Bill Roer’s skills included buying cattle, selling cattle, roping cattle, and telling stories.
When I was a kid, the Roer family had a farm on Northern Avenue, west of 23rd Avenue. That was north of Phoenix then, but now it’s almost downtown. The northbound fast lane of Interstate 17 runs through the spot where the Roer home stood.
Bill and his brothers used to stage rodeos on the farm. Being short of fences, they asked spectators to park their cars in a circle to help contain the animals.
One cowboy was bucked off a bronc and fell through the roof of one of those old soft-topped sedans from the 1920s. He landed in the back seat, where a partially disrobed couple was making out.
Bill, the pick-up rider, rode up to the car on horseback,looked in and asked, “What’s going on?”
The cowboy answered, “I don’t know. I just got here.”
That’s how I feel about my 70s–I just got here. Last Sunday was my 70th birthday. My face has worn out three bodies, but friends say I don’t look a day over 80.
I have usually just worked my way up through the gears from decade to decade, trying to not pay much attention to actuarial tables.
However, 70 is a serious number. Miss Ellie pays special attention to birthdays which have zeros in them. She hosted a splendid party for me, a grand assemblage of relatives and friends.
While it is not an original thought, reaching 70 surely beats not reaching 70. Elvis Presley, born the same year I was, didn’t make it. The Dalai Lama recently celebrated his 70th, a landmark in Asian cultures, the start of old age.
About 25 years ago, people I loved began dying without my permission. Since then, I have tried to value each day that I can avoid becoming part of the topsoil
I’m a product of good genes and bad habits. For all the conditions I’m being treated for, I feel pretty good. It just takes longer to do less.
I am blessed with good looks and a delightful personality, and cursed with a good memory. I have a wealth of friends, and 11 descendants, and I can remember all their names, most of the time. I have had two good marriages, and a career that let me roam the state for decades, soaking up its lore and its stories.
If I have any regret, it is that I did not write faster. My head is full of stories that haven’t been written, and may not be–stories like Bill Roer’s little rodeos.
What’s slowing me down may be age, and the resulting lead near the seat of my pants, or it could be that the miscellaneous stories and little-known facts don’t organize themselves into any kind of coherent book.
Let me share with you one such yarn, about my humble beginnings. When it was time for me to be born, at the end of a long, hot summer, Mom and I could not agree on the time of my arrival.
She thought I was ready, so Dad drove us from Peoria to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. Doctors there said I was going to be bashful. This was during the Great Depression Dad was . driving long-haul trucks, hauling cattle and cotton to Los Angeles, for 25 or 30 cents an hour. He couldn’t afford to keep taking time off to run to the hospital.
So Mom stayed with a former bootlegger,a woman named Mickey. During Prohibition (1920-1933), Mickey had run a popular speakeasy near downtown Phoenix. Cops and political figures drank there.
My parents said the sheriff drank there 29 nights out of the month, and busted the place on the 30th night, to keep up appearances, but that may have just been talk.
Mom was a friend of Mickey’s daughter. Mom and her brother rented a room upstairs above the speak. They may still have been living there when Mom and Dad married at the end of 1933.
We stayed with Mickey for the week before I was born.
I’d heard allusions to that story all my life. Fifteen or 20 years ago, I learned that Mickey was still alive in LA. I phoned her.
She was 90, and when she heard my name, she said in a brassy voice, “Damn, I feel like I’ve heard from a long-lost relative.”
We had a good visit. She repeated in detail the week leading to my birth. She told me a little about the bootlegging business. She said she and one prominent grocer used to loan each other beer when one or the other ran out.
I wanted to write a newspaper column about Mickey’s experiences. Her husband objected. Mickey said he was the only man who ever treated her decently, and she was not about to go against his wishes.
She hoped that he would change his mind, but Mickey died, and her stories died with her.
I have others. I’ve been gathering them for a while.