In 1984, on the edge of Highway 518, my family lived in a bright blue building with neon yellow letters looping across the front to announce its name: Snack Shack. Tourists whipped by, winding up the pass to Taos for skiing, and locals took the low road to Peñasco, a town of roughly one thousand people at the base of 10,000 foot peaks.
My parents paid $15 a month for rent.
The Snack Shack was what remained of an old set for the 1977 motorcycle movie, Sidewinder. The film crew had slapped paint on an old, crumbling structure that was half adobe and half cinder blocks. It hadn’t been lived in for decades. The Snack Shack had one main room with one shared bed and a woodstove. There were two other tiny rooms, but one had partially cratered into a mess of bricks. The usable side room was our kitchen. My dad ran a gas line out of the wall and connected it to a small propane tank which fueled our two burner stove. He hauled water from neighbors’ houses and stored it in jugs. We had an outhouse down by the acequia, but no way to bathe. Sometimes we took bucket baths, but mostly we relied on once-a-week trips to our neighbor Richard’s house. He lived two miles down a dirt road on the edge of a forest. My earliest memory is of the colorful imitation wicker basket filled with clean towels. Bath day.
Richard’s one-bedroom house was a work in progress: exposed sheetrock walls and particle board floors. The house was insulated, though, with double pane windows. His wood stove outsized ours, too. But best of all, Richard had a tub. My sister and I bathed together, staying in the water even as it got cold and our fingers puckered. We protested when my dad pulled us from the dirty water and bundled us up in towels.
We lived in the Snack Shack for three years. We might have lived there for many years more, but Richard, wild on days of insomnia and a mix of prescription medication and psychedelics, mistook a fisherman for a bear and killed him. When he went to prison, my family moved into his house, rent free. My sister and I, too young to know why we moved into his house, were ecstatic. We had a bedroom! (My parents slept in the living room) We got bunk beds! We had ninety-nine acres of land to explore. And best of all, we got to take baths…