We found the old house in Moriarty, New Mexico where Grandma Jones and Aunt Winnie and several of her small children lived in the 1950’s and 60’s. I remember thinking all those years ago, as we crowded through the door into the small, pink, adobe on one of our infrequent trips from Southern California, where Daddy and Mother had moved us in late 1951, that I was so glad I didn’t live there. The house was small and jammed packed with people. I was a little appalled that my Mother and Daddy had once lived in this town. That could have been me living in that tiny, two room, adobe house. Thank God we had escaped.
I don’t remember any landscaping around the house in this desolate, dry, desert town forty-five minutes or so from Albuquerque, other than the tumbleweeds, cactus and scrub brush that were spread as far as the eye could see. The wind always seemed to blow and the dry dirt clouded up around our feet, covered our shoes and crept up our legs towards our summer shorts or dresses.
My mind’s eye can still see Grandma and Aunt Winnie in their simple house dresses, dirty aprons, their hair flying in the breeze, surrounded by stair-step little boys and girls, the smallest only wearing diapers, the older boys in dirty shorts and shirts and the girls in dirty dresses from the dirt that surrounded their life.
I hated the strange smell of that house.
“Sulfer.” Mother said. “It’s the smell of the water.”
I was just happy that we didn’t stay long. We couldn’t sleep there overnight. There was no room. Not that we were any better off financially. We lived in rental houses and barely had the money for gas to make the trip and mostly took sandwich food and fruit in an ice chest rather than eating in restaurants, but we didn’t live in that dirt, jammed into two rooms, in a town with a few businesses lining the highway and scattered, forlorn houses.
On this trip, Mother, my sister, my brothers and I had been to the cemetery, then followed the road west to drive by the Dean Ranch, sold years ago when Aunt Bertha could no longer maintain the property by herself, but the new owners had added fencing and gates and we couldn’t get close enough to even get a glimpse of the old place. We had stayed there a time or two all those years ago. It had barns and pastures surrounding it, and the house had a great room with a fireplace and windows that overlooked Aunt Bertha’s garden. There were at least three bedrooms and a bathroom in that house. The kitchen, with its open bar to the great room, had cabinets made just for Aunt Bertha by her brother-in-law, my Uncle Bud. Both Aunt Bertha and Uncle Bruce were just over five feet tall, so the cabinets of solid wood were set low down at the perfect height for them.
Their son, Allen, told us when his wife Cheryl made us a dinner of Enchiladas on our visit to their lovely home in Albuquerque last week that the new owners had appreciated the wood cabinets and had kept them but set them on a raised base so that they were now standard height.
Our drive out the dirt roads of Moriarty looking for memories had covered the rental car with red dirt and left all of us, in our sealed, air conditioned comfort, thirsty and tired by the time we headed back towards the highway. We all saw the little pink adobe house and I threw on the brakes the same time Winzona said, “Stop! I need pictures.”
Trevie and Melissa, in his truck, saw that we had stopped and they backed up and joined us and Winzona, Larry, Melissa and I walked around the property, while Mother and Trevie stayed in the air conditioning. I asked Larry as we stood outside and took photos, if he remembered whether there was an outhouse or a bathroom. He couldn’t remember. Neither can Mother remember.
The structure is now deserted and mostly gutted, with flooring remaining in just one spot of the main room, the rest a dirt floor that somehow looked appropriate for the adobe’s current state. There are open spaces in the ten inch thick adobe where doors and windows once hung. The house was even smaller than my memory recalls, the main room with a kitchen on one end maybe twenty by ten with a small five by five room in the back right corner.
The family story is that the city or county bought the property when there were plans to widen the highway. Mother said that her Mother died shortly thereafter with a broken heart because she had to leave her house. At least that’s how I remember hearing the story. Now in her elderly years, Mother says she never told that story.
However, Grandma’s heart did stop beating at some point after they left the little house and it seems typical of the same non-life that keeps the dry and dusty town struggling that the highway was never widened and the little house still stands. To me, it’s another reminder of how grateful I am that my childhood was spent in the watered desert of Southern California with its milder weather and fertile sole and where plants and flowers of every description, high rises, freeways and an often frantic pace of life continue to spring to life.
To be fair, if I’d grown up in that dusty New Mexico town, I’d probably feel differently and to my cousins who did, perhaps I have a biased view of that life, but I was just thirteen months old when Daddy and Mother brought us to metropolitan Los Angeles and I’ve been a city girl ever since.