Chapter 1: Developments & Changes
It was unusual to find Isabella Duncan sitting in the Main Dining Room, particularly at this time of day. Matthew Dudley approached somewhat cautiously and sat down across from her. “I don’t mean to pry, but is everything OK? This is not the typical place to find you in the mornings.”
“Just fine, Doc. In fact, more than “just fine”. I was sitting here enjoying a quiet cup of tea and reflecting on the wonderful celebration we hosted over the weekend. So many people showed up to help us celebrate the tenth anniversary of La Vida Aureo’s original opening. So many folks stopped by, even if just to say “Hello”. And, for the most part, everyone had good news to relate.”
Paloma Angostura came out of the kitchen, smiling as she sat down. “Bueno dias, Señora Duncan and Señor Doc. May I join you?”
“Certainly, Señora. Doc and I were talking about the joyous celebration and how wonderful it was to see so many friends and learn of their good fortune. And, I want to especially thank you for all you did to make it such a pleasant afternoon.”
“Gracias, Señora, but the thanks must also go to Pablo Guzman and his catering company for providing such delightful food. I’m sure his Father is most proud of how Pablo has grown his business from such a small beginning.”
“I understand he began as a waiter at Scalo’s and then opened a small food truck before starting his catering business.”
“That’s correct, Doc. I doubt that Pablo is aware that La Doña Jaramillo provided a helping hand financially to get his business started. And, he probably only suspects that Señora Jaramillo and his Father plan for him to eventually take over Hector’s business. After all, it is called Saville & Sons!”
“While you’re both here”, said Isabella, I want to share some information I received late yesterday afternoon. It’s one of those “good news, bad news” situations. I received a call from our good friend Professor Pearson. He called to apologize directly to me and to you as well as everyone at La Vida Aureo.”
“I can’t imagine that Professor Pearson has anything to apologize for,” remarked Dudley.
Isabella took another sip of her tes and continued. “Well, the short version is that Professor Pearson won’t be coming to live at La Vida Aureo as planned.”
“That’s obviously the bad news. What’s the good news?”
“Events have taken a quite unexpected turn for him and he has an opportunity to pursue unique aspects of Southwest history that have always fascinated him. But, before I give you the whole story, he insisted that I convey his undying gratitude to both of you as well as OJ.”
“That’s very thoughtful, but not really necessary. After all, he was the one that was so mistreated physically and emotionally.”
“I agree, Doc, but he seems genuinely happy with these developments. He asked that we keep his deposit and put it to good use. He advised me to not hold a space/casita for him, at least for the short-term.”
“That sounds like more bad news.”
“Well, the Professor did assure me that this new Project could include some trips to New Mexico and he promised me that he would stop by. Anyway, let me give you the details of our conversation and I hope you’ll agree with me that things have turned out rather well for him. He asked that I record the entire conversation so he could speak to you in his own words.”
I was wrapping my affairs up at Rice University when I received a call from the Dean and the University’s President. The Dean didn’t provide a lot of details, but apparently the entire Hormuz Conspiracy episode with Homeland Security eventually made it to the main DHS office in Washington. It was obviously quite an embarrassment and several senior officers were encouraged to take early retirement so they could spend more time with their families. I guess that’s government-speak for being fired. The Dean said that DHS had looked into my background (no surprise there!) and felt that I could be of assistance to them and that a representative would be in Houston in a few days to meet with me to discuss a new Project. Neither the Dean nor the President could provide any additional information and it sounded like this meeting wasn’t really optional. So, I continued my packing and waited.
I received a phone call the next afternoon and a pleasant-sounding gentleman invited me to dinner at one of my favorite BBQ joints in Houston. The Project he outlined for me focused on the Federal Government’s relationship with various Native American peoples over the years. Although it wasn’t mentioned specifically, I’m reasonably certain that there was considerable pressure from some individuals in Congress on these matters. Anyway, Homeland Security wants to develop an independent and totally non-political review of the entire situation, including treaties, reservations, etc. They suggested I focus initially on the Native peoples of the Southwest. Actually, that makes sense since the relations between the Apache and other tribes of the Southwest are the most recent in terms of US history. It is at least a good place to start. Congress, through DHS, has allocated a considerable grant to the University of Arizona in Tucson and asked me to be the Principal Investigator of this Project. I don’t follow politics, but my sense was that they want to address the subject in an environment far away from Washington.
This all sounded very interesting to me. As you may recall, my original plan was to be based at La Vida Aureo and explore the notion that the United States was settled, in some measure, from South to North rather than the conventional view of East to West. I wanted to examine the influence of the Spanish, the Church, the Missions, etc. Clearly, this would have involved a careful analysis of various Native American populations. So, this new Project potentially provides an opportunity to get some of the facts straight and perhaps clear up some terrible misconceptions. I don’t believe for a minute that the mistakes of the past can be easily corrected, but it may provide some guidance to future policy-makers on a National, State and Local level.
My host never actually explained his position at DHS, but our conversation then took an unexpected turn. Apparently, there are folks at DHS who believe we could also learn some things about terrorism from the Native Americans. I am aware of the AIM (American Indian Movement) uprising when they occupied Alcatraz acted much like domestic terrorists. Some historians have argued they behaved like terrorists in their relationship with white settlers and the Army during periods of western migration and settlement. From the other perspective, I have seen the tee shirt depicting a band of Native Americans with the caption Providing Homeland Security since 1492. It seems to me that the struggle for land is often a theme and reason for rebellion/uprising. The 1540 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico is another example. There are obviously two sides to this story!
I apologize for dragging this story out, but I wanted you all to know that I plan to accept Homeland Security’s offer and move to Tucson and begin work on this exciting Project. I also want you to know I am confident my work on this Project will bring me back to New Mexico and La Vida Aureo, frequently. I can never fully express my gratitude for everything you folks did for me and I wish you well and hope to see all of you in the not too distant future.
Isabella closed the recording and they all sat quietly for a few minutes without saying anything. It was Paloma who spoke first. “I know we will all miss not having Professor Pearson around, but it sounds like he is about to embark on an important journey. I am confident that his honesty and integrity will prevail and he will present an accurate description of the situation. I will pray for his continued good health and courage.”
“I agree completely,” added Dudley. “I just hope that the politicians will understand and act with honor. My own understanding of the situation is that our Government has a long history of making and then breaking promises and treaties.”
Paloma rose to leave. “Thank you for including me in this conversation, Isabella. I must return to my kitchen. There is much work to be done.”
Isabell and Dudley remained at the table. Dudley rose to leave. “Like Señora Angostura, I also have much work to do.”
Isabella rose and placed her hand on Dudley’s arm. “Look, Doc, I am personally disappointed by this development, but we must be happy for the Professor. We both know that Homeland Security really screwed with him and can never give him back what they took from him. At least this Project will provide him the freedom and opportunity to continue doing what he does best and we can only hope it has some positive impacts.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right, Isabella. I was really looking forward to spending time with him and getting to know him better. I gotta go.”
Dudley had only walked a few steps when Isabella called out, “Doc, I almost forgot. I received another phone call yesterday and I would like your input regarding a couple who might want to live here at La Vida Aureo. Let me tell you a bit about them so you can be thinking about it in the meantime. Their name is Fitzsimmons, Bob and Elaine, and they’re from St. Louis. They’ve been retired for about five years and have been travelling around the country in their RV. I believe he said he had retired from Boeing and she had worked as a bookkeeper all her career. They told me that after several years on the road, they think they may want to settle in one place; I guess they’re just tired of a nomadic life style. I’d like to get your impression of them before I commit to taking them on as Residents.”
“That sounds like a good idea, particularly to get away from St. Louis. I know Winter can often be nasty and the Summers are typically hot and humid! They sound like interesting people and I’d be glad to visit with them and give you my thoughts. Just give me a day or two’s notice so I can make sure I have enough time to spend with them. I wouldn’t want to create a bad impression if they caught me sitting around reading the paper!”
“Right! We have plenty of time before they arrive and I will review our occupancy situation. I’ll get back to you in case there are any maintenance or repair issues to address before someone new moves in. Thanks, Doc. I knew I could count on you. If you haven’t forgotten how to use your smart phone, I’ll send you a text when we’re near the end of our tour of the facility.”
“C’mon, Isabella, I’m trying to become a thoroughly modern kinda guy. I’ll wait for your text.”
Realizing that he had promised Isabella he would be available to talk with the Fitzsimmons, Dudley called her cell phone assuming she would be on a tour of the facilities. “Isabella, I’m sorry. I’m running late. Things at the Dubois casita were a lot more serious than I expected. I’ll need to come back in the morning to make a more permanent repair. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks for calling, Doc, but there’s no rush. The Fitzsimmons had a flat tire along I-25, south near Isleta Casino. They were able to safely get off the highway and onto the Casino grounds where there’s a large RV park to spend the night. The repair service should be there early tomorrow morning and they hope to be here by 10 o’clock to meet with me. I’d appreciate your talking to them afterward and giving them a brief tour of the grounds.”
“Just text me when you want me, Isabella.”
It didn’t take either Isabella or Dudley to reach the same conclusion. The Fitzsimmons were a delightful couple and would be a welcome addition to the La Vida Aureo family. Isabella offered to let them stay in a vacant casita (the one she had been saving for Warren Pearson) for a few days to help them decide if this is the type of place they would like to (eventually) settle.
Elaine Fitzsimmons had worked as a bookkeeper for most of her life and had always managed the family’s finances. She updated the spreadsheet she maintained to analyze their financial situation relative to living at La Vida Aureo. Over a glass of wine that evening, she reviewed her findings with her husband. “Bob, I think we both found this place really nice and believe it could be a wonderful home for us. I just don’t see how we could afford it long-term. Even if we sold the RV, it would put a large hole in our savings and I’m afraid we spend most of our time worrying about every expense.”
“I agree. I made a few back-of-the envelope calculations of my own and reached the same conclusion, unfortunately. Maybe the best thing for us to do is keep looking. We’re still healthy and not really in a huge rush. There are still a number of military installations I want to visit to make contact with all the folks who helped us when I retired. The time we spent recently at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo was really rewarding. I had hoped we could have a similar experience at Kirtland in Albuquerque, but was disappointed. Why don’t we head into Arizona and see what we find? It will give us a chance to stop at Luke near Phoenix and Davis Monthan near Tucson.”
“You’re right, Bob. I could get used to living here, but don’t want to spend the rest of my living worrying about having enough money to last. It would be fun to head to Arizona, but I doubt we’ll find a less expensive situation around Phoenix!”
“You’re right about that! We can see what’s available in southern Arizona. I’ve heard it is significantly less expensive.”
The next afternoon, they met with Isabella Duncan and expressed their doubts about their ability to comfortably afford La Vida Aureo for the rest of their lives. She was gracious and understanding, but suggested they meet with Julian Banks, a local Certified Financial Planner. “I doubt it will change your mind, but he is really good at analyzing things and it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Let me tell you a bit about him so you understand his perspective.”
“Julian was born here in Albuquerque and attended Albuquerque Academy and won a scholarship to Harvard where he studied Economics and Finance. There he became interested in the emerging field of Behavioral Economics and took several courses in Psychology to better understand human behavior, particularly as it affects the way individuals deal with financial and monetary decisions. He returned to Albuquerque to establish a private practice and developed a considerable client base among the City’s wealthier citizens. He then opened a second office in the Barrio section to provide free financial services to less fortunate families. Julian has also worked with a number of the Residents here and I always get positive feedback. Recently, I convinced him to become an Advisor to our Community Assist Team and support their efforts to assist low income families with budgeting, etc.”
“Well, your Mr. Banks sounds like someone we should meet. That is very thoughtful of you Ms. Duncan and we would appreciate his input.”
Later that same afternoon, the Fitzsimmons met with Julian Banks in the Library. He looked over Elaine’s spreadsheet and agreed with her assessment that it would be a serious strain on their finances to move into La Vida Aureo. He suggested they continue looking for alternative arrangements that would allow them “stretch” their finances and live comfortably and relatively stress-free.
The next morning, the Bob and Elaine Fitzsimmons stowed their suitcases in the RV and prepared to depart La Vida Aureo and Albuquerque. “We cannot begin to express how pleasant you’ve made our short time here. We promise to send post cards as we continue our journey. Thank you again.”
Matthew Dudley, Isabella Duncan and Paloma Angostura stood on the front patio and watched the Fitzsimmons drive away. “I wish them well in their new adventure and continuing quest. For us, it has been a very interesting few days, but life at La Vida Aureo goes on.”