I once had an American History teacher named Mr. Beidler. Honest. His first name is Mr. because I never learned his real name . . . and I regret it to this day.
Keep in mind that I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is important to my story for a couple of reasons. The first one is that Albuquerque is situated at the edge of the American Southwest desert. Also recall — or not — that I grew up in a day that could best be described as B.C.P. (before cell phones . . . and their handy little cameras). I know this is a shocking revelation. Yes, there are still those of us who never used the things. (Yup. And if you got sick at school, or they kicked you out — I have no personal knowledge of this, by the way — they had to call your mother and she would come to pick you up . . . if she had the family car that day. Otherwise, you walked. Those WEREN'T the days, my friend. (Sorry, that's part of the lyrics of a song from way back when -- well, okay, you get the drift.)
As I recall, Mr. Beidler had what I presumed to be a Texas accent, so I also presumed that’s where he grew up. I could be wrong. There are places in S.E. New Mexico where the residents also sound Texan. There are also places in--oh, let's say, Northeast Tennessee where he could have been from. He sure knew a lot about the place.
Mr. Beidler was middle-aged. That is to say--he could have been anywhere between twenty-five years old to fifty-five. He didn’t look young to me, but I was only thirteen at the time, and everybody older than thirty looked -- old. Anyway, he had sort of nondescript light brown hair, and blue-eyes. This describes somewhere around one-half of all the men in Texas who weren’t Black Americans or of Spanish descent. Mr. Beidler’s claim to fame, at least in my book, is that he achieved what I regard an impossibility. He fired my imagination.
I best recall a couple of stories he told us. The first regards Daniel Boone. Daniel hacked his way through otherwise impassable forests using a long knife. Whoa! Can you imagine such a place? A place with trees growing so close together you can’t get through except by hacking a path through with a knife? Think how sharp that knife must have been! For the most part, everything east of the Mississippi River once had such thick forests. Think of it as an ocean of trees. That thought alone fires my imagination. Come to think of it, it already has.
Anyway, I spent my early childhood in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That’s a city situated on the American Great Plains. Remember I said that Albuquerque borders the Southwest desert? We had a lot of tumbleweeds there, but that’s about it. Trees? Not so much.
Imagine my astonishment to learn that well within twenty miles of our house here in Northeast Tennessee is a place through which Daniel Boone traveled. It’s now called Boone’s Creek Falls. He was once forced to shelter beneath the falls from Indians trying to capture him. Shades of the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans” comes to mind! Falls on that creek? Yes, they’re still there. Now, in Albuquerque, the Rio Grande River runs through the city. When I was a child, we referred to it the Rio Trickle (okay, so we weren’t all that original), but irrigation along the length of the long river had taken its toll, even then. But a creek? A creek? I can’t imagine such a small waterway with falls large enough to shelter a man.
Nosiree. Keep in mind that I’ve traveled through western Colorado north of Durango on Hwy 550. Picture driving across Red Mountain which tops out at 11,075 feet. As you near the top, you see a sign that says, “Steep Grade Ahead.” So, then you begin to drop down into Ouray. S-l-o-w-l-y. They meant what they said about “Steep Grade Ahead.” It’s a curving two-lane road that clings to the mountainside and largely contributed to my intense fear of falling. It didn't do much for my love of flying, either.
No joke. My (Navy) husband was offered orders to Guam, among other places. I politely informed him that, if he accepted them, he’d go alone. I can’t imagine flying at 37K feet over the deepest fissure in the Earth’s crust, the Mariana Trench. That sucker is almost seven miles deep! Suffice it to say, my response was, “No Way In You-Know-Where!” (Except, I was a little more explicit.) Anyway, I had no plans in mind for making such a journey . . . no such bucket-list items. Not me. Nope. Not happening. My husband was no help. He consoled me with, “You wouldn’t even know you’d hit the water if you fell from 37,000 feet. You’d be dead way-y before then.” Oh, great. Thanks, dear! Very comforting . . . . Suffice it to say, we didn’t go to Guam.
So . . . back to the Cumberland Gap and those Conestoga wagons. (Sorry . . . I have a B-A-D habit of digressing.) At the time, I’m fairly sure I hadn’t even thought of either the place or the journey made by those early pioneers . . . until the B-I-G engine in my husband’s truck began lugging while towing our 27-foot fifth-wheel RV. At the time, I recall wondering if I needed to get out and push . . . which, of course, triggered my memory of Mr. Beidler’s description. It was only then that I saw a sign pointing the way toward the Cumberland Gap. Okay, so now I’m impressed.
And I thank you, Mr. Beidler. Taking American History from you was a rare privilege. You were an excellent teacher. By the way, my oldest friend and fellow classmate in your class, Terry Mora Sanchez, thinks so, too!
Cate . . . and Terry