FROM THERE TO ETERNITY: ALZHEIMER’S AND BEYOND by F. Harlan Flint, Sunstone Press, 133 pages, $26.95
From There to Eternity: Alzheimer’s and Beyond is about three elderly people, two of whom pass away, leaving the author to ruminate about their lives — and deaths.
The author, Harlan Flint, is a long-time Santa Fean. Like many prosperous businessmen of his generation, he has a cabin in the mountains. Unlike many of his colleagues, he and his wife, Chris, built it themselves. They were assisted by a neighbor in their mountain valley near the Colorado-New Mexico border, Baudelio García. Harlan, Chris, and Baudelio are the main characters in the book.
While the author was studying law at the University of New Mexico, he and Chris met at the Triangle Bar, an infamous student hangout in the 1950s. Chris was teaching junior high school in Albuquerque. They married in 1956 and soon moved to Santa Fe. After working as general counsel at the Office of the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission, he became an oil company executive, temporarily moving away from New Mexico. He and Chris raised three children: Tina is a U.S. senator from Minnesota; Harlan is an investment advisor in Santa Fe; and Mason, who lives in Seattle, is retired from Microsoft.
Around 2010, the slow but inevitable process of Chris’ Alzheimer’s Disease began. As always, it seemed benign at first: missing keys, stories repeated too many times. As always, it progressed to panic when left alone, anger at losing things like her driver’s license. She remembered things that never happened, forgot what had happened five minutes earlier. Her character faded away. She died while her body lived on.
In 2016, when Harlan was no longer able to care for her, the family put Chris in a “memory care” facility in Santa Fe.
She fiercely wanted to go home, probably thinking in her tortured way that her mind would clear when she was in a familiar place. She stole a phone from a health worker and called Harlan to come get her. He promised he would, tomorrow, which never came to pass.
The medical community did the Flints no favors. Harlan was told he couldn’t visit her while she adapted to institutional life. She never did and in isolation became angry and aggressive. Santa Fe caregivers could not manage her, and she was transferred to an Albuquerque psychiatric clinic for “intensive treatment.” There was a fall, trips to the emergency room. The doctors convinced Harlan to have a pacemaker implanted, which he writes was “an unnecessary insult” to her weak body and mind.
Her health declined, and she died while in an Albuquerque hospice in the autumn of 2016.
Chris’ ashes now rest near the Flints’ mountain cabin on the Los Pinos River, in an old cemetery where hers is likely the only Anglo grave.
Life goes on for Harlan. He enjoys time with his children and six grandchildren. He has a partner, Lynn Day, with whom he travels to his cabin on the Río de los Pinos.
The Flints’ is one of a string of vacation cabins along the fishing stream, in an area made exclusive by bad roads and long distance from cities. The area, once a summer home for Utes and other tribes, was settled by New Mexico farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cisneros, García, López, Ruybalid, Tafoya, Quintana, and Duran families were some of those who populated Santa Rita, raising cattle. They irrigated hayfields and kitchen gardens with the acequias they constructed.
Baudelio was one of the few remaining settlers of the Los Pinos valley. He ran a few head of cattle, kept up the acequias, and maintained roads for the summer residents. He worked hard, even in his mid-70s, fixing fences, repairing ancient machinery, shoring up the acequias.
Baudelio lost his wife, Arlene, in 2012. Over the years, he and Harlan spent many hours together in the warm weather, making repairs, fighting nature’s encroachment, as well as sharing stories and an occasional frío on the porch.
It was an unlikely friendship: a businessman from the city and a descendant of the valley’s first colonists. Baudelio talked, and Harlan listened to stories about the old days in the valley. They shared work and quiet, relaxed moments.
When Baudelio died of a stroke in 2018, Harlan gave his eulogy to 200 attendees at an Asemblea de Díos church near the tiny Colorado town of Capulín. There are no surviving siblings from a family of 12 children that grew up on the Río de Los Pinos.
Baudelio’s death was not as torturous as Chris’ long decline, but it leaves a great hole. He was the last farmer at Santa Rita, closing 125 years of Hispanic settlement. No longer will anyone tell stories about long-dead Riteños or who farmed which fields. No one will remember the quirks of the local acequia system: where spring runoff is most likely to burst ditch banks, where the hayfields need a little extra water during a summer drought.
The last time Harlan saw Baudelio, the old rancher was walking an acequia bank, carrying a shovel on his shoulder. He foresaw his friend’s death — and the death of an old way of life.
The book’s passages about Santa Rita contain some of the author’s strongest work. This is his third book published by Sunstone Press. If Harlan Flint continues writing, another book about the abandoned villages of the Los Pinos valley would be welcome.