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Memories of My Parents
Larry J Gordon, 1995

 
     
 

Mother was teaching school in Oklahoma near the Carr and Driggers cattle ranch where my father was working as a cowboy.  They met at a box supper, where Dad paid $3.90 (all the money he had, but he said he "would have tried to borrow $100") for the box supper prepared by Dewey Lee Stewart.  Snapshots taken during their courtship show them riding horses and enjoying picnics.  After Dad attended college, they taught school in various locations in Oklahoma and at Arlington, Colorado.  They then had enough money for a down payment to purchase the Medicine Creek farm and ranch near Saddle Mountain, Oklahoma.  Falling cattle prices, plus the grasshoppers devouring their crops as the seeds germinated, made it impossible for them to meet their payments, and they lost the ranch.  (In their late years after they had become financially successful, they frequently talked of buying the ranch again, but realized you really "can't go home again.")

 

Andrew and Dewey Lee Gordon, along with their young sons Laddie Stewart Gordon and Larry Jean Gordon (I was supposed to be named Lassie but fate and chromosomes interfered), moved to New Mexico in August 1929.  Andrew and Dewey Lee had been offered a school at Hope, New Mexico, but they selected the Page school because it opened earlier and they needed pay checks as soon as possible.  They were pulling a four-wheel trailer containing their worldly goods including Dad’s saddle horse, Nester.  Their mattress, in the moving style of that era, was tied to the top of their car.  Despite over-heating of the over-stressed engine, they made it to the Page school and two-room teacherage near the small lumber and sawmill community of McGaffey at the top of Zuni Mountain.  But they first stopped in Gallup to sign their teacher contracts.  As they were financially destitute, they contacted banker Glen Emmons on a Saturday afternoon at his home.  They requested $50, but after looking them over and hearing their story, Emmons retorted, "Hell, you don't need $50, you need $350."  He promptly wrote a check and a deposit slip to be deposited in their new bank account the next Monday morning. 

 

Dad nominally served as principal teaching a small number of high school students in one room, and Mother taught grade school in the other room of the small building. 

 

The first brutal winter storm found my parents in Gallup obtaining winter supplies.  The storm was so severe that they had to borrow McKinley County's only Caterpillar tractor to return to the teacherage where they had left Ladd and me with our Aunt Billie.  The Caterpillar remained in the schoolyard all winter, because impassable roads precluded it being returned.  The wooden teacherage walls were covered on the interior with newspapers that did not prevent snow from sifting in and covering our beds during the frequent storms.  All water for the teacherage and the school was carried in buckets from the nearby manual pump.  Students drank water from a bucket using a common cup, except during recesses when they could drink from small holes drilled into a water pipe connected to the pump while some other student worked the pump handle.  My parents found that most of the students had offensive body odors, so they brought in washtubs so that my father could scrub all the boys, and my mother scrubbed all the girls.

 

During storms, students arrived at school on horses, snowshoes, or home- made horse-drawn snow sleds.  Dad kept a tunnel open through the snow from the teacherage to the school, and the tunnel walls were considerably taller than I was. 

 

Saturday nights were family bath nights.  Dad would carry water to a large wash tub, heat the tub and contents on the pot-bellied wood heating stove, in the living room, and we would all take baths. Being the youngest, I was first; and subsequently Laddie, Mother, and Dad.  Beware of sitting on the edge of the tub that had been near the stovepipe!  Laddie learned the hard way, and experienced painful burns.  Laddie also learned that "caps" for his "cap-gun" would ignite in his back pocket as he warmed his posterior by the stove.  We were rather elite, as we had a "three-holer" for a privy, instead of the more common "two-holer." 

 

We had a radio that was powered by dry cell batteries, but the radio didn't always work.  Dad built a crude wooden snow sled that was pulled by our horse, Nester (which he had brought from Oklahoma during a later trip), when we occasionally visited neighbors.  But best of all, we were happy, confident, secure and self-sufficient.  We didn't have any health insurance or doctors, and we didn't have any social do-gooders telling us we were deprived or needed empowerment.  Life was good, and we were all happy and secure! 

 

Dad was also a Brand Inspector for the New Mexico Brand Association.  Additionally, he leased land and raised potatoes that he sold to grocery stores in Gallup.  Sales were frequently difficult because some local potato farmers added a few rocks to their bags of potatoes to increase the weight.

 

I had the opportunity to return to the site of our Page home and school in the summer of 1996.  I could only see where the foundations of the two-room school had been, plus some weathered remains of the teacherage and outbuildings.  Most people would not imagine that a happy family had lived there.

 

During the early thirties, amid the Great Depression, my mother taught six elementary grades at the Coolidge one-room school at an isolated location near the continental divide east of Gallup, New Mexico, while my father returned to school at the University of New Mexico.  Mother had the title, "Principal of School District 8", Coolidge, New Mexico.  We carried all water for the school and the one-room teacherage from a "section station" on the AT&SF railroad about a half-mile away.  Dad moved the "teacherage" from Fort Wingate on a flat-bed wagon pulled by two borrowed giant Percheron horses which had such immense hooves that they didn't need to detour around cattle-guards, but simply walked across them.  The teacherage was simply the shell of a house when moved, but my parents completed it so as to provide a comfortable one-room home.  The teacherage was located a short distance from U.S. 66, where "bums", as they were termed (now rediscovered as "homeless") were part of the passing parade.  Mother kept her pistol handy and did not answer a knock on the door without having her pistola in hand.  Frequently, I would be awakened in the morning by the blast of gunshots as Mother decimated the coyotes attempting to feast on our chickens.  But life was still good!

 

 
 

Early in 1946, my parents were appointed the first Ranch Managers and Ranch Father and Mother for the New Mexico Boys Ranch, which was a few miles north of their own Ranchitos land near La Joya, New Mexico.  At that time, the Boys Ranch was just a concept and a location.  My parents supervised construction of the first buildings, drilled the first water supply and irrigation wells, commenced farming some of the land, acquired livestock, re-planted some of the grazing land, and fenced the property.  My parents acquired some of the original land for the ranch directly in the name of the ranch from their personal funds.

 

 
 

Other things I will remember include:

      My parents' joy upon finding two silver dollars in a trunk during the depression

·         My parents' taking us on frequent weekend trips to fish, hunt quail, swim in a stock-tank, or just enjoy the great outdoors of the magnificent southwest.

·         My parents' belief that an occasional justifiable whack on the rear of children leads to rapid improvement in behavior.

·         My parents' happiness when Dad could visit while he was attending the University of New Mexico in the early 1930s and my mother was teaching six grades at an isolated one-room school near Coolidge, New Mexico.

·         My parents asking grade school arithmetic and spelling questions for my brother and me to answer after we were all in bed at night.

·         My parents fly-fishing beside a mountain stream or lake while instructing my brother and me in the art of fly-fishing at an early age, thus beginning our lifelong love of fly-fishing in beautiful remote areas.

·         My parents' belief that God was with us whether beside a noisy mountain stream or in a church.

·         My parents helping me with my schools work even after I was in college.  While at the University of New Mexico, I was having trouble with my papers for an English class.  Dad and I sat on a log in the Sandia Mountains while he dictated my next two papers.  That was the best lesson I ever had in composition and dictation and has helped me ever since.  And Mother had the intellect to help me with such subjects as math and chemistry even after I was in college.

·         My parents' gift of a new saddle which they could then ill afford while they were building and developing the New Mexico Boys Ranch when I returned from the Navy in July 1946.

·         My parents' enthusiasm and toil, and Dad riding his horse "Indio", while he and my mother developed and managed the New Mexico Boys Ranch.

·         My parents clearing the land and developing their farm-ranch near La Joya, New Mexico; and the smell of sourdough permeating the one-room shack where we lived as we began developing our La Joya property.

·         My parents mixing and pouring adobe mud into forms to construct the various buildings at Amber Acres, their farm and ranch near La Joya.

·         My parents' admonitions that:

·         "If I Had A Problem, I'd Get Rid Of It!"

·         "The Harder We Work, the Luckier we get",

·         "A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned",

·         "Don't Swing on Other People's Gates, and Don't Let Them Swing on Yours", and

·         "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves."

·         My parents' sweat and toil as they remodeled and maintained their various rental properties.

·         My parents' daily phone conversations with me for the past twenty years.  After they became infirm, these were converted into almost daily visits until the day before my father passed away.

·         My parents' emphasis on morals, ethics, hard work, loyalty, and education that enhanced the lives of all their children and grandchildren.  They were always proud and supportive of all achievements of their family members.

·         My parents' joy and satisfaction when able to help their children and grandchildren after becoming reasonably affluent through hard work, self- deprivation and wise investments.  Their children and grandchildren have an improved quality of life due to their continued help and constructive advice.  My parents usually ignored giving for the common holiday and ceremonial reasons but were inordinately generous with major gifts or sizable loans when they saw the need.

 

 
 

My parents providing a home and family environment conducive to security, mutual support and love.  For example, when I joined the U.S. Navy in 1944, my brother Ladd had been in the Navy for more than a year.  Ladd wrote the following (without attribution) to me:

 

For My Brother

 

Among life's sadness I find

The one most bitter to my mind,

I cannot spare you as you go,

One single sorrow you must know.

 

Much rather would I go again

Down the dark alleyway of pain,

Than hear the stumbling of your feet

In that bewildering, narrow street.

 

 

 
 

My wife Nedra and I toured Scotland in 1984.  On cornices of one of the old Gordon castles, we photographed the inscription Henriette Stewart and George Gordon.  My parents did not represent the first union of Clan Stewart and Clan Gordon.  (I have researched the genealogy of both my parents and have not identified a single ancestor who was not in America prior to the Revolutionary War.  Two were members of the Jamestown Colony, the oldest continuous English colony in America.  Another arrived in Massachusetts Colony on the Anne, the third ship to bring colonists to Massachusetts, in 1623. So all were “Original Citizens” of the United States. See separate genealogy manuscript)

 

The last time my parents saw each other was when I helped my feeble father visit Mother in the nursing home where she was dying.  Dad said, "I love you," and Mother responded, "I love you, too."  Those were the last words they spoke to each other in this life. 

 

My father, though infirm and legally blind, penciled the following with trembling hands for their joint marble headstone:

 

Forever Together
Sixty-seven Years on Earth
Forever with God in Heaven

 

 
 

We are thankful and we celebrate the fact that my father and mother not only gave us life, but also encouraged and helped us all achieve and live good lives.  They ensured a family atmosphere of loyalty, belonging, comfort, love, security, support, and family roots.

 

The first principle of living a good life is to choose your parents wisely.  In this, Ladd and I excelled.

 

My parents lived good, happy, constructive lives.   

 

My parents were doers, not complainers.

 

My parents had the determination to overcome adversity, rather than being victims.

 

My parents were builders, not destroyers.

 

My parents were givers, not takers.

 

My parents were the essential core of An American Family:  Not Merely a Couple with Children.

 

 
 

January 5, 1995

 

Dear Mother and Dad:

 

We had a heavy snow last night, and I am one of the few faculty in this building this morning.  I am proud to be a Visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico, and I know I wouldn't be here except for the values you inculcated throughout my life.  I am keenly aware that I owe much of my career and good fortune to your guidance, to your values, as well as the sound advice, continuing support, and constant love I have received for the past 45 years from my wife Nedra.  And, of course, I owe my genes entirely to you!

 

Mother, you left us on February 1, 1990 at age 88, but the memory of you is with me many times daily.  I never did say a proper farewell to you, and I regret it.  I had no guidelines or experience to deal with the terminal illness and death of my mother and my father.  I did tell you that we all loved you and appreciated everything you ever did for all of us, and you simply said, "I love you, too."  But that brief exchange wasn't nearly enough to say about your lifetime of love and concern for your family.  I know it's too late now, but I should have expressed myself better, and shown appreciation for your lifetime of love for your family and conveyed much more about my lifelong good fortune in having you as my mother.  The day before you passed away, our verbal exchange was limited to your concern about me being able to locate all your financial and property records.  You said, "I worry about the records."  Well, it did take a lot of time to piece all your records together and determine the status of your estate.  Your records were in various places.  I know that all your hard work and self-denial devoted to building a sizable estate were for your two sons --- my brother Ladd and me --- because you never chose to enjoy the fruits of your success.  Your enjoyment was in the pursuit of success, rather than the fruits of your financial success.  I know that your family was your lifelong concern and priority.  You passed away before my brother Ladd, who died prematurely at age 66 on October 16, 1991 (my birthday) from emphysema caused by the insidious, toxic effects of tobacco.  I had repeatedly admonished him to stop smoking as far back as the late 1950's.  But tobacco creates a fatal addiction, resulting in slow suicide.

 

Dad, you left us on October 25, 1992 at age 91.  As with Mother, I wish we had had a better farewell.  I did see you almost daily following Mother's death, so we certainly visited a lot.  But we avoided the subject of good-byes until we ran out of tomorrows.  You had suddenly become comatose and unable to communicate when I last saw you.  I told you I had to leave town for a few days to do some consulting work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but I doubt that you understood me.  Shortly after I arrived in Knoxville, I called home and Nedra said you had passed away that afternoon.  You had never recovered from the anguish of Mother's death, and subsequently from the trauma of losing Ladd.  Ladd and I always knew we had a real man for a father; a father who was a role model for his sons; a father we were proud of and bragged about; a father who cared; a father who would do anything for his family. 

 

The older I get, the more I am aware that most of my traits were acquired from the two of you.  I am proud of this fact.  When I was younger, I did not fully appreciate this.

 

As I left home to follow my own trail in life, I forgot some of the wonders of my younger years at home and the importance of your love, support and family roots.  Developing this document has helped me re-live and better remember the wonderful and happy days when we were all younger and enjoyed traditional family values.

 

I will always love you!

Your son,
Larry