In January of 2014, I posted comments about Joseph Trinndad Baca. Trinnie was indeed, the “Heart of Belen”. He walked Main Street, Trinni greeted everyone whether he knew them or not. He liked to pump his hand up and down asking vehicles, especially trucks, to honk their horns for him. Most people did.
This week’s News Bulletin, our local weekly newspaper, had a full four inches devoted to Trinnie at the top of the front page. Two pictures, a headline and the first two paragraphs of a memorial article all were above even the name of the paper. I have never before seen such a tribute given to a person.
Trinidad “Trinnie” Baca suffered a brain injury as a young child. In the late 1940’s, children like him were not admitted to school, but through the efforts of his family, he did learn some. He could speak the common Spanish of the region, and he could also speak enough English to communicate. He also had a few other scholastic skills but lacked the living skills to live alone. As an adult, he lived with one of his brothers. His siblings saw to his care.
Belen is a very small city 40 miles south of Albuquerque. It owes its existence to the fact that Mr. Becker, an immigrant, had a contract with the government to supply the army in the late 1800’s. Mr. Becker’s mercantile complex supplied soldiers, cowboys, shepherds, and towns folk. When the railroads came through, Belen became a rail crossroads with a rail yard that has sustained its existence and importance. In spite of outsiders moving into the area, Belen remains friendly with many of the attributes of the close knit city it was 75 years ago when Trinnie was born.
Trinnie’s day was to walk main street sweeping the sidewalk in front of businesses. Restaurant owners would give him a free meal. Other merchants often gave him a few dollars which he often shared with those he thought were needy. The restaurant owners were always prepared to feed him for free, but when he did have a few dollars in his pocket, he would plop money on the counter and say, “Trinnie pagar.” (Trinnie to pay.)
Trinnie greeted everyone as a friend. He really did not know me well, but after our first casual meeting, he would greet me as an old friend in a mixture of Spanish and English, using enough English for an Anglo like me to be able to communicate with him.
His sister-in-law said they were never worried about him walking up and down Main Street, because the community took care of Trinnie. I have no doubt that anyone trying to take advantage of Trinni would have been stopped immediately by any of the residents.
In 2014 a broken hip put him in the hospital. While he was recovering from the broken hip, he was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Thus he lived most of the last two years of his life in the Belen nursing home. He missed living in his brother’s house and missed being on Main Street, but he appears to have lived happily in the nursing home until the cancer turned nasty the last two weeks of his life.
My church sings hymns to the nursing home residents once a month. Each time I arrived at the nursing home, he would greet me like a long lost friend even though I suspect he only knew me as one of the people he had met a few times on the street.
Trinnie helped keep the city neat and lifted many people’s spirits, but he could also scold. If he saw something he did not like, he would chatter in Spanish like a squirrel. I am not sure anyone could completely understand him at those times, but it was obvious when he did not like what he saw. Now that he is dead, stories about him are surfacing. One woman recalls that he would block her from riding her bike on the street when she was a child. One time, I saw him fuss at some children who were jay-walking.
When Trinnie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his brothers chose not to tell him that he had a year or less to live. In stead, they scheduled an early birthday party. He held court in the activities room of the nursing home while a large number of towns folk celebrated his birthday with him. Such was how the people of Belen and the surrounding area loved him.
He will be fondly remembered as an institution in the City of Belen, New Mexico.
Jose Trinidad Baca
The city has been blessed that a man with a severely damaged brain could interact with a city in such a way that he made a contribution and made many people happy. Trinnie’s life is also a tribute to the citizens of Belen attesting that they were able to take a man, who would have been rejected in some other communities, and draw him into the life and love of the city. Jose Trinidad Baca was indeed the heart of Belen.
I said in my earlier post that Trinnie may some day show up in one of my stories. I speculated that were a criminal to run past him while he was sweeping the sidewalk, he would probably trip him with his broom to help the police catch the criminal. I said I would make him an assistant hero, but in retrospect, I will be looking for a major role in one of my books. It is not just the strong, the smart, and the beautiful who make good heroes and heroines. Trinnie had what it takes to be a hero. My muse has orders to keep that in mind as she sits on my shoulder whispering into my ear.
Some of the information used in this post are personal observation. Much of the information about Trinnie was taken from news stories in the News Bulletin (news-bulletin.com). Some information comes from the article in late 2013 about him being honored with the key to the city. Some information comes from the article about his birthday party. Much information comes from this weeks memorial article.
Reynold Conger is a retired, scientist, engineer and teacher who writes fiction as a retirement career. Information about his books can be found on www.ReynoldConger.com.