Picking up faded flowers, putting down a little fire

Amalia seniors care for the graves of their dearly departed

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 5/9/19

For many years, people in far northern Taos County got together at the cemetery in Amalia on a Saturday morning in the spring to clean around the graves of their loved …

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Picking up faded flowers, putting down a little fire

Amalia seniors care for the graves of their dearly departed

Posted

For many years, people in far northern Taos County got together at the cemetery in Amalia on a Saturday morning in the spring to clean around the graves of their loved ones.

This year was different.

Dolores Lucero, one of two volunteer caretakers of the cemetery, has spent a lot of time at the graveyard at the corner of State Road 196 and Ventero Road since January; about a dozen people from Costilla and Amalia have died in those few months, she said.

"There was funeral after funeral," said Lucero. "We couldn't get a date" for the cleanup, she said.

Since it's mostly retired folks who show up for the cleaning each year anyway, Lucero decided to work around their schedules. She put the call out that this year's work day would be Monday (May 6).

About 15 people turned out to help, riding up to the cemetery in their pickups and off-road vehicles close to 8 a.m.

The cemetery is a mirror of the small community where people know each other through some kind of relations. Most everyone who showed up Monday cleaned not only the graves of their children, parents and grandparents, but also those of distant relatives, cousins, nieces and nephews.

"They're all buried here," said Grace Salazar, of Amalia. "It's really up to us to keep it up. Someone's got to do it," she said.

As some of the older men, working in pairs, used blowtorches fueled by tanks of propane to burn away dry grass, Salazar and Lucero moved their way around the graveyard, raking piles of dead weeds and other piles of faded flowers.

Lucero took the back side of her rake to pull a little flame from one pile of grass to another. And so they worked their way across the cemetery, where some graves are set apart with elaborate fences and welded metal crosses, and where some have lost their wooden markers to the wear of time.

James Lucero walked through the field, squatting to look for a sign that, at least in the years past, let him know where the bones of his grandfather, Eliseo Lucero, are buried. "Used to be a small cross somewhere," he said.

Alfonso Gonzales is the other graveyard caretaker. It's something he's done for "many, many moons," he said, even before Fr. Dino Candelaria asked him and Dolores Lucero to form the cemetery committee.

Gonzales moves slower than the others this week, but his job throughout the year is one of the most important. He's the person who designates the burial plots for the recently departed. The cluster of people who've died so far in 2019 are mostly buried on the northern edge of the cemetery -- the plastic flowers stuck in the piles of dirt are still bright and unmistakable, like grief in early mourning.

Gonzales' job is made all the more important because there is no master plan for the cemetery, which is only half-full with graves. He just maps it out in his head and then walks it out with his feet.

"Mostly that's what I do anymore," he said.

By noon, the work was done for the day.

Other folks from Amalia and Costilla will come do a little more cleaning before decoration at the end of the month, when most people come to the graveyard to visit their loved ones, and when the freshly cleaned cemetery will come to life again with new bunches of flowers.

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