“Living Ghost Town: Burros and Gunfights – Oatman, Arizona”
Wow. I was instantly transported to the past – to many parts of my past.
Two days before my father died, over 20 years ago, a couple of days after Thanksgiving, we went to Oatman, Arizona to be tourists.
We’d been to Oatman many, many times before. This was the first time my father hadn’t gone there “on business”.
I spent several Sundays a year in Oatman as a child. My dad was a minister, and in addition to his regular congregation, he also had the responsibility of holding church services at various tiny communities around the county.
Every Sunday afternoon, after regular church services were over, we would drive to one of these communities so my dad could hold church services there. We went to Oatman every few weeks. I remember the church there, small and Puritan-plain. Afterwards, one of the members of the congregation would have our family over to dinner. I remember this one house particularly – filled with heavy old furniture, the living room illuminated by light from a couple of fancy milky-yellow glass lamps, doilies on every surface. Everything in that house – everything in that tiny town of a couple of hundred people – seemed frozen decades in the past.
Sundays were generally pretty boring. I had to listen to my dad’s sermons twice, after all, once in his “home” church and again in the “away” church. Though I usually was making up Star Trek stories in my head while he was preaching… Usually a h/c scenario with Kirk and Spock. What can I say? I just wasn't into the religion thing.
Reading through the article, I see it says: “This blacktop looks as if it hasn't been maintained since the right-of-way was moved south in the 1950s.”
I see things haven't improved any. There are so many switchbacks going to Oatman my mother refused to drive on that road.
The article says: “The last 10 miles are a procession of shoulderless, blind, hairpin switchbacks up and down through crumbling desert hillsides, with occasional boulders in the road to tickle your tires and undercarriage.”
Once I got my driver’s license and got a car (a 1964 30-horsepower VW bug), I loved going to Oatman with my friends. That road was seriously *fun*! (To this day I love driving on mountain roads.) On the way, we would drive past the nearby “true” ghost town of Gold Road (“true” as in “completely abandoned”).
We would also point flashlights into abandoned mine shafts. I never actually went inside those mines, though. After all, there might have been bats and rattlers in there, and I wasn’t fond of any of those sorts of critters. Not to mention sharp dropoffs. I left that sort of exploration to my brother…! If we got bored with these explorations, we’d go down to the Colorado River to go swimming.
The article says: “But Oatman provides a good sense of what the frontier West was really like: rough, shabby, and naturally chaotic. Which brings us to the burros and the gunfighters.”
They didn't have the gunfighters in those days, but there were always burros roaming around town.
Between the 60s and the 80s, the town changed into a tourist trap. The last time I was in Oatman I’d gone back to Arizona for a Thanksgiving visit, and we decided to be tourists and headed up to Oatman for the day. There were burros. There were also gunfighters. There were antique stores and t-shirt shops and lots of tourists. It was odd, seeing this commercial overlay on top of the tiny town that I remembered from years past.
It was a lovely day. My father was tired, but doing quite well. He hadn’t been ill. I had no reason to think the end was near, and yet, somehow, I knew. We went to Oatman on Saturday. He passed away in his sleep on Monday.
Just before I left to return to California, my father – never a demonstrative man – gave my brother and myself a look of purest love. He said something mundane – I don’t recall what – but it wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it: love.