Case VI: Chapter 6: Road Trip

Chapter 6: Road Trip

One afternoon, while Matthew Dudley was returning from a minor electrical repair job, he passed Larry Blackburn in the main lobby. “How is your scrapbook project coming along?” asked Dudley.

“Just fine.” responded Blackburn. “I’d like to show you my progress when you have a spare minute.”

“No problem, just give me a call.”

“I have a question about New Mexico that perhaps you could answer for me.”

“I’ll try.”

“I’ve been doing some reading about the history of the state and I understand that there has been a considerable amount of mining in the past. That is an area I’m particularly interested in.”

“You are correct. There has been quite a bit of mining in the state of many different kinds. There has been considerable copper mining in the southern part of the state, near Silver City. And there were the uranium mines out near Grants. Closer to Albuquerque, there was coal mining in Madrid and lots of smaller primitive mines in Cerrillos, just north of here.”

“I don’t think I mentioned it, but I spent my entire career in and around mining. In the Army, I was lucky enough to get assigned to vehicle maintenance and spent my entire time there, learning a great deal. When I got out and returned home to Hibbing, Minnesota, I landed a job with Caterpillar working on those big machines in the mining industry. It gave me a chance to see some of the very large-scale open pit mines and I’ve been fascinated by those operations ever since. I’d really like to visit some of the historical sites around here if it would be possible.”

“You’re in luck,” beamed Dudley. “I used to live in Cerrillos and was headed up that way one day next week to tend to a few things. If you’d like to come along, we can take the “scenic route” past some of the gravel pits near Bernalillo, across Santo Domingo Pueblo land to Madrid and then into Cerrillos. There’s a new Visitor Center at the Cerrillos Hills State Park that we can visit. That will give you a chance to see several kinds of things. We could go to Grants or Silver City at sometime later.”

“I would really appreciate it, if it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Not at all. It gives OJ and me a chance to visit and to take a break from our routine here. I’ll give you a call a day or two in advance.”

A few days later, after a pleasant day trip as Dudley had described, the three of them were driving south on I-25 from Cerrillos and, as they drove past the San Felipe Pueblo, Blackburn noticed a panel van in the next lane. He had to look twice to reassure himself that the lettering on the side of the van said Sanchez & Son, General Contractors Bernalillo, New Mexico. Excitedly, he said to Dudley, “Please ask OJ to follow that van. I believe it must belong to an old Army buddy of mine. It is very important to me that I speak to the driver.”

OJ followed the van as it took the Bernalillo 242 exit and pulled into the Conoco gas station. Blackburn jumped out of the van and ran up to the driver who had just begun pumping gas. “I’m looking for Eddie Sanchez from Bernalillo. You must be his son!”

“No, sorry. Eddie’s my boss. Can I help you?”

“I’m sorry for being so abrupt. Eddie Sanchez and I served in the Army together and I know he was from Bernalillo and that his father owned a plumbing contractor business. It would mean a great deal to me if you could help me find him. I’m not even sure this is the right Sanchez.”

“Slow down, Old Timer. There is only one Sanchez Contractor in Bernalillo, but you must be talking about Eddie’s father. I mean, given your age, you know.”

“You’re probably right. But, can you tell me how I can get in contact with him?”

“I can do better than that. I’m on my way to see Eddie right now to deliver some drawings. If you’ll follow me to The Range, I’ll introduce you to Eddie Sanchez.”

Blackburn went back to the truck where OJ and Dudley had been sitting and watching this exchange. “Could we follow that van to some place he called The Range? He’s going to take me to see an old Army buddy of mine. I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem, Señor Larry, but I won’t go into The Range; it’s much too fancy for me.”

“I’ll go with you, Larry, offered Dudley.”

OJ followed the Sanchez & Son van into Bernalillo and parked in the gravel lot across the street from The Range. Blackburn and Dudley walked into the restaurant where the driver was waiting and he motioned for them to follow him to a table in the main dining area. A young man and woman sat at the table and the young man rose and shook hands with the driver. “I hope you don’t mind, Boss, but I brought some guy to meet you. I actually think he’s looking for your father, but I’ll leave that to you to sort out. Anyway, here are the drawings for the new Kingston house for you to review. Nice to see you again, Mrs. Sanchez.” The driver handed over the roll of drawings and left.

Blackburn moved forward toward the table, unsure of what to do. The young man certainly resembled Eddie Sanchez. Blackburn decided to just plunge forward. He held out his hand and said, “My name is Laurence Blackburn and I served in the Army in Vietnam with Eddie Sanchez from Bernalillo. You are obviously not him, but I wonder if you could help me locate him.”

The young man took Blackburn’s hand and returned a firm handshake. “I am Eddie Sanchez and you are certainly referring to my father, but no one around here ever called him Eddie; it was always Eduardo. Please sit down and let’s talk. This is my wife, Brittney.”

Blackburn felt instantly at ease and asked if Dudley could join them.

Eddie Sanchez took the initiative to speak first. “Mr. Blackburn, it is a pleasure to meet you. My father never talked about his time in the Army and pretty much avoided any discussion of it when anyone asked. From the few comments he did make, I believe he was proud to have served his country, but deeply troubled by the experience. The only thing he ever really mentioned was how much the guys in his Unit meant to him.”

“You are correct; it was an awful experience. But, for me, it was the friendship of guys like you father that helped me get through it. He also talked a lot about his home and what a wonderful place it was and how much he missed his friends. In fact, it was his description of this place that encouraged me to move here when I retired and after my wife died. From what I’ve seen so far, his description was certainly accurate. I would really like to see him, not to talk about those times, but just to thank him for being a true friend.”

“Thank you very much for those thoughts, Mr. Blackburn. I’m afraid my father passed away late last year.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know you miss him a great deal.”

“Thank you. There might be something I could do, however. We are preparing to sell my parents’ house and I discovered a small shoe box containing some of what I believe to be my father’s Army memorabilia. Perhaps you could look through it and see if there is anything important.”

“I’d be honored, but shouldn’t your mother do that?”

“That would not be possible now. You see, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago and Brit and I can no longer care for her. Her folks are in failing health and it was just too much to care for all of them adequately. So, we arranged for Mama to live in a first-class retirement place called La Vida Aureo in Albuquerque. They have an excellent Memory Care unit and she is getting much better support than we were able to provide.”

“That’s a strange coincidence. I’m also living at La Vida Aureo and one of the main reasons I selected it was because of their capabilities for progressive care should I need it in the future. In fact, Mr. Dudley here also lives there.”

“Then, why don’t I bring my father’s box of Army stuff to La Vida Aureo for you when I come to visit Mama tomorrow afternoon?”

“That would be wonderful if it’s not too much trouble. I’ve been trying to organize a box of photos I have from my Army days and this would fit right in.”

Eddie Sanchez and Larry Blackburn rose and shook hands. Dudley felt a bit like a “fifth wheel”, but realized that he had just witnessed an example of true friendship. He knew that Blackburn’s comments had touched the young Eddie Sanchez.

Everyone left and Dudley and Blackburn found OJ sitting in his truck in the parking lot eating a large green chile cheeseburger from Blake’s Lotaburger! “Let’s get back to La Vida Aureo.”

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