Major Robert Simpson Neighbors – A True Texan

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the tall tales. Those malleable stories build the pedestals, materialize the laurels, and fabricate the “facts” of the state’s iconic founding fathers – individuals whose sacrifices and servitude reward their memories with stained-glass images and names on universities.
These rough and tough Texans’, who lost and won, stole and gave, gained independence, then gave it away, histories are as dynamic as the shifting sands of Monahans.
Okay – I will stop.
Texas is fantastic, and the history is just great. I would not change a thing unless that thing would make history more extraordinary and the state that much more wonderful.
Sorry – I will stop.
Not all Texas history heroes have to have their stories inflated. One such fellow is Major Robert Simpson Neighbors. Neighbors was an Indian Agent, a significant player in the relocation of Kiowa and Comanche throughout Texas. Neighbors believed in going out into Commancharia and making connections with each tribe. This proximity allows a personal relationship with the tribes. Unfortunately, his modus Operandi caused many Anglo settles grief – as they felt his connection to the “savage” tribes inappropriate. Nevertheless, he continued to do his duty with fidelity and respect.
Neighbors ultimately helped create a reservation along the Brazos River just south of present-day Newcastle, Texas. This location was also a stone’s throw from Fort Belknap. Unfortunately, this was not a good location for the reservation.
The settlers’ outcries of Indian depredations rang out across the prairie, echoing off the hills. The heated exchanges between the groups exploded into violence. Something had to change. In attempting to do what was right, Major Neighbors organized the tribes and delivered them from Texas to an Oklahoma reservation.
Undefeated, Neighbors returned to Texas with the expectation to keep serving with consistent fairness. Instead, a bullet awaited him on his return to Fort Belknap. The shooter disagreed with Neighbor’s ideas.
Then, this true Texan was taken to the town cemetery and buried without much honor. Major Robert Simpson Neighbors rests in an unkempt cemetery in a cow pasture. An individual whose history is not inflated or fabricated. A Texan who sacrificed his life in an attempt to maintain peace.

The road – to the gate – through the cow pasture – to his grave.
Restored 1960
Major Neighbors’ Stone – leaning against his raised grave?

The Calling – part 3

An image that has haunted me now has a name – she is real – she lived. Her name is Virginia Moore.
Curiously, I have amassed numerous images of Virginia, unlike my photo; each depicts her full of life, wearing a bright smile – exhibiting an exuberant, brilliant demeanor. I shuffle pictures collected from online sites interpreting and inferring meaning from her random sentiments scribbled in the margins.

My emotions overwhelmed- as I continue to locate more artifacts.

Peculiarly, I have acquired her scrapbook; while cannibalized by collectors and resellers of antiquity, it still holds significant information, such as letterhead, greeting cards, and casual correspondence with friends.
How has this offering so conveniently found its way to me – effortlessly?

Our silent interchanges become frequent – unbalanced yet pleasurable.
Although I grow more confused as her images send mixed signals. She introduced herself to me in anguish, calling to me for help. Now she laughs and taunts my bid to do her well.

My questions have not been answered with the knowledge of her name or the acquisition of her personal items – my interest only intensifies.
I know she was a nurse, an RN from Missouri; her license number was 14675.

I know she answered the call of the Cadet Nurses during World War II. I know she traveled from New Orleans, LA, to San Francisco, Ca, on December 16, 1943, via a Pullman car to work at the Marine Hospital. I know she frequented the numerous nightspots in Union Square. I know the names of her friends; Verda, George, Doris, and her niece Sally.

I know her uniform. Gray wool flannel with silver buttons – red shoulder epaulets and insignia displaying the United States Public Health Service. I see the color of her lips, “Rocket Red,” the unique shade the Lentheric Cosmetic Company created to match the bright red trim on the Nurse Corps’ uniforms.

I know her smile, and I perceive her energy. I know her crassness. I know her writing. I know her slang. I know her eyes.

Why were your eyes down when I first met you?

Why have you exposed so much to me?
This obsession has gone too far – I have become a steward of an impossible cause – a situation that cannot be corrected. What is this effort attempting to accomplish? There is nothing to gain. It is probably just all a creation of my own unstable mind.

While her image lingers in my thoughts, I decide to bid farewell. Accept that an unexplained photograph can continue to exist as just that – unexplained.
Virginia will now be just a part of me. A piece of my history, a temporary focus of interest, that, for a moment, entwined too deeply in my thoughts.

I view her as a hobby, a random interest to explore. My heart breaks at this realization. I have removed the pursuit’s emotion and replaced it with a mundane inquiry. She has become a failed conquest.
She is a still-life memory.

Weeks turn to months, she lingers in my mind – I randomly search for clues while lying to myself I have put her to rest.

When life allows, I pursue more information about this elusive woman I know so much about -working through a vast array of mismatched puzzle pieces searching in vain to find connections – in my collection of photos and letters, cocktail napkins, and newspaper clippings.

Without surprise, each pursuit ends the same, nothing of Miss Virginia Moore after 1944.

I feel more of a calling than ever –

I should have never found the photo, I should have never entered the junk store, I should have never even been in that town two years ago. I should have never known her name; I should have never been able to collect so much information about this woman.
Why is this happening?
Is it all just a fabrication of imagination?
The photos are tangible – she did exist?
Was it all random, or is there meaning?

What is the calling?

I examine the San Fransisco Chronicle Virginia had folded in her scrapbook.

Tuesday, June 6, 1944.
The colossal headline “INVASION!” – Allies Pouring Into Northern France.
I imagine her expression, the excitement flowing through her as she held the paper, the paper I now hold, the turning tide as the allies push toward Berlin.

I long to share her emotions as my eyes read the same print on the same paper. I attempt to tune into her emotions- my senses ignorant to her reality – unable to relate – fall short of a reunion with Virginia.

I place the paper on the table, and it comes to me – the newspaper – my answers could be in the newspaper.
I hurriedly begin searching through the San Francisco Chronicles’ online archives.
Searching – Virginia Moore. A slew of Moores and Virginia produce thousands of hits.
Narrowing the search with quotations -“Virginia Moore” – narrowed but still thousand of random words, too many to examine – I scroll down and quickly lose focus – a feeble attempt.

Driven by an emotional passion I search – hours pass. I sense the end.

My emotions swell as I find my answer; how long have I wondered?

My eyes scan the few sentences dedicated to Miss Virginia Moore from the August 15th, 1944 edition.

Miss Virginia Moore was found dead in the stairwell of the Drake Hotel Tuesday night. An autopsy found substantial amounts of Luminal in her system. Miss Moore’s death has been classified as suicide.

I stare through the screen – fonts melt into long horizontal streaks.

Did Virginia Moore call to me, or were our conversations fabricated from my own imagination?
A feeble attempt to produce shallow valor.
To weave a personal hero’s quest?
To create purpose?

I stole her life.

My punishment is to be haunted by the spirit of a woman who is now deeply ingrained into my being.
I open my photo from the Perisian Room with trembling fingers and examine the mood of the photo I know so well.
If your eyes were not down –

I would not now envision your final moments with such horror.

Disgusted – I close the cover and attempt to harness my emotion – running my finger over the image I realize that the Perisian Room was in the Drake Hotel.

Quickly pulling the photo from the sleeve I flip it to the back – the printed date’s ink, aged, faintly expresses – August 12, 1944.

The Calling – part two

Months pass, and the photo, sits on the shelf. Sometimes I find it beneath random papers, books, or magazines – I quickly remedy the situation – rewarding myself with a momentary study of the photo.
Her eyes – still down.
His demeanor – arrogant as always.

I create stories in my mind to explain the couple’s situation. Initially, a random pastime – playfully interacting with the photo creating harmless discourse – a practice I would regret. My interest manifests into juvenile infatuation – driven by far more than the usual suspects of this type of emotional compulsion – aware only intangible outcomes can only be found. Her voice I will not hear, her story I will not know, her hand I will not hold – what will be the illusive end to this calling?
I suppose obsession should be avoided – the downward spiral hyper-emotion can bring is nauseating – heartbreaking. If only my questions could be answered – with my curiosity satisfied, I know I could move on.

Why were her eyes down?
Her head tilted away from this hero? His ego tacked to his chest.
What is her name?
In dreams, convoluted thoughts mix with her position, exhaustive sleep where I am shaken from slumber with cognizance of her distress.

I feel her restless spirit lingering. I am sickened with his arrogance juxtaposed to her melancholy.

I have relocated the photo to my mantle, along with other proud pieces and personal prizes. I welcome inquiry – sharing the photo with others.

Their lack of engagement is frustrating.

Their indifference is offensive.
How do they not see?
How do they not hear her calling?

Who are these two that have cemented their moment into my every thought?

I have no names or dates, only a souvenir photo from the Persian Room. A soldier in a uniform with an Arrol Flinn mustache, a female, forcing a smile through a heart of anguish.

I know the location – San Francisco.

Date mid -1940’s.

Overtaken by transcendent energy I search online photos and websites, incorporating keywords in as many random orders as possible – quotations and commas in various locations – “World War 2 photo”, “Persian Room,” “Persian Room World War II,” “”Persian Room”, San Francisco,”” and every combination – finding links to websites dedicated to war, cocktails, nightlife, and San Francisco.

I discover.

The Persian Room was one of many establishments that populated San Francisco’s Union Square during the 1940s, one of many night-spots offering music and mood that could temporarily transport an individual from realizations of world war to the escapism of gayety.

Clubs such as the “Smartly Sophisticated” -Lido, or the “Aristocrat of San Francisco” – Bal Tabarin.

Techau Cocktails on Powell Street at the streetcar turntable.

Others such as –

Ernie’s “In the heart of San Francisco’s Bohemia”, and Charlie Low’s “Forbidden City”, each luring patrons into a unique world of nightlife and each offering souvenir photos.

My mind is a jumbled mess – losing focus. I revisit the photograph. I long for her to look up.

Although, if her look was anything other than frozen suffering, I would have not found it intriguing. I would not be here, and she would not be here with me. There would be no questions to answer – no calling.
Has this fascination pushed me too far into a situation? My thoughts focus on – a still-life photo of unknown individuals – who have taken over my life, my thoughts. Her image has created fissures in my current relationships, real-life relationships.

Each passing day, I lose connection with reality – to pursue the answers to questions that those in my current reality believe to be contrived.
If I cast my eyes toward the corner of the room, I find her image lingering in the shadow – if I close my eyes, I see her in the darkness – my mind is a-washed by the image – I relent this is no purpose – this is possession.

I turn to the cover of the souvenir photo, running my finger over the embossed expression of the establishment. My finger rises and falls over the image’s texture — did she hold this photo in her hand? I visualize the situation -listening intently through the years to hear her voice -see her response- understand her emotion- – she must have been disappointed in the photo.

Why was it kept?
Why was it purchased?
Why are her eyes down?
Why is she glowing?
I ponder with amazement how unique this item is to survive so many years, to end up in a desolate town buried in a box of rubbish.

To finds its way to me.

How unique?

With sudden realization, I search “San Fransisco Souvenir Photo World War 2” – finding its survival not that unique after all.

New searches uncover page after page of photos of soldiers with females grouped around cocktail tables scattered with lowballs and ashtrays. Casual embraces, temporary friendships. Frozen moments of joy while the world was torn apart by war. High-back horseshoe booths packed with the nation’s expendable youth, soon to be deployed to the Pacific Theatre many to perish on the stage of the war – the opposing fold littered with a faint scribble. Meaningful words that for that moment held a world of emotion, now faded, meaning lost to time.

I discover many souvenir photos from the same time as my photo. Filled with the same type of couples as my couple. Hundreds of images survived, just like my photo from the Persian Room but non as exciting or captivating as mine. No frozen faces calling out for help, no damsels in distress.

I open a photo from the Techau Cocktail lounge, 247 Powell Street, San Francisco – the cover depicting an Artdeco facade, streetcar, fonts of red and blue against an off-white background, and the photo inside –

a deluge of emotion runs through me. A rush akin to the most significant celebrations of life as my eyes scans the photo. The faces of one male and three females. Each deeply engaged within the moment- a familiar face – top left – partially hidden. The same chin and cheeks, nose and mouth, eyebrows and eyes – only this time – looking up.

I stare in awe before quickly comparing my photo to this new discovery. The resemblance is uncanny, and I quickly accept the two as one.
I have found her – and now I know her name.

The Calling – part one

If only foresight were clearer. I would have dropped that photo, distancing myself from what would become a journey of heartbreak, a digging up of bones that would bring ruin. I could have just walked away, leaving her lying there among discarded ephemera. But, unfortunately, that was not the choice I made.
A slate grey sky.
Low clouds veil the sun.
Cold hard winter.
For two days, I have wandered from town to town mentally recreating what was once thriving, now crumbling efforts of society suspended in a lifeless reality – empty shells void of commerce and growth – lay in decay and ruin.
I question my motives. My choices. The pursuit. The illusive purpose I attempt to find. The reason for me to be here. In a nowhere town full of emptiness.
I have a life, career, and family. What do I hope to find among these ruins? What purpose does this adventure hold?
I suppose I search for just that, purpose. Purpose beyond the Dogmatic residual ideas I was born into – the egocentric plight that masses give their lives and deaths for. Meaning beyond the neatly prescribed checklist that society has accepted.
I walk alone among empty storefronts. Vintage stamped on the cornerstones. Masonry monoliths whose layers of facade break away expose yesterday’s attempt at renewal. They rise like headstones – weathering in a forgotten field.
I enter the only store opened, a junk / antique store – more due to my need for respite from the weather rather than a genuine interest in investigating the establishment’s wares. The interior is as void of life as the town that surrounds it. A lonely greying lady greets me upon entering. I return the greeting. Preceding under her watchful eye.
The air is stagnant but warm. Asbestos ceiling tiles stained and missing – create interesting patterns above my head. The floor gives way to my foot – unwilling or unable to return the force needed to accomplish its purpose. Plaster peeling – a general sense of despair radiates from the walls.
A room repurposed to collect the unwanted. A covered collection of discarded wants – the sole purpose of America’s ideology.
Dust-covered doodads, bric-a-brac, and discarded trinkets litter the shelves. Each was positioned in its pose years ago, today sitting unaware of its uselessness. Piles of cloth, clothing, bedsheets, torn, mildewed, and molded scatter across the floor, falling from overflowing boxes.
I navigate through the labyrinth of curiosities, scanning each trinket, quickly determining treasure or trash. Then, pausing to pick through boxes or amuse myself with coffee cup wisdom.
A feeling of loneliness begins to work up from deep inside. I stand among the unwanted, items of no worth, a collection of meaningless creations.
I begin to prepare my mind for a return to the cold loneliness of the outside – a box far in the back corner of this wonderful world of waste finds my fancy. I kneel down and dig through a collection of cut-up magazines and newspapers from decades ago.
Carefully extracting the items, I study each with keen interest. Objects that, at one point in time, were a treasure to its possessor. Brown and browning scrapbook pages stacked without respect, the delicate pulp breaks at the slightest pressure. Hardened yellow residue from tape – evidence of lost memories or purposely trashed ones. I organize my position, to begin the excavation of the discarded artifacts of the early 20th century.
Minutes turn to hours as I rummage.
Stacks build up around me.
I study each clipped photo from a movie magazine or molested Elvis photo, yearbook, or newspaper clipping, with intensity. My nose is overwhelmed with the aged paper; there is a smell hard to describe that only aging paper presents to the olfactory.
I cringe at the folds, the tears, the faded ink and pencil marks. My eyes strain to make out names and notes. The frozen black and white smiles – the still life of yesterdays, clouded photo paper of precious moments. The moments lost to time. Discarded by those who possess no emotional response to the image.
My fingers expel poison oil to the paper with my manipulation and relocation of the lot fracturing the composting compositions. I sympathize with the frailness. Empathize with the realization of being lost.
I shuffle through postcards finding random five by seven-inch prints of forgettable faces. Then my fingertips feel the heavy white stock of the souvenir photo sleeve for the first time. The folder aged well. Corners right. Color faintly yellowed. My excitement piques. A memory from the Persian Room, a place unknown to me, a cocktail lounge at Hotel Sir Francis Drake, San Francisco, its cover corrects my ignorance.

Its existence here seems unexplainable -this item – out of place in a town as forgotten as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Khmer Empire.
I open the fold.
The left, void of writing, the right, a photo, a couple at a cocktail table, Vintage World War II era. He sat to her left. An airman, bars across his chest below his left lapel – late into the war? A celebrated soldier who now wears his valor on his uniform? Stoic in his presence. Finely trimmed mustache, an homage to Erroll Flynn – a style that dates him, even in the late 1940s. The edges of his lips straight, smile pursed slightly – presenting an air of indifference. His face is intense yet forgettable.

She, to his right, radiating a bright glow, evident even in the black and white photo. Her smile, forced, visual tension in her cheeks, her jaw clenched, locking down a brilliant yet forced smile. Her head tilted toward the right, away from the soldier, increasing the distance between the couple. Her eyes cast down cut to the right – as if this were a candid shot – a random photo.
It was not – it was a keepsake that was kept. It was a moment in a cocktail lounge in San Francisco, while the world, at war, found time to revel in the peaceful moments that joyous camaraderie empowered by libations offered, a quick snap of the shutter, a burst of light, an image delivered in a quick-flash that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would change my life.
I close the folder and study the image on the front cover – Persian Room San Francisco – I peek again at the photo – ponder the couple’s situation; something has connected me to this baryta paper image.
The heater kicks on, pushing out stale, dry heat onto the fragile memories surrounding me – pulling from them the moisture of life – I rescue my photo from the Persian Room from becoming a mummified memory – collect my find. I purchase the picture with little small talk, pull up my collar, and exit into the cold February air.

After the Show

We fling ourselves into the pickup truck’s bed; caked mud fractures from my sunburnt calf, reminding me of the early morning rain and mudslides out on the lawn. We lay supine, smoking cigarettes in our soured clothes, matted hair blows across our eyes, as the skyline flanks our peripheral, our minds race along as the truck rumbles through the city.

Eyes sting with wind, sweat, salt—Memories, subdued by dehydration, labors to catalog the day’s rewards. Earlier, our counter-culture collective huddled together through rain, played joyfully in the mud, ran amuck, danced around fires, spilled blood, bonded in the chaos of adolescence.

The carelessly tossed cigarette expells a rapture of illumination as it dances across the pavement.

My heart beats to the day’s rhythm. My temples pulsate—an auditory impregnation of my body has occurred.

Today the left of center gathered as a community; cults of sub-culture received without judgment wandered throughout themselves, strolling without care to the soundtrack of their attitude.

City light fades. We have no concept of time, only light and dark. Yet, today we loved and lived, each sense was touched, and all who shared common interests expressed a bounty of emotion.

Our senses now suspend, unknowing our subconscious’s feeble attempt to possess the piqued expressions of this day forever.

We ride along, staring into the night’s sky. Silent, we prepare to return to the isolation of our homes where only memories and Memorex will deliver us.