Through the years…Yuma Pioneer Flashback

I am a history buff. I studied history extensively in college and graduate school, and find that there is a certain romance in stories of bygone days.

I like rattling around in museums and recreating in my mind, just what it would have taken, for instance, to be a settler on the plains in the late 1880’s. That it was an inhospitable, arid land is a given, but the tenacity and perseverance of those that came west is a tale worthy of contemplation, and as I see the artifacts these pioneers left behind, I am reminded of the relatively easy life we enjoy today, and I am left to wonder whether or not we have the mettle that our predecessors did.

And while it is easy to romanticize the past, in reality it was often quite harsh and unforgiving, and the notions of an agrarian culture of common folk living in harmony with each other is more mythology than it is real. Many men and women of good intent and willing to work hard perished due to a broken wagon wheel, the whims of nature, or some disease that today would require nothing more than a trip to the local medical clinic to cure. Many families that traveled west experienced the death of a child at some point in their sojourns and the tombstones of small children stand as mute reminders of those tragedies.

Nonetheless, I am student of the past, and one of the manifestations of that interest expresses itself each week when I receive my copy of the Yuma Pioneer. Subsequent to reading the front page headlines, I begin my search for the Yuma Pioneer Flashback. It’s been my favorite portion of the paper for years and I read it with a mixture of memory, mild amusement, and awe at the passage of time.

I can’t really remember when I first began reading the Flashback, but I do remember thinking that the events depicted had happened in “ancient times.” And although some of the names in the accounts were “local” names that resonated with me, it wasn’t like I really had a personal connection to them or to the events with which they were associated.

My family and I moved to eastern Colorado from southern Indiana in 1962, and as a child, local events, unless they happened to people in my immediate circle went largely unnoticed. Thus when I would read about a fire in 1952 that destroyed a wheat crop or someone being thrown from a horse and losing the use of their legs, it was for me a dispassionate interest in folk history, rather than as a trip down memory lane.

That changed for me earlier this year when the Flashback portion of the Pioneer detailed in the “50 Years Ago (1967)” a series of shorts about a rash of break-ins that had occurred at Yuma High School. I matriculated to Yuma Union High School in the fall of 1966 and those break-ins triggered a personal memory.

I was a trombone player in the band. We marched at half-time of the football games, did somewhat jazzier numbers at basketball games and had the obligatory concerts for the community at least twice a year. My parents believed that if you were going to be in band, you needed to practice your instrument at home in addition to daily band practice and thus I generally took my trombone home each day, walking from the high school some eight blocks or so to the church manse where we resided. Needless to say, if I had a gym bag and books, it wasn’t much fun toting along the trombone, and on occasion, I would “forget” to bring it home. That was a rare event, because if questioned about the location of said trombone, I was likely to be in trouble for my failure to comply with my parents’ rules.

I vividly recall one weekend when I chose to leave my instrument at school. It was a busy weekend and my parents failed to note my sin of omission. Relieved I headed back to school on Monday morning only to find that my trombone, along with other instruments in the band room, had been vandalized. You can’t play trombone with a bent slide, and of course this necessitated me explaining the situation to my parents.

As I read the Pioneer that week, I was floored to think that I was now part of Flashback, and not from 10 or 20 years ago — no I was now in the “50 Years Ago” portion of the Flashback. I smiled at the memory and somehow, being included, though not even by name, in the history of the community made all the other events seem more personal to me.

Even now as I read from “60 Years Ago” the names are much more familiar than when I first began. And the events from “20 Years Ago”? These seem like they are barely in my rearview mirror.

Westfall can be reached at mammothrun@gmail.com.