Baxter Black : 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.




In the Box

Despite the fact that The Good Man and I actually moved two weeks ago, we didn’t fully depart the old place until this past weekend.

That last mile is a sonofabitch.

I guess we just wanted to save the best for last? Or something. Basically, the last stuff to exit the old place was the stuff from deep in the dark recesses of storage under the house.

Let’s be honest, this stuff it wasn’t “our” stuff, it was my stuff. Lots and lots of boxes, some of which hadn’t been opened since they made the 1,200 mile ride from Albuquerque to the Bay Area.

The goal this weekend was to open those deteriorating boxes, get rid of what I could, and what was left, repack into fresh boxes and move on.

This proved to be a more difficult task than I had expected.

There were some surprises in those ol’ boxes. Especially the one I’d jauntily labeled “Karen’s Childhood.”

What a doozy that one was.

Sunday morning, there I sat on the cold floor of my now former garage, used my Buck knife to slice open the “childhood” box and dug around in there. I extracted a now almost fourteen year old gallon size Ziploc bag containing a bunch of papers and stuff I clearly didn’t know what to do with when I left Albuquerque.

I unzipped the bag, pulled out the contents and went through it piece by piece. I turned over photos, old love notes, and a ticket stub.

I gasped and my eyes got a little watery from both joy and memory.

The Wayback Machine gobbled me whole.

Here’s what I found:




The year was…um….yeah. 1990? Maybe 1989? Oh jumping jehosophat! I don’t know. A long time ago when my skin was elastic and my pants were not.

It was Ag Week at NMSU. An annual celebration that was a week full of fun, games, and dancing for all us kids in and around the Ag College. It culminated in a big concert and dance at the Pan Am center on the last day of the week.

This was a special year. My best good friend excitedly told me that her Uncle Bax would be performing at that year’s Ag Week. And by Uncle Bax, she meant Cowboy Poet and legendary New Mexican, Baxter Black.

That year there was another yahoolio on the bill with Bax. Some nobody named Vince Gill.

Yeah. That Vince Gill. Before anyone knew who he was.

Friday morning we were invited to come to the Ag Lobby to meet and greet. Bax was there holding court and signing autographs, and gave my best friend a huge hug when she walked up. We talked and laughed with Bax a while and then we went over to check out this Vince Gill character. He was wearing a pair of NMSU sweatpants, a three day old scruffy beard, and hair that hadn’t been washed in a good long while.

He was nice enough. Looked totally exhausted. He signed a glossy black and white promo photo (I found that in the bag too) and we walked away wondering who that rube was.

He put on a hell of a show that night. And so did Uncle Bax.

Let’s just say this, it was a hell of a party.

One for the history books. Sure would be fun to live that one again.

When the trash went out at the end of Sunday, the Bax and Vince ticket didn’t go with it. It went back into the Ziploc bag, then into a new box.

Maybe in another fourteen years I’ll slice open that box and discover it again.

And gasp.

And well up.

And remember.

Those were salad days, indeed.



Hit the Road, Jack

What better way to celebrate the long drive home from L.A. than with my favorite story about the ubiquitous Grapvine. The Grapvine is what they call the bit of road leading through Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California. After miles and miles of bleak, hazy and bland I-5, the Grapevine is sort of a welcome breakup to the drive.

It also, in my opinion, serves as the gateway to Southern California. Everything changes once you come off that mountain pass and drop down into the outskirts of L.A.

This bit of road is the stuff of legend and lore. Many a car has met its match on the Grapvine as the climb from sea level to at times as high as 4000 ft proves to be too much.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to a great New Mexican, the cowboy poet and dear friend of my best friend’s family, Baxter Black.

I read this story aloud to The Good Man as we made the summit….being on the very same road made it that much more hilarious.

Enjoy.

____________________________


The Grapevine
By Baxter Black


Equisearch columnist Baxter Black ponders the futility of tryin’ to impress the ladies while driving a Chevy Nova.

How better to impress his new lady friend, thought Rob, than to take her to his friend’s rancho for an afternoon branding and BBQ.

She would be pleased to see that he had many friends who drove pickups with chrome grill guards, tinted windows and coordinated paint jobs. He admitted to himself that his own outfit was less ostentatious. His ’64 model two horse trailer had been repaired so many times that it looked like a well drillin’ rig! The ’76 pickup was using 2 quarts of oil to tank of gas and his horse was . . . well, ol’ Yella looked right at home.

Rob was eager as a piddlin’ puppy when he picked up Delilah and headed north outta the Loa Angeles area. He was anxious to make a decent impression but one large obstacle lay in the pit of his stomach like a pea in the Princess’ mattress . . . THE GRAPEVINE! It was a monster of a hill dreaded by truckers and people who still drove a Chevy Nova.

The engine was screamin’ and smokin’ like a burnin’ pile of creosote posts when they finally leveled out at the summit of the Grapevine. Rob had sweated through his shirt but he sighted with relief as he gave Delilah a comforting look. She smiled back uneasily. Then the motor blew! A big dent appeared in the hood and it sounded like someone had dropped a Caterpillar track into the fan!

They coasted silently into a service station at the bottom of the grade. He assured his sweetheart there was “no problema”. He had lots of friends nearby. Her reaction was one of forced optimism.

By dark he’d borrowed a pickup from Hank and they both agreed returning back home was the best option. He loaded Yella, hooked up the trailer and back over the Grapevine they flew! Halfway down Rob managed to slip his arm behind Delilah’s neck.. Soon she was lulled into discussing’ her dreams of home and family. She snuggled closer as he watched a tire bounce by him on the driver’s side. No headlights shown in his rearview but he couldn’t help but notice the huge rooster tail of sparks spraying up from beneath his trailer! He could see her astonishment in the flickering light.

Rob wheeled the screeching rig to the shoulder. Together they unwired the trailer doors and Yella stepped out, unhurt. Rob tied him to the highway fence and unhooked the trailer. Rob’s facial tic had returned.

Seemingly in control, he jumped in the pickup and headed south for the nearest phone to borrow a trailer. He returned to the scene to find Yella grazing in the median with semi’s whizzing by on both sides and his date shivering over the still warm axle, forgotten. She, herself, was smoldering. She spoke not a word and Rob conceded to himself that it was gonna be hard to regain her confidence.

In the space of 12 hours and 50 miles he had left his pickup, his trailer, his horse and his girl scattered from one end of the Grapevine to the other.

Next day he towed the pickup to the shop. He left his trailer to be impounded by the State Police. His horse made it home safe but Delilah changed her phone number, wrote him out of her will and has not been heard of since!

For more from this cowboy poet, visit BaxterBlack.com.

____________________________




iPhone photo of The Grapevine, copyright 2008, Karen Fayeth




Story reprint found on Equisearch.com.


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.