Abe Peña's
"From the Past" newspaper column

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"Thursday, November 13, 2008 4:57 PM MST

Early in the morning, ‘con las gallinas’

In the villages of Cíbola we got up early in the morning. Old timers used to say, “Con las gallinas, with the chickens.” And sheepherders and vaqueros sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors said, “Cuando saltaba el Lucero, when Venus jumped out on the horizon.”

Venus, popularly called “the morning star,” seemed to jump into view in the eastern horizon at daybreak, momentarily disappear and quickly jump again into view.

Most of us were small farmers and/or small ranchers and it was traditional to tend to the livestock early in the morning. Usually the first thing we did after we dressed and washed our faces was go to the corral and milk the cow. Then we ate breakfast and the warm milk complemented the hot cereal we ate for breakfast.

Chaquegue, made from blue corn meal, was a popular dish for breakfast. Atóle was close behind. It was also made from blue corn meal but very thin so we could drink it. When the hens were laying we ate eggs for breakfast. I preferred mine fried, with either a dash of red or a little green chile. Some of my brothers and sisters preferred them scrambled.

After breakfast we fed the pigs, the chickens and the horses. The sheep were herded in larger flocks at the ranch some 18 miles to the north. We brought some to butcher from time to time and sometimes there were sick sheep and we brought them to the farm to nurse them. I was tempted to say “veterinary care” but there were no veterinarians in the area.

After we did our chores we carried a hoe on our shoulder and went to the corn fields to hoe weeds and sometimes irrigated the fields. By 10 a.m. it got pretty hot and we stopped working and went back to the house and returned to work late in the afternoon. Sometimes on the way to the house we went for a swim en el tanque de abajo, the reservoir down stream from the village.

Today we live in town and even though there are no cows to milk, pigs or chickens to feed, nor crops to hoe I still get up early. Now the first thing I do about 6 a.m. is plug in the electric coffee pot then go out and bring in the Albuquerque Journal. The newspaper is delivered to our driveway between 3 and 4 a.m. The Cibola County Beacon is delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays. By seven I've read both papers, drank three cups of coffee and retreated to my well equipped home office where I write and research until about 10 a.m.

At the moment I have finished writing a second book titled “Villages and Villagers,” published by Rio Grande Bookswhich came out in December of 2006. My first book “Memories of Cibola” has been reprinted by Rio Grande Books and both books are available in either paperback or hardback.

Until 1990 when we purchased our first computer at Radio Shack in Grants I used to write long hand on a legal pad at the kitchen table. Although I can type pretty good I had a difficult time being creative on the keyboard. I kept going back to the yellow pad, but after about six months I begin to feel comfortable and creative on the keyboard and today I prefer the keyboard to the yellow pad.

Viola, my wife, who also likes to write, got her own computer in 1997. She was happily surprised recently when University of New Mexico Press called to tell her they had accepted her “Chilitos,” a children's book, for publication. I immediately offered to drive her to readings and signings of her book to pay back for the many trips she has driven me to book signings and presentations over the years. It's the least I can do.

From our small offices we can literally reach the world either by telephone, fax, e-mail or the internet. Our Hewlett-Packard printers print, copy, scan and send and receive fax's. I seldom leave my office to research at the library. Now I can access most libraries, including the Library of Congress, from our computer.

As a volunteer with AARP the past several years I traveled frequently to hearings and forums around the country and to our home office in Washington, D.C. I always carried a yellow pad with me and as soon as possible after the plane was off the ground I dropped the tray table and started writing.

Sometimes I completed a 1,000 word draft while traveling between Albuquerque and the east coast. When I returned home I transferred the material from the yellow pad to the computer and edited, rewrote, and saved the story in the hard drive and also a backup copy on a diskette in case the computer crashed.

In 1996 we gave our reliable Tandy computer to our grandchildren and got a new Compaq computer with all the whistles and bells including Windows 95 and a modem accessing the Internet. For better or for worse we joined millions of people around the globe throughout the world wide web on the information highway.

Sometimes I worry that the amount of information coming at us will overwhelm us. I can already see where I could easily stray on the information highway and loose my way spending too much time surfing the internet instead of writing.

I pray to God He continues to give me strength and good health that I might continue to write the stories of our New Mexico villages and pueblos. I'm also toying with another book. I'm calling the draft, “Memories of Latin America,” where we lived for 13 years.

Abe Peña is a local author and historian whose award winning books 'Memories of Cibola' and 'Villages and Villagers' are available at bookstores throughout New Mexico.

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