The Writers’ Circle: A salute to the sweethearts of Pagosa

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    Betty J. Slade
    PREVIEW Columnist

    This is a salute to the beautiful sweethearts of Pagosa. Living the mountain/country life takes a lot of grit and stick-to-i-tive-ness. Pagosa is a man’s world and is not for the faint-hearted. Wives come alongside their husbands, they learn to hunt, fish and live off the land to fulfill their dreams. They are unsung heroines who deserve recognition.

    The women step up to help their husbands provide meat, skin, package and cook it. They work beside their husbands to cut and stack wood to keep the home fires burning and food on the table. Why? They labor for the love of their husbands and families.

    In the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were few licensed builders. With no money, women worked with their men to build homes. They sawed, hammered, taped, textured and painted. They lived among table saws and tools in the living room and makeshift cupboards in their kitchens. They didn’t complain.

    I thought it would be fun to tell some of the stories of those years. In 1976, we hauled water from the Blanco River until La Plata Electric installed an electric pole on our property. The children walked in with more water on them than in the bucket. We were without a phone for two years, before we were connected to a four-party line.

    Our children walked 2 miles to U.S. 84 to catch the school bus every morning. When our kids tell their friends they walked 2 miles in 3 feet of snow to the bus stop, their friends raise their eyebrows and say, “Sure you did.”

    The school system said they would run a bus on the Lower Blanco when they hired an additional bus driver. I stepped up and accepted the challenge. I could make $300 a month and I believed I could handle the task. How hard could it be to pick up and deliver children?

    In January of 1979 with 4 feet of snow on the ground, worse winter in history, I became a bus driver. I left home in the dark at 6 a.m. every morning.

    It was so cold, the door froze shut on my vehicle. I pushed and pulled to get the door open. The back door finally gave way and I crawled through the backseat and over to the front seat, hoping no one saw me. At 40 years old, I had more grit than I have now.

    I drove to the bus shed to warm up the bus and then returned to pick up the children. I lasted one month, but long enough to give a few people a laugh or two.

    I met a lady who grew up in Pagosa. Her dad was the head of the bus shed for the Pagosa school district. She reminded me of something I had forgotten. This is one of those stories.

    The conversation went like this. “My dad knows you.”

    “How’s that?”

    “You were that crazy lady out on the Blanco who drove a bus into the ditch several times. He grumbled every time he dug you out.”

    “Oh, those were hard days. I remember when I put chains on the bus. I thought I would die. I was so cold my fingers stuck to the metal. There were a couple of 16-year-old boys on the bus and I hollered, ‘Get out and help me.’”

    They looked at me and yelled, “We don’t know how and even if we did, we don’t have to.”

    “What? Get out here. You’re too big to sit there and watch a lady put on chains.” The three of us got the chains on the bus. Today, I am sure my tirade would result in a lawsuit. But then, the experience helped young boys grow into manhood.

    I talked to Jane Stewart, who owned a business in downtown Pagosa in the late ‘70s, when it wasn’t popular for women to be in business. She taught many of Pagosa’s youth how to work, including three of my own. I’ve thanked her many times for building good work ethics into my children.

    She tells about the time when Judge Hyde held court. The jurors parked in front of her establishment, The Hub, during lunch. She walked into the courtroom, stopped the court and told Judge Hyde to have the jurors move their cars. He did and they did. She had guts.

    I remember seeing Mrs. Ross (Troy and Cody’s mom) every week at the laundry mat washing the team’s football uniforms after practices and games. She scrubbed the dirt and grass stains out of those white uniforms and readied them for the next game. Did anyone thank her? Probably not. That’s what mothers do for their kids.

    Also, Mrs. Lucille Rackham, (Christine and Tony’s mom) grinned from ear to ear with a skillet of fried Rocky Mountain oysters. She was frail and a beautiful genteel lady living in a man’s world. The contrast made me shake my head.

    I remember Evelyn Davidson, with six children, several adopted, took a big brown grocery bag of popcorn into the theater. Many of us could only afford the price of the movie and did the same thing. She was the best mom in the world. Gilbert tells of the time when he and the boys went out hunting; they came back with nothing. While they were gone, Evelyn shot a big bull elk off their front porch. When he got home, she told him and the boys to go out and skin it.

    How many of you bought milk from Mrs. Fay Brown? Our family bought four gallons every week in big glass bottles for a dollar each. We raised healthy kids on fresh farm milk. Today, the health department would step in. No telling how many cows Mrs. Brown milked in her lifetime.

    I remember seeing Mrs. Ruby Sisson driving her green 1955 Chevrolet down the dirt road from the Upper Blanco every morning. She was on her way to teach the youth of Pagosa. She was one tough little lady. The community named the library after her.

    My daughter reminded me of the Gallegos girls and women who went on cattle drives every year. It was expected of them.

    I want to salute the Pagosa women who are still with us and those who have left their stories behind. They have written their lives on the hearts of their children and people of Pagosa. They are moms, teachers, bus drivers, business owners and farmers who showed up every day.

    These women and others have left big shoes to fill. With the same heart and grit, the girls of Pagosa still show up every day and live out their stories. I hope to write their stories and sing their praises and let the sweethearts of Pagosa know they are special.

    This is the first of a series of articles for “The Writers’ Circle” about the women of Pagosa. If you know their stories, please send them to me at bettyslade@centurytel.net. Please send a paragraph or two or the whole story, I will include them in the next article. 

    Send your submissions for “The Writers’ Circle” to editor@pagosasun.com.