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My color slides survived eight years in an oven . . . but there was another surprise that made me weep!

My color slides survived eight years in an oven . . . but there was another surprise that made me weep!


Native Americans have romance and heartbreak in their lives too.

For eight and a half years,  I have been dreading the day when I opened up the box , containing thousands of color slides and photographs that documented my journeys in Mesoamerica, the American West and Europe.  There are over 3,500 color slides from Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  Also, especially prized were the slides from Chaco Canyon,  the Pacific Northwest Native villages and from Lappland.  Back during the three days prior to Christmas 2009,  I had hurriedly stacked all my belongings in a rental storage bin.  I assumed that day after day, of summer temperatures hot enough to bake bread and winter temperatures, sufficiently cold to shatter the plastic film like glass had left them an amorphous, yellowed wasteland.  Keep in mind that over 2500 of those slides date from the summer of 1970. They are 48 years old!  There were also well over a thousand architectural photos, which probably been burned to a crisp.

Hallelujah!  Whether by intent or by chance, I placed the box of slides in the bottom center of a stack of Pre-Columbian artifact boxes that was about seven feet high.  The other boxes insulated the one containing the slides and photos.  As you can see, they are in astonishingly good condition.   This afternoon, I took $229 from the PayPal donations, y’all have been contributing, and purchased a high-tech device from Cannon, Inc. which converts old slides into digital jpg files and simultaneously restores them to their original appearance.   So . . . I will be able to create videos on Mexico/Mesoamerican architecture for the People of One Fire YouTube channel from slides taken from 48 to 20 years ago,  when the Mexican sites were in a verdant state.  Now many of them are surrounded by housing and retails stores.

There was another surprise, earlier this month.  At some point in the past six years, the stack of boxes collapsed. Only a couple of glass panes over paintings were broken.  However, one box tumbled to the edge of the overhead door of the rental bin.   It was a box that apparently I had not looked at since 1974.   It was labeled “Jimmy Carter – Creek Reservations in Georgia.  At the top was an edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from early 1974, which described Governor Jimmy Carter’s plans to recognize several Creek tribes in Georgia and then create Creek reservations near Carters Lake, Ocmulgee National Monument and the Okefenokee Swamp.  Below the newspaper was a topographic map of the proposed Creek Reservation at Carters Lake, plus some correspondence from the governor’s office.

That plan never happened, but beneath the newspaper were dozens of love letters and sexy sketches from Mexico.  You could still smell the perfume on some of them.  Most had her lipstick imprint on the back, plus S.W.A.K.  . . . sealed with a kiss. I didn’t realize that I had kept all of her letters and sketches . . . then hauled that box without opening them to a dozen residences around the Southeast.  I started reading them . . . a few tears did come to my eyes.  Gosh . . . these could be made into a movie.

Alicia at the ruins of Cuicuilco

Alicia was born in San Diego, California . . . so under the immigration laws at that time . . . at age 21 she could declare herself an American citizen.    In fact,  under the same law, she could have instantly gotten a work visa earlier when Eastern Airlines offered her a big-paying job at age 19,  as a trilingual secretary and translator in Atlanta.  At the time, believe or not, there were very few Latin Americans in Georgia.  Now there are over a million.  

In a panic, her mother hid her birth certificate and passport, so she could not interview for the job.  Simultaneously, she began intercepting letters from me.  Back then, a 10 minute phone call to Mexico was the equivalent of about $75 today, so I seldom called . . . but their Aztec servants had orders to not give the phone to Alicia anyway.    Broken-hearted, she went off to France for graduate school with her mother’s blessings, because she thought that there would be an ocean between us.  Unknowingly, I simultaneously flew off to Sweden.  In fact, I spent two weeks in Paris after that job, not knowing that she was there.

This last letter was written after she turned 21 and finally was able to grab her passport and birth certificate. I had kept that letter in a safe place, but forgotten about the others.  She told me that she was a woman now and no one could stop us from getting married.   However, she mailed it to my fraternity house at Georgia Tech.   I had been gone from Tech for two years, so it took about four months for someone to figure out where I was living then.   During those four months I had become engaged . . . to the wrong woman.  Had I known about the letter, I would have immediately flown to Mexico and married her.  I had a good-paying job, designing newtowns around the country.  Money was no problem.  But the that dream was not to be.   

Would you believe that the Soto family invited my finance’ and I to spend part of our honeymoon in their home.  It was only two blocks from Alicia’s house.  I couldn’t stand it.  I knew that I loved her more.  When I saw her drive by in her red Plymouth Barricuda, it was too much.  I called her while my new bride was out shopping.  Alicia screamed with joy and shouted, “God has answered my prayers. You came back to fly me away from here.”   Then I told her that I was a the Soto’s house and I was on my honeymoon.  She gasped then started crying.   Then we both said that the other would always be in our hearts.  She has been.   The last words that she spoke were, “You know someday, they might make a movie about us . . . Vaya con Dios, mi amor.


And now you know!  . . .  oh, when Alicia’s mother was in a good mood, she called me “diablo protestante,”  yet she almost never went to Mass and all her relatives were actually Sephardic Jews originally from Spain via Turkey after the Inquisition and via France after World War I, who had changed religions to get a visa to Mexico, in order to escape the Nazis. That’s why this simple-minded mountain boy knows all about the history of Sephardic Jews.  It was not a subject taught at Georgia Tech.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Oh ! What a heart breaking story Richard. I wonder if she will ever get to read this post. Could you make the film yourself for Utube. ?

    • Rita, I couldn’t begin to afford such a movie, or even know how to produce it. The story occurred across much of Mexico, which is a large country.


        It was just a thought Richard. But I agree with. the comment from Edna Dixon. Go search for her, you never know what’s around the corner. !!!!! Looking forward to seeing those slides that were preserved so well in the box.


    Some the fondest memories are tagged by ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs.’ God bless them anyway.

    I will be looking forward to viewing your slides.

    All the best!


    Awwwww Richard… maybe it’s time to do a “people” search for Alicia – social media, maybe? She may be out there remembering you too.


    What are you waiting for? look her up. my 76 yr old widowed mom (who also married the wrong person) for 5 years has been happily married to the man who had the courage to look her up. He showed up on her doorstep 6 months after her wrong one died….they have been together ever since. this man always knew where she was….


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