Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Manuela (Mela) Romero 1910 - 2011, A Repost

I just found this obituary in the last week, it was written by Robin Mckinney Martin, the owner of the Santa Fe New Mexican and published in October of 2011, it was so compelling I just had to share it here. This is probably the best tribute Manuela (Mela) Romero could ever have. Maybe the best tribute anyone of us could ever hope to have. I hope the person who wrote this does not mind me re posting the obituary here now.  Maria Manuela was a distant cousin  whom I never met and obviously a very beautiful person. I wish I would have known her. There are some wonderful people whom we happen to be related to, know or interact with, but I do not know a one whom I could say was as good as Manuela. May she rest in peace.

In memory of MANUELITA ROMERO 1910 - 2011 Manuelita (Mela) Romero loved me and took care of me and my family from the time I was born, until the time she died in October.

She lived a good, long life. She was born Dec. 30, 1910, on a small farm between the Rio Nambe and Pojoaque Pueblo. New Mexico was still a territory. The Mexican Revolution and World War I had not begun. American women did not have the right to vote.

She lived though the terms of seven archbishops of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 32 governors of New Mexico, and 18 presidents of the United States.

Her family's roots go back to at least the 18th century in the Pojoaque Valley. She often talked to me about her family genealogy, and the following names and dates are from her memory. Her mother was Camila Rivera of Nambe. Camila's mother was Rufina Ortiz, and her mother's parents were Lupita Romero and Jose Manuel Ortiz. Camila's father was Juan Jose Rivera and her father's parents were Lugarda Valdez and Antonio Jose Rivera.

Juan Jose was the first person buried at the Pojoaque graveyard; he is buried in the northwest corner is the oldest one in the cemetery. Mela's father was Pablo Romero of Cuyamungue. Pablo's mother was Macaria Ortiz, and her parents were Chonita Romero and Jesus Ortiz. Pablo's father was Felipe Romero. Felipe's parents were Refugio Valdez and Vicente Romero. Her siblings were Tonita, born 1892; Chonita, born 1894; Jose Maria, born 1899; Alejandrino, born 1905.

Her father farmed their land and traveled through the northern part of the territory trading food and household wares. When Mela was an infant, she contracted whooping cough. Her mother later told her that while she was ill, her father spent many nights walking up and down with her on his shoulder. The illness made her deaf in one ear for the rest of her life.

In 1915 her father died, probably of melanoma. When he was very ill, he was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in the back of a horse-drawn wagon. The family stayed with relatives at the house that is now the custom banking office for First National Bank.

She accompanied her mother on the farm chores. When her mother joined with the neighbors at the all-night process that made syrup out of caña (sorghum), she slept on a mat under the cottonwood tree near the mill. The tree's trunk still stands on the hill above Mela's house on Shining Sun Road. She and her mother walked the mile to Don Pablo Romero's general store and walked back, visiting relatives along the way. Her mother carried most of their purchases on her head. Manuelita carried the tins of peanut butter, swinging them by their handles.

At that time, Pojoaque Pueblo was almost abandoned. Although Camila Romero was non-Indian, Mela's mother was assigned to care for the pueblo church. Mela remembers sitting in the ruins of the old pueblo and finding beads in the dust while her mother cleaned for the church. Growing up, she spent a great deal of time with her oldest sister Tonita and her brother-in-law Procopio Roybal.

Her cousins were like brothers and sisters to her. She graduated from eighth grade - - all the school offered - - at the Pojoaque school on Bouquet Lane. When she was about 16, she went to work for Eugene Van Cleave at La Mesita Ranch. The ranch often took in boarders. It was then that Mela began to learn European-style cooking. After World War II, she worked for Louis and Elinor Hempelmann. Louis was a distinguished doctor at Los Alamos.

In 1953, she came to work for my parents, Robert and Louise McKinney. She took care of me, as well as cooking for many parties, serving houseguests, and doing housekeeping chores. Mela was the most organized and efficient person I have ever known.

Given different opportunities, she might have run the laboratory at Los Alamos, or the state. She was a masterful cook. Her dishes ranged from red chile enchiladas, to curries, to her very famous biscochitos, to standing rib roast, to sopaipillas, to cheese or chocolate souffles.

Through family connections, and because of her work, she was respected and liked by many famous people who lived in or visited the state: painters Cady Wells, Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth and Georgia O'Keeffe; writers and historians E. Boyd, Paul Horgan and Witter Bynner; photographers Laura Gilpin and Julius Shulman; designer Sandro Girard; architects Nathaniel Owings and John Meem; Senators Clinton Anderson and Joseph Montoya; Representative Manuel Lujan; many New Mexico governors; scientists Robert Oppenheimer and Isidor Rabi.

She never married. Her great love was the church. She was not a joiner of Catholic organizations, but was faithful in her devotion and a strong member of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. After Mela's mother became ill and bedridden, she and Chonita cared for her.

After Camila's death in 1967, Chonita became ill and bedridden. Mela retired to care for her. Chonita died in 1987. Nevertheless, Mela continued to watch over me. She made many of my clothes. When Meade and I were married, she baked our five-layer (carrot) wedding cake. She sewed my children's baptismal dress. She cooked Sunday dinner after Mass for my family, even after she turned 99. She taught my children to make biscochitos, apricot jam and torrejas en chile. She encouraged me, and my children, to learn proper Spanish. She always was teaching me rare, and probably ancient, words: muina, pouty; hichete, the sisal used for making ristas; rebuznar, to bray like a donkey; papalote, sunbonnet; barrullo, commotion.

Mela was strict. All it took was a sniff to discourage me from doing what she disapproved of. A quiet compliment kept me on the right path. I am certain it is because of her that my children, Laura and Elliott, grew up Catholic and respectful of tradition. She lived in the house where she was born until the 1990s, when she moved across the river to be closer to her relatives. She was famous for her flower garden, full of petunias, iris, johnny-jump-ups and roses, cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans.

In 1999, she had a bout with breast cancer, one of the few illnesses of her life. After she turned 100, she became slightly confused. So, instead of bringing the family over for dinner, I took her for drives on Sunday afternoons. In Cuyamungue, she showed me where her ancestors had lived. On the way to Las Truchas, she explained how her sister and cousins would go to those hills to pick piñon. When I drove her to Valle Grande this summer, she told me how once her mother went on a camping trip by wagon to the Pajarito Plateau. Camila, whose entire life was devoted to the farm, stopped the party on a hill to say a prayer of thanks "por ser el mundo tan grande."

In early October, she enjoyed going with my family to Mass at San Ildefonso where Archbishop Michael Sheehan presided. Two weeks ago Mela fell and broke her hip. The love and devotion she had given her family showed in their tender care for her as she was dying. Of all the people I have ever known, in business, diplomatic or aristocratic circles, Mela was the person who was most a lady. - Robin McKinney Martin.

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