Saturday, November 12, 2011

So Far Away...

Winter's almost here. I can hear the winds howling against the windows and the late fall rainy days are getting more frequent. It's definitely starting to be soup weather. I was thinking about this the other day. When I lived out in New Mexico and I was really really broke, I used to buy a big tub of green chile stew from a place called the Hill Diner in Los Alamos.  I'd couple it with hunks of baguettes that were "day-old" from the bakery I was the baker at.  The stew was amazing and comforting and warming (especially with that good ol' chile!) and it was satisfying biting into the nice chewy bread I'd made with my own hands. I miss it.

I got wrapped up in a conversation last night that made it impossible to think of anything but this.
The holidays in the desert, back when I lived, well....right there, where this picture was taken.  There was this outcropping at the overlook where the picture was taken....if I could have slept there every night I think I would have.  I sat and watched both sunrises and sunsets there. I got caught there in a huge storm, and I rushed there the night of the first real blizzard I saw in NM up in the mountains. It came on strong and the snow on the yucca and cactus was so strange to me.

I'm a holiday person at heart.  Most people who know me know that I love Thanksgiving.  It's near my birthday, but even if it wasn't, I think I'd still love it.  It was always full of family and great tradition.  The big creaky house in Jacksonville and my aunt making the huge huge meal while all of us talked or watched movies or pretended to be our own spy ring. My cousin Laura and I both have November birthdays, so our mission usually involved spying what our presents would be.  She was the closest thing that I had to a sister, and since we were so close in age we used to have a great time palling around and making up adventures.  When the meal was over, there was always movies and the next day, we'd go to see a movie instead of trying the Black Friday thing.  It's always fun, and I even enjoyed the four hour drive out there and the stops we always make along the way.

The first year I was in New Mexico, though I loved the new state and the exploration, I remember feeling really strange about Thanksgiving.  I had plans to go down to Socorro and celebrate with my friends there, but I knew that it was going to be hard not to get homesick being somewhere unfamiliar and without the cozy trappings of tradition and family.  Still, I was excited to be a part of a Friends Thanksgiving.  A lot of our friends at the time were bartenders and we were going to be celebrating with them at the bar, since they had to work.  I admit, to me it sounded kind of depressing, because they didn't want to be working I'm sure and I figured the people who came in would be sad too, not being with their families or not having anyone to be with.   I was a baker at the time, and I brought some rolls to contribute.

That turned into one of the best Thanksgivings.  My birthday was the night before, I think.  I'd had an amazing time, everyone made me feel special, one in particular made me important and so loved.  So the next day just seemed like it'd go well, and it went better than I'd ever though.  There was no turkey initially, just steak expertly grilled.  The bar started out a little empty and we sat towards the door, chatting and laughing and playing music.  Something crazy happened though.  People started to come in with more and more food, like a progressive dinner, sharing what they had with us.  They'd come from their family dinners or walk in from somewhere....we'd tell them to grab a steak at the local grocery store before they closed.  And they did. By the end of it we had green chile mac and cheese, turkey, stuffing, steak....someone even got me the cranberry sauce in a can.  I can't even say how much that meant, as silly as it sounds.  Because it was a part of *MY* traditional Thanksgiving, and I needed a touch of home. Soon it was a group of at least 20 people, happy, sharing stories, toasting the holiday...

That late fall and winter was amazing. I learned how to make biscochitos at the bakery, a part of a traditional New Mexico Christmas. I saw farolitos lining the streets, and it was SO beautiful. The winter nights are so quiet. So many stars and then the glow of something as simple as a candle in a paper bag with some sand, but it transforms everything, bathes it in this soft, flickering glow... I still remember the drive from Los Alamos to Socorro on Christmas Eve. I'd thought I was going to have to be alone on Christmas, something else I wasn't particularly relishing, though I'd made up my mind to go to Santa Fe and see the farolitos and hear the carolers, and then go to the midnight mass at the Cathedral....
Instead I grabbed some posole (new to me at the time) and tamales (another NM Christmas tradition) and headed out.

I drove on these lonely roads with the familiar mesas and mountains, but it was all new with the farolitos. I remember passing this mission I'd never seen before when I was coming down through San Ysidro, all lit up for the was so amazing.  And everything really did seem silent. There was something about that moment, and I pulled over to take a picture which eventually wouldn't turn out. It didn't need to anyway.

That Christmas, I watched all the Die Hards back to back, didn't go anywhere at all, shared tamales and posole and learned all about what Christmas in New Mexico was like.  And it wasn't what I was used to, but it was amazing.  A million stars, perfect silence, and new traditions.
I realized that even though those traditions I had back in IL were great and the family time was wonderful, the new things could be just as homey.  Another Christmas when I lived in Socorro I remember taking a walk by myself at night with my camera over to the San Miguel mission and listening to the flames of the candles get tossed by the breeze on a clear night so you could see all the stars.  That's something you can't forget, and it's something you certainly can never hear or see in Chicago outside of the pages of the New Mexico magazine I got today, which brought me all the way back, at least in my heart.
Maybe one day, I'll get all the way back.

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