Red River’s Grindstaff shares colorful history

RED RIVER — Sunday (June 29), the day before she left to return to Chelsea, Michigan, longtime Red River resident Maxine Grindstaff, 93, finally consented to participate in a “Living Legends” interview with Eddie and Barbara Dry and Judy Miller.

Dry explained that the Red River Historical Society planned to keep these valuable oral histories once a film maker, perhaps a student, had edited out mistakes and other awkward moments. Good thing, too: The afternoon interview lasted about two and a half hours.

This Q and A came on the heels of a special coffee Miller hosted for Grindstaff at the Red River Community House Wednesday (June 25). Grindstaff found herself answering many questions from the curious then as well.

“I’m all answered out,” she said with a smile Sunday.

Grindstaff says it was thanks to her son Mike Taylor (she always calls her youngest son, who died last fall, “Michael”) that she ended up with a business in Red River.

“Michael found every mud hole and I had to scrub his britches every time. My knuckles were raw!”

Grindstaff asked Doris Young, who operated the Young’s Ranch Resort with her husband Gene, where she could find a laundromat.

“She said, ‘That a way 40 miles!’” Maxine recalls with a smile.

By this time, Maxine’s husband Wayne was ill (he suffered a heart attack at age 31). Maxine bought equipment and opened her business, the Red River Laundry, in a space next to Fink’s Grocery (now defunct) on what is now Golden Treasure Trail. She divided her time between her summer business and working as a church secretary back home in Oklahoma City.

“The kids and I worked there and slept there,” Maxine says. “Mr. Fink made a lean-to out back and papered it with the newspaper out of Raton. Our shower was hose. That was cold! But we were happy.”

One day she was craving some conversation so this mother of two, who was not a drinker at all, wandered over to the bar (now the Motherlode) that was owned by her friends (the late) Tillie and Tony Simion. As Maxine’s eyes adjusted to the dark she heard Tillie’s voice boom out of the darkness, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I said I just wanted to talk to somebody and she said, ‘Come out here on the porch. We’ll talk.’ It was not appropriate for me to be in there.”

Occasionally during the interview Eddie Dry would inquire if Maxine knew anything about a well-known scoundrel or ruffian. Maxine always deferred.

“Do you have any stories?” Eddie asked. “Yes, but I’m not going to tell you,” Maxine replied.

Eventually, Maxine owned a laundromat and the Green Mountain Lodge on Main Street. When neighbors were selling Patrick’s, their business next door, she bought that too. Her parents, Charles and Virginia Carnett told her, “Sis, if you buy this place, we’ll run it,” Maxine said. “I bought Patrick’s and mom and dad ran it.”

Maxine had been married to Wayne for 19 years when he died. Sometime around 1960 she married Dr. Wilmer (Bill) Ernest Grindstaff, a pillar of the Baptist Church. The duo taught at a school in Israel for Arab and Israeli boys, then returned to New Mexico and taught at the Correctional School of New Mexico in Eagle Nest (now the Reintegration Center). Maxine first taught at Eagle Nest Elementary School but says she preferred teaching at the correctional facility. “I took the kids who could barely read, Bill had the rest. I loved it.”

Maxine also proved to be a valuable asset to the Red River Community House where she taught Sunday school for many years. “The highest I had once was 73 kids.”

Later, this mother of two and stepmother of one was named the 1976 National Mother of the Year by American Mothers. When she was named New Mexico Mother of the Year on April 8, 1976 she told the Taos News, “I’m really unworthy, but then we never think we are worthy.”

She also served on the board of directors and was involved with active groups like the Red River Women’s Club, a civic group that performed many valuable services for the town.

She also worked part-time at the Red River Chamber when Katy Pierce was its director. Bill also served as an interim pastor for numerous churches, including the Baptist Church in Questa, and taught school for many more years after leaving the Eagle Nest facility —often as a substitute.

By 1977, Maxine had sold her businesses and the second buyers, Mel and Ann Tompkins, made a go of it. The Green Mountain Lodge building burnt down. (Editor’s note:  The chronology is approximate.)

As the conversation progressed, Maxine remarked, a little sadly, “I’m recalling these things that haven’t come up in years.”

Her 93rd birthday was in February. Older brother Ed Carnett will be 98 in October. Remembering a recent conversation, Maxine recounts, “I said, ‘What did we do to live this long?’ and Ed said, ‘I don’t know, sis, but I’m having fun. How about you?’”