#5 RETURN TO ASH FORK
Excitement mounted as I drove the last twenty mile stretch from Seligman to Ash Fork, and I mused to calm myself.
I had seen G.B.’s face, but only in short bursts of light from passing cars, so I had left Arizona with, at most, a vague impression of his head. I did not know if he was tall or short, fat or thin, handsome or homely. I only knew I loved the beautiful music of his slow southern drawl and the tender loving words he spoke each time he phoned me in Canada.
I decided he would be wearing gorgeous, hand tooled leather cowboy boots, a big Stetson hat and a western style suit.
Our rendezvous was the “bus depot” at eight-fifteen A.M. When I walked into the café dressed and groomed, I stared intently into each man’s face. They looked, but no one rose to greet me. I turned when I heard the front door open and saw a man of medium height standing in the doorway. He was dressed in khaki work shirt and pants, steel toed work boots and an old straw cowboy hat.
“Are you G.B.?” I asked the man.
“Oh,” he replied, “A red-head. I thought y’all was a blonde.”
G.B. had a fine straight back, but a decided bow to the legs, and I couldn’t see any sign of hair beneath his straw hat. This was definitely not the Adonis for whom my mother was hoping.
“Before I take y’all to y’all’s motel, I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin’.”
We left Ludwig (my trusty Volkswagen van) parked at the café, then London, my faithful Old English sheepdog, and I climbed into G.B.’s company pick-up truck. He drove in a westerly direction through town and on down Route 66. I studied his face as he chatted and I thought it looked so used. His face had been split and mended in several places and his nose — was one of a kind. I could not associate my new love with his face.
G.B. turned off Route 66, drove onto the open ranch land and searched the landscape to the horizon line.“I want y’all to watch fer antelope.” He said with charming enthusiasm.
I gratefully took the opportunity to turn away from his face and stare through the passenger side window while I listened to the dear familiar voice. Skin stretched over bones isn’t important, I thought to myself. What matters is all the beauty inside.
I turned back from the window and again I looked at G.B.’s face. This time I saw brilliant turquoise eyes, an eye colour I had never seen. I saw his proud Teutonic neck, and felt compassion sweep over me as I inspected the narrative scars by his mouth and on his chin. Such a nice chin. He may have been quite handsome as a young man. This is a fine strong man, I thought, a protector to stand between me and the world. Then I looked at his hands, such beautiful hands. I wondered. What makes a hand beautiful? Maybe it’s loving the person whose hand it is. I looked back to G.B.’s dear face and he turned to look at me. He smiled. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he said, “I’ve got so much to show y’all Charle.”
We watched for antelope, and I thrilled to the dusty ride across the Arizona high desert ranch land.
G.B. stopped the pick-up at a whole lot of black, and then stated, “Charle, this is a black cinder pit. I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin.’”
I stepped down from the little old pick-up and gazed at the vast expanse of land which encircled the volcanic wonder. Despite my fascination, a strange thought . . . What if this rather odd man is crazed — kills me, then buries me under the cinders? I felt an adrenalin rush, then I heard again the beautiful music of his voice.
“Look Charle, ‘cross yonder — at that white scar on the mountain. That’s my quarry, the White Elephant.”
“Where? I asked, as I scanned the long line of mountains.
G.B. moved behind me to the right. He reached across my back with his left arm and gripped my left arm with his powerful hand. Then he closed tight around me and pointed to the scar on the mountain. Either this man is going to kiss me or kill me!
We stood alone in the world under a clear blue sky and G.B. kissed me with all the strength, confidence and emotion of his nature.
“C’mon Charle, get y’all’s dawg into the pick-up, I’m fixin’ to show y’all somethin’.”
When we arrived back in town G.B. drove me through the stone yard, where he told me he was employed, and then up and down every street in Ash Fork, which proved to be two miles long and five blocks wide. With his left arm out the window as a pointer he told me, “I own this here trailer house an’ I get good rent fer it. I own these three lots, an’ as soon as I do some work on the cesspool an septic field, if that GOD-DAMNED building inspector will keep away from me, I’ll put three mobile homes on them. Now, I own six houses in this block four on the north side.” These were the same strange little stone houses I’d seen on my first visit to the town. “. . . an’ five an’ six there on the south side.” he continued.
With every corner he turned, G.B. kept his arms waving and the list growing. “If I owned it all Charle,” he said, referring to the town, “I still wouldn’t be a rich man — but I am finaglin’ another old house anagoglan from here. That fool wants four thousand dollars fer it! Wayll he can GO STRAIGHT TO HAYLL before I’ll pay four thousand fer that shack! But I will pay two thousand fer it, an’ I’ll rent it fer twenty-five dollars a month. That’s fifteen percent interest on my money!” He said with obvious relish.
G.B. traced the history of the oldest buildings in town for me, several of which he owned. In one historic structure he showed me a bullet hole in the ceiling, which dated back to Territorial times, and had something to do with a cowboy, a night on the town, a woman and whiskey.
He took me to the site of the old Escalante Hotel; a Harvey House built before nineteen ten, to accommodate the Santa Fe Railroad passengers. Some of the original floor and tiles were still intact, and as G.B. related historic facts about the building, I envisioned the elegance of the Escalante encircled by the rugged simplicity of the little cow town.
Each building had a story to be told and each person I met greeted me with warm familiarity. I even met Moon John, the old fellow who lived in the junkyard, and whose joy-filed voice I’d heard on my first visit to Ash Fork
The final destinations on the tour were the flagstone quarries north of town. We crossed the tracks and headed for the White Elephant, Geronimo and Santa Cruz. As I glanced back at Ash Fork nestled amid green leaves and blossoms of spring, I began to see beauty in G.B.’s beloved little town.
A few hours later at the Santa Cruz quarry, G.B. proposed marriage to me. I accepted, and soon after, London, Ludwig and I followed Wayne Hengle, G.B. (who was towing a little pink travel trailer) one hundred and fifty miles south into the low desert where I would paint and camp north of Phoenix.