Recuerdos Redux

Sunrise over the Organ Mountains

Sunrise over the Organ Mountains

    Back in May, I posted “Recuerdos de Nuevo Mexico”–about my eight year sojourn in New Mexico at a much younger time in my life–and about some PTSD-ish anxiety I was having in anticipation of a visit there after being away for 42 years.

     I packed a lot of memories into that blog, and I suppose because it was long and rather personal not many read it–probably not more than 3 or 4 all the way to the end.  I can’t say as blame them as it was somewhat self-indulgent, and when I write about very personal things I worry that it reeks of narcissism.  Anyway, right after I returned from the trip I posted: “I Loved That Man”  a blog about a mentor I had at NMSU.  I headed it with a picture taken of me outside a building dedicated to him: The Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center.

    I look forward to my trips and my spirits are always brighter when I have one planned. But this particular journey held a lot of angst for me–a dicey trip back in time and perhaps some demons I’d never put to rest. At the very least I thought I would likely be  disappointed because nothing would look the same and no one would remember me.  I was blessed to have my buddy Stan as my traveling companion. He’d never been Out West and his wife graciously gave him up for the five days allotted for our trip. Had he not gone with, I likely would not have gone as it would have been very lonely and much more expensive trip.

    Overall, I enjoy flying, but I find that each flight is becoming more and more of an ordeal in terms of comfort. Relaxing in the miniscule space they allow for us in steerage gets more difficult each time I travel.  Maybe its just old age, or maybe the airlines are just packing more and more into their aluminum sausages, but I think this must be what it feels like to be Shaq at 7-0 and 320-lbs trying to fit into a world configured for normal sized people, and as we descended into Albuquerque I could hardly wait to get off the plane and stretch.

    We staggered onward rejoicing (at least relieved) down the birth canal that attached our temporary mother, the Boeing-757, to mother earth, but I was not prepared for my reaction as I emerged into the twilight of the terminal. It was 7:45 on the eve of Midsummer, June 21st.  The glassed-in terminal was empty–devoid of the distraction of humanity, and spread out thru the windows were the Sandia mountains in the setting sun–multi-hued ocher and reds with all the shadows and contrasts the setting sun reveals. I teared up and my first thought was, “My God, I’m home; tierra del encantanto, how I’ve missed your lovely mountains.”

    I’ve lived in Florida for 40-years and it’s rarely, if ever, felt like home. I had not realized until I saw it again how much I missed the desert, the mountains, and the almost endless horizon spread below the massive rainless cloud formations–not the grey and black thunderclouds of Florida, but white as white can be billows drifting silently thru a sapphire blue sky. The wide-openness, the stillness and the brown of the desert is not for everyone. My friend Stan’s comment was, “I’d never realized how much GREEN is my favorite color.” Like myself, Stan is originally a child of the Great Lakes area of the Midwest.

    Stan had reserved a rental car and five nites worth of reservations thru  By the time we got to our motel the sun was setting below the west mesa. We were not far from the airport in the highlands above the Rio Grande valley and the lights of Albuquerque were spread out before us. We had a nice room on Yale in a cluster of motels near the UNM football stadium.  

    We walked to a nearby Applebee’s for dinner. Stan chugged down a couple Morgan rum and ice teas while I had my usual one Merlot. We were in a celebratory mood after the ardors of travel. Stan was feeling a little guilty, and homesick, so he called his wife while we were waiting for our food to come.

    My only agenda for the following day was to drive to Santa Fe after poking around a bit near the UNM campus. I’d attended the University of New Mexico for a few months in the spring of ’67 in a doctoral program. I was totally burnt out on education at that point in my young life and mostly continued school to maintain my draft deferment. I never felt very comfortable in Albuquerque. It was a time in my life of unparalleled anxiety about the future–did indeed I have one?  And Albuquerque and UNM always felt like enemy territory as I was a dyed in the wool Aggie from NMSU 220 miles to the south.

    At UNM, I’d spent a couple months in a little efficiency apartment on Sycamore just a few blocks from the campus. I let Stan drive and I programmed 114 Sycamore into my GPS and within a few minutes was standing outside of the unit I’d occupied 46 yrs before. The number I’d recalled was 114 but in fact the unit I’d inhabited was 424. It hardly seemed possible. I wasn’t sure I’d found the right apartment complex as it seemed familiar, yet different. For one thing the complex had been very well kept-up. I had expected that it would look run down.

    I had Stan snap a pic of me standing outside of the efficiency I’d occupied. On the other side of that wall there had been a couch I dozed off on one afternoon in March, 1967.  I missed a seminar and when I woke up I thought, “Well, I’ll go to class tomorrow.” But I never went back, and in a few weeks dropped out of UNM, moved back to Las Cruces and started looking for a job thru the APA Employment Bulletin. Seeing the apt again where my future balanced in a serendipitous snooze was one of many affect-packed moments to ensue over the following couple days.

    Santa Fe is about 60 miles NE of Albuquerque, but on the way out of town we stopped for an hour or two and strolled around “Old Town” Albuquerque. I had been there one night back in ’67 with my grad-student friend Gene Smith to have dinner at a well-known Mexican restaurant. The plaza looked vaguely familiar, but cleaned up, and given the 21st Century tourista makeover.

    I had also only been to Santa Fe only once before. It was for the annual Fiesta weekend in Sept., 1965.  I went with a bunch of my derelict friends. I recall it remarkably well given I was loaded most of the time and it was over 40 yrs ago; about a dozen of us stayed in one motel room. One of our group, a big good-looking guy named John, played guitar, and wherever our moveable wannabe orgy went John would draw a crowd. He strummed reasonably well and belted out kumbaya and Tom Dooley-type folk songs that everyone could all sing along to.

    Back in ’65, Santa Fe had yet to be discovered by the beautiful people–the multi-millionaires and Hollywood celebs whose ranches in the hills now surround this most ancient of North American state capitols. And 48 years later the central square looked cleaner and less drunk–and it didn’t look all that familiar to me either.

     Like dutiful tourists, Stan and I strolled around the park snapping pics and browsing the gift shops. A lone mariachi on a park bench strummed and wailed some lament, likely about unrequited love. Eventually we climbed the stairs to an upscale Mexican restaurant called “Blue Corn Cafe” that offered a good view of the activity in the streets below. I had two authentic enchiladas–one red, one verde. Easily the best enchiladas I’ve had in forty years–real enchiladas are not stuffed with hamburger.

    On our long walk back to the visitor’s info bureau where we parked I had my pic taken sitting on the steps of Mission San Miguel. This Mission was established in 1610, and is the oldest continuously in-use church in North America. Native chicanos will quickly point out to gringos that Santa Fe was established for more than a decade when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.   

      The following day we were on way our down I-25 toward Las Cruces paralleling the Rio Grande and the jornada del muerto. Lured by the native’s tales of cities of gold the Conquistadores followed the Rio Grande north from El Paso del Norte to the mountains of Northern New Mexico. If one strayed very far from the river the landscape was desolation personified–truly the “journey of death”–and an irony in that name was that in the early morning of July 16, 1945, not far to the east of the jornada, at Trinity Site, a blinding flash followed by a mushroom cloud ushered in a new and terrifying era for mankind, and Robert Oppenheimer recalled the  ancient Bhagavad Gita: ” Now I am become death; the destroyer of worlds.”

   It’s about a four-hour drive due south on I-25 from Albuquerque to Las Cruces. About a half-hour from ‘Cruces I could make out the jagged peaks of the Organ Mountains, and I could start to feel a flutter in my gut and a tingling in my limbs–“my God, could it really have been 42-years?”  Once again I felt teary-eyed realizing how much I’d missed New Mexico and how incredibly long I’d been away. I had become resigned to never seeing it again.

    We got off at University Blvd, and voila our very nice motel was right at the exit across the street from the Pan American Center, the 13,000 seat basketball arena that was built a couple years after I left NMSU. I was pleased to see the location. Stan and Priceline had done good. Where we were staying was not much more than two miles from the house on Foster Rd. where I’d lived for seven years. It was an easy walk to the campus and given 40-min I could have easily walked “home”–down University to Locust to 1845 Foster Road. 

    Of course, after we settled in, the first item on my list was to drive by my mother’s little cement block house with the flat roof. In the 1960s, Bellamah was a nice place to live, but I could see immediately that most of the homes had not been kept up. Many, like our old house,  did not have even a speck of grass in the front yard–just sand, dust and an occasional hardy weed. Beater cars lined the streets and many yards were over-populated with colorful plastic kiddie junk that advertised young, poor families.  Bellamah had been developed in the early-1950s and most of the original residents worked at White Sands for the government, or for contractors, or worked at the university. Now there were far nicer neighborhoods to the east and north–and that’s where most of the upscale had moved–in the hills on the other side of I-25.  That area, Telshore, was just starting to develop in 1967, when I left.  Sometimes on sunday afternoons my mother and I would drive over the interstate to the new subdivisions and tour the open houses, and think wouldn’t it be nice to live here if we could afford it.

    I stopped in front of 1845 and snapped some pics; it was disturbing to see how poorly our little house had been kept–once again memories flooded back and I felt choked with emotion. I had thought I’d knock on the door and ask the folks if I could just peak inside for a minute, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to do it. My thought was that looking inside would likely be even more disturbing–better to just remember it as it was.

    And better to remember my mother just as she was in 1963.  Toward the end of our journey Stan remarked that he’d never heard me speak of my mother so much. It was true. It was good to think of her at that time in her life. The decade my mother lived in Las Cruces was one of the better times in her rather unhappy life. She was proud of our little house on Foster Rd., and proud of her GS-4 clerk typist job at White Sands.  She had several close girlfriends who she socialized with, and she taught sunday school at a little Missouri Synod Lutheran Church on the corner of Montana and Locust, just a few blocks from where we lived. She even completed a couple classes at NMSU after getting her GED. Knowing that she had went to college, however briefly, brought her some satisfaction.  Unfortunately, she carried a torch for a retired Marine Corps Master Sargent who would breeze into town from time to time–and when he left, always left her heartbroken.

    My mother had to quit school in the 8th grade during the heart of the Great Depression when her father was killed in an auto accident. By the age of 15, she was working as a waitress and living independently, renting a furnished room. Never completing her education gave her what was termed in the 1950s, an “inferiority complex.”  Today it’s called low self-esteem or poor ego-strength. It was one of the factors that predisposed her to depression and bipolar illness. As an adult she endured some terrible struggles with divorce, mental illness, hospitalizations, shock treatments, etc. And so it was nice to think of her as she was in the 1960s–attractive, well-liked and relatively happy.

    After seeing our little house on Foster Rd., I thought I’d see how well I could navigate around Las Cruces. I drove down Solano back toward the college and then turned right on University Blvd.  Not that much looked familiar at first.  In fact, I’d forgotten that University ran out to Mesilla Park and Old Mesilla, but in just a few minutes I was driving by another little square stuccoed block house in Mesilla Park that my mother had rented in 1958-59, the year I went to Las Cruces High School.

    I have a black and white photo of me taken in ’59 of me sitting on the front steps. I posted that pic on Facebook and Stan remembered seeing it. He suggested I go sit on the front steps and we’d reprise the pic. It did not look like anyone was home and yet I was reluctant, and so we just drove on to Old Mesilla. 

    My agenda for Mesilla was to stop at my old watering hole the El Patio and see my old friend Al Fountain.  The El Patio had been in the Fountain family for several generations, and I knew that Albert IV was still its proprietor. Being that it was a saturday the town square was alive with tourists– but it looked pretty much the same–the Basilica of San Albino at one end of a central park ringed with gift shops and restaurants. I was disappointed to see that the Billy-the-Kid Bar was now Billy-the-Kid Gift Shop. It was housed in a building that had once been a courthouse where Billy was tried (by my friend Albert’s great-grandfather, The Judge), and it had once also been the site of the signing of the Gadsden Purchase–a lot of history contained in one adobe gift-shop.

    I was struck by how much the bar in the El Patio looked and smelled the same. It was dark and reeked from a century of smoke, beer and enchilada sauce.  It has the cachet of bar-fly ambiance to the max.  Mid-afternoon on a saturday all the stools were occupied. It’s the sort of place that attracts locals in the afternoon, but a different crowd in the evening– folks drawn by the band and dancing in the big room off the bar. I asked to see a menu but the barmaid said the El Patio had stopped serving food a while back. I also asked if Albert would be in. She said no and seemed suspicious as to why I was asking questions. I told her that I was an old friend and that I used to hang out there over 40 years ago–40 was a number of years beyond her comprehension.  She was 25-ish and quite cute–likely the recipient of good tips from the regulars. She seemed irritated that I was taking her away from their attention. I thought about having a drink just for old times sake but it seemed a little early in the day to start and the coolness of the barmaid sealed it. Stan and I went back out into the blazing afternoon sun to walk some more around the square and browse the gift shops.

    I navigated back down University to the NMSU campus. The number of buildings had doubled, but nestled between the new buildings I could still discern the remnants of the campus circa 1967.  I parked outside Kent Hall that had housed the Speech and Hearing Center.  I’d had an office there as a grad student working on a research grant. Kent Hall is now the university museum but being a saturday in mid-summer it was not open. Seeing the university was mildly disappointing. It struck me that the architecture and layout was a utilitarian hodge podge with no discernible theme. Still it was good to see it again and to walk thru the courtyard at Kent Hall. Stan thought NMSU looked fine, and that made me feel a bit better.

    That evening we ate at an upscale restaurant on the other side of I-25.  This whole area of businesses, homes and shopping plazas on the far side of the interstate had been developed after I had moved away. In 1967, the population of Las Cruces was about 45,00 and now it has more than doubled to about 97,00.  An hour or two after dinner I took another drive by my old home. The sadness was still there, and so I did what many sad people do–have ice cream. A few blocks from the house was a strip plaza, Solano Square. Though pretty much all of the businesses had turned over there was still an outlier building housing a Baskin and Robbins. I had a one scoop chocolate sundae with nuts–the same as I had done many times in the mid-60s, and this small link with the past was oddly comforting.    

     The following day was Sunday, and I’d resolved that I would attend services at the little Missouri Synod Lutheran Church that I’d totally rejected back in the ’60s.  The church had been expanded considerably, but I was told that the old building was still there–the new church having been built around it. And it was no longer called Bethlehem Church and it was no longer Missouri Synod. It had been merged with the little ELCA Lutheran church on Solano back in the ’70s.  I guess the proud conservative Missouri Synod folks had finally made peace with their more liberal ELCA brethren–and perhaps that’s why it is now called “Peace” Lutheran. 

    Stan and I were greeted warmly at the door. It was very apparent that we were a couple of newcomers, and folks seemed curious–and so we both talked about visiting from Florida and having both been raised Lutheran. I mentioned that my mother had taught sunday school there back in the 1960s and asked if any from that era still attended. They mentioned that there were a couple little old ladies who had gone there for over 40 years but neither were in attendance that day.

   There were about 80-90 in a sanctuary designed to seat about 250. The order of service and liturgy was formal and felt vaguely familiar. It was presided over by Reverend Dalene–a stocky silver-haired woman who appeared to be about 55.  She spoke on the demon infested Gerasene from Luke 8:26-39.  I have to admit feeling somewhat skeptical about the lady preacher, but in fact her sermon was excellent. It was short, to the point, and illustrated by a story from her service as a chaplain in a large hospital. She focused it on the needs of the mentally ill. I thought her commentary showed compassion and insight.  I resolved to speak with her at the cookies and coffee reception in the church hall after the service.

   Whenever I travel I take a copy or two of my books and attempt to “bless” some stranger with them. I decided on this journey that it would be the Rev. Dalene. In the church hall we spoke a bit about mental illness and my work as a therapist and my interest in spiritual warfare. I complimented her on the sermon, and I gave her both The Unwelcome Blessing and Satan’s Top Ten Tricks. I also gave her my card with my website:  I felt a sense of closure. I had left Bethlehem Lutheran an angry, cynical, agnostic young man around 1963 or ’64– knowing that my lack of belief thoroughly broke my mother’s heart, so it was a good feeling to worship there and to give the current pastor books that I believe were inspired by my mother’s struggles and the Holy Spirit.

    After church we headed NE on Route-70. It is a little over an hour drive thru the Organ Pass to White Sands National Monument. This follows the route my mother took to work every morning, but heading to the dunes we bypassed the entrance to the base, White Sands Missile Range, and drove on for another half-hour. White Sands National Monument is totally unique–230 square miles of blazing white gypsum dunes deposited over eons by runoff from the neighboring mountains. It has been the site of many movies where Sahara-like dunes were required. It has a visitors center complete with museum, gift shop and a theater with a short but excellent National Geographic-type film on the dunes. One of the fascinating things the film revealed is that while the dunes look like desolation personified, in fact, in some places water lies just a foot or two below the surface and that during the rainy season little lakes form amidst the dunes and are the habitat for birds, tadpoles and other wildlife.

    The temp, with heat reflecting off the stark white, hovered around 110, but due to the low humidity didn’t feel that bad. Driving into the dunes you have the sensation of driving thru snow drifts in Northern Michigan. There are various spots along the eight mile route thru the dunes that allows parking. Young people surf the dunes in a fashion similar to snowboarding. We got out and snapped some pics. Both Stan and I found the National Monument a very worthwhile experience–just short of breath-taking.

    The following day, monday, we retraced our path north thru the Jornada to Albuquerque. New Mexico, along with most of the West, was enduring a record-breaking drought and off on the horizon we could see smoke from forest fires in the Cibola National Forest hovering ominously around the distant mountains. The far off smoke and haze added to the otherworldly desolation of the Jornada. I had told Stan we would pass by the lava flows but I’d forgotten that they were well off the interstate near Carizozo. We did stop briefly in Truth or Consequences and snapped some pics in a little park beside the Rio Grande. The dam at Elephant Butte was open and the river was flowing south quite briskly. The river and the vegetation covering its banks is a lovely sight in the midst of the upper reaches of the great Sonoran Desert.

    We were to catch a flight out very early the next morning–Albuquerque to Atlanta to Orlando. I had accomplished most of what I’d hoped for over the few short days of our stay. I would have liked to have seen my old friend Albert, and I would have liked to have taken a short trip to the Gila Wilderness cliff dwellings near Silver City–but perhaps these are things I can look forward to another time.  In spite of my constant complaining about what I feel is missing from my life, I know that God has been very, very good to me. I feel it especially in the many journeys I’ve taken in the past eleven years since I started flying again. “Pressed down, shaken together and running over” the Lord has led me to places that I never dreamed I would see, allowed me extraordinary experiences in ministry and has given me Holy Introductions by the dozen.

    I am blessed.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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2 Responses to Recuerdos Redux

  1. Mary Keller says:

    Going back, you got to relive the best time of your mother’s life. That was a blessing from God. I think it helped you to remember the “good times” as you had been through so many difficult times beginning as a child. I always thought your mother was a “movie star”. Oh, how she dressed and could wear her make-up; not a dowdy thing about her. I never understood her demons until I was much older when I learned to face many of them myself. God bless you, Butch. I love you very much. Through FB, your pages and books, I have built more of a relationship with a cousin who came to stay at our house, but hardly knew. Never knowing of your hardships. I always thought you had a beautiful mother who told wonderful stories and a dad with big bucks and we were your poor relatives. Love, Susie

    • diospsytrek says:

      thanks, suz – love you too. i suppose its about time for one of larry’s semi-annual emails as they usually send one around the time they go back to fla. – i kind of wish i could have gotten up there this summer – maybe next yr – the trip to CA was short but good. c

      Carl Geo. Austin > 407 417-3859


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