I recall a decade ago when Arizona celebrated its 100th birthday. I grew up in the Valley of the Sun, so I remembered from my youth that the state was founded on Valentine’s Day early in the twentieth century. It made me count back to my early years in the city, when the state was only about sixty years old. Today I’m not far from that age myself. When young, I thought our country’s history mostly occurred a long way back and the expansion of the American West was merely stories of the gold rush and covered wagons. Truthfully, though, the state where I lived as a child was still developing and I was part of its early growth (see Forty Years On An Airplane from July 2013).
When I see pictures of old Phoenix, they do not look too different from what I recall as a child growing up in the Arizona capital, but today photos of Phoenix look completely different from the place where I grew up. Twenty years after I moved away, I went back for a visit with my children and found the locations I remembered but miles and miles of more distance surrounding what used to be the outskirts. My high school, once an island, now abutted the neighborhoods that make up its population. One of my houses had been overhauled by the current owners, while another featured several of the styles my father added to its exterior. My sons found nothing from my childhood interesting, much less amusing, and my memories of the old west where I once saddled up in the family station wagon remained my own. We moseyed on down the road to other places from my history.
When stationed at our second military post, we spent the first year living “on the economy.” While my brain can remember the names of every major street from Van Buren northward to Deer Valley Road when we would travel from the edge of Phoenix to the center of the city, I cannot recall how we came to live in the burg of Katzweiler. Did the base recommend it, or assign us there, or whether we cruised the city looking for rentals escapes me. Maybe I still carried the jet lag from my original arrival, or maybe I signed my name on the dotted line while in the Deutsch stüper. Regardless, I forgot how we landed in this town.
Just down the road from our strauβe, a large slab commemorates the most recent anniversary of the town. Not long after Arizona was granted statehood, Katzweiler celebrated its septicentennial. The old west where I grew up paled compared to the old West Germany where I lived as an adult. Truthfully, anything that predates our own lifetimes might seem like history, ancient or otherwise. But whether it was just before we arrived on planet Earth, or centuries before our ancestors ever thought about coming over from the old country, or even during the life we are living, history is what we make of it, and sometimes history happens as we make it.