FROM THERE TO ETERNITY: ALZHEIMER AND BEYOND by F. Harlan Flint, Sunstone Press, 133 pages, $ 26.95
From there to eternity: Alzheimer’s and beyond is about three elderly people, two of whom die, leaving the author to ruminate on their lives – and their deaths.
The author, Harlan Flint, is a longtime Santa Fean. Like many successful businessmen of his generation, he owns a cabin in the mountains. Unlike many of his colleagues, he and his wife, Chris, built it themselves. They were helped by a neighbor in their mountain valley near the Colorado-New Mexico border, Baudelio García. Harlan, Chris and Baudelio are the main characters in the book.
While the author was studying law at the University of New Mexico, he and Chris met at the Triangle Bar, an infamous student hangout in the 1950s. Chris was teaching at college in Albuquerque. They married in 1956 and soon moved to Santa Fe. After working as general counsel in the State Engineer’s Office and the Interstate Stream Commission, he became an executive of an oil company, moving away. temporarily from New Mexico. He and Chris raised three children: Tina is a US senator from Minnesota; Harlan is an investment advisor in Santa Fe; and Mason, who lives in Seattle, is retired from Microsoft.
Around 2010, the slow but inevitable process of Chris’ Alzheimer’s disease began. As always, it seemed benign at first: keys missing, stories repeated too many times. As always, she developed into panic when left alone, anger over losing things like her driver’s license. She remembered things that never happened, forgot what had happened five minutes earlier. His character has vanished. She died while her body was alive.
In 2016, when Harlan was no longer able to care for her, the family placed Chris in a “memory care” facility in Santa Fe.
She longed to go home, probably thinking in her tortured way that her mind would clear when she was in a familiar place. She stole a phone from a health worker and called Harlan to come get her. He promised he would do it tomorrow, which never happened.
The medical community has done the Flints a disservice. Harlan was told he couldn’t visit her as she adjusted to institutional life. She never did and, isolated, became angry and aggressive. Caregivers in Santa Fe were unable to take her in and she was transferred to a mental health clinic in Albuquerque for “intensive treatment.” There was a fall, trips to the emergency room. Doctors convinced Harlan to have a pacemaker implanted, which he said was “an unnecessary insult” to his weak body and mind.
Her health declined and she died while in an Albuquerque hospice in the fall of 2016.
Chris’s ashes now rest near the Flints Mountain Hut on the Los Pinos River, in an old cemetery where his is probably the only Anglo grave.
Life goes on for Harlan. He spends time with his children and six grandchildren. He has a partner, Lynn Day, with whom he goes to his cabin on the Río de los Pinos.
The Flints are one of a series of vacation cabins along the fishing stream, in an area made exclusive by poor roads and long distance from towns. The area, once a summer home for the Utes and other tribes, was settled by farmers from New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cisneros, García, López, Ruybalid, Tafoya, Quintana and Duran families were among those who populated Santa Rita and raised cattle. They irrigated the hay fields and vegetable gardens with the acequias they built.
Baudelio was one of the few remaining settlers in the Los Pinos Valley. He tended a few heads of cattle, tended the acequias, and maintained the roads for the summer residents. He worked hard, even in the mid-1970s, fixing fences, fixing old machinery, shoring up acequias.
Baudelio lost his wife, Arlene, in 2012. Over the years, he and Harlan have spent many hours together in the hot weather, making repairs, fighting against the encroachment of nature, as well as sharing stories and an occasional frío on the porch.
It was an unlikely friendship: a city businessman and a descendant of the first settlers in the valley. Baudelio was talking and Harlan was listening to stories about the good old days in the valley. They shared work and quiet and relaxed moments.
When Baudelio died of a stroke in 2018, Harlan delivered his eulogy in front of 200 people at an Asemblea de Díos church near the small town of Capulín, Colorado. There are no surviving siblings from a family of 12 who grew up on the Río de Los Pinos.
Baudelio’s death hasn’t been as torturous as Chris’s long decline, but it leaves a great void. He was the last farmer in Santa Rita, ending 125 years of Hispanic settlement. No one will tell any more stories about the Riteños long dead or about those who cultivated which fields. No one will remember the quirks of the local aequia system: where spring runoff is most likely to burst ditch banks, where hay fields need a little extra water during a summer drought.
The last time Harlan saw Baudelio, the old rancher was walking on a bank of acequia, a shovel on his shoulder. He foresaw the death of his friend – and the death of an old way of life.
The passages from the book on Santa Rita contain some of the author’s strongest works. This is his third book published by Sunstone Press. If Harlan Flint continues to write, another book on the abandoned villages of the Los Pinos Valley would be welcome.