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Tales of growing up New Mexican explore rural lifestyles

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s always a treat to read Nasario García’s stories of growing up in New Mexico’s Río Puerco Valley; a treat whether the audiences are youngsters or general readers.

Nasario García reads from “No More Bingo, Comadre!” at 6 p.m. today at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie, Suite B, Santa Fe; at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW; from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Treasure House Books & Gifts, 2012 South Plaza NW; and at 2 p.m. Oct. 28 at Barnes & Noble, 3701 Ellison NW, Cottonwood Mall.

García’s latest book, “No More Bingo, Comadre!” is a terrific read though only a handful of the 13 stories in it are set in the valley.

The collection, which has multiple settings, opens with “Death Came and Went Away.” It’s about the author and his father going to another Río Puerco village in a horse-drawn wagon. They’re off to fill four barrels with water and take them home. The water is for drinking, cooking and bathing during a severe summer drought.

García describes a series of scenes in terrifying, heart-pounding detail of father and son heading home. They barely survive a flash flood as they cross the mud-cracked riverbed. “The roaring current attacked tree trunks, sticks, logs, branches – everything that stood in its path – and left me dazed and half-deaf,” García writes.

The final challenge of the river crossing requires them to unhitch the horses and ride them.

Ahead was a partly washed-out bridge over an arroyo. The horses couldn’t cross it. Dad was about to carry his son over the bridge. “He barely took the first steps when suddenly a lightning bolt struck next to the bridge and knocked us into the ditch,” García writes. Soaked, both survive the severe weather.

Several stories brim with humor, such as “Grandpa Lolo’s Gay Rooster.”

Grandma Lale needs eggs for a special dish for Good Friday luncheon, but the chickens aren’t laying. So Grandpa Lolo gets a replacement gray rooster from his compadre Nestor. Still no eggs. Lolo thinks the rooster is gay, that he has no interest in the chickens. He goes back to exchange the rooster. This time, the new rooster does its job, though Grandpa decides the issue really was with the chickens; they were drunk from eating fermented boiled corn in the pigpen.

In “Yo Quiero Hacer un Lie’Way,” Grandpa buy a coffin on layaway from the Albuquerque mortuary Cajonería Salazar. Grandpa and grandson (and other kids) carry the paid-for coffin through town. Neighbors speculate that there’s a body inside the empty box.

Several stories concern the theme of loss of cultural identity.

One of them is the title story.

Comadres doña Adelfa and doña Socorro have been regulars at their parish’s bingo games. Suddenly the parish priest announces “No More Bingo.” The ladies head for a casino, but Adelfa becomes so addicted she has no money for groceries and utility bills.

“(Bingo) is a game of entertainment, of social gathering, of having compadres and comades (pals) get together. It’s not so much the idea of winning but a means of supporting the local church,” Garcia said in a phone interview from his Santa Fe home.

He also sees doña Adelfa’s gambling representing casino addiction in the larger population. Bingo returns to the parish hall, and so do Adelfa and Socorro.

Another story about cultural identity is “Charlie ‘Iglesias’ Church.”

Born Carlos Iglesias, he takes the Anglo name Charlie Church. High school classmates mock him. Family members scorn him.

Midway through the story, “A profound sense of guilt engulfed him for having forsaken his culture, his language, and to a large extent, his own family.” It continues to haunt him through more years until he returns to his Albuquerque home and emerges “from his cocoon of loneliness and repentance.”

The author doesn’t see any signs that Hispanics are reversing the loss of their culture. “Except for teachers of the Spanish language and of Hispanic culture, I see very little hope,” García said.

A celebrated educator/folklorist, García does his part, sprinkling stories with sentences and sayings in Spanish, many translated.

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