Monday, August 23, 2021

Mercado de Coronado - Puerto de Luna, New Mexico

Painting of My Grandma's House
by Christina Fajardo

In 2017 I wrote a blog reflecting back 45 years to 1972, when I was 16 years old. I was born and raised in Amarillo and had lived on the same block in the Hamlet neighborhood my whole life, up to that point.  It was a new middle income neighborhood when I was born. We were in walking distance to the largest park in Amarillo. Thompson Park had a Zoo, swimming pool and an amusement park called Wonderland. Life as I knew it, was pretty good on Magnolia Street. We had a 4 bedroom house and my dad had a workshop in the backyard and we always had a beautiful yard due to the fact that one of my dad's favorite pass times was watering the grass, feeding birds and stray cats.

This is the house I grew up in at
1804 Magnolia, Amarillo, Texas

Both of my brothers and my sister had gone to the local north side high school, Palo Duro High. However the climate had changed at the school considerably by the time I arrived there for my junior year. My best friend Regina's parents transferred her to Alamo private Catholic school. My parents decided to take me to Puerto de Luna, New Mexico to live with my 90 year old grandma on her farm. I realized later, this was simply to make a point, to show me how tough things really could be since I was seemly unhappy living in my perfect teenage bedroom with blacklight posters, walk-in closet and blue princess phone. 

Playing guitar in my bedroom

I had a cute boyfriend who lived down the street. We were either on the phone or hanging out at the swimming pool or Wonderland at Thompson Park.

Jay Spann and Christina Fajardo

Next thing I knew, I was, living with my grandma Rosita in Puerto de Luna, New Mexico. It made for a very interesting living situation since she was blind and she only spoke Spanish. My saving grace was that my Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Rita Padilla and their 8 kids lived next door. 

Me with my cousins who lived next door
 to my Grandmas Rosita, in Puerto de Luna, NM
From left to right: Percy Padilla, Christina Fajardo,
Mark Padilla, Rita Padilla and Michael 
Padilla

Distributive Education Class
Santa Rosa High
Bottom Row - Christina Fajardo
Middle Row - Connie Campos
Back Row - Percy Padilla

I wasn't really aware that my parents had taken me to Puerto de Luna to convence me of how good my life in Texas really was. Needless to say, they were extremely surprised when they returned a couple of weeks later to take me home and found that I had settled into my new dusty New Mexico farm life very well. I didn't mind sleeping on a roll away bed in my grandma's bedroom. I found it comforting to hear her pray the rosary at night in the dark with an owl hooting in the tree outside my window. The 12 mile school bus ride to Santa Rosa High wasn't so bad because the radio station seemed to play Jose Feliciano's "Ain't No Sunshine" every morning at the same time. I loved being the new girl in school and the teachers thought I was brilliant. Especially my art teacher, Mr. Lopez, who bought me canvas and oil paints while everyone else was painting on paper. I loved that the school cafeteria served rice, pinto beans, potatoes and tortillas for lunch. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was really at home. I found a group of friends who have remained lifelong friends, unlike the majority of the kids I had gone to school with for the previous 10 years. And the icing on the cake is that I have since learned that most of them are my cousins.

I didn't miss spending my weekends going out with the party animals of Amarillo. In fact, there was a small co-op grocery store/gas station in Puerto de Luna called "Mercado de Coronado." My first cousin Percy Padilla and I worked there on the weekends. It was located in an old, light green adobe building next to what used to be the Grzelachowski General Store, established 100 years earlier, around 1872. 

Photo of the "Mercado de Coronado" It has been closed for many years
Grzelachowski General Store, Puerto de Luna, NM

There were a couple of young men who were VISTA volunteers who helped organize "Mercado de Coronado." The other day I received an email from Sam, one of the VISTA volunteers. He said he had stumbled across my blog a couple of years ago while looking for news of Puerto de Luna. It was so cool to hear from him. I have such fond memories of that little store. The front room had a cash register, shelves of essentials like canned goods, bread, crackers and the not so essential candy and a refrigerator full of generic sodas. Then there was a pool table in the other room. The regulars would come by with money in hand to put their quarter on the pool table to take their turn at pool and another quarter for a soda. We also sold gasoline as you can see by the rusty old Conoco gas sign still standing out in front of the building in the photo.

The church where my parents were baptized and married was in walking distance and across the road was our family cemetery where my little brother, Larry was buried.

Nuestra Senora del Refugio Catholic Church

At the time, I had not a clue what historic events had taken place in that very location a century before. My paternal grandmother Josefita Labadie Fajardo's family lived in Puerto de Luna as well. My first cousin (3 generations back) Beatriz Labadie was married to Juan Patron. They had been living in Lincoln but the Lincoln County War had broken out so they moved to Puerto de Luna to live on the Labadie ranch. Upon their arrival, Juan raised money to have the church, Nuestra Senora del Refugio (Our Lady of Refuge) built in 1982. Unfortunately, the first mass held in the church was for Juan Patron's funeral. He was murdered at a salon in Puerto de Luna.
He is buried under the nave of the church. He could have very well become the governor of New Mexico but instead he was needlessly assassinated before the age of 30.

The following year one of my all time favorite movies, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" was released. I never thought twice about why I felt so emotionally attached to the movie and the sound track. 

Movie poster for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

There were very few remnants left of what a bustling little community Puerto de Luna was 100 years before. It was the county seat, so there was a court house, post office and a beautiful Catholic church. 

Court House in Puerto de Luna, NM

My cousin Juan Patron, a young, up and coming politician had raised the money to build the church. He was murdered in a Puerto de Luna saloon on April 15, 1884, just 
as the church was being finished. His funeral was the first mass to be held in the new church and he is buried in the nave. He was the son-in-law of my Great-Great Uncle Lorenzo Labadie, who was one of the most impressive characters in my family history during the 1800's. He had been a Lieutenant Colonel, a sheriff and when he got older he had orchards and vineyards. He had a license to sell wine and was the he was a very accurate census taker. While doing my ancestry research, I always know that if the census was filled out by Lorenzo Labadie, it is complete and accurate. 

Now, reflecting back, I wish I would have asked a lot more questions of the local farmers who came in to buy gas at "Mercado de Coronado." I wish I had know a little more history of this dusty little ghost town when I lived there. Bobby Gerhardt (my  second cousin) was one of my favorites who often came into the store. He was a tall, blue eyed rancher with the a golden farmer's tan. He always wore a grin and joked with everyone he met. He spent evenings at my grandma's smoking cigarettes and drinking a cold one with my Uncle Jose Padilla out in the screened in porch by the light of the moon. 

This is when a healthy dose of time travel would come in handy. William Bonney AKA "Billy the Kid" spent a lot of time in Puerto de Luna at the Grzelachowski General Store in the late 1800's. I was beyond surprised when I found his name on census 1880 census when I was researching John Gerhardt. Interestingly enough, John Gerhardt was my Great Aunt Doloritas Padilla Gerhardt's father-in-law and he was also my Great Uncle Hilario Valdez's father-in-law. This is where one of the branches of my family tree gets a little tangled. My mom's Aunt Doloritas Padilla, on her dad's side was married to John Gerhardt's son, Henry Gerhardt. AND my mom's Uncle Hilario Valdez, on her mom's side was married to John Gerhardt's daughter, Katie Gerhardt. John was the only practicing doctor in the vicinity. I remembered stories of my Great Uncle Hilario being the Gerhardt Ranch foreman for many years prior to marrying Katie. Later Hilario and Katie had a ranch in Los Ojitos and Grandma Rosita Valdez Padilla and my Grandpa Ascencion Padilla had an adjoining ranch. I'd heard the old folks speak of all of these characters my whole life but didn't pay much attention to the Spanglish (half English and half Spanish) conversations and private jokes that they had shared for years. 

Oddly, when I started doing ancestry research I adopted a cat named Katie and then another named Rosita. It was purely serendipitous. It felt like it was a little private cosmic joke on me from the Universe that they came with the names of my grandma Rosita and her sister-in-law, Katie. Often, as I drank tea engrossed in my late night research, I imagined the sister-in-laws, Kate and Rosita, cooking posole together as they tended to fire in the wood burning stove and the children playing on the dusty wooden floors of their adobe houses while their husbands, Hilario and Ascencion worked the sheep ranches.

So my time in Puerto de Luna was short lived. My parents made me go back to Amarillo for my senior year. When I returned to Amarillo, I went to school half day and worked half day, saving my money to get back to New Mexico the summer after I graduated. I rented a little adobe house in Santa Rosa that summer with Yolanda Smith. I had big plans to attend Highlands University in the fall. My parents had other plans. They snatched me up and took me to Austin where I would remain most of my adult life. 

My house in Santa Rosa
My cousin Barbara Quintana Baca's children,
Timothy and Kris Baca
In front of my macrame and
mural on the living room wall
in my tiny house on the hill, in Santa Rosa

Moving back to New Mexico has always been in the back of my mind...but for now my heart and soul live there and I just go back to visit every couple of years.

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