I started out thinking I would only write about my childhood, the interesting part of my life so far. Then I realized that wouldn’t be the whole truth. I am trying to tell the truth, and it’s easier to tell the far-away truth of your childhood than the truth that comes closer to your present life, the time when you should have no excuses and should “know better.” The whole gallivanting around the country thing stopped when I was 12, when we settled in a little New Mexican mountain town called Glenwood. It has its share of interesting characters, stories, and beauty, and I’d be remiss not to include them lovingly – and sometimes not so much – in this accounting.
We weren’t going to settle. We had never settled before. It shouldn’t have been any different than the thousand other times we’d stayed somewhere for a while. Except that this time it was.
When you roll down the hill on 180 into the little green valley around Whitewater Creek and the Gila River, you pass a tiny campground on your right just a second before you roll right on through town in approximately 3 minutes, 2 if you’re speeding. I don’t recommend speeding, because there’s always a local cop who doesn’t have anything better to do waiting just after the bridge over the creek. You’re welcome. Big Horn Campground has maybe 10 spaces crammed into a parking-lot-size area near the wash that splits the parkland from private property. The private property across the creek is owned by one of the couple of families that own Glenwood, and have for many years. Likely since their ancestors settled here and homesteaded, but I never cared enough to do the research. They’ll make sure you know they’ve been here forever, goshdangit, so don’t you worry about how long exactly.
Like most Forest Service campgrounds, you could stay in this one for free. Though most people would stay for the weekend, we were definitely going to take advantage of the two weeks. And we did, plus maybe three weeks, until a nice ranger told us it was about time we moved on. I think Mom was struggling to put some roots down quickly. She had always loved this little town, and so had Dad. They’d dreamed and talked about staying here through the years, so close to where she’d picked him up hitchhiking in her little yellow Bug. She probably knew by then that those were just dreams, that she’d tied her life to a man that could never settle down and didn’t know much about roots.
The old patriarch of the family in town- I’ll call them the Luthers, and him Coy, just in case they’re out there Googling around (I used an online List of Redneck Names to name these people from my recent past, I hope they will forgive me)- had watched my mom come in to the general store/gas station that he owned with us kids for a while. Coy had watched Dad, too, I’m sure, stumbling back up the campground after drinking at the bar Coy owned. He probably sat in his house next to the old hotel that he owned, too, and thought about what he could do to help her out. That pretty little blonde thing with all them kids and a drunk-ass husband. Mom’s always been good at getting help without looking for it. I don’t know if she was asking around for a job, but in no time at all she had one bookkeeping for Coy and we had moved the trailer onto the private property just on the other side of the wash from the campground. We had electric hook-ups and running water! It was a goddamn windfall. Knowing that little town as well as I do now, I can just imagine the rumors and hearsay spreading scarlet-letter style through the grapevine, which had tendrils pushed into every house in a 10-mile radius. It didn’t come back to our insulated little family, and we kids were happily oblivious. What we knew was that we had a nice quiet place with water. We had lights that worked, and Dad set up an outdoor shower. We had met some kids that lived on the other half of the land, in a house butted up against the hill that separated our little haven from the rest of town. Cole, Coy’s son, and his wife Lynne lived there with their three kids. Mom was even talking about enrolling us in school. Then Dad started drinking harder, and a pall hung over all of us. We could see the dark clouds gathering, and inside I resigned myself to moving on again soon. I hadn’t seen the hard light glittering in Mom’s eyes, though, or counted on the set of her jaw.
He was sitting in a camp chair behind the trailer, and the sun had just dropped behind the hill. Long shadows touched my feet. Mom was cooking dinner inside. He stood up and stomped on a beer can, the sound one I hear often when I think of him. Stomp, crush, stomp, crush. He hacked a loogie, another sound I hear because my brother takes after him.
Slightly off-balance, he pulled himself up the trailer steps and joined Mom in the kitchen. I didn’t go inside, but I could tell she wouldn’t be looking at him.
“Tomorrow, we need to pack all this shit up and get out of here,” he said. “It’s time to head back toward Arizona.” She didn’t say anything for a minute.
“I think this is a good place to stay for a while, don’t you? The kids like it here,” she said, quietly.
“We do what I say,” he said, his voice rising. “I don’t think I asked you what you thought.” The trailer rocked with the building anger.
It took about 15 minutes for the screaming and shouting to start. Five minutes after that Mom was rushing outside and grabbing my arm.
“Listen to me, ok?” Her blue eyes were rimmed in red, the pressure of all those unshed tears. “I need you to run down to Cole and Lynne’s house and ask her to call the police, ok?” I nodded and took off, the way I always did when she asked me to run. All the running practice made a difference at times like this.
An hour later and Dad was gone. And this time, he stayed gone. You never bring the cops into the picture, ok Mary? Didn’t you ever learn?