When Dorothy suggested that we travel on the Rail Runner to Belen, New Mexico, little
did I dream that I’d be journeying from the past to the future or that going to Belen would become a metaphor for my adoptee rehabilitation.
“Belen,” in Spanish, means “Bethlehem.” An interesting name, but what was there to do in the town of 7,000 thousand inhabitants? Dorothy, my adventurous and intellectually curious friend, said she’d always wanted to visit the town’s Harvey House Museum, a link to New Mexico’s railroad history. That was enough of a reason, and we boarded the commuter train on a recent Saturday morning.
As we rumbled south on the observation deck of the train, I confessed to Dorothy that I had wondered about “Belen,” New Mexico for a very long time. In my 40 years of living in the state capital, some 95 miles to the north of Belen, I had always bypassed the town. To me, it was just a dot on the TV weather map.
Arriving in early afternoon, we walked directly to the museum. Fred Harvey Houses were built by an enterprising Englishman, Fred Harvey, who immigrated to this country when he was 15 years old. He started out working in restaurants in New York but after the Civil War moved west. He worked for the railroads for 20 years, and then established the famous eating houses.
The Belen Harvey House, one of more than a dozen such establishments in New Mexico, was built in 1910 and operated until 1939. Reputedly the most elegant of any in the west, it incorporated a “first-class dining room which featured an extensive menu and fine linen, crystal and silver.” It served patrons of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
As Dorothy and I wandered about the two-story relic from the railroad’s heyday, we
marveled at the life of the Harvey Girls. They were wore long black and white uniforms and were assigned austere dormitory-style bedrooms in the floor above the lunchroom. Chaperones kept a close watch over these young women. They were trained to be always friendly, efficient and impeccably groomed. Dating other employees or railroad men was discouraged.
After spending a couple hours at the Harvey House Museum, Dorothy and I went to lunch at Paul’s Restaurant, apparently “the” place to eat in Belen. The Mexican fare was delicious and surprisingly affordable. After a full meal and a second helping of chips and salsa , we still had hours before the train back to Santa Fe.
Nothing to do but wander about. Suddenly we noticed that the buildings looked oddly like a town in the 70s. When we saw workers plastering and painting on the hot, dusty, car-free streets, we suddenly realized that we WERE IN A MOVIE SET. One of the crew told us that the upcoming science fiction movie, to star Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman, was titled “Transcendence.”
The name resonated with me; Ever since publishing my diaries as The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption, the “adoption recovery” that I documented has increasingly become a reality. As we left Belen and took the train north back to Santa Fe, I felt grateful that life is full of opportunities to transcend the shackles of the past and to start living in the present.