Mercy Moreno starts each day at 4 a.m. doing what she loves best — ironing clothes. “I can iron 50 pieces in three days. I go to bed at 9 p.m. and when I wake up at 4 a.m., I start ironing. I really enjoy it, and I hope that God will give me the health and energy to continue as long as I live,” she said.
Moreno grew to appreciate the craft of creasing trousers and making wrinkles disappear from her grandmother, Estefanita Jaramillo, who raised her in San Rafael, Colo.
“Back then we used to heat the irons on the wood stove and boil the starch in large pots. When we would dip the shirts in the pot they would come out stiff as boards.
Back then, we used to iron everything from pillow cases to bed spreads to my grandmother’s embroidered dish towels. We used to wash the clothes by hand with a washboard. We didn’t have electricity, only kerosene lamps. Today, with washing machines, electric irons and spray starch, it’s so much easier.”
Moreno, 85, is a former housekeeper. In 2007, she fell and broke her hip, so now she’s taking it easy and just irons clothes for five of her former clients.
In addition to ironing, she volunteers five days a week at three of Santa Fe’s senior centers. At 4 feet 9 inches and weighing 102 pounds, the energetic senior also enjoys taking long walks, reading mystery and romance novels, doing word puzzles and reciting the rosary. She always looks forward to visiting friends at church and while playing Spanish bingo.
Moreno has traveled with other senior citizens to Washington, D.C., Tennessee and Laughlin, Nev., and in 1990, went with her church to visit the Shrine of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Born in 1928 to Mercedes Ortiz and Elvira Jaramillo, Moreno followed an old Hispanic tradition of living with her grandparents during her formative years. She attended San Rafael Elementary School through the eighth grade. “During the crowning of the Blessed Mother, I was the oldest girl in the village to lead the younger ones in the procession to the church,” Moreno said.
When Moreno was 13, she moved back to her parent’s home near the village of Antonito in Southern Colorado. In 1946, during her junior year of high school, she married her first husband, John I. Salazar, who was 16 years her senior.
Three years later, when she was 20, he died of a heart attack and Moreno was left to raise their young son and daughter. She remarried Edward Vigil in 1951, and the couple had five more children. Moreno has seven children, 20 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren from her first two marriages.
When Vigil died in 1963, Moreno married Armando Moreno and moved to Las Cruces. Unfortunately, that marriage ended in divorce in 1983. “He left me black and blue,” Moreno said.
After her divorce, Moreno’s ex-husband moved to Mexico, where he later died, and she moved to Santa Fe to be close to one of her daughters. In 1990, she met George Chavez, and the couple lived together until he died in 2000.
Moreno said, “I’ve spent half my life marrying men, and I’ve buried four of them. Now I enjoy living alone and I’m not a burden to any of my children. I iron for people, play bingo and take nice long walks — and I don’t have anyone telling me what to do.”
Ana Pacheco’s weekly tribute to our community elders appears every Sunday. She can be reached at 505-474-2800.