Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Santa Fe in Autumn

Saturday morning I put down the manuscript I was editing for a client, walked out the front door without Georgia and Sofie and headed for the Farmers’ Market about two blocks away. It had been too long. And it is autumn.

About a block away I ran into Carol who is normally attached to her Scottie named Nessie on a leash and a small white parrot named José on her shoulder. She had neither. Seems not too long ago she was on a walk with José when he fell heavy as a stone from her shoulder and bounced on the sidewalk. Poor José had a stroke. He survived, but no longer perches from on high. Nessie was home because Carol, too, was headed for the Farmers’ Market where dogs are not allowed. Her mission? Buy hot, fresh, crispy chiles for José. Seems José is a devotee of hot, only fresh and crispy, green chiles. Give that boy an even slightly soft one, and he does not entertain the idea of taking a bite.

First stop, the farmer who grows José’s favorite chiles. The farmer was out in front of his booth turning the chile roaster. Carol scored for José.

Another man who works for the owner was offering samples of a carrot dish. So simple. Cubed purple, yellow and orange carrots stir fried in oil with garlic and a few chiles. I took a bite and took the bait. I am now the proud ower of three carrots of three different colors.

Next stop The Tomato Lady. All these years and I had never stopped at her booth. Big mistake for me. She has earned her name. Carol said to her, “Susan is from the South so she knows her tomatoes.” With that, the woman brought out her secret stash, and I made the quick decision not to say something like, I dunno, seems where ever I have lived, and that would be about ten cities,  people know their tomatoes. I partook.

Carol and I both spotted Pilar at the same time. Pilar lives north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande. The woman works hard for her money. I met her on my first visit to Santa Fe in 1990. She has been through hell and back. Normally her booth is filled with ristras and wreathes and angels made of straw. Not today. She only had on  display a few small wreathes and a straw cross decorated with dried flowers with vibrant colors. She gave us both a hug. Good day? I asked. “Sold out!” Carol asked the price of the cross. “For you and Susan, everything $20.” Carol bought the cross. One more round of hugs and we walked on.

And there he was. I about cried. For 17 years I have bought eggs and fruit and vegetables from this couple. He is in his 80s. I adore that man. She is a few years younger. This year, for the first time, I had not seen him in the booth.  Some young stranger stood by her. I am ashamed to say that I avoided the booth because I wanted to avoid the conversation.  How could I say in the middle of the Market, so, where is your husband, and she would say, “Ah, mija, he died over the winter,” and I would tear up, and she would tear up, and customers would be there. So I was a chicken.

But today he was sitting in a chair by the truck. Not up front as he was in the past, but there he was. I about screamed, Hi! You are here! I missed you.  As he rose to give me a hug, he said he had a bad heart attack over the winter, a slow recovery and this was his first time back at Market. The Mrs. told him to sit back down and he did. I tasted two of the three varieties of apples and settled on a pint sized basket of red delicious. After I paid, he got up from his chair and pointed to the little red ones with a few black spots. “My grandfather planted these trees, mija. Try these.” Those apples were spectacular. “Give her a pint,” he said to his wife. “She is a good woman.” One more hug and we headed home.

There is a line in one of the songs in “Camelot” that goes, “But if I’d ever leave you, how could it be in autumn?” I feel that way about Santa Fe. How could it be in autumn?


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