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Grass doesn’t grow beneath Aldrich’s feet

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Author of many books about New Mexico and New Mexicans, Dorothy Cave Aldrich has been enjoying her retirement years in her literary career. Aldrich autographed her latest book, God's Warrior, about Father Albert Braun and is preparing for her 90th birthday celebration at the Historical Museum Archive Center, 208 North Lea Street this afternoon at 3 p.m. (Curtis Michaels Photo)

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When Dorothy (Dolly) Cave Aldrich decides something needs to be done she doesn’t wait for someone to do it, she gets busy.

“I was in third grade,” Aldrich said, “and my dad got a new typewriter and gave me the old one to play with. I thought ‘I’m going to have a newspaper.’ so I began sneaking everywhere, listening to everybody, and I started writing on one piece of paper. I thought it was a wonderful newspaper. I typed out 10 copies and sold them for a nickel. A nickel was a lot of money in those days.”

Even at that young age, in 1935, Aldrich was making a difference in her world.

“A few days passed and one of the neighbors came by and said ‘I think you need to know what Dolly’s doing.’ There was one family that had a lot of dogs, and the mama kept bring in more dogs, and papa said ‘If you don’t stop bringing dogs home, I’m gonna divorce you.’

“I wasn’t even sure what a divorce was, and I wrote that Mr. So-and-so and his wife were going to get a divorce. I thought it was great news. My parents didn’t think it was so great. That ended my whole journalistic career.”

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Her career as a journalist may have ended, but her determination to stand up for the truth was still being nurtured.

“I had a teacher that was very religious,” she said, “and she told us something that was wrong, I don’t remember what. I went home and told my parents what she had told us. My father asked me where I heard that and I told him. He said, ‘Dolly, that’s not right.’ I told him ‘but my teacher said so.’ I’ll never forget what my father said to me next. He said ‘I am better educated than any of those teachers that you have. Don’t believe everything a teacher tells you.’”

Aldrich is 90, and after a short career in dance, an estimable career in education, and with a continuing career as a writer she still has much to say to the world.

“I grew up during the Great Depression and World War II,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out exactly what this greatest generation’s supposed to be. That’s what I’m playing with right now. It will be my next book.

“During the depression there were a lot of people coming through from Oklahoma to California. They were going up and down the alleys looking for food. I can remember, my dad was a Geologist so we were doing ok. My mother and a lot of the other women, whenever she cooked a meal she cooked some extra and she’d put it in the alley for people who came through. People who say that poverty makes people bad, no, that’s not right. These people were starving and we didn’t even lock our doors.”

One of her earlier books changed her life.

“My first really good book was Beyond Courage,” Aldrich said. “I was working on another book and I needed some information about the New Mexicans who fought on Bataan. I couldn’t find any. I decided that those men needed a book. So I began researching and I finally found one of their old payroll lists. Then I started trying to find them all over the country. I finally interviewed 120 men from the Old 200. The 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.”

Meeting the veterans made her appreciate them all-the-more, especially one of them.

“Before I met these men I was almost scared to go to them,” she said. “They were heroes and in my mind they could have been 10 feet tall. But they were such wonderful men. They were glad that somebody was interested in them. Some of them became very close friends, and one of them became my next husband, Jack Aldrich.

“He had given me a marvelous story, and I had him come down and speak to my students. The kids loved him. Sometimes years after the book was published he would tell me a story about the march and I’d say ‘Why didn’t you tell me that when I was writing the book?’”

The release of the book had Aldrich a bit nervous.

“When the book came out,” she said, “of course any writer wants good reviews, but I wasn’t worried about the reviews so much as what the men were going to say. I was going to their meetings. I had made friends with so many of them. I was scared to death that they would not like it. When I walked in they all stood up and I felt washed over with relief.”

Always the student of history, Aldrich enjoyed writing about the man who built the St. Joseph Mission at Mescalero.

“My most recent book was God’s Warrior,” she said. “It’s the story of Father Albert Braun. He built the church at Mescalero. I had an uncle who was a friend of Father Albert’s, and he used to tell me stories about his friend.”

When she had a chance to work with the mission she found new friends and more support for her dream than she had expected.

“I met Brother Peter at the Mescalero church when I had been asked to do some publicity work for them,” Aldrich said. “He and I got along great. I told him I’d always wanted to write a book about Father Al, and he said it would help them a lot. I told him I’m not a Catholic, and though I have a high regard for Catholicism, I’m a Protestant. I couldn’t imagine the people wanting to confide in me. He said he thought he could help with that. Over time he would call me and we’d go off to meet different priests. One time we drove to Phoenix and I met three priests. Finally he called and said ‘You need to meet Father McGinn.’

“Father Finian McGinn was the person who granted permission to access the archives I’d need to write the book. When Brother Peter told me who he was I said ‘I’ll have to be on my best behavior then.’ he said ‘No you won’t. You’re going to love him.’ We got along beautifully. He had known Father Al and he gave me a good interview. At the end he said ‘You have complete use of the archives.’”

Just like that, Aldrich was off on an adventure.

“Jack and I flew out to Santa Barbara where we were the guests at this old mission,” she said. “It was lovely. Brother Peter met me there and helped me. We had one copy machine and it was a few floors below the archives. So I kept Brother Peter running up and downstairs making copies for me. The book is dedicated to Brother Peter. All the priests there had stories about Father Al. They treated us like royalty.”

With a book about the multiple cultures that make up New Mexico and a novella under her belt, Aldrich enjoys learning, writing and talking politics.

“I wish people could still disagree politically without getting mad,” she said. “We’ve gotten so terribly pulled apart and this is not helping our country.”

There is a birthday reception in her honor today at 3 p.m. at the Historical Museum Archive Center, 208 N. Lea.

Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.