Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bit of History

This is my grandpa Donald, my dad's dad, outside the first gas station he owned in Buckeye, or Gila Bend. I want to say it was Gila Bend, Arizona.
That's a super old Harley motorcycle he's sitting on. A lot of people think it's a tractor.
You can't see it in this picture, because it's behind the person taking the picture {my nana, most likely} but the service station where my grandpa worked on cars, sold candy bars and pumped gas after he retired from the Air force with 22 years of service, was where my dad, my two aunts and my uncle Mark lived when they were all just little kids.
There was a small house attached to the back of the shop, and the walls were as thin as plywood or particle board.
My dad told me they all four slept in one bedroom, the two boys in one twin bed and the two girls in another.
It was hard times for the family back then, my dad would say. They were poor, having spent most of my grandpas money when he got out of the service to move to Arizona and buy the gas station. And my grandmother was in the beginning of her terrible, violent, and life long battle with bipolar disorder, becoming more and more abusive to the kids every day.
I didn't know my grandfather very well. I only really remember him when he was dying, because I was 9 and old enough to remember things, and it was the first time I'd seen someone in real life who was dying.
He looked small, and wrinkly, and all he did was lay in bed and watch old western movies.
Before that, I don't remember much, and what I do remember I'm not sure if I'm actually remembering it or if I just think I am because I heard the stories so many times.
What I do know though is that he never really laid a hand on the kids, my dad or his four siblings {Stephen was born a couple years after this picture was taken}, but he also never intervened when my Nana went after them.
Somehow though, in my father's memory he is blameless.
In the retellings of all the horror stories my dad has collected from his 11 years in his mother's house, his dad always sounds to me like just as much of a victim as the kids were.
Maybe he wasn't being beaten or starved or locked in closets the way they were, but he was a victim to Mary Teresa's disease as much as anyone.
She was his sweetheart, the mother of his children, and she was becoming more and more of a stranger all the time.
Whenever I look at this picture, I feel a weird sort of sympathy for my grandpa.
Sitting there on this Harley that rolled through the shop. driven by someone with a better life than he had, who was nice enough to take his picture on it and let him drive it around a bit, while my Aunts played dolls in the back of the store, and my dad and Mark toddled around in the dirt, bewildered and small.
His whole life consisted of watching people stop by on there way to somewhere, something better, while he watched the woman he loved take everything from the children he gave her.
The little boys who looked exactly like him.
The little girls who all had his smile.
I'm not saying he was innocent.
I just think it must've been hard.
For all of them.
One story that my dad told me, only one time, when we were in Ajo Arizona 7 years ago, always comes back to mind when I see pictures of his dad:
My grandpa used to haul gas from Gila Bend to Ajo in a big fuel tanker, because it was still pretty rural out there at the time, and there wasn't a real service that would bring gas out that far, so they'd bring a bunch to my grandpa's station, and he'd haul it the rest of the way.
Every once in a while, he'd bring my dad a long.
They always went at night, when the desert would cool down, and there were more stars than you can imagine.
Ajo was a mining town, and aside from the big dump on the East side of the town, and the big mine on the West side, there wasn't much else out there. But the main road from Gila Bend divided the two, and at night my dad could look out his father's window on the truck and watch these little mine wagons rolling along the top of tall mountains of rock and soot, dumping their loads of hot coal, which glowed like tiny balls of sun against the black night sky.
He'd watch the red glowing embers tumble down the side of the dump hills, looking like little rolling rivers of sunshine in the middle of an empty ocean of sky and stars and nothing else.
And his dad would look over smile at him.
For the hour and a half ride to deliver gas, my dad was happy. He was a little kid with nothing to worry about, and no one to hurt him, and he was alone with his father.
It was a simple, and brief bit of levity.
The kind that can make a person come out blameless, in the end.

Grandpa and Nana. They met while he was in the service. He was a mechanic in the motor pool, and one of his buddies asked him to sign a car out for him to use on a date. 
My grandpa hesitated, until his friend told him he could come along, his date had a sister. 
That sister was my grandmother.

Great-grandpa Horne

I'm not sure, but I think this is my dad, his brother Mark and his two sisters, or my grandpa and his siblings. I think it's my dad.

Grandpa in the Air force. 

Grandpa as a little boy. He was blonde!

This is my grandpa and my Aunt Debi {on lap} and Aunt Donna {standing} 

My grandpa and Great-grandma


  1. I LOVED these pictures!! So full of nostalgia and memories it seems. Beautiful post my friend.

  2. It’s amazing that your family was able to keep those very old photos. Those are great memories left by your grandparents. I’m particularly interested in the first photo, particularly the Harley motorcycle that your grandfather was sitting on. If this was kept and restored by your family, this can be lined up with other vintage Harleys today. Your grandfather must have been a good rider during his days.