It was cold with clear skies when my friend (and sometimes redhead) Pat and I departed Albuquerque and headed north to Taos. Santa Fe was blanketed with snow and the streets were slick and filled with patches of ice and slush. I was tempted to stop at Maria’s where a warm fire would be burning in the Kiva fireplace and enjoy a chicken burrito smothered in red. I had discovered Maria’s in 1985 when I had gone to Santa Fe in search of self. I didn’t find myself, but I did discover a great burrito. Much of the 70 mile stretch of asphalt to Taos wound through a narrow shaded canyon cut by the Rio Grande eons ago. Finally, we popped out of the canyon and saw Taos, white with snow nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Windows sparkled in the sunlight and gray smoke curled from chimneys. We stopped to purchase meal to make cornbread. There were tacos, tortillas, and maize but no regular cornmeal.
“That’s the reason that their women are weak, their dogs ugly, and they don’t have a winning football team,” I said.
At the base of the mountain, we I turned onto a dirt road bordered by sage brush laden with snow and pulled up at Shannon’s brown adobe house. Nearby, the Rio Hondo murmured as it rushed to the Rio Grande. Snow was caked in the pinion pines and icicles hung from the eaves of the squat little house. The door key was under the welcome mat and we entered. The cat scrambled. I felt the same about her. The old house has 16 inch adobe walls and pine beams. A wood-burning stove sat in the kitchen where sunlight poured through a large window. The interior was painted white throughout except for the window frames, which were traditional greenish color to “ward off evil spirits.” I liked the place, but that was before Shannon told me what lived in the attic. Mid-afternoon Shannon entered, stomping snow from her feet. Marley Dog jumped into my arms. That evening we gathered around the wood stove while Pat made dressing and I snapped green beans. Shannon, who sings with Sisters October, told us about the spirit that lives in the attic. “I was practicing a song when I heard someone singing in the attic,” she said. “I was told that a woman who once lived in the house was a singer.”
As long as the spirit was singing and not wandering around with a hatchet making threats I could live with it. Pat and I were honored with sleeping in the dog’s master suite. I didn’t hear the ghost singing but I did hear gophers running a foot race in the attic. When daylight seeped through the window, I saw spiders hanging from the pine beams. Then I smelled the sweetness of pinion burning in the stove, followed by the rich aroma of fresh coffee. Aaahh. It was 10 degrees outside. I didn’t mention the spiders to Shannon, but I did tell her about hearing the gophers in the attic.
“Mister Jingles lives in the bathroom,” she said.
“Who is that?”
“A little mouse. He’s my friend.”
That was too much! A singing ghost, spiders dangling over my bed, gophers foot racing and now a mouse in the bathroom. Where was the darned cat?
Next morning, after Shannon departed for work, that darned cat hissed at me for no reason. A squawking magpie with long black tail feathers perched on a tree limb near the kitchen window. Had I known that it is considered unlucky to see a magpie alone, I would have shut my eyes. Afterwards, Pat and I squashed spiders before driving into Taos. I backed up and “Little Red” and got stuck. That’s what the magpie was trying to warn us about. The tires dug deeper into the snow and mud. We laid firewood in front of the tires to get traction. “Get the cat litter,” said Pat. Who ever heard of using cat litter? Pat poured the sack of litter beneath the wheels, I pressed the accelerator and Little Red walked out of the deep ruts.
“Well, what do you know!” I exclaimed.
“Now, aren’t you glad I brought the cat litter?” Pat said.
Later a crisis developed. We were hiking at Ojo Caliente when Shannon called and said she had forgotten to take the turkey out to thaw. “We’ll buy another one,” said Pat.
Shannon had invited friends over for Thanksgiving. “If they discover they’re eating a non free range, antibiotic laden turkey that died a violent death, they’ll throw up at the table,” I said. We agreed to keep it a secret. I woke on Thanksgiving morning in a cold room. Outside the window was blue sky. I heard Shannon building a fire and soon the sweet aroma of burning pinion and coffee wafted into the room. Cozy and warm beneath the down comforter, I closed my eyes and thanked God for having good health and being present with loved ones.
Later, while Pat continued cooking, I used a hatchet to break ice on the sidewalk. Boiling water worked fairly well, but froze in a few minutes. I called my son, Matt, my grandchildren and my friend, Otis Kennemer. Otis was a POW who froze and nearly starved to death during three years in a North Korean prison camp where the temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees. He didn’t answer his phone. I left a message: “I hope you are warm today and have plenty to eat,” I said.
Shannon arrived home at 2:30 p.m. and we set the dinner table while listening to a Gene Autry CD. Everyone was excited.
The house was warm and cozy and smelled of baking turkey, dressing and freshly baked bread when our first guest arrived at 6 p.m. Ellie and her daughter, Angela (originally from Portland, Oregon), entered carrying Italian food and wine. Angela is a song writer and member of Sisters October. Shortly, Sarkis Gorial, an artist of some renown and wearing a boggan (which he never removed) arrived carrying a pot of Borscht soup he had made. Sarkis, a Persian by birth, left Iran in 1978 and has lived all over the world and speaks six languages. Or was it eight? So what? He didn’t know a darned thing about the Iron bowl. Our guests never suspected that they were eating non free-range turkey that went to his death praying for his life. Following dinner, Shannon and Angela sang while we snacked on leftovers well past midnight. The next morning we headed home to Alabama. In Santa Fe we stopped at Maria’s and I ate a chicken burrito smothered in red. The burrito refused to die. Like a goat’s cud, I burped it up several times on the way home. The only effective antidote for burrito overload is southern cornbread. And I was ready for it.
By: Jerry Barksdale