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, in fact, I had lived on the same block my whole life up to that point. Life as I knew it, was pretty good on Magnolia Street.

The house I grew up in...
1804 Magnolia, Amarillo, Texas

To make a long story short, I didn't want to go to Palo Duro High my junior year, so my parents took me to Puerto de Luna, New Mexico to live with my grandma on her farm. 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 my blue princess phone. 

Next thing I knew, I was, living with my blind, 90 year old, Spanish speaking grandma. 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
in Puerto de Luna, NM
Percy, Christina, Mark, Rita and Michael 

Needless to say my parents were very surprised when they returned a couple of weeks later to find that I had settled into my new surrounding very well. I didn't mind the 12 mile school bus ride to Santa Rosa High. In fact, I loved being the new girl in school and the teachers thought I was brilliant. Especially my art teacher, Mr Lopez. I loved that the school cafeteria served rice, pinto beans, potatoes and tortillas for lunch. For the first time in my life, I felt I was home at last. 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 I have since realized a few 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. 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.

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.

At the time, I had not a clue what historic events had taken place in that very location a century before. They following year one of my all time favorite movies, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" was released. That would have given me a clue because I felt so emotionally attached to the movie and the sound track. There were very few remnants 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. 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 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 When he got older he had orchards and vineyards had a license to sell wine and was the census taker. In my research, I always knew that if the census was filled out by Lorenzo, it was complete and accurate. 

Looking back, I would have asked a lot more questions of the local farmers who came in to buy gas at "Mercado de Coronado" if I had know a little more history of this dusty little ghost town. 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 ranch.

So my time in Puerto de Luna was short lived. My parents made me go back to Amarillo for my senior year. So 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 brought me to Austin where I would remain most of my adult life. 

My house in Santa Rosa
My cousins kids, Timothy and Kris Baca
In front of my macrame and mural on the living room wall

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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