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.’”
Written by Ruth Price
Speaking of his father, Vince’s face brightens as his hands help explain his affection. Despite suffering serious injuries during an anti-tank maneuver in the army during WWII his father became a professional accordionist. He traveled to Boston to become a student and later a teacher in a famous conservatory. When he came home, he started several accordion studios, but eventually turned to more lucrative work.
He excelled as a woodworker and welder, but for Vince, it was his father’s love for designing fishing flies and making rods that drew them together. In the small basement of their house, located on the Arkansas river, they worked for hours in the evenings. Gratitude is apparent in his voice when he says, “He taught me about life, about things that I eventually carried into my life.”
After Vince hooked a five-pound trout at Sands Lake, the local newspaper and ultimately The Gazette Telegraph in Colorado Springs ran the story. The Gazette reporter was fascinated by the double-barbed hook Vince used, something no one else was doing. Afterwards, people came from out of town asking for Vince and his father to guide them on the river and build them bamboo rods.
The Italians were strongly connected to each other and the whole community. The Italian and Hispanic kids called themselves The Sackett Street Gang. They formed their own football and baseball teams. One night Vince was surprised to discover the prejudice that some Salidans had toward his beloved neighborhood. An intoxicated woman barreled down their driveway to inform Vince’s father that she didn’t want her son hanging around with Vince’s brother because he had the wrong heritage and lived on Sackett. His father answered calmly, “Well, that’s fine.” When she backed out, she tore her car up on the chain link fence, memorializing her adventure to the seedy side of town.
After college Vince took jobs in retail and moved away from Salida, eventually making his way back where he became a police officer. This led to a thirty-year career. It “turned out to be the kind of work that was geared for me, and I was geared for it.” When he became a detective, he really hit his stride. He enjoyed the challenge of getting a case together and establishing the facts to prove or disprove the case.
After his first wife died, he felt lost and alone. He later remarried. He and his current wife, Karin, have been together for thirty years. Many changes have touched Vince’s life, but like his father, he has faced them with tenacity, optimism, and love.