Friday, January 22, 2016

Off the Wall

As young boys my two brothers and I would climb up onto the high points surrounding Bluff, gaze down upon our small community and look for adventure among the landscape, citizens and structures below. Much like the raptors that drifted on the air currents high above our closely shaved heads, we found ourselves in a constant search of nourishment; they for food, we for adventure. The locals were acutely aware of our curious nature and maintained a defensive attitude at all times.

Old Mrs. Bourne would lock away her treasures in a boarded-up chicken coop and tell ominous tales of children that mysteriously disappeared without a trace when left to run amuck. This foxy, ancient actress would also attempt to gain our friendship and cooperation by plying us with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was no use though, we had mental images of her entire cooped-up inventory and easy access through a loosened board on the roof. Through past, educational experience with our parents, we knew better than to steal anything. We did find it exhilarating though, to tip-toe through her warehouse of wondrous objects and not get caught.

Roy Pearson took the opposite approach, this kindly character left everything he had out in the open and available for inspection. There were no locks on his outbuildings, no fences and no ferocious dogs to impede our progress. In fact, if we found something that sparked our curiosity we would simply go to Roy and ask him about it. Roy was exceedingly patient and tolerant of our presence and more than willing to educate us with his knowledge of mechanics and dynamics. There was always a "Help Wanted" sign on the door of Roy's gas station when it came to us. We would often earn quarters by emptying trash cans, stacking oil and sweeping up around the place.
Bluff from above during Balloon Festival

Bill Huber's Silver Dollar Bar was a favorite hang-out of ours as well. Bill often left the door open and we would peek into the cool, darkened interior to see who was there playing pool and drinking beer. There were quite a few oil workers in Bluff at the time, and if there was not an excess of coarse language and bawdy humor Bill would allow us to hang there. If the opposite were true, Bill would sic his little, ratty dog on us and send us scampering. In that case we would slip around back to where Bill lived with his family in hopes of catching a glimpse of Bill's teenage daughter, Barbara. We were strangely impressed by this raven-haired beauty and kept a keen and curious eye out for her.

Hiking back across Cottonwood Wash took us to Clemma Arthur's Turquoise Cafe where we would spend the quarters we earned at Roy's gas station. Powdered Hostess donuts under glass and orange soda in a frosted mug were always available for starving young adventurers. Clemma had a slightly older group of rough and tumble sons and two daughters that could hold their own with any of them. Tammy was the youngest and feistiest of them all. She was our age, and you simply did not mess with her unless you had a penchant for the loss of hide and hair.

The highlight of our days had to be the first of the month. Our two sisters would join up with us, uninvited of course, and head over to the post office. Dorothy Nielson was the benevolent post mistress back then and managed a quaint and wondrous world of miniature bronze vaults with twist and turn dials. She directed postal access to outside communication and provided a scene of social interaction for everyone with a box number. Wanted posters plastered one wall forcing us to consider our actions and the dubious honor of being recognized as infamous.

The real draw was the parade of Native Americans who flooded the town on the first of each month, aka, "payday". Satin and velveteen swirled and shimmered about the hips and shoulders of patient women with copper-colored skin. Tall black hats of felt and crisp new blue jeans, rolled up at the cuff showing off highly polished cowboy boots, adorned many of the men. Shining black hair, combed and pulled tightly back and meticulously tied into the traditional bun with fresh white cotton string was worn by both. On days like this, the people were much more animated and excited, flashing brown eyes and brilliant white teeth, it was a sight to behold; they were nothing like the "Hollywood Indians" portrayed in the movies.

The People arrived driving all manner of vehicles, from bicycles to pick-up trucks, and if we were lucky a horse drawn team pulling a wagon outfitted with rubber car tires. Because of the influx of revenue, the wealth of the Navajo Nation would be redeemed from many a dark and dusty pawn vault to gleam and glimmer in the afternoon light, only to be returned to those same safes within a week or two. The Navajo and Ute people were patient with our inquisitive gawking and seemed to accept us as much we did them.

At that time in our lives, it could be argued that we were causing the people of Bluff a great deal of concern. If the truth were known, it is my guess, that the people of Bluff were praying fervently for us. I know for a fact that they were looking out for our best interests and well being. These days you can't get away with anything--someone is always watching and has a video camera in their pocket. Do something, anything questionable, and you will find a video of yourself on YouTube. What does remain and is most important is a deep seated concern for our children. We all set aside our petty disagreements and keep a sharp eye of compassion and care for our youth. They are, indeed, our hope and future. It would be best if we all made a concerted effort to keep them off of the post office wall.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team; Steve, Priscilla and Danny.