I grew up in south-central Arizona in the small town of Oracle. In this charming town, I was given the life lessons to become a well-rounded and contented person. Very simply, I learned to be happy, because I was surrounded by safety, love, and support. The town, the community, the school, the landscape, and the individual people that touched my life all played a role in shaping who I am today. It was here that I learned the importance of community, family, and friends. Through my childhood experiences and having good people as examples, I learned values that would guide me through life. I am grateful for the town in which I grew up and gained my character.
We moved to Oracle when I was two, to be near our family. My mom was a single mother, trying to cope after a devastating divorce and struggling to support two kids on her own. We moved in with my grandparents, but Mom made sure it was only temporary. My mom began teaching first grade at Oracle Ridge Elementary. As soon as she earned her first paycheck, we moved in to our own place. She was now a working mom, and she needed to find someone she could trust to take care of her kids. This can be a difficult decision for a mother, but we were blessed that we didn’t have to look far. Mom began sending us to the local daycare run out of the home of a very special woman named Joy Niemeyer. We all called her Grandma Joy. Grandma Joy was a gentle, yet strong-willed woman who influenced me in a way that no other individual has. She was a cornerstone of the Oracle community, and she embraced my family whole-heartedly. Within her home and the community at large, we found the warmth and support that we needed during our rough transition.
The town of Oracle was a wonderful place to grow up. When my older brother Joseph and I were old enough to go to school, we went to the same school where my mom taught. My mom teaches in Tucson now, and she looks back on her years at Oracle Ridge with fondness, remembering a simpler time and place, free from much of the politics that develop at larger schools and the difficult demands now placed on all teachers. Mom was favored as a teacher for her innovative and caring approach. She even taught two of my best friends, Breelan and Kristen, who both also went to Grandma Joy’s.
Oracle was such a close-knit community, and the school was small enough that we could do things that would be unheard of at a larger school. For example, we had a school-wide sleepover at one time. We all brought sleeping bags and camped out in the library. Teachers read to us and we played games. It was so much fun! It was a special circumstance to be able to attend the same school where my mom taught. When my best friend Breelan and I would get in fights at recess, we would both go to class crying. My mom was Breelan’s teacher, and she would take Breelan out of class and come get me out of class so we could talk it over. Mom fixed everything.
Grandma Joy would pick us all up after school, and we would walk to her house. It wasn’t like these modern daycares where the kids are cooped up indoors, and are sat in front of a TV screen to keep them busy. If these kids are fortunate enough to go outside, they are corralled in a box-like yard with no space to run and play. Grandma Joy’s was just the opposite. There were trees and rocks to climb. There were boys and girls playhouses. There were monkey bars, swings, and a tunnel, and plenty of space to run around. We had the freedom to be imaginative and even the freedom to get hurt on occasion. They weren’t so worried about lawsuits that they wouldn’t allow us to be kids.
If we forgot our lunch, Grandma Joy would make us Spaghetti O’s or ramen noodles. In the summer time, she would let us play in the sprinklers. The only thing that could end our fun was when it was time to go home. At Grandma Joy’s retirement party, I spoke in front of all the guests, and in a tearful voice declared that I never even knew Grandma Joy’s name was Joy Niemeyer.
The wonderful people were the greatest aspect of the town of Oracle. Kristen and I started doing gymnastics, and when we got good enough, we had to commute all the way to Tucson three times a week for practice. Our moms teamed up, and worked out a carpooling system. Kristen’s mom Helen and her dad Greg were some of the wonderful people I’m talking about. They lived on Willow Springs Ranch, and my brother and I spent a lot of time with their family. They also had a son, and the boys would go out on the ranch, rounding up cattle. One of my best memories is when Greg took all us kids riding up the Black Mountain, and we camped under the starry sky.
I truly got to experience the singular beauty of the Oracle terrain when I visited Breelan’s house. She lived on a few acres of land, and there was a creek running through her yard. We would wade all the way down the creek in the cold water and swim in the waterfall that came under the bridge. There were lots of trees and greenery. She lived in a forested area, but there was also a mix of desert plants. Down stream, we found a giant tree that was nearly dead. All the dried-up branches hung down to the ground in a huge canopy. Being the explorers we were, we tunneled under the canopy and discovered that there was a vaulted room inside. We made this into a fort, and it provided a great hideout. When we climbed to the top, we could look out over the magnificent terrain.
The time I spent in Oracle, Arizona, the wonderful people my family encountered, and the memories we share will always be close to my heart. I will remember my childhood dearly. I never knew the struggles my mom went through to provide for her family, because I always had everything I needed. I had a comfortable home and people who cared and were there for us. That is truly what it means to be part of a community. Single mothers who work often face a no win situation, because they can’t spend enough time with their kids. Our family was blessed that my brother and I got all the nurturing and love we needed at home and at Grandma Joy’s. Kristen and Breelan are still my good friends, and it is fun to reminisce about the old days. Maybe someday I can give my children the childhood I cherish by raising them in Oracle, Arizona.