1. One Hundred Miles To School
IT OCCURRED TO ME all at once as I was driving down from my homestead this morning that at last I am contented here at this little school at a lonely “water” on a remote cattle ranch in Southern Arizona. The fact that it is one of the biggest ranches in the state makes its isolation complete, for there are no close neighbors.
When a new teacher and a group of country pupils of assorted ages and grades meet at the beginning of a term in a far-off one-room school there are many adjustments to make, and teacher will make most of them. There must be a long period of strenuous effort—not only to instruct the children, but to win them. It is not easy. Last year, and even into my second term with the same bunch, I used to cross off days on the calendar,
Already it is March; time has rushed by—proof that the old homesickness and worry that troubled me for so long are past. This is my place now, and I am honestly glad that tomorrow is only Tuesday, for my interest in the kids and the school makes time fly. This Monday morning I left the cabin at Pepper Sauce at 4:30 a.m. and drove my old car at top speed the hundred miles down here—mostly over Arizona dirt roads—before 9 o'clock. After such a long day I am naturally tired, but not lonely or low-spirited I had a happy weekend working at the little ranch, and school will pleasantly fill the days until I can return.
My situation is out of the ordinary in several respects. There can't be many schools like this one left in America. Here it is—an organized county school, but there are no pròspects for its development. It is located amid a scattering of ranch homes far from any settlement and there is no prospect of money for a school building. Sessions are held in whatever temporary quarters may be convenient for the two landholders in the six-township district, neither of whom is a patron. The one-room school is maintained by Pima County and the state of Arizona for children of the vaqueros who work the cattle on these large ranches. Now and then there are part-time pupils from the camps of temporary prospectors or assessment workers, and occasionally some children from Las Carpas, the road camp.
My bus-riding pupils are worse off than I, for they have to get up before daylight five days a week instead of one, and travel over rough, unimproved roads in a rickety, unheated beat-up old panel truck, never meant for a schoolbus. Even in the Far West, still wild in its rangelands, this is a strange situation for a county school. And I am by no means a typical teacher.
I understood the curious stares of the dudes from “La Osa,” a guest ranch on the Mexican border twenty miles south of us, as they passed me on the road this morning. Probably no woman holding a teaching position ever cut a stranger figure. I had got out to look at the tires. The unscraped corduroy on the dirt road was so bad that I was afraid I was driving on a flat. They were in an open car and had a good look at me. They saw a thin, leggy woman neither young nor old, dressed in men's ranch wear. My brown Stetson was bought for a larger head. My leather jacket needed cleaning. My blue shirt and faded Levi's were freshly washed and ironed and I had polished my boots before they were covered by the dust.
To pioneer women, even at mid-twentieth-century, clothes must be chiefly covering. When you sit alone in a semi-desert wilderness to eat your evening meal it will not help your morale to be clad in soiled Levi's. But if the engine that runs the pump over the well down in the canyon goes to popping and you must dash down a steep rocky trail to wrestle with greasy machinery, it does help your morale to know you aren't ruining good clothes.
On a cold November morning my chance came as I'd hoped it would before winter set in. Ramón and Pancho, returning from their traps, came riding into the square in front of the long building just as I was passing from my room to the school. I admired Pancho's horse—a small chunky bay—and he jumped off and invited me to mount. I ran back into my room to don boots and Levi's for a dash up the road with Ramón, my oldest schoolboy. We galloped back to meet the school bus and there was no time to change. The ice was broken, my washing and ironing were reduced considerably, and my skinny frame protected from the chilling winds.
It was not personal appearance alone that caused the dudes to stare; they wear western clothes, but with a difference. My bug-splashed old car seemed to sit on its haunches with its heavy load, making a ramshackle introduction to the long line of trailing dust stirred up for miles behind. The ridiculous cargo could offer no explanation of my haste or destination. The car was piled hit or miss with bags and cartons of a week's provisions, personal stuff, library books, bedding, various odds and ends including a new broom; and it was topped off with Cherry and Honey, my two little dogs, poking their noses out to see what was going on. Immediately behind the seat perched the green cages housing the distressed canaries Tommy Tucker and Little Roy—always miserable while motoring. With every stop they cease clinging for their lives and start rapidly picking at their seeds. I
If the dudes meet Pascual of a morning they have no trouble figuring him out. He packs fourteen children, luckily thin ones, into his beat-up vehicle with the home-made sign, SCHOOL BUS. Pascual wakes up his son and three daughters at five every morning, gathers the other ten riders at stations miles apart along side roads, and makes seventy-two miles round trip a day over dirt roads, some of them perilous cuts in steep-sided canyons. Three groups he brings from the Sierritas, the long mountain range that forms the eastern rim of the wide Altar Valley; then he swings across sloping distances to the Baboquívaris on the west to pick up another group, and turns back seven miles due east to the middle of the flatlands bordering the drainage arroyo.
As for me, I come from beyond the Catalina Mountains, the faint blue range far to the north, and on the far slopes, fifty miles the other side of Tucson, the burgeoning city halfway between my home ranch and the
In the whole United States there may not be another school district as extensive as ours. From Pozo Nuevo you can go five miles north, seven west, ten south, and twenty east, without encountering a human habitation: an area encompassing about four hundred square miles, its residents just one family and me, for the bus riders live outside its fringes. But Prieto Aros' family is a small colony: himself, his wife, and their eighteen children, and a homeless young man they call cousin. Prieto is the vaquero in charge of the water and livestock in this wide corner of the Quarter-Circle DV Bar ranch which takes in about 300 sections. Prieto is a colorful individual who came to the U.S.A. from Chihuahua so long ago that no passport was necessary. He has been on this job for twelve years. In two marriages he has fathered sixteen children and stepfathered two, and has shouldered the responsibility of feeding and caring for them single-handed on a salary of $50 a month. From the state and county comes only schooling (which Prieto doesn't believe really necessary so the older boys are kept out now and then to help him with his work) and the services that go with it.
Pozo (or Poso as I'll spell it phonetically as we do here) Nuevo means New Well. This one is six hundred feet deep; it gives soft pure water via the power of a giant engine whose flywheel is taller than I. When
The building at Poso Nuevo is a long string of rooms like barracks, running east and west for over a hundred feet. The west room (originally two) is the school. Next is the teacher's room which joins the one where the ranch boys—seven of them at present—and their guests sleep. I've often wondered how they all crowd into so small a space. Once I peeked in and saw only two narrow iron cots. Bedding is scarce. In cold weather the door and small window remain closed, and the boys sleep in their jeans. There is a fireplace, the only one on the ranch, and I sometimes hear quarrels about the wood-getting. Usually the lot falls to Pancho who is bigger than
The only plumbing in the ranchhouse is the little sink under the half-window in my room. Bill, clerk of the board, put it in last year, and this year the small lavatory in the corner of the schoolroom because of all our messes with clay and water colors and printers ink. Our big water tanks, holding nearly thirty thousand gallons, are set on low cement platforms. Consequently the pressure is so poor that neither faucet will give water when any of the outside taps are open. But it is wonderful to have even part-time water indoors. And I am pleased with the new ceiling and cement baseboards that keep out all kinds of little pests. Last year I squashed
I have to go fast; that is, relatively. On these roads forty miles an hour is speeding and you can easily bounce into a dip and break a spring. The trouble is that Old Father Time hasn't noticed that I try to live in two places and hold down two jobs at once. The pressure on Monday morning comes from the hour I spend in the city doing errands. What a rush! Have the car serviced; leave the laundry; get the kerosene and the chunk of ice; and shop for five days' groceries for myself and the dogs and cat and birds, and the hot lunches for the school.
When I parked in front of the market this morning I could see the dark-eyed young man buttoning on his green smock and likely saying to himself: “Here is that lunatic wanting to buy twelve dozen oranges before daylight. On Monday, too; just when I'm ordering my vegetables.”
After daybreak I can see far enough ahead to take precautions. This morning I was ten minutes late at Robles, where the road right-angles toward Sasabe. With disregard for nervous tension and damaging dips (off the pavement now), I was only seven minutes late at King's cattleguard, and four minutes late at Palo Alto in spite of the momentary pause when I met the dudes.
When the kids come hurrying in at the jangle of the bell—a small brass one meant to hang on the neck of a caponera (boss mare of the remuda)—it is a satisfaction to see their friendly eager faces and their fresh Monday clothes as they line up, salute the flag, and pass by my desk—their hands spread out for fingernail inspection, grins on their faces to show they have washed their teeth with the brushes the school gave them. Individual charts are kept, and annual prizes awarded, courtesy of the teacher.
Herlinda and Lolita, pale delicate sisters, twelve and eight, have a shining spotless look every morning. Dainty Francisca has a perfect record, too, but she has the advantage of being the only child in the house of an adoring aunt. The snaggle-toothed, chopped-nailed smaller ones give proof that cleanliness is not a natural human attribute. Allowances must be made. I wrote a note about a little girl's habit of biting her nails. The grandmother in charge of the home sent me word to light a match and burn the culprit's fingers. This was effective. It cured me of writing notes.
My baby girl Teresa, now half past six, can seldom pass muster in personal neatness. Her light brown hair won't lie in place unless her mother has time to curl it with the iron heated over a kerosene lamp. Her nails are long and short, clean and otherwise. Her stockings are wrinkled, one often slumped over her untied shoe. Her little red sweater is likely to be wrong side out for she dresses in the dark.
She sighed contentedly, skipped around my desk, snatched a piece of prized white drawing paper as she passed, humped up in her uncomfortable old desk, and began to draw. She is a happy little girl, a joy to be around.
Being plump, she doesn't have to line up at the call “Cod liver oil” (made tolerable by a chaser of half an orange). Many of the young drylanders that come unwrapping spoons for their morning doses seem to like the taste of the gooey mess of vitamins that smells up the room, splashes the floor, and smears my Levi's.
“Dr. Bourne,” they call me, particularly if I am wearing sun glasses. Indeed it is a rare day that I don't have to treat cuts, sores, vaccinations, impetigo, or infections, along with headaches and stomach aches. I keep a young drugstore in my room.
There was a letter from a Tucson subscriber asking us to send a copy to the president of the National Federation of Women's Clubs in Washington, D.C. The other letter was from a lady in Illinois enclosing a dollar to help with expenses, and wanting us to send her a copy of the September issue so that her set for the year might be complete. When Socorro, in charge of back files, brought out the September number we looked it over and were amused to see how slight it was: only four pages. Now we print eight. It has no fiction, poems, jokes, or book reviews. Its stories make us laugh—already part of our outgrown past. They do give graphic ideas of our locality and personalities.
People laughed at Victor's story about our new equipment in the September issue because he said the clock could “walk” eight days without winding. Literally, in Spanish, a clock walks instead of runs.
Ramón's story telling how he helped his father and brothers round up thirty-four bulls to be tested was striking. He said: “The bulls have to be seen by a doctor to see if they are all right. They vaccinate them by the government to prove that they don't get t.b.”
Yesterday Father and I killed a large snake. She took two hours to die and was strong and healthy at the very last. It even made my father nervous because she was so hard to kill. People said she was the biggest rattlesnake they ever saw. She was six feet from head to rattle and when I skinned her after taking off the head she measured eight inches wide.’’
|This father, another mother||This mother, another father||This father & this mother|
|Concepción (Chato)||Francisco (Franqui)||Víctor|
|Catalina (Katie)||Pedro (Pili)|