To say Maxine Bennett is well traveled would be an understatement. But even after seeing the world, she says only one locale will always holds a special place in her heart: The small West Texas valley Castle Gap, nestled between King and Castle mountains. It has long lured many hopeful explorers with the promise of treasure, but none have ever discovered it. Bennett grew up watching those explorers comb the earth for hidden riches — and now, at 90 years young, she spends her days helping shoppers find treasures of a different sort at her jewelry store, Castle Gap, named for the lore that inspired her so long ago.
Before you opened your jewelry store, you were quite the jetsetter. Tell me about that.
My husband was the superintendent of a drilling company for many years, so we traveled all over the world. I traveled with him for 13 years, doing mostly office administration work, and I’ve been to 31 countries.
Which was your favorite?
Mozambique, because it was so safe and so clean. And the income tax was so fair!
I assume your travels included some pretty memorable moments. Tell me one of them.
In 1969 we were in Libya when a coup d’état overthrew the monarchy and took control. The takeover happened quickly, and within a couple of hours the entire city was shut down — but I didn’t know what had happened, so I drove to work like any normal day. When I got there, they told me what had happened and sent me back home. We were all in our homes for three days until I looked out the window and saw the curfew had been lifted. When I left, I was stopped by someone on the street who told me the Americans were invading, and that I needed to get back home, so I did! I was back in my house for another three days before it was finally safe for me to go back to work.
What was it about Castle Gap that inspired you to name your business after it?
It was just so beautiful out there. I remember the sky was so clear you could see every little star at night. Growing up out there, I certainly had my fair share of digging and treasure hunting, which was always an adventure — we had to watch for rattlesnakes. The beauty and adventure of that place inspired me to open this jewelry store because I wanted the store to be a place where anyone could find treasure when they walked in.
Your store specializes in Native American jewelry. What drew you to it?
It’s a cottage industry, which means nothing is manufactured. Every piece is different and reflects the artist. I really like that about it.
Where do most of your jewelry pieces come from?
The Navajo and Zuni tribes, mostly from Southern California and New Mexico, as well as a few local artists.
You’ve worked since you were 9, and now at 90, you still put in six days a week here at your shop. What keeps you going?
Well, I just point my fingers now, most of the time. But I’ve always worked at something or other, and always been open-minded. I just do it. This store is my own treasure, and I share it with my family and the customers that come in.
— Nadia Hill
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