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Won't you take me to Tinkertown? Tanya Ward Goodman's memoir

September 23, 2013|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • One of Tanya Ward Goodman's father's miniature creations at Tinkertown.
One of Tanya Ward Goodman's father's miniature creations at… (University of New Mexico…)

The world's largest ball of twine is in Cawker City, Kansas. Spring Green, Wisc., is home to the House on the Rock. Cadillac Ranch looms near Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas. And Albuquerque, N.M., has Tinkertown.

Quirky destinations along America's roadways have provided relief for the road-weary, providing entertainment for families on long trips to somewhere else. But for Tanya Ward Goodman, Tinkertown wasn't just a quick stop -- it was home. Her father built it.

Years ago, I was briefly in a writing group with Tanya, who was the nicest and most talented among us. Tanya left Los Angeles to take care of her father, who had been daignosed with Alzheimer's; that story is at the heart of her new memoir, "Leaving Tinkertown," published by the University of New Mexico Press. She answered my questions about the book via email.

What is Tinkertown?

Tinkertown Museum is a roadside attraction built by my father, Ross Ward, in the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. The museum opened in 1983 in the backyard of the house where I grew up. Dad built it to display his miniature, animated, wood-carved western town and circus as well as a lifetime of other collections. Visitors can see antique mining implements, vintage wedding cake couples, circus memorabilia, the shoes and pants of Louie Moilanen, who was once the world’s tallest man, a chuck wagon, a 1920s sailboat and so much more. Walls Dad made from over 50,000 glass bottles, rocks and cement surround the entire place.

When you were growing up, did you realize how unique your childhood was?

I grew up in the mountains of New Mexico in the 1970s, so a lot of our family friends were artists. We knew more than one person who lived in a geodesic dome and other folks who built their own houses out of adobe, so our house and up to a point my childhood, didn’t seem too much out of the norm. When I started public elementary school in second grade, I started to realize my family was a bit more colorful than other families. Because my Dad worked as a carnival show painter, we sometimes had a haunted house or sideshow set up in our driveway and he always worked the State Fair in Albuquerque, both as a painter on the midway and as an exhibitor when the western town was in a trailer. I’d sell tickets or help him out with painting and it gave me a little thrill to have my friends from school see me in this world. I was in high school when Dad opened Tinkertown and from then on, whenever I felt less than interesting, I’d spin stories of “life in the museum.” Truthfully, my unique childhood was something I coasted on socially for a long, long time.

Had you planned on writing about it?

Though I’ve been telling these “museum stories” for much of my life, I hadn’t really thought about writing a book. I don’t think I had a handle on where to begin. Dad’s diagnosis gave me a reason to share our family story. As a writer, the thing I value most is my memory and with Dad’s memory vanishing and my own being genetically called into question, suddenly it seemed imperative to get these stories down on the page. My Dad had Alzheimer’s, his mom had Alzheimer’s, and her sister had Alzheimer’s. My great-grandmother had it too. With a scary line up like that, you’ve got to get to it. 

What was it like to go back to New Mexico to take care of your dad with your writer’s perspective?
I think I always had a writer’s perspective because writing is observation and I have always been an observer. For me, returning home pulled me out of observation mode and into action. So much was happening that I began to think of myself as only hands and feet. I was doing and running all day, but not so much thinking or feeling. There really was no time to process. My family goes to bed very early and so I wrote about what happened during the day in lieu of talking. I also wrote a lot of e-mails to my boyfriend (now husband) David. Writing for me was a way out of loneliness. All those yellow legal pads gave me a safe place to respond honestly (and often messily and with a lot of sadness and anger) to the events of the day.

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