A Day in Questa and a Faux-Fur Coat!

So I’m hanging my hat these days in San Cristobal, New Mexico, which is about halfway between Taos and Questa, with the Taos Ski Valley being another point of the triangle. These are all dramatically different worlds, and I’m the monkey in the middle.

Until yesterday I hadn’t spent much time in Questa. Five weeks ago when I was on my way to the cabin, Questa was the last spot of civilization that I hit. Then I arrived at the Huxley Cabin, which wasn’t what I expected though it turned out to be just what I needed. {love.}

It was a love-hate with Questa upon first sight. It was dark that night–my head ached from whiplash, my eyes throbbed with all the uncertainty–and I couldn’t see much. I saw bars and gas stations with hand-lettered signs. I saw gated up shops, bars on windows, dogs in the street, and a lot of busted up pickups. I felt like I’d departed my country, and because I was deep into writing a memoir largely about living in Honduras it seemed appropriate, but wrong. Not what I wanted, but just what I needed. 

Since then I’d gone up to the Family Dollar and the Questa Supermarket, and another time drove through. I tried to go to church there once, but got the schedule wrong. Yesterday I decided to get a little deeper into Questa, and man I’m glad I did.

I went to the Questa Credit Union to see if they are in the Co-Op network with Missoula Federal Credit Union. They’re not, but the ladies were so nice and gave me a lollipop anyway. It’s a darling place, hand painted sign and all:

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I went to the Family Dollar (score!) but after that I wasn’t sure what to do. The town was sort of alive because of Valentine’s Day, and a shop advertised flowers and crafts. They sell ice, art, jewelry, drinks, firewood, snacks, and showers. Sounds like my kind of store! It didn’t look open, but they did say they had roses and had hung a Valentine decoration on the window. “What’s the worst that could happen,” I thought, but before I went in I took a shot (from the car as you can see) of the outside of that shop.

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Now, I’ve stumbled upon some awesome music since I’ve been here, but when I walked into Rael’s shop I was stunned—there was a craft fair going on, chili and baked goods for shoppers, and a guy playing guitar. When I opened the door he was playing Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and a lovely woman named Patsy Archuleta said, “Hi Honey!” And I jumped right in. {what a song, what a welcome.}

Patsy is a painter who has moved into making jewelry. She shows her paintings at a shop on the plaza in Taos, but had a binder with photos of her oil paintings. Patsy’s good! Better than good, really. I wish I could link you to her website but she doesn’t have one.  She paints images of the Southwest, including a lot of the area churches. She wants to get up to twelve so she can do a calendar. She started doing the jewelry because her dad is in an old folks home and hauling paintings back and forth was unreasonable. This is a lady committed to her craft. Most of stuff was too flashy for me, but I bought a pair of earrings she made from an old concha belt. “The turquoise in the middle is real,” she told me, “But not the rest of it. Ten bucks?” Sold, Patsy.

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I also fell in love with a turquoise and mother of pearl necklace, but that vendor wasn’t present so I had a chance to meet Cynthia, the owner of the shop. “Twenty bucks,” she said, “No tax.” I told her I’d come from Montana and we don’t have sales tax there, so thanks. She asked me to sit with her and have a complimentary cup of coffee in the living room area of the shop, and I’m no fool.

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I told her I loved the rug, but it wasn’t for sale. While I was there two people asked to buy some of her father’s memorabilia in the back corner (cash register, card filing cabinet) and also, “Not for sale.” If you need anything for your Kodak 100—including a flipflash—Cynthia might be able to hook you up.

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She asked me where I’m living and how I like it and I said, honestly, “I love it,” which was not a surprise to me but it felt good saying it out loud. She asked when I arrived and when I told her, she said, “Oh! It must have been terrible arriving when it was so cold.” And that made me feel like less of a wimp. Win.

We talked about my book and she showed me her father’s book. She couldn’t give me her last copy, but said she’ll print more. Then she showed me another book—Treasure of My Valley—by Lucia Vallejos Gonzales—a local writer who is apparently a real trip and writes exactly like she speaks. I was sold when I read the back:

“I wanted to write this story for the next generation, about being conservative, about conserving for a needy time, about learning the hard way, about learning by doing. That you can’t get everything or that you get something through hard work and being a little stingy. We didn’t have help. We learned to tackle things ourselves. Success for us was to save. We learned about saving, about not using everything. About recycling. We didn’t throw anything away. I mean anything. I think that’s hard for this generation to understand. We recycled everything, clothes, food. We were self-reliant. We asked for the help of God. We accepted everything. It was a good experience having nothing.”

Right?

Then Cynthia husband, Armando, and grandson, Robert, came into the shop. Armando told me the easy way into Cabresto Canyon, but only after he’d already told me the tricky way to get there. I guess he decided he liked me. Robert was the show stealer of the day:

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Then Patsy gave me a copy of February’s menu for the senior center.

It was awesome at Rael’s and I felt good contributing to Questa’s local economy. I stopped at the grocery story, which is pretty awesome for a miniature grocery.

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Making good use of the space–a car next to produce!

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Hooter’s hot sauce doesn’t belong here!

…and then one last stop at a thrift shop. You know, just to see. I guess I’d paid it forward and the good luck was already coming back to me, because I scored a faux-fur coat from Marshall Field’s for $5. And it just so happens I have a dress-up party to go to tonight in the Ski Valley and it’s going to be cold. It doesn’t close, but it wraps around and it has a hood. I love hoods.

Speaking of hoods…I couldn’t pass up these shots on my way home.

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