This afternoon, I showed my house/guest cottage/historic studio complex to a couple of Salida artists who were gathering information for potential buyers from out of town.
As I toured them through the property with my real estate agent, Kathleen Nelson, I thought about the time I’ve spent here.
Sixteen years ago today, Richard, Molly and I pulled out of the driveway of the house where we had lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, headed uphill to Interstate 25, and turned north. It was mid-morning and already hot. The Chihuahuan Desert, a stippled expanse of olive-green creosote bush with occasional patches of grass and wildflowers, shimmered in the heat.
I drove the huge yellow rental truck with Perdida, our Shar Pei, riding shotgun on the bench next to me, nose out the window, jowls flap-flap-flapping in the wind.
Molly, home from college for the summer, followed in our Isuzu Trooper, pulling a utility trailer loaded with everything that hadn’t fit into the truck. Richard rode with her.
We were on our way home to the Rockies at last, fourteen years after the summer we married and moved away from Wyoming for Richard’s first academic job. Since leaving Laramie, we had lived in West Virgina (nine months), Washington State (three years), Boulder (one year, while Richard finished his second dissertation, a long story), Iowa (two years), and then seven years in New Mexico.
Richard was a tenured professor at New Mexico State University. He was due for a sabbatical and we had decided to spend the year in Salida, his childhood home. Two years before, we had bought a decrepit brick duplex there as a place to eventually retire.
We hired a contractor to renovate the duplex, a job which naturally took longer (and cost more) than we imagined. Once he and his crew got started, it was clear the duplex needed new everything: roof, insulation, wiring, plumbing, windows, actual bathrooms….
We spent our first week in Salida in a motel, and then once one side of the duplex was habitable, settled in. Molly found a summer job in a coffee shop. Richard hit the road as an expert witness in cases across the country, I worked on finishing my seventh book.
At the end of the summer, Molly headed back to college. A few weeks later, we bought the derelict industrial property across the alley for the gorgeous and very neglected brick shop that sat in one corner, 1,632 square feet of historic timber-frame building, with leaky metal roof, crumbling parapets, sagging beams, broken windows, and filthy interior. It was perfect for Richard’s office and sculpture studio.
At the end of the year, we didn’t return to Las Cruces. Salida was home. We’d figure out the earning a living part however we could.
We spent the next several years working and fixing up the shop building (mostly Richard), cleaning up the junk-littered and weed-studded half-block of property (both of us), and beginning to restore its native dryland mountain prairie and the degraded urban creek that lined one edge of the place (mostly me).
Eventually, we built our own house on what we took to calling our “decaying industrial empire” (Richard did much of the building) and finished the landscaping (my territory) with an expanse of native grasses and wildflowers, perennial beds, and an organic kitchen garden.
We moved in before the house interior was finished, thinking there would be plenty of time for that. We were wrong. Five years later, in November of 2011, Richard died of brain cancer. The creative complex of house/guest cottage/historic studio on half-a-block of property with its wildflowers and restored creek was suddenly much too big for me.
All of that passed through my mind today. I wondered what the couple looking at the place would have thought of the junk-filled lot and dilapidated studio as I saw them first. And who would fall in love with the place next.
Someone will, in part because of the love Richard and I brought to reviving this once-unappreciated parcel.
We were happy here, and it shows. That’s a gift I am glad to share.