Every so often, I end up in eastern Arizona, where my Dad’s family is from, driving the two-lane roads between the small towns where he grew up. This was my first trip back since he died last year, and my cousin and I did OK, although more than once, we wondered about who that person was or how exactly we were related to that other person.
One of the traditions here is to leave flowers on the graves. It’s done in other parts of the country, yes, but probably few do it the way eastern Arizona people do it. You take a short length of PVC pipe or steel pipe, pound it into the rock-hard ground, and then shove the plastic flowers down as far as you can, in the hope they won’t get blown away by the ceaseless wind. Bonus points for arranging rocks around the flowers in a decorative way.
First up was the Duncan cemetery, up a dirt road at the top of a hill with a pretty good view.
Then it was on to Franklin, a tiny burg down the road where my dad’s family made it through the worst of the Depression by living rent-free on a dirt farm in a one-room stucco house. Most of the graves here are relatives of one degree or another.
I went looking for the grave of one of my dad’s cousins, who we had visited many years ago. They looked like brothers and thoroughly enjoyed catching up about the old days.
Now, both are gone: Herschell is buried here and my Dad is buried in California.
Some stories are lost to history, the people who knew them no longer here to tell the details. These two small headstones, side by side, must have been a world of grief for one family.
While wandering between towns, we managed to re-find the old house in Virden, New Mexico, where Dad’s grandparents lived during the Depression, and the house next door, where his aunt and uncle lived (shown below).
The last stop in my personal history tour was up a winding road to the top of the huge Morenci copper mine. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and every time, it is bigger. This first image is a photo from when my Dad was growing up here in the 1930s.
And this is the same view yesterday. Yes, really. Look at the mountains in the background; slightly different angle but the same ones. The whole town my Dad knew by heart, eaten up by the search for copper. A copy of this print was in his bedroom when he died, and he could still name me this building, that school, and the route he took delivering papers.
As we were getting ready to leave the overlook, a guy came over to tell us that there was going to be a blast in a few minutes, so we stood by the chain link fence looking down at the white area far below us. Sure enough, two blasts and a lot of smoke later, we had seen our first mine blast.
It was a long and emotional day: 450 miles, 14 hours, 4 cemeteries, and one copper mine. And through it all, I could hear my Dad’s voice telling the old stories. I wonder who will learn them now, or do they end with my generation?
A good snapshot stops the moment from running away.