Written by Ruth Price
“We were Westsiders,” Andrew Vigil says about his childhood neighborhood. Growing up west of the Chaffee County courthouse in the 1950’s he remembers dirt streets, old barns, clod fights at the nearby sand dunes, and close-knit families from diverse cultures. Andy quickly learned to cuss in Italian, Greek, and Spanish. A smile lights his face as he also remembers ethnic treats exchanged at Christmas. There were some rough-looking guys about, but no one ever messed with him. His Aunts’ boyfriends provided protection.
His paternal grandfather passed away when Andy’s dad Anthony was about 12. To help support the family, Anthony, and his brother rose every morning at 3:00, even in winter, and walked to County Road 107 to “Fern Cowan’s place” to milk cows. After school, they returned to work, later walking back home in the dark. All for about $.50 a day.
His dad’s mother raised five kids on a Railroad Pension of $25 a month. Yet she managed to save a dime or nickel for movies. On their way to the theatre, the kids first went to the “Candy Kitchen.” Behind the building sat barrels that had been used for making the sweets. The kids found sticks and made suckers out of the chocolate and marshmallow remains.
In the 1960’s Andy’s mother Virginia prayed to Saint Joseph for a new house. Her prayers were answered when they moved into their home on F Street. With so many kids in the new neighborhood, Andy didn’t mind leaving the Westside.
Andy has witnessed many changes come to Salida. He embraces them with grace but misses things like going up Methodist Mountain and hunting deer or rabbits. Where he once killed a deer, a trash can stands. The “Mayberryish” town he knew is gone.
After the railroads and mining stopped providing livable wages people left for the front range. “You had to go,” Andy says as he taps the table. “If people stayed in Salida and worked for local wages unless they had two jobs or got into a good position, they couldn’t save anything. I was lucky. I did some appraisals and got a real estate license and became a broker.”
In the midst of change, one thing remains the same – complaints. “I heard someone the other day say the same thing I heard growing up, ‘Salida’s not the same.’ All these outsiders come in and first thing they want to do is change the town back to where it was where they came from. Now those same people are saying ‘Godammit those new people coming in are changing the town.’”