Old stove, memories warm heart of ex-resident
July 13, 2022
In a corner of Henry Goldenberg's home in Santa Clara, California, there stands a potbelly stove.
It's one of the few things that survive from Goldenberg's childhood home at 502 S. Third St. in Tucumcari.
That, and a lot of memories.
Goldenberg, 84, recently wrote to the Quay County Sun, detailing stories of his childhood and his best friend who "grew up protected by loving families, faith and good neighbors."
Goldenberg sprinkled his letter with stories that included his father Henry and mother Mary. He lived with his grandparents Jose and Margarita Otero, who originally owned the house. Because his grandparents spoke Spanish, he grew up in a bilingual household and can still speak the language.
Goldenberg recalled that his neighbors were the Austin, Erskin, Dolan, Stanfill, Salazar, MacDaniel, Laritson, Prentice, Farrow and White families. The Erskins owned a clothing store downtown. One neighbor was a justice of the peace, and another was a Boy Scouts leader.
Goldenberg said that potbelly stove was a source of heat in the house, along with a coal and wood-burning stove in the kitchen, before natural gas service arrived in Tucumcari after World War II.
"My mom eventually got a new Roeper brand gas stove, which she loved," he wrote. "The local gas company held cooking classes at the Princess Theatre to demonstrate 'cooking with gas' classes for the ladies. Even Virginia Branch, my mom's cousin, came from Newkirk for the classes."
Goldenberg said he and Johnny Laritson became "fast friends" when each was about 4 years old. During warm weather, Johnny would come by the house early in the morning, asking Goldenberg whether he was ready to play.
They played with their pets, including a lamb that Goldenberg owned.
"Later, as we grew, we wandered around the neighborhood on our bikes and scooters," he wrote. "Once my mom caught us peeing in a Coke bottle. I guess we didn't want to take time to come in.
"I recall the day the war ended. We rode our bikes and scooters and waved flags all around the streets, shouting, 'The war is over.'"
Goldenberg and his friend later acquired BB guns from their fathers. They shot at tin cans and birds in flight.
"We would have a funeral for a bird we killed and dug a grave in my backyard," he wrote. "If it was a pretty bird, I would get a large matchbox from my Mom's kitchen and use it as a coffin, decorate the burial site and have some regrets for killing a pretty bird.
"Then we would start shooting again."
After Goldenberg's father built a storage shed out of adobe bricks, his grandfather helped the boy build a clubhouse from the resulting hole in the ground.
"He also built a fireplace on one side with a smokestack so we could roast marshmallows and hot dogs," he recalled. "He put old boards with a trap door to enter, and we had our clubhouse. What fun we had."
Once they were old enough to go to school, Goldenberg attended St. Anne's School, and Johnny went to public school.
"Things were never the same," he wrote.
Goldenberg eventually attended New Mexico State University and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. He landed a job with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, where he met his wife Shirley, then was transferred to California. He settled into another job as an agent with State Farm Insurance before retiring.
Goldenberg many years later caught up with Johnny Laritson for a few days at his home near Green Bay, Wisconsin. He died about 20 years ago, he said.
Goldenberg's childhood home in Tucumcari was sold and torn down in the 1950s. His family moved into other homes on the city's south side. Goldenberg's father joined the Elks Lodge, Holy Name Society and served on the city commission. His mother was a member of the Carmelitas, Bible Study Club and Does ladies auxiliary of the Elks.
Goldenberg's father died of a heart attack in 1982 in Tucumcari, short of his 45th wedding anniversary. His mother moved to a nursing home in Las Vegas some years before her death in 2008 at age 103. Both are buried in Tucumcari Memorial Park cemetery.
Goldenberg, who has written four books, was asked what prompted him to write to the Sun.
"I thought about my old neighborhood in Tucumcari," he said in a phone interview. "I wanted to mention all these good people that I lived around in Tucumcari. In doing that, this is how we live in memory. I do believe in heaven and all of that, but I also believe we live in the memories of the people who remember us.
"Tucumcari people are so good," he added. "They treated my mother well, who lived alone. She had such good neighbors; they were so good to her. I think there's still people in Tucumcari who will remember them."
Goldenberg also talked about what motivated him to haul the heavy stove from Tucumcari to his home in California, then clean it up and re-chrome its skirts.
"It has a lot of memories," he said of the stove. "My dad used to work hard at the railroad, sometimes the night shift. He'd come home in the mornings and the house would be cold in the winter. I remember him stoking the stove with wood and coal to warm up the house.
"Even now, once in a while, I touch the stove, and I recall my dad."
Ron Warnick is the senior writer for the Quay County Sun. Contact him at