It was a tiny house on a quiet North Valley road when Alberto and Anna Lucero moved in after they wed in 1959.
The house had no hot water, no bathroom, no shower, but it was theirs and it was soon filled with as much love, joy and family as they could fit within its old, adobe walls.
Over time, the tiny house grew. A second story. Six bedrooms. Hot water and plumbing and, yes, a couple of bathrooms, much of it constructed by Alberto, some of it built with adobe bricks he and Anna made in the summers and wooden vigas from Anna’s uncles.
Their family grew, too. They raised six children, and those children had children and those children had children and so on. Today, the family includes 27 grandchildren, two of them adopted by Alberto and Anna; 34 great-grandchildren; and a 2½-year-old great-great grandchild.
It was a crowded, happy home, but the Luceros believed there was always room for more. Anybody who needed a place to be was welcomed with open arms and a hearty meal.
“I don’t think we ever counted how many people lived at one time or another at our house,” says Cecelia Lucero, the second of the Lucero siblings. “They were people in transition, siblings and families and friends, some who lost their jobs and needed a place to stay, some moving here to Albuquerque and getting on their feet, some having it hard at their homes. Many, many people in and out. People loved being here. They loved my mom and dad.”
The Luceros also became foster parents, welcoming dozens of children – “a bunch of them,” as Alberto puts it – for about 20 years.
“Some of these kids came really abused. My mom and dad were their last hopes,” Cecelia says. “But the kids almost always took to my parents. They just gravitated to them.”
Cecelia loves to talk about her parents, and recently her stories about them inspired a local company to donate brand new granite countertops for the Lucero kitchen, which even after 62 years is still in the midst of a remodel.
“The owner had tears, I had tears, my dad had tears,” she says. “It was such a kindness for a business to pay it forward like that.”
The countertops, a black and white style called Blizzard, were installed Thursday, a gift to a giver from a giver who prefers to remain anonymous.
“I didn’t expect something like that,” says Alberto, who is 83 and retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Nobody has ever done such a thing for me.”
He jokes: “Maybe they felt sorry for me.”
And then he pauses. Anna would like these shiny new countertops, he thinks, which replace the old saltillo tile they put in years ago.
He thinks about how they used to dance in the kitchen, how they laughed and fed whoever was hungry.
Anna died July 12, a day before Alberto’s birthday. She was 81, her last years marred by agonizing battles with colon cancer and dementia.
“She had six surgeries,” he says, the usually happy man caught in his grief and tears. “They couldn’t sew her back up so she had to have this mesh across her stomach.”
He was her primary caregiver for more than five years, helped by family, but he wanted to be the one to give her medication, bathe her, feed her.
“He always told her, ‘Anna, I will never put you away in a nursing home,'” Cecelia says. “‘This is your home.'”
Toward the end of Anna’s life, Alberto suffered a heart attack that nearly ended his.
“An artery was clogged and they had to put in a stent,” he says. “Too much chicharrones, I guess.”
Family, working hard and living a good life have been the pillars he has lived by since he was a 9-year-old boy, one of 11 siblings, shining shoes and selling newspapers in his hometown of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
“He’s worked hard since he was a kid, and always for family,” his daughter says. “He’s just such a good, jolly man.”
(Starting today you can nominate someone you know like Alberto for our 12th annual Angels Among Us. See how to do that and what each winner will receive in the box that accompanies this column.)
The Lucero house is still full of family – two young great-granddaughters, a son and his girlfriend, other relatives.
The North Valley road is a little less quiet now, especially in October when the skies fill with hot-air balloons launched from the Balloon Fiesta Park over the hill and just across the road.
“Everybody always wants to come here to watch the balloons or to park,” Alberto says. “It’s nice to watch balloons from here.”
It’s nicer, he says, to see his home fill again with love, joy and family, as much as he can fit within its old, adobe walls.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com.