The Sandoval Signpost

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Placitas author Garcez tells ghost stories

It’s the Halloween season and time to light a candle, lock the doors, and tell ghost stories. Placitas author Antonio R. Garcez offers a bookfull of shivers up the spine in New Mexico Ghost Stories. He traveled throughout the state collecting first-hand accounts of the paranormal. Garcez divides the stories regionally and introduces each region with historical background information surrounding the state’s many haunted houses, old graveyards, and other spooky places. The author presents the stories in the words of eyewitnesses.

Garcez will be doing both a book-signing and storytelling at Art Gallery 66, on October 27, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and a book signing on October 13, from noon to 2:00 p.m., at Treasure House Books and Gifts, in Old Town Albuquerque. He is also the author of American Indian Ghost Stories, Arizona Ghost Stories, New Mexico Ghost Stories, and California & Yosemite Ghosts. For more information, visit www.ghostbooks.biz.

Here’s a sample from New Mexico Ghost Stories:

Sofita Becera’s Story

In 1921, I was 22 and had just married Daniel the previous summer. We had a small house about two miles east of the Santa Fe Plaza. In those days, two to five miles was not considered very far to travel, and those of us without horses would walk, carrying supplies of food or firewood. It was not an easy life, but the good times made up for the bad. My good friend since childhood, Belinda Ortiz, would join me at midday after I had done the cleaning and fed the chickens and goats. Belinda and I passed the time talking about what was going on in our neighborhood, things like who was romancing who. During one of these afternoon visits, Belinda and I went outside to rid my yard of a stray dog that was barking and chasing my chickens. Three young neighborhood boys came by, saw our trouble, and started throwing stones at the mongrel. Once rid of the dog, I asked the boys why they were so covered in dirt. They explained that they had been exploring in the nearby hills and had discovered a small cave behind a grove of trees against the side of the mountain. They had gathered some sticks to enlarge the opening and peered inside. With the help of the afternoon sun, they saw several pots and a quiver made out of fox pelts that contained arrows. I told them they must have uncovered a burial site and should not have touched or taken anything, because they must respect the dead. They listened with wide eyes and then said they did not want to return, but were afraid that others might disturb the cave. Belinda suggested they take us to the cave and we could help them cover it up. The boys agreed and off we went.

About six miles into the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, on the eastern edge of the city, we crossed a small stream and entered a grove of trees. There we found the cave. The opening was about four feet high and three feet wide. We peered inside and saw the small painted pots, a woven grass mat, and the quiver of arrows—just as the boys had described. In the back of the cave, I saw a large dark mass of fur and I knew this was a burial cave when I saw a bony foot protruding from underneath the fur. I realized that the corpse must have been a man and a hunter because he was wrapped in a bear skin and had his hunting weapons with him, but I kept this knowledge to myself and made the sign of the cross. I turned to Belinda and the boys and said, “We will have to seal this up, so go down to the stream and bring mud and stones.” While they were all busy at the stream, I looked inside the cave again. This time I noticed a roughly carved molcajete. I knew that taking anything from the dead or a burial is very wrong. I was raised knowing this, but mentally putting this knowledge aside, I nervously reached in and grabbed the molcajete and the small grinding stone that lay beside it. At the time it didn’t seem wrong to take a stone tool, I thought this would fit in my kitchen perfectly, so I carried it some distance away and covered it with grass and leaves. I felt it was worthless compared to the pots or the fox quiver. We diligently worked with our hastily gathered adobe building materials, and soon the sun had caused a thin crust to develop on the surface of the moistened mud. We placed large branches with lots of leaves in front of the sealed entrance. We all agreed that we had done a “good job.” I instructed the boys to return home on their own, but Belinda and I stayed behind. After they had gone, I told Belinda about the molcajate.

She was not very happy about what I had done, but after she saw it, she agreed that it would do no harm to put it to use once in a while, after all those years lying in the cave. I retrieved the tool and we went home. I scrubbed the molcajete clean of all mud and placed it on the kitchen table to surprise my husband. When Daniel saw it, he admired its beauty, but asked nothing of its origins. Instead, he suggested I grind some chile for the following day’s dinner. So the next day, I did as he had suggested and crushed some dried, red chile pods for dinner. The molcajete performed very nicely, but later that night, while I was sleeping, I was awakened by a loud banging sound. I shook my husband out of his sleep and told him to listen, but the sound had stopped. The next night, I was again awakened by the same sound, but this time I recognized it as the sound one rock makes as it is hit against another—a “click/click” sound. Immediately, I knew it was the molcajete. I got goose bumps on my goose bumps, but I kept still and eventually, after what seemed an eternity, the sound stopped.

The next morning I told Belinda about the sounds in the night. She said it was my own fault for taking what was not mine. I agreed and asked her to return the molcajete to the cave. She refused and insisted I do it myself. But I was too frightened, so I carried the stone to the back of the house and left it there beside the back door. From time to time, I would hear the familiar sound, but I dared not tell Daniel where the molcajete came from. I just endured the night poundings and the guilt that had overcome me. Out of fear I could not bring myself to return the molcajete to its rightful resting place. One November night, as a soft snow dusted everything, I heard the molcajete again.

It had been several months since the last time I had heard it, but as usual, the clicking sound awakened me from my sleep. I got out of bed, went to the back door and carefully peered through the window. I saw the freshly fallen snow glistening in the bright light of a full moon. Then I looked down to where the molcajete stood and was surprised to see the imprints of a barefooted person in the snow. The footprints slowly moved away from the molcajete until they disappeared behind a large cottonwood tree. Although snow covered everything else in the yard, the exposed molcajete, which was being used as a doorstop, had been brushed clean, and the fresh human footprints surrounded the molcajete.

Since that night I have heard the clicking sounds of the molcajete only twice: on the day that my good friend Belinda died and on the day that Daniel was laid to rest. But I was no longer afraid. I guess I’ve come to accept the spirit that dwells in or around the grinding stone as something that I will have to live with. I now consider the molcajete as if it were a chair or table, something taken for granted but useful when needed. I believe this “stone friend” will stay with me and provide companionship until I leave this world.

Orlando Lucero, county commissioner

Orlando Lucero, county commissioner

Orlando Lucero—public servant, lifelong educator, grounded in faith

—JO ANNE FREDRIKSON
Sandoval County’s newest commissioner is Orlando Lucero, who is a lifelong resident of the Las Cocinitas (the little kitchens) Barrio of Bernalillo. This is one of several remaining barrios in Bernalillo that is located in an area behind the Range Restaurant. He attended Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School from kindergarten through tenth grade before transferring to Bernalillo High School. This school was in the El Zócalo Compound building across from the church that is currently being renovated. He went on to become a teacher at Bernalillo High School and taught many of the county’s leading officials and tribal leaders during his twenty-plus years there. He has been an educator for forty-three years, and currently teaches seventh grade at John Adams Middle School on Albuquerque’s west side. He is proud of the positive attributes of his students, but saddened that most come from homes without fathers. He would love to be the catalyst for a statewide mentoring program for youth.

While he was a student at Bernalillo High School, teachers recognized his potential and helped him win “all kinds of scholarships.” When he was first enrolled at the University of Albuquerque, he changed a flat tire for an elderly instructor. The man was so grateful that he saw to it that Orlando received a $10,000 scholarship from a recent donation to the school. Orlando graduated from the University of Albuquerque with a double major in biology and political science. Bilingual Education was the focus of his Master’s Degree, and he completed postgraduate work in Educational Administration with a special interest in community colleges. His education career includes being a Washington Policy Fellow assigned to East Los Angeles College, where he worked on policy issues with leaders of a consortium of California community colleges. He worked with the U.S. Department of Education, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and was an Albuquerque Public Schools Loaned Executive.

As the youngest of six children, he fondly recalls the dichos, or stories, his parents used to teach values as part of his upbringing. He later realized that many of those riddles had their foundation in the Bible. He learned construction with his father at age nine, and built his mother a house when he was only fifteen. He is a proficient adobe builder, and also does woodcarving and furniture making as hobbies.

He credits the Christian brothers who operated Our Lady of Sorrows School with teaching him to live with a constant life of prayer. He operates a prison ministry monthly at the Sandoval County Correctional Facility. He also practices traditions passed down from his father of visiting one or two elderly people each Sunday. He has what he refers to as his ‘Rosebud Ministry,’ whereby he distributes a dozen roses on Sundays one at a time by ringing a doorbell, giving the lady of the house a rose, a smile and a wave, and heads on to the next stop. It is important to him that he not lose sight of his roots. His father always taught him to respect his elders.

He is the divorced father of six grown children. He is proud of their intelligence and their accomplishments. Two work for NASA, one is an educator, one is involved in banking and real estate, one operates a tanning salon, and one is a very content truck driver. He says he brought his children into the world and they taught him how to enjoy it. He has eleven grandchildren.

Orlando knew he wanted to be a county commissioner when he was still in high school. His father Max Lucero was a magistrate judge. An uncle, Ezequiel C. de Baca, was New Mexico’s second governor. Many other relatives served in elected office. He says that his father told him of a group of leaders meeting in 1927 in Bernalillo as a “Mancomun,” or ‘Men’s Commons’ that was a predecessor to the City Council. His infectious enthusiasm for people makes him a natural politician.

Orlando Lucero was elected to the Sandoval County Commission in January 2007. His service area includes eighteen separate communities with specific needs. His priority is the health and safety of residents of the county. A current goal is to bring sewer service to residents of Bernalillo’s bosque area. The land there is home to approximately 780 people and has been subdivided as it has passed down through generations. The ground is saturated, and it may be necessary to annex the area, and possibly create a special assessment district. He encourages county residents to articulate their needs by inviting him to a special meeting, voicing concerns at a Commission meeting, or leaving him a message at the County Courthouse (867-7500). He recognizes that the county is experiencing lots of growth, and there are many issues of concern. He invites residents to give him a call or write a letter. He will get back to you ASAP; however, he receives about fifteen such phone calls per day, so it may take a while.

If you have a recommendation for a person to highlight in “Real people,” please email a paragraph about the individual and your contact information to: editor@sandovalsignpost.com or mail it to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM 87043.

 

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