A GRANDPA TALE
By Nora Jacquez
Does anyone out there know about Peanut Brittle Hammers? I am the proud owner of one which my Grandpa, Benito Cordova, used in his General Store in Lone Tree, Colorado . Peanut Brittle was shipped in small wooden barrels and the minute metal hammer was used to break up the chunks of peanute brittle into manageable pieces to sell by the pound.
My grandpa also had the Post Office in Lone Tree. His only son, my uncle File or Phil, from the age of ten, had the task of loading the mail bags on and off the train as it wound its way through Lone Tree from Pagosa Springs to Pagosa Junction. There the train filled up at the water tower and turned around. There was one problem. Uncle Phil mostly loaded and unloaded empty sacks because many of the inhabitants didn’t read or write. At one point the United States Postal Service threatened my grandpa with closure of his Post Office for lack of business. But due to some bureaucratic Snafu, it was never closed until the store itself ended.
Lone Tree was homesteading country and people staked a claim on their one hundred and forty acres and built rustic log cabins. There is another Lone Tree in Colorado these days but it is a swanky suburb of Denver with mini-mansions and lush green lawns. My grandpa’s Lone Tree is now almost a ghost town. Fortunately, when I took my children to visit, the little church where I was baptized was still standing. But it had long been deserted and the deer came inside in winter for shelter. The small bell tower is all that remains. The original tall pine tree for which the town was named fell over and is now slowly being covered in sediment.
In the thriving days of old Lone Tree, the General Store was the hub of community activity. Grandpa’s sense of humor showed when people read a sign in the store which said. HOY NO DAMOS CREDITO, MANANA SI. (TODAY WE DON’T GIVE CREDIT, TOMORROW YES). Despite this, Grandpa kept an Accounts Receivable book. When someone died he would load up the horse drawn wagon with provisions for the family. Then he would go to his Accounts Receivable and with a heavy sigh, say. “Pues mejor se mueren que pagar lo que deben.” (Well, they’d rather die than pay what they owe). As a final gesture he would cross their name off and send the hired man to the grieving family with provisions.
As a child I remember the death of a small baby and the community gathered in the child’s home for a wake. My memory is of a baby in a long white Christening dress laid out on top of a draped treadle Singer Sewing machine.
Grandpa also served as the emergency doctor since the doctors were far away. One family story is of Grandpa pasting a man’s ear back on his head with a solution of sugar water. During the flue epidemic he protected his children by rubbing molasses on them. If one researches the Lone Tree Cemetery today, one finds an astonishing number of deaths in 1918, the worst year of this epidemic. Grandpa’s children that we all knew survived.
However, a few years ago I took my Uncle Phil, then in his 80’s to the San Luis Valley where the family had also lived. We researched the baptismal records in the oldest parish in Colorado and found that my grandparents had a little girl born in 1899 that my Uncle Phil never knew. He cried.
Grandpa would take his team of horses and wagon from Lone Tree to the San Luis Valley to visit family. He crossed high mountains that even today by car are daunting. To help pay for the trip, he would visit the turquoise mine outside Antonito , Colorado and pick up the turquoise chips around the entrance. He put the chips in coffee cans and took them home to trade the Navajo Indians for blankets and rugs. The turquoise might have also helped to pay for his children’s education. He loved learning and sent his children away for schooling. My mother’s older sisters went on the train to Denver for a stay at St.Clara’s Orphanage to attend school. My mother and Uncle Phil were sent to El Rito Normal School in El Rito , New Mexico . This school was established to train teachers for the Spanish speaking people of New Mexico . My grandpa died just before my mom finished her degree at the University of Denver . But I’m sure he was there. To this day his energy follows me. I have a ring made from his turquoise chips. I never take it off.