March 15, 2002
Dear Subscriber:

My in-laws are impressive people.

Besides a rich pioneering lineage, Gerald and Jean Thomas have
a list of personal accomplishments that fill volumes. Gerald
worked his way through college in the depression days. He was a
torpedo plane pilot during the second World War. After the war
he earned his Doctorate, became Dean of Agriculture at Texas
Tech University and then President of New Mexico State

Before marrying Gerald, Jean Ellis was a school teacher in
Idaho. She says that even after all these years, teaching kids
is still one part of her life that was especially gratifying.

After she and Gerald married, she became the wind beneath his
wings. She created a home environment for their three kids
while handling her roll as First Lady of New Mexico State with
complete class.

I married the Thomas' daughter in 1983. While the
accomplishments of Peggy's daddy were well known, it wasn't
long before I realized Jean wasn't just the Donna Reed of this

I was there one night at a ceremony when Jean was chosen to
receive the prestigious Regent's Medal at NMSU. It came as a
bit of a surprise. Most everyone there expected Gerald to get
the award since he was close to retirement.

Jean's acceptance speech was short and very moving. On that day
I quit thinking of my mother-in-law as the family's support
system. She was truly a strong and capable individual in her
own right.

Then there was that day about 5 years ago, while Peg and I were
sitting around the breakfast table in our Cloudcroft home with
Peg's mother and dad, listening to their reminiscences, when
Jean spilled the beans.

It seems Jean had enlisted in the US Navy toward the end of
the second World War, and then didn't show up for active duty.

My mother-in-law went AWOL!

First it was the suspected fiction surrounding the existence of
the Easter Bunny. Then the same nasty rumors about Santa

Now I discover this woman of such high standards had become a
fugitive from justice.

How many disappointments was I expected to endure in my life-

As a tear formed in the corner of my eye, Peggy's dad clarified
the story of his outlaw wife.

World War II. Two young people in love. Gerald left for the
Pacific Theater. His immediate future involved fighting and
perhaps making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. As it
was with many soldiers, Gerald didn't want to tie Jean to the
uncertainties brought on by the war. While they were both aware
of their feelings for each other, the subject of marriage would
have to wait until after the war.

Jean didn't know what to expect during that prolonged and savage
conflict. While the notion went unspoken, she couldn't be sure
Gerald would return. Even at that young age, she was a person
of action. She decided to do her part for her country. She
enlisted in the Navy.

After she was sworn in, the Navy brass told her to return home.
She would be called when they decided what her assignment would
be. She had been taking flying lessons (a rarity for a lady in
those days). Would she become a war pilot herself? No telling
what kind of history would be written by this determined young

Fate changed her life's direction again. Gerald finished his
duty as a war pilot and was assigned by the Navy as an
instructor pilot at a base in South Texas. He was free to
express his devotion to Jean and to ask for her hand in
marriage. Jean accepted, but there was one problem.

Jean was a G.I.

She and Gerald contacted the Navy Department. It was a simple
request. Allow Jean an honorable discharge so she and her man
could marry.

Perhaps because of Gerald's Veteran status and since the war
was winding down, the Navy looked favorably upon the request. A
discharge would be forthcoming for the future Mrs. Thomas, but
they were told these things take time.

Jean Ellis and Gerald Thomas were married on June 2, 1945 in
Corpus Christi, Texas. It was before Jean was issued an
official discharge. Since she had already been told she could
eventually expect her release papers, she didn't bother to tell
the Navy where she was.

There's no way around it. My mother-in-law went AWOL.

I only hope that now that Jean has come clean about the
skeleton in her otherwise impeccable closet, that the government
will go easy on her. In the over 50 years since she went over
the wall, she has led an exemplary life full of accomplishment.

Dr. Thomas says he is willing the testify on his wife's behalf.

He says he was a young and handsome war pilot. It was enough to
make any young lady go temporarily insane.

Don Vanlandingham

It is spring-like in the Sacramentos. The return of warm
weather after the deep freeze in late February caused some
water pipe problems for a few, but it comes with the territory.

Highs are around 60. Lows around 30. What snow there is, is
melting rapidly.
The Forestry Division's seedling program has begun.

Purchasers of the seedlings must own at least an acre of land
and must demonstrate they will use the young trees for
conservation purposes such as windbreaks, erosion control and
fire recovery.

For more details, contact the New Mexico Forestry Division.
(505) 354-2231.
New Mexico Big Game Hunts: Elk, Mule Deer, Bear, Mountain Lion,
Turkey. High success, excellent guides. Bow, rifle,
muzzleloader. Contact Harry Wood Guide and Outfitter,
4184 CR149, Centerville, TX 75833, email
cloudcroft2000@hotmail.com or call (903) 536-7130.
The Trinity Site -- where the first atomic bomb was exploded on
July 16, 1945 -- is 110 miles south of Albuquerque between the
Oscura mountains on the east and the San Mateo mountains on the
west. It is about 60 miles northwest of Alamogordo. The site is
open to the public twice a year -- on the first Saturday in
April and the first Saturday in October.
Q - Has Don Vanlandingham ever written a book?

A - Did Mark Twain have a mustache? You bet I have written
published works.

I wrote the West Texas Almanac for 8 years while working for
KLLL radio in Lubbock.

I have written several mean and spiteful letters to the editor
in various newspapers.

To those of you that have prompted me to compile a book of
stories like those that appear in The Newsletter...I'm thinking
about it.
Through March 17 -- Sunset Stroll Nature Walk. White Sands
National Monument. 5pm daily.

March 23 -- Dance and auction fund-raiser. 6:30pm, Weed, NM.

March 23 -- FCE quilt show. Otero County Fairgrounds,

March 30 -- Easter Bonnet Parade. Downtown Cloudcroft. 2pm.
For more information, call (505) 682-2733.

March 31 -- Easter Egg Hunt, Zenith Park, 10am.
For more information, call (505) 682-2733.

April 26-28 -- Cloudcroft Dance Theatre, Artesia.
For more information, call (505) 687-3192.

May 4-5 -- High Altitude Classic Bike Race.
For more information, call (505) 682-1229.

May 11 -- Old Timer's Reunion, Cloudcroft High School, 12pm.
For more information, call (505) 682-2932.

Lydia Aspen will have an autobiographical art exhibit at the
NMSU-A Townsend Library Gallery through March and will be
performing March 21, 7pm in room 128 in the Technical Education
Building located above the library. The performance, The
Creative Paradox, will be improvisational.

Cloudcroft Art Society meets the first Sunday of each month,
2-4pm, in the Old Red Brick School House. Call (505) 682-2494
for more information.

Senior Van from Timberon to Alamogordo leaves the Timberon
Lodge promptly at 8:30am every Tuesday morning.

If you have news of public events in the Cloudcroft area, email

For an online calendar of area events, click the Events Calendar
link in the left column of our home page:


Dear Newsletter:

CONGRATULATIONS on your 100th newsletter! Keep 'em coming!

Carole Arnold
El Paso, TX

Dear Newsletter:

I can't help but comment on the way you build a "Mind Picture"
in your descriptions of "The Haircut" and the events that led
up to it. 

Took me back in time, as well. Where is this barbershop, so I
can time a trip to Cloudcroft when I need a haircut?

It reminded me of growing up in Abilene in the 50's. (I'm 52
now, and been living in Lubbock since '67 - still go to Byer's
Barbershop here, and it's almost as good).

I remember you from your media days here. 

Friend of mine sent me the "Subscribe" URL info to your
Cloudcroft newsletter. Really enjoy getting it. Have always
enjoyed going to Cloudcroft & Ruidoso since discovering them
during my Texas Tech college days. Also enjoy the High Pecos
area NW of Las Vegas, NM. 

Keep up the good work. 

BTW - someone else who has "blossomed" out with a column - I'm
sure you remember him - is the venerable Burle Pettit, Lubbock
A-J Editor Emeritus. Now that he's really not responsible for
the "A-J", he likes to tell it like it is, and frequently
reminisces about his childhood days in Moran, TX; and sometimes
his dog, "Schnopper" writes his Sunday column. If you like, you
can peruse some of his work at: 


Here's hoping both of you get syndicated columns!

Thanks again for the "Mind Picture". 

Doug Triplett 
Lubbock, TX

Dear Newsletter:

With regard to your barbershop visit...no bay rum? Even though
my husband gets his haircut by a girl at work and my son is off
and married, I can still smell that stuff!

Carol Koss 

Dear Newsletter:

Hey Don, you either forgot to mention the shoulder and neck
massage with Robert's hand-held vibrator, or you're afraid to
use the word "vibrator" these days, or Robert was in a hurry to
get to the next customer and short-changed you.

You also forgot to mention it's still only seven bucks!

Luckily I have a similar candy-cane barber shop here in Ruidoso,
but it's ten bucks minimum and no massage, although I do get
my ear hairs and eyebrows trimmed.

These barber shops are now almost antiques themselves. We need
to declare them National Historic treasures so that they are
preserved - at least until you and I don't need them any longer.

Jack in Ruidoso

Dear Newsletter:

I've been enjoying your newsletter for many months before
moving here from California in August. I love it here, but...
being a widow, eligible men above the age of 50 are hard to

I got to thinking about your friend who moved in order to help
our country, but then I never heard any updates. It would be
nice to have someone that I could remind to get his hair cut. 

Thanks for my Thursday treat.

A Mountain Mama

Dear Newsletter:

Thanks for a terrific barbershop story. But what, no mention of
a gumball machine at the barber shop? I guess if there had been
one in sight, you'd have provided us with a nostalgic trip down
gumball lane. However you're absolutely right, Don. A trip to
the barbershop was a social event, not a haircut thing. 

In Carlsbad in the 1950's when I was a boy, my neighborhood had
the same kind of barbershop you mentioned...only better (at
least in my memory). It was literally right in the neighborhood,
in the front part of the barber's home. Only the barber pole
out front distinguished it from any other home, but it was a
virtual Southwestern natural history museum...the mounted head
of practically every fierce (and maybe not so fierce) animal
that roamed the desert, Guadalupes, and Sacramentos, a vast
collection of arrowheads, spearheads, and pottery, all kinds of
other artifacts indigenous to the Southwest, placed somewhat
orderly in glass cases with pictures and newspaper articles
covering the walls, hardly an inch of unused space left. That
all provided many cherished dreams of safaris, big game hunts
and discovering the lost city of Cibola. 

And out in front of the shop stood that enticing, colorful
gumball machine, always a treat AFTER the haircut, but an
integral part of the "social event." I loved to get the blue,
red or black gumballs, but always seemed to get the green one,
a bitter spearmint or some flavor like that. I think the
gumball machine knew I'd been a little feisty that week, so
no reward for me.

Well, one penny down the drain, but the Lion's Club would be
happy I'd contributed to their cause to provide sight to those
needing glasses. Maybe in two weeks (yes, every other week
without fail) I'd hit the jackpot...a red and blue or black
gumball with one penny! WOW! Oh, yeah, the haircut was OK, too.

Jim Ground
Irvine, CA

Dear Newsletter:

I have been reading your newsletter so long now that I am
actually looking forward to Thursdays because of your column
in my e-mail.

Thank you for your "down home" style of writing. It's almost
like we have known you all our lives and you are a family
member. Next time I am in Cloudcroft, I sure would like to
meet you and Peg so I could put a face with your column. 

Thanks again,
Malcolm Crawford
Snyder, Texas

Dear Newsletter:

Love the letter from Mr. White!

Beth Scott

Dear Newsletter:

It's so nice to see this newsletter from Cloudcroft, I lived
there for quite a while, and absolutely loved it.

Just recently, my husband and I moved to Hawaii and I tell you
it is so beautiful here, but not as beautiful as Cloudcroft.

I really miss living there. The people of Cloudcroft are
beautiful, just like the village itself; I happened to work
for one of the best restaurants there (the Farside). Whit &
Vicky are some of the nicest people I have ever worked for and
Mary, my coworker, we just became real good friends and I miss
her very much. So as far as I'm concerned, that's where I'll
end up again someday in the near future. I hope!!!

Margie B.

Dear Newsletter:

During the many years we lived in the Sacramento Mountains, we
were to witness weather phenomena like no other place I have

You mentioned violent thunder storms during a snowfall, which
happens almost every year up there. No where in the flat lands
have I ever seen that before.

There were many other freaks of nature to be had, but by far
the strangest was a selective tornado, high on the Agua
Chiquita creek, a number of years ago. Just below Barrel and
Sand Springs, the two main springs that used to be the source
of the Agua Chiquita, is an ess in the creek bed known as
"Bear Slide" by the natives. It makes an excellent campground
because the canyon is wide and once had the small gentile
stream flowing through, with huge red firs and pines towering
above it.

I would guess that it was sometime in the late 1980's, while
driving to Timberon, when I rounded the curve at Bear Slide,
I stopped the pickup to see that huge trees had been ripped out
of the ground, not in a row, but randomly. Several trees of
equal size or larger would still be standing next to a downed
one, scattered over the side of the mountain that faced west.

Some 15 to 20 trees out of 100's had been felled. Looking at
the twisted and torn roots, there was no doubt that these trees
were up rooted by a terrific whirlwind. One of tornado-like
twisting and force.

As far as I know, no human witnessed what happened, just another
unexplained freak of nature in the mountains.

Dick Trone
Carlsbad, New Mexico 

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Copyright © 2002 Cloudcroft Online
The Travel and Visitor's Guide to Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
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