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Native Writes: Unusual times?

Posted: Saturday, Feb 23rd, 2013

Someone e-mailed me to say that it seems the Valley is having an unusual late winter, and one of the granddaughters believes flowers should be sprouting, if the groundhog is to be believed.

My e-mail correspondent has been gone for years and knows only what’s read on the newspaper weather map. I don’t think the groundhog is a factor.

I have no answers. It seemed colder for a while, then I remembered the year the mercury froze in the airport thermometers and a specialized one had to be flown in.

There was snow on the mountains and on the ground, the wind blew strongly and our water heater froze.

With three teenaged and near-teenaged boys in the house, it was a catastrophe. No one heard me when I said other people were probably without hot water, as well.

Thanking God for the kitchen range, I managed to get faces and hands washed, hair combed and a presentable look with what water I was able to eke out of the dysfunctional heater.

We may have had some shirttail effects of global warming here, but it isn’t really provable.

Cars wouldn’t start when 2013 began; the wind blew to provide a terrible chill factor and snow fell. I headed to Denver, where people marveled at the fact that I was from Alamosa. One nurse, who admitted she grew up in Florida, asked how we managed to survive.

The lack of humidity is one plus, I told her. She immediately moved on to talk about the drought.

Realizing that the snowpack wasn’t at optimum levels at that point, I admitted there wasn’t as much snow as in years past.

After the conversation, I remembered playing in three feet of snow and building snow forts in Alamosa. I remembered tall, fat, snowmen and wet snow boots drying off in the school coat rooms.

The coat rooms were long, narrow places with hook-lined walls where children left their coats, snow pants and other heavy items, hopefully to dry before school let out.

I don’t remember getting out early any time for teacher in-service. We went to school before 8:30 or 9 a.m. every day, no matter what Mother Nature was offering up, and we were there until after 3 p.m.

I envied the kids who rode buses because they didn’t have to walk home. The kids in town did. That was when the city had “neighborhood schools” that were actually walking distance from the entire neighborhood.

The whole city was within walking distance. Almost everything anyone would want was downtown. The closest we got to a “big box” was the L-shaped Montgomery Ward store that had one entrance on State Avenue and the other on Main Street, embracing other stores in the process.

It wasn’t a mall. One could get there from each store, but only by going out onto the street and walking from door to door.

Perhaps a mall-type set-up would have saved that part of downtown, at least for a while.

One by one, the stores closed. The Leon Sisters retired and sold their women’s clothing store to someone else. The “new” store was a place to buy formals, and we did. Gone were the eight-inch hatpins and high-topped shoes.

Two hardware stores and the Main Street side of Montgomery Ward’s offered the nuts, bolts, hinges and nails of life, along with linoleum, carpet, paint and polish.

Across from Wards, the Victoria Hotel was home to several interesting businesses, and there was a nice cafe across the alley to the north.

And, yes, there were bars. Everything anyone — and I mean anyone — could want was available downtown. 

Kids had places to hang out in the four drugstores, all of which had soda fountains, and someone eventually turned a vacant storefront into the “teen canteen.” Later, there was a hamburger cafe where teens were welcome.

It was open after 8 p.m., something that no longer exists anywhere in town.

Somehow, teens still hang out, even when there’s a chill factor, but it’s not with adult supervision. There is supposed to be a curfew, but I don’t think most teens believe in it.

I have been in Wal-Mart after 10 p.m. to pick up milk and kids are hanging out there.

In narrow places similar to the old coat rooms.

And I wonder where mom and dad think their kids are. 

I came in after 11 p.m. once and my dad nearly gave birth to a brick. He thought I was at the Grove with friends, but I stopped in at the burger place to talk with a couple of school chums.

Even then, there was concern about the safety of children walking along the streets at night. There was nothing in the papers about kidnappings and murders, but the dads in town somehow trusted their gut feelings and believed that walking home after dark wasn’t a good idea — even when everything was within walking distance.

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