“Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, what a fine site to see…..”
Whether they know who the Eagles are or not, ask anyone if they have ever heard these song lyrics and the answer is probably yes. Ask them if they have ever been to Winslow, Arizona and their answer is probably “maybe” or “not at all.”
The railroad town of Winslow, Arizona is home to me even though I reside in Flagstaff to attend Northern Arizona University as an education major. My roots in Arizona go back to the early 1900’s when my maternal and paternal great grandfathers came from a Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico and from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico to live and work in Winslow at building the railroads and maintaining the trains that were a lifeline to commerce in those days. They brought their wives, bore children, and raised their families in the sleepy, railroad town where everything is covered with red clay dust. Many of their descendants still live there and attend the schools and churches, and work and operate businesses. Why did these patriarchs choose to stay in Winslow and continue to raise their legacies instead of returning to their ancestral homelands? Maybe because a community such as Winslow had the perfect balance of what they needed to provide for their families as well as to continue the practice of Indian and Mexican cultures and traditions without the influence or diversions of the big city way of life? In asking my mother her thoughts, she expressed that they put their blood, sweat and tears into their work and way of life and this made it a sacred place for them. We inherit that and our hearts are here in our hometown.
Winslow is a mid-sized town that has grown to a population of about 11,000. My hometown had ceased to be a major port on the busy excursions of the famed Route 66 since the building of the I-40 bypass and this had caused the older central part of town to dwindle. Thanks to entities such as the city council, chamber of commerce and private citizens that realized the importance of taking pride in your home, the downtown area and historical places are being resurrected. The citizens can now enjoy a movie in a historic theatre that sat empty for many years. Old buildings have been turned into quaint little eateries, coffee shops and gift stores where the visitor can find many kinds of Route 66 memorabilia. The historic La Posada hotel once sat abandoned and came dangerously close to falling into ruin. It is now privately owned and once again serves as the beautiful tourist attraction that it was first intended to be by famous architect Mary Colter. This beautiful hotel accommodated many famous figures during the heyday of train travel. My maternal great grandmother worked as a pastry and pie maker for the restaurant of the La Posada where many of the travelers ate. Her son, my grandfather, once shared lemon meringue pie with John Wayne. No doubt, I am one of many Arizonans that have similar stories to share about our roots and how far back they go in our communities. If I had lived any place else, my own history would not be so rich and I am grateful to my family, the townspeople and political leaders that came years ago and through the reliance on teamwork, built the rural community. I am thankful for the present day residents who in their own rite are modern day pioneers, still trying to preserve the rural lifestyle.
It seems strange that people would visit a place to get a glimpse of what life “used” to be like because life in small Arizona communities probably has not changed much. Perhaps in the fast-paced progression of 21st century life, people yearn for the simplicity, respect and values that come from a small town way of life and wish this for their children and grandchildren. People are what make the town and if it is in their hearts then no matter the increase in population or commerce, the rural lifestyle will continue. To parallel the words of the song, “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,” I am proud to be a Winner from Winslow. As a fourth generation Arizonan, third generation Winslow High School graduate and third generation Northern Arizona University graduate come 2009, I wouldn’t live anywhere else but in Arizona! I want to stay in my small Arizona community where it is personal and things are familiar, where I know my ancestors worked so hard to build a good life and hoped the same for me. We Americans live in a materialistic world where the common belief is the more you acquire and accumulate, the better you are. A rural lifestyle places more value on spirituality, generosity, and family and I observe this in the members of the Winslow community.
A high school classmate of mine once said that her family encouraged her to leave Winslow because there was no opportunity there. I want to be a teacher someday and I could go off to a large east or west coast town where I hear the teachers make a high salary but I am not sure where the secure anchor is in those places. In my hometown, I know it is in the schools I attended, in the hearts of the teachers that taught me and in the church that gives me strength. It is in my family with their rural lifestyle and that to me is priceless. Opportunity always exists and it is what you make of it that creates the success. A strong belief of my family is to help those that have helped you so I plan on returning to Winslow to teach because I would not have been as successful without help from the community. I believe returning to my community to live and work and share my talents are in ways preserving and protecting the rural way of life.
If a person did not have the privilege of growing up in a rural Arizona community, it would not take long to grow accustomed to the lifestyle, because these are the basic human practices that feed the soul. There is something for every seeker in my hometown and it can quickly become “home” for anyone. There is a great cultural mix of people and Winslow is not far from anywhere. The beautiful Hopi mesas and Navajo reservation with its majestic geological rock formations are just to the north and if you desire to walk among the cool fragrant ponderosa pines then head a short distance to the south. A trip to Phoenix can happen in a day! Home is never far away when you are in the Grand Canyon State. Arizona’s many small communities need to be protected because the rural lifestyle with its security and strength promotes healthy moral values just like those my great grandparents had when they first came to Arizona. I now understand why they stayed.