The vacation for the Bonnie Pitts family and my friend and sometimes red-head, Pat ended. A crisis of sort was brewing back in Athens. Hairdos were falling apart and women were becoming depressed. Pat was urgently needed at The Total Look hair salon.
Following a fine Mexican lunch at the Guadalajara’s Grill where I demonstrated machismo by eating a green chili pepper and thereby cauterizing my stomach, they departed for Athens. Guys, take my advice, seek other ways to be macho. Water, crackers and hollering will not extinguish a green chili fire-nor will prayer.
“I want to visit the Mable Dodge Luhan house,” I said to Shannon.
“You’re in luck, Dad. My friend is a caretaker there.”
Mabel Dodge Luhan was a fascinating woman and pushing the envelope long before that term became popular. Since first going to Taos in 1984 on my “search for self” when I learned of her, I wanted to know more about the heiress who gave up a fancy salon in Greenwich Village and a luxurious villa in Italy to live in a simple adobe house on the edge of the desert.
Born to a wealthy Buffalo, New York family in 1879, Mable had traveled the world. In 1917, she went to Taos seeking a “change” and fell in love with not only the high mountains and wide sagebrush valley, but with the Native American culture that existed along the Rio Grande. A world far removed from the maddening one in which she lived, Taos was as quiet, peaceful and simple place where time moved slowly.
I understand why she made the change. Following my divorce from Shannon’s mother in 1985, I felt a great need to find a place that offered me inner peace. I decided to close my law practice in Athens and move to Taos. There I would build a small adobe house with my own hands, and live a simple life, gardening, fishing for trout in crystal streams and hunting for my meat in the mountains. Shannon, who was 7 years old at the time, heard about my fool-hardy plan and came to my office, upset. “Daddy, please don’t leave me,” she sobbed. That jarred me back to reality. Happiness, I’ve since discovered, is found within, not in some far away place.
Mabel became involved with big and handsome Tony Luhan, an Indian who lived with his wife at the Pueblo. Mabel divorced her husband, artist Maurice Sterne and sent him packing and subsequently married Tony. She paid Tony’s wife alimony. “Wife come out real good,” Tony’s cousin told me the previous day.
The Mable Dodge Luhan house – called Los Gallos – a brown 22 room adobe on the edge of Pueblo land, is now a historic site and conference center. Mabel gathered around her such famous artists and writers as Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Nicholia Feckin, D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Frank Waters, Aldous Huxley and famed photographer Ansel Adams.
Shannon and I signed the register and moseyed around. I learned that actor Dennis Hopper once owned the house and edited Easy Rider there. Two guests can overnight in Mabel’s spacious bedroom with sitting area and Kiva fireplace for only $200 a night. Tony’s bedroom, several steps away, is only $130 a night for two. Not bad prices.
Shannon’s friend, Jamison appeared. “Come with me,” he said. “I’ve got something to show you.” Oh boy! I was excited, certain that I was about to explore a secret tunnel or perhaps a hidden room behind a revolving bookcase where Tony had chewed peyote and communed with the Great Spirit. Jamison led us outside to his old, white Chevy pickup.
“Look!” he pointed. I peeked inside. On the front seat sat a Chihuahua mix puppy looking at us with huge bug eyes. “Ohh, how precious,” Shannon said. So much for tunnels and secret rooms.
That evening Shannon and I sat around a warm juniper wood fire in the courtyard, listening to coyotes while she shared the latest Taos news.
“I saw Jemina Ra’Star the other day in town,” said Shannon. “She was on horseback dressed as a Mongolian princess and wearing a coonskin cap and repeated over and over ‘love and light’.”
I chuckled. “Where else but Taos?”
“Folks are pretty excited about The Lone Ranger starring JohnnyDepp being filmed in Taos,” she said, “but really got upset when a Dollar General tried to locate in front of the Pueblo.”
That night, I woke unable to breathe and took several squirts of Afrin. The label warns not to use more than 3 days. I was on my third bottle. My plan to stay until the end of the month was dead. I needed humidity. A cold, desert breeze blowing through the open window woke me long before daylight. I eased out of bed, packed my suitcase and slipped out while Shannon slept soundly. We don’t like goodbyes. I was burning rubber and headed east when the first glow of pink appeared behind the San de Cristo Mountains.
The restless yearning inside me for that “something else” which had first carried me to Taos had finally died. And I was glad. I wanted to be home on Elk River, but knew that I would soon be drawn back to Taos. It’s that kind of place.