New Mexico, Taos

Finding a Poem, Remembering an Old Friend

You never know what you’ll find when you start cleaning out your computer of useless stuff. Sometimes it’s something great that was forgotten and that was the case when I found a Calavera poem by the late Jerry Padilla. 

9_Jerry Padilla


First, let me tell you about Jerry. I met him when I was hired in 2007 to be the copy editor for The Taos News in Taos, New Mexico. He was the editor and writer for El Crepúsculo, the paper’s Spanish section. Our desks were next to each other.

Jerry loved to talk, and I mean talk, about history, art, Spanish and Native culture, traditional music, and whether mythical creatures like Big Foot and El Chupacabra actually existed. (He believed they did.) He was also a stickler that we use proper accents when a Spanish word warranted it. I had to remind him, in a friendly way, that I had work to do. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was a genuinely nice man and when the time warranted it, we had long conversations.

I later had to move my desk, for the above reason, which meant a short wall separated us. I was in the running for the top editor’s position, and the paper’s owner had given me three weeks to show what I could do. I was reaching deadline when Jerry’s head popped above the wall. That day two hikers in Georgia claimed they had found the frozen remains of Big Foot. Jerry was damn excited and thought we should do a story. (Our paper didn’t use wire stories.) I finally had to say, “Jerry, unless they found Big Foot in Taos, I don’t care.”) He was disappointed. Sadly for him, it was a hoax about Big Foot.

Jerry loved to draw and paint. My favorite is the painting he did of his co-workers in a Wild West setting, which I believe is Springer, New Mexico, where he once lived and hoped to retire. I am the sheriff holding a rifle and wearing a long skirt. I am talking with Ben Cartwright, a character from the old show Bonanza (Westerns were another Jerry obsession), part of a delightfully fabricated tale Jerry created. He painted our portraits from memory. When I left The Taos News in 2016, it hung on a wall outside my office.

Jerry retired in 2012 and unfortunately died six months later from the seizure disorder that had troubled him. He was 59. The last I saw him was the Tuesday before when he was turning in his column.

Now about the Calvera poem I found. The poems, which view death with irony, satire, and good humor, are traditionally written for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is two-day holiday starting Nov. 1. It was an honor if Jerry wrote one for you.

Here is mine, dated Oct. 29, 2007. In it Jerry eludes to my Portuguese heritage, my love of goats and my work at the newspaper.

Joan Livingston, se le fueron las cabras, adios

Por Jerry A. Padilla

Pero, it’s my job to verify todo esto, all these,

Are you really, ¿who esto escribió?

“How dare you doubt me, your Comadre Sebastiana,

In my cart ride many from el Portugal.

“I’m sorry, perdón, sólo I must be losing my goats,

Te ayudo, my dear, to find them again,

Jump into my carreta, for an eternal ride we shall go,

Vamos, it’s time, my turn now, lost goats y todo,

Mi deadline you have met.

Here is the translation:

Joan Livingston, the goats left, bye

By Jerry A. Padilla

“But, it’s my job to verify all this, all these,

Are you really, who wrote this?

“How dare you doubt me, your Comadre Sebastiana,

In my cart ride many from Portugal.

“I’m sorry, sorry, only I must be losing my goats,

I help you, my dear, to find them again,

Jump into my cart, for an eternal ride we shall go,

Come on, it’s time, my turn now, lost goats and all,

My deadline you have met.

Life lessons, New Mexico, Western Massachusetts

In Two Years’ Time

Two years ago, Hank and I were driving somewhere in the Midwest as we made our way from Taos, New Mexico to Western Massachusetts. Hank was at the wheel. Our cat sat on my lap for almost the entire 2,400 miles.

I know for sure because Facebook reminded me. I wrote “Adios, Taos.”

We lived in Northern New Mexico for 11 years. We built a home there. I ran the editorial department of the local newspaper. Hank got into the artistic side of woodworking. We enjoyed grand views of the mesa, mountains and big skies. Great food. It was an interesting place to live.

But we had our reasons for leaving.

And a lot has happened since then. A lot of good things.

Having easier access to more of our family is an important one. Four of our six kids and our two granddaughters live in Massachusetts. (You gotta love it when your two-year-old granddaughter calls you Grandma Applesauce.) Then there is my 95-year-old mother and other kin.

We found and bought the style of home we wanted — an arts and crafts bungalow. (My wish then: we find the right house for the right price in the right location.) Youngest daughter, Julia, a real estate agent, negotiated the deal.

The home, built in 1900, has great bones. We had to fix the things the previous owners either did or didn’t do to the home. Luckily, Hank is a skilled woodworker. Me? I was the unskilled helper. The only work we hired out was the roof, floor sanding in two rooms, plumbing and electrical. But as it goes in older homes, there’s still work ahead for Hank.

We live on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, a charming village in a rural area. Think small shops, restaurants, and our son’s microbrewery, Floodwater Brewing, which opened last November. And for the most part, friendly people. Folks come from all over to admire the Bridge of Flowers that spans the Deerfield River. We achieved our goal of being able to walk to places from our home — only four-tenths of a mile to Floodwater.

It’s been a productive year for me writing-wise. I’ve published the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series through Crooked Cat Books. I am onto the fourth.

I have a freelance gig copyediting history books for the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio. I’ve learned a lot about our nation’s history.

If that weren’t enough, I am now the editor-in-chief of The Greenfield Recorder. I didn’t think I would go back in the biz, but here I am again running the paper’s editorial department. I am glad to say I have a hardworking and friendly staff devoted to community news.

Oh, our cat, Two, who is around 15, is just fine.

Yes, we got a lot done in two years. What will the next two bring? Bring it on.

PHOTO ABOVE: A not very flattering selfie taken somewhere on our cross-country trek with our cat Two glued to my lap. She hated the carrier.






Gardening, New Mexico, Writing

Out With The Bad

I’ve been on a tear, really, about Russian thistle aka tumbleweed. First a little history: long before most of us were living in Northern New Mexico, sheep were allowed to overgraze. Prairie grass vanished. Sagebrush and invasive weeds such as tumbleweed, which has its origins in Russia, took over.

My mission is to eradicate it from our piece of property at least.

When tumbleweed is new, it is a green, spindly thing that grows into a thorny plant that is good for nothing. If allowed to grow, dry, and tumble, it spreads seeds like nobody’s business. I want to get to it before that happens.

Friends back East said they were charmed by tumbleweeds. They’ve seen pictures of them roll. Sometimes they do it in huge quantities that can clog a road. I say ugh.

For me it’s a constant battle, at least during the summer, to keep that damn plant from growing in our open spaces and along our parts of the road. So for the past few days, I’ve been out there, digging it up and chucking it in the open land across the road where it will die. It is not pleasant work. The maturing plants are scratchy. There is no way I can get all of the roots. But I do my best. Do they seem less each year? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

It’s a lot like revising fiction, although that is a more pleasurable task. I’ve set aside the next adult novel that is to be published to rest for three weeks and returned to my middle grade fiction, The Twin Jinn series. After a few years, I am taking a look at the first one, in which I introduce the family of genies hiding out in a traveling carnival. (I am planning to publish The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries this fall.)

From SOMOS Weeklies

From SOMOS Weeklies

Enough time has passed that I read it with fresh eyes. As a result, I saw parts I want to change. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad stuff, but I found sections to expand and contract. Words to eliminate or change. Points of view. Certainly, this task is more fun than yanking tumbleweeds under the hot New Mexican sun.

Another task this week: Getting ready for my solo reading Friday, July 8. I’ve chosen the short sections I will read. I want to give those who attend a flavor of the three-day bash. For those living nearby, it’s 6-8 p.m. at SOMOS of Taos on Civic Plaza Drive. I will have books for sale: $12 gets you a magic carpet ride back to the early seventies.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A wheelbarrow filled with those damn tumbleweeds.

New Mexico, tattoos

Tattoo You

I can remember when only sailors and bad guys had tattoos. Now it seems half the population does. At least that was the case when we went today for a soak in the mineral springs at Ojo Caliente.

My uncle was the first person I knew who had tattoos. He got them when he was in the Navy. I recall a panther stretched over one forearm. There might have been a Sacred Heart of Jesus symbol and even a Mom.

The second was a summer boyfriend when I was home from college. He was more of your bad boy type, but not really cause he was sweet to me. He dropped out in middle school — he had stayed back twice and was already 16 — and worked as a fisherman. The tattoo on one arm had a crude dagger and the words “Born to Lose” above it. He carved it himself and colored it with black ink. He said it hurt like a son-of-a-you-know-what.

The third is my husband, Hank. When I met him, he had a rather primitive tattoo on his upper arm: a shamrock, an Irish pipe and the word “Disease.” He got it in Jersey when he was 15 and admits to being rather drunk at the time. Hence it wasn’t the crispest tattoo. Why “Disease”? It was a tribute to when he had scarlet fever.

Hank once asked his father what he would do if ever got a tattoo. His answer: he would break off his arm and beat him with the bloody stump. So for the next few years until he left home, Hank swam in a sweatshirt at the Jersey Shore.

Years later, when we lived in Seattle, where tattoos were legal, he got his covered by a talented and rather famous tattoo artist, Madame Lazonga.

Hank showing off his new tattoo in Seattle.

Hank showing off his new tattoo in Seattle.

Hank opted for a Japanese-style chrysanthemum, which is a marked improvement over what was underneath.

Then, tattoos became legal most everywhere. Perfectly ordinary citizens got them.

In fact three of our six kids have tattoos.

Me? Nah.

So back to Ojo Caliente. I marveled at the artistry of many of the tattoos I saw. Several people had their arms, legs, backs, and chests covered by intricate patterns. Others had one small tattoo on their arm or leg.

I saw lots of flowers, birds, trees, Native American and Celtic symbols. One man had a bicyclist on one leg and a rooster with a top hat on his back. A  woman in a bikini had birds on each butt cheek — their wings rose above her bathing suit bottom. Another woman had Asian writing going down each side of her spine. I don’t know what it said but I hope she does.

It didn’t matter the body type — thin, hefty, short, tall — or age, these people wore their tattoos proudly. And I couldn’t help looking.

Native American, New Mexico

Plenty at the Powwow

It’s hard to sit still at a powwow when Native people are dancing and drumming. But I did for a while because of the flow of feathers, bells, and ribbons — and the heart-thumping beat.


Outside the arena

The Taos Pueblo Powwow was this weekend. We went Sunday afternoon, which had such a great turnout we had to park our folding chairs well outside the arbor, where a drumming group took precedence, and behind canopies pitched by families. It was as close as we were going to get to the arena. (Number one rule: arrive early at the powwow to get a good spot.)

jeanne begay

Jeanne Begay sells beaded necklaces and bracelets

We sat as Native people moved in a clockwork circle in the arena. Many waited on the sidelines for their turn to compete such as the cluster of little girls sitting near us. I marveled at the diversity in their regalia. (Another rule: don’t call them costumes). Feathers, fabric, beadwork, ribbons, fur, and metal — no two were alike.

But watching the dancing is only part of the experience. This year the powwow had a full outer circle of vendors. Some of the jewelry and goods for sale were touristy stuff, but then there were real craftsmen, mostly from the Four Corners area. I was charmed by the beadwork at one booth to buy a necklace. Jeanne Begay told me it takes her over an hour to make one on a loom — “if there are no distractions.” I paid by check. (Although some vendors take cards, many don’t. So bring cash or checks.)


Fry bread with honey

I did get my annual fix of fry bread, choosing Paulie’s, which had the longest line. The longer the line, the better the food, I figure. The man in front of me ordered $63 worth of fry bread prepared in various ways, such as fry bread with a pork chop and burgers. He told his son, “Today we will eat good.” “You mean I will eat good,” the boy responded.

While I waited for my order, I watched two women inside the booth knead dough, roll them into balls, and flatten them for frying in a cast-iron skillet. I chose plain fry bread. I drizzled mine with honey and ate it in the sun, while the dancers moved around.