IN 1916, MY MATERNAL grandparents homesteaded in New Mexico between Amistad and Nara Visa, south of Clayton. My mama was born there, along with five sisters and four brothers. While staying with her oldest sister in Española, Mama met my daddy. He was stationed at Los Alamos during World War II. When they married, they moved to Daddy’s home in Corpus Christi, Texas. He promised Mama he would take her home at least twice a year, at Christmas and in summer.
My earliest memories are of making a long road trip from south Texas to northeastern New Mexico for two weeks of beautiful freedom. I remember wide open spaces, beautiful skies, rolling hills, sandy draws, milk cows, branding in the summer, horseback riding, arrowhead hunting, and swimming and fishing in a wet-weather tank. We had no electricity, no running water, and no indoor plumbing. Grandma cooked on a woodstove. My youngest uncle and I gathered cow chips in a tow sack for kindling. It was like a step back in time, and I loved every minute of it.
Christmases with Grandma and Grandpa Parman were magical. I could look off into the deep turquoise sky, with a chill in the air, and imagine Santa Claus making his way to visit me and my cousins all gathered at the home place. Since there was no electricity for lights, the piñon pine Christmas tree hid dark mysteries within its branches, decorated with strings of glass beads and homemade ornaments. Kitchen chairs were ringed about the tree with a pair of socks hung on the back of each, awaiting Santa’s visit.
I loved watching my mama and daddy along with aunts and uncles as they milked cows. The milk was put through a separator that pulled the cream out of the milk. It was run by turning a handle, which always looked so easy when one of my uncles was doing it. I wanted to turn it, but it didn’t take long for me to tire out. The cream went into cream cans, which we took to the train station in Nara Visa to sell.
So it was that I grew up as a long-distance New Mexican. After my family moved to Kerrville in the late fifties, we only made the trip once a year, in summer. My baby sister was born in ’62, and she ended up marrying a New Mexico cowboy. She has lived on ranches in New Mexico with her husband for over 30 years. My husband and I kicked around the idea of moving to New Mexico, but always remained Texans with a heart for New Mexico.
In 1972, Grandma decided there should be a family reunion every Fourth of July. Except for the last few years, we gathered at the home place where my mama and her brothers and sisters grew up. This year will be the centennial of Grandma and Grandpa’s homestead. To celebrate, on July 2, the reunion will move back there. The home place still stands, with only a few improvements.
Although I am now a grandma myself, the memories I have of being transported in time and space each summer and Christmas as I was growing up mean more to me than I could ever describe. New Mexico—with its beyond-beautiful sunsets, rolling green hills (when there was rain), windmills, antelope, and the long, dusty, and sometimes muddy road to Grandma and Grandpa’s house—is deep in my heart. I am forever grateful that my parents rooted my childhood in such rich heritage.
—Glenna Kelley lives in Kerrville, Texas.
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