Monthly Archives: February 2015

Case VI: War and Remembrance

 Chapter 1: A Twist of Fate

To the casual observer, no two women could be more unlike than Maria Varela Jaramillo Montoya and Paloma Angostura. La Doña Jaramillo was matriarch of one of the founding families of Albuquerque and it was her vision and her generous endowment that created La Vida Aureo. Señora Angostura was the daughter of Mexican immigrants and her mother had been the cook for the Jaramillo family and Paloma was now the cook at La Vida Aureo. It was most likely only a twist of fate that had caused their respective life’s journeys to be so different. Nevertheless, these two women had similar values and shared a common outlook on life which was soon to have a significant effect on the future of La Vida Aureo.

Father Michael was having lunch with Señora Jaramillo to report on the progress within the Diocese to raise awareness and money for the parishioners at Our Lady of the Valley. “Things are going well, La Doña, but we are struggling to keep up. People are living longer and their health declines over a much longer period of time. It was not too many years ago, perhaps just the previous generation, that people simply got old and died. Now, people live longer and they endure many years of declining physical and mental health. In many cases, there is not much that can be done to improve things, but it troubles me to see once vibrant and alive people suffer through so many years of pain.”

“Well, Father, you’ll recall that these are the very reasons that La Vida Aureo was started.”

“Yes, I remember our original conversation. It seems like so long ago that you came to me with your idea.”

“But, the problem grows and there are limits to what we can do. La Vida Aureo is successful and provides a valuable service, but only to a limited few.”

“Even if there were many more La Vida Aureos, the need is growing more quickly. And, with all my respect, La Doña, most of my parishioners could never afford a place like that.”

“I share your concern, Father, and am deeply touched by your compassion. Perhaps it would be wise for us to talk with Isabella and see if she can offer any suggestions. She is a resourceful woman and has a keen business sense. She may be able to help us see a path forward.”

“That is a wonderful idea. Would you like for me to call and invite her to lunch with us?”

“That is kind of you to offer, Father, but she and I had planned to meet early next week for a regular luncheon. Why don’t you join us?”


There was a smaller room adjacent to the main dining room where the La Vida Aureo staff could meet for training and similar activities. It was also a convenient gathering place for the staff to meet at the end of the day while waiting for their ride home. Most days, the conversation among the staff dealt with their recent experiences throughout the facility. Because Isabella Duncan had devoted so much time and effort to the selection and training of the staff, these discussions could not be considered “bitch sessions”. To the contrary, the staff frequently made constructive suggestions to improve the overall functioning of the facility and the well-being of the residents. Today, however, the main topic of discussion was Martina Trujillo and her recent activities to steal diapers and other products for her family. They all knew that what Martina had done was wrong, but readily acknowledged that it was totally consistent with Señora Isabella’s character to find some way to deal with the difficult situation in a constructive manner. But, there was also not a single person present that did not understand the nature of Martina’s dilemma; many were facing similar conditions in their own homes and with their own families.

Because this meeting room was near the kitchen, Paloma Angostura frequently dropped in on these after-work discussions, typically to bring a large tray of fresh sopapillas and honey. Paloma would typically sit quietly and simply observe and listen.   She would later describe these gatherings to Matthew Dudley as her “sopapilla network”, her main source of information about what was really going on at La Vida Aureo.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Carolina. “My parents are aging quickly and so are my husband’s. We are not poor and live a relatively simple life, but we cannot afford the kind of care that they’re going to need and very soon. When I asked my Mama how they handled things with her parents, she said that she stayed home and cared for them as they aged. But, her parents died when they were in their 50s and my Mama never worked outside the home. My parents are already in their late 60s and I think they will live a long time yet.”

“The real problem, said Frida,” is the mental one. “People just used to suffer from “old age” and die before things got too bad. Now, they live a long time and they seem to lose their minds while they are not so bad physically. And, once they can no longer think clearly, caring for them becomes so much more difficult. I have heard about this Alzheimer’s, but don’t understand how it is different from old age. When I was in High School, my abuela was alive and my Mama used to say that old people are just that way. My abuela would not remember me, or she would call me by my mother’s name. But, as I got older, I started hearing about Alzheimer’s and decided that it was very different from old age.”

“I think it is some kind of brain disease, suggested Sofia. I work some shifts in the Memory Care Unit and there are younger people there with it. I guess you don’t have to be old.”

“Many evenings, when I get home from work, said Ana, we have to look all over the neighborhood for my Papa. He used to watch TV, but now he goes for a walk and gets lost, even just a few blocks away. When we find him, he doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t remember leaving the house. And, he often leaves the front door open and then we have to go find the dogs.”

“Don’t forget about the nasty behavior,” added Luna. “Both my Papa and Mama can get really difficult at times. They were so happy together for so many years and now they bark at almost everyone, even the children.”

“I can tell you about being nasty,” giggled Elena. “My abuelo says things, mostly to women.”

“What kind of things?”

“Really nasty things,” continued Elena. “He does not seem to care where he is or who he is talking to, he just says things or tries to touch women. We had to stop taking him to church after one lady slapped him for something he must have said or done.”

“Don’t forget about the accidents”, added Marissa.

“You mean like Martina’s father’s accidents?”

“No. My Papa keeps tripping and falling; I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t drink … anymore, but he keeps banging into things. We’ve rearranged the furniture many times to keep things out of his way, but it doesn’t seem to help. I’m just glad we live in a small house on one floor, with no steps or stairs.”

“I’ll tell you what really scares me,” added Sofia in a desperate voice. “I see the residents in the Memory Care Unit and how difficult daily life is for them. Most of them are in much worse condition than we are describing. But, I fear that my parents will soon be like that. I can’t afford to put them here at La Vida Aureo and, even if I could, I really don’t want to. They are my parents. I love them. They raised me and taught me respect. I will care for them for the rest of their lives. It is just overwhelming some days. I just don’t know what to do.”

After Sofia’s impassioned comments, the room fell silent. Paloma had been sitting quietly in a corner of the room, listening to all these comments. She was deeply troubled by everything she had heard. She finally spoke. “I have listened to your stories and your worries. There are many reasons to be concerned about our loved ones as they age. Each person is different and each family is different. It is obvious that there are many different kinds of problems and, like many of you, I know little about this Alzheimer’s except that it a terrible disease that robs people of their mind. I don’t have any answers for you, but will continue to make this room available so that you can meet and talk. Maybe talking about things and sharing your experiences will help. I certainly hope so.”

“It looks like my husband is here, called Carolina. I’ll see all of you mañana. Maybe things will look better in the morning. At least we can hope.”

Chapter 2: New Residents

For the past several months, everything seemed to be running smoothly for Matthew Dudley. This was a very welcome relief after the tragic incidents related to the presence of Stuart Montgomery, the so-called Steward and his Flock of young assistants. The death of two residents had seriously shaken La Vida Aureo and most of the residents were only just now beginning to feel comfortable and secure. Dudley had tried to do his part by spending time with as many residents as possible as he went about his routine maintenance and repair activities. He reassured each person he talked with that all of the problems were temporary and had been the result of what he called outside influences. He spoke of Isabella Duncan’s capabilities and her commitment to the health and well being of the entire La Vida Aureo community. Matthew Dudley believed this himself and had spent many hours talking with Isabella over these past few months about how to reestablish a high level of confidence among the staff and residents.

One afternoon, Dudley had just finished a minor plumbing repair in the casita of Laurence Blackburn, a relatively new arrival. As Dudley was cleaning up the area around the sink and putting his tools away, Blackburn called out, “Say there, Mr. Dudley, have you got a few minutes to visit? I just finished putting some additional photos in my album and I’d like to show them to someone. I promise not to keep you too long or bore you with a bunch my war stories, although most of these photos are from my time in the Army.”

“I certainly do have time, Mr. Blackburn, but I prefer that you call me Doc.”

“You got a deal, Doc, but you’ll have to call me Larry in return.”

“OK, Larry. I’d enjoy seeing your photos and would appreciate hearing the story behind them.”

The two men sat together at the small dining room table as Larry Blackburn opened a rather large photo album. It was readily apparent to Dudley that Blackburn had put considerable effort into organizing his photos and carefully placing them in this loose leaf album. In addition to the photos, there were letters, post cards and newspaper clippings that Dudley assumed pertained to the photographs on that individual page. The first few pages were obviously of Blackburn’s youth. Dudley watched as the obvious pride in Larry Blackburn was tempered by sadness as he studied each page before saying anything.

Blackburn became upset and quietly closed the album. “Some of these are very difficult,” he said. “I know that, in subsequent pictures, some of these guys are missing, and I really need to share this with someone. It would help me to be able to walk through the entire album and talk about each page. For the past few months, I’ve just concentrated on collecting the pieces and organizing them and putting them into the album. I didn’t pay too much attention to any of the individual pictures or letters, etc. But now that everything is in one place, I am able to see the whole story and parts of it are very troubling to me. My mind keeps jumping ahead because I know what happened and some of the future is not very pretty.”

“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, Doc, I’d appreciate it if you could spare the time to accompany me on this journey. I’m fortunate in that I am not plagued by nightmares or that level of trauma; sometimes the sadness is a bit too much, that’s all.

“I can do that and would be honored. If you were experiencing any severe effects, I’d be the first to help you get some professional support. I’m a good listener, but I’m certainly not a shrink.”

“Not to worry. I really feel for so many of those guys that served in Iraq and Afghanistan that are struggling with PTSD. My tour In Vietnam was difficult, but nowhere as tough as some guys had it. The toughest part was reading about the protests back home and the abuse that so many guys took when they returned home.”

“I never was in the Army. I guess I was lucky that my number never came up in the draft during all those years when so many of my friends were called and most went to Vietnam. I have the greatest respect for all of you and would be honored to share in your experience.”


One afternoon, Paloma was sitting in the main dining room planning her menus for the upcoming week. She had always considered herself to be a very capable cook and took great pride in the variety of meals she prepared. She was well aware of the challenges of preparing meals for the diverse population of La Vida Aureo and was particularly concerned with the declining sense of taste as people aged. Paloma was concentrating on the task at hand and did not notice the woman sitting just a few tables away. It was not until the woman rose to leave that Paloma was interrupted by the sound of the chair on the hardwood floor. As the woman approached, Paloma stood up to introduce herself. “I am so sorry. I did not notice you sitting there. Please forgive me. My name is Paloma Angostura and I am the cook.”

“That is quite alright. I was lost in my own thoughts and did not notice you either. My name is JoAnne Elliott,” she said as she extended her hand.

“I have not noticed you before in the dining room, offered Paloma. Are you new to La Vida Aureo?”

“I moved here almost three months ago and live in one of the newer casitas on the west side of the village. I prepare most of my own meals and have not taken the opportunity to sample your cooking, which has an excellent reputation.”

“That is most kind of you to say that,” blushed Paloma.

“It has just been convenient for me so far. I spend most of my time as a volunteer at the local VA hospital and my schedule can be a bit unpredictable. But, one of my reasons for coming to the dining room today was to inquire about the meal schedule.”

“Please have a seat. Let me see if there is any fresh coffee in the kitchen and I believe there are still some sopapillas available. I made a large batch just a while ago for the house staff and they won’t miss one or two.”

“Please don’t go to any trouble on my part.”

“It is no trouble and I consider all the La Vida Aureo residents as my extended family. Perhaps you can tell me a bit about yourself, if you are comfortable with that.”

Paloma quickly returned with a small carafe of fresh coffee, two china cups and saucers and a small plate of sopapillas and some honey.

“This is most gracious, Señora Angostura. I haven’t had home-made sopapillas in so long”, beamed JoAnne.

“I will not brag, but many people say mine are the lightest they have ever tasted. But, how do you know sopapillas?”

JoAnne sighed. “This is my home. I grew up in Bernalillo, but have been away for most of my life. When I retired last year, my heart told me that I need to return.”

“It is good that you followed your heart back to your home. Why did you leave? Don’t tell me you left with some dashing young man,” said Paloma before she realized that she was recalling much of her own life’s story.

“Just the opposite. I was in love with a beautiful boy who went into the Army and was killed. I could not bear the loneliness so I went as far away as I could. I buried my pain and hurt in a variety of activities for several years. I was very angry at the very notion of war and the lives it destroys. Eventually, I went back and finished college with a degree in psychology and have spent my entire life working for the VA trying to help young men and women returning from war. In some ways, I guess I see my Eduardo in the face of each of these young people.”

“I am sorry to hear about your loss. I can see the compassion in your eyes and I know that you have helped many young people. But, now that you are here, you can become part of the La Vida Aureo community. I know you will meet many truly wonderful people here.”

As Paloma and JoAnne continued to talk, Cesar Ramirez strolled into the dining room. He scanned the room, apparently looking for someone in particular and, spotting JoAnne, walked over to introduce himself. “I have not seen you here before, Pretty Lady; you must be new. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Cesar Ramirez and, if there is ever anything you need, please feel free to call on me. I am at your service.” Then, spotting Paloma’s look of obvious disapproval, Ramirez bowed to JoAnne, turned and quickly walked away.

“That man is not a person you want to know,” frowned Paloma. “He considers himself to be God’s Gift to Women, but he is certainly not a gentleman! Please be very careful around him.”

“Not to worry, replied JoAnne, I’ve learned to read people pretty well over the years and I can tell that he is someone to avoid.”

“On the other hand, here comes one of the most honorable men I know,” said Paloma as she spied Matthew Dudley walking into the dining room. “Let me introduce you.”

“Señor Doc, please sit down and let me introduce you to JoAnne Elliott, a relatively new resident. JoAnne, this is Matthew Dudley.”

“How very nice to meet you Ms. Elliott; welcome to La Vida Aureo. Please call me Doc”

“It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Doc.” JoAnne looked at Paloma and said, “Thank you so much for the coffee and sopapillas. I appreciate your kind words and look forward to spending more time with you in the future. And, you can count on me to show up for regular meals as well.” With that, JoAnne smiled at Paloma and Dudley and left.

Chapter 3: A Challenge for Isabella & Dudley

A few days later, Isabella Duncan met La Doña Jaramillo for their regularly scheduled luncheon meeting. Isabella was only a bit surprised when Father Michael joined them. This will likely NOT be the usual luncheon, mused Isabella. I suspect these two have cooked something up and, I bet I’ll be the beneficiary of their scheme. Despite her apprehension, Isabella greeted Father Michael warmly. “It is always so good to see you, Father.”

Throughout lunch, the conversation was mostly superficial, focusing on minor local issues and, of course, when it would rain. As they were enjoying coffee, Señora Jaramillo said, “Isabella, Father Michael has something he would like to discuss with you.”

“Actually, Isabella, replied Father Michael, La Doña and I were discussing the Trujillo family and the progress of helping others in the Our Lady of the Valley parish. We are able to help many elderly people and that is a very good thing. Your husband’s efforts have been invaluable. But it seems as though we have greatly underestimated just how many people are in need of assistance. And, there are many more issues than we expected. It turns out that providing diapers is a very minor concern compared with some others we have discovered. People at the church and throughout the Parish and really the entire Diocese have come forward with issues that are far more complex and troubling. There are other physical problems and some people have trouble just walking around their homes. Falls and broken bones are a lot more frequent than I realized. And, the issues associated with declining mental capacity are legion. Getting lost, wandering away from home, loss of inhibitions and inappropriate behavior and many other are evidently common. I have begun reading more about Alzheimer’s disease and was shocked to learn that it can also strike people whom I would not consider old.”

“We experience many of these issues daily at La Vida Aureo,” replied Isabella. “It is a constant challenge for our entire organization. We hold frequent meetings among the staff to share what we’ve learned and continually try to develop alternative approaches to insure that our residents receive the best care possible. I am also very aware that we must remain vigilant to the needs of our staff. Dealing with some of the behaviors, particularly the residents with Alzheimer’s, can be quite stressful. It must be an on-going and ever-evolving effort.”

“As I mentioned to Father Michael, added La Doña, it would be impractical to try to accommodate everyone in facilities similar to La Vida Aureo.”

“I sincerely believe, said Father Michael, that many of our parishioners would prefer to remain in the privacy and security of their own homes. That is not to say that La Vida Aureo is not a first-class place. But, you understand what I mean. We have a moral responsibility to all of these people and it is our sacred duty to do what we can.”

It was apparent that the three of them agreed on the need and that the need was rapidly growing, both in number of people affected and in the complexity of issues. It was La Doña Jaramillo who spoke in an attempt to bring some closure to the discussion.

“Father Michael, you can rest assured that Isabella and I share your concern as well as your sense of responsibility. I’m sure you have other duties to attend to and we appreciate your taking time to share these things with us today. Isabella and I will continue to visit a while longer and we will plan to get together again in the very near future.”

Father Michael rose to leave. “Thank you for your time today and for allowing me to talk so openly about this deeply troubling issue. Isabella, it is always good to see you. Please give my best regards to your husband and thank him again for his efforts.”

Isabella Duncan had a great deal of respect for La Doña Jaramillo. Each time they talked, Isabella was impressed by La Doña’s comprehensive understand and how she seem to always grasp the most subtle points of any situation. It was this respect that had been Isabella’s main reason for accepting La Doña’s offer to become Executive Director of La Vida Aureo. It was no surprise, therefore, when the conversation took a decidedly more pragmatic tone once Father Michael left.

“The challenge for you, Isabella, La Doña began, is to find a practical means of dealing with these issues, because there will be many more, likely many more than Father Michael realizes. He may be still a bit naïve after all. He did not say it, but my belief is that many people in our community are vulnerable which complicates matters to an even greater extent. While I totally support the concept behind the Affordable Care Act to make healthcare available to a great many more people, I have some grave misgivings. The law is so complex and difficult to understand that it creates opportunities for unscrupulous persons to prey on unsuspecting people like many in our community. I fear that many people will give their personal information to these charlatans because that is what they are told is required under the law. Then, these charlatans will use that information for illegal purposes while our people remain unsuspecting victims of these crimes. No matter how much this upsets me, I realize that we are basically powerless to prevent this. It is my desire, which I know you share, to help as many people as possible, but in a straight-forward, practical way. I do not want to add to the confusion. “

“I agree with you completely, La Doña. I guess I always knew that some form of middle-man group would emerge to assist people in signing up for the benefits of the Act, but I had not given too much thought of how this very new and complex system could be so easily abused. People would willingly give their personal health-related information to a stranger if they thought, or were told, that it was the law. I’ve already seen some of what appears to be this type of operation opening in some neighborhoods, typically the poorer ones where people tend to be less educated. It still astounds me that so much of this Act relies on computers when those people who are in the greatest need are the least like to own, much less know how to use, a computer. I find myself asking, “What were they thinking?” As you said, all of this makes the problem of dealing with the real issues of aging considerably more difficult.”

La Doña continued. “The problems will only get larger and more complex; building more facilities like La Vida Aureo is not a practical solution. I believe that you and I share the belief that people should help themselves as much as possible. I challenge you to think of potential approaches which allow people to preserve their dignity. We need to seek ways to empower them so that they do not fall victim to what I believe will be an increasing army of healthcare criminals.”

As they parted, Isabella once again felt privileged to know La Doña Jaramillo and fortunate to have the kind of working relationship they shared. At the same time, Isabella realized the importance and difficulty of the challenge she had been given. She would share this conversation with her husband this evening as they enjoyed a small glass of wine in their den and seek his input.   Driving into the grounds of La Vida Aureo, Isabella had another thought. I told Matthew Dudley that one of the reasons I hired him was because of his planning expertise. If I believe what I said to him, it would be foolish of me not to engage him in addressing this challenge! I obviously can use all the help I can get.

A few days later, Matthew Dudley walked into the dining room in the middle of the afternoon, surprising Paloma. “You are not usually here this time of day, Señor Doc. Is there something on your mind you wish to discuss?”

“Paloma, are you certain that mind reading was not one of the things you also learned from your Tia Luisa? There is something I wanted to ask you about. I just had a brief conversation with Isabella about Martina Trujillo.”

“I pray that she is not in any trouble.”

“Oh no; certainly not. Isabella wanted to talk about Martina’s parents and others who are in a similar situation. Evidently, Isabella met with La Doña Jaramillo and Father Michael recently and they share a growing concern for the aging population in our community. They believe that there are many other elderly people, like Martina’s parents, who need an increasing amount of support but are unable to afford it. Isabella feels that the problems are more diverse and complex than those faced by Martina and explained that these are similar to what we experience here in our Memory Care Unit, but they are happening out in the community at large. Both La Doña Jaramillo and Father Michael expressed serious concern and asked Isabella to think about potential ways to address this growing problem. They also realize that it is simply not practical to have more facilities like this one. Isabella asked me to think about this problem and come up with some suggestions.”

“I am certain that you will do a good job, Señor Doc. Isabella values your opinion. Let me tell you about a discussion that the house staff had recently. You know that they often sit in the smaller dining room after their shift while waiting for their ride home. The other day, they were talking about this very issue. From what I heard, I would assume that many of our own employees are in a similar situation to Martina.”

“I assume that many families are struggling with aging parents and cannot afford a facility like La Vida Aureo.”

Paloma continued. “From what I heard the staff discuss, I do not believe that money is their major concern. I believe they simply do not know what to do. Many of them could keep a loved one in their home, but are unprepared to deal with some of the issues that accompany aging. For many of them, they believe that it is their responsibility to care for their aging parents and are willing to do so. Some said that, even if they had the money, they would prefer to keep their parents at home. And, I believe most of the parents would prefer that as well. ”

“It is a very different situation from when my parents were alive.”

“And mine as well. People worked hard all their lives and lived only a short while after they stopped working. But, today, many people seem to suffer long periods of physical and mental decline. Maybe it is a result of not living a very healthy life. I don’t know. These are new problems and the mental deterioration is particularly difficult. The primary thing I understood from the staff was that simply want to know what they should expect. They would like to know what are the typical things to be aware of and perhaps some suggestions of what to do.”

“I know that Isabella would like to offer some suggestions to La Doña Jaramillo and Father Michael to help the community. I also got the impression that she would also like for me to think about ways to grow La Vida Aureo from a business perspective.”

“I do not see those as incompatible requests, Señor Doc. Perhaps you will find a way to do this. I believe that if La Vida Aureo is more successful, it could provide the means to help more people.”

“Thank you for your time, Paloma. I will give this much more thought and would appreciate being able to share my ideas with you before going to Isabella.”

“You know that you are welcome in my kitchen at any time and I will listen to your ideas. Together, I am sure we can help Isabella and La Doña Jaramillo.”

Chapter 4: Bernalillo, New Mexico 1967

It was late June, 1967 and four friends were sitting in the parking lot behind Bernalillo High School in the Town of Bernalillo, New Mexico. They were sitting in Eduardo Sanchez’s 1964 Chevy convertible; Eduardo and his girlfriend JoAnne Elliott were in the front seat and Antonina “Nina” Boncarbo was sitting in the back seat with Isaac “Izzy” Melero. There wasn’t much conversation as they were busy finishing the last of their green chile cheeseburger from Blake’s Lotaburger a few block away. Eventually, the conversation moved to the most pressing topic of the moment; when will the monsoon rains start to break the June heat?

It was dusk. The school year had just ended; Prom was over and the friends began talking about how they will spend the summer. Eduardo said he had hoped to spend the summer in his father’s plumbing business, learning about this trade that had supported the Sanchez family for many years. Isaac was confident that his Uncle would get him a job with the Town of Bernalillo; he was just not sure what kind of a job it would be. JoAnne had enrolled at the University of New Mexico for the Fall and planned to take some introductory classes in Social Work over the summer. For Nina, the summer didn’t hold much promise. “I will probably end up watching my sister’s kids while she tries to find a new job.”

Eduardo casually said, “I got a letter from my Uncle today.”

Isaac asked, “The one in Española?”

“No, the one in Washington.”

“Huh? I didn’t know you had no family outside New Mexico.”

“Nah, it was my Uncle Sam. My number came up in the Lottery and I’ve been drafted into the Army.”

“That is no good, amigo. I hear that everyone that gets drafted gets sent to Vietnam.”

For these young people in this small northern New Mexico town, Vietnam was just a word they heard occasionally in school. It was a country that was very far away and not often mentioned in the local news. And, they didn’t know anyone from Bernalillo who was actually in the Army.

Nina said, “I have a cousin in Socorro who got drafted over a year ago and he was sent to Vietnam. He survived and is due to come home by Christmas. My Tia tells me that his letters have described some pretty horrible things.”

Later that evening, Eduardo and JoAnne were sitting alone in his car. They had driven east, up into the foothills of the Sandia Mountains where they could watch the city lights of Albuquerque.

Eduardo put his arm around JoAnne and said quietly, “Wait for me. We will have a life together as soon as I return. They say I only have to be in for two years and probably only one year in Vietnam. It won’t be too long and we can get married when I get back.”

JoAnne nestled her head against Eduardo and whispered, “I’m gonna miss you something awful. I’ll write every day. I promise.”

Eduardo tried to be his very macho best and said, “I will miss you, too, but nobody’s gonna mess with me. I have big plans for us. Everything will be OK, don’t worry.”

“Oh, Eduardo, I’m so afraid. Please be safe and come home quickly to me.”

In just a few short weeks, Eduardo had taken the bus to San Antonio, Texas where he underwent basic training prior to shipping out for Vietnam. JoAnne began her classes at UNM and began writing Eduardo, telling him how exciting university life was and how much she missed him.

Nina was shopping for her sister at the T&T Market one afternoon when she saw Eduardo’s parents. “Señor y Señora Sanchez, how nice to see you. I hope you are well.”

“Look, Papa, it is Antonina Boncarbo, one of Eduardo’s friends.” “Ola, Antonina, como esta?”

“I am well. Any news from Eduardo?”

“Not much. I worry about mi hijo while he is so far away.”

“Maybe the Army will knock some sense into him while he’s away from that Anglo girl from school. At least, she didn’t get pregnant to trick him before he left.” said Papa Sanchez angrily.

“We did not approve of her, added Mama Sanchez. She was not part of our community. She did not even attend mass at Our Lady of Sorrows though she lives here.”

“JoAnne is in school at UNM in Albuquerque. Maybe she’ll meet a nice Anglo boy there and forget all about Eduardo,” said Nina hopefully.

Isaac Melero was a rather non-descript young man without much ambition. The primary reason Nina encouraged him was because he was Eduardo’s best friend and she could be around Eduardo almost all the time. After the chance meeting with the Sanchezes, Nina realized that there might be a way to capture Eduardo for herself. She would need the Sanchezes help, but, based on their negative comments about Joanne, Nina didn’t think that would be a problem.

Nina’s plan was to separate JoAnne from Eduardo by intercepting their letters and writing letters to him of her own. She knew that her cousin who worked at the Bernalillo Post Office would also be willing to help. It was over a year until Eduardo was due to be discharged which provided Nina plenty of time to manage the situation to her advantage.

Nina presented her plan to the Sanchezes about a week later. “I will write to Eduardo and tell him that JoAnne had left the university and run off to Mississippi with some black guy to join the Civil Rights marches. I know it may hurt him, but I will help him get over her quickly. It will also be necessary for me to tell JoAnne that, as his parents, you received notification that Eduardo had been killed in a horrible battle somewhere in the jungle. So far, the Army had not been able to recover his body.”

“Oh, Antonina, that would be a horrible thing to do. It would not be right and The Blessed Virgin would not approve of our actions,” cried Mama Sanchez.

“But, if Eduardo marries that Anglo, he will be dead to us anyway,” argued Papa Sanchez. “You know that is true, Mama. He will leave us for her and all that I’ve worked for will be lost. We cannot allow that to happen.”

“Antonina, we must pray about this. I feel so bad that so many people would be hurt.”

“You can pray, Mama, but I know we must do this to protect our only son and preserve our community and our church as well as the business.”

Nina waited anxiously for the next few days until Señora Sanchez called on her while she was watching her sister’s children. “I have prayed to the Virgin for guidance and to forgive us for these terrible lies. But, Papa was strong and he always knows what is best for our family and our community. Please come to our home this evening when Papa is finished with his work to talk about what we must do.”

With the support and cooperation of the Sanchezes, Nina wrote the letter to Eduardo informing him that JoAnne had left school to join the Civil Rights marches without telling Nina exactly where she was going or how to contact her. Nina smoked several packs of cigarettes and stayed awake for the next several days so that she sounded totally distraught when she called JoAnne to inform her of Eduardo’s tragic death.

JoAnne was devastated by this news and the Sanchez family played their part completely to support Nina’s lies through a very brief phone call. Joanne tried to study, but remained heartbroken and inconsolable. She decided to pour all of her energies into action; she could no longer just attend classes or sit in her room at the university and study. She took a bus to Mississippi and got deeply involved in local Voter Registration drives. She grew to deeply despise the war that had taken the love of her life from her. She started volunteering at the local USO center and also at the local VA hospital. Her Eduardo was gone, but she would dedicate her life to helping other young men who had suffered through a similar experience.

Nina began writing letters to Eduardo, initially expressing her shock and sadness that JoAnne had run away so abruptly. Over the next few months, Nina’s letters became more frequent and she increasingly told Eduardo how much she missed him and how much he meant to her.

Nina’s letters were a source of great support to Eduardo as he endured the brutality of his time in Vietnam with the periods of total boredom and the moments of sheer terror. He came to rely on her words of comfort and the promise of a better life when he returned home. By the time his tour was over, Eduardo had almost completely forgotten about JoAnne and was eager to return to a life that he understood much better than what he had experienced while in the Army.

Over the next few months, Nina was often a guest for dinner at the Sanchez house and Eduardo and Nina began to spend more time together. After he had been home about six months, Eduardo asked Nina to marry and share a quiet life in Bernalillo with him. He took the few items of memorabilia from his time in the Army, put them in a shoe box and placed them in the back of a closet, never to be opened again.

Papa Sanchez eagerly welcomed Eduardo into his business which was growing as the new city of Rio Rancho began to expand rapidly. They worked together to diversify the original plumbing business into a larger general contracting operation. Despite their considerable success in the new neighborhoods, Papa Sanchez remained fiercely loyal to the Bernalillo community and often provided service at a lower rate to struggling families and also donated his services to Our Lady of Sorrows. This approach to the business satisfied Eduardo’s ambition to grow and Papa Sanchez’s commitment to his community.   This was clearly demonstrated the day Papa Sanchez purchased a new panel van for the business with Sanchez & Son painted brightly on the sides.

Eduardo and Nina welcomed the birth of a son into the Sanchez family and Papa soon bought the baby a set of plastic tools as his first toys. There was little doubt in the family that young Eduardo would someday follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.


Chapter 5: Secrets and Dirty Deeds

Matthew Dudley always looked forward to the time he shared with his Curmudgeon Crew, but was a bit unprepared for the barrage of questions when they gathered for coffee at Saville &Sons early the following week.

“Well, Sherlock,” queried Abe. “What kinds of dastardly deeds have you uncovered recently at the Old Folk Home?”

Emilio was quick to join in. “Is some evil person taking advantage of those helpless Senior Citizens you hang around with?”

“C’mon, guys,” begged Ray. “Give poor old Doc a chance to at least taste his pastry. I’m sure he’ll bring us all up-to-date on the latest and greatest crimes at, what’s it called again, Doc, The Golden Coral?”

“I hate to disappoint you guys, but there haven’t been any murders or crimes of passion or even someone stealing sopapillas from the kitchen for some time. Things have been pretty quiet recently and I for one I kinda like it that way.”

“Really, Doc? You mean you have nothing interesting to share or some complex mystery you need our help in unraveling?” asked Hakim disappointedly.

“There are two new residents at, and it’s called La Vida Aureo, whose lives were touched by war in very different ways.”

“Ah, a love triangle,” smiled Emilio. “Now we’re getting to the good stuff. You’re sure nobody shot someone in a jealous rage, Doc?”

“Not at all. This is serious and I find it all very troubling. I’ve been helping one of our new residents, a Mr. Larry Blackburn, assemble a rather large scrapbook about his time in the Army in Vietnam. He knows he was fortunate to return home with relatively few physical or mental wounds, but his scrapbook also contains lots of newspaper articles about how so many of the returning veterans received nothing but scorn or worse when they got back home. They were called “War Mongers” and “Baby Killers” as if it was their idea to start a war. The other new resident is a very nice lady named JoAnne Elliott. She’s originally from Bernalillo and has spent her entire life working at VA Hospitals around the country counseling veterans about the mental and emotional wounds they brought home from the service.”

“You guys know that I’m basically not political at all and that I understand that sometimes military action is necessary for the United States, but I am struggling with the fact that we seems to put much less effort into dealing with our soldiers after the war than we do to get them into war in the first place. I guess this all just really struck a nerve with me after talking with the two new residents.”

“So, what’s your point, Doc?”

“I guess I just don’t see why the individual soldier has to bear the burden when the politicians that start these conflicts stay, I don’t know, above all of the ugly and messy aspects of things.”

“C’mon, Doc,” said Ray Litlefeather. “I mean, look at my name, Redondo. I was named after Bosque Redondo where many of my people were forced to live after The Long Walk. Governments do bad things; always have, always will.”

“But, I agree with Doc,” added Abe. “There are evil people in the world and somebody needs to step up. Look, I’m a certified pacifist and hate the very concept of war, but sometimes…”

“I don’t know if I would feel better about things if I thought the politicians were being honest with us,” offered Emilio. I understand that there are lots of things that the general public can’t be told. Some secrets are meant to be kept. That makes it difficult for me to judge whether the President is doing the right thing or not. He has a lot more information available to him on which to make his decision. It just bothers me when the public learns later than we were given a bunch of lies as justification. Maybe ole’ Bob Dylan had it right way back in 1964 when he sang about having God on Our Side,”

“You mean like the famous Weapons of Mass Destruction?” chided Ray.

“Yeah, and don’t forget the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution,” added Abe.

“While we’re on the subject, don’t forget the conspiracy theory guys who say that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor, or that Churchill let Coventry be bombed, or that the CIA planned the 911 attacks, etc., etc.” offered Hakim, who had been sitting quietly by and listening.

“But not all government secrets necessarily bad,” suggested Emilio. “We are just now hearing about The Navajo Code Talkers and the code-breaking work at Bletchley Park in England.”

Dudley tried to get the group back to his concern. “I agree with Emilio. We probably can’t know the whole story or all of the political aspects and ramifications of some of the things our Government does. And, unless one of you guys wants to run for President, we never will. The point I want to make is that there are some more practical things that are within our ability to affect. Like I said a few minutes ago, I believe we owe all the people who serve our country a better deal when they come home. I’ll go further and say that they deserve the absolute very best we can provide. Maybe if we were to reallocate a small portion of the billions we spend on developing weapons on better care for returning veterans, this would be a better place.”

“”OK, Doc, only decaf for you the rest of the morning,” suggested Abe. “Seriously, I think we can all agree with that point. Perhaps, at some future date, you could ask this Ms. Elliott to join us for coffee and we could all learn a bit more about things we could do.”

“I second that idea,” said Ray. “Hey, it looks like Hector has brewed some fresh coffee. Who needs a refill?”

Chapter 6: Road Trip

One afternoon, while Matthew Dudley was returning from a minor electrical repair job, he passed Larry Blackburn in the main lobby. “How is your scrapbook project coming along?” asked Dudley.

“Just fine.” responded Blackburn. “I’d like to show you my progress when you have a spare minute.”

“No problem, just give me a call.”

“I have a question about New Mexico that perhaps you could answer for me.”

“I’ll try.”

“I’ve been doing some reading about the history of the state and I understand that there has been a considerable amount of mining in the past. That is an area I’m particularly interested in.”

“You are correct. There has been quite a bit of mining in the state of many different kinds. There has been considerable copper mining in the southern part of the state, near Silver City. And there were the uranium mines out near Grants. Closer to Albuquerque, there was coal mining in Madrid and lots of smaller primitive mines in Cerrillos, just north of here.”

“I don’t think I mentioned it, but I spent my entire career in and around mining. In the Army, I was lucky enough to get assigned to vehicle maintenance and spent my entire time there, learning a great deal. When I got out and returned home to Hibbing, Minnesota, I landed a job with Caterpillar working on those big machines in the mining industry. It gave me a chance to see some of the very large-scale open pit mines and I’ve been fascinated by those operations ever since. I’d really like to visit some of the historical sites around here if it would be possible.”

“You’re in luck,” beamed Dudley. “I used to live in Cerrillos and was headed up that way one day next week to tend to a few things. If you’d like to come along, we can take the “scenic route” past some of the gravel pits near Bernalillo, across Santo Domingo Pueblo land to Madrid and then into Cerrillos. There’s a new Visitor Center at the Cerrillos Hills State Park that we can visit. That will give you a chance to see several kinds of things. We could go to Grants or Silver City at sometime later.”

“I would really appreciate it, if it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Not at all. It gives OJ and me a chance to visit and to take a break from our routine here. I’ll give you a call a day or two in advance.”

A few days later, after a pleasant day trip as Dudley had described, the three of them were driving south on I-25 from Cerrillos and, as they drove past the San Felipe Pueblo, Blackburn noticed a panel van in the next lane. He had to look twice to reassure himself that the lettering on the side of the van said Sanchez & Son, General Contractors Bernalillo, New Mexico. Excitedly, he said to Dudley, “Please ask OJ to follow that van. I believe it must belong to an old Army buddy of mine. It is very important to me that I speak to the driver.”

OJ followed the van as it took the Bernalillo 242 exit and pulled into the Conoco gas station. Blackburn jumped out of the van and ran up to the driver who had just begun pumping gas. “I’m looking for Eddie Sanchez from Bernalillo. You must be his son!”

“No, sorry. Eddie’s my boss. Can I help you?”

“I’m sorry for being so abrupt. Eddie Sanchez and I served in the Army together and I know he was from Bernalillo and that his father owned a plumbing contractor business. It would mean a great deal to me if you could help me find him. I’m not even sure this is the right Sanchez.”

“Slow down, Old Timer. There is only one Sanchez Contractor in Bernalillo, but you must be talking about Eddie’s father. I mean, given your age, you know.”

“You’re probably right. But, can you tell me how I can get in contact with him?”

“I can do better than that. I’m on my way to see Eddie right now to deliver some drawings. If you’ll follow me to The Range, I’ll introduce you to Eddie Sanchez.”

Blackburn went back to the truck where OJ and Dudley had been sitting and watching this exchange. “Could we follow that van to some place he called The Range? He’s going to take me to see an old Army buddy of mine. I’d really appreciate it.”

“No problem, Señor Larry, but I won’t go into The Range; it’s much too fancy for me.”

“I’ll go with you, Larry, offered Dudley.”

OJ followed the Sanchez & Son van into Bernalillo and parked in the gravel lot across the street from The Range. Blackburn and Dudley walked into the restaurant where the driver was waiting and he motioned for them to follow him to a table in the main dining area. A young man and woman sat at the table and the young man rose and shook hands with the driver. “I hope you don’t mind, Boss, but I brought some guy to meet you. I actually think he’s looking for your father, but I’ll leave that to you to sort out. Anyway, here are the drawings for the new Kingston house for you to review. Nice to see you again, Mrs. Sanchez.” The driver handed over the roll of drawings and left.

Blackburn moved forward toward the table, unsure of what to do. The young man certainly resembled Eddie Sanchez. Blackburn decided to just plunge forward. He held out his hand and said, “My name is Laurence Blackburn and I served in the Army in Vietnam with Eddie Sanchez from Bernalillo. You are obviously not him, but I wonder if you could help me locate him.”

The young man took Blackburn’s hand and returned a firm handshake. “I am Eddie Sanchez and you are certainly referring to my father, but no one around here ever called him Eddie; it was always Eduardo. Please sit down and let’s talk. This is my wife, Brittney.”

Blackburn felt instantly at ease and asked if Dudley could join them.

Eddie Sanchez took the initiative to speak first. “Mr. Blackburn, it is a pleasure to meet you. My father never talked about his time in the Army and pretty much avoided any discussion of it when anyone asked. From the few comments he did make, I believe he was proud to have served his country, but deeply troubled by the experience. The only thing he ever really mentioned was how much the guys in his Unit meant to him.”

“You are correct; it was an awful experience. But, for me, it was the friendship of guys like you father that helped me get through it. He also talked a lot about his home and what a wonderful place it was and how much he missed his friends. In fact, it was his description of this place that encouraged me to move here when I retired and after my wife died. From what I’ve seen so far, his description was certainly accurate. I would really like to see him, not to talk about those times, but just to thank him for being a true friend.”

“Thank you very much for those thoughts, Mr. Blackburn. I’m afraid my father passed away late last year.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know you miss him a great deal.”

“Thank you. There might be something I could do, however. We are preparing to sell my parents’ house and I discovered a small shoe box containing some of what I believe to be my father’s Army memorabilia. Perhaps you could look through it and see if there is anything important.”

“I’d be honored, but shouldn’t your mother do that?”

“That would not be possible now. You see, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago and Brit and I can no longer care for her. Her folks are in failing health and it was just too much to care for all of them adequately. So, we arranged for Mama to live in a first-class retirement place called La Vida Aureo in Albuquerque. They have an excellent Memory Care unit and she is getting much better support than we were able to provide.”

“That’s a strange coincidence. I’m also living at La Vida Aureo and one of the main reasons I selected it was because of their capabilities for progressive care should I need it in the future. In fact, Mr. Dudley here also lives there.”

“Then, why don’t I bring my father’s box of Army stuff to La Vida Aureo for you when I come to visit Mama tomorrow afternoon?”

“That would be wonderful if it’s not too much trouble. I’ve been trying to organize a box of photos I have from my Army days and this would fit right in.”

Eddie Sanchez and Larry Blackburn rose and shook hands. Dudley felt a bit like a “fifth wheel”, but realized that he had just witnessed an example of true friendship. He knew that Blackburn’s comments had touched the young Eddie Sanchez.

Everyone left and Dudley and Blackburn found OJ sitting in his truck in the parking lot eating a large green chile cheeseburger from Blake’s Lotaburger! “Let’s get back to La Vida Aureo.”

Chapter 7: Discovery

As promised, Eddie Sanchez brought his father’s shoe box to La Vida Aureo the next day when he and Brit came to visit the elder Mrs. Sanchez. Despite their efforts to engage Mrs. Sanchez in conversation, she sat and simply stared out her window. Even when Eddie told her about meeting Larry Blackburn, she remained unresponsive. But, Eddie felt a sense of responsibility and would continue to visit his mother as often as he could. He took Brit’s hand as they exited the room and said, “I know this is very difficult and that my mother was never very nice to you, but I appreciate your accompanying me today. It is not necessary for you to come in the future. I will go with you to visit your folks as often as you like.”

Britney said nothing, but squeezed Eddie’s had a bit tighter as they continued down the hallway.

As they passed through the main lobby, Eddie noticed Larry Blackburn walking toward the main dining room with a large scrapbook under his arm and called out, “Mr. Blackburn, I brought my father’s shoebox.”

Blackburn accepted the box with a sense of respect. “Thank you, Eddie. I promise to call as soon as I’ve had a chance to sort through everything.” Blackburn smile and waved to Eddie and Britney Sanchez as they left.

Larry Blackburn had asked Matthew Dudley to join him this particular afternoon to review the progress on his scrapbook and to share in opening Eduardo Sanchez’s box of presumed Army memorabilia.

Blackburn had made considerable progress on his scrapbook and there were only a few remaining items to be incorporated, mostly newspaper clippings. “It always saddens me to look at these,” remarked Blackburn. “Most of the articles were very critical of the United Sates’ involvement in the Vietnam War and this general animosity was often directed at the returning GIs. This War wasn’t their idea and most of them were drafted into the service. People didn’t talk about PTSD back then, but a lot of the guys I served with were deeply troubled for many years after they returned home. At least in my small hometown, people were just glad to have their sons home and they were welcomed back into the community.”

“It was much the same here,” added Dudley. “There has always been a strong element of patriotism here and most people were proud of their sons.”

Larry put the scrapbook to the side and carefully opened the box Eddie Sanchez had entrusted to him. There were not many items in the box, mostly photographs. Under the photos, Blackburn found two medals, a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. “Wow!” whistled Blackburn. “I knew about the Purple Heart; several guys on that patrol were badly wounded, but I didn’t know about the Silver Star. I remember Eddie (Eduardo) carrying another soldier who was badly wounded back to base despite being wounded himself. The Brass must have decided to award him the Silver Star later. I think my tour ended a few months before Eduardo’s. “

“It looks like he put the medals at the bottom of the box,” observed Dudley. “I’ll bet he never mentioned them to anyone. It will be a very pleasant surprise when you share them with his son.”

As the two men continued to look through the box, they carefully took out Eduardo’s few photographs and tried to arrange them in some sort of order, from a print that looked like it was taken in Basic Training to one from some sort of farewell pose. “Look, Doc, I’m in this one. I remember gathering to say “good bye” to a bunch of the guys who were shipping stateside the next morning. There’s Eduardo and there’s me next to him.”

“Young Eddie certainly resembles his father, don’t you think?” observed Dudley.

At the very bottom of the box was a single photograph of four young people sitting in a convertible in front of what looked to Blackburn like a hamburger stand. “I’m not from around here,” he mused, “but isn’t that the same name as the hamburger OJ was eating the other day?”

“I believe you’re right,” smiled Dudley. “Blake’s is a New Mexico institution. This looks like a bunch of high school kids enjoying a typical sunny day. The kid behind the wheel looks like Eduardo and I guess those must be some of his friends.”

Dudley and Blackburn continued looking at the photographs and trying to put them in what they thought was the proper order. Blackburn happened to look up as JoAnne Elliott walked into the dining room. She was returning to La Vida Aureo from a day volunteering at the VA Hospital. That was apparent from the colorful vest she wore which was decorated with service patches given to her over the years by thankful soldiers. “Hey, that was my unit, The Big Red One,” exclaimed Blackburn when he saw the unmistakable insignia on the vest.

JoAnne was quite surprised that someone had called out to her and she stopped at the table where Dudley and Blackburn were sitting. “I’m sorry,” blurted Blackburn. “I noticed the patch on you vest. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s quite all right,” smiled JoAnne. “I am very proud of my vest. All of these patches were given to me over the years when I worked at various VA Hospitals. It was usually a service person’s way of saying thanks to me for talking with them. In the early years, there were a lot of guys who served in the First Infantry in Vietnam, so I’ve had this patch for a very long time.”

“Pardon me, I’ve neglected my manners,” apologized Blackburn as he rose. “My name is Larry Blackburn and I’m a resident here. This is Matthew Dudley who is actually on the La Vida Aureo staff.”

“Ms. Elliott and I have already met,” offered Dudley who also rose to greet JoAnne.

“We were just looking over my Army scrapbook,” said Blackburn as he pointed to the table where he and Dudley had been working. “If you’d care to join us, we were just trying to put some of these additional photos from a buddy of mine in sequence.”

As JoAnne moved closer to the table, her eyes fell upon the single photo that was lying apart from the others and the scrapbook. “Oh, my God,” exclaimed JoAnne. “Where did you get this photograph?”

“It came from a box of mostly Army memorabilia from a guy I served with who is from Bernalillo, a town near here,” offered Blackburn.

“I know where Bernalillo is,” said JoAnne anxiously. “I grew up there. I know this photo. That is me sitting in the front seat with Eduardo Sanchez, my first and only true love, who was killed in Vietnam.”

Dudley noticed the confused and very troubled look on JoAnne’s face and helped her into a chair between himself and Blackburn. “Let me ask Paloma to make some fresh coffee,” he suggested. “I think we have some very important things to discuss.”

With a fresh mug of coffee in front of her, JoAnne picked up the photograph with trembling hands. “This photo was taken just after we all graduated from high school and before Eduardo was drafted into the Army. That’s Eduardo and me in the front seat and our best friends Isaac and Nina in back. He was only in Vietnam a few months when his family received notice that he’s been killed and that the Army had not recovered his body. It was actually Nina, that girl there, who called me with the news.”

Things were very emotional for the next thirty minutes as the details came out with Blackburn and JoAnne contributing most of the information about Eduardo Sanchez.   Dudley and Paloma together tried to guide the conversation into a coherent sequence of events. They were both deeply saddened when it became apparent that JoAnne had been horribly deceived, probably by Nina, and had spent her entire life believing that the one love of her life had been killed in combat.

JoAnne finally asked, “How did you come to have this box of photographs?”

Dudley could see how these revelations had also affected Blackburn so he took the initiative to relate the story of the chance meeting with Eddie Sanchez and the box of his father’s memorabilia. He also disclosed that Eduardo had died a few years previously and that Nina was a resident at La Vida Aureo in the Memory Care Unit with advanced Alzheimer’s. This information was a further shock to JoAnne and she began sobbing uncontrollably. The knowledge that Eduardo and Nina had had a son, which by everything she held dear, should have been HER son, was too much to bear.

After what seemed like a very long time, JoAnne gained control of herself and stopped crying. She looked at Blackburn, Dudley and Paloma and said, “Thank you. Thank you all very much. I know it has been difficult for you as well to relate these stories to me, but I am fine. I have learned over many years of working with veterans at the VA how to deal with adversity and stressful situations. I will direct my energies and emotions into my work. Helping others has always been a source of strength for me.”

“I also want to say that it gives me peace to know that Eduardo did not die and that he had a wonderful life. I don’t know if I am prepared to face Nina, but I would like to meet Eduardo’s son. I just want to see him. I do not intend to talk about the past and what might have been. You tell me that he is a fine young man and there was really never a doubt in my mind about that. I would just like to see him one time.”

Paloma and Dudley promised JoAnne that they would arrange that. Dudley spoke, “Larry has been through Eduardo’s box of memorabilia and discovered some important things that Eddie is probably not aware of about his father. If everyone agrees, I suggest that this one photo be given to JoAnne. I see no benefit in giving this particular photo to Eddie.”

A few days later, Larry Blackburn called Eddie Sanchez to tell him that there were a few surprises in his father’s box that he was eager to share. “Just let me know the next time you plan to come to La Vida Aureo to visit your mother. We can meet in the dining room.”

Matthew Dudley talked with one of the Supervisors in the Memory Care Unit to arrange an excuse for him to visit Nina Sanchez along with JoAnne Elliott. Dudley was on very good terms with most of the Supervisors and this would not be difficult to accomplish, even if Dudley neglected to mention JoAnne’s presence. One afternoon, when the Supervisor informed Dudley that Nina was having a “good day”, Dudley and JoAnne made their way to Nina’s room on the second floor. The premise of the visit was to inspect the air conditioning unit and would be limited to just a few minutes. JoAnne had mentally prepared herself for this encounter with Nina after so many years and with the knowledge of Nina’s deception. As they entered the room, they saw Nina in her rocking chair near the window. Nina barely acknowledged their presence and continued to stare out the window.

Dudley spoke softly. “Mrs. Sanchez, it will just take a minute to adjust your air conditioning unit. We’ll try not to disturb you.”

Nina slowly raised her head and gazed at her two visitors. JoAnne thought she noticed a sign of recognition in Nina’s eyes as she looked their way, but it quickly faded. Nina mumbled some that sounded like “Thank You”, but it was barely audible. With that, Dudley and JoAnne turned and quietly left the room.

“It is so sad to see Nina that way,” said JoAnne. “I was afraid I would be angry seeing her again after all these years, but I only feel sadness.”

“Many of the residents in this Unit have Alzheimer’s and it never a pretty sight,” suggested Dudley. “Let’s go outside for a change of scenery.”

That afternoon, as planned, Eddie and Britney Sanchez came to La Vida Aureo for a very brief visit with Mrs. Sanchez. Both were more eager to catch up with Larry Blackburn and learn about the surprises he had promised.

After showing the medals and some of the photographs to Eddie, Blackburn said “I have one more surprise for you. I’d like to introduce you to JoAnne Elliott who recently moved here to La Vida Aureo. She is originally from Bernalillo and she tells me that she knew your both father and mother when they were all much younger.”

JoAnne extended her hand to Eddie and then Britney and said simply, “When I saw some of the photos Larry was working on from your father’s box, it brought back some pleasant memories of my youth. I just wanted to say Hello and reiterate what Larry said about your father; he was a really great guy.”   JoAnne felt many more things in her heart, but decided to keep the meeting short, as she had promised. But she could not help but notice that the blonde, blue-eyed Britney reminded her of herself when she and Eduardo were dating and how much Eduardo’s parents objected.

Much to JoAnne’s surprise, Eddie began talking about his parents in a very candid way. “Thank you for your thoughts about my dad. I’m sure Larry told you that he passed a few years ago. Occasionally, he would get talkative after we had finished a particularly difficult job, but he kept much of his youth bottled up inside. I always assumed that his time in Vietnam was something he preferred not to relive. When I first brought Britney home, he was very supportive, unlike my mother who was not very pleased. I guess he saw something in Britney that he liked. My mother lives here and it is sad to see her deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. But, my mother seemed sad to me most of her life, like she was carrying some terrible burden. They tried to have more children after I was born, but were unsuccessful. Anyway, I apologize for going on so. It was nice to meet you and welcome back to New Mexico.”

Eddie thanked Blackburn repeatedly as he held his father’s medals in his hand. He and Britney walked hand-in-hand out of the dining room toward the Guest parking lot.

It had been another emotional afternoon for everyone. Larry invited JoAnne to take a walk with him and Dudley noticed them sometime later, sitting under the Navajo willow in the courtyard as the sun set.

Chapter 8: The La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program

The discussion with Paloma about the things she had learned through her sopapilla network caused some specific thoughts to begin forming in Dudley’s mind. Many of the staff continued to meet at the end of the day in the small dining/conference room. In fact, a few more people were stopping in as the nature of their discussion had spread throughout La Vida Aureo.   Paloma continued to provide snacks to the group and sat quietly in the corner listening to the conversation. Dudley would stop to visit with Paloma every few days after reading the Wall Street Journal to learn what new information had emerged. “You know,” he said one day, “our own staff would be an ideal place to test any ideas we come up with. They are certainly experiencing many of these same issues and undoubtedly would very candid input and feedback. They have the somewhat unique perspective of dealing with the diverse issues of aging both at work and at home.”

“That is an excellent idea, Señor Doc. I am certain that they would not hesitate to tell you exactly how they feel.”

“That sounds a bit intimidating. Perhaps you could sit in the room with me.”

“You are too modest, but I would be happy to attend. It might also be a good idea for Isabella to hear their comments first-hand.”

“If you don’t think the staff would be afraid to talk openly in from of her.”

“Trust me. That will not be a problem.”

“Paloma, there is one more area I want to explore before I get back to Isabella and that is franchises. I’ve noticed advertisements in many magazines for franchise opportunities in the general area of home health care. I don’t know if that is an appropriate option for La Vida Aureo, but it certainly seems to be gaining popularity. I may even try to do some investigation on the Internet! One of my buddies was teasing me about my new smart phone and he told me I could surf the Web with my phone. I better check that out or I will not hear the end of it.”

“Well, haven’t you become a modern man?”

After he had done considerably more reading, Matthew Dudley thought he had developed a reasonable approach to addressing Isabella’s challenge. He had even done a preliminary cost analysis of various alternatives. There were still several specific aspects of his proposed approach that he had not resolved in his own mind. One of his basic assumptions was that the primary goal of any new program for La Vida Aureo to undertake was to keep people in their homes as long as possible and out of facilities like La Vida Aureo. He wanted to be certain that this approach had merit and realized that sharing it with Paloma’s so-called sopapilla network would provide his the feedback he knew was necessary.

As Paloma had surmised, Dudley’s meeting with the staff was very successful. The discussion was lively and candid and ended only when most of the group had to meet their ride home. After everyone left, Paloma and Dudley sat in the small room sharing the last of the sopapillas and coffee and reviewing the past hour. “I want to thank you, Paloma, for the opportunity to talk with the group. There were many valuable comments and suggestions. I am once again impressed by the quality of our staff and their commitment to the residents of La Vida Aureo as well as to their own families. They are a most remarkable group.”

A few short weeks later, Dudley felt he was ready to have an initial discussion with Isabella about ways to serve an ever increasing population of elderly citizens with a growing diversity and complexity of issues. He was aware that the other condition Isabella had specified was that any new activity be totally consistent with La Vida Aureo’s philosophy and be complimentary with all existing services. He felt that he had given the matter a great deal of thought and the meeting with the sopapilla network had been invaluable. He felt prepared to share his thinking with Isabella and was confident that they would have a lively and productive discussion.   Nonetheless, he was a bit apprehensive since he had not made a formal presentation since retiring. He decided to try to set Isabella’s expectations at the outset.

Isabella invited Dudley into a small conference room next to her office which she had insisted on including during the initial facility planning phase. There was small round table and four comfortable chairs. There was a white board on one wall and an easel with paper in another corner. It was an ideal arrangement for just this kind of discussion.

“First of all, Isabella, let me thank you for including me in this process. It means a great deal to me to know that you value my input. This is obviously a very complex subject and one of my primary conclusions is that we should move with deliberation. These problems are not going away and will only increase as more people age. And, as you know, aging is not a single issue; it will continue to evolve and change over time. Therefore, we must remain highly flexible. Finally, we must accept that we cannot be everything to everyone. I believe that any success will be based on having the courage to say “No” to many individual opportunities. Hopefully, our visible participation will encourage other reputable organizations to provide any products and/or services that we choose not to.”

Dudley continued. “I’ve come to the conclusion that essentially all aspects of healthcare share one common problem. That problem is staff. Consider everything from home healthcare to nursing homes, even non-medical staff at hospitals. You know, Isabella, dealing with old people is hard work; they can be very, very difficult. I believe that it requires a special person with special skills to remain professional and caring under these difficult circumstances.   For the reading that I’ve done, there has been unprecedented growth in home healthcare and it has lead to serious staffing problems. Too many of the professional caregivers are poorly trained and terribly underpaid; some have questionable backgrounds, etc.   This creates too many opportunities for neglect and potential abuse. Compare that with the staffing policy here at La Vida Aureo. We, particularly you and the Supervisors, work very hard to find, train and retain competent staff. The situation is particularly acute in the Memory Care Unit, where resident behavior is an everyday challenge. This staffing issue appears to me to be compounded when you create a national franchise network for home healthcare. I just don’t see how you can maintain an appropriate level of quality control. Therefore, I’ve rejected that as an alternative for us.”

“Despite reading a great deal, I don’t fully understand the concept of reimbursement for medical services. We are fortunate here at La Vida Aureo that many of our residents are either private pay or have adequate insurance from a large and reputable company. Other organizations are less fortunate. I have a growing fear of old people being essentially warehoused in the near future. If the Government doesn’t get a grip on total healthcare spending, their only course of action is to reduce the amount they can, or are willing to, pay. That means that healthcare companies will have to manage their costs to remain profitable and that means reduced staffing levels. We have made significant advances in medical technology, but I don’t see how a computer can insert an IV, or change a dirty diaper, or even just hold someone’s hand.”

“I apologize, Isabella, for that brief rant, but when I consider what continues to make La Vida Aureo successful and why we have a significant waiting list, it all comes down to the quality of our people. Sure, we have fancy facilities and Paloma’s meals are consistently above restaurant quality, but we have really competent and caring people to support all of our residents.”

“My other major area of emphasis relates to needs; that is, what are the most significant needs of our aging population. Rather than give you a list of things like diapers, canes, etc., I want to suggest that what most seniors want more than anything is to retain their dignity, to remain in their own home for as long as possible and to have as much control over their lives as possible. I realize that this is simply not a realistic expectation for many seniors, like those with serious physical or mental limitations. But, these folks really need a more highly specialized form of healthcare.”

“My primary recommendation to you is that our goal for this new business should be to keep people out of places like this, out of the less desirable places and certainly out of state-run institutions. We can accomplish this by helping people lead healthier lives, by preventing serious accidents that occur in the home and by educating family members and other caregivers. What do you think?”

“Wow, Doc! Thank you, not only for the information, but the level of passion you brought to the subject. Sometimes, I get so deep into the routine of daily operations that I forget to sit back and look at the bigger picture. OK, so tell me how to keep people out of here. I can’t believe I actually asking that, but I know you’ll enlighten me”

“The key is education and the delivery vehicle is through the highly trained Specialists of the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program. There are a great many elderly citizens who are part of a family, often an extended family. That is especially true here in Albuquerque, something we learned through Father Michael as well as Martina Trujillo. The younger members of the family are willing to be caregivers and typically feel a sense of responsibility for their parents. What they lack is basic information; things such as what should I expect; are these behaviors typical, etc.?

“I envision our Specialists to function like Project Managers more than social workers. They would serve as a focal point for the collection and dissemination of information. They could tell people where to go for specific information about a particular issue or refer them to another organization. Our Project Managers would work with other organizations to provide access to a broad range of products and services. Think about what we able to do to locate and distribute those diapers for Our Lady of the Valley parish. Is there an opportunity to develop similar partnership arrangements with Walgreen’s or CVS? Or, how many people are aware of programs like Meals on Wheels to deliver tasty and nourishing meals directly to the home. Another area would be to facilitate the creation of support groups among families dealing with similar issues.”

“I do not believe it would be prudent for us to start a new business to address the unique problems of aging; there are already a large amount of resources currently available and more starting each day. But we certainly could create is a unique service that helps caregivers in need to locate them.”

“Like a clearing house,” asked Isabella?

“Yes, but our people would take an active role in not only identifying potential resources, but also rating or qualifying them before they become part of our approved list, so to speak. I suspect the Internet could be a powerful tool for the dissemination of information. I could also see us developing actual printed check lists and information cards. For example, one such card could show specific steps to prevent common accidents in the home.”

“The critical factor for success for this endeavor goes back to the point I made initially. The key is staff. Our Project Managers would have to be highly capable individuals with the necessary skills to operate competently in many areas.”

“I follow you, Doc. Instead of trying to compete with other businesses in the field or, heaven forbid, building another large-scale facility like this one, La Vida Aureo hires and trains a small group of Information Specialists to function as coordinators, project managers, quarterbacks, etc. We could achieve a very high level of positive impact in the community with a relatively small staff. I love it.”

“I would ask you to do one thing before you reach a final decision,” suggested Dudley. “I want you to meet with what Paloma calls her sopapilla network and get their input to this potential approach.”

“Sopapilla network? I’ve never heard of that. Is it some kind of social group Paloma belongs to?” asked Isabella.

“Actually, it is our own staff. They typically gather in the afternoon while waiting for their ride home. Recently, the topic of discussion has been the various problems they are facing in their own families with aging parents and grandparents. I’ve met with them and, as you would expect, they have some very valuable insights and comments.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Paloma had her finger on the pulse of this entire complex. That sounds like a marvelous idea, Doc. Would you please arrange for me to sit in with our folks as soon as possible?”

Over the next week, Isabella and Dudley met with the staff on several afternoons and refined the basic concept of the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program based on what they heard. After everyone had left to go home, Isabella, Dudley and Paloma remained in the small room. “Paloma, I can’t thank you enough,” said Isabella. “I really don’t know where to begin; I truly appreciate all the things you do, large and small.”

“La Vida Aureo is my life too, Señora Isabella.”

Isabella and Dudley met each morning for the next several days to refine the proposal they would make to La Doña Jaramillo. “I want you to join me when I talk to Señora Jaramillo; you are really the person who put this all together. Besides, I know she wants to meet you, after all I’ve said about you.”

“I would be honored but somewhat intimidated, based on what you’ve said about her.”

The meeting with Señora Jaramillo and Father Michael went very well and both agreed that the Community Assist Program was a reasonable and practical approach to a complex set of problems. Isabella was encouraged to move forward and develop a detailed work plan to launch the Program as soon as possible.


Chapter 9: Soldiers & Seniors

Later the following week, Dudley was sitting in the dining room reading the Wall Street Journal and watching the soft rain outside. He appreciated the kindness of the gentleman who left the paper for him each morning. Paloma Angostura approached and sat down across from Dudley. “Señor Doc, you look so far away from here and your eyes tell me you are sad. Is there something upsetting you?”

“No, Paloma, I was just thinking.”

“It should be good thoughts, Señor Doc. We helped bring happiness to two very nice people from a very unhappy situation. And, we helped Isabella to come up with a way to help less fortunate people in our community like Martina Trujillo. You should be proud of what you did.”

“Oh, Paloma, I am happy that everything turned out as well as it did. And, I am certainly happy that we helped JoAnne and Lawrence find each other. I hope they are able to make many pleasant memories of their own.”

“Then, what troubles you?”

“I guess I have begun to realize that these two situations are similar and may both be the result of our trying to do Good but, in doing so, we have created some very difficult problems for which we do not have the answers.”

“I don’t understand. Should we not always try to do Good?”

“Yes, most certainly. But, I’m afraid that we are trying to do Good for the wrong reasons. Let me try to explain. There are many thoughts in my head and maybe, if I talk about them, you can help me make sense of it all.”

“Please talk to me and do not be afraid to share your deepest feelings. I will try to understand and help.”

“These two situations seem similar to me because they both involve our acting to help people live longer. JoAnne told us about how she dedicated her life to helping soldiers returning from war. In her own experience, our medical technology has improved greatly and fewer young people are dying in battle. We are very proud of ourselves for our advances in medical science and technology that permits us to do marvelous things to save these young people’s lives. But, when they come home, it seems like our support of them decreases dramatically. And, we seem to not really understand how exposure to the ugliness of war affects these young peoples’ minds. We heal them physically, but it seems that we fail to support them as a total person. JoAnne’s description of some of the situations she encountered at the VA facilities was very disturbing to me.”

“The situation that Martina brought to our attention can be viewed in much the same way. We have made significant strides in improving the health of our population and we take great pride in our achievements. People are living longer than ever before. But, once again, we stopped short of developing the understanding of what happens when so many people live so much longer. “

“I am troubled by the similarities of these situations, at least as I see it. We have made unbelievable progress in extending the life of soldiers and seniors, but I am beginning to question whether we have considered the quality of life we’ve left these people with. It seems like we have used our knowledge and skills to solve only half of the problem. Perhaps we are blinded by the apparent success of our actions and fail to see the potential and unintended consequences of what we do.”

“It seems to me that, in effect, we have intervened in people’s lives so that they can live longer. That IS a good thing. But, it creates a responsibility to complete the task and provide answers for the quality of these extended lives. At the very least, we are obligated to provide a level of support that is consistent with the level of technology we employed to give people these extra years of life. ”

“These longer/extended lives are beset with a host of new and different and in some ways more complex problems and issues. Perhaps it is an issue of not wanting to face the very uncomfortable personal side of things. Much of what we’ve done with our science and technology is pretty impersonal and we can step back and look at our accomplishments objectively and with pride, perhaps too much pride. But, too frequently, the surgeon and the scientist do not have to live with the day-to-day consequences of the life-extending situation they brought about. That task is left to someone else altogether and too often, that person is a family member who is totally unprepared and ill-equipped to cope with the situation.”

“I am very pleased that La Vida Aureo’s approach to the aging population crisis is based on providing education and information for caregivers faced with these difficult situations. Perhaps there is a lesson that could be applied to other situations and environments.”


I hope you enjoyed Case V, Salvation & Sabotage, of the Retirement Home Mysteries series.

Case VI, tentatively titled War & Remembrance, is nearing completion and my goal is to post Chapter 1 on Monday, February 15 and complete the Case by the end of the month.  In Case VI, Matthew Dudley meets several new residents at La Vida Aureo who share some common history that Dudley helps to uncover with some surprises and unintended consequences.  At the same time, the Principals of La Vida Aureo wrestle with the issues brought to light by Martina Trujillo in Case IV.

I continue to be energized by your comments and feedback which are always encouraged and welcome.

Please invite your friends to visit the site and follow along with the continuing adventures of Matthew Dudley and his friends at La Vida Aureo.



Gene Davis