At an annual celebration of the famed World War 2 correspondent, Ernie Pyle, at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., a docent tells the small group about the permanent closing of Pyle’s childhood home, in his birthplace,in Indiana. As the docent continues, he reminds his aging audience of the steady inexorable disappearance of American history, the necessity of knowing our collective past.
Ernie Pyle was a celebrated World War 2 correspondent, but, today, there are many Americans who don’t know much about World War 2 except what they see in the movies. They don’t know Ernie Pyle, or Julius Caesar, or Frederick Douglas. They believe the American Civil War was only about the abolishment of slavery and the United States Constitution is outdated and irrelevant, written by stuffy white men who owned slaves and wore white wigs..
Where does history go when it is behind us?
Does God put His memos, research papers,videos and photos on shelves in his personal library? Does he go back and review his plans and progress for the Universe, make changes in the roll out of his vision ? Does knowing history mean we can stop or modify what is happening to us while we are in the middle of its happening?
On this pleasant afternoon, we are taken on a guided tour of Ernie Pyle’s life and times, in a place he fixed bacon and eggs for breakfast and read his newspaper thrown on the front porch by a neighborhood boy on a bicycle.
His house feels like a home and I walk away suspecting that Ernie would offer me a cold drink of lemonade on a hot summer day and have some good jokes to soften the wounds of World War 2 as we both set at a little table on the front porch with empty vistas of the Rio Grande Bosque several miles away.
He came from humble roots but was placed in the middle of one of the worst wars in human history.
His writings and his home survive him, and remembering is something we can still do for him.
Ernie volunteered for the war but some would say reporting on everyday Joe’s from the front lines was his destiny.
The beauty of his writing is that it seems like it was written for everybody but him.
Creede’s reason for existence started and ended with silver.
Rich mines were tunneled into the Earth and precious minerals were extracted onto train cars and sent to industrial cities. At one time Creede had 10,000 inhabitants. The population now is 290, the mines have played out, and the economy depends on seasonal tourists escaping Texas heat.
In the winter this small mountain town shuts down and everyone who can leave, leaves. The skeleton crew left behind play cards, huddle around pot bellied stoves and keep the road open for crazy hunters who just won’t leave the deer alone.
Walking here, or sitting on a bench under a shade tree, you don’t see dusty miners with dust in their beards, horses pulling loaded wagons, but you are surrounded by slouching wood frame buildings, hitching posts, closed saloons waiting for a modern makeover. Creede has its own 1800’s style repertory theater that puts on performances during the tourist season,and,if they had a casino here,the place would sparkle like a handful of gold nuggets.
Being a tourist here is comfortable enough.
In 2019, hotels and accommodations here have cable and wi-fi, the phone service is good,and the little grocery has vittles you need. If it were different, none of us would be here.
We 21st century visitors to the past, like old, but not at the expense of our 21st century luxuries.
On a Saturday morning, Westcliff is closed for business.
The local grocery store isn’t open till nine but you can get cash from the bank ATM if you are short.The only gas station is on the highway back to Walsenburg, a few miles south of town. There are several real estate offices with flyers posted in their windows for lookers, and the restaurant at the bowling alley is still asleep with bowling balls still cuddled up in their chutes.
The Sugar and Spice Bakery is one of the few places open in town this early and seven patrons are already lined up ahead of me getting something to eat.
The two young women running the shop wear plain long skirts and blouses with plain bonnets on their head, their hair bundled up under each bonnet. They are Mennonites, who, along with Amish,have settled in this area in the last few years. I saw several girls, dressed exactly like this, working at the bowling alley cafe yesterday and admired their work ethic and modesty when serving overweight middle aged women in shorts and tattoos, ordering chicken fried steak and mashed potato dinners.
In our evolving world, the Mennonites and Amish ,in Westcliff ,might be the only ones in our country saying “no” to progress.
While this planet spins, those of us waiting in line,know you can’t beat good home made muffins, scones,and apple pie for breakfast with a hot beverage to warm your hands.
Even in our complicated world, eating hand made muffins, sitting in chairs that have no screws, riding in wagons pulled by carts, and listening to bluegrass music is not without charm.
We can buy our food out of machines but eating that way just doesn’t raise our spirits.
I’ll be back tomorrow for more blueberry muffins and hot coffee, and their sign on the door tells me they will be open at seven a.m.
God doesn’t have to get in the way of hard working business women, and He doesn’t.
An old man with a cane shuffles past us in the grocery, squinting to read the fine print on a box label.Two little children pull on their mom’s dress at the bank as she makes a deposit and reaches them a sucker out of a little bowl on the teller’s countertop. A homeless vet passes our vehicle to take a dollar from a hand reaching out of the window back of us. We don’t talk to the politician rushing past us to hold up a baby and smile for news cameras.
On the road to Westcliff, I pass a black wagon pulled by a black horse, driven by a young man wearing a black hat, black pants and black vest, a white shirt, with a reddish beard. He pulls his horse and wagon towards the shoulder as I go past, and I wave. I watch him in my rear view mirror as he goes another block, then pulls his horse and wagon into a little drive leading to a country house on the other side of a closed gate.
Amish, from Pennsylvania, have come to this part of Colorado for farming, solitude, the ability to worship as they choose, to raise their families in an old way, and drive to town in a wagon pulled by their favorite horse.
This, my first Amish sighting of the season, makes me wonder how they can maintain their traditions in the onslaught of 21st century propaganda, polemics, politics and problems?
The march of 21st century technology, information, control and surveillance, secularism, is crushing.
Seeing a horse and wagon on the road is like seeing an old John Wayne movie on television.
It pictures a way of life, long gone, that some folks still never want to leave.
In 1936, families and kids brought their dimes to this theater, looked at the marque, found seats in what now are uncomfortable chairs, and watched westerns and newsreels from around a world just coming out of a Great Depression. The concession inside the theater would have had sweet treats for the kids, high school ushers who showed people to their seats with little flashlights, and a grizzled World War 1 vet who ran the projection room and threaded old fashioned 35mm film through the apparatus that moved the film through light that projected images on a pure white movie screen.
The theater changed management in 1963 ,and, again, thirty years later.
Now, the Jones Theater shows movies on weekend nights and has one Sunday matinee.
Theater’s these days can’t compete with Netflix or Amazon Prime, cable tv, an internet streaming world news 24/7, as it happens.
Now, people go to the theater to sit in a dark room with a bunch of strangers, eat popcorn, and remember what it was like when they were little kids visiting Grandma.
In 1936, you never would have seen a movie about Elton John, or anyone like him.
Our tolerance for difference has been irretrievably expanded.
There are artifacts to see at this national monument – wagon wheels and wagons, an empty jail, cannons, latrines, a visitor center, the only hospital for five hundred miles, ruts where wagons followed the Santa Fe Trail, pieces of adobe buildings that were once sheltering, a hundred foot tall flag pole where the stars and stripes flew, a white Army tent.
These photos, of what is left of this piece of the past, hint at what it was like to live out west in the late 1800’s.
Watching John Wayne westerns on re-run channels doesn’t convey fully how it feels to be smack dab in the middle of a land that is hostile and wears you down with inclement weather and the daily challenges of feeding, sheltering yourself, and staying alive.
Walking here, this morning, where soldiers walked, washed up, came back from patrols, recovered from illness, fixed wagons and stored supplies for the territories, walked patrols around the Fort in blizzards, it is easy to see how easy our lives have become.
This country was not overcome without someone else’s struggle but this fort, to the men and women assigned here, was always home sweet home, even if it wasn’t always peaches and cream.
This place was truly the middle of no where when people were still trying to figure out whether it was some place they could call home..
Near Watrous, New Mexico, I have always sped past an I-25 highway sign that reads simply, ” Fort Union . ”
This trip, I exit, and follow the Old Santa Fe Trail that brought people west in the eighteen hundreds looking for opportunity.
After the Civil War, poor folks, who didn’t have prospects, came out west to start over. People with money, wearing suits, followed them, looking to build fortunes in a wide open territory of the United States before it was carved up into states by wealthy and powerful men who wanted to make more of what they wanted most from life.
The Santa Fe Trail became one of major routes taking settlers west and along its length the government built military forts to secure the land, protect settlers, provide law enforcement, settle disputes, and fight Indians who weren’t pleased with these invaders.
Fort Union, in it’s heyday, had 1600 soldiers, the only hospital for hundreds of miles, a jail, church, wagon repair shop, arsenal, and was a distribution center for food for military forts throughout the southwest.
The national monument opens every day of the week, 8 to 5, has a museum, and a staff wearing uniforms give tours every few hours.
The wind blows this morning and during the winter this place is brutally cold, isolated, and basic.
The fort’s most interesting secret is that it had women working and living inside it, working as laundresses who drew regular military pay and had their own separate quarters.
Knowing how tough it was for men to be here, it must have been even tougher for women, and having women here must have given the Commanding Officer grey hair.
Not knowing whether a man is going to protect a woman, or assault them,and how love and lust affect human behavior and execution of orders, is a Commanding Officer’s worst nightmare.
There is controversy whether this is a lighthouse and whether Columbus’s bones are really inside the not so small ornate iron box in the center of this ornate display.
Columbus found the Dominican Republic on the first of his four voyages to the New World. Interestingly enough, he never set foot on America’s soil but set up his family comfortably in Santo Domingo to give them a good life and claim to lands he discovered for the King of Spain.
He was a visionary, as well as a businessman, and having audience with Kings and Queens is no easy task because, being important people, their time is worth more than ours. Mounting an expedition that was going to the ends of the world was a dangerous enterprise.
The big things I learn today are that, when walking, things you see are much further to get to than they look. Whenever you get lost, call a taxi and pay a few bucks to get where you want to go so you don’t spend your entire trip walking in circles.
It seems odd to celebrate a man who discovered America,but didn’t, and odd I’m standing here taking a photo of what we are told is the explorer’s mortal remains?
He and his beloved Santa Maria , right now, are most likely somewhere north, northeast of Mars navigating under celestial lights on dark dark seas with only a compass, telescope and good instincts to guide him and his crew..
He, I’m sure, is doing in the next world what he did in this one.
His bones might be here, but he doesn’t need them for his new discoveries.
According to Art, this is a Model A,, a ” Phaeton.”
He spells p-h-a-e-t-o-n out for me, this morning, when the two of us are conversing at our usual McDonalds, down the street from the Candelaria street McDonald’s where I saw this classic car yesterday afternoon.
It’s owner was an older man, a car nut, who drives his dream car to car shows and likes to meet with other gentlemen and talk shop about their pride and joy automobiles, and, of course, their pride and joy wives and/or girlfriends.
This convertible, with its white removable top, immaculate paint job, upholstery that smells factory new, and sparkling details, stood out for me in the Candelaria McDonald’s parking lot, way too nice to be there. I took photos for my scrapbook and compared her to newer models in the lot that didn’t compare to her, half as well.
With all comparisons, there is some prejudice involved.
I tend to like old vehicles, old buildings, and, even some old people. They have character and miles on their odometers that proves they run and have lasting power.
Inside the McDonald’s, I complimented the car’s owner and he smiled with pride and nodded his head as he sipped his black coffee with two sugars, now costing a dollar instead of a nickel when his ” Phaeton ” was brand new.
I thought, as I left, that getting compliments is one of the big reasons he drives her to McDonald’s.
You don’t want to keep a show horse like this cooped up in the barn.
State Road 14 takes you to Madrid,New Mexico, and to Cerrillos,New Mexico, if you stay on it.
All the way to Madrid we are passed by overweight motorcycle riders wearing pony tails and Bandito Leather jackets. Madrid is an old New Mexico mining town that busted a long time ago and left old mining shacks that were snapped up by 1960’s alternative lifestyle people. Today, most of these shacks have become watering holes, eateries, jewelry shops, art galleries, antique stores, botiques for unusual clothes, cramped homes for bearded and balding hippies who have outlived their generation.
At eleven thirty in the morning, the Mineshaft Tavern, a local institution, is still not open and bikers stand outside with their women and take pictures on their cell phones to post on Facebook. After a long ride to Madrid, from Albuquerque, it makes a nice afternoon to have a few beers and tell biker stories before going home. On Monday, most of them will be wearing suits at a desk in City Hall or designing weapons to make a more peaceful world at Sandia Labs.
The mural painted on a wall outside the tavern sums the town up.
There are two dogs for each resident, horses and cowboys are allowed, and no one has to dress up or put on airs.
If I were a dog, I would want to live here too where there are no leashes, plenty of shade, free snacks from tourists and not a lot of traffic.