Tuesday, December 4, 2012

CHRISTMAS AT THE PUEBLO


Taos Pueblo at Quiet Time
We have been working on the Pueblo house this week.  PQ began back in September with the roof, last week he hired some guys from the Pueblo to help him pour a new cement floor in the porch and now it’s time to ready the inside for Christmas visitors. This project has a special meaning.  The pueblo house was PQ’s birthplace and his family home until going out on his own after high school. But he was almost always home for Christmas.

Every time I walk through its well-worn door, I recall my first Pueblo feast day in that house. The surprise was that there was no surprise.  It seemed completely familiar. It might have been a past life memory or it might be that it so resembled my great aunt Carrey’s house in the mountains west of Denver that I was immediately thrown back to childhood.  Folgers Coffee boiling on the wood stove, the smell of firewood, the dim light of kerosene lamps, and the lumpy linoleum floor over naked earth were all an intimate personal memory.  I took naturally to cooking on the old stove and washing dishes in a large metal wash pan. On feast days, it was PQs’s job to fetch water and chop wood. Dad, (Joe J.) sat at the head of the table and welcomed visitors. PQ always walked in after the party was underway dressed in his best outfit and plenty of turquoise, visiting animatedly with family, friends and unexpected visitors.

As each feast day approached, I would ask Frances what she would like me to bring and usually she said, “Cake would be nice.” But of course I anticipated the need for a few other things as well, and it was a given that I would wash dishes help her serve red and green chili, potato salad, horno (the outdoor adobe oven) bread, fruit salad and whatever else visitors brought.  There was a constant flow of friends and family.  

Now we are here to bring the spirit back to this ancient dwelling.  An archaeologist visiting PQ’s parents some years ago tested the kitchen’s earthen walls and estimated them to be around 1,100 years old. Today we mopped the floors with their six years accumulation of red adobe dust. Yesterday we arranged living room furniture and dusted surfaces. PQ made a bucket of adobe mud to repair cracks in the fireplace.  He ran out of breath while mixing so I had the chance to mix my first adobe mud. 

Sometimes it is daunting. PQ can hardly breathe and I’m out of shape but it’s a must do project.  The house seemed to become sadder and colder each year that the feast days came and went and no one passed through her door.  As we go through the rooms, trying to decide what most needs to be done, memories begin to come back.  I remember a San Geronimo feast when our friends from Glastonbury England Angela and Malcolm were here. Many more people came than Mom (Frances) anticipated and we began to run out of food. Mom sent PQ to buy more potatoes and eggs, Angela, and I made one potato salad after another all day that year. PQ tells me that Millicent Rogers, the glamorous Standard Oil heiress who spent the final years of her short life in Taos loved to help Frances in the old kitchen during feast days.  PQ told me that when he was a child the family eagerly anticipated visits on feast days from Tony Lujan; Joe J.’s adopted father and the husband of Mabel Dodge Luhan.  I asked if Mabel came with him but PQ said that this was something Tony preferred to keep as his own, and besides Mabel was Jealous of Millicent Rogers. So there is a bit of old Taos gossip .

A unique spirit dwells in those old walls. When my own parents in Denver were still alive, I would always plan to be at the Pueblo house for Christmas Eve’s bonfire and procession, the Christmas day feast and then drive to Denver the next day.  My parents understood that for me this was as important as going to church was to them. Besides, I always had interesting stories to share when I arrived.

An adobe house can be hundreds of years old or just a few years old.  It’s all the same.  Most adobe houses evolve organically.  A room goes up here, a wall comes down there, and somewhere else, a door or window is added or subtracted.  The essence of adobe is flexible and timeless.  It appeals to that part of me that finds the nature of time inexplicable and fun to play with.  There are certain places or experiences that squash time and make it irrelevant. I’ve always wanted to time travel and discover who I would be if I lived in Tibet, Kazakhstan, or say medieval Spain before the inquisition. At the age of twelve, I sat on the ledge of Spruce Tree house in Mesa Verde while imagining myself living there 900 years ago, long before the arrival of Europeans.  That was the beginning of my fascination with the South West, and with time travel.

This year we are putting our Christmas money and more into the Pueblo house to give back to mom and dad some of what they gave to so many over the years.  It won’t be just the same, we are aware of that, but hopefully we can call on their spirits to help.  Therefore, dear friends if you are in Taos on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas day stop by the house. The important thing is to honor the special medicine that made everyone who visited Joe J. and Frances Suazo on a feast day feel blessed.

P.S. If you are in Taos for Christmas and want to come to the house (it's on the northwest side) but don't know how to get there let us know and we will be happy to email you a map, and PQ plans to have a lantern on the door Christmas Eve.