By Paula Crites Pieri
I always loved horses and was so excited every year when World Championship Rodeo would come to town. The Rodeo parade was a highlight. We would sit on the fence on A Street and watch all the cowboys and floats go by. Some of the MHS band played at the rodeo, and my boyfriend played the base drum in the band. Fortunately, it was a large instrument, because I would sneak in every night, under the drum, so I would get in for free. I would sit on the rail and watch the whole rodeo –up close and personal. One time, it got a little too personal. One of the grand entry people came up and asked if I could ride, and I said yes. First of all, I had read every horse book and rented horses every year in Ruidoso, and, in my head, I thought I could ride. It became apparent, immediately, that thinking and reading and dreaming about horses does not make a good rider. I did get through the whole grand entry, probably with a look of sheer terror on my face, while galloping around in the arena. Fortunately I didn’t fall off and learned a very valuable lesson. DO NOT volunteer to do something unless you are VERY sure you know how to do it.
I enjoyed singing and was always in the choir. The highlight of our senior year was the production of “Carousel”. The stars of the show were Suzanne Martin and Tom Brown and they were so good.
We also loved Community Theater. Every summer we would volunteer to help with Summer Mummers and enjoyed it very much. Art Cole and his talent made the Community Theater one of the best in the U.S.
Our class of 1959 was the last graduating class at MHS before Lee High School opened. Most of us had grown up with each other, and even though our class was very large, we knew most everyone. Our graduation party was really great with a dance and live band at the auditorium followed by an all-night party at the Country Club.
Going through my life, I realize what a wonderful education I had in High School. Because of the great teachers at MHS, I was ahead of most people in college. When I write today, I always think of how Miss Taylor or Miss Perkins would grade my grammar and punctuation, or what Miss Parker would think of my drawings. We all loved “Preacher” the police officer who was always at our school. He was such a big presence in our lives that we invited him to all our reunions. We were so lucky to have these memories and share them with old friends so many years later.
After graduation, I went to Texas Tech. I enjoyed college life and meeting new people. I didn’t enjoy the really horrible sand storms that made the ones in Midland look mild in comparison. While at Tech, I met my husband, Francis Pieri, on a blind date in 1961.
He was an Air Force pilot, flying B-47s with Strategic Air Command, based at Dyess AFB in Abilene.
We got married on base in November of 1962-right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My well planned military wedding at Dyess AFB almost didn’t happen. Instead, all the Strategic Air Command pilots took off to secret locations; their planes loaded with hydrogen bombs. As I was pondering how to send out proper “Due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the wedding has been postponed” cards, he returned to Abilene. Because we had already planned our wedding, his commander said we could still have the ceremony, and he could wear his uniform instead of a flight suit. I know many of my relatives were surprised to see so many men were not dressed properly, but wearing flight suits and fully armed at the wedding. Instead of a shotgun wedding, I had a pistol and knife wedding. The pilots weren’t allowed to drink, so our friends, who weren’t pilots, took the left-over alcohol from the Officer’s Club and had a big party at the apartment near us. Many of our friends remember that party fondly. Since he couldn’t go further than 9 rings from the phone, we didn’t have a honeymoon. Too bad cell phones weren’t invented; they would have been really helpful. For those of you who didn’t know this little historic fact…it was the closest America ever came to nuclear war. After the “War’s Over” party, (that some remember, and some don’t), we left Texas for Mt. Home AFB, Idaho.
We loved spending three years in Idaho. My husband was gone a lot, with alert time and reflex to faraway places. During the “Cold War” we were always on the verge of some kind of nuclear attack. As a “dependent”, you get used to the long absences, not to ask questions about work, and not to whine and complain when he isn’t home for those anniversaries and holidays.
Since we didn’t have children at that time, we could take advantage of all the activities the area had to offer. I think those absences made the time he was home all that more special. We enjoyed all the outdoor activities around that area, and traveled all around Idaho, Washington, and Canada. I kept remarking over and over about how green everything was, and how many trees there were. It was like heaven after all those years in West Texas. We learned to ski at Sun Valley and to water-ski on the many lakes in the area. I taught him to fish for trout and took him to his first Rodeo. I volunteered with the Red Cross at the base hospital- but only when he was away on his many assignments to Guam, Japan and Alaska- and I ended up with more volunteer hours than anyone. Those of you who have been in the military know what wonderful friends you make during those years. Fortunately, the many reunions we have had over the years help us keep in touch.
In 1965, just before all the pilots were “frozen” in the military due to Viet Nam, he joined American Airlines. Our first assignment was New York. Living there was a huge “culture shock” for a Texas girl, since the people weren’t all that friendly. Long Island, NY, wasn’t our favorite place to live, but we had to live there for a year. We lived frugally on only $500 a month (plus we paid for a new baby). Interestingly, we lived just across the road from Sands Point, where the mansions of the local Mafia were located. I found out the “Godfather” movies were very real. Since it was an ethnic area, everyone wanted to know, as soon as they met you, what nationality you were. They would decide, then and there, if they liked you or not-depending on what country your family came from. My husband is Italian, and they couldn’t understand why he didn’t speak Italian and, most of all, why he married a non-Italian, non-Catholic Girl. I was a complete mystery to them, with my strange accent and friendly attitude. I finally told them I was Texan-my parents were Texans my Grandparents were Texans and my Great Grandparents were Texan. After that, they had no idea what to say, so they didn’t talk to me at all. My son asked what nationality he is, and I told him he is half Italian and half Texan.
Our daughter, Lisa, was born in New York in 1966. Soon after, we moved to Lake Mohawk, N.J. for 8 months. Even though it was very nice there, we couldn’t wait to leave the East Coast and get back West.
In 1967, we were visiting my husband’s family in Southern California and found the lovely area of Laguna Niguel. It is located near Laguna Beach and is a few minutes from the beautiful Pacific Ocean. After all those “water deprived” years in Midland, I knew I was meant to live here. Our son, Dave, was born soon after we moved.
Fortunately, the airlines have given us a wonderful way to show our children the world, and we have enjoyed traveling. Most of our vacation time was spent in Hawaii. We have also had wonderful trips to Europe, Australia, Tahiti, and Alaska, sailed the Caribbean, and traveled to many beautiful places in the U.S. His last ten years with American Airlines were spent flying the DC-10 from LA to Hawaii. We were able to go with him on his trips and think of Hawaii as a second home.
Over the years, I kept busy with volunteer work and the kid’s many sports activities. My daughter loved horses as much as I always have, and she got her first horse at age ten. She quickly surpassed my meager riding abilities, and was a State hunter/jumper champion by the age of 14. I was involved in the horse business of buying, selling, and training and competing, but mostly I was her groom. I loved every minute of it. We traveled all over, and she qualified to ride at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. It was like a traveling Soap Opera- never a dull moment. Her friends ranged from Paul Newman’s daughter to the girl who lived out of her van. Many of Lisa’s friends were in the Olympics, and one of her friends won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Our son, Dave, was very good at surfing, soccer, and baseball, but his first love was Windsurfing. When he was a senior in High School, he competed in the World Championships in Brazil. He met people from all over the world and really enjoyed himself. Several of his friends have represented Australia and Mexico in the Olympics, and one of his local teammates, represented the USA in two Olympics.
Lisa graduated from Embry Riddle University and was on her way to becoming an airline pilot like her Dad. Tragically, she developed cancer and passed away in 1995. We will always be devastated by the loss of our beautiful, funny, intelligent daughter.
Our son graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and is now a California Highway Patrol officer. He is married to a wonderful girl, and they have two boys. In 2016, we moved to Oceanside, CA to be closer to the kids.
My husband is retired from the airlines in 1993, and is busy with many different activities. He helps restore old World War II airplanes at the Planes of Fame museum in Chino. The planes are flown in movies and at air shows all over the nation. Sometimes, if he is lucky, he gets to actually fly them. Mostly, we enjoy being together, walking by the ocean or at a park near our house and being with our family.
I know most of us wouldn’t trade growing up in Midland for anything. We have all had interesting and exciting lives made all the better because of our childhood. It gave us an anchor and the ability to appreciate the most important things-family and old friends.