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I drove a 1979 Mercury Bobcat. It was a Ford Pinto made by Mercury. Less flammable.
It featured a rigid manual clutch and four speeds on the center console. With a good tail wind and a steep New Mexico hill, I could get some speed in that tin can of a car.
Its vintage meant that it was too new for an 8-track player and too old for a cassette player. Only an AM radio was provided. You’d pull the button out and shove it back in to save your favorite station.
There is a lot of wide open land in New Mexico. So uninhabited that radio signals from faraway populated areas don’t always reach. Spin the dial and listen to different kinds of static. Only static.
I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college at New Mexico State in Las Cruces. The same day I moved into my freshman dorm, my parents moved to Carlsbad.
To go from Las Cruces to Carlsbad, you get to the other side of El Paso and face about two hours of nowhere and nothing. No people. No animals. No radio.
The seatbelt on the passenger side fit nicely around my boom box, a Christmas present from my mom. A stack of cassette tapes queued up to take a turn in the dual slots.
The Mavericks, Patsy Cline, Foster and Lloyd, Dwight Yoakum, Buck Owens, Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson.
And that’s the point of telling this story, isn’t it?
Those voices, those songs, those musicians. Then and now, they are a part of telling my life’s story. The music of Merle Haggard lives in my DNA. It’s a short hand between friends. An access code for memories, to instantly revisit a time and place.
There was this blue eyed cowboy. He loved to sing. Occasionally he’d even sing to me. There was this dance in Mimbres. The band let him do a song, “Silver Wings.” Merle’s music and that cowboy’s voice. Everyone talked about it for weeks.
I wasn’t even there (he and I had parted ways by that point) and it’s still a part of my story, the collective story of all of us Ag College kids from that era.
Back then a band or a jukebox or a cassette tape would play a Haggard song and we had to dance, had to sing along.
When I was taking acoustic guitar lessons, I spent a lot of time learning how to play “My Favorite Memory.” I never quite got it right.
Merle Haggard told stories. His stories became our stories. His stories became timeless. The opening cords of any number of his songs thrum a string in my soul.
Seventy-nine years is a lot and yet somehow not enough. I had recently been trying to get tickets to a show. He’d rescheduled February and cancelled March. I knew he was having trouble.
Knowing the end is near and the arrival are two very different things.
We last got to see him in December 2014. He came out to the stage looking tired and at half a lung down his voice was a little thin. By the end of the show he had energy and that smooth Merle Haggard sound rang clear, filling the venue and spilling out onto the streets.
We left the show full up to the top with the music of Merle Haggard. Though we’ve lost the man, his music lives on. In that way, we’ll always have Merle.
I’m saddened for his family who lost a husband, father and friend. We lost a good man yesterday. Today seems a little paler for the loss.
Rest easy, Hag.
December 2014 at the Uptown Theatre in Napa, CA
Black and white photo from Ben Haggard’s Facebook page all rights stay with the originator. Color photo ©2014 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.
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This one goes out to all of us who found ourselves attending New Mexico State University back in 1989. Maybe it was 1990. Memory is funny.
This one is for the Ag College kids. I’m about to drop a memory on you. Come along with me.
I can’t really recall what time of year it was, but it was sunny. That much I recall. Then again, it’s sunny in Las Cruces an awful lot.
The band Foster & Lloyd were on the radio. Remember them? Back then we were all listening to Foster & Lloyd. A lot. And Dwight Yoakam. And the Mavericks. And more.
So along came the news that Foster & Lloyd were opening for a Los Lobos show at the Pan Am Center. Yeah, I wanted to go to that show real bad. Alas I was a broke college kid and couldn’t afford tickets. I heard the ads on KGRT over and over and pined, but knew it wasn’t meant to be.
So instead I popped my Faster and Llouder cassette tape into the boom box I carried in the car. Or maybe it was Verision of the Truth. Or maybe first one then the other. And I held my own car concerts as I rolled around Cruces.
Then something unbelievable happened. My best friend called, out of breath and excited, to tell me that Los Lobos had to cancel the show and Foster & Lloyd were going to do a free concert just outside of Corbett Center (the student union building at NMSU) in this little amphitheater area.
We gathered up all of our friends, an armful of blankets and made sure we went to that show. My best friend walked with confidence right to the front of the small stage area and staked out our place. Up close and personal. We sat, we listened, we sang, we were a bunch of kids feeling an awful lot like family on that day.
For a bunch of Ag College kids from NMSU (hands up now, “I believe in the Future of Farming…”) having a national act come out and do a show FOR FREE was, well, that was about the coolest thing in the world.
That was a best-day-ever kind of a day. Back then anyway. Sitting here today I do have to admit that my wedding day is my best day ever, hands down. But back then to this New Mexico kid wearing dusty beat up goatskin ropers, that sunny Las Cruces day was really the best day ever.
My best friend and I slip into the Wayback Machine an awful lot when we get together, and that free concert is one we land on quite a bit. What I wouldn’t give to have a real Wayback Machine and dial it to back to that day. I might never come back.
Toward the end of the show, Foster & Lloyd were really swinging. We were all riding a sonic high and at one point, Mr. Radney Foster wandered out into the audience and put a hand out to my best friend’s little sister. He plucked her from our blanket and spun her around a little bit with the music.
My best friend and I were both elated and jealous as hell. In fact in the now twenty-five years hence, I know for sure that my best friend has never really gotten over it. Neither have I, if I am honest.
My best friend’s little sister was and is a beauty. Gorgeous and sweet and funny as hell. She is pure awesome and I love her madly, so of course I can’t be upset with her. Just jealous, I guess.
When we were in college, Little Sister was in high school and she’d find her way to Las Cruces and we’d take her out with us. When a cowboy would start to get a little too interested in her, my best friend would wander by and whisper “Um, just thought you should know…she’s sixteen.” That usually put an end to things.
So we were used to her getting a lot of the attention. On that day after Mr. Radney Foster twirled her under the bright New Mexico sky we laughed and hugged her and loved every second of that show.
It is a beautiful memory. Were you there too?
A few months ago I happened to stumble across Radney Foster’s Facebook page and hit “like” so I could see what he was up to. I’d lost track of him after his Del Rio, TX 1959 album.
Then came the fateful day where he posted that he’d be playing a little venue called Freight & Salvage in mid-July. That’s not too far from where this New Mexico kid is living these days.
Well, I hopped on those tickets so fast my credit card started smokin’.
And that live show happened just a week ago, July 15.
The Good Man had never heard of no Radney Foster until I showed him a bunch of YouTube clips in the days before the show. Then he was totally onboard. We stood at the front of the line when the doors opened and found second row seats in the general admission venue.
Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth
It was just Mr. Foster and his acoustic guitar and he put on one hell of a show. Storytelling, songs, laughter. Man alive, it was really profound. It was like seeing a really dear old friend and picking up right where we left off twenty years ago.
Photo found on @valisaschmidley Twitter stream because I was too gobsmacked to actually take a photo myself during the show.
I almost started crying when he hit the first notes of the first song. It felt so right.
And then…oh and then…
After the show, Mr. Foster came out to the front lobby to sign a few autographs and I jumped in line.
I practiced what I was going to say and when I got there, I let roll the story of that day, 1989 (or was it 1990?) in the grass outside Corbett Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Given the sheer number of shows he has performed in the last 25 years, I was surprised that he actually remembered that one day. But he did.
“Oh yeah, we were rocking that day,” he said.
“Yeah you were!” I replied.
Then I thanked him, I told him how much that free show meant to all us New Mexico college kids.
Then I reminded him about coming out into the crowd and dancing with my best friend’s little sister. About how my best friend has never quite gotten over it.
Then I held out a copy of his new CD and said “Her name is Kate and you are going to sign this for her.”
(The album is titled “Everything I Should Have Said” and it’s awesome and you should pick one up. Here is the Amazon link and here is the RadneyFoster.com link ($3 cheaper!) Go on, click one of those links. You know you wanna)
And he did sign that CD. Oh boy did he ever.
Here’s what it looks like. In case you can’t read it, it says “Kate, You get the next dance.”
Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth
C’mon! How awesome is Radney Foster? The correct answer is amazingly awesome!
I told him that he had just created some healing twenty-five years in the making and he laughed. Then I had that “hey, let’s go grab a beer” moment and of course thought better of it. He’s just the kind of musician you feel like you know well because he writes the kind of songs that feel personal.
Then I asked him to sign a CD for The Good Man and me, and he did.
I walked out of that venue smiling from ear to ear and remembering and laughing and just at peace with the world.
And so this entire post today and all of these stories are intended to bring all of my NMSU Ag College friends along with me into that Wayback Machine.
Were you there? Do you remember? Wanna reminisce?
This post is also to thank Mr. Radney Foster for helping create another amazing memory.
Whew. Today as I wrote this I listened to The Essential Foster & Lloyd album and it was almost hard to hear. So many memories both beautiful and sad captured in all of those songs.
Well, thanks for staying a while and reading all of these words. I’m serious about you grabbing one of those new albums. Get to clicking! And if you can catch Radney Foster live? Well even better.
P.S. If you have ever wondered how a New Mexico girl could ever live in California, I suggest you obtain a copy of Mr. Foster’s new album and listen to the song “California.” (I believe it is also on YouTube) Then you will understand. According to the story, that song was inspired by a beautiful Bay Area sunset as viewed from the Oakland Hills. Saaaalute!
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I miss my best friend today. Autumnal Equinox makes me think of harvesting hay and Dickerson’s dances.
That was a text message I sent to my best friend yesterday afternoon. I was at work and found myself with a few moments of pause. What I felt in that silence was an aching sense of melancholy.
The angle of light has been changing for a while and yesterday the world looked a little different bathed in early Autumn sun.
A beautiful sunny yet hazy day as I found myself at a high elevation gazing across the amazing view, Oakland to my left, Golden Gate center, Albany to my right.
It’s hardly original to feel melancholy in the Fall. I will follow the old poetic trope and go there anyway.
Since I know I have a “thing” about Autumn, I started looking back in the archives of my blog and found something that perfectly captures how I feel today. I’m nothing if not consistent.
Autumn is, after all, my favorite season in Oh Fair New Mexico.
So here’s a repost to get me through the day. The words still ring true, even as time goes by.
Originally posted April 15, 2009
It was Fall, had to be. Slight crispness to the evening air. Anticipation thick as the fog of Aqua Net in the sorority house where I lived.
It was 1989, probably. Or somewhere close to that. The campus of New Mexico State University. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that I was getting ready to go to a dance at Corbett Center on the NMSU campus.
The woman who would become my best friend for what is now over twenty years was the driving force that night, and many just like it. Her parents had met at a Corbett Center dance, so she was especially incentivized to go scoot a boot and see what’s doing. Family history.
I nervously pulled on my too shiny, too new, gray goatskin round toe ropers and jeans that didn’t really go with the boots, but were at least long enough to be acceptable. “You should buy some Rockies,” I was told, and they were right. I would, later, in quantity. But then I had neither the money nor the courage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get into, I just knew I was going to be there come hell or high water.
It wasn’t my first Corbett dance. It wouldn’t be my last. This story isn’t about one actual night, more an amalgam of a lot of great nights.
The gaggle of high-haired women walked out the back door of our home, a sorority house containing twenty-eight women of different backgrounds, and one understanding house mom. What bound us together was our choice of educational institution. A land grant institution. To the uninformed, that means an agricultural college.
It was a short shuffle over to Corbett, up the stairs to the third floor where they had the ballrooms. Pay the entrance fee. Five dollars I think? Maybe less back then. Get a stamp on your hand. Look around, see who is there already. Talk about who you hope shows up.
Hear the opening strains of music. Usually The Delk Band. A group of musicians, brothers, and their dad on fiddle. I went to school with most of the boys. I remember I thought one of the Delks was cute. I remember one of the Delks was the drummer and back then had a tendency to speed up the tempo as a song wore on. Hard to dance to a wildly varying tempo. But we did it. (note of update: Saw the band not that long ago and that is no longer a problem.)
They were our people, and we embraced them. And we danced. Oh did we dance.
The two-step. Not the Texas double up kind, no. The slow kind, keeping time to the music.
And a waltz. My favorite, how I love to waltz. The rhythm of a song set to the beat of a waltz still paces my heart a little differently.
The polka. If done right with the right boy (he had to be tall because I’m tall and otherwise we’d just bump knees) you felt like you were flying, feet hardly touching the ground.
The ladies, my friends and I, would stand on the sidelines and take a look at the scene. My best friend would always get asked to dance first. She’s beautiful and a great dancer. Who could blame the boys for flocking to her blue-eyed, dark haired gorgeousness? Not me, certainly.
As I got better at dancing, I got asked often enough, too. The boys liked the girls who could dance, who liked to dance, who didn’t turn up their nose at dirty fingernails and cow sh*t on their boots.
There is something special about dancing with a boy who knows how to dance, a strong lead, who looks you in the eyes. The boys who had the right fold in their hat and smelled faintly of Copenhagen and beer and Polo cologne.
I got to know those folks. All of them, the boys, the girls, the dancers, the musicians, the laughers, the people who liked to swing each other around the dance floor.
They became my family. We traveled in packs, dancing until we were sweaty, then heading outside into the cool air to take a breath, drink a beer, laugh a lot and occasionally find someone to spend a little time with.
Well not me, not then. I was still too awkward and mixed up to attract much in the way of boys at that point. I was more “one of the guys” than one of the girls the guys would chase. Don’t feel bad for me though, I eventually figured it out. (cover your eyes, mom)
Over time, we all aged a little, got to be over 21 and started to migrate from dancing at Corbett center to dancing at the local country bar. It was fun but seemed a little more complicated. Add more than a couple beers to the night and weird things happen.
But still we danced. By that time, I’d moved off campus and lived with my friend from TorC. She was crazy and fun and taught me a lot (cover your eyes, mom), and she loved to dance as much as I did. She coined the phrase “big bar hair” and gave me an education on how to get it, and keep it, despite dancing so hard sweat ran down your face.
Then we all aged a bit more, and we graduated and found respectable jobs. My best friend, her husband (a fine dancer, I must say) and I are all actually employed in the same area that’s listed on our diplomas. One might scoff at country folks, but all three of us hold a Master’s degree in our chosen fields.
on the verge of turning forty well past forty, I find I still miss those days, mightily. I wished I’d enjoyed them more at the time. The stress of school and classes and “what do I want to be when I grow up” cast a pall on my days.
My own fault. A worrier by nature, a tendency that I fight tooth and nail every single day I take a breath.
When I’m having a bad day, when I doubt myself, when I realize I don’t fit in at my new place of employment, when I don’t feel heard or understood or very well liked, I can always go back to those days in my mind and smile.
I can’t get together with my best friend and her husband and NOT talk about those days. Magical. I’m blessed to have been able to have them. Once upon a time, I knew where I belonged.
Photo of The Delk Band in action
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Inside of me there are dueling issues, and year by year it’s a balancing act to see which wins out.
On one end of this see-saw is the fact that I love the holidays. Yes, I actually do. From Halloween to Valentine’s Day I revel in every holiday with childlike glee. I often grumble (and will again this year, stay tuned to this blog) about the holidays when they are in full swing, but the truth is that when I’m into it I adore every holiday and all of its traditions.
“When I’m into it,” ah and there’s the trouble.
For the past several years I have been cranky as heck about the holidays because I was working so many hours I had no idea what week it was much less what season. In my last role, I was on so many calls across so many time zones and traveling so much I wasn’t even sure of my own name most days.
So when the holidays rolled around in the past, I was not ready. I wasn’t prepared because I hadn’t had time to plan out what I wanted to do, and I was mad that I had lost so many days at the hands of a dull corporate entity.
All of that just made me angry at the holidays for showing up when I couldn’t participate.
But things have changed a bit. I’m in this new job and while I am still busy, it isn’t quite as bad as it has been for me over the past several years. My new employer definitely takes note of the months and what is going on. In this job, we pause to reflect and it makes such a huge difference.
Also, now that I live in a university town I’m much more aware of the time of year, ranging from school’s out and it’s summer to Fall football games.
I have already warned my darling Good Man to watch out, I’m officially “into it” this year. Oh yes, there will be cookies, and decorations, and costumes and more. I will probably even decorate my cubicle at work this month. There are prizes for Halloween décor!
At first I was quite resistant to the coming of Autumn, but now I am reveling in it. That said, I still have not imbibed a pumpkin spice latte.
Yesterday morning I set out for work, smiling at the beauty of the Indian Summer sunrise here in the Bay Area.
I walked to my car that was parked out in front of my building and I saw something tucked into the door handle on the driver’s side.
At first (from a distance) I thought it was another ding-dang parking ticket. But no, that would have been tucked under my windshield wiper. Then I thought it was a note someone left because they’d bashed my car. No, turns out it wasn’t that either.
Then I let my mind wander and I remembered back to when I was in college at NMSU. For a little while I dated this rather dashing cowboy who happened to have something of a romantic streak and a poet’s heart.
Every now and then he’d leave a little love note on my car when I was in class. To be honest, I still have those notes somewhere in a box of mementos.
I grinned a little as I thought maybe I had a secret admirer. A furtive love.
It turns out that it’s true, I do have a special beau.
Yesterday I received the most lovely (yet crispy) mash note from endlessly romantic Nature.
Thank you beautiful Autumn for the reminder that I need to get outside a bit more and roll in the leaves and smile at the early setting sun.
All of these years I’ve just sort of ignored you as you passed me by, but not this year. Today I return your affection, my glorious orange and red and brown Fall.
I am your secret admirer too!
Image Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right corner of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.
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This morning at an hour not early enough to avoid crushing commute time travels, I navigated my old Jeep through some swirls and whorls of Bay Area traffic and found myself on Highway 80 approaching the Bay Bridge.
As I did, I was thinking about the planned upcoming visit from my best friend in the whole world, and how excited I am to see her. Been too long.
I was listening to a shuffle of whatever music is on my iPhone by way of calming my nerves when a real old song came on, one of my best pal’s faves (a Waylon Jennings tune if you must know). As often happens to me in this crazy mixed up life of mine, what I saw with my eyes was the Bay Bridge but what I wished in my heart was that I was somewhere else.
Something about the springtime makes me miss New Mexico pretty ferociously. I let some memories in and found myself landing in a place called Lake Valley and the abandoned schoolhouse where we used to go to dance. That’s a whole other highway then were I was in that moment.
All of this reminded me that I once wrote about Lake Valley so I went into the archives and pulled this post up from 2007. I had to edit it quite a bit because, well, my editing skills have improved a bit since then.
So here’s a memory. Do click on that link to the Baxter Black piece if you get a chance. He says it better than I ever could.
Happy Dancin’ Friday to you, wherever you are today.
Originally published March 26, 2007
Lately I’ve been on quite a jag of reading the works of one noble New Mexico-born left handed cowboy poet named Baxter Black.
He’s a good friend of my “adopted dad” (my best friend’s father) and I had the chance to meet him face-to-face back in college. Of course, I’ve heard plenty of his stories over the years.
I was heartened to see that my local library carried a good selection of Bax’s works. They make you smile, make you think and make you outright laugh yer bum off.
I just got done reading one of his collections of NPR material called “Horseshoes, Cowsocks and Duckfeet”.
One selection from that book is called “Lake Valley” and man oh man, that almost made me weep with homesickness. It also made me smile to know that two people, some twenty-five years apart in age, have similar memories of the same place and similar events. That’s the staying power of Lake Valley.
Back at NMSU I used to go to dancing at Lake Valley with my best friend. She’s the one who turned me on to it. Her parents used to come along for the fun because they went to NMSU too, and they danced at Lake Valley (probably along with Bax).
I remember at the dance they used to charge a family rate of $20. My fill-in dad would gather up all us scraggly college kids, blonds, redheads, brunettes, short, tall, thin, stocky and all about the same age. He’d lead us to the door, point to our gang, tell ’em that was his family, throw ’em a twenty and we’d all get in.
You know, in our way, we were (and are) family. [insert my best wistful smile right here as I miss my best friend for like the hundredth time today, already]
The way Bax describes Lake Valley in his writing is just how I remember it. When I was dancing, it was with a band called The Rounders and they played the old songs. What a talented group, The Rounders. They even played at my best friend’s wedding. Now THAT was a party.
At the end of this post is a photo I found online. It’s how the schoolhouse used to look when it was still a school. Ok, imagine that, but with no desks and a lot more years on it. That’s pretty much how I remember. See that riser there at the end? Where the teacher would sit? That’s where the band would play. It was a long narrow room so we had to dance in a long oval. Like Bax said, as we danced, the floorboards would give under your feet and they weren’t particularly even and a few nail heads were popped up, so you had to mind your feet. But oh it was a hell of a good time.
I’ve never felt quite so free, happy and in touch with the simple easy joys in life as I did dancing at Lake Valley. I miss the feeling of flying I’d get dancing a polka with my very tall and very dear friend Larry. I loved the camaraderie of wrapping arm around arm and doing the Schottische and Cotton Eyed Joe (“stepped in what?”).
And, as Bax said, when the band took a break, we’d all migrate outside to cool off and dip into someone’s ice chest for food, beverages and the telling of a few good stories.
We were all community then. We were bound by our heritage and our lives in New Mexico. Under that bright moonlight we were all inextricably connected, and it felt so right.
Ah the memories. If I let ’em, they’ll take over my whole day.
Image from Living Ghost Towns.