FRIENDS, the southwest feels rather like home to me. I seem to be nothing but a deep-dyed southerner, an aged vagabond from Waycross, Georgia. In Las Cruces, though, people seem just as friendly. They talk, they tell you things, and I like that.
About sixteen years ago, one of my daughters moved to Las Cruces. I had just retired from U. C., so I went to visit her and my small granddaughter. One visit led to another, and I soon found myself a kitchenette at an old mom-and-pop motel, and began spending the whole winter. Fate, though, wyrd as the Beowulf poet puts it, go-ith however it shall, and my daughter is now remarried and back in Cincinnati. My granddaughter is graduating from Walnut Hills this year. But I have my own karma, after all, my own wyrd, and I still return year after year, for at least a month, to Las Cruces.
Yes, I like the friendliness, the easy-going-ness of a smaller town, and people beautiful to look at — sixty percent of the town are Latinos. (New Mexico, after all, was a good cognomen for a territory we had stolen from Mexico.)
In this territory, co-ops are common, and I love the co-ops in Las Cruces. I eat lunch almost every day at the deli in my co-op supermarket, looking out its great windows at the Organ Mountains, and I buy all my groceries there. We also have a co-op movie house, the Fountain Theatre, run almost entirely by volunteers, and my friend Aletta and I seldom miss a show there.
ON A STREET back of the main post office, there’s a small adobe church, El Calvario, and this winter I helped people there welcome immigrants arriving from the border. The woman minister, Pastor Nema, was happy to have me around, and that night she and several other members friended me on Facebook. I like that.
At El Calvario I helped make dinner one night for 24 immigrants just processed at the border — mostly from Honduras and Guatemala. They had been in border detention for up to two weeks while ICE decided what to do with them. The travelers we get carry papers stipulating that their families in the U. S. will provide them a home here. So far ICE lets such people through, or some of them anyway . . . we don’t really know how many are turned back.
It feels good, though, to be out front when the ICE bus pulls up with these pilgrims, and to give them hugs and loud hurrahs of beinvenidos. We often we see one parent and one child. So haggard, so tired.
We provide them a big dinner with beans and rice, chicken and salad, and a bag of fruit and bread for a late-night snack. Then we put away the tables in the hall and line up the cots they’ll sleep on, with plenty of blankets, for their first night in the this country of ours.
After dinner, families from other churches also turn up to take some of these fellows home with them, and help them head out the next day for their destinations. Of course wherever they go, they will have court hearings popping up fairly soon, and under the dispensations of our new government, we don’t know how long they’ll be allowed to stay, or what kind of judge they’ll get.
As I see it, WE are the ones mostly responsible for the ruined lives these pilgrims have lived at home — under the vicious dictators we’ve supported and the military weapons we provide them
IN CRUCES I SWIM in the mornings at the local pool, an old place that’s cold and not very inviting as to its physical being, but I like talking with the other swimmers in the funny little women’s dressing room. A box-like heat vent extends from a wall. It breathes hard, it rattles and shudders when the heat blows through. The city doesn’t fix this place up, and it also ran out of money when it created its new aqua-center. The promised lap lanes were never constructed.
As in much of the U. S. there’s no money for people’s services of a decent kind, since the state of New Mexico doesn’t collect near enough taxes from the corporations here. (New Mexico children are always vying with Louisiana for the very poorest kids in the nation, and my city of Cincinnati isn’t far behind.)
A Home-Schooling Mom
One of my fellow swimmers is a home-schooling mom, and as we take off our suits, she tells me what she’s doing to try to enrich the lives of her three children. In the afternoons, her kids swim in the same pool, on community teams, and her middle boy won first place for his age group in the state meet last year. When the mom swims, her youngest boy comes with her and helps her improve her strokes. He times her laps. Meanwhile, her daughter does her homework at a table back in the cavernous spaces around the pool. She seems very absorbed in this work, and I think to myself, “Why didn’t I home-school my kids?” (But I wouldn’t have lasted a week, I bet you.)
One Mom’s Triathlon
Another dressing-room friend is training for a Triathlon in El Paso next month. She’s a long-time runner, but she also has to swim and bike, and swims every day for forty minutes. At home she has four-year-old twins, puts in her lap time while they’re in day-care. She’s a tall, handsome person, just like the home-schooling mom.
She asked me one day what I do with myself here, and I told her I visit with old friends, go to church, work in a pantry and with immigrants, and on whatever book I’m writing, walk in a nearby park. What kind of books do you write, she wanted to know, and I told her about my fictions and about The Treatment, and what happened to the victims of military research in Cincinnati — not especially interesting to most people, I’m afraid, but the next time we met, she said she was reading this book. I don’t know where she found it — in the public library, perhaps. “I always read a little at night,” she said, “when the kids are in bed, and I’m learning a lot now from your book. I can’t believe I know a real author!”
Las Cruces can be an engaging and interesting place — artists and crafts-people are everywhere, and a kind of counter-culture. On the co-op shelves I find newsletters about herbal medicines, good sleep without drugs, how to be a “nature archivist,” how to measure, not the GNP, but our Gross National Happiness. A medical doctor writes about the rise in gluten-free, and she links this rise to the huge rise in the use of Round-up (glysophate), now the weed-killer of choice for our grain and vegetable fields.
What is not interesting is the severe poverty in this area. Democrats are ruling the state legislature. but this month a bill to provide pre-K for all NM kids was hung up in committee and will have to wait till next year.
I ALWAYS write too much, my friends, so will close. Do I dare to ask you to look next week for Part Two of this wanna-be-travelogue about Las Cruces? (After all, you may want to visit this town yourselves some time!)
I want to tell you about a wild ride I was taken on through the Black Mountains! Hair-pin curves on a narrow winding road way up among the great peaks of the Gila National Forest! Deep caverns down below, and I was scared! The friend from Cincinnati who insisted on this drive, as we came home from a day-trip to Silver City — well, I’ll ask your advice as to whether I should ever invite him to visit me again! ##
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