I was assigned to Pecos, a half hour outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. It had l200 people (and lots of gossip). Outside town there were bald peaks of l3,000 feet and alpine valleys, quiet but for the ring of a cowbell. Six miles away was a town of l3 families without electricity, and below was the Pecos River, from which farmers channeled water with 300 year old ‘ditches,’ governed by ‘ditch associations.’ On the horizon were silent storms of seemingly constant lightning.
The reddish, clay soil when dry was like cement and when wet, was sticky enough to pull your shoes off. During the rains it washed into the river, turning the falls a reddish color.
Some of the adobe homes had this coloring, which gave them a glow at sunset. When I first arrived, I drove past these enchanted. It seemed like a Shangri?la. No travel log had shown such a place (nor captured the deep gazes of the Spanish beauties – a good beginning.)
The people were said to be descendants of the conquistadors; and the towns were suppose to be some of the oldest in the U.S. The people and ballot were bilingual.
When thinking about tearing down a house, they would say ‘We have to `throw’ that house.’ When going to someone’s house they’d pull up and honk for the person to come out ? even in freezing weather. When invited for lunch, I was told they’d start ‘feeding’ at 2:00. They thought nothing of eating a bowl of red chili – straight.
There were wedding celebrations that went on forever. At one, the bride and groom sat exhausted with dark circles under their eyes, while the revelers danced and drank and drank and danced.
On weekends there were dances with drinking and fighting. (The drinks cost; the fights were free.)
About half the homes used natural gas, the rest wood. I bought several cords (4 by 4 by l0 ft.) of piñon wood to warm the two room adobe I rented. I had to chainsaw it into l ft. lengths and chop those up. Dry wood was for starting a stove or heater and green wood was for overnight heating, during which the sap hissed gently. Cedar wood was preferred for baking. The stoves and heaters had vents that could whip the flames into a roar or keep the coals glowing. Some were highly efficient, burning most of the ashes. Water jackets heated water and provided humidity.
Some people insisted food cooked on a wood stove tasted better. I tried it once, but it was so much trouble, I ate out of the refrigerator the rest of the year. I used an outhouse, drew water from a well, and showered at school. , the people had superior human values. They would raise their relatives’ and other people’s children. They were gregarious, human, genuine, warm, good natured, polite, and hospitable. When there were lulls in the conversation, they didn’t feel they had to fill in; they enjoyed the quiet.
This was the War on Poverty to help the ‘poor,’ but ‘low income’ was a better term as these people were poor in money and rich in everything else ? family life, friendships, enviable mental health, and a healthy, robust, close to nature, lifestyle. This was especially true of one prison guard, his wife, and ll kids – a wonderful bunch ? like out of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Income aside, the rich would have traded places in a second.
My job was ‘community development,’ – the subject of another article.