When describing her own childhood, its amazing how my mother can make you desperately want to live in a time gone by. I don’t mean in the traditional sense, that is, in the Stepford, Pleasantville or Mad Men way. No, my mother doesn’t glamorize the sixties and seventies as a simpler place in time. In fact, her depictions of growing up in New Mexico are often melancholic and broadly laced with grit.
I was about eleven during one of our frequent drives from Belen to Socorro when she told me. “You know, when I was your age we didn’t have an indoor bathroom.” I looked over to see my mother display a mischievous grin that let me know a story was coming.
” Really?” I realized that didn’t know much at all about how my mom and her nine older siblings grew up. It also struck me as odd that the house they grew up in wasn’t always the way I knew it.
“I was so embarrassed that we had an outhouse,” said my mother, almost proudly juxtaposing her former disdain for her childhood home. “I didn’t even want my friends to come over- so I came up with a plan.”
“What did you do Mom?” I didn’t know whether to be excited or frightened by what I was about to hear, but my mother’s stories always completely captivated me.
“My cousin Frances…” my mom started laughing when she trailed off. “We would get in to so much trouble when she came to visit from Arizona! I feel so bad, because my mom would give us money for the collection at church, and instead there we’d go to the Hilton Pharmacy to buy ice cream.” Mom was referring to one of the many businesses in Socorro, New Mexico that used to carry the Hilton name. Long before Paris and Nicky Hilton lived in Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria, their great-grandfather Conrad Hilton was working at his father’s general store in Socorro- hence the former plethora of stores and events carrying the Hilton name in my parents’ hometown.
“So what happened ?”
“For some reason I thought if Frances and I burned the outhouse down, nobody would have to know that…”
“Mom!” I interrupted “you didn’t.”
“Oh yes we did.” She started laughing again “…and that smoke plumed for days to where every single person in town knew that it was OUR OUTHOUSE.”
“Did you get in trouble Mom?” I don’t know why this was my first question for her after sharing a story with me that I had, until then only thought you would catch Dennis The Menace conceiving in a fictionalized script.
“Nope,” she answered proudly “they thought it was your uncle Phillip smoking in the outhouse, and boy did he get in trouble.”
“When did they find out it was you?”
“Not until just before your grandpa died mijo… and boy was PT (my family’s name for uncle Phillip) mad. ‘I knew it was YOU!” yelled my mom imitating her older brother. I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed by both my mother’s antics as well as her ability to keep a secret for over twenty years. As we pulled in to town, the story was quickly filled with comments like “don’t you ever try anything like that” and “if I ever catch you skipping school or church”, but I was ultimately grateful that my mom shared this story with me. She continued describing things I shouldn’t do as we pulled up to my Auntie Annie’s house, the home my grandparents raised ten children in.
We walked in the front door looking for my aunt with no success. “Hello!” yelled my mom, “is anybody home?” She was answered with a flush of the toilet. Mom turned to me an simply said “oh.”
- Socorro : Mexico (kiva.org)