This will be a three-part story about my 2001 visit to New Mexico.
My dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, died on June 1, 2001. He was 79 years old. An accomplished man, he was a husband, father, friend, army pilot, civil engineer, and spoke several languages, with Spanish being his first.
After his death, I had this urge to travel to Carlsbad, New Mexico – where he was born and raised – to visit and explore. I talked to my youngest sister Kanista about this and she told me she had been having the same urge. So, we decided to make the trip to Carlsbad together. We were so excited! We made our flight plans and were set to fly out September 14, 2001 – the week of 9/11. Of course, our plans changed with the events of that week and aftermath. I still have my sister’s email to me that morning that said simply…”what is happening???”
We regrouped and decided to fly out on October 25th – our dad’s birthday. Meanwhile, our youngest first cousin on the Zuniga side, Lisa Ramirez – who lives in Colorado, contacted me and asked if she could come along. Kanista and I were ecstatic! Lisa grew up in Carlsbad and it was the icing on our dad’s birthday cake to have her join us in this journey. She is the youngest daughter of my dad’s younger brother – Felix and his wife Manuela (Aunt Mela). Another plus is that we flew into Albuquerque where Lisa’s oldest sister, Nelinda (nicknamed Danda) lives and we were invited to stay with her before our road trip to Carlsbad!
I arrived first. While waiting for Kanista, I started writing in my travel journal. It was good to have a little bit of time before she got there to reflect and collect my thoughts. Dad has suffered a series of stokes in his later years and shortly before he passed, he was unable to speak. There were so many things I wanted to ask him too and I missed my chance to hear them in his own words, with his own voice. This trip was pulling me and I know Dad was behind it, setting the stage for me and Kanista.
Kanista arrived and we headed to the rental car place and got the last car! We drove through Albuquerque and decided to find our cousin Cecilia and visit with her before heading to Danda’s house where Cecilia joined us later. Cecilia is the daughter of my dad’s baby sister, Gloria, who was still living in Carlsbad at the time with her husband, Armando (Uncle Mando).
Arriving at Danda’s we were excited to meet Bobby Fernandez, a cousin on our grandfather’s side (Tata Polo)! He and Danda seemed more like brother and sister as we watched their exchanges throughout that night. We both loved Bobby from the start He was in charge of making our drinks that night – micheladas! And tequila, of course! When Lisa arrived, we settled into a fabulous meal that Danda has prepared for us…carne asado, tortillas, enchiladas…goodness! The food from my cousin is always incredible and you find yourself going back for seconds and thirds! No shame here! I remember the night as being full of laughter…we laughed so hard at Danda’s stories and listening to her explain all the family nicknames like Googs, Boogie, Lala, etc. (I’ll have to share all that in a later post.) When we finally went to bed we realized it was morning – 2:30 a.m.
This first day of our trip was incredible. It was the best way I can think of to celebrate my dad’s birthday – with family – in New Mexico and sharing stories about our fathers – Felix and Praxedis . So many similarities. So much connection. Our bellies were full that night and so were our hearts.
Stay tuned for Part Two…our road trip continues…
Meanwhile…Happy birthday, Dad…miss you…