Some of the best years
By Nina Weese
My growing up years was a collage of sights, scenes, and new experiences that kept me alert and happy.
One of my favorite memories is of traveling with my family along Route 66 toward the southwest. It was 1958 and we were all excited to be seeing new country. We had traveled to Idaho and Utah previously, camping out for weeks at a time, but this trip was different. We were going to live in Arizona!
I fell in love with the southwest from the first moment and still love it. We came from the beautiful mountains of West Virginia, vivid with colors unimaginable in every season except winter when everything looked covered in whipped cream. Not that I didn’t love my home land, but there was something exhilarating about the desert that I never found in the hills.
The first thing I noticed about the ‘Valley of the Sun’ was just that. Bright, warm sunshine, even in the middle of the winter. We arrived on the 18th of December and it felt like early summer to us. We had left home while there was a heavy snow on, so the green palms and lawns were a thrill to our eyes!
How strange we must have looked to the people who saw us in our bare feet in what they considered wintertime! Our old car had just about reached the end of its rope and had to be repaired as soon as possible. Though it was more than 20 years old, it had taken us more than 2,000 miles with only a little grumbling and a flat tire from time to time. What more could be asked of a 1938 Oldsmobile carrying ten people so far over mountains and deserts?
We lived in Phoenix for a short time, then we moved into a big house in a tiny little tract of land about five miles out in the desert north of Tempe, Arizona, called ‘North’ Tempe.
I soaked up everything I could about the southwest, from making homemade flour tortillas with my new friend, Amelia, experiencing my first Mexican food, (tamales were my favorite back then), finding the joy of hosing down on hot evenings, and learned how to drink the terrible-tasting water. In 1958 water in the valley tasted just like chlorine bleach! It was possibly the only thing I missed about my mountains where pure spring water was bountiful.
I finally adjusted to the water and everything else was nothing but good. I was in sixth grade and the game of preference was jacks. During recess all the girls would sit on the smooth finished, covered walkways outside classrooms and play jacks. We used a golf ball because it was much easier to bounce and made the game more fun. I turned out to be a pretty good player and for about a year jacks was my favorite pastime. That was before I noticed that boys and horses were more interesting.
I often went bike riding in the hard-packed desert, following well-worn paths through sagebrush, cactus and under Palo Verdi trees. But the love of my life was horseback riding. My friends and I spent many a Saturday on horseback. We rented our horses from one of the many riding stables in the area and I had a favorite mare that I always chose if she wasn’t already out.
One time I had only two horses to choose from and neither were ones I would normally have taken, but I picked the most mild-mannered of the two, according to the stable hand in charge, and we set off, my best friend and two other girls. It would prove to be the ride of my life.
The horse I was on had a wire attached behind the bit and I had asked the stable hand what the purpose of the wire was. He had shrugged his shoulders and said no real reason that he could think of. Well, I soon found out!
My horse was much taller than the mare I was used to and once we were out of sight of the stable he began to get unruly, trying to turn back … etc. I noticed that he kept trying to push the bit out with his tongue, so I tried to keep a fairly tight rein, but somehow he managed to get it in his teeth and from that point there was no controlling him.
We went for a ride, let me tell you! I found myself exiting and re-entering the desert several times, skirting heavy traffic on a paved highway, (which is an experience in itself), leaping over big rocks, ducking branches, swerving bunches of prickly cactus, all the while holding on for dear life. Luckily I had shortened my stirrups sufficiently or I’m certain I would have fallen off before we reached the stables where I was finally able to dismount!
It was a while before I was comfortable on a horse, but I did ride again. I just made sure my little mare was available, and I never did trust that stable hand again!