A couple of starry-eyed teenagers were on the first lap of their life long journey. H. Dale Pinney, aka Rocky Dale, was sitting at the breakfast table on Christmas Day. Across the table, and sharing a fresh stack of pancakes was his four-month pregnant wife, Melba; at their feet was the ever-ready-for-adventure Lassie. Lassie was larger and more rambunctious than the average collie. Her father was a Russian Wolf Hound. Melba had a day off from Charlie’s Westward Ho café, H. Dale had no classes today at the school of Mines, and it was too cold to trap rattlesnakes or go prospecting. Snow was falling outside; our first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Pinney was a, sure enough, white Christmas. The low pressure clouds outside were hugging Melba’s mountain like a Navajo shama, wrapped in her woven blanket. The tall basalt mountain on the western side of our city of Socorro to this day has a 400-foot by 400-foot “M” painted lime white at the very top. Some say that stands for the “School of Mines” (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology),” but Melba and I knew it stood for Melba; after all, we had been up there and painted it.
Melba’s eyes got big and bright. I knew she was coming with an idea; “Let’s build Dale Jr. a big snowman,” something she had never done. We had agreed; that is, Melba had told me, and I had already learned to agree, our late spring baby would be a boy, a junior, and he would be called Dale. I would again be “Herb,” as it is unto this day.
“We will have to go up west of ‘M’ mountain, to the edge of the Magdalenas, to have enough snow to build a life-sized snowman.”
Melba packed a big picnic lunch, we dressed warmly. Lassie was excited, her tail swiping lower bobbles off our Christmas tree in our small front room. Melba was fussing at Lassie; Lassie didn’t care, “We were going on an adventure.”
We loaded into our ’41 Chevy club coupe, I checked that my chains were in the tool box, we had gas, and we were merrily on our way in a “one-horse Chevrolet.”
An hour later, driving slowly on the snowy and ice-covered U.S. Highway 60, we turned on the freshly ploughed Water Canyon road and headed into the mountains. The snow was about three feet deep as we started up into the canyon; we found a wide spot to park and now Melba and I set about to make a big snowman, one that would last until the next thaw. Lassie was off on her adventure. This California-reared dog had never seen snow this deep; she was having a blast, plowing through snow drift after snow drift.
We were putting the finishing touches on the snowman. The sun that had come out after lunch was playing “PEEK-A-BOO” behind the peeks of the Madalenas. We were keeping track of Lassie by her excited barks and yaps. Suddenly, her yaps turned to terrifying barking calls for help. We followed the sound and found Lassie in a snow-covered small canyon; she was about six feet down and unable to climb out. The more she tried the more snow she was pulling down on her. I left Melba to talk to her, rather to scold her for falling into the canyon. I went back to the car and retrieved two coils of hemp rope, and a gunny sack from my prospecting equipment. Back with Lassie, still highly upset for being in the snow hole, I secured the ropes to a piñon tree about 10 feet from the small canyon that had blown over with snow.
I dropped both coils down with Lassie and the gunny sack. With one hemp rope I secured myself at the waist around my Levis, and lowered myself down to be with Lassie. She was happy to see me, but I could tell by the look in her eyes she was wondering how the both of us would get out of here.
Lassie had been my dog since I was in the 6th grade in Hermosa Beach, California. She loved to go early in the morning, the four blocks decent into the cold and clean Pacific Ocean with me. She had crossed the burning sands of the Mojave desert, packing her own canteen, climbed above timber line in the Sierra Nevadas, explored the silver mines at Calico; now we were in a snow hole in the Magdalenas of the Rockies. She would continue by my side for years. She would become the nanny for Dale and Lori. Melba could turn them loose in the yard without fences, without a worry; Lassie knew the borders. Both Dale and Lori were dragged by the diaper back to safety with the proper amount of yapping to let them know right and wrong; they learned. When a large rattlesnake slithered into the kid’s front yard sand box, Lassie dispatched it to rattlesnake eternity; she earned her supper each day. But now, we need to get out of this snow hole.
I wrapped the gunny sack around her chest, secured the rope, not to choke her, but where she could not slip out, and I lifted her as Melba pulled her over the top with the rope. Lassie was glad to see Melba that untied her. They had not always been friends. Lassie had decided, shortly after the wedding, if Melba could sleep in my bed, so could she. Melba won that battle.
I now checked my rope, laid back on the rope, putting my feet on the rocky wall of the canyon as I pulled on the rope, lifting my body up out of the small canyon until my feet, walking up the rocks, cleared the edge and I drug my bottom onto the bank then sledded on my behind until I was all on the snowy bank. I gathered my equipment and we headed to the car.
Lassie was all too happy to climb behind the front seats to her bed; she was all adventured-out for the day. We said “good bye” to our big snowman. We made sure we were leaving our picnic site cleaner than we found it. I carefully turned the Chevy around and headed home. Before I reached U.S. Highway 60, Melba and Lassie were sound asleep. My AM radio was picking up an Albuquerque country station; Ernie Ford was singing, Peace In the Valley. There was a portion of a moon; the prairie, the mountains, and the valley were glistening white in the moonlight. There could not been a more content 19-year-old as I contemplated the adventures ahead with Melba; it was a Merry Christmas.