Comfortably seated in her warm and inviting home, tastefully adorned with the gifts from a life in service to others, it’s obvious family means everything to this spry lady. A portfolio of Sonja Britton’s paintings rests on the coffee table, adding support to the elegance she displays as a person of strong ethical and spiritual values.
Britton made her initial appearance in Orange, California, but rather quickly the family made the move to Texas for the next three and half years. At the time her father, Blackie, her hero, a Route 66 Trailsway bus driver making stops along the way saw potential in the burgeoning town of Moriarty and relocated the family there in 1944.
She continued, “Dad first started out in what was the Thunderbird Café, then he obtained an adjacent building which turned into Blackie’s Café, then he followed that with a large curio shop and gas station.”
Waxing nostalgic again, she added, “Father, a charming, larger than life personality, promoted his tourist stop with signs all the way to Oklahoma City. At the time during the 1950s cash registers were ringing in a robust $5,000 a day. We serviced everything—to us we were like a small Clines Corner.”
Britton says proudly, “I grew up in that café. At five, I was filling salt and pepper shakers, seating customers, then later on I moved into washing dishes and then did some cooking and waitressing. Eventually I moved up to the store.”
Britton is animated talking about the past. “I truly loved the selling and it really got into my blood. Since we were one of the major tourist stops along Route 66, Father every spring would need to borrow money to purchase Native American stock to supply our curio shop,” she recalled. “Through our continuous buying and selling I met so many fascinating and interesting people from all over the world.”
The community was close-knit back then, she said. “If anyone died Dad would close down and put a black wreath on the door,” Britton said, adding, “I met Jerry, my future husband, at the restaurant when all the Fly Boys from the radar base at Wagon Wheel would come in.”
She chuckles, “Dad always told the boys, ‘You all stay away from my daughter, or I’ll stomp your eyes out.’” Then she sneaks in a smile. “Jerry never listened and kept coming back, we’ve been together and married since 1958.”
They had two children, first Sherry, then Butch, Britton said, as she choked back a tear. In 1991 her son was riding his motorcycle through Colorado when he was killed by a drunk driver at 30 years old.
Britton said her son’s death totally changed her focus. She was the driving force behind creation of the Memorial of Perpetual Tears in Moriarty, bringing awareness to deaths from drunk driving.
“Before I served on numerous board positions, planning and zoning, I especially loved working on the art board for Moriarty. Jerry was county commissioner for two years. We were both very community minded.”
Then her eyes turn downward. “I grieved my son’s loss for the next three years.”
For the next several years, “with God’s help, the love and support of Jerry, my daughter and innumerable people we started the national memorial for DWI victims,” she said. Three acres of land were donated by the Mike Anaya family, on the north side of Interstate 40.
“Through lobbying efforts we were able to raise $1.5 million from the state, and private donations,” she said. In 2006 the DWI Memorial of Perpetual Tears had its grand opening.
Nodding assuredly, “I’ve had a charmed and blessed life. Jerry and I at one time discovered Cushman mini motorcycles and traveled the country,” she recalled.
Riding alone in Texas while trailing the group, she slid off the road, and said she heard her son tell her what to do.
Choking up, she said, “I know you’re proud of me, son. … Butch empathically spoke to me: ‘Don’t panic, don’t brake, stay straight ahead. Please do not panic.’”
“Over and over my life has been filled with many touching encounters—friends have come unannounced and graded our road, fixed our plumbing,” she said. “A total stranger once showed up and repaired our air conditioning, gratis. Where else in this country do such things happen?”
Moriarty is now home. “Growing up in this village of Moriarty has been the perfect place to realize what the spirit of an honest handshake truly means,” Britton said.