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Annie Chavez

Our mom was born Annie Chavez on June 17, 1932 in Fort Stanton, New Mexico.
She died June 23rd, 1992, one week after turning a young sixty years of age from
stomach cancer in Farmington, New Mexico.
During her life she was the first woman, in San Juan County, to have her tamales
sold in the freezer section of a grocery store. After her death many of her friends
petitioned our State to create a day for her, so on December 21 st, 1992, here in San
Juan County, it became Annie Chavez Day. She was honored because she was
loved, not just by her children and grandchildren, but by other relatives and many,
many friends. She was a wonderful woman who gave so much of her time, freely,
to all who crossed her path. For a brief time she was a proud Teacher Aid at
Farmington High School. Her favorite class was Detention Class because she
understood that when children had to go into her class, they were there for a
reason. They, and most likely their families, were in crisis. Never the less she
welcomed those children with open arms, never judging, just there to listen and
give hugs when needed, and yes many times with loving sternness. By the time her
cancer was detected and became severe, she was employed at the shelter for the
homeless in Farmington, which she also loved.
To the best of our recollection, this is the story she told me and my
siblings, about what she and her family went through on July 16, 1945,
when the first atomic bomb was tested near Carrizozo...
It was early in the morning, Id say a bit after five. The sun hadnt come up over
the mountain when mom woke me. In those days, we got up early to do chores. It
didnt matter that it was summer. Id rather get up and do what I had to do, so that
I could have fun the rest of my day. Your grandma Louisa had already been up and
started the stove but was outside getting wood. Because of bears, my dad made
sure that plenty of wood was always stacked right outside the door, and so the door
was open and I could see her putting it in her arms. I had to go to the bathroom so I
was trying to hurry. All of the sudden, we heard a BOOM. Then a few minutes later,
the floor started rocking and rolling, like a ball under my feet. It knocked me to the
floor. Mom fell too, but when I tried to get to her to help her she yelled for me to
get Marcie. With my sister in my arms, we both fell and started rolling around the
floor hitting the legs of the table. I tried to protect her as much as I could because
she was flacka. Too thin! Mom stumbled to her feet and started yelling at us to get
our rosaries. She yelled for us to pray that our sins be forgiven and that we go to
God. I couldnt stand, let alone kneel. I thought if we werent swallowed up by the
ground, then the walls would tumble down on us. And yes, by the time the rolling
had stopped, some of our walls had begun to crumble, and a couple of windows
broke. Marcie kept crying and wouldnt stop, which made me cry, but we were
scared. The most scared we had ever been.
Then my mom said see, its Jesus, in the cloud, and when I looked out the door,
there was the brightest cloud Id ever seen. It lit up our whole casita. Your grandma
yelled; dont look, just pray, so we did. Well Im sorry but I was too curious and
every chance I had, I took a peek out of my squinted eyes. But hell, I was scared to
death and then this thought crossed my mind; I started my period so I wondered if
that was a sin against God and thats why we werent going up with the cloud. Mom
kept praying and in between her breaths I could hear her begging God to forgive all

her sins and the sins of all her children. Then the light turned dark and mom kept
asking God not to leave us, but to take us. She was crying because she thought we
had missed going to heaven and from that day on, daily, she prayed many rosaries
and began her own pilgrimage by walking to church daily. Poor mom, she felt like
she had done something wrong and was the worst sinner in the world. I too felt like
I was a bad person.
I dont remember how long we stayed on our knees, and in the house, but it seemed
forever. Then it started to snow, but in July? But here in our land, we had seen it
rain when the sun was shining so we just assumed it could snow, but the flakes
were dry. When we figured out it was ash, we assumed a volcano had erupted by
Carrizozo. We dusted things off and tried to go back to normal, but still couldnt
sleep. We tried but it was hard and mom and dad would alternate their sleep. One
would sleep, while the other stayed awake.
We eventually had to go outside for food and water and to use the outhouse. The
ash was everywhere and it was hard for us to breathe, so mom made us wear
scarves over our nose and mouth.
The water in the creek had a covering of dirty ash, so we pushed the ash back and
drank the good underneath. Everything was dying. Plants and animals like cows,
chickens, bears, deer, and fish too. My dad didnt have to go hunting and the fish
were floating so we just took what was either dying or dead, to eat. We washed
them off as well as we could. Ha, it was the easiest time wed ever had to catch
fish, and for your grandpa Ben to hunt too. He was a dairyman and brought us milk
because it took a long time for the water to clear. Because the water had the ash,
the garden we had planted wasnt getting enough good water, so we had to pull up
what vegetables we could, and pluck some fruit from the trees and eat them before
they got bad.
From the neighbors, we heard many stories. One neighbor who couldnt speak
English well, said; a volcano threw up.
Then the weather and our days got better. We lived on. It wasnt until a year or two
later that we heard the truth; A bomb had been tested by Carrizozo. Damn idiots
didnt even have the courage to tell us before they did it. I guess that bomb is the
reason I cant sleep without a light on or you kids by my side.
Both she and her youngest sister Marcie were the only two children living
in their casita in Capitan, when the atomic bomb was tested at Trinity Site.
Both have died from cancer.
Even up to her death she didnt realize she had been exposed to extremely high
levels of radiation, nor did we, her children. During her marriage to our dad, she
endured five miscarriages, with eight living births. There are six of us still living.

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