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May 2024

Questa  •  Red River  •  Cerro  •  Costilla  •  Amalia  •  Lama  •  San Cristobal

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Courtesy Photo A photo of the mural painted at the home to honor Juanita

Finding Peace and Solace in Curandera Juanita Souchet’s Former Home

When I first stepped in this empty house almost ten years ago, when my husband and I were considering a move from southern New Mexico to the cooler mountains after retirement, I knew “this is my house.” I felt a sense of being wrapped in a soft old quilt! I turned to Bob and said, “I need to live here.”


As we walked around the empty house, there wasn’t a visible speck of dust or strand of cobweb. It was as if someone had moved out the day before. After a thorough cleaning, though, I think it had been empty for several years.


Fast forward, we bought the house after someone else had an offer placed on it that fell through. We looked at other houses in the meantime, but I knew this one would be ours.


We would come up to Questa on the weekends from La Luz for a year to renovate the home, including painting and running new water and gas pipes. Below are a few beautiful experiences we’ve had in this home:

  • I forgot a bowl for our little dog’s water, I thought “heck, I gotta go get something to give him water in.” Minutes later, I found a beautiful little brass bowl in an empty cabinet. I told this story to the people traveling with the New Mexico history bus and donated the bowl to them several years ago.
  • While painting our low ceilings, I mentioned to Bob if we had brought even a step stool, I could easily reach the ceilings to paint. Later that day, I opened a closet to find a small homemade table just the height I needed, not the height of a regular table.
  • When I was scrubbing the kitchen tile on my knees, it was painful! I thought I would have to do it over several weekends. Then I moved the stove and stuck to the side was a thick foam pad people often use to kneel on to garden. It was there just for me.
  • During one especially cold weekend spent here before moving in, we found firewood in a shed, but it was all large. Bob said he wished he had brought a hatchet. We looked for kindling in the wood box in a tucked away room of the house, and there was a small hatchet.
  • I have a much-treasured generational Comal passed on from my grandmother. After we moved in, our son was visiting and said he would love to have it one day. I promised him he could have it, but he would have to wait because I still used it often. During his brief visit, I opened a cabinet and found one exactly like my grandmother’s Comal. That is the one I now use, and he got his wish to get my grandmother’s.

We truly believe this house gives what we need. Happiness, warmth, you name it. Each room has a very distinct personality. There is a section of the outside of the house that is original. I had a muralist come from Bisbee, Arizona, and asked him to honor Juanita and this house in whatever way he felt appropriate. We now have a lovely mural by our front door. The woman he depicted appears more Native and I believe Juanita’s heritage was Spanish, but I still believe it honors her spirit, and the mountains, and the river.
We have had locals tell us they were afraid of Juanita and are still afraid of this house. I just tell them this house has embraced us and all of our visitors, and we are honored to live here. Many people hear footsteps in the house and smell cigarette or cigar smoke. But we are never frightened by this. We just accept this house exactly how it presents us.


The only time I was worried was after pulling out hundreds and hundreds of nails from every surface of the interior. Later, I read “Bless Me, Ultima,” and found that curanderas sometimes would take a problem away from someone by slamming a nail into the wall. I immediately asked the house for forgiveness for taking these nails away, cut some sage, and smudged the entire house.


We would love to know more about all the people who have lived here. We reach out to Juanita’s grandson every Christmas but have never heard back from him. We can tell several of the inner walls were once outside walls, with windows looking into other rooms!


We would love to know how and why the additions occurred. If we could find pictures of the early house, I would be in heaven. We have found mounds in the yard which we think were piles of adobe bricks left to return to the earth.


I truly love this house and love this community. Thanks for reading and for any feedback you can provide on Juanita’s history, send to the paper at editor@questanews.com.

Author

  • Dawn Provencher

    Mental Health Matters: The northern Taos County communities have lost several young people in recent months. Questa del Rio News is starting a column dedicated to mental health matters. Dawn Provencher is a retired counselor. She has a master’s degree in counseling and a master’s degree in social work. She will be contributing to this column on a monthly basis.

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