Taos County, New Mexico
Amarante and Tina Trujillo

Life's work pulled them away, but home tugged at their hearts
By Kathy Cordova, For The Taos News

Like many Taoseños, Tina and Amarante Trujillo, left their hometown. But they could never stay away for long -- the lure of family and tradition was too strong.

From the 1930s until the 1950s, many Taos-area residents were forced to leave their homes for extended periods of time in order to seek employment. Some of them returned and left again. Others stayed away until it became time to retire. Some never returned, settling in Colorado, California, Wyoming and other areas of the country.

Amarante, born June 28, 1919, to Maria de la Luz (Ortiz) and Encarnacion Trujillo, was the seventh of 12 children. At the time, home births prevailed, so Amarante was brought into the world in his parents' home in Talpa.

The family's roots extend back to great-grandfather Pedro Trujillo in Quemado near Chimayo, but subsequent generations moved nearer to Taos. Maria de la Luz and Encarnacion's children thrived in the Talpa area. They played, attended school and milked cows -- activities of many children their age. When asked about his most memorable playtime activity, Trujillo is quick to reply: "basketball." But in his time, the game was played on outdoor, not indoor, courts.

The Trujillo youngsters in birth order were: Pablita (Felipe) Martínez, (the late) Felipe (Fortunate) Trujillo, Felix Trujillo, Facundo (Clorinda) Trujillo, Max (Juanita) Trujillo, Amarante (Augustine) Trujillo, (the late) Guillermo (Matilde) Trujillo, and Alfred (Pauline) Trujillo.

During this time, the infant-mortality rate was high, so tragedy stuck the Trujillo family as it did many others. Four little ones in the household died in their early years -- Daniel, Benito, Eleuto and Telesfor.

In Amarante's youth, schooling opportunities differed from those of today. He attended school at Talpa Elementary until the eighth grade, as was the norm of the day.

Tina Trujillo's birthplace of Llano Quemado, April 14, 1924, remained her home until her marriage to Amarante. Her mother, Sylveria Romero, gave birth to five children. Tina was the third of that group. Her childhood included schooling until the eighth grade at St. Francis Catholic School.

"We didn't work outside like some of our classmates," she said. "But there was housework. We didn't have mops. We scrubbed the floors on our knees."

She also watched her mother cook, although the kitchen clearly remained the matriarch's domain. Tina remembers her childhood toys of balls made from rags. All the children took turns kicking these homemade creations.

Both Tina and Amarante recall a favorite children's game -- "Pon." It served as the original game of chance. A six-sided wooden spinning top with specific commands serves as the game piece. Each of the sides states a specific message -- "pon uno, pon dos, todos ponen, saca uno, saca dos, saca todo." Translated, this means: "Put one, put two, everyone puts, take one, take two, take all." Players follow the command on which the top lands. Each set of players used different items as rewards -- money, marbles, etc.

Tina's brothers and sisters include: (the late) Bersabe (Epifanio) Garcia; (the late) Margarita (Benito) Garcia; Augustina (Amarante) Trujillo; (the late) Alberto Romero; and Matilde (Guillermo) Trujillo.

Marriage in her family remains unique as two sets of sisters (set one, Bersabe and Margarita; set two, Augustina and Matilde) married two sets of brothers (set one, Epifanio and Benito; set two, Amarante and Guillermo).

In order to find employment, young Amarante left town to seek work. For 13 months he lived in Deming as an employee of the WPA's Work Conservation Corps. This project sought to help the country recover from the negative economic effects of the Great Depression by providing employment. Young Amarante helped build dikes to protect the area from erosion. His return home held a pleasant surprise for him.

One of the great entertainments of the day centered on church celebrations. Both Tina and Amarante attended the función (festival) dance at the chapel in Talpa, which they both say "was the place where everyone would go to meet." They shared something in common even before they met -- a cousin named Julia Romero from Capulin, Colo. They laugh about this link today, for the couple is not blood related.

"Thank God," Amarante said. He adds that he's grateful that the mutual cousin introduced them. "For me, it was love at first sight."

Tina knew that there were many Trujillo brothers. Also, she was only 14 years old and wasn't allowed to date. That didn't stop the couple from dancing, though.

Nineteen-year-old Amarante was smitten and wanted to see this young woman again. On horseback, he rode to the Ranchos de Taos Post Office as often as possible to meet Tina.

"That was our date," said his wife, laughing.

This informal meeting continued for a couple of years. Tina professed a fear of horses and refused to ride with Amarante, so sometimes he walked to meet her. He would part company near her Llano Quemado home.

Eventually, they decided to become more public about their wish to date. Tina broached the subject with her mother, who replied, "He must come here to the house to ask permission," the typical rule of the day for young courting couples. Amarante complied and they were allowed to go to the movies. An unusual occurrence forced a change in this routine. On a cold winter night, the couple went on a date, this time in a pickup truck. "The safety plug froze," explains Amarante, "only we didn't know what was wrong at the time." The couple stayed in the truck for several hours until Amarante decided to walk to town for help. Tina walked the rest of the way home by herself.

"My mom and stepfather (Marcelino Gonzales) were really teed off," reveals Tina.

Soon after, the couple decided to follow their hearts, and planned their wedding. The marriage occurred on Nov. 11, 1938, during the church Advent season. Fr. José Garcia performed the ceremony 63 years ago.

"When I moved to Taos, the first thing that happened was that everyone started calling me Tina instead of Augustina," she said.

All those years of watching her mother cook finally paid off, for the new bride delighted her husband, and later the family, with her tortillas, bread, beans and other food. Shortly thereafter, the couple made their first move in search of job opportunities. They moved to Sargent, Colo., for farm work. Amarante drove a tractor in the potato fields. Tina moved back to Taos when she became pregnant with her son, Danny.

Other children followed. In birth order they are: Velva (Maurice) Gonzales, Virginia (Tomás) Salazar, Ernesto, Herman (Gloria) Trujillo, Alonzo Trujillo, Elaine (Antonio) Trujillo, Michelle Trujillo and Johnny Trujillo. Most of the time, Tina remained a stay-at-home mom, moving with her husband whenever feasible.

Over the years, the couple would move to Garo, Colo., for six months of work in the sheep camps; to Two Bars, a Wyoming sheep ranch; to sheep yards in California; to Tolan, Colo.; to Rock Springs, Wyo., where Amarante worked for almost five years in the coal mines. He also had stints with the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Nevada and other states as an "extra," a member of the steel gang. This job consisted of spiking, operating a machine to pull the spikes, working with ties, laying rails.

The war meant more employment for Amarante -- and more time away from home. One of Tina's most vivid memories was a bus trip to Denver with son, Danny, who became sick to his stomach.

"I had Velva in my arms, Danny was sick and a soldier and his girlfriend helped me," she recalls.

Another vivid memory includes the couple's one-year stint in Leadville, Colo.

"At that time, Danny was the only grandson in the Trujillo family. He was very spoiled by everyone, but most of all by his Uncle Felix. He became so homesick that we had to come back to Taos," said Tina.

The career by which Taoseños knew Amarante best was the partnership creating cabinets and furniture with his brother, Facundo. The shop located on Pueblo Road also served as the site of the original Vargas Company and the current Que Pasa Records and The Trader.

The brothers learned the craft from vocational teacher Max Luna. When Facundo took a teaching job, Amarante couldn't continue alone, so he closed shop. Both brothers eventually followed a series of teaching jobs, and Amarante's path led him to Ojo Caliente and Peñasco. Then, he moved to Albuquerque to study and obtain a contractor's license.

At various times, Tina returned to work at the hospital and then as a cook at the A&W and the Red Arrow.

Then, tragedy struck. Sylveria Romero Gonzales passed away at the Embudo Hospital.

"I had a very hard time. That's when Amarante and I decided never to leave home again."

Coming home included exciting opportunities for both. Amarante built several houses (including FHA), a section of the Ranchos School, and did roofing projects. Tina found her niche as the bailiff at District Court for 15 years.

"That job pretty much disqualifies me as a juror," she said with a laugh.

In 1982, Amarante retired to the shop at his home to carve the cedar santos of his culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Jude are his favorite subjects. But he stresses that he allows the wood to dictate his subject. Tina has busied herself crocheting and proudly notes that each grandchild owns one of her creations.

Travel to Mexico offered the couple an opportunity to see new places. They had a "good time" in Acapulco, Guadalajara and Mexico City, and a week-long visit to Ixtapa served as a 40th anniversary gift from a grandson.

Church activities occupy the couple's time. Tina joined the Guadalupanas 13 years ago. Amarante became a Peregrino six years ago. Tina serves as a Spanish and English rector in her home parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe; Amarante serves the parish through activities of the Holy Name Society. Twenty-one grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren provide much joy for the couple. They also enjoy frequent visits from their children.

Even though life is still a joy for them, tragedy marred their idyllic existence with the death of their first child, Gregorio Daniel. Sept. 21 of this year marked the first anniversary of his death.

Retirement activities, family, church and many friends -- the Trujillos have it all.

The return to their permanent home has brought the couple to the place of their heart -- Taos, New Mexico.

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© Karen Mitchell