I drove into Gunnison, and met Gene at her Little House of Artifacts about 11A.M. After a brief tour of the store, I biked over to the Gunnison County Court House to renew Ol’ Baleau’s Colorado registration (my 2nd cousin in Crested Butte let me use her address). After all, I’ve probably driven a hundred times more miles in Colorado than I have in Texas since I bought the van in Denver in 1981. Enough of the explanations. I pedaled around town to kill some time before Gene was relieved by her daughter, so that we could do lunch. As we walked to her car, she asked me if I was very hungry. I inadvertently blurted out, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” She looked at me with squinting eyes and a solicitous smile. I sheepishly recanted, “Excuse me, a very bad choice of words.” She just laughed.
We ended up at a “Mesicin” restaurant, where enchiladas and burritos were the fare. Of course, as soon as we walked in, someone recognized her. Gene was known all over the territory. Our talk was anything but idle, part of which concerned her divorce with Mr. Lowry. I told her that she seemed very happy with the way things were now. She replied, “I have my house, my horses, my daughter, and my business. I am content for the rest of my life.” Her serene countenance reflected all that was said. I felt very happy for her. On the lighter side, I mentioned seeing those “wild” horses running pell-mell across the New Mexico plains, and how it gave me goose-bumps watching them. Her eyes widened. Then I said, “You know, there was a guy, I can’t remember his name, back in the late 1800’s, who made an amazing discovery after developing a photograph of a horse in a full run. Do you have any idea what he discovered?” She just shook her head, in a gesture of the triviality of the question. Nevertheless, I said, “The photograph revealed that, for a split second, all four feet were off the ground.” I think she already knew that for a fact, but she politely said, “I didn’t know a photographer found that out more than a hundred years ago.” Anyway, I thought it was an interesting tidbit. She insisted on footing the bill, because, as she put it: “You’re on my home turf. You can treat when I come to Dallas.” “Fair enough,” I said.
On our way back to her house of business, Gene asked me if the strong winds of the night before had wreaked havoc on the van. In jest, I said, “No, the winds didn’t bother me a bit. It was that incessant pounding of snow flakes that kept me up all night. Just kidding, I slept like a bear.” We exchanged a handshake, and then a hug, and I was outta there, wishing I would stay one more day.
I scurried over North Pass Summit (10,149 feet) on CO 114, then coasted down to Saguache, where I hooked a right on U.S. 285 to Monte Vista. The flat, straight stretch of highway would be numbing except for the spectacular view of the Sangre Le Christo Mountains off to the east. The panorama was enhanced by being able to barely, but distinctly, discern the Great Sand Dunes National Monument at the foothills of the De Christo Range…a good 30 miles away (believe me, I scaled it off of the map). To put it into perspective, it’s like trying to see the skyline of Dallas from downtown Ft. Worth (of course, there’s quite a difference in the air quality). I headed due east on U.S. 160, through Alamosa, Fort Garland, and over La Veta Pass to Walsenburg. The latter portion of that stretch was copacetic, with the setting sun and a slight wind at my back, and tuned in to my favorite blow-torch station, KOA out of Denver. It happened to be a call-in segment, with listeners contributing their most-beloved jokes. There were some real beauts… kept me in stitches for miles.
I merged onto the Interstate, and headed south to Trinidad. I remembered an earlier news report on KOA about how some winds had been so ferocious as to over-turn a tractor-trailer rig on I-25 (the night before). It must have been the same windstorm Gene had spoken of. Gee-mo-nee Easter, a couple of miles down the pike, there it was – an over-turned 18-wheeler on the side of the highway. Wow, did I thank my lucky stars…timing was everything when on the road. By the time I got to Raton, it was way past quitting time for all the good ol’ boys, so there was no chance to say hello to Rick and Don, and Chip and John. I continued on, and spent the night at my favorite Midway Rest Area in northeast New Mexico, next to the rumbling Burlington & Northern coal trains.
I awoke the next morning to a splendid sunrise over the rolling, treeless plains. An empty north-bound was waiting on the spur, as a full-loaded south-bound roared by. By mid-morning, I was back in Texas, and as I was cruising through the Panhandle, my thoughts turned to my friend back in Almont. I was wishing I had stayed another day, but a slight sense of urgency was baiting me to get back to Big D. Ironically, one of the reasons to exit Dallas was now compelling me to return, that is, the onus of selling “El Dough”. I didn’t relish the thought of my “prized possession” sitting out on the street, unattended, for an extended length of time. I mentioned this obligation to Gene, and she understood.
I whizzed through Amarillo, Claude, and Clarendon, and finally pulled off 287 at Memphis, a cotton-ginning town of about 3300. Sometimes I amaze myself. I had passed through that town countless times, without even so much as a pit stop. Now, I was parked in front of the Hall County Courthouse (a rather remarkable, 1923 Texas Renaissance building), strolling around the town square, admiring some relics of the past. One was an erstwhile hotel, with its vertical corner sign, barely discernible from age, reading: POUNDS HOTEL & CAFE. All the windows were boarded up, with only the ground floor being utilized as a senior citizen’s facility of some kind. Another salient structure was a two-story stone edifice with four simple letters chiseled into the parapet just above the cornice: B-A-N-K, a perfect example of an old architectural dictum that “less is more”. I thought it was beautiful, and so permanent. It then occurred to me how many times my bank in Dallas had changed its name, leading me to believe they etched their name in pencil… the age of obsolescence.
One more remarkable feature of the town square was the still-intact, almost-smooth-as-glass, brick streets. I happened upon a group of locals, hanging out around a patrol car. What else was there better to do on a Friday afternoon in Memphis? I asked one of the gents, “When were these bricks laid?” The old codger answered, “Back in the 1920’s. There was a ACME brick factory just down the road turned out millions of bricks in its heyday. Yes sir, we never had a shortage of bricks back in those days.” Then I said, “Oh, you mean that ACME brick plant that’s just outside of Quanah. It’s still blowin’ an’ goin’, been there for ages.” He scratched his head, and said, “Yep, that’s probably the same one, come to think of it.” I about had enough of the good ol’ boys, so I wandered over to the DOLLAR GENERAL Merchandise Store to see what I could pick up for a buck. Well, their name certainly did not belie their price tags – every brand of oil was a dollar per quart. I grabbed a six-pack of 10W-30 Pennzoil for a slightly overdue oil change as soon as I got back to Dallas. Before I leave this burg, I’ll share a little trivia with you. Organized in 1890 as the county seat, it seems the populace had not yet agreed on a name for their newly appointed status. Eventually, it got its name accidentally when mail that should have been delivered to Tennessee, was addressed to Memphis, Texas, instead. How about that, trivia fans.