Love Letter to Tucson
by Beth Kozan
I was 26 when I moved to Tucson from Sierra Vista, Ariz. The US Army was the reason my husband and I were in Arizona at Fort Huachuca. (I can’t say the Army “moved us,” because any family of a drafted enlisted soldier followed them at their own expense.) We borrowed money from Doug’s mother and rented a U-Haul to move us from El Paso (Fort Bliss) to Sierra Vista. Army people told Doug, “You’re moving to the desert! It’s hot there; over 100° in the summer time.”
The irony of someone in El Paso saying “You’re going to the desert” is not lost on me today. We left a rocky terrain where the prickly pear grows to a height of perhaps 18”. On our first trip to Tucson, we got out of the car to take a picture of a saguaro that grew beside the road. I stood beside the cactus to give scale, holding the baby in my arms, and Doug stepped back to get the whole cactus in the frame. He stepped back and he stepped back. Then he stepped back some more. He got the picture, but we were ant-like beside the gigantic cactus that stretched at least 40 feet above me and the baby.
Doug got a job as a draftsman for the Physical Plant at the University of Arizona. Doug’s first paycheck came after he’d worked there for three weeks. Each of those weeks, I bought three items at the Lucky Market: American cheese, white bread, and the cheapest margarine (19¢ a pound) with which to grill our sandwiches. The baby had formula from the case we’d bought with Doug’s last Army check!
Doug continued to play bass with the Starlighters, a rock band that played weekend gigs at the Officer’s Club or the NCO Club at Fort Huachuca, or occasionally at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Each Sierra Vista weekend, we’d drive there and Chickee and I would visit the wife of the bandleader while Doug traveled to the gig with the bandleader, who played rhythm guitar and sang. After the gig, I’d drive us home to Tucson, with Doug and the baby sleeping in the backseat of the car – no car seats in those days! In July, that meant driving through the foothills of the Whetstones during monsoon rains with intense lightning and thunder – lightning that would dilate the eyes and make it hard to see the road. One December night in 1970, we returned about 1 a.m., and from the Interstate we could see that the Pioneer Hotel in downtown Tucson was on fire.
In the fall, I got a job teaching kindergarten at Tucson Nursery School in Pueblo Gardens. I loved those little kids who kept me laughing as I watched them learn and grow. One summer-like day in September, I was on playground duty. It was 103°. I stayed in the shade and thought, “I’m getting paid to play!”
Alas, our marriage did not survive. Doug believed Jack Weinberg, of the Free Speech Movement at Berkley, who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” Doug was approaching thirty, and he wanted to be free.
What was I to do? My high school history teacher was now Superintendent of Schools. Mr. Tyer had told me that if I ever wanted to move back to Floydada, he’d find me a job within the school district. So there was that. My folks would take me in, at least temporarily.
I drove out to Gates Pass at sundown. It was March, and the wildflowers were in bloom. I cried for a while. Then I stood up and said: “I want to give Arizona a try!” I love Tucson because it’s where I “grew up.”
Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Helping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.