My friend J. Paul is 95.
He is surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – and on the table a photograph of his beautiful wife, in younger days. He sowed love and concern in their childhoods and is still reaping love and respect.
Another old friend of mine is 74. He idolizes J. Paul, who taught him as a schoolboy. At a book-signing party a few years ago, in the Mesilla Plaza, I watched generations of former pupils come up to shake Paul's hand. Amazingly, he recognized them.
J. Paul is a gentleman. He is smart, funny, and sweet-natured; but when he stands up for what he believes, he has a spine of steel. As he finished a very full career in education, someone talked him into running for the State Legislature. He resisted initially, then ran, and spent nearly two decades speaking the truth as he saw it so clearly that members of both parties called him “The Conscience of the Legislature.”
Paul was brought up in the country, south of here. After WWII, he and Mary bought an old house in Mesilla. Mesilla was nothing fancy then, just a village. J. Paul was working for NMSU. Anglo co-workers visited the house and warned him that his children would be brought up among Mexicans. Paul politely pointed out that he had been brought up in just such an environment.
The mariachi who sings “Happy Birthday” mentions singing also for Lupe Benavidez's 95th birthday. She is the matriarch of the family that owns Chope's. I recall photographing one of her birthdays. I was eating supper, and one of her daughters drafted me. I was delighted to serve.
Some folks have a quality of time and culture I respect. Their generations intertwine like vines, growing thick and strong with the decades. They did not arrive last year from Michigan.
The room is full of Paul's family and friends. Many are my friends too. I photograph a man in
Watching the genuine joy and affection with which Paul greets all these people from so many moments in his long life, I remember his reunion at that book-signing with a schoolmate who now lived in Hatch. They hadn't seen each other in years. With neither able to drive, they might not get to talk again soon – or ever. I do not see him tonight, and wonder whether they will meet again.
Paul combines love of history with openness to new ideas; Catholic faith with progressive politics; and the wisdom of age with youth-like joy.
Paul's beautiful house in Mesilla is a state monument that will teach generations of children and tourists something of what life was like in a vanished time and place.
One of Paul's daughters said that what mattered most in that house was “the love that abided there.” I see it in Paul's eyes.
|J. Paul contemplates J. Paul|
|Mark contemplates his granddaughter|
|J. Paul and Cynthia Garrett, with J. Paul|
|Images of a loving couple|
|Honors: a letter from the Obamas -- and the bust.|
|Someone's gonna get a piece of cake --|
|-- and someone has other refreshments in mind.|
|Looks like a serious discussion|
|He clearly had fun.|
|He didn't get any cake.|
|And he damned sure didn't!|