Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cam helped us feel at home

When I think about my favorite stretch of Picacho Avenue, I see Cam Hester’s face.
Many purveyors of intriguing antiques, collectables and interesting stuff have come and gone, but the Gaines family (at Sweet Old Bob’s Antiques) and the Hesters, owners of Coyote Traders, have been constants on the street, through good times and bad, through economic ups and downs and what seemed like interminable street construction projects that drove other businesses away.
From my first weeks in Las Cruces, Coyote Traders has been a touchstone. When I first glimpsed them, Cam and his dad Mel Hester were in front of their store, positioning painted benches, a big silver donkey on wheels and what looked like a suit of armor. (Could it be? Yes, it was.)
I suspected I had discovered some kindred souls. When I turned around, parked and ventured inside, there was no doubt. Back then, Coyote Traders took up a large part of a block, and it was a wonderland of everything I loved about New Mexico in general and the Borderlands in particular. There was lots of Talavera, antiques from all over, a big shelf of not-for-sale collectable stuffed bears (which belonged to Sandy Hester, Mel’s wife and Cam’s mom), and lots and lots of surprises.
Cam was still in his teens then and Mel was in charge. I got to know them both during the past two decades.
Cam was very inventive in figuring out how to fit purchases into my car. A lot of things were delivered by Cam himself, over the years. A weathered old upright piano I’d planned to paint electric blue, but didn’t. A sort-of-Queen Anne set of vintage tables. Beautiful old white wicker chairs and a settee. An intricately carved rocking chair which once belonged to “THE WESTS.” Lots of stylish bookshelves the Hesters had custom made.
During those deliveries, Cam and I had more chances to talk, but it was always one of those relationships that seemed to start in the middle and grow from there. He taught me a lot about Las Cruces style.
Cam, like his folks, was well-informed about what was going on in the world and Las Cruces. He had a great eye for interesting people, places and things and an appreciation for arts and crafts and the creativity of the people who produce the things that enhance our lives.
Cam and his folks were the first to tip me off about several talented souls in the territory, many of whom were featured as artists of the week.
The Hesters became the Medicis of Picacho, in fact, buying paintings and sometimes coming up with some wonderful ideas for furnishings and decorative accessories and commissioning artists to built, sculpt, carve and paint their designs. Some of those artists were down on their luck, and shared with me tales of the Hesters’ compassion, generosity, and second and third chances for new starts, offered quietly, with love and amazing grace.
That was all in the Hester DNA, which Cam had in spades, along with a wry wit and style that was all his own. It manifested in his conversations, which gently, but never obtrusively, could be summoned to guide us to treasures he sensed we’d love. And it showed up in some of the things he acquired, from eclectic regional sources, road trips and estate sales, and the way he displayed them. Herds of antique toads, flotillas of rusty stars, kimonos and sombreros, a colorful, brand new Talavera iguana and a very old child’s chair in the shape of a bunny.
The form of Coyote Traders changed over the years, first shrinking, then vanishing all together for a time, as Cam joined an enterprize in a newer part of town that showed some of Cam’s great eye for choosing new Borderland items, but had many of us yearning for more of that distinctive old coyote spirit. His parents’ role diminished, but before long Coyote Traders returned to Picacho, spilling into a warehouse with lots of large items and then back on its old corner, with Cam at the helm.
All was reportedly going well after a medical procedure at Mountain View Hospital, Sandy and Mel said, then suddenly, on Jan. 22, their “quiet and gentle soul with a wonderful wit and sweet smile” was gone.
They were amazed, they said, at the magnitude of the response, the outpouring of love from those whose lives he had touched.
It didn’t surprise me, I told them, as one of those thousands.
Cam spent a lifetime sharing the wonders of creation and helping us feel at home, in his home and ours. In every room in my house, there are things he discovered and sometimes put in place himself.
I look around and see Cam’s face.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @Derrickson Moore on Twitter and Tout, or 575-541-5450.

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