Sandoval Signpost


An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Real People

Paging through the past— Signpost article reprints from 20 years ago

Rumaldo Montoya remembered

—Denise Raven

A few summers ago, two people rode down the arroyo past my road’s dead end. They were going to look at some property and stopped to talk. I tried to understand where their new home was, but we quickly got lost among different names for the same places. This happened before the county named all the roads and numbered all the houses. “Oh, you must mean over by the creek-crossing at Rumaldo’s Grandfather’s old place.” They looked at me blankly. As they rode off, I remembered the county put culverts at that crossing a few years before. And I realized few people remember Rumaldo Montoya or his long-dead grandfather. The new house, really a whole new subdivision, was in the area I had described in such archaic terms. I was saddened to think people are building houses with no knowledge of their land’s rich history and previous lives.

Rumaldo Montoya was in his seventies when I knew him, a childless bachelor who delivered fresh, raw milk from his own cows. In those days, I had a small baby and didn’t know how to drive. Rumaldo was happy to carry passengers on his daily trips into Bernalillo, and he became my lifeline to the post office, laundromat, and grocery store. Sometimes, he drove into Fourth Street to deliver his homemade cheese, and I could pick up molasses and whole wheat flour at the food co-op there. Food and clean clothes are important, but the best part of a trip to town with Rumaldo was the conversation.

He told the same stories over and over, but he had done, and seen, so much that I never minded. And besides, it is easier to remember them now, so many years later. He helped build the road out to San Luis, the village near Cabezón, with his team of mules, feeding them, and himself, on dime-a-day wages. He told me about the winter when the snow in Placitas was so deep it covered a horse’s legs. His uncle planted a black walnut tree near Las Huertas. As a boy, Rumaldo hauled wagons full of water to the tree. Now it towers above our heads, giving nuts and cool summer shade. Once he related a tale of prairie dogs in the cornfields up on the mesa. They pulled the plants down into the ground—ears, leaves and stalks—the corn disappeared.

I remember the time he drove up with a headlight smashed in on his truck. I asked what happened to his truck. He answered calmly, “A post was in the middle of the road, I honked my horn, but it didn’t move, so I hit it.” He used to own a Model “T” and a Model “A”, which he spoke of lovingly. Rumaldo may have ridden horses once, but he definitely preferred trucks when I knew him. He would even herd his cows in the truck, yelling out the window, “Vacas, go home, go home.” I wasn’t the only person to catch rides with him, and all the children in the truck would yell at the vacas too, jumping and waving.

Rumaldo is not the only person to remember in Placitas. After fifteen years, I am still a newcomer here, but it is long enough to feel sorrow for the passing lives and many changes, along with my own lost youth. It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of sorrow felt by the people who have been here for generations. Deaths and changes stretched out behind them for many lifetimes. I see now Rumaldo was my connection to the past and what I love most about this place. Placitas is special because there is an aura of history here, which is more than lives, stories, and deaths. A feeling hangs in the air and echoes along the arroyos like the soft rustle of dancing cottonwood leaves. It is the legacy of people living from the land, their love, and respect for it.

Rumaldo’s army sergeant once said, “Montoya, you are too big to be a man and too small to be a horse.” But he was really the right size for connecting the past to the future and the earth to the sky.

Reprinted from the February 1992 Signpost

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