RED RIVER – Life in Red River was different back when the Brandenburg sisters were growing-up, especially before Red River and Powder Puff ski areas came in. The girls would play outside year round and play on trikes in the snow before their lives and marriage took them to Raton, Clovis and Eagle Nest.
The Brandenburg daughters, Kathy (Kat) Vukonich of Raton , Cokie Dickinson of Clovis and Pam Kite of Eagle Nest,spent most of Thursday’s (Oct. 2) Red River Historical Society lecture talking about their memories and laughing with each other. Cokie started with her descriptions of life in Red River as a child in the fifties and sixties and soon her sisters were braiding their stories in and around each other with Rosie’s voice of authority coming in to punctuate moments.
The girls spent their early school years shuffling between Red River, Raton and Trinidad, Colorado. By the time the two youngest, Cokie and Pam, were school-aged the family moved to Raton for the school year, pulling out a week or two early so that they could get the family grocery store, Johnny’s Store, ready for the summer crowds. Kat attended Trinidad Catholic school for first grade and came back to Red River and attended the molybdenum mine elementary school for second grade with her younger brother JD. At the “moly” school, it was a one room school house and each grade had its own row.
“For music the little kids sat with the big kids and that was special,” Kat said.
After a few years at the moly school the kids attended Saint Patrick’s Catholic School in Raton. Kat and Cokie stayed at the local convent and JD stayed with family, and by the time Pam attended school the whole family moved to Raton for the school year.
For Cokie, enjoyed convent life but it had its challenges. “One day I polished my shoes and you know how the old shoe polish had the little ball on the end that pop out? It splattered everywhere. Well, I was scared to death I was going to be in trouble. But every morning the nun would come to the door and she would clap her hands and up we’d have to get for five in the morning mass. Well, I just thought that was ridiculous. They ended up thinking that all those spots on my bedspread were from a bloody nose. I let ‘em believe it. After that they came in and quietly woke every girl and then they’d get dressed and they’d let me sleep. I never went to Mass at five again. Then I’d go downstairs where the cookies were being made in the kitchen.”
Johnny Brandenburg, Rosie’s husband, the father of the kids and a third generation New Mexican, stayed in the family business of groceries, but to support the family while in Raton, he became an insurance agent with Paul Arthur’s agency. Later he became and independent agent and opened an office in Taos.
The sisters remembered summers in Red River were idyllic. The kids went out the door in the morning and weren’t expected back until dinner. After dinner they’d do the bunny hop out one door and in another, do the hokie pokie at the Community House and try to get in on the square dances, which as Cokie remembers “was frowned on.”
Kat talked about dances at Red River Ski Area and “‘woodsies’ (campfires) up Mallette (Canyon), sponsored by the horse stables complete with guitars and singing.”
Kat was one of the first gunfight girls at Frye’s Old Town along with Mona Frye, times she described as “really fun good years.”
Pam talked about remembering horses and horse stables with Cokie. They’d get on the horses before work and make forts in the mountains. They picked raspberries in August. Rosie pointed out that JD especially liked fishing.
The kids went to the movie theater in the Woerndle’s Alpine Lodge, but Rosie insisted that they take Pam, who was youngest by about three years. Apparently she was a handful. Once a cat jumped out from behind the curtain and Pam started screaming, she liked to sit on her knees and one time got her feet stuck because of it, and screamed. Pam even got a popsicle stick stuck sideways in her mouth and JD had to take her to the concession stand to get it cut out.
The Brandenburg kids worked as hard as they played. JD and Kat worked at the grocery store, where JD became infatuated by the university boys who would work at the grocery and live between the family’s house and the grocery store in bunks. According to Rosie, JD learned how to drive from the university boys and when Johnny found out he made him drive their truck with the old boxes and crates to their property (now Brandenburg Park) to burn them. JD also had the responsibility of keeping the ice machine at their land filled.
All three girls worked at one time or another as waitresses. Kat once waited on Margaret Chase Smith, at the time a United States Senator for Maine, and spilled coffee on her.
“She was so very kind,” she said.
The family enjoyed winters too. They’d go ice-skating at the Rainbow Lakes (now the town fishing lakes) and at the indoor rink at Powder Puff Ski Area where they would play crack-the-whip. The women also reminisced about Lester Lewis and the inner-tube trains they called “whirly birds.
All in all, Kat described the family’s life in Red River, “the best life anybody could want.”