How I ended up in Tesuque, New Mexico . . .
1996, San Francisco, CA
I reached up and grabbed my boss’s boney little shoulders and shook him trying to make my point. He looked at his secretary, who was standing nearby, and said “You’re a witness. I’ve just been harassed.” I didn’t realize at that moment that this would be the end of my career with El Paso Natural Gas and that I would soon be on my way to exciting new adventures in New Mexico.
Soon after our little episode, I was contacted by Human Resources in El Paso to tell me that a new early retirement package was about to be released. Since I had turned 55 in the past year, I was eligible, and they said I could just use up my vacation and I didn’t even need to come into the office anymore – they would just send out all the paper work. I think they were afraid of the damage I might inflict if I returned to the office. Deciding discretion was indeed the better part of valor, I took the package.
This was really the first time in my life that I was making such an important decision all on my own. Growing up, my parents had dictated any decisions, then once I was out of college, it was my job. Then when I was married, it was my husband. Then after the divorce, it was the job again.
So here I was with an enormous decision to make on my own: where should I move and live?
Santa Fe, New Mexico had always exerted a pull on me ever since I went there with friends in the late 1960s. It’s been a haven for artists for decades and there’s something about the undulating edges of the old adobe structures that I always found appealing. Indian Market, an enormous art show showcasing Native-American art, held every year in August was always a wonderful time to go. Staying at the La Fonda, a Santa Fe landmark right in the center of town just off the plaza, always made for a stimulating and inspiring visit. The whole place just seemed magical. What better place to run away to?
First thing I needed was a car. One advantage to living in a city like San Francisco is the public transportation. I lived close enough to the office that I would either walk to work or ride the cable car. I had gotten the “wild and crazy” car out of my system when I was living in Midland, Texas and bought a red Porsche 911. It was a “spur of the moment” decision to buy the thing and I loved every minute I had it. The payments were astronomical and there was an enormous balloon payment due at the end of five years which would have had a very serious economic impact. But the real decision-maker was driving a $50K car with a manual transmission on the streets of San Francisco. I was a nervous wreck! So much for the image – I was sure I was going to seriously demolish this wonderful little car, so I bit the bullet and sold it. End of an era.
My son, Rhodes, had a ’93 Jeep Wrangler from his days in Austin at UT and was just about to move from San Francisco to Portland to enter graduate school. I think he was transitioning to a more “adult” phase and I was transitioning to an “I don’t know what” phase, so I bought his Jeep. For some reason, I decided that I wanted to get it painted yellow. Not taxi cab yellow, just a nice bright yellow. Rhodes was a bit horrified at my choice of color and reacted in that vastly superior way that members of the next generation have when they think their parents are doing something really strange and/or stupid.
Leaving San Francisco was hard because I had made some wonderful friends and it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to live. I hated to leave the little carriage house on Lombard Street on Russian Hill just a block below the “crooked street” where I had lived happily for the past five years. I did manage to sell most of my furniture that I had brought with me from El Paso and what was left I had shipped to Santa Fe and put into storage. Somehow, I managed to load everything else I thought I needed into the Jeep and I took off for Santa Fe.
I had never been that good at backing up anyway, but in the excitement of actually leaving for my big adventure, backing up the driveway from my little carriage house, I managed to back into and tear off the whole set of flower boxes on the wall along the driveway. My landlords had become wonderful friends over the years, and they were so gracious and kind in saying that they were planning on replacing the flowerboxes anyway. Not an entirely auspicious way to start my new adventure!
Rhodes drove out with me as far as the Albuquerque airport where he caught a flight to Portland. We had encountered some snow in Flagstaff, Arizona and when I was driving to Santa Fe from Albuquerque, it was just starting to really snow. It seemed so appropriate for the start of my new adventure. The excitement of starting on a new adventure was really settling in. My friend, Nancy, had retired a few months earlier from her job in San Francisco and was house-sitting in Santa Fe. She had offered to let me stay with her until I got settled. We had agreed to meet in the gift shop of the La Fonda Hotel. This was a favorite spot for both of us so we knew if we didn’t both get there at the same time, we could just settle in and peruse all the books and magazines. Another wonderful pastime is just sitting and watching the people in the La Fonda lobby. There’s always a fascinating, eclectic combination of people in a remarkably small space. We both arrived within five minutes of each other, which was good because Nancy was a little worried about the fact that it was snowing pretty heavily by then and we needed to get out of town and up into the mountains to where she was staying. She was renting a one-room “berm” house that had been cut out of the side of a hill during one of the “back to nature” periods that regularly affect life in New Mexico. It was one big room and the only privacy consisted of a curtain drawn across the bathroom in the corner of the room. A bit constipatory to say the least. The heat was provided by a wood stove in the center of the room that had to be re-stocked in the morning by the first one up and about. And it was cold! Snow covered the ground. I was sleeping on the top layer of a bunk bed which looked right out a window at ground level so you looked right into the snow. It was a delightfully warm and cozy place once you got the fire going. But when the fire was out, it got REALLY COLD in a hurry. When we first talked about my coming to stay with her, she had told me to just think of the house as my own. Apparently I took her word for it – to an extreme – especially when the computer that I had ordered arrived, combined with a computer desk, and I started getting settled. Nancy was quite gracious and tolerated it for as long as she could until she threw my suitcase across the room in a fit of pique and I figured I’d better find someplace else to live. The “house gods” were looking out for me and the very next day I found a little casita to rent in Santa Fe, from two wonderful gay guys who took me in under their wing when I mentioned that my son was also gay. Joel and Sam were both originally from New York and had recently moved back to Santa Fe after spending several years in Italy. Joel is an amazing artist and Sam was teaching English in the local high school. Joel had built the casita next door to their house for his parents to live in, but unfortunately his dad had died just before the casita was finished. Plans changed. Joel’s mom, Anita, moved into the main house with them and they fixed up the casita to rent. The inside was decorated like something out of Architectural Digest. Joel’s paintings made it seem like living in an amazing gallery. It was small but it had everything you needed. Which was exactly what I needed after hauling all my stuff across the country for so many years. I had just what I had in the Jeep plus my computer so I was completely moved in and as snug as a bug in a rug in the space of a couple of hours.
This was in February 1996 and Joel and Sam had already arranged to rent out the casita for August to friends who came to Santa Fe every summer for the opera. So that gave me six months to find a place of my own.
Before I left Nancy’s hospitality, I gathered up all my retirement papers and we started a fire up on the hill outside. She had found a drum in the house, so with Nancy doing some sort of ritualistic drumming and with the encouragement of several bottles of wine, I burned all my EPNG papers and plaques in a blaze of glory. It all felt very cathartic and perfect for a new beginning.
Driving back and forth to the “berm house” from town along Bishop’s Lodge Road, I had noticed a For Sale sign for an “artist studio”. Having worked as a chemical engineer for 35 years, being an artist was a dream that had been buried for many years. (Another fantasy was to be a ballet dancer, but that hope had been quickly dashed when I persistently fell over the coffee table in the middle of the living room as I was growing up.) Although the For Sale sign was on an outside adobe wall, I just felt drawn to find out what was behind that wall, marked by a sign pointing to a place called Tesuque Meadow. Once I got to see the little house behind the adobe wall, I just fell in love with it. Despite my unfortunate encounter with the flower boxes in San Francisco, I was won over by the flower boxes on the front of the little house which has once been a two-car garage. Probably due to its humble origin, it was about the only place in Tesuque that I could afford. Tesuque is a little village just north of Santa Fe that borders on the Tesuque Pueblo land. For years it had been a sleepy, quiet little village until it was discovered in the 1960s when Santa Fe became the destination for the wealthy, “IN” people. Since then, a lot of the little houses that had belonged to families for generations were bought and torn down to make way for HUGE adobe houses set behind high adobe walls, many built for people who lived there only few months out of year. A minimum lot size was declared for the village, making it impossible for the families who had been living there to split up their lots to pass on to their children. Sometimes, the animosity to the “new” people was almost palpable. I eventually got sort of used to hearing people say “Oh, . . .” when I said I lived in Tesuque as though this automatically meant I had loads of money. I felt obliged to dash their misconceptions by telling them I lived in a garage – granted, a two-car garage, but still a garage.
Tesuque Meadow is on the west side of Bishop’s Lodge Road, just outside the city limits of Santa Fe, in the village of Tesuque. It consists of a small “gathering” of buildings, sitting on almost two acres. Originally there was one house with a separate two-car garage and a barn, all facing on Bishop’s Lodge Road. In the late 1970s, there was a housing shortage in Santa Fe and the two-car garage was converted into a duplex and rented out to students from St. John’s College in Santa Fe. Somewhere along the line, the barn was torn down and replaced with a little shed. About 1985, a woman from England bought the land behind the original house, down the hill behind the garage and the barn. A driveway was put in between the garage and the barn, leading down to the “meadow” part of Tesuque Meadow. The planned new house plus the original house plus the converted duplex meant there would now be three houses (a house is defined as a residence with a kitchen sink) on less than two acres – and only one well. The minimum lot size in Tesuque was ¾ acre. The solution was to drill a new well and to form a condominium with all three houses sharing the same well. About 1990, the “new” house was finished and looked like an English cottage surrounded by the beautiful gardens. The English woman who had built the “cottage” house then decided to build a log cabin on the other side of the Little Tesuque Creek that ran through the property. The cabin was not classified as a residence since it didn’t have a kitchen sink (or a stove for that matter) and it was built solely for Native-American ceremonies and was not to be used for anything else. This would raise some interesting issues later on.
By the time I bought my little house in 1996, it had been converted back from the duplex to a single-family residence with quite a simple floor plan – two rooms and a kitchen and a bath added on to the back – 900 square feet total. This was just the perfect little house for me. I redid the kitchen and had a two-way fireplace built in the wall between the living room and the bedroom/office. This made a wonderful, cozy space for those cold New Mexico nights.
I remember thinking that this would be a nice, quiet place to live, perhaps even a bit boring after the exciting lifestyle of San Francisco. Little did I know!! Stay turned for more adventures.
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