Hanging out with the Honeyfields

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From the days when Donald Honeyfield’s great-grandfather moved to northern New Mexico to homestead, the state has undergone many changes.

The same can be said for the changes in Peralta since Honeyfield, his wife, Corene, and their five children moved to Peralta in 1956. But through it all, Donald and Corene continue to cherish their lives, their home and the history of Peralta.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo Corene and Donald Honeyfield have spent the majority of their 67-year marriage living in Peralta, before most of the streets were paved and before it became a town.

Donald and Corene have been married for 67 years, Donald always knowing he would marry a red head. It was after he returned home from serving two years in the U.S. Navy when the couple met on his 20th birthday after a church service.

“Our pastor, from the pulpit, would recognize any returning servicemen, and he mentioned Donald Honeyfield,” Corene remembered, saying she thought “Honeyfield” was an odd-sounding name.

Although she didn’t turn around to get a look at Donald, he could see her with her red hair showing beneath her white hat. It wasn’t until after church that the two met when mutual friends invited them to a picnic for his birthday.

“I was crazy enough that I went,” Corene said with a chuckle more than 67 years later as she sat in her chair crocheting. “That was the beginning of the end.”

“She was my birthday present,” Donald said lovingly.

“He had been in a battle zone, but he still had to get permission to marry me and get into another battle zone,” Corene said laughing. “Women had to be 18 to get married, but men had to be 21. He told me his mother knew the county clerk and it wouldn’t be a problem to get a marriage license, but when we got there, she told us she knew his mother, and that we needed to get her signature before we could get married.”

Needless to say, Donald got his mother’s signature and they were allowed to marry. Hilda, his mother, who had been a school teacher and worked with the Democrat Party, served one term in the New Mexico House of Representatives for San Miguel County.

Several years later, while Donald was working as a book keeper in Los Alamos, his brother bought a farm in El Cerro.

“He called me and asked me if I wanted to come down and farm with him,” Donald said. “My wife was raised on a farm and she knew I didn’t know the first thing about farming.”

The Honeyfields bought their first dairy cows in 1952 when they moved to El Cerro. Never being a farmer before, Donald thought it was the perfect chance to get to go fishing any time he wanted. Unfortunately, he soon came to realize that being a dairyman took a lot more time than he ever thought. Needless to say, he was lucky if he went fishing once a year.

Having only pushed a pencil around for several years, farming, especially irrigating, was a hard lesson to learn.

“I probably lost 30 pounds that first year,” Donald said. “Farming is a life of it’s own — it’s 365 days of the year and as much as 20 hours a day.”

Four years after moving to Valencia County, his brother sold his farm so the Honeyfields moved on to their own agricultural enterprise. Donald bought a three-bedroom house on 8 1/2 acres of farm land in Peralta in 1956 for a total of $5,000, and another $3,500 for the dairy barn. And still not knowing a whole lot about how to run a dairy, he got to work.

“I read a lot,” he said. “There were dairy magazines that gave me all these clues, and I wasn’t afraid to talk to people. That’s how I got started, with seven cows. And when I sold out in the early ’70s, I had more than 100 there in the barn.”

Life and times in Peralta back then were a lot different than they are now. When the Honeyfields moved there, most of the land around them was farmland. The open country was a great place for the children to roam and play, and they had no worries about their safety.

In those days, the Honeyfields were part of an eight-party phone line, and because of his dairy business, he remembers any time he needed to use the phone, anyone using the line was cordial enough to hang up and allow him to use it.

“That’s how it was back then,” he remembers. “They would hang up and let me use the line. These people were very considerate of me.”

He also remembers the origin of the name for Chughole Lane, one of the main arterials in Peralta. He said it was a News-Bulletin reporter by the name of Ida Bloodworth who coined the name because of the excessive amount of holes on the road.

“It was well named,” Donald says. “One of the farmers flooded the road while irrigating. We had been after the county to do something about it for a long time, and they kept saying that it was the next road that was going to be paved, and that had been going on for several years.

“She (Bloodworth) called the county manager up and told him she wanted him to see the condition of the road. When he pulled up, he got in the middle of the road and his car stalled. He got out of his car wearing a business suit and waded in knee-deep water to talk to her.”

Within three days, that hole had been filled up and graders had been all over the road. Honeyfield said it took another five years to pave that road.

The road that the Honeyfields live on, off of Chughole Lane, hadn’t been considered a county road since the 1800s because of its condition. Occasionally, he would catch the road grader, give him a buck, and he would grade the road.

But in order to allow his milk truck to go back and forth, it wasn’t uncommon for the Honeyfields to pay for sand and gravel to level their road.

When the 911 dispatch center required all roads to have a name and residents to have a permanent address, the Honeyfields lived on what was called Route 1, then called Route 3. During the transition, however, the county came out and asked one of his neighbors what they thought the road should be named.

“I guess I had been a good enough neighbor because they put my name (Honeyfield Lane) on it,” he said. “I considered it an honor.”

After more than 15 years in the dairy business, it was quite obvious and necessary that Donald Honeyfield had to stop and change careers.

“I became allergic to the cows,” he remembers. “Actually, my hands would swell, break out and crack. I came down with milker’s fungus. It had become progressively worse and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Along with not being able to find quality and trustworthy help, Honeyfield decided he had to give up the dairy.

“I cried when I sold my cows,” he said. “You get attached to these animals.”

After selling his cows and closing up his dairy, he traded cows for a couple of years, but that wasn’t paying the bills. With the kids growing and the oldest getting ready for college, Corene took a part-time job at the post office.

And as Los Lunas was expanding, the post office was in need of new mail carriers, which Donald did until he retired in 1988.

Donald Honeyfield, who was a volunteer firefighter in the community for 30 years, fondly remembers the days of the large cottonwood trees lining the highway through Bosque Farms, when people still used a horse and wagons.

While things change, he said, he’s happy to have been able to witness the progress of the town and the county, from the expansion of N.M. 47 to the incorporation of Peralta.

“There were bad things then and there are bad things now,” he says. “But there were good things then and there are still good things now.”

At 87, Honeyfield still keeps himself busy. He’s a volunteer for the AARP’s Tax-Aide, plays bridge and bowls regularly and teaches Sunday School for Peralta Memorial United Methodist Church, something he’s done for the past 50 years.

And more often than not, he can be seen sitting in the back row of nearly every town council meeting learning about what’s going on in his community.

“People seem to only show up (at the council meetings) when they have a complaint,” he says, “but I feel that the only way to be informed is to be involved.”


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.