“The Old Man’s Love Story” (University of Oklahoma Press) by Rudolfo Anaya weighs in at only 170 pages, but packs a powerful punch with the perennial problem of the loss of a spouse in old age. It starts simply enough with the line, “There was an old man who dwelt in the land of New Mexico, and he lost his wife.” Although we never know the main character’s name, we know his heart implicitly. We follow him through the process of working through his wife’s death and the troubling prospect of starting life over in his twilight years.
But rather than a morbidly depressing novella on the grieving process, Anaya crafts a human comedy starring an Everyman, whose loss compounds the daily challenges of living that are shared when one has a lifelong helpmate. Showering is a maybe; shaving is an impossibility; thinking about asking someone on a date, nerve wracking. The old man converses with his wife’s spirit voice as he works through the meaning of life and love at the various stages of a person’s life, from the vigor of youth through declining age.
Here Anaya takes the personal into the universal realm of the human condition. Patricia, his wife of 44 years, passed away in 2010. As a professor of writing at the University of New Mexico, he worked through her death by penning the semi-autobiographical tale. It is a book that, just like life, will make the reader want to cry his eyes out while laughing hysterically. And like life, it is for the courageous who keep putting one foot in front of the other. Look for the film version of Anaya’s classic novel, “Bless Me Ultima,” released earlier this year.
Try these two New Mexican takes on classic American comfort foods.
Bacon and Salsa Grilled Cheese Sandwich
2 slices hearty white bread
2 slices cooked bacon
2 slices Monterey Jack cheese
1 tablespoon picante sauce or to taste
2 tablespoons butter
Place one slice of bread on plate. Top with 2 slices cheese (you can also use Velveeta or Cheese Whiz), bacon, and drizzle picante on top. Place second slice of bread on top. Butter both sides of bread and place in non-stick skillet. Cook until golden brown on first side, then flip and grill second side. Repeat as needed for number of servings.
Chipotle Cherry Cobbler
1 3/4 pounds pitted fresh sweet cherries or three 10-ounce packages frozen sweet cherries, with juice
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons ground dried chipotle chile
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons almond flour or meal (or equal amount of additional flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter (10 tablespoons)
2 medium eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a shallow baking dish. Mix all filling ingredients in large bowl. Prepare topping in food processor by pulsing first five ingredients. Scatter butter over dry ingredients and pulse again to combine. Add eggs and vanilla and almond extracts. Pulse just to combine.
Stir filling again and pour into baking dish. Scatter topping over filling, leaving a few place untopped. Scatter almonds over topping. Bake 40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
Source: New Mexico Magazine, July 2013.