A recent trip to a homey pizza place outside of Belen made me remember the little cook stove I helped cook on when Louie and I lived in the little pink house in Rock Springs.
Grandma Howe, nihi’ma (“our mother’) or shi’ma (“my mother”), lived for the summer months in a little blue house with one large room. In the center of the house, directly opposited the door there was a little wood burning stove. It was about three and a half feet long and eighteen inches wide. At the far end there was an opening for the chimney pipe. That went straight up through a hole in the roof. It extended about twenty inches or two feet above the roof on the outside and on winter nights when the boys got too enthused about building up the fire sparks would fly out the top. The stove itself had two holes in the top covered by circular discs with a little notch cut out so you could remove them. These were the cooking surfaces. The front of the stove was fit a rectangular door to stoke the fire through. Underneath there was a catch pan for the ashes. The whole thing sat up about 8 inches off the floor. Underneath it there was a piece of tin to protect the wooden floor from falling embers or sparks This was the same stove and same arrangement I found in the little pizza restaurant and it brought back a flood of memories.
I can’t count the times I went in to see shi’ma in the morning or evening to find her making tortillas beside that little stove. It gets hot to sit close enough to make the tortillas and mom couldn’t stand up for long because of childhood injury to her knee. So I usually took over tending them so she could sit back away from the heat. She would make the tortilla and hand it to me. I would put it on the griddle and watch while it baked. When it was time, I would turn it over. Mom always used her fingers to lift the tortilla and turn it. I soon learned the trick and my fingers got tough enough that even if they brushed the griddle it didn’t hurt. When it had baked on both sides I would take it off and replace it with another one from Mom. We would end up with a huge bowl full of tortillas. Mom would wrap them in a clean flour sack and set them on the table. The warmth of the tortillas wrapped in the cloth made them soft and moist.
When the tortillas were finished she would fry the potatoes in a huge skillet on one circle and roast the green chilies on the empty cooking surface. That was supper: Warm tortillas and fried potatoes with roasted green chili. Okay not a balanced diet, but it fed five hungry teenaged boys, a little girl and mom. And when we were there, Louie and I would share a plate too. Notah just begged off everyone.