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SCHOOL IN SOCORRO



          Large windows on the north wall gave brightness to the otherwise typical classroom of twenty-five fifth grade students.  Everyone was a stranger to me except Mr. Douglas.  He was writing on the blackboard in front of the room.  He had not brought attention to me, and I remained detached from him.  It appeared we had a silent agreement of keeping our kindred secret.
          At recess, I stood aloof and watched the other girls jump and skip across the hopscotch squares.  No one spoke to me, and I didn’t make an effort to join in.  Before, when I started a new school, I had been sure of myself, but this time I lacked confidence, and the other children may have sensed it.
          At noon, Mom had tomato soup and tuna fish sandwiches ready for lunch.
          “How’s school?” Mom asked hopefully.
          “Okay,” I lied.
          “I’ll go to school next year,” Bronco piped.
          Boy will you be sorry, I thought as I bit extra hard into the sandwich.
          I made my feet cross the street and return to the grade school.  I had decided it should be called, “Socorro Alcatraz Elementary!”
          The afternoon was just as lonely as the morning.  After school, when the other kids were laughing and walking home together, I ran across the pavement, through the fenced in yard and into the duplex.  I had made a decision.  I hated school and all fifth graders, and in that order!
          The following day, at recess, one of my classmates walked up to where I was standing, watching the other girls play.
          “Hi,” she said, “I’m Joy,” she invited me to join in the hopscotch game, and for the first time I talked to the some of the other girls.  I could see a glimmer of hope.
          After school, Joy ran up to me.
          “Can you come over to my house?” she asked.
          “I’ll have to ask my mother,” I responded.  I was hoping Mom would say yes, and she did.
          Joy and I made an effort to converse as we walked to her house, but there were long periods of silence.  We didn’t know each other.
           At Joy’s house, her mother was very nice and said she was glad to meet me.  She hoped I was getting acquainted at school.  Joy took the saucer of cookies her mother gave us, and I followed her into her bedroom.  I was sitting on the bed eating a cookie when Joy said abruptly...
          “It wasn’t my idea to invite you here.  I only did it because Mother said I should be nice to you since you’re new at school.”
          Joy’s tone was catty, and I realized she didn’t really want me for a friend.  My heart sank and the glimmer of hope died.  My throat tightened and I fought back tears.  I felt vulnerable and desperate!  Without Joy’s friendship I would be alone at school again.  I listened incredibly to my own voice as it spoke meekly...”Thank you for being nice to me.”
          As I walked home, I kicked a rock out of my way and wiped angry tears from my eyes.  My face burned with shame every time I remembered thanking "that girl" for being nice to me.  My self-esteem and pride had been dealt a blow.


INSECURITY

         
Just moved to Socorro. One of the times my hair was cut. The picture on the right reveals volumes.
          The springs squeaked as I turned over in my bed.  Bronco was sleeping peacefully across the room.  It was comforting to know he was there.  An emotion of protective love rose up in me as I watched his sleeping form.  I would always take care of him, I decided; he needed me.  I tossed restlessly on the bed and moved the wet part of the pillowcase away from my face.  The room seemed strange and unfamiliar in the dark.  I gazed up at the ceiling, then rose up and looked toward the bedroom door and the light shining through the crack.  Music and voices filtered into the room as the television played for the baby sitter.  Mom had gone out with new friends for the evening.
          I wish Mom would get home, I thought to myself.  At just that moment, I heard a car engine and headlights shown on the wall of the bedroom.  Maybe that’s her, I thought hopefully.  The car drove on by.  I lay back against the pillow.  Tears formed in my eyes until they filled to the brim, trickled down my cheeks, into my hair and pillowcase.  My imagination overpowered me.  What if Mom doesn’t come home?  She might be killed, and Bronco and I would be left alone!  I turned and sobbed into my pillow until, finally exhausted, my eyelids closed heavily and I slept.

LIVING BY EMOTION OR LOGIC...DECISIONS BEYOND MY CONTROL

“Don, I’m going to sell the house and move to Socorro,” Mom announced to her older brother.  A little over a month had passed since Dad’s funeral.
“Now wait Wanda,” Uncle Don protested, “You should give this more thought.”
“The house is full of memories, and I can’t stand it! We have relatives in Socorro and a change might help.”
“You need more time before you make a decision,” her brother replied with a frown, “You might decide from emotion rather than logic.”
“I don’t have a lot of time,” Mom said, “School begins in less then a month, and we need to be settled by then.”
“If you decide to move to Socorro, don’t sell the house: rent it out,” Uncle Don advised.

The moving men carried our furniture and boxes into the duplex.  I stood on the screened in porch and stared across the street at the one level grade school.  Life had played a trick on me.  I would be starting school in Socorro instead of Magdalena or Albuquerque.
Butterflies whirled in my stomach at the thought of school.  Mr Douglas was the fifth grade teacher and he was a shirttail relative.  Mom said this would be to my advantage, but in my imagination I could see a host of mean fifth graders pointing their fingers and chanting, “Teachers pet.”
        Every time we went to Magdalena we had passed through Socorro.  Dad’s sister Florence and her husband Eldon had lived here for years, and we have visited them often.  But, I had never expected to live in Socorro.
          I left the porch, dodging the couch propelled through the air by two pairs of legs, and explored the fenced in yard.  Mom had chosen the duplex because it was close to school.  She said I would be able to come home for lunch every day. 
         With another thought of school I felt like running from the future.  But, where would I go?  Back to the house on Childers Drive?  Back to Philipsburg?  I had the feeling I wanted to go home.  But where was home?  No place was home with out Dad.  He had been the one stabilizing force in our lives.  Without him, we were like sifting sand, unsettled and without foundation.

Socorro

I included a history of Socorro, New Mexico because much of my childhood revolved here.

THE HISTORY OF SOCORRO, NEW MEXICO

Socorro History








Socorro (literally to give aid, to give succor) was indeed a source of help to the first expedition of Spanish families traveling north from Mexico in 1598, led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar. Socorro’s first inhabitants, Piro-speaking people of the Teypana Pueblo, welcomed the scouting party of Oñate and his men. They showed no fear of the strangers, according to Oñate’s official log, and with hand signs told the group what lay ahead.
When the Teypana inhabitants unexpectedly gave the group a large gift of corn, Oñate renamed the pueblo Socorro.
Nothing remains of Teypana today, but on the east edge of Socorro County, the ruins of the vast Gran Quivira Pueblo stand as tribute to the great trade culture of the Pueblo Indians. One of three pueblos of the Salinas Missions National Monument, the ruins of Gran Quivira show the excellent masonry of their architecture.
Oñate’s expedition began a century of trade along El Camino Real (the Royal Road). From its early days of caravans bringing missionaries and supplies, the road over its 223-year history connected the New Mexico Territory to Mexico and Spain.
Little parajes (resting places) sprang up along the Rio Grande from Paraje de Fra Cristobal, at the northern end of Jornada del Muerto, to Casa Colorado in the northern end of today’s Socorro County. A bit of the oldest trail in North America can still be traversed along a dirt road section east of Escondida. El Camino Real is beginning to receive the recognition it deserves in history. A visitors center detailing the road’s history opened in the fall of 2005 at the south end of Socorro County, overlooking a section of the historic El Camino Real.
San Miguel Mission, in the City of Socorro, was one of four missions built among the Piro Pueblos during the 1600s. Spanish families surrounded the mission, farming and ranching on land given them in Spanish land grants. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Teypanas left with the Spaniards, establishing a new community further south. Socorro was not re-founded as a community again until late 1816.
In 1854, Fort Craig was built at the north end of Jornada del Muerto, to guard against Apache and Navajo raids and to protect El Camino Real. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the fort remained a Union Army Post.
On February 21, 1862, Confederate troops under General H.H. Sibley engaged the Union Army troops under Colonel R.S. Canby. Confederates won the Battle of Valverde, fought upstream from the fort at the Valverde Crossing. Fort Craig later was home to the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of Black soldiers who served after the Civil War.
Today, the Fort is open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, the site has interpretive signs and a campsite. The Battle of Valverde is re-enacted each year, on a weekend near its February anniversary date. Activities are centered in the City of Socorro and include re-enactments of the battle, the “liberation” of the town of Socorro and other events.
The arrival of the railroad in the 1880s brought miners, merchants, and cattlemen to Socorro County. In the west, Magdalena became the center of mining activities and the “End of the Trail” for cattle drives from farther west. The town of Socorro sported a grain mill, a brewery and smelters to process the ores. California mission style homes and buildings took their place among the adobes in the booming towns. In 1889, the area’s first university opened: the New Mexico School of Mines, now known as New Mexico Tech. NM Tech has garnered an international reputation in the sciences and is consistently rated as a top college nationally. The Tech campus is also home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s VLA and VLBA, and several associated entities.
The beginning of World War II saw an increase in activity in Socorro County’s southeast quarter. With the increase in temporary workers traveling through, San Antonio’s Frank Chavez answered a need by opening a small restaurant in his store, and created the first green chile hamburger at the Owl Bar and Cafe. The workers wouldn’t say what they were doing but did tell residents to watch for something big on the morning of July 16, 1945. Many Socorroans remember the light of the first atomic blast at White Sands Missile Range. Trinity Site is now a monument, open twice a year.
Socorro residents maintain an independent attitude, reminiscent of its “Wild West” past. In the ’50s, a few citizens trumpeted the idea that Socorro had somehow escaped all legal transfers from Spain to Mexico to the U.S. and started a secession campaign. License plates reading “Free State of Socorro” can still be seen.

ESCAPE




                     

          “The children and I might go to Philipsburg for a visit,” Mom said to Uncle Don the next time he stopped to see us.
          It had been two weeks since Dad’s funeral.  The house felt empty and lonely.  We were having a hard time adjusting, especially Mom.
          Montana is so far,” Uncle Don said skeptically.
          “I know it is, but I’ve got to get away.  There are friends I want to see again.  We had a good life there,” Mom said wistfully.
          My hopes stirred at the possibility of returning to Philipsburg.  I remembered the little town nestled in the mountains.
          “Sis, why don’t you visit April in Kansas?” Uncle Don suggested, “I know she would love to have you, and Gloria and Bronco would enjoy the farm.”
          “Well, I don’t know,” Mom hesitated.
          “You would be getting away for awhile and it wouldn’t be so far to go.  You would be with family,” Uncle Don persuaded.
          Mom called her sister long distance, and April’s invitation was, “Please come.”
          Two days later, we stood at the Albuquerque train depot preparing to board the Santa Fe Railway train.  Bronco and I stared in awe at the succession of railroad cars lined up behind the engine.
          “Where’s the caboose?” Bronco asked excitedly.
          “At the end,” I declared, with my big sister expertise.
          We hugged Grandma Underwood and Uncle Don and climbed the steel steps into the train.
The earth tones and rugged terrain of New Mexico sped by the large passenger windows in the morning hours.  At noon, the sun shone bright on the Colorado greenness and by mid afternoon, the locomotive, with its procession or railroad cars, wound through the Rocky Mountains.  Evening shadows were falling as the train made its passage across the plains of eastern Colorado and into Kansas.
          The locomotive slowed and came to a jugging halt in Goodland Kansas.  Four smiling faces greeted us as we disembarked from our iron transportation.
          Aunt April, Mom’s older sister by fourteen months, was a happy, talkative person who never stood still for long.  Uncle Ken did more smiling than talking, but when he did speak, his voice was in low volume.  Kim was their son, and he and Bronco were close to the same age.  Gayle, their daughter, was younger then Kim.  She had large brown eyes. 
          The paneled, brown station wagon hummed with laughter and voices, as Uncle Ken drove down the gravel country roads.
          Every light in the beige, brick farmhouse was on as we enjoyed the fellowship of family and good food.  Late that night, after we were tucked into bed, I snuggled deep in the covers and felt my first happiness in weeks.  I was glad we had come.
          Mornings were for early rising on the farm.  Aunt April was in the kitchen making coffee and breakfast.  Uncle Ken was in the barn doing his chores.   
           

             After breakfast, everyone piled into the station wagon.  Uncle Ken drove up the country road and parked next to a field full of animals.
          We gazed at large, brownish-black animals, and they stared back just as rudely.  They wore a hump on their backs, horns protruded through  coarse hair, that covered their heads, ran down their faces and throats, forming beards.
          “What are those?” asked Bronco, “They don’t look like cows.”
          Uncle Ken’s laugh was a low roar.  “No they aren’t cows, they are buffalo.”
          “Wow, I thought the Indians killed all of them,” I said genuinely impressed, “Do they belong to you?”
          “Yep, they sure do,” Uncle Ken said proudly, “there aren’t many of them left.  Herds use to roam this country, but they are a rare breed not.”
          Uncle Ken started the engine of the station wagon and we drove back to the farmhouse.  As soon as we pulled into the driveway, the boys bounded from the vehicle and ran to play.  They were soon lost in their own little world of toy cars and Tonka trucks.
           I headed for the newborn kittens; Aunt April had shown me. I had always loved cats, but I had never had one for a pet, because Dad hadn’t liked them.
   I laid my cheek against the kitten nestled in my arms; it felt soft and its little black nose was wet.
The morning flew by.  Aunt April called us to lunch. We sat around the table, four cousins chattering like magpies.  Everyone was enjoying the time together, except Mom.  Aunt April tried to draw her into the activity, but she remained quiet and aloof.  I had the feeling that she wished we hadn’t come.
On the third day of our visit, Aunt April said we might go to the swimming pool in town.  I entered the living room to ask when we were going.  Right away I could feel the tenseness.  Evidently, Mom had just announced that she was leaving.  Aunt April was upset.
‘Wanda you can’t leave.  You just got here,” April was saying.
“There’s no use in trying to change my mind.  We’re going back to Albuquerque!”
“But, you were going to stay for two weeks,” April pleaded.
“I thought I would feel better if I got away, but it hasn’t helped.  I just don’t want to stay any longer,” Mom said bluntly.
Mom would not relent.  There wasn’t a train leaving for Albuquerque until the next morning. We would be staying in a hotel.
Uncle Ken put our suitcases in the station wagon.  We hugged our Aunt and told our cousin’s goodbye.  I felt confused about leaving so soon.  I was angry with Mom for her sudden decision and sad because Aunt April was upset over us leaving.
The light from the hallway, shone through a window over the old wooden door in the hotel room.  I lay in the unfamiliar bed trying to make sense of it all. I could still see Aunt April, as she waved goodbye to us.  I missed Kim and Gayle and the farm.  I was upset at Mom.  Of all her sisters, April was the one Mom had sibling rivalry with.  She didn’t seem to care that she had hurt April.  I just couldn’t understand why Mom was doing this!
On the train the next morning, Mom sat next to the passenger window.  She turned toward me.
“We should have gone to Montana.”
I knew in my heart that Philipsburg wouldn’t have eased her pain anymore than Kansas, because Dad wasn’t there.
The locomotive jerked and began moving.  Slowly it pulled away from the Goodland depot and gained momentum as it traveled the Kansas Plains.  Late that evening we reentered the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico.

LUCKY'S CHILD

       Bronco and I watched the black and white cartoon characters dart back and forth across the screen.  Dad had been saving money to buy our first television set, but it was bought without his presence.
The front door was open, and the warmth of the sun shone through the screen door, causing shadowy designs on the hardwood floor.  Uncle Don was sitting in the straight chair, and Grandma Underwood sat on the couch.  She appeared exhausted from the last four days.
Mom entered the living room.  She was void of makeup, and her usually well kept hair hung limp and lifeless.  Her grief and loss of weight make her look older then her twenty-nine years.
“Come and sit down, Sis,” Uncle Don said, motioning to the gold chair.  It was the first time in days that there was an empty chair.  The house was quiet and void of relatives and friends.  They had returned to their own lives, but we were still here with our loss.
“I just can’t believe it, Don,” Mom said sadly, as new tears came into her already red-rimmed eyes, “What will I do with out him?”
“It will be hard Sis, but you will make it,” Don consoled.
          I moved from the floor, in front of the television set, and sat next to Grandma.
“Why did it have to be Slim?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know, Wanda,” Don answered.
“Slim was such a good man,” Mom said wistfully.
“Yes, he was; but Sis be careful and don’t put Slim on a pedestal that Bronco won’t be able to live up to,” her brother advised.
          Their voices faded, as I became absorbed in my thoughts.  Uncle Don’s last words surfaced something that I had been stuffing inside of me.  Why did he only mention Bronco and not me?  Normally, I probably would have reasoned that it was because Bronco was a boy, and boys follow their father’s footsteps; but during the last few days, amid conversations, I had heard Dad referred to as “Bronco’s dad.”
           Grownups talked past me, not expecting me to hear because I was a child.  They didn’t realize that I was listening and deciphering everything that was said.  No one knew the heartache I carried, and that I was trying desperately to figure out where I fit in the maze around me.  I was a child.  An active, living sponge, soaking up words, actions and impressions.  When I wasn’t mentioned in the course of a conversation, where I knew my name belonged, it bothered me.  Why didn’t they say “Bronco and Gloria’s dad?”        
              In slow motion my mind fed me the answers: Kenneth...Bolding...Williams...adopted.  As gently as possible, my subconscious reminded my conscious that Dad was not my real father.  With that, came the realization that life-long friends and relatives knew it too.  They knew I was “Lucky’s child.”
          I snuggled up to Grandma.
“Are you alright, honey?”
“I’m fine, grandma,” I said, but inside I didn’t feel special, and insecurity was building a stronghold.


               

 

FROM A CHILD'S VIEW


                                         Daddy Slims funeral...1954

                 I glanced down at the blue dress.  I had wanted the white organdy one,
 but Mom said it wasn’t appropriate.  My new shoes stood on the green grass beneath me.  They were white patent leather.  Raising my head, my eyes met the brown casket covered with flowers.   I looked away to sad faces encircling the gravesite.  The minister was reading from a small black book, “From dust you were taken and unto dust shall thou return...”
          My mud pottery came to my mind.  I could see it being formed from the earth.  It sat with substance for a while and then crumbled and returned to the earth from where it had come.
          Mom’s hand squeezed mine.  She stood between Bronco and I with her head bowed.
          “Since we are assured of a resurrection through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and...”
          I thought of Dad in heaven.  I remembered Ringo our dog.  He had been run over in front of our house in Philipsburg.  After we buried him, I sat on the back porch of the red brick house.  My heart felt like two hands were tearing it apart, but I couldn’t cry and release the grip of pain.  I stared up at the blue sky.  Clouds were passing overhead toward the west.  One cloud arrested my attention.  I watched with fascination as it moved straight upward.
          “Mom...Mom come quickly!” I yelled.
          Mom hurried to the porch, thinking that something was wrong.
          “Mom, look at that cloud!” I exclaimed as I pointed to the one odd form.
          She was as captivated as I was.  We watched the visible mass of vapor continue its journey until it disappeared.
          “That is really unusual,” Mom mused aloud, “What would make a cloud move upward instead of in motion with the other clouds?”
          “It was Ringo, Mom,” I said with child like faith, “God took Ringo to heaven, and He let me see the cloud so I would know He’s taking care of him for me.”
          The droning sound of the minister’s voice ceased and in its place was muffled sobs. I felt arms hugging me.  Mom was crying as friends and relatives consoled her. 
Uncle Don and Grandma Underwood helped her back to the black limousine.  Bronco and I followed behind.
The back seat of the car had plush velvet upholstery.  Mom placed her arms around Bronco and I.  She began to cry.
“You’re all I have left,” she sobbed.  Instinctively, I stiffened.  I didn’t want to be “all” that she had left.



My mom, Wanda and me...1944 I was a few months old
Magdalena, on the ranch.

Gloria and Bronco...christmas...1953 Childers Drive.

KENNETH AND WANDA ...before I was born.

A PAIN IN MY HEART...WHERE ARE MY TEARS?

Summer of 1954

          The hot afternoon sun beat down on the backyard where I sat on the ground near the house.  It was a lazy summer afternoon, but this ten-year-old had no time for napping.  I was entertaining myself while Mom and Bronco took their naps.  Building a mound of dirt, I scooped out the top, leaving a cavity.  I poured water into the hole and watched as the parched soil soaked up the liquid.  Very gently, I removed the remaining earth surrounding the wet dirt, and there was my creation of pottery.  Tenderly lifting the mud bowl, I set it with the others.  They would dry in the sun and in a few days they would begin to crumble and the hot dry wind would blow them back to the earth from where they had come.
          The backyard was still brown and barren, except for one tree.  Spring and summer had emerged upon us, but the grass was still unsown.  The ranch in Magdalena came to mind, and I wondered if we would be here long enough to plant grass.  We had looked at the Wilson’s place, and Dad and Mom were making plans to buy it. 
          The ranch was on the outskirts of Magdalena and from the encircling porch, the small town could be seen in the distance.  I had accepted the idea of living there.  One special glimmer of interest contributed to my approval; Dad said I would have my own horse.  I could envision myself in hat and saddle, a regular “Magdalena cowgirl.”
          In the fall I would be entering the fifth grade, but I didn’t know if the beginning of the year would be in Albuquerque or Magdalena.
          Lifting my head, I listened.  I thought I heard the doorbell...
          Oh well, it probably wasn’t.  I scooped the top out of another mound of dirt.
          “Ding dong.”
          There it was again.  I stood and brushed soil from my hands and legs and entered the back door.  The coolness of the house was refreshing compared to the hot back yard.  The rooms were quiet and serene as I walked to the front door and opened it.  Three people stood on the front step: two men in suits and our neighbor lady.
          “Hello,” one of the men said, as I opened the screen door, “Is your mother at home?”
          “I’m sorry, but she’s taking a nap,” I said as I focused my attention on the neighbor’s face.  Her countenance was strained and her complexion was white, as if all her coloring had faded away.  I remembered Dad’s words, “mind your manners” and forced my focus back on the man who had spoke.
          “Could you come back later?” I asked.
          “No, I’m sorry,” the spokesman replied firmly, “This is very important.  Please wake your mother.”
          “Okay, just a minute,” I said and closed the screen door.
          As I turned to walk away, I heard the door open.  I glanced back and saw the three of them standing in the threshold.  I felt irritation at their discourtesy.  Dad wouldn’t like them entering without being invited.
          Mom wouldn’t like being woke up either, I thought as I opened the bedroom door and peaked in at her sleeping form.  Her back was towards me as I moved to the side of the bed.  Pin curls covered her head.  It was her custom to roll her hair every afternoon so it would look nice when Dad got home.  Her eyelids fluttered as I gently shook her arm.
          “Mom, there are some people here to see you.”
“What?” Mom asked sleepily opening her eyes.
          “They want to talk to you.  They say it is very important.  They are already in the living room!” I said emphasizing their rudeness.
          Our strange visitors were waiting for us as we entered the living room.  The same man spoke again, “Mrs. Williams, we have some bad news to tell you.  You may want your daughter to leave the room, and it would be best if you set down.”
          There was tension building in the air, like thunderclouds before a storm.  Mom was visibly shaken.  She looked at me and I retreated from the room.  I stood in the doorway where I could see and hear everything.
          Mom sat on the edge of the gold chair.  Fear was written across her face and her voice quivered, “What is it?” she asked.
          “Mrs. Williams,” the spokesman verbalized with obvious regret, “I regret to tell you this, but your husband Marion M. Williams was accidentally electrocuted this afternoon while working on a power line.”
          My heart gripped, as in a vise, and my breathing slowed until it was almost still.  The scene before my eyes was unreal, as if actions were deliberately in slow motion.  In this one circle of time, all of life came to a shocking halt.
          Mom stared at the spokesman and said with hopeful unbelief,
          “No! You have the wrong man!  You’ve made a mistake!”
          I’m sorry Mrs. Williams; I wish it was a mistake.”
          “No! No! It has to be a mistake!” Mom’s voice tore from her very soul.
          The neighbor lady walked over and put her arm around Mom’s shaking body.  “I’m so sorry Wanda,” she said softly.
          I stood frozen in the doorway.  I’m not sure how long I stood there.  I can’t remember ever moving, but I must have because soon the house was filled with relatives and neighbors.
          Grandma Underwood came, and I stayed close to her.  When she sat on the couch, I leaned against her.  I felt secure with her arm around me.  When she got up from the couch and left me sitting there, I felt empty and lonely.
          Aunt Ruby arrived and there was another arm around me.  When she took it away, I wanted to say “Please put it back,” but I didn’t.  If someone had offered me a lap to curl up in I might have taken it; but I was ten years old and not a baby any more.
          Mom stayed in her bedroom most of the time.  I stood outside the door.  I could here her crying and moaning, “Slim, oh Slim.”
          I went to Grandma.
          “She’s alright Gloria,” Grandma comforted, as she saw my concern, “She needs time by herself, and she needs to cry.”
          Why didn’t I cry?  Didn’t I care?  Everyone else cried, but I just stayed dry eyed with a pain in my heart.  I followed Grandma into the kitchen.  I didn’t want to be alone.  I felt confused, without any bearings.  Our world had crashed in one day, and I was scared!
          When Mom came out of the bedroom, she left for the funeral home.  I sat on the couch, in the living room, and watched people come and go.
          Dishes of food covered the oblong oak table in the kitchen, but no one ate.  Time passed; darkness settled in; lights were turned on in the house; and the door kept opening and closing with neighbors, relatives and friends.  A deep sadness prevailed over all.
          Mom returned.  She was tired and appeared haggard.  After talking a few minutes with friends, she entered the bedroom and shut the door.
          An arm wrapped around my shoulder and I gazed up into Grandma Underwood’s face.
          “Come on honey, let’s get you to bed.  Bronco’s been asleep for hours and you need some sleep too.”
          She helped me get ready for bed, tucked in the covers and kissed my forehead.
          “You rest, everything will be better in the morning,” Grandma said as she left the room.
          I lay in my bed and watched the images of relatives talking and comforting each other in the well-lit living room. 
                                The bedroom was dark, and I was alone.

TRYING TO UNDERSTAND.


          One day, during the following month, while Bronco napped and Dad was at work, Mom showed me pictures of Kenneth.  I gazed at the man dressed in an army uniform; his service cap cocked over one eye.
          “Here’s one that was taken shortly after we married,” Mom said as she handed me a photo.
           Mom appeared young in the picture.  She was wearing a print cotton dress, and even in the black and white photo I could tell she was blushing.  The man standing beside her, with his arm around her shoulder, was a few inches taller.  His dark hair, parted on one side, waved back from his forehead and his lips were drawn into a pleasant smile.  I wished I could see the color of his eyes.
          “Who’s this?” I asked Mom, pointing to a second man and woman in the picture.
          “That’s Pa Bolding, you grandfather.  Well, at least I called him “Pa, and that’s his wife.”
          “Is she Kenneth’s mother?” I asked.
          “No, Kenneth’s Mom and dad were divorced and both remarried.  Kenneth’s real mother, Mrs. Murphy, lives in Arizona, and Kenneth has a half brother and sister from her second marriage.”
          I was trying hard to keep everything straight in my young mind.  I listened with rapt attention, not wanting to miss anything.
          Mom continued, “I really enjoyed Pa and his second wife.  That picture was taken when we visited them in Texas.  They don’t live there now.  I heard they moved to California.  Lucky...Kenneth is in California also.  He has started his own business out there."
          Mom laid a couple of pictures before me and her eyebrows knit together a she continued talking...
          “I really should never have married Lucky, because I didn’t love him.  In many ways we were both immature,” her voice had a sadness and regretful as she spoke.
          She seemed to forget I was there and her words came as old memories.  I listened as she reminisced of a marriage that had never had a firm foundation.  She spoke of jealousy, accusations, arguments and separations.  She spoke of Lucky (I noticed she used his nickname and only with conscious effort did she call him Kenneth), joining the army and being stationed overseas.  Lastly she spoke of a woman he met in England.
          "We were finally divorced.  I felt guilty, and had a hard time holding my head up around Magdalena.  All the town gossips had a hay day, because very few people got divorced.  It was considered a disgrace.  Many of them thought I should have stuck with my marriage no matter what.  But, they didn’t have to live with it. "
           "You and I had moved back home after you were born.  My family lived on the outskirts of Magdalena at that time,” Mom’s expression softened and a smile played across her lips, “Every one of my brothers and sisters treated you like their own. "
          Mom rummaged through the pictures and handed me one.  I recognized Mom and her sister Ruby.  They were sitting on the hood of an old car.  Their hair was braided and wrapped on top of their heads and they were wearing sloppy shirts and rolled up jeans.  It was obvious, from the photo, that they were enjoying themselves.  Behind them, one on each side of the car, were two men making faces at the camera. 
          Mom laughed, “That’s Deryl and Gene Gaines.  I dated Deryl and Ruby dated Gene.  They were a lot of fun.  They lived in Socorro and they would drive over on Saturday nights.
           I dated Deryl and Slim during the same period of time.  I couldn’t decide whom to marry.  Deryl and I were like a couple of kids, just having a good time.  Slim was more mature and ready to settle down.  I made up my mind to marry Slim, but when he told his parents they disapproved because I was divorced and had a child.  Slim married me anyway.”  Mom’s face mirrored the rejection she felt as she continued,
          “For awhile, after we were married, Slim’s folks wouldn’t allow me to come into their home.  You and I stayed outside in the car while Slim went into see them.  He was upset over the situation, and they must have felt they would lose him, because they finally did invite you and me into their house."
          Understanding flooded me as I listened to Mom.  I could feel her hurt and I wanted to reach out and comfort her but I didn’t know how, so I just sat quietly and listened.
          Mom straightened herself and began putting the pictures back in order.  She seemed to be trying to pull herself back from the past.  She looked at me as if she wanted me to comprehend what she was going to say,      “Slim has been a good father to you.  He adopted you so you could bear his name.  He has even taken a firm hand in disciplining you, because I had a hard time doing it,” Mom’s voice became softer, “Remember at the church in Philipsburg when you sang the solo?  Why, he got tears in his eyes.  He cares about you.”
          Mom’s words hit the cords of my heart.  Did she know I was wondering if Dad loved me?  Did she know I felt distant from him?  I had spent a lot of time remembering the times he had disciplined me and was having a hard time remembering when he had shown me love.
          Mom didn’t tell me if Dad was aware of my new knowledge that he wasn’t my real father.  Instinctively I sensed that he knew.  He seldom teased me anymore, and I felt that he was sterner.  Of course, there were times lately when I thought he didn’t have a right to tell me what to do; after all he wasn’t my father.
           I never expressed what I was thinking.  Perhaps he could see it in my eyes and mannerisms...perhaps he feared he had lost his fatherly standing with me...perhaps...perhaps...I never knew because we didn’t verbally communicate.  We were two strangers, who had always known each other.  An invisible chasm separated us.  Each of us longing for it to be the way it had been, but neither of us knowing how to make the crossing.
          It would never be the same.