Sunday, December 18, 2016

Flattop Booggie - Silver City Revisited

Silver City Revisited
Flattop Booggie
Reeducating Harvard Graduates
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            Harvard constitutional law professor, Larry Lessig, is claiming the electoral defectors leaving the Trump camp are growing.
            Is it just me or is there a growing realization that the matter of constitutionality and the institution of Harvard are contradictory? The school continues to beg for critical review and the Crimson elites are once again high jacking the foundation of our uniqueness. If President elect Trump finally prevails amidst the chaos and noodle rattling of the little left, perhaps a new constitutional amendment should be adopted to disallow any Harvard (or Yale) law student from entering politics or academia without a ten year hiatus to flyover country where they must engage in actual wage earning.
            If a town and era could be selected for those perpetual trust and system honored babies to experience the real American experience, perhaps Silver City, New Mexico, circa 1948-1968 would be the grounding stop.
            Silver City Revisited
            There was no real wealth in “Silver” at that time.
            In fact, there were probably only two individuals in the county of Grant that could come up with a million dollars in those days. It was a time of growing past glory in the cow business and steady upheaval in the copper business. Kennecott Copper Company was the big job provider giving way to Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation as the period ended. Most of the kids never actually saw what their fathers did at work. Security gates locked them out.
            If there were role models in the passage of generational skills, it occurred in the few families that had small businesses or ranches and worked constantly to exist. The collection of those businesses, however, made the town a model of Americana. The town was the regional shopping and medical care center. In those days before Walmart, Kmart, and Tractor Supply, the variety of goods and services was quite astounding. You could buy dynamite at Cosgroves and walk across or up the street and buy jewelry at Blackwell’s, Paul R. Gantz, and R.O. Schmidt’s. While at Blackwell’s watching Mr. Droke fix your watch, you could observe Wayne Woodbury’s secretary strut out to run an errand or occasionally witness a fist fight spilling out onto the sidewalk from Buffalo Bar across the street.
            Down the street on the corner at Howell Drugs, Bobby Jackson would be hard at work dispensing remedies and prescriptions alike from his counter in the back of the store. The wooden floors would creak and every time you were there he would greet you or your mother by name as you once again scrutinized the jackalope hanging on the wall. He would slip something across the counter and remind your mother how to dose the remedy to get rid of your runny nose. He would give it away as often as he would charge for it.
            Cotton Strasser did banking business with a handshake cattycorner and across the street at American National Bank. Next door, cigar smoking Barney Borenstein would be seen numerous times a day out in front of his higher end clothing and department store and Garrett Allen was at his bench carving fenders and sewing cantle bindings in his saddle shop on down the street. The ice plant and American Furniture were across the street from him.
            Chihuahua Hill loomed over that end of town to the south and it was there that a good portion of the native Hispanic population lived. Some of the greatest all time Silver High athletes came from there. Mr. Football himself, Tony Garcia and his brother and my friend, Mario, lived there. I was scared to death of their father. I was once setting my blocks to commence the mile medley at the Canutillo Relays and I heard Mr. Garcia yell to me from the crowd, “Hey, Wilmeth, you better run fast or I’m going to cut your throat!”
            With positive inspiration like that, I started the race handing off to Mario, who handed off to Bill, who handed off to Joe and we won a highly competitive race in regional competition.
            The most well-to-do ladies shopped at the Model Shop.
            Up Broadway toward the courthouse was Pennington’s where the more moderately priced clothing and shoes were bought. They had an X-Ray machine we’d stick our feet in to see where our toes hit the end of our new shoes. My mom always sought out Elva to help her. Ernie Brown’s Car Sales was out the door and just west from there. Ernie was another Grant County native from Cliff, actually Buckhorn, and the father of my cousins, Rena and Karen. We learned to dance in their basement. From there it was on to the VFW, the Armory, the Rodeo Grounds, or sock hops on the gym floors either at the old high school or at Stout Junior High.
            We got our hair cut in flattop booggies at Johnnie’s or Manny’s.
            At the grand old courthouse at the end of the street under Luck Hill, I sourced my junior deputy sheriff cards. I got my first from my grandfather. I was probably four. Of course, I called the jailors by their first names because that is what my grandfather did, and, after all, I was an official junior deputy.
            During my lifetime, the town always had a major grocery store, but it also had family owned stores that served neighborhoods. For a long time, ours was Mr. Mauldin’s. My mom would pay the bill at the end of the month when a pay check arrived. In the North Silver school district it was Hall’s and the Hall children, Larry and Rita, were contemporaries. I watched Tommy Livermore wreck his motorcycle in front of Hall’s one day. He was weaving down the dirt street and got out of control and cold cocked himself. He laid there a good while before we realized he wasn’t playing.
            Midtown had Bennie’s Market Basket and owner and long time state senator, Bennie Altamirano, always wore his white apron and talked local issues with a Hollywood smile. Over in the college district it was Little’s and they had the best cinnamon flavored gum sticks. Candy and her brother Fred were just older than we were, but we knew them. Downtown and the Brewer Hill district had Y Toy’s. Y was a little Chinese merchant who had a permanent smile. He was nestled in a store front against the Big Ditch and across from Bobby Jackson’s.
            Across and just up the street on Hudson Street from Y’s, was Millie’s in her once thriving red light establishment. The House was legal by town charter and Millie was often visible out among the local merchants. Most of the crowd I ran with never actually stepped foot in the establishment even though such claims were constantly made. As I look back now, I wished I had seen the inside of that expansive red brick place. It would now be a great restaurant if the town fathers (and mothers) hadn’t forced its destruction after Millie died.
            Doctors Frasen, Baker, Watts, Cobb, Walsh and Willy were the major lines of medical care succession through that era. They knew us by name or medical chart and our health care had to be pretty good because there are a whole bunch of us still alive and kicking. Our parents paid for our visits as we left their offices. Twenty five dollars was an outrageous sum of money to be expended on those visits. Discussions around the table that night reaffirmed such highway robbery.
            Yucca Ford, Clifton Chevrolet, and Pat Spangler joined Ernie Brown as the places to shop for the family car. The town had a bowling alley, two walk ins (John Wayne played in North to Alaska in one and Luis Aguilar played in Carabina 30-30 in the other) and two drive in theaters, a blacksmith (Oxy Bill), a great gunsmith (Ed Samuels), finally an A&W, The T&H (affectionately referred to a the Trash and Hash), the radio station KSIL (where owner Jim Duncan was purported to wear a girdle), a feed salesman who could rest his left leg atop his crutch and extend his foot above his 6’6” frame, a college, a rodeo arena, Sticker Stadium (where we played baseball), a great and historical football stadium (James Stadium), a town mascot named Johnnie Banks, and the best kept climate secret in the United States.
            We drug Main on Friday and Saturday nights with KOMA blaring from our radios. Our backyard was the ranching country of Grant County and the Gila. We even had a holiday, Hunter’s Holiday, set aside in November to go kill a deer. It was a great place to grow up, but it offered few safe places for idiots or wimps.
It would have been a great place to reeducate Harvard graduates.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “We had no idea what a great place Old Silver City actually was.”

1 comment:

Rich said...

Thanks for the wonderful description. I grew up in that same town, but with a different name. Miss that town. Really miss KOMA when the sun went down.