Storyteller Series: The Matriarch of Vega

 

If you’ve followed my nomadic journey for long, you’ve heard of Vega, Texas. Situated about thirty-five miles west of Amarillo, Vega is a small town of less than a thousand souls. Until 2019, when I happened to pass through the panhandle on the way back from Colorado, I’d never heard of it.

Since then, I’ve written a book about one of its former inhabitants (Valerie Doshier) and have made several friends there. In fact, they’ve officially adopted me as a “Veganite” and told me that I now have two hometowns.

A few of the townspeople I’ve met are “extra colorful.” The kind of people that, if you happen to mention their name to most anyone, they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about.

Imogene Galbraith is one of those people.

The familiar phrase, “She’s a real character” comes to mind whenever I think of her—and in all the good ways. Imogene has led the kind of life they make movies about. Growing up in a rural part of Texas, way back when, you might think a young girl would lead a rather average, mundane life. That may be true for some, but not Imogene. Her parents were quite the adventurers and spent years traveling all around the United States. She was camping in cars, next to rivers, on the side of the road, and faraway towns decades before the “cool kids” began making Youtube videos about that lifestyle. I thought I’d covered some ground during my last three years as a nomad, but compared to Imogene, I’ve barely moved at all.

Her parents supported themselves in a variety of ways. Nowadays, we have digital nomads (like me) who earn money by utilizing the Internet to run various side-hustles. But, seventy plus years ago there was no such thing as the Internet, much less digital nomads. One way her father made money was by running a shooting gallery that he’d move from town to town all over the country. To this day, Imogene is known to be a good shot with a long gun. I’m pretty sure growing up in a shooting gallery had something to do with it. So, I wouldn’t try sneaking up on her or anything. Just saying.

Senior picture from the Vega Longhorns yearbook.

Oh! Here’s an interesting side note about Imogene’s father: His baby sister became the first female pit boss on the Las Vegas Strip. Clearly, Imogene was raised by a tough, capable, and colorful family. It’s no wonder she turned out the same way. I remember a story she once told me about a school field trip. They’d traveled far way on busses, I can’t remember where, but when it came time to load up the kids and return to Vega, Imogene got left behind! Apparently there was another young girl with the same name, and when roll was called they thought she was on the bus. Now, if you were a child who got stranded far away from home, and knew nobody in the area, would you have been scared? Well, for Imogene it was just another day. After all, she’d grown up in strange towns all over the country.

Growing up that way forged her into a resilient and skillful woman who possesses many talents. There’s little she hasn’t done, or at least attempted. She’s hung fence, shingled rooftops, and raised kids of her own. She’s also a certified Master Gardner, and even ran a newspaper for thirteen years. There simply isn’t much she can’t do, and nothing she’s scared to try.

I remember the first time I met her. It was at the Milburn-Price Culture Museum in Vega. Greg Conn, one of the curators (and now a good friend) introduced me to her as one of the museum’s exhibits. We tease her a little, all in kind fun, and she takes it all in stride while flashing her trademarked grin. She has a sharp sense of humor and doesn’t mind when people joke with her. But make no mistake, she can dish it out too.

A finely crafted miniature of the Milburn-Price Culture Museum. The “tree” is a piece of tumbleweed.

Speaking of museum exhibits, one of Imogene’s many talents is creating miniatures. There are two beautifully done miniatures on display at the Milburn-Price, one of the museum itself, and another of the historic Magnolia Service Station located across the street. Both expertly crafted by her hands. She can make most anything out of just about anything. The truth is, she’s an artist and quite good at it too.

She’s also a walking reference book of facts, people, and all things Vega. I’ve sat with her many times at the museum and observed how often others defer to her when trying to figure out something from the past. I find it beautiful when elders in a community are respected in this way. What they know is important, and how they feel about things even more so.

One thing’s for certain, no matter where I go, or who I meet in the future, I’ll always remember Imogene and her stories. She hasn’t had an easy life, but I’ve never once heard her complain about anything she’s been through. She faces it all head on, a trait that reminds me of my father. She’s inspired me to continue embracing an adventurous life with strength, resilience, and a smile. 

A view I’m happy to have seen many times. Friday morning sopapillas at the museum with Imogene.