The Burro Lady photo by Bonnie Wunderlich AFT WO I BY STERRY BUTCHER The Mystery Everyone Loved I. The burro lady, she’s gone. II. Say you were way out in far West Texas, careening down Highway 90 between Marfa and Valentine. It’s empty out here, a big, blazing bowlful of sky, the yellow ocean of grass, those bald, old, old mountains to the left and right. No people, or hardly any. You were in the middle of telling your mom, your friend, your loverwhomeverthe kind of story you tell on a road trip. Your eyes light on an unexpected shape on the roadside ahead, and as you get closer, spinning along at 70 mph, you stop talking, your mom or your friend or whoever is looking now, too, at the elephantine hump that’s moving steadily down the bar ditch, and you realize, “Hey, that’s a woman on a burro:’ That was Judy Magers, the burro lady. III. In 1982, Bill Ivey ran the Lajitas Trading Post. Back then, before the traditional crossings across the Rio Grande were bulldozed and closed, the post was a hangout and mercantile for Mexican workers going back to San Carlos, Chihuahua, the river-runners who left someplace else for Terlingua, and the tourists who strayed outside the boundaries of Big Bend National Park. That’s when Judy arrived, more or less. She camped on the river at the rafting putin for Colorado Canyon. She was all alone, and she didn’t speak. “It took her 45 minutes to work up the courage to ask me for the groceries she wanted,” Ivey recalls. “When she first came, she wouldn’t talk to anybody.” On January 26 of this year, Ivey learned she’d died that day, at age 65. He was her legal guardian and, arguably, her best friend. But the Big Bend is the edge of the known universe, or at least it can feel that way. We saw her even if she didn’t see us. Judy had more friends than she ever knew. IV. Judy lived at the Colorado Canyon camp for a long time, and when the site became part of Big Bend National Park, she moved onto property owned by Ivey. About 5-foot, 3-inches, Judy was skinny as a fence post, and she nearly always wore big, dark glasses and a hat. Behind the glasses, her eyes were a luminous, light blue-green. “She never would talk about her past to me;’ Ivey says. “Not much is known about her.” Perhaps because of its isolation, people in the Big Bend are unusually tolerant of eccentricities. We’re all we’ve got. If Judy didn’t want to talk, no one pushed her to. If she wanted to live utterly alone, that was her deal. Gradually she became somewhat more social. “I was fortunate to see her blossom,” MARCH 23, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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