Ralph M. Flores’ posthumously published book “Tales from La Perla, A Misspent Hippie Youth” combines fact and fiction.
Most of the tales are based on Flores’ recollections of four-plus years in the mid-1970s living in La Joya – fictionalized as La Perla – a village about 20 miles north of Socorro. A few other tales are set in southwestern New Mexico, San Francisco and Tomé.
The characters who populate the stories are real people, though their names have been changed. Older La Perla townspeople are sometimes at odds with the younger self-identified “freaks” (aka hippies) who dropped out of mainstream society and moved to the village.
In the tale “TV in La Perla,” the author tells how he arrived in town with unwanted worldly possessions from a divorce. One possession was a TV, the only one in town. Soon the TV was on day and night and drew crowds. Flores couldn’t cope.
But it did get him to speculate about what his fellow freaks really wanted by distancing themselves from the big city and from thoughts of the Vietnam War and President Nixon. Or maybe these dropouts didn’t even know for sure what they wanted.
Flores finally solved the TV dilemma: It ended up in a bathtub. The tale “Feast!” tells of two annual parties for freaks in La Perla.
The Spring Equinox celebration began in the evening with music, dancing, drinking and marijuana smoking. It attracted people from towns along the Rio Abajo such as Polvadera, Veguita and Las Nutrias, as well as freaks from Socorro, Albuquerque and from as far north as Dixon and Taos, Flores writes. The other major party was at Thanksgiving. It was a daytime, dinner-centered event and was more contemplative, as he put it.
In the tale “La Perla People,” Flores concludes that La Perla’s freaks probably just wanted to be left alone. “We had a little island we lived in and were happy there,” he writes. Overall, he recalled La Perla’s freaks as a “stream of misfits and discontents who would come, move into an empty house, stay for two or three months, sometimes longer, and then leave.”
Life was not all love and peace during their stay. There were relationship disputes, emotional turmoil and moments of anger, he writes.
The freaks eventually returned to the world they had rejected. “Ultimately, I think we all learned that it is possible to live in modern society without feeling trapped,” Flores explains.
He had taught at the University of New Mexico and years later retired from teaching at Central New Mexico Community College. Flores also wrote “The Horse in the Kitchen, Stories of a Mexican-American Family,” a work based on the life of his father. A Spanish language edition is planned.
Flores died in 2017 at age 77. His widow, Geri Rhodes, edited “Tales from La Perla.”
“He was a homebody,” Rhodes said of her late husband, “and … could spend a lot of time in his study just thinking, so much so that somebody once gave him a T-shirt that said ‘Lost in thought – Send out a search party.’ The best way to know who he was would be to read his poems and moral tales …” Several poems are in “Tales from La Perla.”