In the New Mexican Wilderness

by swellsbennett

Fuzzy and I have spent the last few days in and around Mountainair, New Mexico, where we are visiting her last surviving aunt, Ruby. Ruby is a spry 91, and, even though she can’t remember my name from introduction to introduction, she still teases me as if she likes me pretty well. In fact, we share a love of butterflies, the color purple, and eggnog — proof that we are indeed related!

Today, we drove to Encino, where my grandmother remembers spending part of her youth. We visited the graves of my great-great-grandparents there, on a desolate, windswept plain that seemed to have been, for the most part, forgotten. Nevertheless, I noted that someone in the family had put some fake red flowers on her grave relatively recently — no doubt a testament to “Mamma Nick’s” enduring reputation as an amazing mother and grandmother. Unfortunately, she was gone about a decade before I was born. No matter — I have my own amazing grandmother!

We also stopped at what used to be Negra, where my great-uncle was born in a strip motel in the 1930s. The building is still standing! A short ride down the road, we found the house Fuzzy lived in when she was a child. The back wall is all but gone, but the front, sides, and roof still stand. Fuzzy peeked in and said, “They remodeled it.” I thought she was referring to its lack of a fourth wall, but she continued, “It was one room when we lived here.” Sure enough, to one side of the building, I could see the remnants of what must have been an interior wall!

Notably, none of the small towns we went through today have a store or a gas station. Forget about getting something cold to drink! Mountainair is the most robust place we have encountered since leaving Albuquerque, and I’d be hard-pressed to call it thriving. Still, it’s a nice little town with friendly folks who all seem to look after one another.

And all I have to say is that I’m visiting Aunt Ruby — it’s an instant icebreaker around these parts!