We have driven up to Greeley, where George’s 88-year-old father and his brother live. The only reason they live in Greeley is because of the University of Northern Colorado, which, when it was still Colorado State Teacher’s College, hired George Sr. to teach American history. He taught there for some 30 years; George got his undergraduate degree from this UNC because his father was on the faculty there.
George was in 5th grade when they moved to the town; his brother Steve was 7 years old. Aside from the college, the town has what was once the world’s largest feeder lots, Montforts, which was the subject of Frederick Wiseman’s documentary on the meat industry. You can always tell when you are getting close to Greeley because of the smell of the feeder lots, which permeated the whole town; I think the lots must be much smaller than they were, but the smell is still here. The local paper reported this morning that the other big business in the region is Leprino Cheese, which is the biggest producer of mozzarella cheese in the world, using 5 million gallons of milk a DAY. One would think it might make Greeley relatively prosperous, but of course unions are not allowed in either of this industries, so workers aren’t paid enough to get out of the lower rungs. The streets have some substantial buildings and some nice houses, but it has never seemed more than a small agricultural town with a substantial Mexican population to me. And also some great prairie dog towns, which are what those cryptic photos above are about. Love those critters!
As anyone who has read James Michener’s Centennial knows, Greeley was the inspiration for the book: named after Horace Greeley, the famous journalist who declared “go West, young man”, the town was founded in the 1870s by a utopian moralist named Nathan Meeker, who brought an idealistic group of settlers to the plains and ended up with a stake in his heart when he tried to stop the local Native population from gambling–or that, at least, is the story George remembers from his 5th grade history lessons. My very favorite story about Greeley, though, is that it was in this town that a disgruntled Egyptian student, sent to study here at the teacher’s college in 1946, was so appalled at what he saw as the decadence of the young people in this rural burg on the Colorado plains–young girls dancing!–that he went home to Egypt and wrote the text that would become the inspiration for the Al Qaeda movement. Just think of it: Greeley as having something to do with Osama bin Laden and his momentous actions! Here is the story: http://www.5280.com/magazine/2003/06/al-qaeda%E2%80%99s-greeley-roots?page=full
George’s father is now very frail and stooped over, but still insisting that he will not leave his three-story house, even though he has been falling, and won’t even use a cane. We all know where this is heading, don’t we? But it was good to see him, and listen to the same stories he has been telling us for the last 40 years, and sitting outside so we can avoid the chain smoking haze as much as we can. The same group of people come over that have been coming over for the last 40 years, and after George Sr. has had enough, he dismisses us abruptly, and we must leave as quickly as we can. He will follow us onto the street to make sure we’re gone. But he’s very happy to see Dottie and Max–especially Dottie, who, I think, reminds him of George’s mother, his first wife who died when George was 24; I never met her.
This time we’re staying at Steve’s house, which is huge and always spotless. It is absolutely astonishing to me that two completely disparate personalities could have been raised in the same household. But here in one of the 5 bedrooms I found on the wall the only photo I have ever seen of their parents’ wedding–they were not much of a photo-taking family, and I haven’t seen more than two or three photos of their mother at all. But here they are, looking so young (they were 21), and so innocent. I wish I had known her, and I wish I had seen these photos before.