You probably have heard the words “Go West, young man, go West.” Well, in our case it was “Go West, young man, young woman, three kids and a black cocker spaniel named ‘Six!’”
I will explain the dog’s somewhat odd name because he plays a definite part in our family story. When our oldest son, Roger, was 6 years old we were searching for a puppy for him. The puppy we found was 6 weeks old. So when the dog’s owner advised Roger to choose a name with a high-pitched “sss” sound, immediately Roger said “Six,” and so it became.
Our first experience in Arizona came in the fall of 1945, just after WWII. My husband and I and our 2-year-old son brought my mother and sister to Phoenix to visit my brother. He lived in a nice, neat neighborhood on Culver and 13th Street, just south of McDowell Road, which at that time was practically the outskirts of town. We had lived through rationing during the war years, so when my brother offered us all the bacon we wanted and introduced us to the first frozen orange juice we had ever tasted, we were pleased and happy. The weather was wonderfully warm, and we were treated to a picnic on South Mountain.
Our next trip to Arizona was 10 years later when it was cold, dreary and slushy in Oklahoma City. My husband and I flew out to visit and celebrate our Valentine anniversary in mid-February. When we deplaned at Sky Harbor Airport we were delighted to see petunias blooming around the little terminal. We learned that a housing boom was beginning, and we could see the growth. This really piqued my husband’s interest since he had a broker’s license from Oklahoma.
We saw that the Westward Ho Hotel was still the tallest building in the city with 16 stories, but the change from our 1945 visit was exciting, and we were reluctant to leave. On our last night we chose to go to Green Gables, a restaurant that was a favorite locally. Here we were met at the entrance by a knight in armor riding a white horse who escorted us to the door. It was the perfect ending to our stay in Phoenix.
I am happy to say that a portion of Green Gables still stands, nestled among the big buildings of growth at 24th Street and Thomas Road.
Less than a year later when my husband went to a business appointment in Tulsa, he noticed a magazine in the lobby proclaiming in bold letters “Phoenix, where the grass is greener.” He bought the magazine, read the article, handed it to me when he got home and asked, “How would you like to move to Arizona?” It sounded very exciting to us — then reality set in. We had three children, a dog and very little savings.
On the other hand, neither of us wanted to live the rest of our lives in Oklahoma, so the decision was made: Yes, let’s do it! We sold some of our furniture, put treasured things in a U-Haul trailer and began our journey. We drove from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to say goodbye to my husband’s parents. Then the next day we drove to Cordell, Oklahoma, where we were able to weigh the trailer and found it weighed a bit more than our car, a 1953 80 HP Studebaker sedan. We said goodbye to our aunt and uncle, then headed for Lubbock, Texas, to see another aunt and uncle before turning west in earnest.
Needless to say, we drove slowly. Eighty horsepower with a trailer attached does that!
When we stopped for the night we looked for motels where you could drive in and out — no backing up! Just imagine three children, ages 12, 9 and 6, plus a dog — all in the back seat of that small car, with us crawling along for seemingly endless hours.
We eventually came to Salt River Canyon. (Today those three words still evoke memories of terror!) We stopped for gas, cold drinks and a rest. Mind you, we were flat-landers from Oklahoma, so when my husband glanced up and saw four or five switchbacks on the road ahead, he was more than a little apprehensive. He very wisely inquired and found a fellow willing to pull our trailer out of the canyon — 14 miles for $14 — the best money we ever spent! We felt the worst was over — not so! My husband drove with both feet on the brakes at times, and I, on the passenger side, pushed as hard on the floor boards as he did.
We had to stop often to stretch and rest, so we found a place where we could pull off the road. The instant the door opened the dog shot out of the car and, to our horror, disappeared over the side of the road. We looked down fearing the worst and saw the terrified little fellow clinging to an outcropping about 20 feet below. Our hearts were in our throats, but with five people coaxing and pleading he was finally able to claw his way back. He earned a lot of hugs and tears of relief — our hero, Six! Years afterwards, we jokingly referred to that spot as “That Dog Gone Cliff.”
When we finally reached Apache Junction and flat land I vowed I would never go into mountains as long as I lived. Thankfully, those memories have faded and I have come to love the mountains — Sedona, Oak Creek, Grand Canyon and all the other majestic places. We looked back on our trip and realized it had taken us six days since leaving Tulsa and that the only people we had passed on the entire way were an elderly Indian couple in their wagon!
We made it! Not a leisurely pleasant trek to be sure, but a dream realized. My husband became active and successful in real estate; our children entered schools; we bought a new home, and later added another son to our family of four. We embraced our new state with loving, enthusiastic arms.
We all thrived in the warm sun, and we were so grateful that 58 years ago we heard and heeded that siren call, “Go West.”
This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.