Because of Community

Guest  post by Meredith Cummings

Community defines who we are, how we live and with whom we share our lives. But there was a time in my life, when I couldn’t wait to escape my community … the community of my childhood. I grew up in what I, at the time, viewed as a dusty, forgotten cowboy town hidden in the remote San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado. (Pictured here)  Over the years, I’d grown a lot and come to appreciate my hometown of Monte Vista … to a point. However, it took an elderly shut-in couple living in my current hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, to help me fully realize the blessings of my youth.

This slow transformation began fifteen years ago when I returned to Monte Vista to visit my parents. I’d been away for several years, but people still knew me; my old boss at the Savings & Loan, my fourth-grade teacher and sisters Helen and Arlene, who worked as cashiers at the Safeway grocery store. One day, while I stood in the checkout line at the store, Helen (or maybe it was Arlene; I always got them confused), asked me where I lived. (My new hometown of NoblesvilIe is pictured here) I answered, expecting a blank stare in return.

“I know where that is!” She exclaimed. “My aunt and uncle, Marian and Louis Ortiz, moved there from Monte Vista in 1960.They go to the Catholic church there.”

Unbelievable. I escaped from one dinky little town to another dinky little town 1,220 miles away only to learn that a family from the original dinky little town lives in my new dinky little town, AND they attend the same parish.

I should have contacted the Ortizes, but I didn’t. I wasn’t ready. I had my own family, my own life. I wasn’t sure I wanted a Monte Vista connection here. I figured I’d eventually meet them, although I’m not sure how I thought I’d know them. Perhaps they’d have a big MV tattooed on their foreheads, or they’d be wearing dusty cowboy hats and boots. Eventually, I forgot about them. But then, last fall, our pastor asked if someone could bring weekly communion to two elderly parishioners … a Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz … I remembered who they were, and I knew that Father’s e-mail was clearly a message to get off my tail and meet them.

Mr. Ortiz is 95. His wife is in her late 80s. Their daughter, Beverly, who moved to Indiana when she was ten, cares for them. The three welcomed me into their home. The Colorado connection helped. “So you’re from the valley,” Mr. Ortiz said with what I’ve learned is his trademark chuckle. “Well, let me tell you some stories.” That was eight months ago.

Mr. Ortiz was born at Seven Mile Plaza, west of town. Did I know it? Of course. My friend, Lisa, lived there. I attended birthday parties at her house. Mr. Ortiz was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s, the Catholic church in town. Today, he can still recite The Lord’s Prayer and most of the Mass in Latin. He joined the Army in the 40s, fought in Europe during World War II and later married Marian. Mr. Ortiz told me their wedding dance was in the armory. I thought he meant the armory east of Monte Vista.

“No, the one that looks like the castle in the center of town,” Mr. Ortiz explained.

“You mean the bar on Washington Street?” I asked.

“Well, it may be a bar now, but back then, it was an armory. German POWs stayed there during the war and worked in the potato fields outside town.” That was news to me.

Over the months, the Ortizes have opened my eyes to many things I didn’t know about Monte Vista. For instance, Mr. Ortiz hauled the bricks for Central Auditorium, where my classmates and I performed in countless plays and band concerts. He helped build the post office, which I always thought smelled funny. He worked at the mountain reservoir, where I used to go snowmobiling with my friend Amy. And there was more. I learned that my brother and I went to school with a few of the Ortiz’s nieces and nephews … the Mansanares kids. My brother even dated one of the Mansanares girls.

During one visit, Mr. Ortiz admitted he quit school after eighth grade so that he could earn money for his family. He hated to leave school and his favorite teacher, Mr. S. (Name changed) “Mr. S. was the nicest man,” Mr. Ortiz said, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Are we talking about the same Mr. S?” I asked. If we were, Mr. S. was my neighbor. In my memory, he was old and cranky. We didn’t dare step on his sidewalk. Ever.

“Mr. S. and I got along real well,” Mr. Ortiz said, grinning. “He was something special.”

Mr. Ortiz’s words made me pause. When I knew Mr. S., he was widowed, lonely and appeared mad at the world. I never realized there was another side to him. There’s a lot I never understood about my town.

Long before I’d met the Ortiz family, I had finally come to appreciate Monte Vista. But now, through this new friendship, I appreciate it even more. I am blessed that the Ortizes have opened their lives to me and taught me about the community we share in Colorado. I also am blessed to share the Catholic community with them.

During each week’s visit, Mr. Ortiz closes his eyes, talks and remembers. After a while, I take out a pyx and spend a few minutes praying and sharing Communion. I wait quietly after the family receives the Host and says their silent prayers. While they share their thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice, I offer a prayer of thanks, as well.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing the Ortiz family into my life. I realize you tried to do this years ago when Helen (or Arlene) first made me aware of the family. I am sorry I didn’t meet this family earlier because in the last few months, they have made a big difference in my life. Originally, I set out upon my pastor’s request to bring the Catholic community to the Ortizes. They, in turn, have opened up my childhood community to me in a way I never expected. I am so very grateful for the blessing of communities and for the Ortiz family. Amen.

  • Sandy C.

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I'm recently back in touch with a few people from the town I escaped–a suburb of St. Louis–and only beginning to appreciate the community of my youth.My daughter is attending college in Anderson and living there this summer. I drive past Noblesville to visit her. I sometimes stop at the Adoration chapel at St. Louis de Montfort in Fishers and for some reason that is what I think of when I read your posts.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Sandy. We have a beautiful Rosary Garden at Our Lady of Grace in Noblesville. I mentioned it in one of my previous blogs. You are always welcome to visit the garden when you come through town. It's behind the church. You walk the rosary as you pray.–Meredith

  • Aunt Lisa

    The San Luis Valley is a treasure; one I didn't know existed until I moved far, far away. I appreciate small town life so much more now that I am an adult and raising my children. I want the folks at the stores and post offices to know their faces; I want them to feel that same sense of community. Now that my parents are gone, I don't have as much of a reason to visit the Valley. I go, infrequently, because there are people who remember my parents…and I learn more about them. As much as that "small town" drove me crazy, I give thanks for the safe and memorable childhood I had in the SLV. I would wish the same for everyone.

  • Aunt Lisa

    I also meant to add—Thank you, Meredith, for reminding me how very fortunate we were. Great post!

  • Anonymous

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. Tina

  • Anonymous

    It was your best post so far!! See God never gives up on us – you were given that opportunity years ago to meet them, but that didn't work out, so he gave you another opportunity and you took it!! You should have no guilt for not doing anything the first time.

  • Anonymous

    Wow Meredith! You are a blessing! Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being in Noblesville. Thank you for your gift of writing so eloquently. Thank you for reconnecting. Thank you for being from Monte. Thank you for your kindness. And Thank you for visiting with Uncle Louis and Aunt Marian. I could go on and on with the Thank Yous. Great Post! Monica

  • Anonymous

    Meredith-This is just beautiful and brings tears to my eyes. So sweet and so well written- and the way you weave in humor is perfect. Thanks for sharing! This is Corri -but not sure how to post my name!

  • Anonymous

    This article warmed my heart. It brought wonderful memories of growing up in the SLV. It reminded me of how important it is to stay in touch/reconnect with family and friends- especially the older generations because they have so much to offer. And if you allow yourself to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while the experience can change your life. Thank you for writing this article. Kim (Mansanares) Lee.

  • Kirt

    Thank you Meredith for this wonderful article. I love my Aunt Marion and Uncle Louie. I have been longing to see my them for some time now. The last time we got to see them was for my Uncle Louis' (Mansanares) funeral in Buckeye, AZ. They travelled thirty-one hours straight from Noblesville to be there. That's just the kind of people they are. Thank you for taking such good care of them! Kirt Mansanares

  • Craig Mansanares

    Thanks Meredith for the amazing post. You made me laugh, and you made me cry. Isn’t it ironic that it takes time and distance to truly appreciate what we once took for granted? Your lovely words and thoughts give praise for the blessings you have received, but give credit where credit is due. You have always been, and continue to be, a blessing for everyone who comes into your life. Thanks for the updates, and give aunt and uncle our love. Bless you. Craig Mansanares