Loris (1)

 

The plan upon leaving Dunlap was to remain in Chattanooga until I completed certain technical innovations that would enable me to support my software clients at a distance.  I would then effectively be semi retired, and would move to some point on the southwestern US border and spend the next few years exploring Mexico.  When I became fully retired I would move on into Mexico.

But what I wanted was immersion.  To immerse myself in the hispanic culture, in the language, in the folk, all day, every day, until the language and way of life became second nature to me.  I could not see that immersion happening in a city where the hispanics were diluted, spread all over town.  In fact the hispanics were the ones who were immersed, imbibing a new culture and a new language.  If I was going to do the same, I had to be immersed in a concentrated hispanic setting.

And so I pushed forward with my plan to go west, looking first to Lordsburg, the one town that had responded to my request for information.

Mark Twain has a story somewhere about a newcomer to a town who seemed to know everyone there, and everyone’s business, the day he arrived.  Turned out the man had had a subscription to the local newspaper for some years.

I did not hear about the Mark Twain story until I got to Lordsburg.  But I had the same idea before I left Dunlap, and had started a subscription to the Lordsburg paper at that time.

Now the Lordsburg Liberal was edited by Jack Walz, a man who got out and mixed and knew everybody.  And he wrote in a very personal style.  By the time I had read his paper for a few years I felt I knew him.  I also felt I knew about half the rest of the people in town.  But of course none of them knew of me.  So as I approached the time I thought I could move to Lordsburg, I began putting out feelers for friendship.  These were mainly in the form of letters to people who wrote in the paper, or were written about, commenting on what I had read, and adding that I expected to move to Lordsburg and looked forward to meeting them.

One such letter was to Bill Cavaliere, a candidate for sheriff.  He and his opponent both published positions in the Liberal.  To me Bill’s position seemed superior.  I wrote and told him so.  He was so pleased by my letter that he called me up on the phone to welcome me to the town and to say I would find a friend waiting.  (Indeed, several: when I eventually would arrive, Bill would have a couple of buddies ready to help me unload my truck.)

Finally I completed all my preparations for supporting my clients, and was ready in august, 2000, to make my move.  I decided to make one trip to find a place, then another with my gear.  It was not easy.  I do not like change, and the bigger the change the less I like it.  To move halfway across the United States to a new and strange place was a pretty big change.  As the day for the preliminary trip approached my resistance grew and on the morning of departure I really did not want to get in my car and go west.  But I did, for one simple reason: I had completed everything I had set out to complete in Chattanooga.  If I did not go west that day, I had nothing to do but sit down and do nothing.  So I got in my car and headed west.

A valley, in Tennessee, means a narrow depression between two ridges.  You can’t see beyond the ridges.  And given that there are deciduous trees everywhere, you can’t see much else either.  At one time I had loved the mountains and valleys.  Still do, as a place to visit.  But I had begun to feel claustrophobic about living there, hemmed in with trees and ridges.

Lordsburg, too, lies in a valley.  But it is a valley maybe thirty or forty miles wide, with sierras [saw-toothed mountains] in the distance.  And what a distance!  With practically no large trees and the clear dry air found at a four thousand foot elevation, one can see across the full width of the valley, and can see on a good day fifty miles along the length!  The sky is big.  And, at that time, pure blue, with a hot blazing sun, and everything on the ground baked to a crisp. 

And I loved this desert the moment I set foot in it.  I loved the burnt streets and lots of the town.  And I loved the surrounding ranch land, the scrubby clumps of grass, the windmills, the cattle, the buzzards and coyotes.  Something in my soul resonated with this space so wide and empty yet so full, so dry yet fertile, so hot yet refreshing.

I had given myself a week to explore Lordsburg and the surrounding area, and see if I could find a place to live.  Assuming that I would be there six to ten years, I did not consider renting.  I also assumed I would find a place out of town, out by itself, isolated.  For I had begun to feel the call of the desert before I saw it, just as I felt the call of Mexico.  I wanted to know the desert, to be intimate with it, to see what it was to be really alone out there.

But as I began looking over the available places, I realized that there were many obstacles to living on the desert that I had not thought of before seeing it.  Staying on the desert requires a measure of self sufficiency that I did not have.  One must be capable of doing almost all maintenance on one’s house, car, and water system.  One must have a pickup truck.  The truck does not replace the car, for one needs two or three motor vehicles to be sure one is running.  And one needs a few brothers or cousins, or exceptionally good friends, so one has someone to call when one is broken down on the road, or has a repair job that requires three men.  I had not the money, the skills, or the friends to attempt staying several years on the desert. 

By this time I had looked at everything for sale on the desert.  I now looked at everything in town.  It was discouraging.  There were places practically in ruins, which would take more skill than I had to renovate.  There were doublewides on dusty gravel streets without sidewalks, in areas where I suspected there might be a lot of loud music and ruckus at night.  There were places on the edges of town, too far for a comfortable walk to the grocery store or post office.  And all of them too small for me and my equipment, and I was quite weary of living in cramped spaces.  I found myself worn out and ready to give up.  But I knew that if I went back to Tennessee without buying anything, I would be back where I was the day I left—nothing to do in Chattanooga, and a trip still ahead of me.  So I forced myself to look at the very last place, the only place in the whole county I had not looked at.

I found the address, right in the center of town, and found myself looking at a tan adobe with parapet walls, set in a dusty, weedy lot behind an iron fence.  Solid.  Imposing.  Mighty big for one man.  Priced at about fifteen thousand dollars more than I had planned to spend.  But it was my last chance.  Off I went to the realty office, returning with Pinky Kerr, the listing agent.

Pinky knocked and we were let in by a small, dark mexican lady.  And as I stepped through the door and looked around it was as if something inside me was saying, –This is your house.  You live here.

But there was more.  For I felt instantly at ease with this woman, whose name was Amelia.  I felt she was a friend.  I felt that I knew her, that she was more than someone I just met.

As for the house, I needed to make a decision.  It was not too hard, for I had seen everything the county had to offer and was determined not to return to the status quo ante in Red Bank.  I made the most thorough inspection of the house that I could with my limited time, and Pinky and I left.  I reviewed my thoughts, then gave my son a call and ran everything by him.  He thought I had done my homework well enough, that I was clear and careful in my thinking, that I was in position to make a positive decision.

So I did.  Back to Pinky’s office.  We wrote up an offer which he carried up to Amelia, and came back with it accepted.

But he came back with more.

For he said to me, ­–That woman says she feels like she knows you from someplace.

 

© 2004 Joseph Mansfield

 

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