Route 76: A Memory of a Memory

This was originally written in an email to a woman I was having an affair with in 2010. For whatever reason, at that time, I was inspired to share with her an initial effort to write, creatively, about the memories I had about family memories. These were mostly stories told more than once, ones I mostly overheard, not shared with me directly. Some of what’s here forms some of the content in “the story;” but because I am organizing it differently, I need to populate the backstory. This is especially true about the parents of the male protagonist. They need a chapter. So this has lead me back into the dusty quarters of the internet where I have been finding a lot of interesting source material from my own brain that I hope will inspire the filling of gaps in Part II of the story. I have not edited this other than to introduce a break between the narrative and my voice.

Los Hijos

The road from Espanola to Chimayo has different names; County Road 76, the Santa Cruz Road, or the Chimayo Road. Often it could be called simply “the road.” My strongest memories are wending along it anxiously looking forward to getting to my grandmother’s house, an adobe structure with a tin roof and a small unattached garage. Nearby, there was an old well and an apple tree. The tree would yearly drop its leaves and fruit which would mingle together on the ground, rot, and give off a particular odor. That smell, if I ever want it, can be found in the distinct aroma in a glass of calvados.


The car drifted a bit from the left and to the right as it made its way down the road. A gentle glow lit the passenger compartment. The Packard Patrician’s sleepy headlights, lidded slightly, matched the driver’s eyes. His white hat pushed back on his head, he quietly sang along with the music on the radio. He reached over to the paper bag on the front seat, pulled the bottle inside to his lips and drank awkwardly out of the side of his mouth trying to keep one eye on the road. He returned the bottle to his lap, keeping it clutched in his right hand.


The house, the last time I visited it was still solid although the inside was dusty. Nobody lived there anymore. I can remember looking through old photo albums and finding pictures of family members long dead, or who I didn’t know. Sometimes, in the old encyclopedias on the book shelf, I’d find pictures randomly tucked into the pages. There, between the pages of an article on Paraguay, was a picture of two people standing next to each other. On the back, written in pen were the cursive words “Carmen and I.”


By the time the Packard curved around the corner the driver was nearly asleep. Startled awake by brushing the edge of the road he swerved to the left in order to avoid going into the irrigation ditch, or worse into the trees just on the other side. When he did, a bag of groceries in the back toppled, scattering its contents over the back seat and down into the deep compartments for passengers feet below. Then he corrected back to the right, and then to the left, slowing briefly. Shaking his head he realized he’d gone too far. He pulled off the road and let a car pass, cranked the wheel hard, still holding the bottle, and then got back on the road going the opposite way he came. He took a long last drink drawing his hand across his moustache, and tossed the bottle onto the front seat.


The most compelling memories of the house for me have to do with food and people and music. It is where I found my first recordings of country music. I can remember the cartons of lard in the refrigerator and the fried eggs I wouldn’t eat. I didn’t like the way my uncles ate. They hurled themselves into food like it was a boxing match. A right swing with a piece of bread into the broken yolk, and then into the mouth. A left swing into the plate with a jalapeño pepper, and then into the mouth. Every thing was consumed and mixed together with gusto, chewed with open mouth. It’s almost like I am there just thinking about it. I had no taste or appreciation for food as a child or teenager. Today, I would join in, eating an avocado out of its skin with a spoon and some salt.


The children could see the lights coming down the drive. They ran out toward the car and its lights bathed them for a moment before shutting off. They yelled in Spanish, calling out. The driver got out of the car and waded through them and they yapped at him like puppies. He yelled at them, almost shaking them off his pant leg. He stumbled through the door and found the bedroom. He fell, face down, into the pillow and slept. One child strayed from the pack and to the car. She was hungry, as they all were. She pulled hard on the door and it opened. The back seat and floor were a mix of fruit, vegetables, cans, and bags. She reached down and picked up a red apple, shinning in the dusky light. She bit into it and chewed loudly.