After six wondrous and productive years in San Francisco, I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. During my last few months in the city, I felt a persistent sense of impending doom in my stomach and bones. It seemed to be telling me that if I didn’t go back to the Southwest NOW, something really bad was going to happen… like I was going to get sick or have an accident, or someone was going to die, or some kind of disaster was going to hit that would prevent me from ever going back again. I wrestled with this feeling for a while, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t go away. So I finally just did it: I packed all my stuff in a U-Haul and set out on my own to New Mexico.
At the start of my trip, I stopped in at my Aunt Sally and Uncle Frank's house near Santa Cruz for the night. Aunt Sally’s brother (my Grandpa Richard) used to like to tell us the story of how his father’s family first came to New Mexico. I'd heard him talk about someone named Lucile several times, but never could quite get a handle on who she was, or why exactly he was talking about her. After a breakfast conversation with my aunt and uncle, I finally understood who Lucile was.
Lucile Boyd was the older sister of my great-grandfather Dick Boyd. She was apparently "loads of fun," and Dick loved her dearly. In her late teens/early twenties, Lucile contracted tuberculosis. Her doctor told her that her only hope for survival was to relocate from Sierra Madre, California to New Mexico, a place with a temperate climate and dry air.
After breakfast, Aunt Sally showed me some photos taken in Sierra Madre that seem to have Lucile's handwritten letters on the back of them. One of them, dated October 1913, says: "The Dr. says there is no hope for me if I stay here this winter. He considers the summers here ideal but the winters are too changeable. So we go to New Mexico."
Another says, "Papa and I hope to start for New Mexico next Tuesday for the Dr. says I stand a chance there – but have none here. (...) Dick comes from Antelope [Oregon] today to have a farewell 'chat' with us..."
Finally, a third photo, with only my great-grandfather Dick’s handwriting, says: "Lucile Boyd, Sierra Madre. Died 1913 or 1914."
Lucile was 21 years old when she died. She never made it to New Mexico.
Some years after Lucile's death, Dick also contracted tuberculosis. When his doctors told him that he had six months to live, he didn't waste any time—he hitched it out of California and headed straight to New Mexico. Unlike his sister, he did recuperate, and even met his future wife George — also a TB patient — in the sanatorium where they were both recuperating. After returning to Sierra Madre briefly to collect his herd of horses, he settled in New Mexico, married George, and had two children (my Grandpa Richard and Aunt Sally, whose full name is “Martha Lucile”).
Packing up a U-Haul and driving a couple thousand miles is nothing compared to the trip that Lucile or Dick would have had to make 100 years ago – but it’s still an arduous journey, especially when taken alone and running on fumes. I can’t say for sure, but I like to imagine that my great-grandfather Dick had the same refrain in his mind that I did as he made his journey to the wild, healing lands of New Mexico:
This one’s for you, Lucile.