When I was five we left the farm. We left the green screened in porch where my grandmother and I would sit on the porch swing and sing Home on the Range. We left the magical lightening bugs that hovered low in the tall grass of the front lawn that decorated an occasional jar for a night before being released the next day. We left the Walnut trees that were home to playful squirrels and the strawberry patch that my grandmother and I raced through to see who could pick the most strawberries in the shortest amount of time. We left the walking sticks that sheltered on the porch screen during rain storms. We left the old chicken coop which was now a home to a wild array of ferns after becoming an unintended green-house. We left our dog Jenny, a sweet collie/border collie mix that had been friend, nurse-maid, and protector since I was born.
That was the hardest part for me, and I had difficulty understanding the logic that Jenny would not be happy in a place like the Southwest with its heat, stickers and dirt: it would have been a miserable experience for a farm dog with a heavy coat who was used to the independence of a country life to have to live in such a contrasting environment in a small apartment, regardless of the love shared between her and her family. And so we left, my grandfather driving my mother and myself to New Mexico where hopefully the higher elevations and drier climate would improve my mother’s health and allow us to have a new start, just she and I.
The drive was long and I remember asking whether or not the hills we passed were mountains. For the most part, they were just that, hills. I also remember nick-naming the trucks that would whiz by us on the highway. The small ones I called “meanies” and the larger ones “loudies.” I have no idea how I came up with those names, but I still remember them for some reason.
I remember playing with the toys by grandmother sent with me for the trip. One was a plastic Pluto (the Disney dog) that would jump around when you pressed the plastic button. Another I remember, was Mr. Potato Head. Grandpa had to use his pocket knife to widen the some of the openings for his body parts because they were too hard for my little hands to push in the nose, lips, etc….
I don’t remember the day we drove into Farmington, New Mexico. I remember very little of it; we stayed there only a short time before moving on to Santa Fe. What I do remember is the stickers that deflated my Hoppity Horse, the land lady’s sons’ who would give mom and I rides on their motorcycles and the really cool slingshots that they played with. Santa Fe would become the home of my heart.
Santa Fe had MOUNTAINS. The sleepy little Spanish town sat at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain, part of the Rocky Mountain chain. When I lived there in the 1970’s, Santa Fe had not yet been “discovered” by those who would later coin the term “Southwest Chic” and drive up the property values while commercializing that which made Santa Fe what it was, that sense of old worldliness and otherness that made it so special. I feel lucky that I knew it before.
In Santa Fe, I would go to fiestas and parades on the downtown plaza, eat at the Woolworth’s counter, stroll in front of the Governor’s Palace with Native American artisans displaying their crafts on blankets. I would watch the burning of Zozobra, “Old Man Gloom”, in the Fall and hunt for and eat roasted piñon nuts. I would go on walks in the mountains taking in the crisp clean air filled with woodsy scents. My grandparents would eventually leave the farm and move to Santa Fe, living in a modest home on a quiet street, making my little family complete. The farm was where I was born, Santa Fe was where I began to really grow.