Fare Thee Well…Ruthie: We loved you so.

By: Bill Whaley
21 April, 2019

The Qualities of Glue: “What’ll you have Hon?”

On Saturday evening (April 20), I received a phone call from Pauline, saying “Ruthie passed at four o’clock.” Pauline said Ruthie’s kids would be home to visitors this week. After cremation she’d be laid to rest beside her husband at the Veteran’s Cemetery, later, in Santa Fe. Pauline had called earlier in the week to tell me Ruthie was on hospice and I could visit but I missed out.

Pauline Martinez is one of those people in Taos who keeps the news and glues the community together. She calls from time to time to check on her cousin Gene Sanchez. Pauline baby sat for me and Susie when we lived on Valverde St. in the early 70s and used to call me when things got out of hand in the early 2000s. Somebody, Pauline? Called me recently trying to find Wagner’s phone number. She’s the glue that keeps track of the news, one of the neighborhood mayordomas of messages.

If there was a single living principle that glued us all together at La Cocina, especially in the sixties and seventies, it was Ruthie Moya. You’d arrive in a mood, good or bad, maybe returning from the cold world out there, returning from exile, say, tired, cold, and lonely, and she’d say: “What’ll you have Hon?” And you melted inside.

When you walked in the door of La Cocina and smelled the aroma of refried beans, you looked right and saw through the middle of the restaurant into the lounge, even as Ruthie, the familiar figure, embraced you in her hospitable voice, the dark eyes smiling above the prominent cheekbones: “What’ll you Have Hon?”

Nobody gave Ruthie “shit,” not even the Vato Loco. If ever there was a Muse on Taos Plaza, Ruthie embodied the mythic being in human form. She was the glue that held La Cocina together during the days when cross-cultural good times began and ended right there on the Plaza, even during Fiesta when the crowd spilled onto the sidewalk and street. I learned or felt everything good and bad I needed to know in the environs of that cocktail lounge, at the black Formica bar, adjacent to the murals, where the legacy of bonhomie continued on the walls and the music played on…when we weren’t hollering at the TV on Monday night or whispering and wondering if our bar tabs were still open.

The Summer of 2009, the Town promoted a “Summer of 69” festival in memory of the invasion and we held a La Cocina Reunion at Ogelvie’s (Gorge today). Sure enough the Wickhams showed up to play music and the cross-cultural crowd, once-again, filled the bar and restaurant, sitting together the way we used to do forty years prior…and Lewie used to sing, “Why don’t my dog bark when you come round?”

The warmth, the intimacy, the café society of Taos still existed then. You did your business (legal or illegal) on the fly and Ruthie or the bartender carried messages or warnings among friends, La Familia, and whoever happened to show up in the mix. (“Your wife called!”) Whether you were borracho or a dirty hippy, a turista or a traveling salesman, a local or a Native, Ruthie smiled and said, “What’ll you have Hon?”

On the evening of 2009, I sat with Jay, the Black-Anglo Bartender, and Ruthie outside on the Plaza. Forty years disappeared in an instant. Jay, in one sentence, had helped educate this young Anglo about Taos back in 1969, when I asked, “Jay, what’s it like being a black man in Taos?” And Jay said, “Where else in America can I be an Anglo?” He and Ruthie were the best of friends.

In those days, even if you got thrown out for misbehaving, the next night, Ruthie, the world’s greatest cocktail waitress, welcomed you back: “What’ll you have Hon?”