Old Town Square on Monday
It is Sunday morning, comfortable after an early rain which was gentle enough for me to walk Pippa without an umbrella or hoodie. We woke up late enough to miss the 10:00 service at Church, the only service at our small congregation. Since Ken passed two years ago I have distanced myself some. It was our church, but it doesn’t feel anymore like my church. It has changed much, as many institutions do after two years. New minister, same elders, minus a few who have moved on. Several hopeful new families have placed membership, then suddenly opted out, maybe for the same reasons I feel like leaving, but then I don’t know. People have all kinds of excuses for bailing on a church, not the least of which is social. Ours is not a glitzy country club congregation; it is plain and humble, conservative, a tad too conservative for me.
There in lies my concern. Attitude. During the presidential campaign I endured blatantly unchristian comments and Facebook postings aimed at our former President. I kept my mouth shut until I couldn’t anymore. At one occasion I gently reminded a small group of my fellow believers that the tongue is a lethal weapon, and should be guarded, and yes, I may be the only member of the church who voted for Obama, but I doubt it. There was silence after my disclosure. I was fairly certain the group would accept my comment and continue to include Ken and me. They did. I was encouraged that we could recognize differences of opinion and go on with our purpose of studying the Bible and seeking ways to be of service to others. There is a good reason why our forefathers created a division between church and state in our constitution.
This group of about 10 people supported us through our trials with his health and helped me after his passing. I could not have made it through those tough times as easily without their support and compassion. They called to check on me, asked me to lunch, and kept me busy doing work I loved, teaching Bible Hour.
The elders voted to disband the small groups which met Sunday evenings in our homes. They wanted a larger group to meet in the Church building. No one asked for our opinions; it was a done deal. Big let down. Oh well, can’t expect a church to be perfect and meet everyone’s needs. I’ll just continue to contribute, to teach, to help out. Ken would like that, and when I am doing those things I often feel he is still with me.
Being in church without him is difficult. I walk in alone and sit in the same pew next to two other single women whom I have come to know. I am comfortable there. But I am missing my man, who was a song leader before alzheimers , who was friendly and kind to everyone, who underlined in his Bible during the sermon, who never failed to drop a check into the collection basket, who reached out and held my hand during the service.
Instead of going to Church today, I took Pippa on her first ride in our new car. We drove along Rio Grande Boulevard, my favorite stretch of road; stucco mansions on either side of the the pavement had acres of green land surrounding them. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a town of horse farms and lavender fields was built on fertile ground along the Rio Grande called the Bosque. The radio was tuned to the classical station. Electronic signs every other mile along the road reminded me to keep my speed at 25mph. With no cars behind me I kept the pace, enjoyed the landscape and the music which blended like hues in a watercolor painting. No particular destination.
I increased my speed as we entered Albuquerque, and the signs disappeared. The landscape turned New Mexico urban: small ranch houses circa 1970’s and strip malls. We reached the intersection of I 40 and just beyond, the entrance to Old Town. This charming section dates back to the founding of Albuquerque in 1706. Cars lined the narrow streets, tourists flooded them, a carnival occupied the town square. I wanted to park and walk about, blend into the ambiance of a Sunday afternoon. Pippa. I drove twice around the parking lot debating. Pippa would have to stay in the car. It was in the 80’s, not too hot; I would crack a window, and she had water but… I drove out after the second round turned right, past the Hacienda restaurant where dad and I sat once on the patio eating chips and salsa and enjoying our moments together. The old church was across the street, the first in Albuquerque, still holding mass and hosting festivals in the square. Today sun drenched tourists roamed the grounds and entered the small chapel for shade and curiosity, and perhaps to light a candle. At the intersection to Mountain Road stood the Candy Lady, a landmark sweet shop. The owner is famous for concocting the blue crystal meth out of sugar for the series Breaking Bad. You can purchase bags of it, along with other candy oddities like sculpted private parts made of chocolate.
We turned left and then right on to Rio Grande Boulevard and headed out of town. I decreased the speed of the Rav 4 when I passed the first sign telling me I was doing 35. I was hungry. I turned into a small strip mall in Los Ranchos. The Flying Star restaurant on the north side has a leafy patio for outside dining. Dogs are welcome. I can order healthy here, a chinese chicken salad. And I can also indulge in homemade pastries that tempt me from the glass display case as I stand on line to order. And I don’t feel awkward sitting alone at a table. I opted to leave Pippa in the car with the window open an inch.
I found a table with some shade in the corner of the patio, sipped my iced tea, and behind my sunglasses watched the couples and families at other tables. Being single and alone I am curious about the relationships of others. A woman seated at a table with a younger woman and two men (perhaps parents dining with grown children) was holding court. She talked without ceasing, all I could catch was “baby boom generation,’ and “millenials.” By her appearance I’d say she was between the two. The young man sitting opposite her seemed enthralled, smiling and nodding his head often. A young couple dressed in athletic wear had their bikes parked near their table. They were into their conversation, smiling and mutually contributing, attentive to each other, and their salads.
A man carrying a glass filled with red liquid sat at the table next to me. We looked at each other quickly. I wondered, was he alone, too? I did not stare, but he looked to be a few years younger than me, well trimmed gray beard, professorial? Just guessing. My chinese chicken salad came and occupied my attention, and a while later the same waiter delivered his. It looked like we ordered the same thing. My mind almost drifted into fantasy when two women, one older one younger approached his table with similar red drinks. Mother, daughter, wife. Oh well. I am not looking for a man. I had two, more than I deserve. One especially wonderful man for a brief shining moment. I can’t dilute that moment.
So I finished a pleasant lunch alone again, and walked back to the car. Pippa was very glad to see me. We enjoyed the ride home listening to a symphony by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and couldn’t spell, anyway.
San Felipe de Neri Church, Old Town. Can you find the Saint in the tree?