Downtown Dallas, 1955. I love the stance of Officer Friendly as he watches to keep the pedestrians safe at the crossing. Notice the lack of hats. In the 1920’s no man or woman would have ventured outdoors without one but this is the 50’s. The derby, the fedora and the homburg are gone, along with the panama and the bangkok, the snap-brim and the porkpies, and all the wonderfully fashionable women’s hats of earlier times. Today, the heads are bare, except for the officer’s. Never fear- 1939 saw the advent of Little League Baseball and in another decade or so the ubiquitous baseball cap will outnumber people! Who would have guessed?
She lived in my aunts’ Old Folk’s Home in Hot Springs, Arkansas during the late 1950’s. How many of you remember the iron lung? It breathed for her. The doctors called it state of the art health care – how quickly the world turns! I don’t remember her name anymore, but I do recall her smile and her sweet spirit, content and undefeated. Her upper body and lungs were paralyzed but her feet worked fine so she taught herself to paint and sew with her toes. Magic! Dad bought one of her paintings and proudly displayed it in our home for many years but it is lost now, a victim to time. It was a seascape of waves crashing against the coast. I wonder if she meant it as a self-portrait? Her spirit, brave as the sea, threw itself indefatigably onto the rocky shores of her life. Valiant lady!
Dad had a thing for ghosts – for pasts hinted at in tattered curtains, broken walls, wrinkled faces. He was drawn to the mystery of lives lost to memory.
Fort Davis beckoned him many times and on this day, a heavy morning fog obscured the crumbling adobe of the abandoned fort. Down there somewhere wanders the ghosts of Diedrick Dutchover and Big Foot Wallace who prospered at this crossroad, Chief Nicolas of the Apaches who once burned the fort, soldiers of the Ninth United States Calvary who later reclaimed it, and the most unfortunate Dolores Gavino Doporto.
Delores met Jose in 1850, or thereabouts. They fell in love and planned to marry. Jose was a goatherd. The land was dry and lean, his goats thirsty and leaner. He worked hard to build a future for Delores, wandering like a nomad with his goats over miles of lonely desert searching for grass and water. His work took him away from Delores for many days at a time, so every Thursday night, in the gloaming, she climbed a low mountain south of Fort Davis, gathered dry mesquite and lit a signal fire for her betrothed to say, “I am well. I miss you. Please return soon.”
Their wedding day approached and Jose went, as always, into the mountains to tend his goats and fatten them for Delores. But this time Jose did not return – he was surprised by Mescaleros who scalped and murdered him.
How does one measure the fullness of love? Delores Gavino Doporto measured it in devotion and remembrance. For more than forty years, until her death in 1893, Delores climbed that low mountain south of Fort Davis every Thursday night, in the gloaming, gathered dry mesquite and lit her signal fire. And her message rose with the unquenchable sparks of her love for Jose, “I am well, I am yours forever, and we shall meet again.”
It is a small room and she has only a few students, each hard at work. It is hot along the river – I wonder how she wears a sweater and shawl, but her students are dressed for heat and the door is open in hopes a breeze can find its way in. Outside the heat rolls of the land.
More images from Dad’s essay on the Old Folk Home. When we are young we love passionately, daringly. When we are old, tenderness and faithfulness define our love.
She kept her room dark, I don’t know why. She was odd but I liked her immensely. Her birds were the great loves of her life.
He was always alone and always outside in the yard. My Dad told me he wanted to escape. I feared he might climb that fence, but I suppose he never did. I was very sorry for him. These scans were made from photographs printed a half century ago.
From Dad’s photographic essay on the Arkansas Old Folk Home. I talk to one of the residents. I can’t remember his name, only his face and his kindly manner. I have always been drawn to the elderly. They are the wise and the kind and the prudent of the world. And the day approaches when they shall meet their God. May that day be blessed for them and for us all.