Albuquerque is an old city with history that dates back to indigenous people (we used to call them American Indians) in the 1100’s, to Spain in the 1500’s, to early American settlers who traveled west from the early American colonies to farm and ranch its valleys, to Statehood in 1912. Albuquerque’s long and unique history includes historic Highway 66, a high-tech era that began with WWII and included the first computer language BASIC and the start of Microsoft and continues today. Artists of all types began their love of the startling hues and patterns of the landscape of New Mexico centuries ago and the influence of their art lives on and inspires today’s artists.
As an Albuquerque born native who left the state too early to remember anything, I know nothing about the politics that shape the city and state or about any rivalries that may divide its people, but I can say that as a recent visitor there, that Albuquerque has done a bang-up job of presenting a united front. Reminders of the cultural mark of authentic Southwestern jewelry, pottery and adobe style architecture are everywhere.
We saw the theme repeated as we drove past small adobe houses, past oversized decorative pottery in the center medians along the freeway, past huge office buildings, past recent apartment complexes designed to look like the clift dweller homes early indigenous people once inhabited, past bronze statues and tall totem pole type structures and past Albuquerque Deco (art deco with a southwestern influence). Even the highway dividers on the eight lane freeway have designs similar to petroglyphs carved into the stone walls.
For out-of-towners, now many decades Californians, it all seemed charming and quaint to my sister and I. For Mother, she mostly reminisced about how the city used to look and how much it had changed.
One well done change was the renovation to the old Albuquerque High School on Central Ave., downtown. Mother talked fondly about her years there and could still name her girlfriends from the classes of 1946 and 47. The brick complex looks well maintained and is now a condominium project with private, secure access for its dwellers. The sales woman at Skip Maisel’s Indian Jewelry on Central Avenue told us that her daughter owns one of the condos and they still have the original 1914 wood floors and the common area hallways still have the original tile on the walls. Not only was I impressed with the way they preserved a historic building, it’s exactly the type of place in which I wouldn’t mind living.
Speaking of Skip Maisel’s, we hadn’t been in Albuquerque long when Winzona said she wanted some turquoise jewelry while we were in town. Mother’s immediate reply was,
“We have to go downtown to Maisel’s.”
“What’s Maisel’s?” Winzona and I asked.
“The place for Indian jewelry.”
This struck me as humorous. In one breath Mother was talking about how things had changed so much she didn’t know how to tell us to get to the area where our motel was located and she frequently can’t remember the names of her great great grandchildren but she suddenly remembered an authentic Indian jewelry store that I’d never heard her mention before this trip and which she hadn’t been inside of for over sixty years.
We did shop at Maisel’s and all of us found some lovely things. And we drove the old familiar roads looking for Aunt Ellis and Uncle Bud’s house on Rio Grande and Aunt Birdie’s on Charles Place. It took some searching and a second trip with addresses in hand, but we eventually found both.
One of the must do’s on our list was to see Aunt Bertha who will be 99 in a few weeks. She’s in an assisted living facility where she has good care and other than a spotty memory, she’s doing well. She knew Mother and said she remembered knowing about me (even though I had seen her several times in the last fifteen years), but she didn’t remember Winzona or Larry. She definitely knew Trevie, but then she took care of him much of the first year of his life as Daddy’s first wife died giving birth to him. He was thirteen months old when Daddy and Mother married, so Aunt Bertha and Mother are the only mothers Trevie knew.
We also saw Aunt Lois, whose dementia allows her to forget that Benard, my mother’s brother, has been dead for many years now. Lois already had four children when she married Uncle Benard and they visited with Daddy and Mother several times over the years but all of us kids were already gone from home by the time she and Uncle Benard married so I didn’t expect her to know me or Winzona, but she chatted like all of us were old friends. She’s in a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients and she said to Mother as we were leaving,
“I’ll stay home and not go fishing tomorrow if you’ll come back to see me again.”
She also forgets that her son is dead as is one of her grandsons, but she appears happy and content. That seems a blessing to me. If you’re going to lose who you are, as long as you’re happy and content, what’s the big deal?
Mother was a trouper on this trip. She just kept pushing through her weariness and the pain of her scoliosis as she was determined to enjoy having her children around her and to do what it took to see extended family in New Mexico. She’s the last of the eight children in her immediate family. Aunt Lois is the only surviving spouse of all four of Mother’s brothers and Mother and Aunt Bertha are the surviving wives of the Dean brothers. Everyone else is gone now. So it was bittersweet for Mother, but that’s part of what this trip was all about: giving Mother one last chance to see her old home, to visit family and to see the headstone for her and Daddy.
“I think what made this trip so great,” Mother said a day or so after we got home, “is that I had all my children with me.”
And isn’t that what family memories, wherever we’re from, really come down to? Treasuring each other.