AUDREY OF THE MOUNTAINS
The Story of a Twentieth Century Pioneer Woman
"I don't know what it all means. These years I have fooled around on this whirling earth. I have appreciated it and sometimes wondered which one was actually whirling the hardest." So wrote Audrey Simpson, free-lace writer, journalist, wife, and mother, as she began to write her autobiography. It was never finished, but this book tells her story.
Part I is called "Mountain Girl" and tells of Audrey's experiences growing up in New Mexico. The name Audrey means mountain girl. Audrey Clements was rightly named. All her life she loved the mountains—so much so that she sacrificed material wealth to enjoy the riches of nature in the mountains she loved. Her story tells of a girl born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1912 who learned to adapt in many different circumstances. Her father, L. C. Clements, moved the family from Nebraska when Audrey was a baby because he wanted to be a rancher in New Mexico—the "last of the wild frontier." Her mother, Mabel Waddell Clements, a prim and proper school teacher from Lincoln, was as comfortable riding horseback as she was in the classroom.
Audrey helped care for the younger children: Opal, Edward, Betty, Milly, Jessica, and Frank. She grew up observing the customs and culture of little villages in New Mexico. Audrey was invited to live with her affluent grandmother in Portland, Oregon and could have had a good education and a life of considerable wealth. But she would not leave her mother with a new baby coming—and Audrey would not leave "her" mountains. Determined to finish high school, she and her sister Opal walked from their mountain ranch into Las Vegas and found places to work for room and board. After Audrey's marriage to Clyde Simpson, the couple bought part of the Old Homestead Ranch in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They built a cabin there. They had two daughters, Crystal and Dorothy. Then during a separation Audrey cared for her two children under difficult conditions. Later Audrey and Clyde re-married and had another child, again under adverse circumstances. Audrey was a woman determined to survive in spite of great odds, to be cheerful even when the situation was dire, to provide for and nurture her family—a woman often alone but cheered by the ever present, sun-topped mountains of New Mexico.
As an author, I try to write objectively. However, I realize that in writing about Audrey my perspective cannot escape the view point of a daughter. (Hence, in Part II, I relate events in the first person rather than the third person.) As an adult, I realize that my mother fulfilled many roles in addition to that of a mother. She was a wife, an author, an editor, a journalist, a house builder and home maker, a colleague, a friend, a leader among women—in short, she wore many hats. Many women today are accustomed to that. But Audrey was a pioneer in that respect.
Part II is called "Cabin for Three" and tells of experiences my mother Audrey, my sister Crystal and I had when we lived in the isolated mountains while Clyde and Audrey were separated. Readers may find some nostalgic memories in the mention of old radio programs and comic books. The post-War years ushered in an era of interesting contrasts when the United States was a strong nation with a solid economy, but there was little awareness of environmental issues, as evidenced by the use of DDT and Compound 1080. The possibility of "flying saucers" and space exploration was a growing concept.
Audrey was a journalist, a newspaper editor, and a free-lance writer when a woman was expected to stay home, scrub floors, iron clothes, rock babies, and have meals on time for her husband. All those honorable and necessary activities my mother accomplished—but she went beyond them. Knowing there is no greater job in the world that of "mother," Audrey accomplished that role and many more. Audrey was at home in a one-room log cabin cooking on a wood stove or in a large home in the city preparing meals with gas heat. Like her mother, she was as comfortable on a horse as she was in her living room rocking chair. She could ride, shoot, repair fences and build houses. Or she could attend social events—write up a wedding story for the Society Page—sitting as comfortably behind her typewriter as she had behind the wheel of her four-wheel drive truck. As a journalist, Audrey interviewed many well-known people such as actor Rex Allen. She also became personal friends with individuals she would not have met except through her writing, people such as artist/writer Clare Turley Newberry and writers S. Omar Barker and Elsa Barker.
Part III, "Back to Her Mountains," describes Audrey's work as a journalist and free lance writer. It was the time of the McCarthy era investigations, Operation Christmas, and the news of a cure for polio. After Audrey and Clyde bought a home in Las Vegas, their third daughter was born. Audrey nearly died of an illness prior to the birth Holly, a child with cerebral palsy. The family was happy in their house in town, but Audrey and Clyde began building their dream home in the mountains for their retirement. After Clyde's sudden death, Audrey resigned from her job at the Las Vegas Daily Optic where she had worked over fourteen years and began free-lance writing. Then a forest fire destroyed her new ranch house. After years of re-building, Audrey married Bill Reid and hoped to re-build her life as well. But Bill died after a short time and Audrey was alone again. She battled grief, illness, devastation from a fire, and the inevitable aging that brought a halt to her plans to complete an autobiography filled with history, humor, and inspiration. In her autobiography, Audrey planned to tell of her childhood where she was often "mother" to her six younger siblings; of her marriages; of her house building; of her writing career; and of the hardships and disasters she had survived.
Sometime after her eightieth birthday, Audrey wrote,"I birthed 3 girls after I cried when the doc told me I would never have any children. I helped build 13 houses—and buried 2 husbands, spent 14 years meeting newspaper deadlines to put my kids through school, lost everything to fire. But there's life in the old gal yet!" Audrey might have added a few more items to her summary of accomplishments. She fought to keep the U.S. Government from confiscating her mountain to use as a military camp, using the power of the pen. She used her persuasive writing to convince the public that Fort Union should not be lost, and it was subsequently made into a national monument. She wrote editorials and letters to protest incompetence in the government and to deplore the rising costs of goods and services. Her writing and petitions helped get the San Geronimo-Mineral Hill road improved and partially paved. Her writing supported American freedom, such as the right to bear arms, and decried policies she thought morally wrong. She was a journalist, always looking for news, hoping to preserve history, wanting to write to inform, to encourage, or to entertain.
As far as possible, I have verified my information with more than one source. The facts are related accurately insofar as I was able to verify them. However, not all information was available or verifiable. In such cases, my mother's notes or recorded tapes have been the only source. Although I tried to verify my sources, some names may be misspelled or omitted.
Names have not been changed except where, for obvious reasons, protection of the person's privacy should be maintained.
For clarity, I should explain that some of the women in the family married more than once; hence, the use of different names. Audrey Clements married Clyde Simpson. After his death, she married Bill Reid. Some of her work is written under "Clements," some under "Simpson" and some under "Reid." (Audrey also used a least one pen name—Shirley.) Audrey's mother Mabel Waddell married twice, first to Laverne Clifford Clements and then to Charles Vivian Shearer, so after her marriage, Mabel Waddell is referred to either as Mabel Clements or Mabel Shearer. Also, Mabel's first husband, L.C. Clements, married a second time as well. He married another woman named Mable—Mable Day. (So there are two women named Mable Clements in the story; but note the difference in the spelling of the names: Mabel Waddell Clements and Mable Day Clements.)
Photographs and references used in this book are in the Simpson Archives at Forest Springs Ranch. Audrey's son-in-law, Wesley L. Lovett, was instrumental in preserving and enhancing many of the old photographs and, as a photographer, took many of the newer ones.
Audrey always tried to entertain, to inform, and to inspire her readers. It is hoped that readers of Audrey's story will find those attributes and more in Audrey of the Mountains.