Serving The Communities Of Portal and Rodeo (www.portal-rodeo.com)
Written By Barbara Miller
Today, May 2 but in 1931 in Mesa AZ my Pete was born to Floyd and Aurelia Miller of 2 Az pioneer families. He grew up in Tempe AZ, the small town next to the flowing Salt River.. The river bed was sometimes running and was filled with large cottonwood trees and beavers. This was a great place for young Pete to spend times. His birth name was Floyd Hayden Miller Jr. but in 5th grade he and a friend decided they wanted to go by the name Pete. He did not want to be called “junior”. I wanted 2 syllables so for me he became Peter.
In high school Pete wanted to be in sports. Basketball was his dream But helping out the coaches and the teams was all he could participate in. He was too short. In his senior year he started his growth and finally toped out at 6 feet and 2 inches. And size 13 shoe. His Mom could not keep him in clothes and shoes that year.
Still living in Tempe with his family Pete started college in what is now Tempe’s ASU after his high school. graduation But he was soon drafted into the army . This was during the Korean war. After he went thru basic training he was put into the military police in the Joplin Mo. area. He was pretty young kid at 19. He told me stories of being paired up with an experience Philippine Sargent and most of what they did was finding the AWOL solders still kids who tried to go home. But he also worked in the prison. These jobs required a gun which he carried on his waist. That impressed me. But he never had to use it. .
After the military Pete came back to Tempe to finish up at ASU and then graduated with a degree in geology. His first job was with an oil drilling company in the 4 corners area of Northern AZ and New Mexico. Pete told me the stories of using his knowledge of geology to tell the drillers how far they would need to go to find the layer with the oil. There was excitement when they hit oil.
He learned to drive on those many dirt roads. On our early outings we use to kid him about driving slowly on the paved city roads but so fast when we were on dirt road trips.
I began my teaching career in the Tempe School System at an elementary school in old Tempe. I was the Kindergarten teacher. Pete’s Mom was also a 2nd grade teacher there. And she had a single son who worked at Motorola with integrated circuits. I was the single divorcee with 2 young sons who had come home to Tempe to finish my last year of college and get my teaching certificate. I don’t remember how we actually connected but it was that son Pete who asked me out and we began to date during that school year. When it was decided to make it a permanent situation we picked a date in February. I took a couple of days off and we drove to Las Vegas. Pete (the 37 year old bachelor) was so nervous I had to drive most of the way. He had a first release 1965 red convertible Mustang and he didn’t quite fit in curled up in the back seat. We were married in a little white wedding chapel that Las Vegas is known for. So this was 53 years ago this last Feb.
Then came Pete’s new job…to become a Dad . The boys were aged 7 and 9. And what a job he did. That first summer Pete planned the family trip to Yellowstone. We had this neat soft top tent camper which we pulled with a new blue Chevy station wagon that had replaced the red Mustang.. Pete came into our lives with a pair of beagle dogs. Kip was the male and Cindy was the female. Cindy had just had a litter of 8 puppies. We could not leave them in Tempe so they went with us on that vacation in a box in the back of the station wagon. That was when the people who ran the gas stations also put the gas in your tank. On one occasion the man holding the gas line became so entranced with the puppies he over filled the gas tank. This was one of the many camp out trips of those early years. And one year the boys and Pete had a long overnight backpack trip with dog Kip in the white mountains near Greer. Every time they would stop to rest Kip would find a lap to crawl in not wanting to be left behind.
Both our sons were involved in Scouting . So then Pete was too. There were scouting trips, and camp outs and badges to work on keeping him busy.
As the boys grew up and became more independent Pete and I started to do so much together. Weekends and holidays were time to go explore. We backpacked in the Superstition mountains besides weekend day hikes there. We marked up our Arizona topographical maps with all our hikes and redo’s.
Pete could always out walk me. I would quit and he would go on for another 20 or 25 minutes with his long leg strides to see what was ahead and report back to me. One hike we called the toilet paper trail. It was not a well used trail in the Superstitions but some one had marked it thus. On our overnights when we were deep into that desert mountains we were amazed at the glow in the sky from the Phoenix metro. area.
We and friends backpacked into Reeves Ranch and slept under the old apple orchard trees before rushing into the old house when it started to rain. We also learned the stars in the dark skies there just like Portal. We loved the outdoors. Pete joined me in learning the the names of the plants and flowers. The challenge to identify something new was good for our brains. The Phoenix valley area is surrounded with many mountains close enough so there was always somewhere new to go and investigate.
For both of us continued learning was something we liked to do. We were close enough to Mesa Community College to take night classes there. Pete continued with Geology and so we could join in on the Geology club field trips both local and semi local. One particularly interesting trip during Spring break was traveling along the US side of the Mexican border. It is called the Devil’s Highway, El Camino del Diablo, and was many miles of dirt road that became messy in the spring rain. We were two 4-wheel drive vehicles with our instructors and classmates . The trip began began just southwest of Ajo, Az. traveling through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. We had appropriate permits to be on this bombing range. We ended in the desert mountains near Yuma which, because of the rains were especially lush and the Tinajas Altas were filled with water. We learned how important these perched waterholes and water source were to the early pioneers on their way west.
It became our dream to live close to the outdoors. We often visited our friends the Fagan’s so retirement here in Portal became the dream.. In 1984 they communicated with us about this old house and in 1985 we committed to buying.it. Pete retired in 1989 and started coming down for a few days at a time to begin the project of making it more livable. Lou Mendoza built the bedroom in 1991. I retired and joined Pete living here in 1992. We had the new kitchen added in 1997 and continued the wonderful years in the Portal community. We could now take walks on our 5+ areas and have our two gardens, my flowers in front and his orchard and vegetables behind the house.
Pete took care of the first heliport at Portal Rescue planting grass and watering it and a number of trees. That is now under the large truck garage as Portal Rescue grew. Pete helped with the building of the classroom. He took over the collection of the aluminum cans taking them from the side of the post office to Douglas to receive the recycling money for Portal Rescue.
So it has been 35+ years Portal has been apart of our lives. We have grown older here. It came sooner for Pete as he was 7 years older. It was hard for him first to lose the ability to hike, then walk. And then the loss of most of his sight. But he could still enjoy sitting on our front porch where he could visit with his friends and watch the birds and animals.
Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the sun on unripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.’’
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not here, I did not die.
© Howard Topoff 2011
© Howard Topoff 2011