I have always been drawn to colorful characters, the mildly
eccentric, the people who march to the tune of a different drummer. To be honest, this affinity can be summed with the old analogy about birds of feather flocking together. For about as long as can be remembered I have been viewed as an eccentric, an independent thinker, a colorful character. I don’t see this as a bad thing. In fact, it could be said that I have made it a career of sorts.
Yesterday during a Promote Kingman walking tour through the historic district, as I shared stories about area history accented with photos from the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, my thoughts turned toward colorful characters of the past, the ones that have crossed my path over the years, and the character that I have become. It was hard not to, after all I did mention Harry Nipple (1876 – 1961), the source of countless jokes made by teenage boys in Kingman.
My first gainful employment (two shiny quarters per week, the price of a movie ticket and candy bar) was for Ed Edgerton of Ed’s Camp along an old alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of Arizona. My job was to water the tomato plants and pull a weed or two in his garden. If I had been a bit older, the compensation would have been much greater as Edgerton was full of stories about life in the Arizona desert since 1919, and running a business on Route 66. Still, tagging along for desert adventures to places such as the old Kings Dairy are cherished memories.
One of the most influential men in my early life was a weathered old cowboy named Brad, a very colorful character to say the very least. Our association was relatively brief, just a few months when I worked on a ranch along the Mimbres River in New Mexico, and another couple of months when we worked together near Hachita a few miles to the south.
He looked the part, almost as though he had studied to become a stand in on some epic western. He was a hair over six-foot tall, and thin enough to hide behind a flagpole. He rolled his own smokes, and could do it in hard desert wind, but wasn’t adverse to smoking a store bought, if they were non filter. His hands, face, and neck were like tanned leather, but forehead and wrists were white as snow.
His battered, sweat stained hat had a hint that it might have once been of the Montana style. His best attire, reserved for a weekend in town, a rare date, or meeting with folks, consisted of worn but clean and oiled boots, faded jeans, and a western style shirt with pearl snaps and pockets. The work attire was similar, just a bit more wear around the edges, a few patches, and the boots were scuffed.
He was of indeterminate age. My guess was that he was between sixty and two-hundred years of age. His gnarled and scarred hands, a faint white scar in an eyebrow and another on the upper lip, and a lopsided flat nose hinted of a youth spent as a scrapper, and years of hard work. His washed out blue eyes stood in stark contrast.
His philosophical view of life honed and sharpened mine, which was in a state of development. He referred to himself as an optimistic pessimist. As he put, every day started with deep meditation on how bad the day was going to be and come supper time, he was the only one smiling. It wasn’t as bad as he thought.
Political correctness, and a wave of generic motels, stores, and restaurants have washed the color, the vibrancy from the American fabric. There are pockets where the color remains, such as the Route 66 corridor. It also survives in our colorful characters, and I am honored to be considered one of these.