We’re on the brink of monsoon season. I could feel it when I went out for a jog this morning before the guests got up. The languid air, pregnant with moisture, felt more like the Mississippi Delta than the high desert, filled as it was with a cloying humidity that mixed with the darkness and wrapped itself around my ankles as I ran.
Brother Jerry and several of the guys from church were out at Wallis Park, setting up tents for Coldwater’s annual Fourth of July picnic and fireworks show. The church and the Chamber of Commerce sponsor the festivities every year. Joey is very excited about it. A team of volunteers — mostly the usual suspects from Casa de Jesus — will spend most of the day barbecuing, and everybody in town is supposed to bring a side dish to share. All the kids get free sparklers, and they have a “patriotic pooch” contest. Joey is working on some sort of ridiculous getup for Harvey to wear. We have come to an understanding about the extent of Harvey’s participation in the festivities: Once the sun sets, the dog goes in. I don’t want him traumatized by all the explosions.
I promised Brother Jerry that I would make Miss Shirley’s special New Mexican bread pudding for the potluck. Coldwater has held a potluck ever July 4 since 1972, and Miss Shirley’s bread pudding — a wild but tasty concoction involving pinon nuts, stale sourdough made from starter that Miss Shirley inherited from her grandmother, and a red chile rum sauce — has been present at every single potluck. When I bought the Tumbleweed, one of Miss Shirley’s gifts to me was a little tub of sourdough starter and a lesson in making bread pudding. She asked that I either carry on the tradition or share the starter and the recipe with one of the ladies in town so Coldwater wouldn’t have to give up what had become one of her favorite traditions.
I loved Miss Shirley the minute I met her, but the longer I am here, the more I appreciate what she meant to this community, and the more awestruck I am by her foresight, attention to detail, and generosity of spirit. I’m still not sure how or why she chose me to take care of her motel, her town, and her boy, but I’m honored and grateful that she did.