I have been to the house with the haunted hospital. The hospital is gone now. I found out that it was demolished years ago. When they entered the abandoned facility, they found things we shouldn’t talk about here, but I will. It was an abortion clinic. There were fetuses in jars. They were very, very old. The story has expanded in my mind now, from the creepy curiosity I had as a child to a outright horror story. I see an illegal abortion clinic in a small desert town in the 1930s, with city folk from Albuquerque and Denver taking in the drive south and east into the Manzano mountains. The Shaffer Hotel provides hospitality and native decor, with its Pueblo Indian symbols inscribed on the facade, and the chandeliers, beams and posts in the saloon decorated with carvings in maroon, turquoise, white and navy. Men wait with grim faces as they toss back whiskey and gin, while two blocks down, their girlfriends face the horror of having their insides vacuumed clear of the unwanted life their illicit love created. I see the raid – panicked doctors and nurses in white dresses and caps scurrying around in their padded shoes, frightened patients in recovery, or even worse,under the knife with uncompleted procedures, the arrests and the quiet rumors that spread throughout the region about the clinic that was shut down in Mountainair. There’s more story in there I’ll have to dig out one day. Maybe it was shut down in the `60s, I don’t know. But this version is pretty vivid in my mind, so maybe it will end up in a story like I see it.
When I was a child, the Shaffer had been abandoned for years. My brother and his friends found a way in in the back of the building, through a broken window. He shared his discovery with me, and we crept through its dusty rooms, books thrown to the floor, the stairway to the second floor too broken for us to risk a climb. A wooden throne-like chair with three seats curving outward sat near the fireplace, and we played that we were king and queen. The sunlight coming through the high windows in the saloon made the dust we had kicked up dance like a million fireflies, and we gazed in awe at the designs and symbols on the ceiling. The day we moved out of Mountainair, my brother decided to make a farewell visit to the Shaffer. That was the day he was caught. My dad was carrying out the couch with a friend when the patrol car pulled up, and my nine-year-old brother was escorted by the police to my parents for the first time. I was playing on the porch and my stomach sank to the floor when I saw him. When I found out why he had been “arrested”, I nearly danced with glee that I hadn’t been along that time. My glee was uncalled for, and in the end it spelled my doom. My parents asked me if I’d ever been there, and my face gave me away instantly. Unbeknownst to me, my sister had also committed the crime, for which our punishment was going to old man Shaffer’s to apologize. We ended our time in Mountainair in disgrace.
On our visit to Mountainair last week, my father, my sister, her kids, me and mine had lunch at the Shaffer. The saloon is now a diner that serves some pretty darn good New Mexican fare, and a fantastic peach pie. After lunch, my kids and I took the two-block walk down to our old house, which now has a chain link fence instead of the red wood fence that was almost as tall as my dad. The house is now painted the ubiquitous New Mexico adobe beige-ish pink, instead of white with blue trim. The lady who lives there let me show my kids around. Many things had changed. I had changed the most. The living room was tiny. Even in the photographs I have of it, I still see it as large. My son is eight, and he saw it through those smaller eyes. The kitchen and bathroom have been remodeled, and my attic bedroom is no longer accessible. The dormer window has been replaced with just a flat roof. But other things were exactly the same – the pantry I used to sneak Ritz crackers and Rolaids from; the dish cabinet in the hallway with painted-over latches that keep the doors from closing properly, the closet where my brother hid with the babysitter, doing who knows what. I collected the memories that were hiding in the closets.
Mountainair is a different place now, an artist haven, a southwestern retreat, almost cool. The old grocery store has a beautiful mosaic on the outside of the front wall, and murals have been painted here and there. There are still vestiges of the red-neck ranchers and low-riders, and it is even more of a haven for drug dealers now then it was. But the abandoned hospital is gone, and the Shaffer is now a tourist destination. Somehow, knowing that it has changed feels right. There is life there. A ghost town is a good place to be a child. But the life that has been injected comes from the creative souls that have seen the beauty of the place. It reflects my own journey. And going back settled something inside me.