Some enchanted memories

The other day, I received a flyer in the mail, inviting me to “Escape to Enchantment” by taking a fall visit to New Mexico. My memory turned back quickly to a time many years ago when three friends and I did just that…

We had a reason: a young woman would be singing the lead in a Santa Fe Opera production. I can’t even recall the name of the obscure opera we attended, but I will never forget the sight of soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw as the final curtain was coming down, singing her concluding aria while lying flat on her back in a large puddle of water! The reason for the reason: Each of us had a daughter who had gone through elementary and high schools listening with awe to Dawn sing. Our families had been neighbors in a south suburb of Chicago, and Dawn and our own daughters had been longtime friends — of her, and of each other.

Their high school had an extensive music program, with four choirs. Everyone who wanted to sing started in the bottom one and worked his or her way up. Everyone, that is, with the single exception of Dawn, who started at the top.

This was not the first trip our little “quartet” had taken together, but it was the first visit for all of us to New Mexico. We came from our various places — Arizona, Colorado and Texas as well as Illinois — to meet at the Santa Fe airport and find our hotel, a small one, but with a large statue of a horse on its front lawn. I have a picture of all of us with the horse. This was our base of operations for a full week of sightseeing; we would shuffle back every evening, exhausted, but never too tired to give up playing bridge nightly in the hotel lobby!

Our “cast of characters” included Nan — a CPA, wife of an attorney, mother of three (one daughter and twin sons); Marj — the computer “guru” for the newspaper I wrote for full-time at that time and mom to two; Jan — happy to be at home with her five children while her salesman husband was on the road, but also glad to leave him in charge while she was away herself; and I, with two children, rounded out the quartet. During that week we saw many of Santa Fe’s sights plus a few others fairly nearby, ate local specialties in an assortment of restaurants and reunited with Dawn’s parents, old friends who were attending the same opera performance with us.

It was this new bit of advertising from Heritage Hotels and Resorts, Inc., that pushed me back in time to remember so much. One of our best days started out by attending together a Sunday morning guitar Mass — although none of our little group was Catholic; we were a mixed bag of “very Jewish,” “somewhat Jewish,” “reluctantly Jewish” and “just plain Christian.” All of us were astounded by the musicianship of the sizable band of guitarists who — after the Mass was over — led us all on a musical march through and around Santa Fe’s central plaza.

Sadly, my three traveling companions are all long-gone now. I do keep in touch with their children, and I do — along with regularly supporting various Jewish and general charities — contribute to the very Christian Juliet Fowler Home for seniors here in Dallas, since it was always a favorite cause of Marj, the lone Protestant among us.

When I return for visits to that excellent suburban home of my past, I am saddened by some things, such as the closing and demolition of its high school, which all of our little group’s children attended, and in which Dawn Upshaw sang so often and so beautifully. But her name is now emblazoned on an outer wall of the town’s main office, along with the few others from this very small enclave well south of big Chicago who have achieved lasting fame in a surprisingly large number of endeavors. My own “bad”: I have not kept up with Martha and Bud Upshaw, Dawn’s parents, or the presumed achievements of Dawn’s sister — her only sibling.

And sadly, I do not have a picture of this to hold in my hand, but it will remain always in my brain: It is a slippery, snowy winter day, and my daughter is holding tight to my hand as we struggle on a very careful walk from our house to the home of the Upshaws, to celebrate Dawn’s sixth birthday. Only the Good Lord above, watching our tentative steps, could have predicted (and provided) her future on that long-ago winter afternoon…

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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