Reunion road leads to Santa Fe

During a recent trip home to the United States, I flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit my uncle Jim.

Jim and I became close after my father — his youngest brother — died when I was in fourth grade. Something about his presence helped fill the gap that Dad’s absence left. We’d horseplay in my front yard, and Jim, built like a defense lineman, would sling me to the ground using techniques he learned during tai chi classes.

Jim and I.

Jim and I.

I hadn’t seen him since 2008, a couple of years before I moved to Beijing. The first few times I came home to Kentucky for my annual leave, we talked on the phone but I didn’t visit. I felt guilty, and so this year I decided to go West.

Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the United States (founded 1610), is beautiful. It’s surrounded by mountains, and the downtown features a bevy of art galleries, coffee shops and historic churches.

Santa Fe's historic adobe architecture.

Santa Fe’s historic adobe architecture. The adobe bricks consist of a mixture of sun-dried earth and straw.

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A storefront in downtown Santa Fe.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, completed in 1886.

The inside of the church.

The inside of the church.

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Route 66, one of the original highways of the U.S. Highway System, was established in 1926. The highway originally ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, spanning a distance of 2,448 miles. It was removed from the U.S. highway system in 1985.

I regret not visiting sooner. Jim, 66, implied that he doesn’t expect to live much longer. He suffered congestive heart failure in 2007 and had a pacemaker placed in his chest to control his heartbeat. He walks with a cane, and in the mornings it takes him a couple of minutes to get out of bed.

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My uncle Jim likes cats and shooting guns.

The health issues haven’t affected Jim’s unique sense of humor (“I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body, but I’m also a lesbian”) or occasional bit of crotchetiness (unhappy with the barbecue sandwich he ordered for dinner, Jim told the waiter: “I’ve lived in Texas and know what real barbecue tastes like. This ain’t real barbecue.”)

The night before I left, Jim showed me the cocktail of medication that he takes every day. I counted at least a dozen pills. “Getting old sucks man,” he said.

“But I wouldn’t change anything. I had fun.”

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Ruins of a Catholic Church that dates back to the 1700s.

Another view of the church.

Another view of the church.

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The mountains around Santa Fe jut up to 13,000 feet into the sky.

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