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“¡Baile y baile y sin harina! [Broke, but Dancing Up a Storm!]”

by Teodorita García-Ruelas

Nasario García returned to his parents’ home in the Río Puerco area of New Mexico to talk with the abuelitos [elders] and record their memories, a practice historians call “oral history.” His family members and other Hispanics who lived in the villages along the Río Puerco remember well the farming and ranching life. Their stories are rich in the lore and traditions of their culture and time. Here, Teodorita García-Ruelas remembers the early days. She speaks in casual, New Mexican Spanish.

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“But the rancher's life is the happiest. [Pero la vida del ranchero es la más feliz.]”

Oh! The rancher’s life is the happiest in the world, because you’re your own boss, and everything you raise goes farther. I don’t know what it is, but like today’s jobs, they don’t last. But the rancher’s life is the happiest.

Well, ah, my dad used to plant; he planted crops. He had cows; he had sheep. We had goats. Besides that, my dad had a job; he used to transport freight. They used to deliver to stores, here in Albuquerque. He was a freighter for José Miller. I was a small girl. My brothers and sisters were small, also. We lived in Salazar, at the time, but Dad worked for José Miller.

We all used to cultivate the fields. And the time would come when we had to plant, and then when the time came, when everything we planted was ready for harvesting, here we were at it all over again. Harvesting corn and everything. We used to work a lot. Julianita [her sister] was one of the ones in the family who worked the hardest at the ranch. I guess it’s because she always liked the... my brother Ramón didn’t like ranch life very much. My parents brought him to Menaul School, ah, but I don’t know what year that was. And then he quit Menaul; he left school and started to work here in Albuquerque... he didn’t care very much for the ranch. Not like us; we did.

We planted corn, pumpkins. We’d harvest all kinds of crops. Toward the end, during the last few years, when water no longer ran in the ditches, we only harvested pumpkins, pinto beans, and corn. But at first, at the height of our glory, I must have been about ten years old [ca. 1919], Dad used to harvest a lot of wheat. He harvested a lot of wheat! Alfalfa. We lived very happily.

“All kinds of crops grew [there]. Everything grew well. [De too se daba muy bien. Muy bien se daba too.]”

All kinds of crops grew [there]. Everything grew well... and then we also had goat’s milk, cow’s milk. We’d make cheese. We always had hogs, too. We used to slaughter hogs; we used to slaughter sheep. Why, we had everything!

And to slaughter a hog, to fatten a hog, we didn’t fatten it the way they do now, with garbage. Ah, the meat that we got was healthy and good, because it was fattened with corn. My mom would prepare a [large] tub outside the house; there she boiled corn to fatten the hogs. People fattened real good hogs. If we slaughtered a hog, there was lard, there was meat, there was everything. Not like now, everything is so different.

The neighbors would all get together; they all came to help one another. The Valencias—because they were cousins—the Valencias, the Montaños. We lived close to one another, that’s what I remember from way back. All the neighbors helped each other out. Everyone!

For example, if you want to ask for flour, because you didn’t have any, let’s say, because there were no stores, if you went to a neighbor’s house, they’d loan you some. If Dad’s neighbors came to his house, they’d be helped. People used to help each other a lot.

And Dad helped people out a lot. He helped many people who were alone. Back then, in those places, there were no jobs where one could go work, so there were many friends who ate at Dad’s house. If someone went to ask Dad for something, he never said no.

There was a family who ended up alone; cousin Lucinda’s family, I don’t know if she was really a cousin, but, in any case, she had two grown children. She was Melesia’s mother. But another family raised Melesia [Valencia]. That woman was alone at home and she’d go help Mom, because that’s where she ate. Dad would help her out, as he did many people.

And Mom did, too. Mom was a hard worker. She helped Dad get on his feet, over at the ranch.

My mom used to say that when she and Dad got married, that they didn’t have anything, not even a place to live. Once when they couldn’t find a place to live—they had a place for horses, that’s what they fixed up to live in when they first got started, because they were very poor. And that’s how the two of them got started. Both Mom and Dad worked very hard to have what they have. To have what they had. But Mom was also a hard worker, very intelligent.

Well, people began to abandon their homes when the time came that they couldn’t do anything. It got very dry. There was no water anymore. People didn’t have water in the ditches. Drinking water, people always carried it from el Ojito [the Little Spring]. They never had water [for farming]. [Water] from the rainy season, yes. Well, in any case, from about, ah, from about ’28, ’29, from then on, people didn’t have water in the ditches. [Before that], they had a dam farther up [north from where we lived]. Dad was the mayordomo [headman] of the acequia [irrigation ditch] system.

Well, I came to Albuquerque, because, ah, we got married in ’28... in ’38, ’39, that’s when we came here.

Why, I remember when we lived over there, we lived very comfortably. Now, whenever we knew that a dance was going to take place, we’d be ready from morning on. The dances were very beautiful... there was a little old man who used to say—he liked to dance a lot, he’d dance with the younger girls. He was the first to kick off the dances. He’d say, “Broke, but dancing up a storm! Come on, girls! Broke but dancing up a storm!” Why, he didn’t even have flour [for tortillas]. (laughter)

People were very poor, but they were very happy. And people helped each other. We lived very comfortably when we lived in Guadalupe.