The year I was 3, my father, a professor, spent the fall semester visiting the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Those were the days when long drives in the country just to take in scenery was commonplace family entertainment. My parents, who were lovers of dramatic land and who had great appreciation for Native American cultures, especially enjoyed the southwest. One day the three of us, my mother, father, and little me, were exploring along the north-south axis of the Rio Grande and stopped in the town of Bernalillo for gas (20¢ or 25¢ a gallon). Those were also the days of rural bus routes, and there, waiting for the bus, were an older Indian woman with a toddler about my age; my parents struck up a conversation with them, and offered to give them a lift home to the Pueblo of Laguna, about 70 miles away along the east-west axis formed by U.S. Route 66. This is where the miracle begins: Grandma Marie Paisano actually accepted the Anglos' offer, and got into the car with her 2-year old granddaughter, Barbara. I often think of how unlikely that should have been, especially in those days. The two families have been friends ever since: that would be nearly 58 years now, through thick and thin, tragedies and triumphs, deaths and births, partings and reconciliations, illness and well being.
How I wish I had photos of that first encounter, in retrospect it was so unbelievable it would be good to have a record of it. Even though we had a camera, there were no pictures taken that day. It was commonly believed, "Indians do not like to have their pictures taken" which of course wasn't true in any unqualified sense. Like anybody else, they just didn't like being photographed without permission by tourists treating them like interesting wildlife, inconsiderately snapping away in their churches, at their ceremonies and sacred spots.
Our next visit to Grandma and her family, according to my photographic record, was in June of 1959. I think the photo must have been taken by Grandma's daughter, whom we called Elizabeth, though everyone else who knew her called her Liz. There is Grandma in her apron, front and center. On the left side of the photo is her grandson Wally, and next to Wally, with my arm around her, is Barbara. Next to me is my father, and on the right side, my mother with Elizabeth's second daughter, Karen, on her arm.
Elizabeth's husband was still alive, and another son, Mike, was maybe away with his dad this day. Soon three more daughters, Georgine, Lucinda, and Beverly, were to arrive.
The years went by, many letters exchanged, there were always fruitcake and other gifts for them at Christmas. In 1968, Barbara, who was growing up a bright and lovely young woman, took an opportunity to attend camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. That seemed close to Indiana, where we lived, and so before returning to New Mexico, my parents sent Barbara a plane ticket so she could visit that last summer before her senior year in high school, my last before college.
Two years later, Elizabeth called my parents. Barbara, the oldest child, the daughter with nothing if not the whole future before her, expected to replace Grandma, then Elizabeth in her turn as the glue of the family, was dead. She had been killed in a car accident.