When Kaz and I moved to Oracle we were mightily impressed by the number of residents who could make things - sometimes beautiful, sometimes functional, sometimes a combination of the two. We called on some of them to improve the old house we had just purchased. Not just Dub Ragels, the plumber, but others who had learned their trades as carpenters, boilermakers, welders, heavy equipment operators and the like.
Of course, at first we had no idea what mine, mill and smelter work had to do with proliferation of "the crafts" in Oracle. But listening to the connections embedded in personal stories helped assemble a picture of how mining informed so many work lives.
On the farm where my grandfather grew up, a place where generations of Pierson owners labored mightily on the same acreage as far back as 1790, mastery of the skills, habits and practices that small scale farming entails meant the difference between living decently and forfeiture of the land itself. In current times Orrin and Jackie Pierson raised four remarkable daughters there one of whom is named after my mother. The story continues.
Frank and Rita, my parents, actually made jokes about my father being unable to hammer a nail into a wall to hang a picture. So different was my upbringing from the demands and satisfactions of farm life. Silas Pierson's boys - four including my father - were raised in Denver in a family headed by a major corporate executive with the resources to pay others to perform what was then described as "manual labor". Silas himself was raised on the Pierson Farm but thereafter kept his distance - except to visit, lend money and offer pointed management advice from time to time.
The individual in family history with whom I most identify in our move to Oracle is my uncle Orrin. Though he died before I was born (as did two of his siblings) the arc of his life in some ways resembled and even inspires mine. Orrin was at first a reluctant farmer - driven by necessity to take over the Pierson Farm with his wife Edna during the Great Depression. Thereafter they plunged into farm and community life. Orrin turned his farming experience into grist for his other passion - writing. He proved a very good writer, authoring some 1,000 columns for the local newspaper thereby becoming a revered player in community life in the process. Many of those columns authored by Orrin as The Gleaner, were published posthumously in a wonderful little book, Off Our Back Stoep, The Chronicle Of A Farmer's Year.
I acknowledge that drawing parallels between farming, the trades and organizing is a stretch but perhaps not quite as far as it appears on first glance. At root community organizing is a trade focused on habits and practices of local relationship building and concrete action - not the more grandiose schemes of "revolutionary" social change that attract some of its practitioners, including myself, from time to time.
Kaz and I moved to Oracle in 1979. The house we bought dated to the late 1940s. With little advance knowledge of the place, we set out to build a new life together, intending to settle in and raise a family.