Lake Valley : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

On The Wrong Road

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.



—————-


When memories reach up and grab you

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.




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And Then I Get Out Of The Wayback Machine

I got a little down this past weekend. It might have been coming off one of the busiest weeks in recent memory. Twelve hour work days can bring a girl down.

It could have been the emails flying around about the upcoming memorial for my friend. It hurts my heart.

Perhaps it was simply about the dark gray skies and soaking rain that laid down like a cold, wet blanket over the Bay Area.

Yeah. It was all of that. But there’s one more.

Back in February, when I was visiting my Fair New Mexico, my best good friend told me some really good news.

“Friend, there’s a Lake Valley coming up! Joe Delk got the permits!”

Well, this made me grin so hard, the sides of my mouth met around the back of my head.

Ah Lake Valley. Now there’s a memory.

The town of Lake Valley, once a booming silver mine, is now a ghost town. Out there in the middle of gosh darn nowhere (a little to the left of I-25, a little to the right of Silver City), there are a few buildings still standing.

One of them is an old schoolhouse. For a lot of years, cowboys, ranchers, locals and college kids got together at that Lake Valley schoolhouse for a good old-fashioned country dance.

When I say a lot of years, I mean my best friend’s grandma remembers coming out to Lake Valley to dance, and she and I do too.

People came from miles around to tailgate, share beer and stories, and dance on the uneven wood boards of that rickety old schoolhouse.

The last Lake Valley dance happened back in the late eighties. The BLM has taken over the land and buildings and it’s been mighty hard to get in there ever since.

But to hear that Joe Delk, leader of local band The Delks, had somehow persuaded the BLM to go along? Well hell, I bought my ticket PDQ. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

March 19th was when it was set to go down.

About a week before I started packing my bags, I got the news. Sadly, it was not to be. Evidently the BLM wanted a whole lot of restrictions that just wouldn’t work. So Joe cancelled the dance.

When I heard the news, I felt low.

And so…on this past rainy Saturday, I looked out my window and I texted my best friend. “This would have been Lake Valley weekend.”

“Yeah,” she replied. Then she sighed.

And I sighed.

But it was not to be.

I guess Lake Valley gets to live on only in our memories.

Maybe I should write a story about it one day. It’s a intriguing bit of New Mexico history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Ah well. Monday rolled around and the rain came down and work was waiting and I stepped out of the wayback machine and back into my life.

But somewhere in my dreams, I scoot across the uneven floors, careful not to trip on a nail, while the band plays “Put Your Little Foot”…..and we dance.



That’s the schoolhouse. Now imagine it at night. Very dark out there…



Photo from Jimmy Emerson‘s Flickr photostream.


Where I come from

July 3, 2007 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Bay Area, homesick, Lake Valley, Las Cruces, Love, New Mexico, Rio Grande, where I come from 

Last night I had a chance to attend a concert at a fave local venue. The show was Kenny Chesney and he played the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater locally.

Kenny’s appearance, being a good country boy and all, meant I pulled on my fave pair of Fat Babies and hit the show to sing along with the crowd and Mr. Chesney. (you know him, he’s the guy that married Renee Zellweger for like, a minute….)

Being a good New Mexico girl, I’m a pretty good fan of country music. I’m always utterly surprised at how many fans there are out here in the Bay Area. Now, the friend I went with bummed a cigarette off a guy who had come over from Modesto. Ah, Modesto, good farm country, that makes sense. But there are a lot of “city folk” who love them some country music as much as anyone from the outskirts. And that always makes me a little happy. (and yes, I know today’s country acts are hardly country anymore…more like rock ‘n roll in a straw hat with a Bell Ranch crease)

I saw young kids that I *know* have been raised here in the Bay Area, raised among the people and the concrete and the hustle and bustle and they were singing along word for word to “Back Where I Come From”, Chesney’s ode to small town livin’.

I smiled. Because I knew these kids, though they loved the song, and sang with gusto, in a lot of ways, couldn’t possibly understand.

And it made me thankful, again, for the multi-millionth time about where *I* come from.

Oh, the simple pleasure of knowing a place where a grain elevator and a gas station/Snappy Mart are the only the only things in town (like here or here or here. Kids are homeschooled, folks live in wide open spaces where they run cattle or horses or corn or cotton or whatever comes from the land.

Or knowing how fun it is to dance a two-step on a hardwood floor with a boy you like. Or even a boy you don’t like but is a good dancer.

Or cramming the cab of a pickup with as many friends as will fit and riding to the river to have a little fun while the swirling water rushes by.

And knowing what it means to “live simple”.

Oh Fair New Mexico, how I miss you……

When memories reach up and grab you

March 26, 2007 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Baxter Black, Lake Valley, Music, New Mexico 

Lately I’ve been on quite a jag of reading the works of one noble New Mexico left handed cowboy poet named Baxter Black. He’s a good friend of my “adopted dad” (my best friend’s father). I had the chance to meet him once back in college and I’ve heard stories of his 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 from a few years back. It was one of the books of his NPR material called “Horseshoes, Cowsocks and Duckfeet”. One selection from that book is called “Lake Valley”.

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 event. That’s the staying power of Lake Valley.

In fact, back in college I used to go to Lake Valley with my best friend. She’s the one who turned me on to it. Her parents used to come along with us too, having danced at Lake Valley back in the day (and probably along with Bax). I remember at the dance they used to give you 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 point to our gang, tell ‘em that was his family, throw ‘em a twenty at the door and we’d all get in.

You know, in our way, we were (and are) family.

The way Bax describes Lake Valley in his writing is just how I remember it. Though when I was going, a band called The Rounders were the ones playing 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. Ok, imagine that…but with no desks and a lot more years on it and that’s pretty much how it used to look. 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 and we had to dance in a long oval. Like Bax said, the floorboards give under your feet and after all the years they weren’t particularly even, so you had to mind your feet, but oh was it a hell of a good time.

I’ve never felt quite so free, happy and in touch with the simple easy joys in life. 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 the ice chest for food, beverages and the telling of a few good stories.

Ah the memories. If I let ‘em, they’ll take over my whole day.






Image from Living Ghost Towns.