Grady embraces heritage

By Marlena Hart: CNJ staff writer

• What: Grady Centennial Celebration
• Where: Grady Park, 410 E. Franklin St.
• When: 3 p.m. Saturday
• The centennial celebration will include games, prizes, food and dancing.

The woman who mops the floor with a tattered rag embodies the fierce independence that also colors her town.

Fairere Harper, 79, has a undiagnosed condition that locks her joints. Stubborn, she wills her arms and legs to move, often pushing her right arm into submission with a jab from her left.

This afternoon, she decided her floor needed to be mopped. So, she plopped down on her knees and went to work in frayed jeans, cut off below the knee, a pink tank top, and her short, white hair tousled coolly atop her head. Rising from the floor was the real struggle, but Harper adamantly refused the assistance of a friend.

For the most part, other residents in the rural Curry County village of Grady — where Harper has lived for more than 50 years — share her resolute autonomy, worn almost as a badge.

The community of roughly 100 residents banded together to build a swimming pool. They boast of one of the best school systems in New Mexico and feel protected by their small fire department, which has about 10 active members.

Residents, mostly farmers and ranchers, cling to small-town life, despite its difficulties. This Saturday, they will celebrate 100 years of the town’s existence.

“It’s rural. It’s wide open. And we don’t have what cities have — thank goodness,” said Harper, sitting at her kitchen table with a cold Coca-Cola.

Yet the High Plains town has shriveled in population the last century. “It isn’t what is used to be,” Harper said.

The village had two banks, two cafes, a grocery and hardware store, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, two churches, a newspaper and a doctor when it was founded in 1906, according to the New Mexico Tourism Department Web site. Hopes that Grady would become a hub for the railroad died.

And those luxuries have long disappeared.

Blink and the town, less than a mile in length, will be a distant memory on state road 209.

City Clerk Jo Lynn Queener drives 36 miles to Clovis for a soda, she said. There is no grocery store in Grady anymore, the clerk said. Just a small post office, a set of unmanned gas pumps, which accept only credit cards, a police and fire department, and two churches, according to the tourism Web site.

A few residents were going to collaborate to bring a member-owned grocery store to the town. But “the people out here have been so independent for so long, they just don’t want to go in on it, that’s all I can say,” said Chris Jones, a long-time resident of Grady.

Oddly, the polarization isn’t reflected in Grady beyond business, Jones said.

Her mother, who raised Jones and her brothers in Grady, baked 15 pies almost every afternoon, and all the children in Grady would come feast and play at her home after school. These days, Jones welcomes droves of young children into her home.

“My husband and I are nanny and papee to a lot of people,” Jones said.

“If you need help,” she said, musing on the most endearing part of life in Grady, “you know people will be there.”