The Bittersweet Pain of Nostalgia

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Not her photo, but it reminded me of her

Many years ago my family in post-war California sent me to live with my grandparents in New Mexico.  My father was having trouble finding a job in the recession that followed the Great War, and my living with my grandparents took a huge load off of the family finances.

Grandpa bought a remote section of land running up into the Sangre de Christo range and was building a house on it, and I and two of my uncles were helping.  My grandmother’s brother lived in the village about twelve miles away and he had spent most of his life there with his wife.  I sometimes was left with them while the men went off to log.  Logging was far too dangerous for a boy to wander around unsupervised.

One day while staying with Uncle A, as we called him, and Aunt Hattie, we went to visit a friend of their about another 15 miles away down a dusty track that led to Taos.  The village is named Arroyo Hondo, and this woman had settled there with her husband at the turn of the century.  She was old and wizened, and watered her garden with a long handled double action pump.  She had a very old truck that wasn’t equipped with a starter, so she would hand crank that old truck and drive into Arroyo Hondo to get the mail and a few staples.

She was extremely independent, and had even made her own casket and dug her own grave so that she wouldn’t be beholden to anyone even after death.  She even had a casket for her dog to be buried in the same grave.

I remember her house.  It was simple, but well ordered.  It only had one room, with a kitchen in the middle, her bed to one side and a sitting area to the other.

She wore a checked dress that was stiff with starch, and a matching bonnet that protected her face from the harsh sunlight of the high Rocky Mountains.  Her dog, of some unknown breed, was scruffy with wiry hair, and it followed her everywhere.  It slept with her at night on a special pad to protect the immaculate bedspread from his muddy paws.

To my shame, I have forgotten her name and the name of her dog.  But that fall, word went out that she had passed, and the little Baptist congregation nearby held a memorial for her.  They found her in bed with her hands neatly folded over her breast, and they put her in the casket she had made and buried her in the grave she had dug, and put the tombstone that she had chiseled in place.  A local family took the dog in, but he died that same winter, and was put into his casket and buried next to its human. She even had a stone chiseled with his name.

I don’t know why, but I long to go to that place in Arroyo Hondo and find those grave stones.  I am not even sure I could find it even if I was able to make that trip.

10 thoughts on “The Bittersweet Pain of Nostalgia

    Elaine said:
    March 31, 2023 at 6:14 pm

    I love memories like this!
    Thanks for sharing yours❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    Lia Storm said:
    March 31, 2023 at 7:10 pm

    This was really nice, sharing your memories and I am sure you have many more to share so there ya go, something to inspire you to write!! I sometimes get that desire to go find places from my memories, but not sure I would find anything and just find myself lost!!!

    Liked by 1 person

      Rusty Armor responded:
      April 1, 2023 at 10:52 am

      Just take a GPS with you, and when you get lost, tell it to take you home … 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        Lia Storm said:
        April 1, 2023 at 12:37 pm

        LOL my experience with GPS is it GETS me lost!!!

        Liked by 1 person

    Rivergirl said:
    April 1, 2023 at 5:53 am

    There’s something strangely beautiful about that sad memory. Building your own casket and digging your own grave is the very definition of non reliance and independence. People sure were tougher back in the day.

    Liked by 2 people

      Rusty Armor responded:
      April 1, 2023 at 10:53 am

      Yes, they were a different breed for sure. I think much of their self-reliance would be considered illegal in this day and age …

      Liked by 1 person

    croneskeep/Mop said:
    April 1, 2023 at 7:10 am

    People of that time were something else. No matter how much we’d like to be, we can never be like them because we were shaped by different times and raised by parents who wanted us to have it easier than they did. I wonder if she had any children to tend her stone? If not, it’s probably long gone and you wouldn’t be able to find it even if you could make the trip.

    I love the picture you chose for this. That woman was a beauty in her day, look at those freakin’ cheekbones!

    Liked by 2 people

    croneskeep/Mop said:
    April 1, 2023 at 7:14 am

    After ruminating on this for a bit – even if you made the trip, found the stones, would that give you what you’re looking for? Or are you looking for the feeling you had that day? My mom used to have a friend with a little house just big enough for her, her husband, and three kids. Dee loved color, and every room in that house was a different one. The walls were crooked and the ceiling sagged in a couple places. But every time you stepped through the door, you felt like you were getting a hug.

    Liked by 1 person

      Rusty Armor responded:
      April 1, 2023 at 10:56 am

      I don’t know … it would be an idle thing. The only thing I remember was the property was north of the highway and that there was three graves. Her husband, her, and her dog.
      Some years later my grandparents built another house south of that highway, and I didn’t take the detour to visit her homestead …


    The Hinoeuma said:
    April 1, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    Lovely and fascinating story. People were much tougher back then, than today. Thanks for sharing.


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