Stories I Have Lived
We lived in Mayer, Arizona when I was small. We had to travel to either Prescott or Phoenix many times a month on business.
Prescott was a wonderful western town, very historic and I loved to play in the little park while my Father went to talk to shopkeepers. Now they have huge art fairs in that park. But it is no longer the place I knew as a child. The Hopi snake dancers performed yearly. They danced with snakes in their mouths. It was incredible. Prescott also hosts a rodeo.
There was one elderly gentleman, Mr. Noel, who had a property with all sorts of what many would call junk. It was a fascinating place to me. Old non-working clocks, damaged statues, all manner of things people had discarded. His house was made of slabs of rock held together with mortar. It was a very cool place to live in the heat of the desert southwest.
We would go to Granite Dells where they sold rock candy the kind they sang about in the song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” it actually looked like pebbles. We had a woman come into our shop who bought some polished stones. She said someone in her office kept taking her candy so she was going to put those rocks in the bowl to find out who the culprit was.
When I would find out we were going to Prescott I would jump up grab a can and go out to dig for worms so we could stop and fish at the lake. I would always catch little sun fish. It was nice to be close to water. I remember my Father saying “be quiet you will scare the fish!”
There was a fish hatchery there in those days with all the different sizes of hatched fish to stock the lakes. I loved walking and looking at those shimmering little creatures. It was just up the road from the lumber mill.
At Lynx Creek we used to pan for gold. The Chamber Of Commerce had asked my Father to run the operation. We would find nuggets and tourists would grab it and yell “look what I found!” The stream had water snakes and salamanders living in among the pools.
Phoenix was still a two lane highway then. When you got near there were cultivated fields stretching out as far as you could see. The planes would fly over spraying the new miraculous DDT! They used it on just about everything. It would just rain down droplets all over whatever was sitting in the open.
There was a dog track on the outskirts of Phoenix then but that area is now well incorporated into the central part of the city. I remember 24th Street and Van Buren because it was the “nut house” as we called it, an asylum. Now it is used for the most dangerous criminally insane.
There was one lady who would dye her little dogs’ feet purple. It was a treatment for the pads. I thought she was just weird. And in that neighborhood there were citrus trees no one ever picked and ate the fruit which I found outrageous until many years later when I was informed that they were ornamental. That still did not make sense to me! Why grow something that you could not enjoy eating?
I had my first encounter with a hammock in Phoenix. One lady had a large one on the patio at her house and while business would be conducted we would go out to wait. I remember climbing into that hammock and it flipped me face down in the dirt. I was so mad! That just fueled my attempt to conquer that floating bed! I finally realized it was a matter of displacement of weight and no problems after that.
I attended a one room school house in Mayer which was housed in an old church the bell was now used to ring us to class. The buildings were all stark with high ceilings. Windows ran the length of the walls and this particular building had a kitchen. The most modern feature of the school was the forced air heat that came up through large floor grates. We would set our wet shoes there to dry in winter and the rainy season.
There is a creek in Mayer and when the monsoon came a local fellow would come dashing down announcing that the creek was coming down and we all ran to watch the headwaters carrying all manner of debris from tree branches to tires and wood planks. You could feel the ground tremble underfoot. The smell of the desert black willow is still one of my favorite memories of childhood. I have three planted in my yard that I started from seed. When the rain is near I still go out to smell that incredible fragrance.
We did not have good nutrition and were poor so I was sickly then. I remember not knowing why I was at school and had no attention span. My teacher, Mrs. Swenson, would make me wash my dirty little feet and she started giving me multiple vitamins. By the next year I was alert and finally figured out what learning was all about. Then it all made sense to me.
We could run around without fear back then and would play outside all day long during the summer. Walked almost everywhere but had a bicycle I would ride but when I wore long pants the leg would get caught in that chain and I would struggle to set myself free. The bike was an assemblage of old worn out ones that had been junked. My inner tubes had more patches than rubber!
There was a family across the way and they would come over to play hide and seek or house (dress up) like little girls like to do but the boy would want to be the “mommy” and dress in an old housecoat. When we played hide and seek we just simply would not go to find him. Much later he would turn up and holler “Ollie ollie oxen free!” but we had moved on to other pursuits by then and would just giggle. He whistled through his teeth and once right in my ear. I practiced for years to whistle that way so that I could get revenge. The next time I saw him however he was grown and shy and I let it go!
That family had an older brother and sister who would chase each other all over the neighborhood trying to kill each other. The boy would make a mad dash to our house and hide out. He wore a faux leather biker jacket and was a James Dean type. The little sister was a mousy little thing and had lots of freckles. We had her convinced when her sister-in-law was pregnant and sewing clothes for the baby that she swallowed string and the baby was born wearing a diaper!
I would stay over on the weekend with a local family. The bed was shared by the girl and me and her little sister who always wanted to tag along. She was a bed wetter and once we got a shock from the electric blanket when she peed on the sheets. That really gets you up and out of bed!
Mayer was a very old west town and I knew the first postmistress. She was crippled later and laid in bed but I would visit her and she would tell me stories about the town. There were still hitching posts in front of the old mercantile store. Fred Durwin was the store keeper and he would sing “Hey Hey good looking” when I would come into the store and make me blush. The first time I went to Mayer with my Father, Fred and Jim Phillips the local highway patrolman were in the store and Jim picked me up and sat me on top of the soda machine and my Dad said I was in trouble now! I was shy and worried what had I done now? He just opened the sliding door and bought me a bottle of strawberry soda.
In the small towns you could do something wrong and the news would get home long before you did. That is how it was back then. Everyone knew you and kept tabs on where you were and who you were with.
I still live in a little western town and it is relatively the same but now kids have all types of electronic gadgets to play with and often do not ever go outside to play. They have to be entertained constantly and forced to do chores.
Times sure do change.
Copyright Mary Ray