He has always existed as myth for me–this man who started a lineage of people who made lives of constant relocation. But this morning, I got to meet him via the VHS tape (transferred to DVD) interview recorded in 1981 when he was 90 years old, sitting in a black suit and tie with spectacles teetering on his nose. Ovid Hundley, my great-grandfather, started his career by high-tailing it to Mexico from Texas, where he sold his cornet, a type of trumpet, to keep from “starving to death” until he got a job in the cyanide mine. Eventually, after passing through Colorado Springs and then Chloride, Arizona, he moved to Chuquicamata, Chile to work at what at the time was the the world’s largest open pit copper mine. He lived in South America for 35 years. But, of Chuquicamata he said:
“She [his wife] liked it alright. She was a good sport. I don’t think anyone likes it there. I had warned her that it was a terrible place. Perhaps I overwarned her. She never complained. She always told me she liked it there.”
He sounded unconvinced by his own statement.
“I got $250 a month to start, but they had to pay that to get a white man to get down there to such a horrible place. So, the consequence was, that it was a place that gave me a start for making some money. When I left there, I figured I had had enough. Most of my financial troubles were over then.”
As I watched him speak, I wanted to crawl through my computer and ask some penetrating questions to this man whose blood is somewhere in me. To begin with, “Why such a horrible place?” I can guess. Unsatisfied tired migrant workers living in shitty conditions and separated from their families. Prostitution. Fights. Murders. Nothing but dust. A gaping wound in the earth.
Ovid looked like a figure from the ancient past. He used words to describe people that were common to him but that horrify the 21st century, politically correct woman that is all of me. That said, a tenderness surfaced when talking of his mother. She died when he was age 7 and then arrived a step-mother who felt she “had to beat the life out of him. I was glad to get out of there. She was mean. I don’t think she had any love for me.” Then he paused and glanced down, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “A step mother is bad business, … bad bad business.”
I wish the interviewers had lingered there for a bit because, well… because everyone’s got gaping wounds. I would have asked him more about that one and also about the one at Chuquicamata. Mostly, I want a time machine. I want to go back and get him and bring him back to right now, today, Thursday, 5.42 pm, Montana, and see how his thoughts chew on this 2011 world.