Friday, May 24, 2013

Creative memorials abound in the Borderlands

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It shouldn’t surprise me, after all these years in the creative Borderlands, where Día de los Muertos celebrants seem to come up with infinitely imaginative ways to remember their loved ones.
But I’m still regularly touched, often deeply moved — and sometimes even amused and astounded — by the inventive and loving ideas people come up with to memorialize and honor their dear departed.
Etched in my mind’s eye is the achingly lovely scene of a  burial ceremony I stumbled upon when I had been invited to cover a story at a northern New Mexico pueblo. Loved ones on foot and on horseback, silver and turquoise gleaming in high mesa sunlight, ancient celebrations of life and transitions in an ancient land ...
When I moved to Santa Fe in the 1980s, it took me a while to notice the descanos and a bit longer to discern their significance. I came across the tributes in the hearts of cities and villages and on isolated rural roads and highways. Sometimes the little displays were new and colorful, with fresh or vivid artificial flowers, More often, the descanso was something weathered and simple: a handmade metal or wooden cross, sometimes inscribed with a name and date.
Over the years, I interviewed authors and filmmakers who chronicled descanso traditions in books and documentaries. I learned about ancient traditions of honoring loved ones at or near the site of a sudden and unexpected death, away from their homes, victims of a traffic accident, an assault, an unexplained medical catastrophe.
Often, I found, neighbors and nearby business employees know the stories decades after a descanso is created. Decorations — flowers, wreaths, flags, toys for small children — pop up on holidays, birthdays and occasions important to the deceased and their loved ones.
In recent decades, a custom traced to early Hispanic settlers in the Southwest has spread nation- and world-wide, with descanso-like displays showing up at the sites of mass shootings and natural catastrophes.
I see other, more mobile tributes passing by on streets and highways throughout the Mesilla Valley, memorials decaled and painted on car and truck windows.
I’ve also seen portraits of beloved parents, grandparents, siblings and friends tattooed on the arms and legs of loved ones who have made a lifetime commitment to carry and share their memories.
Commemorative T-shirts have been another surprise in the burgeoning lexicon of  Borderland memorial traditions.
At Las Cruces memorial services for Sgt. Triton Mykal Wade, many of his family, friends and comrades wore black T-shirts that said “Team Wade” and “Forever an Outlaw Hero,” and featured his battalion’s mascot, a gun-wielding, grinning skeleton “Outlaw” wearing a cowboy hat.
Wade was killed in action on his last mission, shortly before he was scheduled to come home after a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. He was just 23. 
His wife, Alisha Morales Wade of Las Cruces, said the shirts were a tribute to Wade’s life as a soldier and a husband; they used to wear “Team Wade” shirts when they played video games together.
Since then, I’ve been noticing memorial T-shirts all over town. Sometimes, there is just a stark biographical line: A name, and the dates of the person’s birth and death. Others have symbols of faith and images of significance to the person being honored and those who loved him or her.
Altars, displays and processions during Día de los Muertos.  “Taps,” a wreath, a flag and salutes to a soldier. A daisy on the grave of a beloved mom or dad. A scattering of ashes and rose petals on mountaintops and waterfronts.
Traditional or new and creative, every memorial has something in common: a tribute to and remembrance of a soul we love.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

What I didn’t do on my vacation

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I had ten whole days off. And I had plans. Big plans.
At first, I was planning a birthday visit to son Ryan in Portland, but scheduling snafus interfered.
I figured it was a perfect opportunity for a productive staycation.
I was going to get out the leaf blower and clean up my yard and hire someone to do some repair work. Then I was going to finally get around to taking advantage of lower interest rates and refinance my house.
I sprinted through some pre-vacation extras to help my colleagues who are juggling new duties and new positions.
Then, I’d planned to zip home after work and whip up something delicious for an impromptu gathering to honor our late, great, moms, some recently departed.
There were some reorganization projects in mind: closets to clean and reorganize for the summer, books and clothing to give away to worthy groups and organizations.
I was determined to design my own spa week,  finally getting back to exercising every day, alternating lap swims, weight training and hikes through the hood.
I was finally going to organize the contents of all my cartons of clippings, files and photos hastily rescued after the Sun-News fire.
I wanted to have leisurely lunches and dinners with dear friends and catch up on our adventures. And maybe zip off to Truth of Consequences for a healing soak and a beach walk before the summer crowds take over.
I was going to make sense of a health insurance snafu, because reaching a physician and insurer agreement on just one word amounted to a formidable sum. 
After our first big rain of the year seemed to trigger every ache related to line-of-duty wounds and falls, I decided to start with the health insurance issues.
Maybe I gave too much at the office, but my usual communication skills seemed at an impasse. No matter how I tried, via visits, faxes, and phone calls,  I couldn’t seem to convey the clear-to-me insurance mandates to the doctor and his staff.
I began to suspect this was not meant to be a productive working staycation.
The aches got worse. I took a nap. And more naps. I watched old movies and documentaries. I napped some more and went to bed early.
Occasionally, I made an effort. I surveyed the yard and picked up a piece of windblown litter: an innocent-looking paper towel. It was embedded with prickly desert passengers. I tweezed out the prickers, decided it was an omen and took a nap.
I called my friends, wished them well and asked if we could do our mom’s day memorial another year.
Then I took a nap.
I went swimming twice and hiked a few blocks, about 20 percent of my regular workout regimen, but enough to warrant a few more naps, I decided. I went through everything in my DVR and watched several movies, many for the second time.
I didn’t research delicious, nutritious new recipes. More in the mood to nap than shop, let alone cook, I decided to use up all my fresh produce and live on salads.
At the end of the week, I took stock. Despite my laziness, inactivity and lack of culinary creativity, I’d lost five pounds.
I checked out my yard, where a windstorm had blown in more leaves, twigs and prickly litter. If I had cleaned it up, it would be dirty again anyway, I realized and I might as well wait a few more weeks before hiring someone to clean it all and prune my pines.
In one of the trees sat a skinny-looking hummingbird. He was still there and aggressively vibing me an hour later, so I spent a few minutes to retrieve the hummer feeder from the garage, fill it with sugar water and hang it on the patio.
Then I took a nap.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

Friday, May 10, 2013

Downtown comes alive

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I’ve been hoping for a dynamic, fun downtown Las Cruces, ever since I moved here almost two decades ago.
Be careful what you wish for, I thought during a grumpy, rushed moment on a recent Saturday.
I decided to park near La Placita, where I was covering the Reuse & Recycle Fashion Show before heading off to my next assignment. I circled all my favorite lots and made the rounds of my own “secret” downtown parking places I’ve always been able to sneak in, even in the old days when the Whole Enchilada Fiesta was held on the Downtown Mall.
For a moment, I flashed back on my last days in Santa Fe, when it was a major challenge to find a parking spot close to anything I was covering on the plaza or Canyon Road, or even to the New Mexican newsroom or the Albuquerque Journal’s bureau office to file my stories. 
Finally, I gave up and realized it would be a lot quicker to return and park in the new Sun-News parking lot, just a couple of blocks away, thank goodness. 
And it wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t make it to the gym that day. I would already have logged a couple of miles, by the time I’d walked the length of the expanded Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market a couple of times, headed over to interview an artist of the week, and headed back to cover the event on La Placita. And frankly, the ambiance was a lot more interesting than a treadmill in a sweaty old gym.
When we hit triple digits, I may change my tune, but right now, I’m pretty happy with the way things are working out in the ‘hood.
And clearly, I’m not alone.
Thousands show up for the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market every Saturday, and, though there are considerably fewer vendors, there is also an increasingly respectable show on Wednesdays, the other regular market day.
And the ready made crowds are attracting more attractions. A few years ago, Denise Chavez moved Border Book Festival Foundation headquarters from Mesilla to a picturesque adobe 314 S. Tornillo St., in Las Cruces burgeoning old town, “original townsite” neighborhood. And in April, most of the festival activities were held around Downtown in the restored Rio Grande Theatre, another major draw, now for a host of activities.
 Rona M. Lujan, coordinator for British Car Days  been held on the Mesilla Plaza for several years said the Saturday Market crowds were a major factor in the decicion to move her group’s event downtown this year.
In fact, that same Saturday, adventurous Las Crucens or ambitious tourists could visit the market, see a fleet of  British Car Days vehicles, drop in and out to catch a dozen dance groups (or join a line dance) at International Day of Dance at the Rio Grande Theatre, see artists  creating street masterpieces in the juried Avenue Art New Mexico competition, or head over to the old Santa Fe Depot  the Las Cruces Railroad Museum’s Railroad Days.
It was a busy day for special events, but there were more enticements to linger that you’ll find any Saturday.
If you still craved a little more entertainment, you could linger and listen to market  musicians, or visit the Branigan Memorial Library and city’s three other downtown museums: Las Cruces Museum of Art, the Branigan Cultural Center and the new Las Cruces Museum of Nature and Science.
And if you’re not a morning person, downtown draws include the monthly Downtown Arts Ramble from 5 to 7 the first Friday of each month, plus an increasing number of art galleries and intriguing shops (including CoAs, one of the largest and most eclectic used book sources in the United States), restaurants, and shows at three theaters: the Rio Grande, the Black Box and the Las Cruces Community Theatre.
All of a sudden, it seems, there’s a lot to see and a lot to do. 
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

Missing May Days with Mom

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It’s been four decades, but sometimes, especially in May, it still hits me. It’s a tsunami of sorrow that ebbs and flows, and sometimes seems almost completely quelled by joyful memories. Then, when I least expect it, it sweeps over me: I want my mommy.
I bought Mom a rose for her May Day birthday. She would have been 94.
I put the rose a vase in my colorful cubicle that reflects her art teacher influences nearly half a century after we painted and did needlework together, admiring each other’s handiwork.
When she left us, my sister and I were young moms in our 20s. Sally presented her with the best birthday present ever: her first grandaughter, also born on May 1. A year later, I followed up with her first grandson, born on May 18.
Brandy and Ryan were still little kids, but Mom made their brief time together count, and both retain fond memories of their fun and creative grandmother.
May was a very happy time in our family, full of love and celebrations: birthdays, Mother’s Day, even the occasional dance around a Maypole. Mom taught us how to make one, with the backyard clotheslines as a centerpiece, and how to make May Day wreaths and little bouquets out of whatever was handy: field daisies, wildflowers, the fragrant, big white blossoms that filled the catalpa trees in our yard.
Year after year, spring always seemed like a miracle after brutal Michigan winters, and she had a lot to do with that. 
Nature was something to celebrate, in the best and worst of times. Even winter had its perks, we discovered, as she taught us to find a good sledding hill, make snow angels,  how to sculpt creative snowcritters and whip up a bowl of gourmet snow ice cream with milk and maple syrup.
But May was the start of prime time. I still wonder if she arranged to check out a little early, in April, a month with the cruelest reputation, just so May wouldn’t be ruined for us.
And it wasn’t. But a wistfulness lingers. I want to talk to her and bring her up to date on the bon mots and creative antics and accomplishments of her grandchilden Brandy and Ryan and tell her about brother Tom’s three kids, the grandchildren she never got to meet: how much Dr. Adam, for instance, reminds me of her physician dad, my beloved nature-loving grandfather. 
And the great-grandchildren: the joys of watching her great-grandson Alexander the Great grow from a talented tot to an imaginative teenager sometimes came with bittersweet pangs. I wish she could have known him and he could have known her.
I recently asked Alex, who has inherited his great-Gram’s sunny nature, if he’d heard any good jokes, which seem to be in short supply lately.
“Not really. Usually my friends and I would rather make witty comments relevant to the situation,” he noted.
Mom would’ve loved that ... and him. And the  artistic and musical skills of my son and grandson, and all the traits they share with my kind, creative and loving mom. I want to tell her about it all.
And sometimes I do, especially in May, around her birthday and Mother’s Day.
I believe good souls are eternal, that we’ll meet again, that it some ways that matter more than conventional reality, we are never really parted.
But sometimes, I long to hug her and join all the scattered tribe for just one more family Mother’s Day, for fragrant flowers and a dance around a May Pole.
If you’re lucky enough to have a mom within hugging distance today, take full advantage.
Happy Mother’s Day.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

Make some Mother’s Day memories

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I’ve heard about some opulent Mom’s Day gifts over the years: cruises, cars, diamonds, even dream houses.
In these economic times, those grand gestures are out of range for most of us.
Luckily, it’s a timeless truism that some of the all-time best Mother’s Day gifts are free … and homemade.
Whether we can locate the actual objects or not, most moms and grandmothers can summon in our mind’s eye some of our most precious gifts of all time. Kindergarten and elementary school prints and plaques of small hands. Handmade cards. Tiny plants in eggshells or little painted pots.
And the photos. That may have changed a little over the years. Baby’s first cherished photo may be a pre-birth ultrasound snapshot or video instead of a wrinkly newborn portrait. And your little darling’s cutest moments might be immortalized on your screensaver at work, stored in a video or slideshow on your smartphone, or shared with loved ones on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
That’s all terrific, and if you have access and the tech-savvy, most moms would be thrilled to find some surprise new shots or a “then and now” montage … maybe presented on a brand new laptop, tablet or phone, if the budget permits.
If your mom’s more retro, or even if she’s not, there’s still nothing like an old-fashioned photograph or two, just of the kids or grandkids, or maybe sharing a special moment with her. Find some frames that reflect her taste, or make a little scrapbook or photo album with family favorites, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to give something she’ll keep and cherish for her lifetime. Your present may even become a family heirloom to delight several generations.
If there are no photographers among your family and friends (hard to fathom in this point-and-shoot age), you might want to spring for some professional family portraits. It’ll be a great investment in priceless memories.
And there’s more to the memory-making than photo images. Mother’s Day could be the perfect time to start your own oral history project.
Update the family tree. Do an online search for family tree forms and charts. Many are downloadable for free, along with guidelines and instructions for researching and completing family histories.
Then ask moms, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, along with older family members and friends, to share their memories of experiences with those on every limb or the tree. Make videos or transcribe amusing and interesting stories for mom’s collection and pledge to add to it every year.
If you can’t get together with mom this year in person, you can still share memories via Skype or a phone conversation.
And don’t underestimate the impact of an old-fashioned snail mail card and letter. Decades after Tweets, texts and e-mails have been long-lost in cyberspace, you may find your thoughtful letters tucked away in a nook to be cherished and remembered.
It’s also hard to beat the classics: flowers and a festive meal, also improved by a handmade touch.
Arrange mom’s favorites in a pretty vase yourself, or offer to plant annuals in her yard or a container for her home or patio. Whip up breakfast in bed, or buy or prepare her favorites for a picnic or barbecue.
And remember to say those magic words: “I love you, mom.” Nothing means more from her favorite gift of all: you.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.