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.