Today is my birthday. I’m twenty-five years old.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was born in Farmington, New Mexico. I wouldn’t say I’m “from” Farmington, though. When I was at Chaco people would often ask where I was from, and I never knew quite how to answer. Sometimes I would say “here!” and they would respond “No one’s from here!” Well, the Navajos are, but yeah, fair enough. I’m not really from Chaco.
Where am I from, though? As I say, I was born in Farmington, at San Juan Regional Medical Center, but I never actually lived in Farmington. In the rural southwest it’s very common for people to travel long distances to give birth, because hospitals are scarce, good hospitals are even scarcer, and families are often spread widely across the region.
I do have a lot of connections to Farmington, even though I wouldn’t say I’m from there. My dad’s family has lived in the Farmington area since the 1880s, and I still have some cousins who live there. My great-grandfather was born in Farmington in 1886, and both of my paternal grandparents were born there as well. Farmington is certainly an important place in my heritage, despite my rather ambivalent attitude toward it.
When I was born my parents actually lived in Arizona, where they ran a trading post on the Navajo Reservation. My dad’s family has been involved in Indian trading for 100 years now (a couple of my great-grandmother’s brothers built the family’s first trading post in 1909 ), and my grandmother and her sisters grew up at a trading post north of Chaco that my great-grandparents built in 1918. My grandmother ended up inheriting that store, where my dad grew up, while her sisters went on to own their own stores elsewhere in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
When it came time for my dad to go to school, his parents bought a house in Farmington, where he and his mother stayed during the week while he went to school. On weekends they went back out to the store. This was a common pattern for trading families.
When my dad grew up he ended up going out to manage a store his parents owned in Arizona, where he met my mom (who came out there for reasons of her own, but that’s another story). They were still living there when I was born, and since my grandparents were still at their store near Farmington my mom decided to see an OB-GYN in Farmington when she was pregnant with me. Thus, I was born in Farmington. The first place I went from there, after a few days in the hospital, was not west to the store where my parents lived but southeast to the store where my grandparents lived. Later we went home.
About a year after I was born my grandmother died in a tragic car accident, along with one of her sisters, and the whole structure of my dad’s family began to deteriorate. My grandfather lived for another couple of years, but he was a broken man. When my sister was born he was still alive, but my mom chose to have her in Flagstaff, which was closer. At the same time the trading business was falling apart too, a casualty of the major changes sweeping the Navajo country with increasing acculturation and incorporation into the mainstream of the US economy. By the time I was six my parents had decided to give up on trading and move to town. My mom got a teaching certification, and my dad applied for a PhD program in history at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He got in, so that’s where we moved.
I grew up mostly in Albuquerque. That’s what I would usually tell visitors at Chaco when they asked where I was from, though I would usually also say I was born in Farmington. I don’t know if I would really say I’m from Albuquerque. It’s certainly the place I have spent the most time at this point, and it’s the city I’m most familiar with, but I never felt fully comfortable there, and I left as soon as I could and went to college back east. I think I’ve made my peace with it at this point, but it’s not a place I really have any desire to live again.
My dad died two years and two days ago. Colon cancer. He was sixty years old. Last year, on the first anniversary of his death, I met my mom and my sister, who both live in Albuquerque, in Jemez Springs and we went hiking in the mountains. It was a nice, peaceful time for remembrance and togetherness. This year, on the second anniversary, my mom and my sister hiked the same trail we hiked last year. I couldn’t come, obviously, being away at school as I am, but I like the tradition that we seem to be developing, and whenever I’m in the area in the future I’ll participate in it.
We sold the store where we lived when I was young years ago, but we still own the store where my dad grew up. It’s off the reservation, on private land that we own, so we can do what we like with it. We don’t play any part in the management of it; we have a retired ranching couple run it for us and keep the buildings in shape. But we still have it, and it remains a tangible symbol of a lifestyle and tradition that has very nearly vanished now. I rarely mentioned it to visitors at Chaco, although I did do some presentations on trading posts in which I talked about it. I did go up there a couple of times. The emotions it evoked in me were complicated.
So where am I from? Hard to say. I don’t have a simple answer, and I don’t usually want to tell my whole life story when someone asks. Here it is, though, in abbreviated form, in this post, so if anyone is curious they can take a look and judge for themselves.