December 28, 1955.
The marital bliss had dissolved into an alcohol-filled abyss. Looking back, Peggy Utter had seen signs of trouble but had chosen to make herself look the other way. At twenty-four years of age and with her WWII nursing service behind her, she was ready for the next phase in her life and vulnerable to covert manipulation. Dan had presented as handsome, gentle, and caring, and Peggy had allowed herself to be swept away in it all. But now, amidst the emotional and financial chaos going on around her, she finally realized he was an active alcoholic who had hidden his deepening illness from Peggy throughout their courtship and first year married together.
Three and a half years and four children later, she felt herself drowning in the tempest of her husband’s full-blown, unmasked alcoholism. At this point, Dan was drinking himself into blackouts and fits of violence, and things were only getting worse. Peggy feared for the children’s safety as well as her own. Lacking any basic resources or family supports, she realized a decision had to be made and made quickly.
So, in the middle of winter of 1955-56, Peggy packed her four young children into a long, green Ford station wagon and headed south from her home on the Little Spokane River near Spokane, Washington. She brought with them what cash she could withdraw from their savings account at the bank, a pile of blankets, towels, clothes, vitamins, and medicines, books for the children’s next school year, and strings of Christmas lights.
Nine days and three thousand miles later, they arrived in a small Mexican village named Ajijic on a large lake just south of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco. Peggy figured it would take her husband a long time to find them there, and it would be peaceful in the meantime. She surveyed with relief and satisfaction the idyllic setting just as described to her by her good friend Mary Jane Rogers of Colville, Washington.
A long pier, partially covered by green lake weeds, jutted out into the lake and was the area’s focal point. Smiling villagers and shy children mingled with burros, goats, chickens, and pigs at a nearby outdoor market. Multiple animal smells competed with countless flowery scents, no other cars were in sight, and the blue lake stretched out to the horizon – shimmering in the increasing morning heat. Peggy and her four children, daughter Brooks, aged ten, twins Robin and Rob, eight, and the youngest child Shilo, five, could not have known it at the time, but they were about to have one of the best years of their lives. To Peggy, it all looked like an enchantingly beautiful Eden-like Garden, and she just couldn’t stop smiling. Continue reading…