They say the sense of smell is the most prominent of the senses and one that will summon recollections of the past to the forefront with quickness. In the late 50’s a state highway near my home was in the process of being repaved and the smell of tar usually filled the air one summer of my life. Today, the smell of tar (not the most appealing) takes me back to that special summer and memories of my family in a small town called Costilla.
Small town life usually means one grocery store, one gas station, one place of worship, one cemetery and one schoolhouse. In northern New Mexico, the small town of Costilla, once a booming agricultural town in the early 1900’s, whose population had dwindled by the mid 60’s, still housed a high school with students K-12. The elementary school side of it dates back to approximately the late 1930’s where all of the town’s residents, including Questa, Amalia, Garcia and Cerro, nearby communities, attended Costilla High School. Generations of families graduated from CHS, followed by their children, grandchildren and great-grand children.
Progress, so to speak, made its way to Questa, when a molybdenum mine opened up and the town’s population increased with outsiders and the promise of jobs. This meant that Questa’s need for a larger school was in the works. To complete that political picture, Costilla could no longer sustain a high school and the town’s high school’s students would now be attending Questa High some 20 miles south. Costilla Elementary and Junior High remained.
Fast forward to 2016 and that same old schoolhouse, dating back almost 80 years may soon be history and a passing memory of a town once united by basketball games, proms, homecoming, athletes, cheerleaders, scholastic achievements, high school dances, carnivals, Costilla-born and raised teachers and more.
My recollection of that schoolhouse was Movie Friday--which meant the students watched Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies, Elvis movies, Old Yeller, The Wizard of Oz, The Long, Long Trailer or similar general audience movies on Friday afternoons after lunch as an old-fashioned projector and screen brought Hollywood to our little town.
Like clockwork, we watched a movie that made us laugh, cry and taught us of an outside world we could only imagine. For those two hours, we shared a togetherness where grades, economic status and looks did not dictate your calling. As the smell of popcorn at the nearby concession stand filled the air, we were lost in a fantasy world in the “Big Room” as we innocently called it.
Today, due to alleged environmental concerns, that same memory-maker structure is said to be on a near future demolition list and a group of concerned and sentimental professionals and residents aim to stop it.
While one old school house may mean nothing to some, it is a childhood memory for many generations of northern New Mexico Latinos from a small town called Costilla.