The Star-News


Visiting their roots

Sat, Mar 10 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Peña

Some of us here in the valley had the pleasure to once more see and enjoy the company of Marty and Jose Keller this past weekend. The Kellers, now residents of the neighboring state of Arizona, but long time residents of the valley, more specifically, Sweetwater Manor dropped in on their yearly visit to our shores.

The Kellers lived in what we call the central part of the hill. We playfully dub the areas in the manor as the high or low rent districts.

The central part is probably somewhere in between. It is the part that, for many years, was anchored by long time residents of the hill, folks like Ruth Meers, Ronnie Manary, Dorothy Gillis, the Hammonds and, of course, the Kellers.

Sadly, they are all gone. The single story ranch-style homes on half acres were simply too difficult to maintain.  A new mode of living had to be the answer.

In the case of Josie and Marty this was not the case. Josie was telling me the other day that one time, some seven years ago, they had gone to El Paso to visit relatives. On their return they stopped in Sierra Vista, a small community near Tucson where Marty had some business.  Josie, who for years had had a breathing problem suddenly discovered that her breathing was easier. The southern Arizona air seemed to be suited to her a lot more than the southernCalifornia type. So they shopped around and found another home that suited them to a tee, a one-story ranch style on acreage and they have called that home for the past seven years.

Josie is a Texas native from around El Paso. As such she brought to our shores a type of cooking that is typical of that locale. She was, for example, an expert tamale maker. Like most Texans she believes the secret lies in the layering of the masa.

For the uninformed the first step in the preparation of this incomparable morsel is the spreading of the masa (raw corn dough) on a corn shuck. The typical California tamale is generally characterized by a huge blob of the masa on the corn shuck dominating whatever flavor there is.  Josie says the spreading must be thin and even allowing the meat and its sauces to permeate the atmosphere and, of course, our taste buds.

California, it is true, may offer such things as beaches, mountains and sea shores. Arizona has something else. Rocks. 
Shortly after the Kellers moved to that state Josie fell in love with the idea of collecting the native and exotic stones offered to her and to do things with them. They have set up a shop in their backyard where they cut, polish and put into jewelry those stones that they have acquired in their travels. They tell me that they have been to all sorts of rock conventions where stones from all over the planet are on display, examples from local mines and from as far away as Mid-east countries.

When the Kellers lived here their home was a sort of a headquarters for many things that affected the hill.  Marty was a community leader in this respect.  It was through his efforts that the stone pillars at the entrance to our hill had an overhaul. The area’s entrance had been graced with these pillars for many years and had seen their better days.  The stone edifices were repaired and will guard our entrance for generations to come.

One of the things that long time denizens of the hill recall were the pot luck/picnics that were hosted by Keller.  He would furnish the barbecued beans, the salads, and the hot coals.  Each family furnished and cooked their own main course.  We thus saw dishes ranging from the lowly hotdog to filet mignon, depending on individual tastes.  Keller took pride in his barbecued beans.  I never could understand how a minuscule object such as a bean could brave the heat of an open pit.  But such a dish exists, at least the emporiums that feature them say so.

I have an open invitation to spend a few days with the Kellers.  I think that I will accept that invitation sometime in the spring. I love that part of the country. The area around Tucson has the bluest sky on earth.  That sky, coupled with Texas tamales and barbecued beans would be pretty hard to beat.


© 2009 The Star-News