Saturday, October 10, 2020

Zela Trip Day 3: Albequerque to Elk City

Day 3

Albuquerque NM to Elk City OK
We left Albuquerque. Early in the morning. I left a little disappointed because I missed Uncle Timo. Timo, my mother’s younger brother teaches college at University of New Mexico. I don’t keep that much in contact with that side of my family and the night we were to spend in Albuquerque, gave me a chance to see him. 

I called, but the house-sitter said that he was in California visiting his relatives. This was a double disappoint because, as everyone knows, there isn’t much else to do in Albuquerque. There was no cheap hotel rooms and we thought the trip was going to be much more expensive than we had planned.  As it turned out, the Albuquerque Motel was the most expensive room on the trip.  

Elk City, on the other hand, was cheap as we stayed at a Motel 6. It was over 88 degrees, but the pool was closed for the “winter”.

And so, we found ourselves on day 3 on the road for hours. I had expected down time on the trip, but we didn’t have too much on this day. Zela and I spoke at length about my grandfather, her husband, Albert. That is what she called him, so I’ll use that name through most of this when it is her stories. His full name was Henry Albert Mitchell and growing up most people called him Ham (H.A.M.), but she called him Albert at his request.

As we drove, we discussed how they met and what happened. You may question what about Martha during these discussions. Martha listened a lot and piped up occasionally, she hadn’t heard the history either. But most of the time in the car, Martha was gifted with the same ability I have in an automobile, the ability to fall quickly and soundly asleep. 

Zela was in Cairo alone on her 18th birthday. She actually lived there alone for a bit after High School while her parents stayed in Kentucky (right across the river) as her brother and sister finish school. She got a job - this would be 1929 - and she worked for a doctor in town as his assistant. This was the first in a long line of doctors she worked with over the years. She ultimately was one of those receptionist / practical nurses. She was allowed to do this starting during the war. She worked for a doctor in Los Angeles and ended up giving shots, taking blood and so forth.

Image 8: Martha and Zela at the Elk City Motel 6

But back to Cairo Illinois. Zela was there on her birthday, pretty much alone. She met Albert as he was working on the seawall. It was July 2, 1929. This is where they had their first kiss, walking on the new seawall construction. Albert was 16 at the time but was already working away from home. He worked the levee construction and on barges on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Zela remembers a lot of big promises from the young man, but the one she remembers most clearly is that Albert said he would always be with her on her birthday. I am taking a liberty of assuming Zela was not happy being alone on her birthday and Albert made her feel better.

In fact, Albert did show up on her birthday, no matter what he was doing. He drove trucks, worked on barges an went to California with Civil Conservation Corps, but on July 2nd, wherever she was, Albert would show up. This is why I remember when he died. He died on her birthday in 1970. A heartbreaker. 

I will say Zela was overweight and very shy. She was introverted and timid. this brash young man really did impress her.

They proceeded to see each other occasionally, Albert always promising to be successful enough to marry Zela. Whether he was working on the river barges, or a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps in California or as trucker, he was always with her on July 2nd.  In 1937, they did get married. My father, little Jerry, was born about 10 months later.

Henry Albert Mitchell right before leaving for Los Angeles

This discussion naturally wound into a discussion of my dad. He was born in September of 1938, in Cairo Illinois. And we talked a bit about his early years, before he was an asshole.

When he was born, Zela and Albert lived above a store (or repair shop) which had a coke machine out front. And, in the summer of 1938, one of the soda companies was running a promotion. Under the cap was a “flicker”, which I gather was a bit like a tiddly-wink. Most were colorful, but a few had the “free soda” prize. And my father was nick-named Flicker for being their little prize. Which is sweet. Many places we visited asked me about my dad, Flicker.

Of course, my father hated this nickname, as many of us hated our childhood nicknames. Mine was Scooter, and I liked it, but you get the point. So, my father tried out, tried on and discarded many names over his life including Mitch, Jerry, and “Big Dick” – yes, really. I remember being a kid and my dad would react super poorly to family members that still referred to him as “Flicker”.  Like it offended him somehow.

I think his self-image was tough for him to maintain, and "little flicker" did not help the casue. He was 5’ 7 ½” and took almost any negative or perceived negative feedback as a threat. He definitely had that short man complex where he overreacted to any slight. My mother was 5’7 ¾” and that ¼ of an inch bugged the hell out of him. Which is odd, because once she added heels and a beehive hair-do that ¼ “ had grown to quite a few inches.

In any case, in 1940, Zela, Albert and little Flicker moved out to Los Angeles. Their first method of transportation was a motorcycle that Zela kind of loved and talked about with fond memories. This ties back to Smitty’s son, Burt, who I think got him a hell of a deal on a bike.

One last comment on Timo (the uncle who was not in Albuquerque). My favorite memory of him was when I was about 11 years old.  I was staying with my mom when Timo came over. He was going to the movies to see Yellow Submarine. It was a cartoon and he off-handed invited me. AND it was the Beatles, whom we all loved (whether we did or not). Well, it was a cartoon AND it was Tim. I was dying to go. Mom had a couple of “no” and “definitely not”s before relenting. But she did take Timo into the other room and give him instructions. I didn’t hear them all, but clearly, I was not to have any pot. Uncle Timo did have an affection for the ganja. Well, he was good to his word. And he made me promise not to have any at the theatre. So we watched Yellow Submarine with a movie theatre full of pot-heads and, as promised, when the joint was passed to my 11 year old hands, I quickly passed it on, never letting it near my lips.

However, it is very easy for a 11 or 12 year old to get a contact high in a theatre full of smoke. I assume I was high because that was, by far, the best movie I had ever seen. I have seen Yellow Submarine since. I am pretty sure it was the pot talking there.

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