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Driveabout America: Part Two

July 4, 2018
Wetzel Chronicle

Last week, I told you of the first stop on our vacation to visit the re-constructed Ark. That was only the beginning of our long planned Driveabout America adventure. From Kentucky we traveled onto Arkansas and Texas.

Our trip was planned to see new things and visit people and places from our past. Near Pineland, Texas we paid a visit to an old friend of mine I have known since the early eighties, Milton Neal. About thirty- five years ago when he came to the plant our paths first crossed. Back then, we talked of our children and fishing. On our recent visit with him and his wife Linda, we talked of grandkids, good books and stories of old crows with shiny objects. Both Mary and I enjoyed an afternoon of hospitality and good conversations shared with my old friend and his wife.

We began our trip wanting to get off the interstates and see the back roads of America. Too this end near Odessa, Texas we took the off ramp and headed northwest into the wide open expanses. Traveling through a seeming empty landscape in the late day, the sun was slowly slipping towards the horizon. Often our only company was unending miles of barbed wire fencing. Every now and then a herd of grazing cattle in the sparsely vegetated land barely took notice of our passing. I wondered how the owners of the cattle could find their animals when scattered over such a large landscape. Mary figured they must use GPS locaters in the cattle's ear tags to help find the herds location come round up time.

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Mary and Chuck Clegg, at White Stands during their journey out West.

It was late afternoon when we crossed the border between Texas and New Mexico. The landscape had begun to take on a more arid desert appearance. Sage brush and this year's tumble weeds seemed to be all that grew on the wind swept land. With daylight fading, we arrived in the town of Hobbs, New Mexico.

When we checked into our room we were surprised at the cost in a place far from any popular destination. The lady at the desk told us it was because of the oil boom in that part of the state. She went on to explain that if we had entered the state through Carlsbad, New Mexico and tried to find a room, it would have been impossible. And if we had found a room it would have cost $450 a night.

In the early 70s, the area was mostly agriculture. Today pump jacks stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only thing that broke the sight of the slowly rocking pumps were active oil drilling rigs scattered across the landscape

Traveling west from the oil fields we headed toward our New Mexico destination, the town of Alamogordo. It is where Mary and I began our married lives. I came home on military leave and romantically ask her how much money she had. She replied, "one thousand dollars." I asked her to marry me on the spot. That will be forty-eight years ago in August. Mary had only been away from the valley on band trips and to Tennessee for family vacations. That was until she said "I do" and I took her seventeen-hundred miles out to the New Mexico desert. When you talk about big changes in someone's life, asking Mary to leave home and go west as my wife surely tops the list. Landing in El Paso we had my old car and what was left of her thousand dollars. From that point of very little, we started our lives. We had no home. No pots or pans. Not a thing that would help us start our lives together. With a lot of determination, Mary made our first home in that faraway place. That is the home that we wanted to return to one more time.

In the years since we lived there, the town has grown and prospered. Our trailer park sat on the south side of town on the edge of the city limits. Out the back window of our home you could see only empty desert. At night the glow from El Paso's lights, ninety miles to the south, could be seen. Today, the land south of town has transformed into modern housing developments. Beautiful adobe style homes with red clay tile roofs. Green cotton wood trees stand in gravel covered landscaped yards. A far cry from the dry sage brush that covered the desert when we lived there.

Truth is, after all these years and so many changes, the place we once called home has become a modern sprawling city. Small stores, along the main street that sold colorful Mexican pottery, are now gone. The Mom and Pop cafe that prepared the best homemade Mexican food is an abandoned building. The drive-in theater we used to go to is a memory from another time. Going to the drive-in back then was a big deal for us. For a young airmen and his new wife, money was in short supply. Mary saved our pocket change and when she had enough, we treated ourselves to a home cooked Mexican meal and tickets to the drive-in. Today it doesn't seem like much, but back then it was all we had in a town seventeen-hundred miles from the Ohio Valley.

One other place we visited was White Sands National Monument. Although it is called White Sands, the fine white grains are actually the mineral gypsum. Think of it as a large beach with no water for nearly a thousand miles. Mary and I use to go for a drive through the white dunes and marvel at being in an area where all you could see was white. Bright blue skies and sugar white sands, sunglasses are required when visiting. To reduce the need for sunglasses we sometimes waited until evening for the dark to lessen the brightness and reduce the sand's high temperatures. The brightness that blinded during the day became a ghostly bluish glow beneath the night sky filled with billions of stars. Our time in the white sands brought back thoughts of good times in the early seventies.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled, "You Can't Go Home Again." After traveling west this time I can better understand those words. When we're young we form memories of home and try to hold them for a life time. Remember a few weeks ago I wrote about a vanilla coke and how those times have vanished? Our trip back to Alamogordo showed Mary and me that those memories of our first home have begun to fade with the passage of time. Our shared memories and faded pictures of those years will have to be enough.

Before I end, I want to share one more memory of our time in the south west. Alamogordo sits at an elevation of 4300 feet and winters were often warm. On Christmas Day we invited friends over to our home for backyard barbecues. We were all young military families far from home for the first time. After dinner, we loaded a couple old snow sleds onto our cars and headed up the mountains to a town named Cloudcroft. At an elevation of 9000 feet where snow covered the mountain tops. Time spent playing in the snow reminded us of our homes along the Ohio River. It cost nothing to be with new friends as we played in the mountain snow. Memories of our time in the south west and those friends are priceless to us today. Next week, I will tell you of Taos, New Mexico and a rain dance as we look Through the Lens.



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