Matilda’s of Espanola, New Mexico

My grandmother’s name was Anna Matilda. She was first generation American and Swedish. Today I met the second person by that name…the second in all my life. It is kind of a long story but I need to tell.

Last year while we were in the desert I read “The Milagro Beanfield Wars” by John Nichols. I really liked this book and I will read it again. Once is just not enough. Our friends from Albuquerque told me that it was written about a little community north of Santa Fe called Espanola. Espanola used to be a small little community where people of Mexican descent have lived for probably hundreds of years. Today it sprawls on for several miles and probably had several thousand people living in or near the town.

So today, when my husband and I were driving up to Taos for a day of being tourists, we passed through Espanola. I happened to catch the name of a restaurant out of the corner of my eye. “Matilda’s” it said and the building set off of what is the main highway now was around a corner on a dirt road. “Turn here” I shouted, “turn right!” My husband is accustomed to these commands from a person that was sound asleep only seconds before. “Pull in here. We need a cup of coffee”. Doubtful, leery, uncertain…he just climbed from the car that we parked next to what was once a motor court. I began clicking pictures and sent him inside to order coffee for me.

We sat at a counter in an immaculate all be it old restaurant. The aroma of freshly made tortillas and pesole hung in the air. Preparations for lunch were underway in the large kitchen and the owner was brewing us a fresh pot of coffee. She had owned this restaurant business for 51 years and had been in this location for 28. Her grandchildren were having grandchildren. She showed me the pictures of the latest; Ysabel, Marisol and on and on. They were beautiful and she was so proud.

But then it occurred to me that her name must be Matilda, Matilda Guillan as it turned out. She spoke Spanish to her helper in the kitchen. They served red or green chili, beans, pesole, and rice. She was 82 and had no intentions of ever stopping. She said simply, “If I quit I will just stay at home. Why would I do that?”

Her little community is growing by leaps and bounds, the dirt road she lives on will be gone some day. The Big Rock Casino and Bowling Alley up the road and the Let Make a Deal Beauty Salon are leading the way for new business in Espanol. I maybe should have shut my eyes after I left “Matilda’s” and gone away with it’s image unblurred by the rush too modern times. “Matilda’s” was worthy of a setting in a famous book and I was there!

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2 thoughts on “Matilda’s of Espanola, New Mexico

  1. I think this is coming across as Andy’s name, but everything I’m seeing is in Thai right now! You should write that famous book with the Matilda setting starring Richard Campiglio. This reminds me of the picture turned painting from Yanbu where a Saudi man was painted in front of a storefront by John Bourne many years ago… and recognized 10 years later by his son… it’s about the connections!

  2. I grew up on Matilda’s as I was born and lived in the adjoining community of Santa Cruz back in 1976. Thanks for the post, it brought some great memories for me, although I cannot much elaborate on your description except for say the sopapilla’s with honey. Great find.

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