Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chilili, New Mexico

Idon't know the story of the town of Chilili, and based on the welcome sign—which declares Chilili a self-governing community based on the Chilili Land Grant and asks for no photographs of town, among a long list of nos—I didn't want to stop and ask. Chilili's a town full of photogenically dilapidated buildings, as well as a yard for older yellow school buses and, of course, that sign, and even with only a hundred or so residents it seems that you could spend a few happy hours walking around and watching.

The cemetary is just outside of town. Unlike the town of Chilili, the cemetary has a sign that says visitors are welcome and photos allowed. You can't see the sign from the road, though, so you might spend a few minutes avoiding the Chililians if you don't know you can go in.

It's safe to say that the graves prior to Horace McAfee aren't particularly interesting; the same is true for the graves after his death. They're just crosses and rounded stones.

McAfee's, though, are special. You can identify them both by style and by the large "Made by H. McAfee" sign on each one. The text on the grave markers is a tin sheet pounded with a nail, often on a cement base. The metallic rails often describe the coffin aboveground.

As I watch, lizards scuttle across, around, and over McAfee's graves. Did he plan for this? But this is true of the newer graves as well.

A regret: If only I had asked someone for McAfee's story, to disclose his motivation beyond the religious conviction spelled out on the larger tin sheets. Some of the more recent graves are now mounds rather than pits, without true markers, markers that will last. This could have been true in McAfee's day as well, and he has been dead 50 years. Are the people too poor for proper graves? Was this McAfee's way of enriching his people? The answers lie with him, here, in Chilili.


Anonymous said...

my family is from chilili and i have many of my family members buried in the cemetary,I recall having mass said in the little churc there and then driving down the road to bury our dead. our uncles would come the day before and the neighour would all help dig the grave and the men would get drunk and tell stories of the dear departed. i hae five uncles next to one another aunt and varipus ousins and several. i have so much more to rite but another time grandmothers. my uncle charlie would ring the church bell for all occasions but also for when there was a death,

Denise Griego de Angel said...

My mother was born in Chilili and when I was a child we would travel from Los Angeles to visit family and our ancestors in the cemetery. She would always show me the house she was born in, and it was sad to see it crumble into a pile of rubble over the years. I live in Albuquerque now.