She bought the house her mother cleaned for 43 years


Of all the houses his mother cleaned while growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nichol Naranjo fell in love with the one his mother cleaned on Fridays: a mid-century house built around an interior courtyard and decorated of European antiquities.

Naranjo would sit under a Thomasville desk in the library and imagine herself running a business, while her mother, Margaret Gaxiola, dusted and polished the desk. She marveled at the spacious rooms, the fireplace mantel, the views of the courtyard with its abundant flowers and water fountain.

“I could see her wandering from room to room dreaming about everything here,” Gaxiola said.

Gaxiola said “here” because in November 2020 her daughter bought the house she had cleaned for 43 years – an unusual but natural result of the closeness that has formed between a housekeeper’s family and the housekeeper. former owner of the house, Pamela Key-Linden, who died in 2018.

“I think I always knew I would end up here one day,” said Naranjo, now married and 44. “It feels good.”

The house is in Ridgecrest, an affluent neighborhood with tree-lined streets and lush landscaping. In the eyes of a little girl, the house was a mansion surrounded by other mansions. They weren’t really mansions; they were just gracious houses in a pleasant neighborhood.

But the Gaxiola family lived about 20 minutes away in Los Duranes, a low-income neighborhood crossed by Interstate 40 and known for its tight-knit community and semi-rural feel, with dirt roads, small gardens, and goats and goats. chickens in the yards. Their house was modest: 960 square feet and one bathroom.

In 1976, Gaxiola was working in a flower shop. She was 29 and married with three young children. She needed a little extra money and a friend told her about a part-time job to do some light housework on one of her days off.

On her first visit to Ridgecrest, Gaxiola was struck by the beauty of the neighborhood and the elegantly decorated 3,000 square foot Key-Linden home.

As Key-Linden was showing Gaxiola around, she spoke in a heavy Southern accent that was difficult to understand, which put Gaxiola on edge. The women were reserved around each other to begin with.

Gaxiola’s family continued to grow and on the days she cleaned she brought her youngest daughters, Monica and Nichol, born in 1978. The girls mostly watched television, although Nichol, who was more active, be given small tasks by her. mother to occupy it, such as emptying all the bins and replacing the bags. Gaxiola’s husband was hired by Key-Linden to paint the house.

Monica Garcia, now 48 and married, remembers looking forward to visiting the Key-Linden home, where she would look at all the trinkets placed.

“Even if she had big, beautiful things, you’d find a Peter Rabbit ceramic tucked away in a shelf, or a miniature tea set,” Garcia said. “My love for unicorns started when I saw them at Pam’s.”

Visiting the house each week became, for Naranjo, a glimpse into a world of abundance.

“Pam had cable TV,” Naranjo said. “Pam had brand name cereal. His pantry looked like a goldmine.

To get closer

Key-Linden had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, the only child of a businessman and a homemaker. As a young woman, she had lived with her first husband, an Air Force pilot, in Britain, where she had purchased and renovated an historic cottage. She remained Anglophile all her life, said Tom Duhon, who befriended her when he was studying architecture at the University of New Mexico in the early 1970s and she worked at Sears . Later, Key-Linden owned a fabric store, Beehive Fabrics.

Key-Linden made annual trips to Britain, staying in a cottage in a small village, Duhon said. Back in Albuquerque, she created an English garden and filled the rooms of her house with antiques, oil paintings and other traditional furniture purchased on her travels.

“His house was immaculate,” Duhon said. “Shelves full of treasures. Finely picked treasures. Everything made sense.

When she started cleaning the sprawling house, Gaxiola was often alone.

“Most of the time,” she said, “Pam would go out for tea with her friends, so I had the house to myself.”

After a few years, Gaxiola said, she and Key-Linden began to let their guard down and share their lives a bit. Key-Linden, who was married to the pilot but had no children, expressed her warmth not with words but with gestures, Gaxiola said. She kept the girls’ favorite canned soda, Big Red, in the house. For Christmas, she would have presents wrapped in ribbons and beautifully arranged for each member of the Gaxiola family.

One day, Gaxiola mentioned that winter was coming and she had to buy a coat for her son, Gabriel. The following week, she said, Key-Linden gave her a coat for Gabriel from Sears.

The Gaxiolas attended Key-Linden’s 50th birthday party and her wedding to her second husband. Key-Linden sent cards to children on special occasions and brought them gifts. When Garcia got pregnant with daughter Aleessa in 1995, Key-Linden hosted the baby shower at her house. She was also present at the funeral when Gabriel died in 2017.

By then, Gaxiola had been cleaning the house for over four decades and had become a regular housekeeper.

“We went to many houses because of my mother’s household,” Naranjo said. “I was able to observe different lifestyles and personalities. No one was like Pam. Pam has become like a family.

After Key-Linden’s death, Gaxiola continued to clean the house until Key-Linden’s second husband, Richard Linden, died the following year. Then she returned her keys.

“It was heartbreaking, and I thought, ‘It was half my life too,'” Gaxiola said. “I was saying goodbye. It was not a house to be cleaned. It was a second home to come and enjoy.

“It was so moving”

After Key-Linden’s husband died, Gaxiola learned that executors, including Duhon, intended to put the house on the market. She told her daughter. Naranjo and her husband, who works in cybersecurity, immediately wanted to buy the house.

But first, Naranjo called his sister.

“She asked me, ‘Sister, because you’re older than me, are you interested in buying Pam’s house?'” Garcia recalled. “I said, ‘No, but if you do, that would be beautiful. It would honor not only Pam, but my mom.

Naranjo contacted the executors and said she wanted to buy the house and everything in it. Due to the pandemic, the process took almost a year. Some of the contents of the house have been donated or sold to others in the meantime.

When she finally moved in, Naranjo was overwhelmed with memories of her personal journey. His father had painted these walls. His mother had cleaned these rooms. She herself had emptied the wastepaper baskets as a little girl. She and her husband paid nearly $472,000 for the house.

“My whole family’s fingerprint is on this house,” she said. “It was so moving.”

Duhon has stayed in touch with Naranjo and visited her since she purchased the Key-Linden home. He sees similarities between the two women in their common desire to have a beautiful home and their vision to achieve it.

Naranjo has ripped out the carpeting throughout the house to expose the original hardwood floors, and she and her husband plan to change the Spanish tile roof to something more like cedar shingle. She appropriates the house.

But there are a few paintings that were in the house when Key-Linden lived there. There’s a chair in the dining room and a sink in the bathroom that Key-Linden brought in from Britain.

In the master bedroom, Naranjo has the vintage Thomasville desk that belonged to Key-Linden’s parents, the one she used to sit under.

“We’ve had some tough times in our lives,” she said. “It was always a place to come and catch our breath. And dream.

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Raymond I. Langston