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.


What I Will Miss About Taos

Recently, I saw a young man riding his bike as he held aloft a snakeskin several feet long. What a find, and yes, such a serendipitous sight is one of the things I will miss about Taos.

For those not following too closely, Hank and I officially leave New Mexico for New England on July 27. We’ve made Ranchos de Taos our home for 11 years. Next it will be Charlemont in Western Mass. (pop. 1,200), where we will be closer to much of our family.

What else will I miss? Certainly, our energy-efficient home complemented by Hank’s craftsmanship in wood, plus the grand vistas of mountains and sage beyond it.

I will miss the sweetness of people. For instance, Hank and I have been regulars at the recycling center to score boxes. This week, one of the workers asked us if we needed boxes and told us that the guy from the Family Dollar should be dropping off a load momentarily.

What else? In no particular order, here goes:hollyhocks

My vegetable and flower gardens.

Soaking at Ojo Caliente.

Sunny days and dark nights.

The big, big sky.

Shorter winters, yes.

Taos characters.

Eating Christmas at Orlando’s and the friendly staff at Elevation Coffee.

Ah, Pieces Consignment, where I bought well over half of my wardrobe, no kidding.

Feast days at Taos Pueblo.

Listening to the Spanish language.

So much creative energy.

Of course, those people I call friends.

That admiring look when I tell strangers I’m from New Mexico.

I bet there is a lot more, but that’s a pretty good list.

Alas, none of these are close to our family, most of whom live in Massachusetts. Fortunately, two of our children are in Florida and California — great getaways when winter wearies arrive.

What won’t I miss about Taos? Ha, there is definitely a list, but I will keep it to myself.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: My vegetable garden.

Taos, Western Massachusetts

My Life in Boxes


While Hank was away finding a place for us to land in Western Massachusetts, I was packing, packing, and packing. I am taking care of the house, Hank his shop. I believe I have the better end of the deal. (For those who missed the last post, we are leaving Taos for Charlemont, pop. 1,200.)

My process was to start in one room, my office, then move onto the hall closet, then onto the next room. After a solid week of it, most of the house is now in boxes. All that is left are the glassed art on the walls and the large wooden boxes Hank built, plus the clothes, kitchen stuff, etc., I set aside to live on until we head out of here. It surprises me how little we need, but then again this is a temporary situation.

For me, it all comes down to finding the right boxes. My best source so far has been the recycling center. People bring the boxes they no longer want, usually flattened, and dump them into large receptacles. The trick is to come when the guys working there haven’t emptied them. It’s all in the timing because they do it all day long.

Sometimes I find great stuff like someone just moved here and no longer need the boxes. Other times I strike out and have to come back. I’m not complaining. They’re free.

When I was a college kid, I worked in a pants distribution warehouse filling orders. Once when one of the guys in shipping went on vacation, the boss asked me to fill in. That’s when I learned the proper technique to tape a proper box. It’s a skill that’s come in handy for many, many moves.

The week Hank was gone, I taped the bottoms of the boxes while I watched TV at night. The next morning, they were ready to fill.

Course, I’m nuts about bubble wrap, tape, and crumpled paper. Then, there are stickers and markers so I recall what’s in each.

Yeah, I started early, but I had the time, and besides I wanted to get this part done before I headed Back East for a week to help out with the new grandbaby, who was born June 29.

When I look at the boxes stacked in my office and in the hall closet, I think we have a lot of stuff. I did glean my possessions last summer — I don’t touch Hank’s — and I’m still doing it. But frankly, I like what’s in those boxes and feel they are worth hauling 2,404 miles away.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Flowers in my garden.

Taos, Western Massachusetts

Hello, I Must Be Going

Groucho Marx said it best. Actually, he sang it in the movie, Animal Crackers. But, yes, it’s official. Hank and I are leaving Taos next month and moving to Charlemont in Western Massachusetts.

Taos has been very good to Hank and me. Like so many people, we arrived 11 years ago with the urge to live here. No jobs. We knew exactly five people. But we had a sense of adventure, and after selling our home in Western Mass. in less than two weeks, we figured we were on the right track.

Things fell nicely into place here in New Mexico. We found a piece of land — interesting story there — and a great contractor, Beau. I started doing freelance at The Taos News, and then became the copy editor, and then its managing editor for eight years. I like to joke I clawed my way to the top — not really, of course.

Until last May I was in the thick of Taos, news-wise. I had a hard-working editorial team that was fearless and fun when it was warranted. We won a slew of state and national awards. For me, covering the news was more a mission than a job.

Hank and I enjoyed living in a place where creativity oozes from the ground. He created amazing furniture, boxes, and frames from wood. The woodwork in and around our home is his.

I wrote fiction on my own time — adult and kid novels. I even published two adult novels and a bilingual kids book (with my friend Teresa Dovalpage).

So why in the heck are we leaving? The answer is we want to be closer to the people who mean the most to us — our family. I believe people who live here with their families will understand. Four of our six kids live in Massachusetts, plus a grandchild and one on the way. My mother and other family members are there. Phone calls, visits, and Facebook are just not enough.

Then, there is the sense of adventure. And given that our home here was under contract in a week, I’d say things once again are falling nicely into place.

So right now, my life is consumed by finding boxes, packing, and seeing to details. We expect to hit the road with our stuff sometime in late July although no firm date has been set as of yet. We are going through the selling process, inspections and the like — so far, so very good. Thanks, Lisa.

Hank went Back East to find us a place to land. Finding a rental was tough. People are opting for Air B&B and I understand why. But we have a nice, affordable place to live before we find something permanent. Charlemont is a sweet town, population around 1,200, near the Deerfield River.

There will be parts of Taos that I will miss: the people, views, and short, sunnier winters. That’s just for starters. Taos is indeed a special place, but, hey, I must be going.

Here’s the link to how Groucho Marx sings it in the movie Animal Crackers

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Penstemon flowers blooming in my garden.

kids, Taos, Writing

Teaching Kids to Be Authors

I have added another gig: teaching creative writing to fifth-graders. It’s part of the Visiting Artists Program at the Taos municipal schools.

Others in the program are bringing what they do creatively in real life into the district’s classrooms. I work with Kathy Serna’s twenty fifth-graders at Ranchos de Taos Elementary School. My focus is on flash fiction, which I believe fits their writing level and the time I will spend with them — one or two hours a week.

I remember a similar opportunity I had when I was a fifth-grader. That year, a few children from each elementary school in my town — there were several then — attended an enrichment program on Wednesday afternoons. We were taught advanced science and creative writing.

The science was fine. Creative writing, taught by Mr. Graves, was definitely my favorite. I learned about expressing myself using similes, metaphors, and other figures of speech. At that early age I was inspired to do what I have done as an adult — write creatively.

I hope I can do the same for these kids.

My first day was last week. They got to know a bit about me, and I asked them to tell me about themselves via a writing assignment. (I admit I will have to work hard to remember everyone’s names given the short amount of time I have in the room.) I explained about flash fiction and how we will be publishing what they write in a magazine format. We read samples together.

On Thursday, I let them choose a photo  from the pile I cut from magazines. Tell me a story, I asked them. They had pictures of people and animals in a variety of locations. The animals, especially the coyotes were popular. One boy flipped his page over and decided to write about a couch in an ad. It’s a magic couch, he told me.

This time they worked on the computer although some preferred to write their first draft in longhand.

They are a great group of students, eager and polite. Several are bilingual or their primary language is Spanish. Their teacher called them “the best of the best.” I believe Kathy. She’s also a dedicated teacher. I am learning from her as well, like when she said to talk and read with them at the rug area rather than have them sit at their desks. You can lose them there.

I am also eager to learn what these students will teach me about writing.

On Tuesday, the students worked more on their stories after a brief lesson on onomatopoeia. (You know words that sound like the noise they make, like crunch and howl.) A group of girls are including each other in their stories. The same goes for a pair of boys. Kathy and I help the students as needed.

The hour flew by. Kathy told the students they could get together and share their writing with each other. They gathered in the back corner of the room, chatting excitedly when I left. Now that made me feel good.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The students wrote about themselves on those sheets of paper.