Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lake - 1957

One spring day in 1957 Dad turned on his heel and stepped away from the spot where his young family was enjoying the cool of the afternoon. He wished to gain a broader perspective of the outdoor scene his loved ones were enjoying. In his mind, he had framed a picture. Making his way up the gentle grade, away from the earthen stock tank that was referred to as "the lake," he carried his Kodak Brownie. When he judged the distance satisfactory, he turned, surveyed the scene once more, then half bent at the waist. Cupping the camera in his hands, he brought it near his chest, focusing an eye into the prism viewfinder set atop the camera's body. Pleased with the composition he saw in the glass, he pressed on the shutter button with his right thumb. That simple action froze a fleeting moment in his young family's life.

For years the grainy black and white print lay sandwiched and forgotten in the aging sleeves of an old photo album. I had no memory of the image. It was one of thousands in the montage of Salas photos. An archiving project 53 years later brought it to light and the chasm of time separating the present from that afternoon long ago was bridged. Gently pinching a corner of the glossy three inch by three inch photo, studying it with reading glasses, the tiny figures on the print fascinated me. Until then, I had not realized it was us. The image moved me. I got misty-eyed. It pulled me in. I was transported to that time and to that place, standing in my father's shadow on that afternoon, seeing what he was seeing.

His appreciation of picture taking, both in front and in back of the camera was immeasurable. Beginning in the late 40s, his picture-taking efforts through the decades chronicled a collage of visual snippets that captured his growing family's life. The collection is telling and undoubtedly priceless to our parents' progeny.

In this picture by water's edge, the Salas squat, kneel, stand, and straddle a mother's hip; all seemingly in repose. You can easily imagine that Gloria has plucked white-pedaled daisies from off their stems and is watching them bob away after tossing them one by one on the water's surface. Humberto believes he may have a bite on his line. He has baited the hook with minnows that he worked hard to scoop up from the lake's shallows with a can. Esperanza is content clinging to mama. Mommy smells good. She likes watching her sister and her brother. They do interesting things. Mother is content with the world. Tano is a good provider; handsome and strong. Her children are beautiful and healthy. The future can only get better. She knows the promise of more babies lies ahead. Atilano Jr. stands alone. Humberto had cautioned him not to go near him or his fishing pole. The pointy fish hook will snag him if Humberto casts the line too far over his shoulder and he stands too close. He'll stay back to be safe. Gratified in the moment is Atilano, lording over this picture of serenity he has just snapped.

I think this is one of the best pictures Dad ever took. It shows me that I used to live in a corner of heaven and didn't even know it. That wonderful sliver of an earlier life is lost to me, but I still have the Kodak Brownie.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Kill of 1978 Illuminated

The storied Salas Family photo album holds one particularly bloody set of images snapped during the 1978 deer season. They chronicle the serendipitous conclusion of a hunter's foray in the brush country.

That morning, Dad, Ricky, Ovidio and Danny climbed into Ricky's new jeep. The four headed into the ranch interior. Winding south on the dirt road leading from the old Sinclair plant to the Herberger corrals, Dad asked to be dropped off at what he called H.L.'s blind (named that because the man had commissioned Dad to fabricate it from scratch and set it up in the brush). Because the boys were only going to make a quick round of the ranch, to the Pamoranas and back, Dad had no qualms being dropped off alone at that location. It was 8:30. The boys said they would pick him up on their way back. Two hours, they estimated.

Five hours ticked off before they returned from their "quick round" and pulled up to H.L.'s blind. Dad was sitting patiently underneath it. Off the ground, tied to the blind's framework were two good-sized javalinas. When the boys asked if that was all Dad had seen worthy of shooting, he said no, pointing to the brush. He said he had dropped a little deer on the sendero along the brushline. They walked over to the kill to find a very nice "little deer." Dad had bagged an 11-pointer with an 18-inch spread. Dressed out, the animal came to about 195 pounds by Danny's estimation.

Dad explained that he had tired of waiting for their return and was ready to walk home when he spotted a troop of javalina trailing along the sendero. For fun, and to kill time, he shot two in quick succession before they could scatter. He dragged his kills back to the blind and when he climbed back up to his perch he spotted the buck on the very ground the javalinas had been shot minutes earlier. He took aim and dropped the buck.

For many years, the exact time of each kill could be noted where Dad scrawled them with a ballpoint pen inside the blind. He penned l p.m. and 1:15 pm. Dad bagged these kills with a Marlin 30/30 presented to him for Christmas by his children.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thirty Falls Ago

One fall morning in 1980 Dad drove up to the Peninsula/Miller Well #1. The ranch was blanketed in fog. "Una maƱana baja" is how Dad would have put it. He discovered the well location quiet. It should not have been. Sometime in the last 24 hours the compressor had quit. Dad checked the machinery's vitals and attempted a restart. As he would soon learn, leaking natural gas had collected around the compressor during the overnight and early morning hours. When he pulled on the air starter handle to crank the compressor engine, an ignition spark touched off the natural gas. Instantly, the location was enveloped in a ball of fire with Dad at its center. Making a quick retreat from the flash area he recovered his wits, climbed into the pickup and headed for home. The adrenaline had temporarily numbed the effects of the burns to his face and arms. On the ranch road he met up with one of Joe McGuffin’s operators and asked him if he might have a balm or cream to apply to his burns. The operator took one look at Dad and suggested he would do better to go directly to a doctor. When Dad got home and walked into the house Mom looked at his scorched ragged shirt and asked what had happened. “Pos no miras que estoy quemado, mujer?” was his ingredulous response. Ignoring his protests, Mom insisted he climb into the gray Chevy S-10 so she could drive him to Dr. Gonzalez' office in town. Once there, the doctor could do little. The burns were too severe. They exited the small clinic and proceeded at 80 mph to Alice P&S Hospital, 26 miles away. She had never driven at such a speed. Dad was told that it was lucky he hadn't gasped for air at the instant of the explosion. Otherwise, he may have charred the tissue in his lungs.