“Older than dirt,” he says when I ask his age. He’s still ¨galavanting around” as he says, and has over 200,000 miles on his Subaru. Most recently he’s been taking day trips to various places for his work with Robert Julyan on the next edition of “The Place Names of New Mexico.
Jerry Widdison is the TACA board member with the longest residency in Albuquerque – 75 years by his estimation. He came here with his family from Salt Lake City during the war and attended Monte Vista Elementary, Washington Junior High School, and Highland High School. He got a geography degree at UNM in 1956, graduating with distinction. Third in his class of 800, he remembers. Then he went to the University of Boulder and got his Masters in geography.
He said his first real job was in 1964 in Albuquerque’s Planning Department, where he had done windshield land use surveys during college. He befriended architect Joe McKinney and they later both got jobs at Chambers Campbell Architecture, later CCIC. He worked there for 14 years, longer than anyone else employed by the firm. He returned to City of Albuquerque employment in 1982 and retired from the Public Works Department in 2001.
I’ve gone on several picnics with Jerry in the last couple of years. The following are journal entries from cocoposts.typepad.com.
He has an encyclopedic knowledge of New Mexico’s old roads and routes, mines and settlements, people and events – the stuff of the west, collected over a lifetime of keen interest and study. In the spirit of, “I haven’t been out that way in a while,” he‘ll go anywhere, and has been everywhere
We were standing near the center of the ruin as he recalled visiting Paa-ko as a boy. It’s marked as a The State Historic Monument on the old road maps. He said there was a full-time caretaker who lived right there. It was a two-room stone house. One room was the museum – a cracked-glass cabinet of arrowheads and broken pots, and a guest book. The other room was the caretaker’s living quarters where he heated and cooked on a wood stove and slept on a single cot.
We loaded lunch into my old civic sleigh and headed out from Albuquerque through Tijeras Canyon and then south toward the mission sites in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
Both of us being veterans of remote New Mexico travel we over-prepared. There was hot cider in the thermos, tea, water, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, avocado and cheese on bread, apple slices in lemon juice and cinnamon, and some incredibly sweet little cookies that Jerry enjoyed to the near exclusion of the rest of it.
We ate at a sunny picnic table next to the visitor center at Quarai. Then, well-fortified, we set out to explore the ruins with the guidebook. It was a very fair winter day and there were a few others, including several Germans, marveling at the place.
We spent too much time in the visitor center chatting with the ranger and staring at the scale model of the pueblo, itself an antique. We went through all the artifacts, books and maps. Jerry often finds himself or his work mentioned in an index or bibliography.
The warmth of the day belied its length. We headed back, stopping for a long freight train to cross 47. We’ll go again soon, we say. I’ll chronicle more trips in future.