Stories told around the table in my grandmothers kitchen

Agua Negra, New Mexico -
Un-edited Version
I cannot really remember when electricity was introduced in the home of my abulita in the
community that was known by a verity of names.  Grandma Chavez, actually was Maria
Lucires Chavez, however we just call her our fat grandma was the owner of the house that
still stands in Agua Negra, or Tramperos or perhaps Holman in Mora County New Mexico.

Situated in a valley this tiny colonia you could glance at the Sangre de Cristo mountain range
from either the kitchen door or in the back the living room door.  Established in 1894, Agua
Negra, New Mexico was a town located on the Mora Land Grant however the name was later
change to Holman, New Mexico after the postmaster Joseph S. Holman.  The local residence
continued to call it either Tramperos or I never knew why or Agua Negra probably because of
the name of the cemetery located nearby in la morada.

Mi abulita had inherited the adobe house which was some 300 years old at the time along
with between 15 and 20 acres of land used for farming by the family.  It was this house that
seemed to be the center of the community or at least from my perspective.

The house was a typical adobe house found in many New Mexico villages; grandma’s house
had four rooms.  At the far end were the two bedrooms each with two or three windows and
an 18 inch thick window sill.  The furthest bedroom also had a regular door that led outside.  
The room itself measured between 200 and 250 square feet with two beds and was usually the
room where the children slept.  The iron beds had a massive mattress which rested on a
spring frame on some wooden crossing slats.  Covering the mattress were at least 3 very thick
quilts which were used both summer and winter as the room was not heated in any manner.

There was a clothes closet which was built by some member of the family and some assorted
chairs.  It also served as the storage area for canned fruits and jams or jelly’s.  There were
also various vegetables, mostly potatoes and it seems always these mid-sized apples which
came from the many apple orchards in the village.  You could also find bags of dried prunes.  
The apples always gave the room a distinct sweet odor.

The two bedrooms were separated by a regular wall and the doorway, the significance of this
I’ll explain when I get to the kitchen.

Moving from the second bedroom towards the kitchen is the living room which with a hid a
bed also served as a bedroom when grandma had company.  This room also had the 18 inch
window sills and an exit to the outside which led to what could be called the backyard of the
main property.  In the center of the living room was the pot belly stove which was seldom
used as the main room of the house was the kitchen.  The living was separated from the
bedroom also by a normal wall and the door that hung there.  

On one end of the living room was a stair way which was the access to the roof of the house
which at this point could be called the attic although nothing was kept in the space above the
ceiling.  The entire house had been covered with a galvanize tin roof overlapping the trusses
built to hold the tin roof in place.  The purpose of the tin roof was to keep the flat adobe roof
with its vegas that crossed the width of the room to hold up the adobe mud roof.  Under the
stair way was a small closet that was seldom ever opened.

As you entered the kitchen from the living room you would realize that this wall was the same
width as all of the outside walls and made of adobe.  A section had been removed on the side
that did not have the stairway and a header been had been installed from a foot down from
the ceiling held up by 4 foot beams on each side of cutout section and this became a pantry of
sorts with shelves every foot and a half or so.  Grandma kept all her treasures here and was a
favorite place of mine.

The most important room of the house was the kitchen.  All of the walls of the kitchen were
adobe covered with a crude panel.  On the opposite of the wall between the living room and
the kitchen was another cutout section with the header beam and the same shelve arrange as
the opposite wall.  This was the storage place of the dishes, cups, pots and pans and other
kitchen utensils.  The three outside wall had windows with the 18 inch window sill where
grandma kept an assortment of house plant mostly geraniums which displayed the beautiful
red flowers when they bloomed.  

In the center of the room was the metal kitchen table surrounded by 6 to 6 metal chairs and a
thin pillow to sit on keeping the cold metal away from your tush.  Above the table hung a
kerosene lamp which was eventually replaced when the community received electricity and it
is the same to this date.  Below one of the windows was a small cabinet with a wash basin
and under the other window was a box containing chopped wood for the Majestic Stove.

The Majestic was a state of art metal stove that not only contained a storage area above the
stove itself but a well of sorts used to keep hot water available for use during the daily
cleaning activities.  On the surface of the stove were 6 to 8 plates which could be removed to
place the chopped pieces of wood which supplied the fuel for heating the stove.  The stove also
had a fair size oven for baking however for many years this was seldom used because outside
of the house was an adobe oven and it was here most of the baking took place.

Like the back bedroom and the living room there was also a door from a small porch that was
the entrance to the real living portion of this 3 or 4 hundred year old house.  It was the
kitchen that was the oldest part of the house and this could easily be understood when
walking on the uneven floor covered with sections of linoleum.  This was the original house
built by the ancestors that had lived in this community for hundreds of years.

As long as I could remember and I believe I was perhaps 3 or 4 years of age when I started
logging in pictures in my mind of my childhood.  I can only remember being in this house
with mi abulita and my aunt Stella the youngest of my mother’s siblings.  Aunt Stella was a
teenage when I was with grandma and was very pretty and very nice to me and probably all
her nephews and nieces.  She must have been going to school when I was staying there
because I hardly remember her being around during the day.  Aunt Stella also enjoyed
listening to music on the wind up record player in the living room and I recall the songs
which I would later identify as Gene Autry and some singers singing in Spanish.

Almost as soon as the sun would set there would be a knock on the door and we would
receive some unannounced guest.  It could be anyone of the neighbors that lived within
walking distance from grandma house.  My Tia Leanord who was mi abulita’s sister and her
granddaughter Maria.  Auntie Leanord had one arm which ended below her elbow with a
small stub which resembled a finger.  For years I believed she had lost her arm as a child by
getting to close to a saw used to cut logs into sizes that could be later chopped down for
burning.  In order to stop the bleed I had heard that they cauterized the skin around her
elbow and left the small appendage at the end of her arm.  Many years later I was told that
she was born with the arm without a hand, which is true I do not know.

Perhaps dropping in was anyone of grandma’s two brothers and their wives, my tio Juan
Maria which was called my tio Maria to differentiate him from his brother my tio Juan de
Dios who was addressed as Juan.  There must have been many other Tio’s and Tia’s because
I was always told this was my Tio this or my Tia that.  Of course I also had my mom’s
siblings who lived in the area and would drop by to visit their mother and chit chat about one
thing or another.  There were primo’s and prima's and the vecinos all of whom had any
number of conversations to whittle away the time.

Once in a while one of my own primo’s or prima’s would also come in but for some reason
we never spoke to each other, we would just sit and listen to the elders or the real vejitos or
vejitas tell their stories.  My favorite spot was next to the Majestic where I would sit next to
the small trap door to the stove and from time to time toss in a small palito just to keep the
flame going.  On the occasions when my parents were also there I would be told in Spanish to
stop playing with the fire.  My real focus was on the topic of conversations, the stories that
would fill the kitchen; it was here I believe I developed my desire to also tell the many stories
of my life.

While the conversation was the main reason I enjoyed hearing the stories shared by the adults
in the room, I along with the other also enjoyed the food and snacks that were always
available.  Each morning mi abulita would began by first starting a fire in the Majestic in a
short while she would prepare the masa for tortillas or bake bread which she would take out
to el horno the adobe oven out behind the kitchen.  By the time the rest of us would rise from
a sound sleep and pull back the heavy quilts that kept us warm during the night only to be
exposed to a cold room even in the dead of summer,  grandma would have bread or tortillas
already made.

We would feel the warmth of the kitchen and enter the cocina to the odors of papas (potatoes)
and bacon or ham already frying.  Already knowing what our first duty was we would reach
for our coats grab a small basket and head into the much colder air on our way first to el
common (outhouse) and then to gathers eggs for breakfast.

Although there was a chicken coop we knew that eggs could be located anywhere around the
area where the chickens ran free.  Gathering all the eggs we could find in the coop we would
then began our version of a daily Easter egg hunt and located additional eggs behind the
massive storage shed use to keep the hay.  All around the chicken coop and in few other
selected out of the way places the chickens nested.  In a short while we would gather between
one or two dozen small brownish eggs and maybe a white one or two and head back to the
warm kitchen.

Handing grandma the eggs we would then go over to the cabinet and the wash basin fill with
hot water and wash our hands and faces and brush our teeth and comb our hair.  Once
finished we would take the basin with the now dirty soapy water and carry it outside and toss
the water into the garden fill will wild flowers.  One by one if by some chance some of my
primo’s stayed the night we would clean up for breakfast.  Sitting at the table we would fill
our plates with fried eggs, bacon and potatoes and pour a spoonful of chile caribe or New
Mexico red chile and scarf down using the tortilla for a spoon to scoop up the food.

It needs to go without saying in la casa y en la cocina de mi abulita every meal was a feast, I
cannot recall to this day ever seeing a sandwich served in that kitchen or at least while my
grandma lived.  Every now and then someone would drop by for a bit to visit with grandma,
but for the most part we were not around as every bit of daylight was used for running
around and playing in this part of the world that for me was truly God’s country.

At last night would come and this brings me back to where I started the gathering of family
and friends to share the daily news or relive times that had long past but not forgotten.  
Sometimes up to seven or eight adults would gather around the table or sit on an extra chair
against the padded (wall).  It seem like grandma always like to sit between the box for wood
and a hutch where she kept her finest china which were common plates, cups, glasses and
silverware.  What few kids that may be in the room sat either on the laps of their mothers or
on one of the extra chairs.  I as noted before sat at my favorite place near the trap door to the
Majestic where I listened to the conversation and yes played with the fire.

Depending on what time of the year it was would depend on what was being shared by those
who sat around the table as well as around the kitchen.  The coffee pot was perking on the
stove and coffee cups of assorted sizes and colors sat on the table.  The children present could
also enjoy a small cup of coffee which was more cream and sugar then actual coffee
otherwise they just drank water dipped out of the galvanized water bucket.

There were the tortillia or bread bake earlier in the morning.  At any one time you could find
a jar or two of a verity of jams or jelly’s.  My favorite was always choke cherry jelly, but there
was also jelly’s made of prunes or pears and plenty of apple butter.

There was always mantequilla (butter) served on small platos and at times large bowls of
quahada or a cheese made of cow or goats milk.  It would be spooned out and spread on the
bread or tortilla and covered with one of the jellies.  Bowls of the apples pick from the nearby
orchards as well as bowl of dried prunes.  In the late fall and winter there was always roasted
pinon and at other times avas which were a large bean, kind of a lima bean, roasted on the
stove top and would be chewed on until the shell fell off and then you could eat the bean.

While most of the conversation focused on familia the more interesting stories were charged
with intrigue, dark plots and outright terror.  One that would keep me glued to my seat, yes
next to the Majestic, was the account of El Tecolote or the owl.  This in some Mexican
folklore was much like the story of the werewolf.  There were the some stories based on what
was said to be total truth, Los Penitentes which surfaced right before Good Friday and
Easter.  The story of El Cajon en La Morada or the local cemetery or mi abuilitas favorite Las
Velas, the candles.  There were many but the most intriguing was La Llorona or the Weeping
Woman.  While this story has been translated into English, this legend from the Hispanic
community can only be totally appreciated spoken in Spanish.  The story was told countless
times en la concina de mi abulita by a dozen different members of the family or friend but
each time it held a different fascination for the ears of this listener.

For that individual who has never heard the story of La Llorona the immediate thought could
be that this is the story of Susan Smith the South Carolina mother who was convicted of
killing two children.  Reject by a well to do sutor who did not want to become involved with a
woman and a readymade family Smith opted to drown her children in a local lake.  

However the story of La Llorona is a legend in the Spanish speaking cultures in villages
across the Southwest.  The story itself is a warning to children the consequences of bad
behavior or wandering out after dark.  It also is suppose to teach young girls to beware of
men who lure them with status, wealth and material goods and to check their sexual desires
when approach with promises of a love too good to be true.

The story itself is said to be born in the late 1400 or early 1500 modeling the account of a
beautiful and intelligent indigenous woman who served as the interpreter, advisor and
intermediary for Hernan Cortes.  She was known as Malintzin, maybe Malinali or Dona
Marina but was best known as La Malinche.  As the mistress of Cortes, she gave birth to his
first son who is considered to be the first Mestizo or person of mixed indigenous and
European race.

Love by some, hated by most throughout the Mexican culture she is often referred to as La
Chingada and seen as a disloyal Mexican.  This could be why the association between La
Malinche who betrayed her children to La Llorona who killed her children.
Pictured on the left is la casa de mi
abuelita, a small porch leads to the part
of la casa that is la cocina, which is the
original adobe house and is hundreds of
years old.  Notice the galvanize tin roof
and the adobe is now covered with
stucco.  On the right the children are
chopping wood, in the background you
can see the chicken coop and part of the
structure use to store the hay for the
Agua Negra or as some called it
Tramperos near Holman, New Mexico.  
The valley where mi abuelita lived is
located in the Sangre De Cristo Mountain
An adobe oven
A image of a one room adobe house with
the flat adobe roof, Many of these house
would later be covered with galvanize tin
roof.  Perhaps la cocina de mi abuelita
appeared like this when she was a child.
The storage area for the alfalfa
and the tool storage shed are
slowly falling apart the chicken
coop has long fallen apart.