden retriever ranch dog, Coco, was as beautiful as you could imagine. She had long, thick reddish hair and was very sweet-natured. One day Matt and his friend Brandon Roach felt sorry for Coco because the daytime temperature was well over 100 degrees. They thought her thick coat of fur made her uncomfortable. Matt got the bright idea to use the shears we used on the sheep to cut all her hair off so she could be cooler.

I found them with Coco out by the sheep pen, but it was too late. They had already shaved most of the poor dog’s beautiful locks. She was so embarrassed that she hid under bushes for a long time until it began to grow back.

Our freezers were always full of the best cuts and grades of meat—beef, pork and lamb. I would call the butcher when it was time to slaughter a steer, a pig or a sheep and arrange for him to come to transport the animal at a time when I wasn’t home. I didn’t want to watch the process! He would routinely call me a few days later so I could join him at his butcher shop while he cut each section of meat to my specifications. It was an experience I really enjoyed. Of course, the ultimate result was delicious and tender.


The drug habit that Mike acquired in junior high school started with marijuana, but it continued to increase. Mike was getting out of control and I had no idea how to deal with him. I was in a pickle because every time I suggested to his father that we find some help for Mike’s addiction, Larry would say I was imagining things.

Yet Mike was becoming violent, and I was getting really scared—for myself as well as for Baird and Matt. One night while the boys and I were sleeping I received a scary phone call. The caller said in a gravelly voice, “If Mike doesn’t settle up his drug bill with me, I’m going to come out there and kill all of you in your sleep.” Of course, Larry was gone on one of his many trips, so the two kids and I were there alone.

A brilliant idea quickly jumped into my brain.

I pulled one of the shotguns we used for duck hunting out of the gun cabinet and turned all the lights on in the front of the house which was filled with very large picture windows looking out onto the dark driveway.

I began to pace back and forth in front of the windows, very methodically. I hoped if someone really was going to come here to kill us they would see me in the window with the gun and be scared off. I marched back and forth like that for two hours.

Around 2:00 a.m. a rattling noise at the back door startled me. My heart was racing as I carefully walked toward the sound. It was Larry coming home from a night of carousing. “What are you doing?” he said, surprised at being greeted by me toting a shotgun.

I explained the situation and he said dismissively, “Oh just put the gun away and go to bed.” Too tired to respond, I did just that.

The next day when I saw Mike, I told him about it and he angrily shrugged it off. After he went to his bedroom, I remember standing in the kitchen looking out onto the pool area. I was in a sort of trance. It was as if I was dreaming, even though I was wide awake.

In my revery, I was standing on the edge of a cliff looking down onto the huge abyss below, feeling like I could fall in at any moment. I carefully stepped back from the edge and said to myself, “This will never happen again. No one will ever get me that close to the edge again!” From that moment on, I have been vigilant about keeping myself safe from anyone using drugs, even when it’s my own kids.

Back when the children were young and we were still living in Fresno, I started a Christmas stocking tradition. Back then I used lots of creativity since we didn’t have much money. An article in a Woman’s Day magazine gave me a particularly great idea.

The instructions said to sew a Christmas stocking out of red felt, add a little trim at the top and glue a green felt Christmas tree near the top to represent the child’s first Christmas. Then each year thereafter you add something made of a different color of felt to symbolize an important event for each child that year. It was simple, inexpensive and the kids loved it. Little did I know it would expand to encompass many people over the years.

Over the years I made stockings for each of the children but also, as they got older, I created them for their girlfriends and boyfriends and eventually their wives and husbands. Each stocking told its own story.

One funny aspect is that the little felt pieces looked a little strange sometimes because I lack any artistic talent whatsoever. For example, I tried to cut a bike out of light blue felt to represent Mike’s first bicycle on his sixth Christmas. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make the handlebars go the right direction, so I just left them catawampus hoping people could figure out it was a bicycle.

One year at the ranch when the children were older, I had to call a repair man for my kitchen stove a few days before Christmas. We lived six miles from town and the stove was the latest induction model. The repair man took one look at the situation and said, “I don’t know if I can get this repaired in time for Christmas, ma’am.”

As he said this he happened to take a step back, glanced over his shoulder and was stunned to see 13 bright Christmas stockings all lined up along the mantel. He must have thought I had 13 kids because next he said, “I’ll make sure I have this stove fixed in time, ma’am.” And he did. I never told him that some of those stockings were for girlfriends of my sons or my daughter’s husband.

When Baird was in eighth grade, a young man named Maurice came to live with us.  Maurice was 16 and part of John Perkin’s Harambee (a Swahili word for “let’s get together and push”) Center located in an area in Pasadena that had the highest daytime crime rate in all of California. As a reward for memorizing scripture, the young members of Harambee would spend a week during Easter break at our ranch. Larry and I were impressed with Maurice and soon invited him to live with us. Larry took Maurice to his office every morning in the summer to learn filing and other office skills so Maurice would have a better chance for a productive life.

In September, Maurice started Selma High School as a junior. He was a tall, slender Black kid with natural basketball talent. I remember the day I took Maurice to high school to get him signed up for the basketball team. The coach was skeptical at first until I introduced him to Maurice. Then he fell all over himself getting Maurice signed up for the team. I never missed a game.

Whenever he would make a basket he would come over to the bleachers and give me a big sweaty hug saying, “Mom did you see that?” Since Maurice was the only Black kid in school (and parents at the school really didn’t know me since my other children went to Kingsburg High), I always got some strange stares. But Maurice had a taste of success for the first time in his life.

One day he came home from school and told us about his new friend, Nicolas Sasse. Nicolas was a German foreign exchange student and his host family just moved, so he needed a place to stay. Maurice begged us to let Nicolas come live with us for the rest of the school year. Finally we agreed and our family expanded even more.

Rick and his lovely wife, Peggy, were married in 1978—right after they graduated from high school. Pam and her handsome husband, Jeff, were married in 1981 after meeting each other at San Jose State University. So Mike, Baird and Matt were left at home. Rick’s oldest daughter, Stephanie (who was three years older than Matt), often stayed with us too so her parents could go to work. Larry and I were vacationing in Hawaii when Stephanie was born in 1979. She was our very first grandchild so we hurried to fly home to welcome her. Ours was quite the active household.

Every weekday morning after I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, I made lunches for the children to take to school. This quite a production.

I would line-up the five sandwiches so I could prepare them to each one’s preference. They all liked regular mayonnaise except Maurice who insisted on Miracle Whip instead. Some wanted me to write their name on their lunch bag and others felt scandalized by the idea of their mom writing their name on their lunch bag.

Nicolas was 16—the same age as Maurice. But they were very different from each other. Maurice was very loosey-goosey and his bedroom was always a giant mess. Nicolas was very organized—everything in his bedroom was perfectly placed. When it was time for the school prom, Maurice decided he would have to teach Nicolas how to dance “the American way.”

I was preparing dinner when I heard the two of them arguing out in the family room. When I went to see what was happening, Maurice was playing some rap music and Nicolas was saying, “I do not like this ‘shake your booty’ thing. I will dance with the French girl—she knows how to dance the proper way.” Then Nicolas proceeded to bring out his boom box and insert a cassette tape. He was determined to teach Maurice how to waltz. So the two 6’2” 16 year olds were waltzing around the kitchen, bumping into walls while I was trying to cook. Finally, they both decided to forget the whole dance idea.


When I think back to our years at the ranch, I think of them as “the days of Camelot.” Everything seemed so perfect and everyone’s life seemed so ideal—at least most of the time.  At some point, Larry decided that Matt and Baird and I should move to our vacation home in Murphys, a little town in Calaveras County in Mark Twain country. He said he felt Baird needed a fresh start since he was having a bit of trouble in school. I tried to talk Larry out of it, but he was determined. So, off we went to our little mountain hideaway.

The three-bedroom, two story house sat right on a beautiful golf course in the middle of an impressive new housing development called Forest Meadows. It was located about a two and a half hour drive from Fresno on Highway 4, at an altitude of about 4,000 feet. Up until this point, we had used this home for vacations only, although it was completely furnished—even with nice tableware, linens, and our clothes. We took our golden retriever Coco and my horse Disco Dawn with us. Our housing complex was equipped with stables and a nice, covered riding arena.

I enrolled Matt in third grade at Michelson Elementary School and Baird at Brett Hart High School a few miles down the road in Angels Camp. Larry would come up to visit us on some weekends but we quickly created a very nice life for ourselves in this sweet mountain community. We skied often at nearby Bear Valley ski resort and Matt enjoyed playing on a summer baseball league.

Every Wednesday night we went to Mountain Mike’s for pizza with the other families, getting a discount if our sons wore their baseball uniforms. I also started an organization in Murphys similar to the one I started in Kingsburg. Even though many residents of this little town were well off, there were also many poor families who lived out of sight and went hungry, especially in the cold winters.

The idea first came to me just before Thanksgiving when I realized that many people living in this mountain town would not be sitting down to what I considered a normal Thanksgiving feast. I began to talk to my friend, Renee Weaver, about the possibility of hosting a festive meal at the Murphys Hotel.

We didn’t want the perception to be that it was only for poor families because we didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable about attending. We decided to call it “Murphys Friends” and invite everyone who had nowhere special to go for Thanksgiving. It was a big success.

The townspeople donated all the necessary food and the hotel agreed to prepare and serve the meal. The first year about 50 people attended. It was so touching to see people of every kind—elderly, infirm, children, teenagers and adults—enjoying each other’s company and a delicious meal. For two years I helped this fledgling program gain stability.  Renee graciously agreed to take the reins when I had to leave to return to the ranch in Fresno. It continues to grow and bless the entire community even to this day, although Renee has now moved away.

A couple of years later, Larry informed us that we should move back to the ranch. Much later I discovered the reason he really wanted us to leave the ranch in the first place was so he could enjoy it with his girlfriend, Pam Fields.

I guess I was pretty naive, always trusting his judgement and following his rules. I first began to suspect he had a girlfriend during our time at Murphys. One day I opened the mail and was surprised to see an invoice from Edmond’s Jewelry store in Fresno. The bill for $10,000 was addressed to me because I oversaw the family checkbook. It was for an engraved Rolex ladies watch. Right away I thought Larry had purchased the watch for me for our upcoming anniversary.

Since he usually forgot to get me anything for our anniversary I hadn’t planned to get him anything in particular. But I made a special trip to Columbia, the small mining town across the bridge from Calaveras County, where I found a beautiful, numbered duck print. He had always enjoyed duck prints and this was an especially handsome one.

I had planned to give Larry the gift when he came up that next weekend for our anniversary. I waited until it was almost time for him to drive back home thinking he was going to give me the watch any moment. When he didn’t give me any gift, I gave him the duck print and told him goodbye. Puzzled, I decided to find out more about the Rolex watch. I called the jewelry store and pretended that I had forgotten who we bought the watch for and I wanted to keep our records straight.

The clerk knew me and quickly pulled the file and said it was engraved for Pam Fields. In that moment, it all fell together—Larry wanted me and the boys away from the ranch so he could entertain his employee, Pam. He had purchased the watch for her! Dumfounded, I didn’t know how to approach him with this revelation. When I carefully asked him about it, he told me a story that I knew was a big lie. But I also knew better than confront him about anything.

I left it alone but tucked the knowledge into the corner of my mind—and heart.


Back at the ranch, Larry was spending more time racing his jet boats and taking his big motorhome to the boat races. He was also getting more involved with a long-time friend of his, Paul Mosesian. The two of them cooked up a plan involving a racehorse.

Paul had purchased a racehorse a few years earlier for half a million dollars. The next step of the plan was for Larry to buy it from Paul for one million dollars, which he did (at least on paper). Larry’s purchase established the value of the horse at one million dollars. Next, Paul had Larry buy an insurance policy on the horse for a million dollars.

A few months later, the horse mysteriously died. I didn’t know it at the time, but evidently upon receiving the claim so soon after purchasing the policy, the insurance company hired an investigator to look into the transaction. Apparently the findings pointed to the probability that the horse had been killed for the million dollar insurance payoff.

Soon after that, Larry became very depressed and jumpy. He seemed paranoid, saying he had to do something quickly but never explained his worries. He said we would have to sell the house in Murphys, so I went there to put the house up for sale and pack up any belongings I thought we wouldn’t be able to sell. The house sold quickly and, thankfully, the new owners wanted to purchase most of the furniture, tableware and even many of the knickknacks.

Packing up for the sale was a lot of work and very emotional. We had so many wonderful memories there and I had made some dear friends. The boys had made friends too and I felt bad to be pulling them out of school.

Once we were all back at the ranch and involved in our new routines, Larry announced we would have to move. This news stunned all of us, especially since there seemed to be no logical explanation. Once again I began packing up. He said he needed to generate as much cash as possible, so he arranged with a company to sell many of our belongings.

Our 6,000 square foot home was filled with beautiful old California oak furniture, much of which I had refinished myself over the years. A huge round oak table that accommodated 12 before adding the leaves, 12 chairs for that table with spindled backs, a very old highchair I purchased just before Stephanie was born so I could eventually use it for all of my grandchildren, two stunning hutches and many more impressive pieces.

Soon strangers were walking through our house putting a sticky note on whatever they wanted to purchase. I felt devastated inside but tried to show a composed demeanor on the outside in order to keep everyone calm. I also had to go through the heartbreaking process of selling our precious horses and other animals, my saddles and all of our tack as well as my horse trailers.

I’ll never forget the final day. Larry had loaded the last of our belongings into a U-Haul truck and was driving it with Baird and Matt in the front seat along the road in front of our house. The enormous house filled with treasured memories was now completely empty. I sat on the floor of what had been our lovely living room watching the U-Haul truck pass in front of the large picture window still draped in lace. I cried and cried, feeling emptier than I had ever felt before. I had no idea why we had to leave, where we would go or what would happen to us next.

Larry’s friend Paul Mosesian had agreed to let us live in one of his apartments at no charge. Our new 1,000 square-foot residence felt odd but I was determined to make the best of it. I arranged our few remaining belongings and clothes in the respective rooms and tried to create a comfortable home environment. Months went by and Larry lay on the couch watching television in a depressed state. Finally after I offered to get a job, he found employment as a salesman at the local auto painting facility. He didn’t make much but it was enough for us to buy food and basic essentials.

But one day he came home happily relating stories about how he was able to help some of his co-workers by sharing some of his paycheck with them. It made him feel important and needed. I still didn’t know why we had to abruptly leave the ranch or sell the Murphys house, but I began to feel that Matt and I were not safe. If Larry was going to give away the little bit of money he earned how would we ever survive?

I arranged to have a part-time paid position at Highway City Ministries, the organization I had started years before through Northwest Church. Next I located an inexpensive apartment in town for Matt and me to live in. I knew I had to leave Larry. All I can say is that I didn’t feel we were safe. I couldn’t explain why I felt that way but the sense of being insecure was overwhelming. I knew if Larry found out what I was planning he would talk me out of it with his great salesmanship. So, I tried hard to act naturally while I put my plan together.

Finally the morning for us to leave arrived. I had arranged with two of my girlfriends, Mary Roach and Maryann Hunt, to bring their pickup trucks to the apartment to load them up with our necessities. I intended not to take anything we didn’t really need.

But I was concerned when Larry and I woke up that morning and, before we got out of bed, he ran his fingernails down my face and said in a very flat tone, “If I can’t have you, no one will. We will go to eternity together.” I calmly changed the subject by saying I had to go to the bathroom and got out of bed. That morning, after he left for work and I had dropped Matt off at school, my girlfriends arrived and we quickly packed up the essentials, drove to my new apartment and unloaded them.

I was nervous but felt so liberated and free. I knew I had done the right thing, I just didn’t know why—yet. I left a note on the entry mirror telling Larry about my departure. It simply said, “Dear (that’s what I always called him since I had never been able to call him by his name ever since he told me his name was Larry, not Rick), You will notice that Matt and I are gone. Please don’t worry. We are safe. I will contact you soon and we can discuss things. Love, Cindy.” I knew it was cowardly to leave with just a note, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Thankfully Matt was still attending school at Northwest Church. I didn’t know how I would be able to continue paying the tuition but I wanted to do all I could to keep Matt’s life as routine as possible even though it was anything but normal. Matt had attended this school since pre-school and now he was in the final months of sixth grade.

 I asked the school principal, Helen (who was also my dear friend), if I could pay for the remaining tuition by giving her my diamond wedding ring which by now I had refashioned into a beautiful pendant. Helen agreed and wore that pendant around her neck every day for the rest of her life. She would often tell me that she wanted me to have the pendant back after she passed, but since she neglected to tell her family about this I never got it back. I was just happy she let me use it to pay for Matt’s tuition.

That year Matt’s French teacher arranged for his sixth grade class to have an exchange program with a sixth grade class in Paris. My good friend, Mary Roach, and her son Brandon were part of the group. What a wonderful time we had for three glorious weeks staying in the homes of the French students. Within 24 hours of arriving, I noticed all the French classes I took in school paid off—I was completely fluent. We toured all the major tourist attractions as well as benefited from experiencing the everyday life of Parisian families. Later that year, the French families came to stay with our group’s families for three weeks. Matt and I still have sweet memories from that experience.

A few days after I left Larry, he managed to track me down when I went to get some things from our rented storage facility in Kingsburg. He gave Matt some money to go buy a coke and sat me down for a chat. He tried his best to convince me to come back. But by then I knew I had made the right decision and I just politely listened to his pleading and then calmly said I would not be changing my mind. I have no idea where I got the courage to stand firm against his pitiful entreaties.

Since he wanted to spend time with Matt, I had to tell him where my apartment was. One night he knocked on my door and announced, “I’ve decided to get right with man and God and I’m going to start with you.” A bit dumbfounded, I invited him to come inside. That night we sat at my kitchen table for hours while he told me about all the affairs he had for so many years and how sorry he was. I was surprised to hear this but thankfully I didn’t feel angry or hurt. I just felt these stories confirmed my leaving him was a wise decision.

The main feeling I had, though, was embarrassment. I was mortified to discover that several of the women he cavorted with were from his office. I had often visited his office and was friendly with all of his secretaries. Now I realized they had probably been laughing at me behind my back especially since my demeanor was always like “little miss sunshine.”

I was glad for my part-time job at Highway City Ministries. I loved the opportunity to stay involved with the work I enjoyed so much. But Larry got in the habit of showing up at my office, unannounced, and demanding that I go with him to the Burger King next door to talk. I always acquiesced because I felt sorry for him. He was really quite miserable. Finally I knew I had to put a stop to his attentions. I was sure that the only way to do this was for me to have another man in my life. His ego would not allow that.

That winter I arranged to take Matt and his friend Brandon Roach skiing at Bear Valley. I thought it would take Matt’s mind off of the disruptive events if he could do what he enjoyed with a good friend in a place he loved. We arranged to stay at the historic Murphys Hotel, right in the middle of Main Street. I thought Matt’s fond memories of this town would help soothe his troubled spirit.

After dinner one night, I left the boys in our room and went downstairs to the bar to have a nightcap. While there, I met the man who would become my second husband, Donald Baptista.

My prediction proved to be correct. As soon as Larry learned I had a new man in my life, he left me alone. After a year of dating, Donald and I were married in the chapel at Northwest Church. Matt, Donald and I moved into one of the homes he built as a contractor in Forest Meadows, the same subdivision located near Murphys that I lived in years earlier. It was quite a bizarre coincidence.

One day while I was living in that home, I received a call from the FBI. They said Larry was going to stand trial for several charges including illegal business practices and killing a horse to collect the insurance payment. They wanted me to testify against him. I didn’t know anything about any of this, but I knew better than to refuse because they could subpoena me. Still, I also knew I wanted to avoid testifying against Larry. I did not want our children to be able to say that mom was responsible for dad going to prison. I wondered how in the world I could make this happen.

Then a brilliant idea came to me as I was making the one-hour drive from Murphys to Stockton for the required FBI deposition. I would do my best to make sure the FBI did not want me to testify at all.

When I was a kid, one of my parents’ favorite television shows was the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. George played the straight guy and Gracie was his bubble-headed, ditsy wife. At the end of every episode, George would tell Gracie, “Say good-night, Gracie.” And Gracie would say, “Good night, Gracie.” They were really hilarious.

I decided I would channel Gracie Allen during the FBI interrogation. I would appear to be as dumb as a mud fence so they wouldn’t want me at the trial.

When I arrived on the appointed day, I walked into the tiny, sterile room and six FBI men instantly came to attention and introduced themselves. They began asking questions about the horse. I deflected the questions, pretending not to know what they were after. At one point I realized they were getting a little frustrated so I said, “It seems that you guys really want to know about the horse. I remember the day the call came in about that.” They all quickly sat up straight with pens poised on their yellow lined pads of paper.

“I was in our bedroom when the telephone rang. I answered it. Paul was calling for Larry,” I began to explain. “You mean Paul Mosesian?!” they replied scribbling madly on their notepads.  I calmly nodded in affirmation. I continued to explain that “I could tell Larry was upset about something but I couldn’t wait for the call to end, so I whispered, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘Doris died.’ Oh my gosh, I felt so bad.”

“You see, Doris was Paul’s aunt. She and I were in the same aerobics class every Thursday morning. She seemed perfectly fine and, in fact, very healthy the last time I saw her. She couldn’t work out as fast as I could but she did a fine job. I couldn’t imagine what had happened. Finally Larry finished the call and I quickly asked him what happened to Doris. He said, ‘Doris? I didn’t say Doris, I said the horse.’ I replied to him, ‘What horse?’ That’s what I know about the horse.”

My plan worked like a charm. Those FBI guys couldn’t get me out of their room fast enough. They politely thanked me and off I drove, pretty sure I would never hear from them again.

Larry had his trial shortly after that. Just as I figured, they made their case against him without my help (especially since I didn’t know anything anyway). The judge sentenced Larry to two years in the Federal Penitentiary in Pleasanton. Even though it was a minimum security facility, I think he had a hard time there. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what he did to warrant a prison sentence.