Biography tells of cafe owner, Portales history

By Sarah Meyer, PNT Staff Writer

More than 30 friends and relatives — mostly relatives — gathered Friday at the Portales Public Library to learn more about Barbara Chesser’s most recent book and to remember “Mattie.”

“Mattie” Smith Kinney, owner of Mattie’s Cafe in Portales, is the subject of Chesser’s book, “Remembering Mattie: A Legacy of Grit, Gumption and Grace.”

Chesser, Mattie’s granddaughter, discussed the book during Friday’s reception and thanked the relatives who helped by providing stories, photographs, editing and funds.

“This was a group effort,” she said.

Chesser said Charlene Hutson, another of Mattie’s granddaughters, inspired and insisted on her writing the book.

“I thought there is no way to write a book that would do her justice,” Chesser said.

Chesser was born and raised in Portales and lived with her grandmother from the time she was 8 months old, when her father died, until she graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1963.

“Mattie took us in, as she did so many others,” Chesser said.

She remembered working in the cafe, even as a young child. “I got to witness her as a wonderful boss.”

Chesser started working on the book about 10 years ago but got serious about it three or four years ago when she retired.

“It sort of became a magnificent obsession,” she said, “because my grandmother had done so much for me and so many other people. She was a remarkable lady.”

Chesser recalled how her grandmother was always willing to help others.

“Grandmother fed us, clothed us and encouraged us to go to college,” she said.

Two of Mattie’s children were at the reception, daughter Lillie Johnson and son Paul Creek.

“She was widowed twice, but I never heard her complain. She was always happy,” Creek said. “She gave the grandkids a job for room and board. She’d feed you, but you’d go down to the cafe and peel potatoes or wash dishes.”

“It’s wonderful. They did a fantastic job of putting it together,” said Johnson of the book. “It captures her spirit. She had a really tough life, but she was a tough lady.”

Mattie outlived three husbands, according to Chesser and the book. She still has lots of Smith relatives in Roosevelt County.

“Paul really admired his mother,” said his wife, May. “She was the strongest influence in his life.”

The book also includes descriptions and several photographs of life on the High Plains during Mattie’s lifetime.

“Remembering Mattie”

Barbara Chesser and her family donated a copy of “Remembering Mattie” to the Portales Public Library. The book is published on demand, and order forms are available at the library

Mattie’s Cafes

1941-1944 — Chevrolet House Cafe

1944-1951 — Miller’s Coffee Shop on South Main Street

1951-1953 — Mattie’s Cafe on Main Street

1953-1968 — Mattie’s Cafe on Second Street across from the courthouse