LELDON "SHORTY" HAWKINS
Leldon Wayne "Shorty" Hawkins of Farmington, passed into the arms of his Creator on Nov. 30, following a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 69.
Leldon was born in Clovis, NM on April 24, 1952. His father, a respected State Policeman, was transferred to duty in Fort Sumner, NM in the early '50's, and that's where Leldon and his two older brothers (spaced 3 years apart) grew up. He was rough-and-tumble from the get-go, always in for dares and adventures along with his sibling partners. He and middle brother, Billy, built a cave in the hilltop above their country home, fortified with timbers and a toe-sack door. They even built fires and toasted bread in their private hideout.
"Leldon was always outdoors and in raw gear," his oldest brother, David, remembers. "One Christmas, soon after we arrived in Fort Sumner, he got a bicycle and rode it to death. He rode it up and down the hills, over rocks and through lots of goat heads. In those days, tires and tubes failed easily, and he was constantly patching things up. Finally, he just rode it on the rims. The bike fenders were torn off; the chain guard was gone; and the rubber handholds had turned into slick pipes. But Leldon simply kept riding."
The boys were never short of shenanigans to mortify their mother, who could never predict what she might see from their home's picture window. "Being the youngest, he always wanted to keep up with us," David recalls. One day Billy and Leldon concocted a plan to ride down "the hill," inside a round 55-gallon container which had been salvaged from a highway painting project. "Billy climbed in the closed bottom, and Leldon's job was to remove the rock wedge holding the metal barrel in place, then hop in the open end. Well, he made it partway." As the barrel banged down the hill, Leldon's head did too, outside the rolling drum and hitting rocks along the way. At the sandy bottom, both boys got out, "reeling like they were drunk, and laughing their heads off--until Billy noticed Leldon's bloody head. Then the crying started!" But that didn't seem to slow him down.
On another day, on a milk run to town, brother David (who'd just earned his drivers license) was behind the wheel. The other two wanted to ride in the truck bed on the way back. David didn't know that the pair planned to jump out at the end of their dirt driveway, grab the vehicle's back bumper and run behind. When they finally reached the carport, Billy announced, "Leldon's back on the driveway!" He'd slipped going over the tailgate and hit his head on on the back bumper. When David got to him, his brother was motionless, causing the wide-eyed teen a virtual heart attack. That daring move earned Leldon a concussion and a ride to the hospital. The family threatened to buy him a football helmet for fulltime wear, because he was always getting into a wreck. Leldon just kept on ticking.
"We played 'chicken' in our yard one day, using a pointed spear we'd made out of an old car antenna," David added. Leldon took an airborne stick in the stomach, but he won the game. "HIs little scar was like a trophy to him."
Leldon's adventures continued into his teen years in Santa Fe, where his father was later transferred for duty. "It was a bigger town, and harder for my dad to keep track of my brothers. Leldon had a $300 Volkswagen he was always trying to hotrod. His cars had to be tough, because Leldon was tough."
Still, young Hawkins made friends in Santa Fe, and elected to stay behind and live with a friend when his father received yet another transfer to Albuquerque, as Charles had made Sergeant. "Leldon left school for a while, and started working. Later on, he completed his GED. But he was more satisfied taking on physical challenges."
At the tender age of 17, Leldon (an ROTC candidate) enlisted in the Army, around the zenith of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. (All three Hawkins brothers, as well as their dad, wore Army tags.) The war was boiling, and he was assigned to a forward fire base along the Ho Chi Minh trail. "Things were pretty rough out in the jungle. The troops lived in holes in the ground, fortified by sandbags. Helicopters, landing in the middle of the sand base, became their only source of ammo and supplies."
Leldon, the cave builder, was well suited for the rugged setting. "He spent a year there, running big guns, clearing out thick jungle brush and writing to his family about having survived attack after attack." It was there that Leldon was exposed to Agent Orange, part of the chemical warfare in Vietnam. Decades later, that resurfaced to cost him his health.
Private Hawkins also was a patriot. A normally soft-spoken man of few words, he sometimes let his feelings be known in other ways. 'When he landed in uniform at the Albuquerque airport, after honorably out-processing from the Army, a war protester spit on Leldon and called him names. Leldon took him to the ground. That caught the attention of a security guard, who tossed the protester out on the asphalt." In latter years, Leldon always sported a Vietnam Veterans ballcap, and regularly received handshakes and thanks from the public. One of his regular practices was to call his brothers on Veterans Day, and thank them for their military service. "He never forgot," David said.
Once back from the war, Leldon took off traveling on a motorcycle, eventually hooking up in Texas with a favorite cousin, Ronnie McWilliams. Ronnie had his own motorcycle shop, and he and Leldon--similar in age and interests--had bonded as youngsters at family gatherings. Ronnie also had been a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam, and he and Leldon understood each other's worlds. Leldon spent several years in Texas, then Ronnie, his wife and Leldon decided to head for Aztec, NM. "In those days, the oil and gas fields were where all the money was," reports his wife. Leldon earned his CDL license in Farmington, and began hauling frac tanks over the road for outfits like M&R, Sunco Trucking (New Mexico Transport) and then coal for Gallup Transportation. He made long runs to Kansas, Chicago and New Orleans while wife Doris (whom he met after returning to New Mexico) held down the fort.
After being childless in a 12-year first marriage, son Shawn had come along first, followed by a daughter, Shyla. "He couldn't believe he was finally a father," she says. "He didn't like the long hours and being away from us for days at a time, but he made a good living for our family. He was a trucker to the core." Leldon's highway brotherhood (1975-2010) also gave him his nickname.
"He was 5'8", and they started calling him "Shorty," according to Doris. Shorty and Doris had first crossed paths in Clancy's Irish Cantina in Farmington, where she was working. "I was dating his best friend," Doris says. "But it wasn't long until Leldon stole me away." He was bold, making moves for the petite gal's attention right under his friend's nose. "He did anything and everything he could to catch my eye. After we finally got together, we were off and running. When we broke the news to the best friend, he asked, "Is it because of this guy?" We said, 'Yes, we're an item,' and never looked back." Although there were some big bumps in the road, the two spent the next 35 years together.
When Doris took him home to Gallina, NM to meet her mother and brothers, they instantly fell in love with him. "My mom and he had both had abusive relationships in the past, and could 'get' what the other had been through. My mom called him 'My Cool Vato' (buddy) and 'My Angel.' The minute he would arrive at her house, she'd always try to feed him. Leldon would skip breakfast at our house, but then he'd ask Nana to fry him an egg at her place. He loved the taste of her food cooked on a wood stove."
Besides biking on a Harley, the family also loved fishing and camping. Sometimes they'd plant their camper on a friend's local commercial lot, and enjoy a weekend by the river. Other times, cabin camping at their favorite haunt on Colorado's Vallecito Lake, plus getaways to stunning Williams Lake and the Bridge Campground near Pagosa Springs, were treasured outings. Whether it was in a tent, or eventually a fifth-wheel, they could be happy just hanging out, playing board games or tending a bobber in the water. Leldon was always trying to pull someone's chain. Doris recalls, "He'd hide cards up his sleeve, just so he could win at that. I'd say, 'Come on, Old Man! Are you kidding me?!?' Both he and Shyla were so competitive! They'd go head to head, especially to see who could catch the most or the biggest fish."
"One time, my dad had caught this 16-inch brown trout," Shawn laughs. "He bent over to haul it farther onto the bank, and the seat of his pants completely ripped out. Shyla wanted to hide, moaning, "My dad is so embarrassing!" But it was all in teasing. Leldon had always wanted children, and his heart was destroyed when his daughter passed away unexpectedly at age 17. "That took him to his knees," Doris recalls.
The mountains served as a sanctuary as the family healed. So did the built-in "family" they'd built among workers and clientele at Clancy's, where literally (like in TV's "Cheers") 'everybody knew their name.' Their friends held them up and tended to their needs, much as Doris and Leldon had tried to do for many who crossed their paths. Leldon would dig deep in his pockets to help his install a brand new bathroom for his beloved mother-in-law; furnish goods for young parents' baby showers; and help kick-start friends and youth out of a hole.
Gradually, good times came again. "We spent two weeks at the Bridge Campground last year, and it was the best time we ever had," Doris remembers. They also made the best of things as health issues crept into Leldon's life, eventually putting him on disability and sending his regular working life into the rear-view mirror.
Yet, even as in his early life, confronting battle after battle, he kept on ticking. "There was a corner cabinet in our old RV, and he would not miss it. He banged his head on it every time," Shawn says. "But he'd go on."
Doris adds, "He also fell a lot, so much that we threatened to put him in bubble wrap." Leldon once slipped on rocks while stream fishing, badly injuring his bones, and came back from it. In 2020, he fell off a tall roof at home, groping for and doubling over a stair rail on the way down, breaking his hip joint and several ribs. He was airlifted to Albuquerque, landing in lengthy rehab after hospitalization and then catching COVID while in there. Yet his fighting spirit came through. Leldon made it past all of it, graduating to a walker and eventually walking under his own power again.
Recurring cancer was the only foe that wound up stronger. He beat it back several times, but finally it moved into his liver and there was no coming back. Leldon was taken by ambulance to San Juan Regional Medical Center early on a Sunday morning in late November, and three evenings later, through his faith in Jesus Christ, he slipped into heaven. His wife, who had comforted him bedside along with Shawn and David, was greatly struck by one thing: how peaceful he looked. On Tuesday, November 30, he and family members who had gone before were reunited.
Leldon was preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Freta Hawkins; brother, Billy; daughter, Shyla; father-in-law, Richard Maestas; and two brothers-in-law, Richard and Rudy Maestas.
He is survived by his wife, Doris of the family home; son, Shawn of Farmington; brother, David (Karin) of Veguita, NM; mother-in-law, Rose Maestas of Gallina, NM; brothers-in-law, Marshall, Joseph and Pete Maestas, of Gallina and Coyote, NM; sister-in-law, Belinda Tapia (Abe) of Espanola; nephews, Christopher Hawkins and Jesse Hawkins, Brian Maestas and Mike Tapia; nieces, Janna Street, Melissa Leyba, Sheena Comer, Tracey Murdock and Kay Martinez; lifetime friend and cousin, Ronnie McWilliams (Jody) of High Rolls, NM; and numerous relatives from the Hawkins, McWilliams, Davis and Maestas clans.
A life celebration will be held at 10 am on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Cross Roads Community Church, 2400 N. Butler Ave., Farmington, NM. A food reception, courtesy of Clancy's Pub, will follow at the church. Biker friends of the Hawkins are invited to ride their motorcycles to the service and escort the family from the church to Greenlawn Cemetery, where Leldon will be laid to rest next to his daughter. Pallbearers will be Al Casey, David Hawkins, Marshall Maestas and Lewis McMullen. Brewer, Lee and Larkin are in charge of the services. The family also invites everyone to lift a shot of Cinnamon Fireball in Leldon's honor.
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