Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sketch #4 Gene and Pablita

Gene, the son of Adolfo and Pablita Gallegos, lived in another trailer house, a little farther up the arroyo.

Settlement in the high desert strung out along the flood plains of the streams and rivers that trickled and flowed out of the mountains. The original land grant colonists had built on the bluffs, above the irrigable, mosquito ridden flats. Their fields stretched down to the banks. A road was established, parallel to the river, linking the homes together. As time went on—and families grew—the holdings were divided into strips, perpendicular to the river. This configuration maintained access to the acequias. At some point, individual properties became so narrow that it was impractical to resubdivide them in the traditional way (and only the Anglo newcomers were crazy enough to settle on the flood plain), so the next generation inherited lots above the road—land that was dry, overgrazed, and deforested.

Gene was of that generation that could no longer subsist on the land. Pablita had told me that, “We had no depression here. We had chickens, we had beans, we had milk.”

Someone told me that Gene had been a cop once, but had gotten kicked off the force. When I knew him, he was painting cars and selling a little mota. Five bucks got you a 35mm film canister, fifteen a small baggy.

To raise a little scratch, Gene also sold off his father’s tools. I bought an elegant twenty inch long jack plane, with a Bailey shoe and a Stanley blade works, and a perfect 12 point Disston hand saw—with a V for Victory emblem etched in the blade—and neither with a spec of rust, for maybe twenty five bucks. He asked me not to mention this to Adolfo. I treasured that saw until someone who knew its value borrowed it and never gave it back. A lesson in karma, I suppose.

Painting cars out in the open was problematic. Even on a calm day, a lot of dust would settle on the wet paint. So Gene built himself a paint teepee.

Of course, an inverted cone shape was not ideal. Gene elongated the teepee form into a sort of A-frame with rounded ends. The building plan and ridgeline bent somewhat, to accommodate an outcropping.

The structure was fashioned from slender tree trunks, maybe six or eight inches in diameter at the base, and set about two feet apart, in opposing pairs, sloping to the center. Tar paper was draped over the framework, and a lathe of chicken wire set over the paper.
Finally, Gene applied a few hasty layers of cement stucco over the whole affair. It was a feverish work of genius. Vincent Sculley could have written a paean to it, how its organic form resonated with the mountains in the distance; my straw bale and natural building friends would have been in awe.

Gene’s paint shop took off. It became a local landmark and gathering place—even when there were no cars to paint, Gene’s buddies would visit, drinking beer and blowing weed all day long.

One morning I looked out the window and the teepee was gone. In its place was a pile of shattered and scorched stucco, a great deal of which was mounded over the car that was ready for a final buff-out.

I can’t recall how much time Gene spent, despondent, paralyzed. But soon after the debris was cleared, a flat bed loaded with adobe bricks showed up. A tidy rectangular slab, about 36’ by 24’, was laid out and poured.

Then it was adobe time. Pablita managed the mortar pit. The mortar, or mezcla, was little more than the hardpan beneath your feet, soaked with water, and worked with a hoe. Pablita demonstrated the action. She told me that when she and Adolfo built their house, she led an ox around in a circle, to churn up the mud. The beast’s urine added strength to the mix. In the old days, the finish floor was of the same mix. After it dried, the ox was led in and slaughtered—and its blood mopped in to seal the floor.

A simple roof went up. An Ashley stove went in. Once again, Gene was back in business.

At some point during these events, a young redhaired woman showed up. She was slender, but her belly was round. Even though she was Anglo, she spoke excellent Spanish. Gene was in heaven. “I always wanted a redhead,” he shared with me.

I wish I knew how the story went. Did Redhead have Gene remodel the shop into a snug little casita—and rent the trailer to another couple of Anglo misfits?

Janet and I found the arroyo again in 2005. We asked some people we saw if they remembered the Gallegos. A woman knew a niece, and offered to see if she could find her, but we declined, content to leave the past a mystery.

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