I was born in Paducah, Kentucky on April 16, 1947.  My parents, who had met during WWII at a dance at an Air Force base in East St. Louis, and who married in 1943, moved to my Dad's hometown named Benton, Kentucky, after the war.  I was told that I was a "Vitamin E" baby, since they had not gotten pregnant for 4 years and a doctor told my Mom to take Vitamin E to cure her "problem."  It worked!  She got pregnant and, since Benton had no hospital, she went to Paducah to have me in a hospital.  Benton, which probably had a population of 1500 back then, is about 30 miles from Paducah.  I loved Benton, because it was a small town, my Dad had Labs and Weimies, and I loved exploring the countryside with the dogs.  Benton is shown on the map to the right.

Shortly after I was born, for a while, we went to live with my Mom's family in St. Louis, Missouri.  We lived with my maternal grandparents, Lena Cavesina Badami and Benjamin Salvatore Badami, in a large house on Belt Avenue.  Three of my Mom's brothers lived with my grandparents, too:  Tony (Anthony), Frank, and Junie (Benjamin, Jr.).  I had lots of relatives around and was probably very spoiled!  My grandma was my favorite person in our family.  My Mom worked making men's suits at a factory, and my Dad drove a city bus.  We stayed in St. Louis until I was about 4 or 5 years old, and then we moved back to Benton.  The photo to the right shows my Grandpa Ben, Mom Marie, and Grandma Lena.  The photo below it shows me as a 2-year-old in 1949. 


We didn't have kindergarden back then in Benton, so when I was 6 years old in 1953, I started first grade at Benton High School, which had all 12 grades in one multi-story brick building.  We lived across the street in a small house on W. 11th Street I think.  I loved living across the street so I could run to school when I heard the warning bell ring.  I was a night-owl then as I am now.  So I would lie awake until the wee hours, and then I'd be fast asleep when I needed to get up for school.  That habit never changed.  

I don't recall much of those times except that I liked to roam the countryside with our dogs.  I didn't play much with children as I recall.  Our neighbor had a little girl that was younger than I was, and I think her name was Crystal.  One day, I knocked on the kitchen door to ask if Crystal could come out and play and her mom said she was taking a nap.  I was angry and bored probably, so I got my small pail and shovel and shoveled sand onto the neighbor's kitchen floor by pulling out the screen door bottom as far as it would come out, while being latched with a hook latch at the top.  I was in trouble!  

Crystal's mom called my mom and told her what I'd done, and my mom tried to catch me, but she couldn't do it!  She was getting too fat!  Little did I know the reason.  A short time later, in November, my mom had my first brother, David Benjamin Gilliam ("Benny" for short).  I was 6 and a half years old!  I was quite put out having to share my home with another child.  He seemed to get all the attention because he cried a lot!  He must have had colic, because my Mom would yell at him to be quiet or she'd "throw him out the window!"  I think I believed it. 

I didn't really like living with my Mom and Dad.  They fought a lot, and my Dad stayed out late a lot drinking with his friends.  My mom was miserable so she didn't spend any quality time with me.  Looking back, I think she was depressed.  But I was a child who they dragged away from the people I thought were my parents, because they took care of me for so long -- I missed my Grandma and Grandpa, who took care of me during my critical baby years.  These people I was living with were strangers to me and they were too involved in their own drama!  I think that's why I couldn't sleep at night.  I was a depressed kid, and playing with the dogs helped my depression.  

I never was that close to my MeMaw (Lula Louise Johnston Gilliam) and PePaw (Otis Elliott Gilliam), who lived close by in an old house on W. 12th Street.  The photo to the right are my PePaw and MeMaw.  MeMaw always had dark hair and always was dressed up with makeup on.  She was a true Southern Lady!  PePaw was a rural mail route carrier, and he sometimes would take me on his delivery routes.  That was fun.  MeMaw was a housewife and was very quiet.  The photo below MeMaw and PePaw shows me at 6 years old, my dad at 36 years old, and my brother Benny at a few months.

My dad like to hunt and we always had dogs.  First, I remember having a pointer and then, when I was eight years old, I remember having a breeding pair of weimaraners and black labs.  In the summer of 1955, we had two litters of pups -- one from each pair.  I loved puppies and remember the joy of having three black lab pups to play with that summer. I named them Lady, Tramp, and Jock.  Those were the days when parents didn't have to worry much about their 8-year-old daughters wandering around unescorted.  Benton was so safe that we did not lock our doors at night and, in the summer when it was really hot and humid, we left the doors open with just the screendoors for protection.  The only policeman that I remember seeing in Benton was called "Chewing Gum Charlie."  He drove around and walked around the streets of town, protecting us and I never saw him with a gun straped on.  The picture at the right is me with our Pointer next to the small house on W. 11th Street in Benton.  

That summer of 1955, I also took horseback riding lessons I loved horses!  We got to ride in the town fair at the end of that summer.  My Dad promised me that he would buy me a horse the following summer when I would be 9 years old.  He lied!

When summer vacation was over and school started -- I was assigned to Ms. Margaret in the third grade.  She was a tough teacher, and we had lots of assignments.  One "assignment" was walking to her house and pulling weeds in her yard!  Can you imagine what would happen if a teacher did that today?  That was terrible!  

Soon it was Christmas time. I remember that I often heard talk from the adults in my family of a place called "California."  I wondered what that was.

Christmas eve in 1955, we had company:  my Uncle Carl Collier, Aunt Julia Gilliam Collier (my Dad's sister), my cousin Nat, and my cousin Cherye.  Cherye was seven months older than me, so we played a lot when they were in town.  The snow was falling and suddenly we heard a knock at the door.  A man asked my Dad if he knew anyone who had a black lab puppy dog -- he had just hit one in the road next to our house when he ran into the road in the driving snowstorm.  Unfortunately, it was my Tramp!  Cherye and I started crying hysterically.  My Dad took Tramp to the basement, where he laid on a blanket on the floor.  He stayed there several days.  One day, my Dad told me that he was going to take Tramp to the vet to make him better.  Poor Tramp had lain on the floor for days, unable to get up.  I trusted my Dad to make him better for me.  That was a mistake!

I kept waiting for Tramp to come home.  About two weeks later, my parents were sitting in their chairs in front of the fireplace, reading the newspaper and listening to music on the radio.  Curious as to how Tramp was doing, I asked my Dad, "When is Tramp coming home?"  My Dad looked at my Mom and she looked at him -- and a quiet hush fell over the room.  

My Dad looked at me and said, "We thought you would forget, so we decided not to tell you that Tramp died."  I felt like I was punched in the stomach!  I was devastated.  I felt a lump in my stomach that I had never felt before.  I felt my face flush -- my eyes filled with tears -- and I began to loose control.  I felt so betrayed.  I wasn't sure if the tears were the result of Tramp having died or of having my parents think that I would forget about him, thereby relieving them of the burden of having to tell me of his death.  

I went to my bedroom and climbed into bed.  I continued to cry, wondering what had become of Tramp.  I went to church regularly and had heard of heaven.  My dad's father (PePaw) had recently died, so I thought I knew what death was (I'd attended his funeral and saw his dead body in his casket).  Soon my Dad came into my room to talk to me.  I plaintively said, "Is Tramp in heaven with PeePaw?"  He curtly responded, "No, honey, dogs don't go to heaven. Heaven is only for people and dogs are not people.  They are just animals.  When they die, they are just dead and gone." 

I was gobsmacked!  My Dad had made me feel even worse and I cried more deeply for Tramp.  I was so miserable to think that my little Tramp -- who I loved so much -- was lying somewhere decomposing into nothingness -- because God wouldn't let dogs go to heaven.  That was when I decided that I did not like my Dad's religious beliefs, if that was the way they looked at things.  I knew Tramp had to be in heaven if one existed.

Shortly after Tramp died, my parents decided to move to California.  I had no idea what that meant, but I did not think that I liked it.  I like Benton and I liked my dogs, so leaving all that was scary!  Nevertheless, in early February 1956, when I was eight years old, my Dad gave away my two remaining labs -- Lady and Jock -- to some people in the country.  So, I lost Tramp in December and then I lost Lady and Jock in February.  I was so depressed, but nobody noticed.  I was just a kid.


I don't remember the actual trip to California, but I remember being deposited with my Aunt Bert Cavesina and Uncle Charlie Cavesina in San Diego near State College on Mesita Drive.  My parents moved to Inglewood, California with my little brother, where my Dad apparently had a job.  So, there I was -- 8 years old -- having just lost my three beloved Labs, my family had abandoned me, and I was stuck living with strangers:  my aunt, my uncle, my 11yo cousin Sandy, my 9yo cousin Joe, and my 5yo cousin Kathy.  I was miserable, because I had lost my three dogs, my hometown, and my family.  Nobody understood why I became withdrawn, depressed, and sullen.  That was 1956 and before anyone cared about kids' feelings -- at lease that's how it appeared to me.  I enrolled at Montezuma Elementary School for the remainder of the third grade and was a very good student -- what else was there to do?

It turns out that my Mom was pregnant with my second brother, who was born July 26, 1956.  They let me name him.  I named him Robert after a blond boy upon whom I had the wildest crush!  We called him "Bobby."   My Mom called him "Bestest One" -- he was always her favorite.  She didn't even try to hide it!  My Dad got a job in San Diego as an electrician, so they moved to a small duplex in the area of town called Clairemont, in September 1956.  I remember that address to this day (but cannot remember what I did last week):  3365 Clairemont Drive, San Diego.  I enrolled in Whittier Elementary School for the fourth grade.  I was nine years old at that time. The photo to the right shows my mom (~37), my brother Benny (~3), and me (~9) in front of our duplex in Clairemont.

About two years later, in the fall of 1958, my parents bought a brand new, 3-bedroom, 2-bath, house in a new development in Chula Vista at 170 East Naples Street.  It was 1959, and I think they paid about $12,000 for it!  I enrolled in the sixth grade at Kellogg Elementary School -- Mr. Bickel was my teacher.  I loved that he read to us in class.  He read the book about the Titanic sinking.  The picture at the right is a current Zillow picture of the house my parent bought in 1959.

Our house was on the outskirts of town at that time, which was ideal for a tomboy!  The neighborhood had lots of kids my age.  I had lots of girlfriends who were also tomboys.  We loved to explore all over the countryside from Chula Vista to Otay Lake.  We had wonderful times together:  riding bikes all over, going downtown to shop and buy french fries and Green Rivers at the soda shop, building forts in the canyons with tumbleweeds, having slumber parties where we ate like pigs and told ghost stories, playing girls' basketball at the Recreation Center, and discovering boys eventually!

In the fall of 1959, I enrolled in the 7th grade at Castle Park Junior High School.  I liked school, got good grades, and was in the advanced classes for all subjects that were offered.  My favorite teacher was Mr. David Bannister, who taught us Social Studies.  He always said, "To thyne own self be true, and it shall follow as the night the day, that thou canst then be false with any man."  I really admired him.  When I was starting my ninth grade, my sister, Martha Ann Gilliam, was born.  She was really tiny (about 5 pounds) and cute, so I played with her like a doll.  The picture to the right is Martha as a baby.

That same year, my Dad decided that we should go back to church again -- we had regularly attended the local Church of Christ in Benton before moving to California.  So, we started going to the Chula Vista Church of Christ three times a week:  Sunday morning for Sunday School and services, Sunday evening for bible study, and Wednesday evening for bible study.  I met Alice Wojciechowski (later Alice Houge), who is still a good friend.  Except for family, I've known Ali the longest of any friend.  We still speak about once a month or so.
In the fall of 1962, I enrolled in 10th grade at Hilltop High School.  I only went there one year, however, because they were building a new high school that was closer.  In the fall of 1963, I enrolled at the new high school -- Castle Park High School.  I was in the first junior class.  I enjoyed it, but was anxious to leave home and see the world.  I wanted to leave high school early, so in the summer of 1963, I attended summer school at Helix High School to earn extra credits.  

With those credits, I was accepted to Pepperdine University in Los Angeles for the fall of 1964, which is when it was located in south-central LA -- not in Malibu.  I had enough credits and an A-average, but I was only just 17 years old and 4 months, so I was afraid to go to the "big city."  At the last minute, I decided to go with my good girlfriend, Rita Hopkins, to a small Church of Christ college in Lubbock, Texas -- Lubbock Christian College.  About a month before I had to go, I contacted LCC, applied, and was accepted.  They told me that the affiliated high school was accredited and I could get a high school diploma by taking one high school course, which I did, but it turned out not to be recognized by the California school systems.  


The 1964-65 school year in Lubbock, Texas, was a real eye opener for a naive young girl.  I met some of the most hypocritical, judgmental, and two-faced people in Texas, who were prejudiced against people who were "not like them."  Many of those "Christians" hated people from California and thought they were all "going to hell."  One of the students told Rita and I that our first week at the college.  They told us to take our sin and corruption and go home to California.  The California kids tended to hang out together as a result:  Karen Graves, Sharyn Todd, North Witcher, James Barron, Rita Hopkins, and myself.  I wonder where they are now.  I did meet some nice people, but most of those were either NOT from Texas or NOT church people!  I met my future husband -- James Smith -- who was from Denver, Colorado.  

After one year of that torment, I returned to San Diego in the summer of 1965, took a couple of adult school classes to earn my high school diploma, and enrolled at Grossmont Junior College in the fall.  (I did not realize the importance of where you go to college at that time and I just wanted to go close to home and cheaply.)  In early 1966, Jim Smith came to see me in San Diego, since his dad had moved to Lompoc, California, not far from the LA area.  We started going together, but my family did not approve.  I quit school, moved out of the house, and a couple of months later, ran away to Denver, Colorado.  I was mad and didn't tell my family where I had gone, so they had no idea where I was for about six months.  Jim and I were married on July 19, 1966, but I did not call my folks until mid-November.  

Jim and I both got jobs in Denver and rented a small one-bedroom apartment at 1320 Vine Street in Denver.  I worked as a disbursement clerk at the First National Bank of Denver at 17th and Welton Streets.  I distributed the trust funds to the beneficiaries of trusts that the bank administered.   I remember a young, beautiful female attorney who worked in the trust department -- Anne Gorsuch (later Anne Burford, who became head of the EPA under President Ronald Reagan).  She was an inspiration to me to go back to school and get a good job. I eventually did go back and get a B.S. in Physics and a Juris Doctor, which is what she had.  I think that experience in Denver had a significant effect on my life.  Remember, in the '60s, girls were not generally encouraged to become professionals.

Jim was not fond of snow, so when the winter started, he wanted to move back to California.  I had become pregnant (remember I was very naive), and we moved back to California in March 1967.  I stayed with my aunt in San Diego, and Jim stayed with his dad in LA and got a job.  Our first son, James Allan Smith, Jr., was born April 24, 1967, in San Diego.  In June 1967, Jim and I rented an apartment in Garden Grove, and I got a job as a Report Preparation Clerk at Security Pacific National Bank in downtown Los Angeles.  I had a long commute, so we eventually moved to a small apartment on La Mirada Avenue near Santa Monica Blvd. and Western in the LA area.  

After a few months, I found a job as a secretary at Dames & Moore, Civil Engineers, in Westwood near U.C.L.A.  I became very interested in engineering and decided to major in science or engineering.  I started taking night classes and walked to L.A. City College to take night classes -- a dangerous activity today!  Eventually I graduated from Cal State University - Los Angeles on June 10, 1972, with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.  I had my second son, Jeffrey David Smith ("Jeff"), a few days later on June 15, 1972.  

I interviewed at TRW in Redondo Beach (now a part of Northrup Grumman) in December 1972, and started work there on February 19, 1973.  I was a Member of the Technical Staff in the Materials Technology Department until 1997.  I worked on various projects related to space science experimentation planned for the Spacelab to be flown on the Space Shuttle.  I assisted a Principal Investigator (Jo Reger) who performed zero-gravity experiments on metals on NASA's Skylab.  Later, I transferred to the Heat Transfer and Thermodynamics Department and worked on analysis and design of satellite thermal control systems, such as DSPFLTSATCOM, and MILSTAR.  

From August 1983 to June 1987, including summers, I attended Loyola Law School at night, while working full-time at TRW.  I passed the July bar that year.  In September 1987, I took a 6-month leave of absence from TRW and took a position as an associate attorney at Parkinson, Wolf, Lazar, & Leo in Century City.  I bought the 11.8-acre parcel upon which my house now sits in August 1988, while I was living in Torrance, California.  I always wanted to build a custom home.  

In 1990, I started looking for a position in San Diego, and my headhunter sent me to Southern California Edison Company to interview for the position they had for a gas attorney, who they planned to move to San Diego when the Gas Fuels Department moved after approval of the pending merger with San Diego Gas & Electric Company.  They convinced me that the merger was 99.9% going to be approved, but it was not, and I am still working at Edison in Rosemead!  (On August 27, 2007, I had my 17th anniversary.)


In 1993, I decided to move to San Diego anyway.  I leased my house in Torrance and rented a house in San Diego.  I started researching my construction project in 1994.  In 1995, my employer assigned me to its nuclear work and gave me a satellite office at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station where I worked several days a week.  I would either drive from San Diego to SONGS or drive to the Metrolink Station in Oceanside and take the Metrolink to the head office in Rosemead.  
Eventually, in March 1997, I sold my house in Torrance and bought a 23-foot-long 1979 Allegro Class A motorhome to live in temporarily while I worked on my construction project to build a house on my lot in Blossom Valley.  First, I lived at Camplands On The Bay, in an area of San DiegoCalifornia, called Mission Beach, from March until July 1997.  That was a fun time, since I knew several people who had boats at the Marina.  

When the rates went up to summer rates, in July 1997, I moved in with my aunt Bert in San Diego. I stayed there until October 1997, which is when I finally broke ground for my house!  I moved my RV to Lake Jennings Park to be near my property.  A short while later, a friend of mine from Chile (Alfredo) offered me a room in his house, so I moved there until I moved into my "dream" house in April 1998.  During that time at Alfredo's, 

I bought my first three Labs from Kasey Mando of Ultra Quest Show Dogs and Arabay Ranch.  I had already bought a mini horse (Arabay's Captain Azul) that I was boarding at her property east of my new property in El Cajon. I bought Blue on Mother's Day 1997.  My building project was completed and I received a Certificate of Occupancy in April 1998, so I moved in!  It was so exciting to move to the country (almost 12 acres) into a house I had designed and had built.  Over the next few years, I acquired a few more mini horses and frequented mini horse shows with Kasey.  I owned and showed Blue, Zaney, Ellie, Sargent, Marnie, Major and Starla at various times.  

On November 3, 2001, Kasey persuaded me to enter my first AKC dog show, which was held at Irwindale, CA.  I took 3 Lab girls and 2 PRTs.  My Casper was Winners Dog and my Dotti was Winners Bitch in PRTS, so I was hooked!  That addiction lasted for many years.


My commute to Southern California Edison Company in Rosemead, California, was brutal.  First it was 140 miles each way.  I drove for many years to head office. For a few years I had an office at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station so I could be closer to home. I loved that time.  When the financial crises occurred after SCE sold its gas-fired generating stations and ENRON started manipulating the electric system, and SCE was thinking of filing bankruptcy like Pacific Gas and Electric Company has done in Northern California, I was told to start coming to the head office because we would have major layoffs and my boss said he'd have trouble keeping me if people didn't know me.  So I started taking the Metrolink Train from Oceanside, California to City of Commerce, where SCE sent a shuttle to pick up employees.  That lasted a while, and then some San Diego-based employees started a carpool.  That lasted a while.  

Finallly, in 2010, the commute got to be 3 hours each way and I was tired of it!  So, I started looking for something closer to work.  I settled on a 20-acre home in Aguanga, California that had been a foreclosure but the people never had moved in as they ran out of money while building it.  It was 105 miles from work, so it reduced my commute from 3 hours each way to 2 hours each way.  That lasted until 2013 when I bought another property on almost 5 acres adjacent to my 20-acre property, where I still live. I love this property!  I have planted about 80 cottonwood trees, about 45 Junipers, 7 rose trees, several pine trees, and several fruit trees. 

I have installed perimeter fencing and cross fencing so my animals are protected from predators that roam the hills here: cougars, bobcats, and coyotes, along with hawks and other big birds.  I have a herd of alpacas that I initially rescued from my friend Alijia Malkvist which was 15 alpacas. I then bought two studs, Tellicherry born in 2003 and bought in 2014 and Marathon Victor, born in 2012 and bought in 2014.  Since then, we've lost some and birthed others.  Currently I have 33 alpacas.  I also have an Arab mare that I used to trail ride until about 2017

​to be continued

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Copyright 2002-2023

Blossom Valley Kennel
About Me
Updated 7/13/2023