I wrote this a few years ago and it looks like I still have some notes on farm technology. If you know the answers to my notes here and leave them in the comments I will be super grateful.
Remember to read backwards – the first posts have the previous chapters. Here is 4 where I spend the rest of my time in the Sierra.
Chapter Four: Rancheros
Life soon settled back into the familiar but a lonliness and cultural shock lingered all week. I went with Rosalba and Alvarro to gather oats. Out to the field, we cut them down, loaded them onto the truck, brought them back to the corral. Back to the farmer’s work helped me forget my romance troubles. It was easier to harvest real oats than sew my wild ones.
Every morning now I woke up to help Don Emitereo pick the beans – one stalk at a time. These beans would provide for the rest of the year and it was best to get out early – three or four, before the sun and heat came up.
One day Tere had to go down to Campo Americano so I took the chance to go with her. On the twisting slope down she heard one of the three unmarried sisters, Soccorro, yelling at someone. Tere stopped to hear as much as possible. I thought of the other day with the spying on Noe and Maricela. I figured that not much happened around here that spying was one form of entertainment.
Campo was also a disappointment. First they told me how fun their party was that past weekend. I figured I would have fared better there than the big bad quinceneara. But unlike the other times I had visited where everyone was fun and animated, they all just spoke to Tere and it was too fast for me get on the ramp into the conversations.
The one bright spot was that Socorro’s cat had a new batch of kittens and she gave me one. I hugged the meowing all black creature to my chest the whole way up the hill. Immediately I felt like a mother and was happy to care for something besides myself. I named him “Amorcito” (my little love) since I didn’t get a boyfriend at the quincenera, now I did have someone to love.
The next day was Tere’s birthday. She had gone to Campo for some cake ingredients. The tradition in the Sierra is that on your birthday, you make a huge, eight layer cake, whip up your own frosting, and others come to your house for cake and coffee.
I was happy to have a new tradition to learn about so I hung at her house almost all day. First Maricela came over and that nearly killed me. She only talked about how happy she was with Noe. Ugh! Would this nightmare’s ripples ever stop?
The bright spot was when Cheno and Chue, the other bachelor, dropped by. They were funny and animated. Slowly I was getting to know Cheno who barely talked to me but had asked me to dance once at the quinceneara and that one time, apart, at Sheila’s fiesta. I kenw there was a boundary – he was engaged and prepared to marry some girl from Sinoloa (way off mountains and now a famous drug region). So I respected that but I was just happy he wasn’t so painfully quiet around me anymore. In fact, he was a delightful person.
For Tere, it wasn’t such a great birthday either. No one came from out of town and in fact, those were the only visitors.
The next morning Don Emitereo and I were picking the beans when we heard thunder. It got louder and louder and we could see the dark mound of a cloud coming. Don Emitereo wanted to stay and work but I didn’t want to risk working in lightening. I wasnted to get back to see how my kitty was doing on it’s first morning. So Don Emitereo showed me the path to get back from this closer bean field and I started walking leasurely. I stopped and looked in awe at the white and brown cloud rolling over the hills. Don Emitereo yelled for me to walk fast. So I did walk faster. Then I heard the wind rumble through the trees behind me then around me. I looked out through the woods to the plain and it was dark brown fierce clouds. It looked like the tornado in Wizard of Oz. That realization got me running for my life. A little rain had come down and lightening flashed around me. I was praying I’d get back safe and the wind wouldn’t blow a branch on me knocking me unconcious. I quickly ran out of breath but kept running. I thought of my mom.
I finally reached the village’s well but kept going. Right behind Rosalba’s house, I felt safer thinking someone would hear me scream. Wouldn’t you know that a cow would be in my way but it quickly saw me and moved. At the gate some of the other men were running to their houses. I felt safe in Cordon but didn’t stop running until I was inside the house. My heart never really stopped racing and I felt weird the whole day – after the scare of my life. I had heard that when people die, they think of a loved one and sometimes they can feel it too. I wonder if my mother felt my cry inside. I hoped I’d see her again and not die in this isolated place.
I just sat on my couch and watched the hail came down. It looked like snow and knocked the leaves off the trees. That storm yanked automn into Cordon. All day it rained on and off – the rain we’d been needing. No one had ordered the hail.
After being glad to live you’d think I would’ve cheered up but everyone still kept getting on my nerves. Every morning in the bean fields way off from Cordon, I wanted to just quietly pick the beans and enjoy the repetive motions and get lost in thought. Yet Don Emitereo insisted we talked and all he wanted to talk about was his love for me.
He said he wanted to buy me a ring to remember him by. I just was irked. I knew I’d always remember him because he was my replacement grandfather and quickly grossing me out. Yet since my lesson at ht quinceneara I learned that that was the only way men could relate to women up here – as sexual objects, with flirtation, with sexual harrasment.
Alvarro – Don Emitereo’s eldest son started acting weird around me too. Did he sense how alone and rejected I was feeling? He took advantage of that by coming by to talk to me, alone in my tiny backyard as I hung up laundry. Another day we had all had coffee in Don Emitereo’s kitchen and he put his arm behind my chair. Once everyone else had scattered he played with my hair. I knew I was playing with fire but I couldn’t get my heavy sad body to move up at that moment. I was the monkey going through the monkey test. I was the rejected one. I liked the touch, the attention. It didn’t take me but a few minutes to snap out of it and stand up and walk out but after that I knew there was always something between Alvarro and I and I would have to stop it. It didn’t help that I had heard the rumor that years ago a group of work campers came through and one of the women who should have known better since she was Mexican, although from the city, flirted too much with Alvarro. Rosalba, his wife, grabbed the woman’s copete (bangs puffed up in the front of her head) and threatened to kill her. Now I feared I’d get my copete ripped off by Rosalba. And I really liked her.
One more jab to my painful week of homesickness – Tere and Maricela came over to inform me that I had to have a play or skit at the Halloween party. What? This was my idea? It was going to be my party, done my way. Why did I have to do like the workcampers always did? For one, they were a group, there was just me. But after pouting for a day, I did come up with an idea. And my desires to be a real writer kicked in and I enjoyed inventing the play and using some old skits I had done in summer camp.
Then the blessed day finally arrived – Saturday – Sheila would be arriving. I went to take a bath with my warmed up water from our stove. As I stepped in the bath house and put a towel up over the window which Sheila warned me that she learned the hard way that without a towel Marcus and Karim would wander over with their curious kindergarten eyes. I unbuttoned my shirt when I heard Rosabla yelling “Estan aqui. Estan aqui.”
Sheila had arrived. Along with Lucy and her husband Pancho. Plus supplies we needed. Sheila told me that they were all surprised by the supplies I had left for them to bring up. Of course they brought some fresh food and eggs but I had left maxi pads. Tons of them. Shiela called them “Carolina’s galletas” Carolina’s cookies. I was embarrassed but how was I to know how many to use in the middle of nowhere. I always just bought them the day of – and of course when I traveled that usually didn’t work well since it’d be on a Sunday when all stores are closed or when I was in Israel on Saturdays when their stores were closed. At least this time I was prepared. And yes, I did buy too many but the women were glad when I gave them a box each as a farewell present.
I was so happy to see Sheila and desperately wanted her visit to cheer me up. I wanted her all to myself but we had to go visiting, of course. When Lucy and Pancho went to Mesa to visit I forego the trip and instead Sheila and I went on a walk and talked and talked and talked. I told her all about the quinceneara and she caught me up to everyone I knew in Hermosillo. She loved it there and I realized I really preferred the county. Even seeing Lucy and Pancho, I wasn’t interested in talking to them – city people seemed so common and normal. I wanted the new and different of these people literally in the middle of nowhere.
We sat in the two person side by side outhouse that the workcampers had made, and peed and kept talking. We caught up about people we heard from in college. I read my letters and one from one of my three best friends from college made me cry. I missed her. We both missed college but were learning to move on.
I also enjoyed one of the few letters I ever received from my father. Every other week or so we talked on the phone as I grew up. But now there was no phone available and I enjoyed an actual letter. I also got a letter from the state of Maryland – an absentee voting ballet. I placed my ballet for someone new and different. I wasn’t around for the historical campaign of Bill Clinton, but I knew I didn’t want President Bush anymore. I was the only person to vote for him from Cordon, Mexico and something about that felt good.
I wasn’t sad when they left, I knew I’d see Sheila soon. I was disappointed that Carolyn wasn’t leaving. She had so much fun at the quinceneara that she decided to stay. Another way the quinceneara ruined my life.
Barely healing from one party, I found myself trying to plan for another. Way back before I experienced a real Sierra party I had the stupid idea of throwing an American party for Halloween. Now this was haunting me. There would be American food, Halloween games, costumes, and what interested them the most – candy. Yet, Maricela got all bossy about this just like she had instructed me on how to look proper at the quinceneara. Now she not only was telling me I had to write a skit but she was inviting Lupe and her cousin from some far off village to be in it. I thought I was the auteur? Not only was I losing creative control over the script, but casting as well? What was this, Hollywood?
It was painful to be around these three women conversing. When they weren’t torturing me with the pressure to make some funny skit – (funny is cultural -how would I know what works for them?), they were digging in the knife by talking about their boyfriends from Mesa Colorado – Noe, Baldito, and some other guy. Rub it in that I didn’t have one from anywhere!. It also made me realize why I became so novio orientated – that’s all they talked about !!!
We hitched a ride to Yecora – a field trip in a way. Carolyn and I went to buy candy and other necessities for the American Halloween party. We also took advantage of the health clinic. Yecora was past Mesa Campanera and past the Punto de la Cruz- farther along on the paved road. Riding in the back of the truck and so fast again – I felt like a hawk soaring over the national parks – high above the trees on this mountain plateau. Yecora seemed huge – 3000 people – real roads, gas stations, stores, no one smiling. One guy asked where we were from.
Little Eremita replied “Bermudez”.
I said “Cordon, farther than Bermudez”.
She hit me. As we walked inside the store she explained that her mother instructed her to only say Bermudez. I didn’t know that Yecora had a rough edge but maybe they did. Why else would we conceal the real village name?
At the health clinic, everyone went to see the doctor and nurse with various concerns. Who knows when everyone went the last time? Carolyn even took up this opportunity. She complained about stomach pains. I translated as best I could. The doctor was super professional and nice.
He asked, “Does she have intestinal gas problems?”
I wasn’t sure what he was saying in such proper medical Spanish so I asked with the only words I knew in Spanish
“Hace Ella pedos?” (Does she fart?)
He and the nurse tried to hide a chuckle and then he nodded and in his low voice responded “Si”
When I translated for Carolyn she laughed and replied “Si, mucho” (Yes, lots)
We all had a good laugh and they sent her home with medicine to cure an amoeba – probably from not adding enough chlorine to our water which in my opinion she had poisoned enough. Her focus on cholera made her drown our water supply in chlorine from the first day she arrived. Sheila noticed this and commented to me “You are going to die of bleach poisoning because she wants to be clean.”
On the way back, we stopped by the Quinceneara herself, now all grown up at fifteen. She was wearing make up since she had the freedom to do so after waiting for the “coming out” party. She told us that Jose Luis and his father, Manuel, had passed by. I was glad to have missed them. Yet when I got back to Cordon I asked where they stopped to visit and the reply was that they didn’t. I felt more dissed by that man.
I wanted to avoid Jose Luis and Mesa but Maximo came by to tell everyone he was killing a cow. Cheno and Chapo drove the truck over the next day to get the fresh meat. Most people made their orders but Carolyn wanted some so I had to go to translate.
It was weird to see a cow – cut open and skinned. It wasn’t as gross as I hammed it up to be. There was a bunch of men sitting around the carcass so I went inside and talked with the women. I kept trying to learn my proper place.
Later I helped Manuel cut some of the meat as the young guys listened to music by a truck. I did a pretty good job of avoiding Jose Luis all day even if Carolyn said he looked at me. I replied sarcastically – yeah, probably looked at me like an alien from outer space.
My hands were all dirty so I asked Manuel if I could wash my hands. Just then Jose Luis came by so Maneul told him to fetch me some water. Manuel made an exit whispering to me “There are many good young single muchachos in this town.”
I wanted to whisper back, “Yeah, like yours. I like your son.” I didn’t. Yet, it seemed a pretty good clue that he was trying to keep us apart – Capulet and Montegue style.
With his father’s cloaked warming, now Jose Luis and I were alone and he poured the water so I could wash my hands.
“Gracias.” I was still playing it as cool as the fresh water.
“When are you coming back to visit around here?”
”What?” I wanted to yell, “You haven’t talked to me all day. You left me on the dance floor. What game are you playing?”
Instead I kept my façade and mumbled, “Sometime.”
That was it. The few words we exchanged all day. We went home with Carolyn’s shoulder of meat and she prepared a delicious dinner treat. Meat instead of beans but by then I loved the beans three times a day.
Word got around about the Halloween party. Not until after the party would I find out what a problem that would be. Yet, everyone was excited – even just for the rehearsals. They were scheduled at 3:00 every day, in between farm work and dinner. No one minded a week’s worth of fun work.
Eremita and Maricela helped me hand write a copy of a script for each actor. Then to my surprise, Maricela and Tere got all dressed up – make up, hair spray, nice clothes. Was the rehearsal a dance in disguise? They insisted I do the same.
We went over to the empty school house now that the teacher had impregnanted one of the sisters and ran off to Bermudez. There was no longer any education but plenty of room for a play. We waited wondering who would act in our play? I labored so hard – finding an idea that might please them. I came up with a story about a ghost since it was Halloween. Carolyn insisted on some scenes with fencing since that was her hobby. I wasn’t happy with anymore input and being bossed around but learning the stage fighting was fun and I knew it would be exciting for the audience.
Finally some actors came, more exact, a truck filled with the marginal muchachos from Mesa. Jesus – the red pant wearing lighting strike survivor. Santos and Vidal – brothers from the edge of Mesa where a woman with a reputation lived. Rumors confessed, and looking at Santos face confirmed, that he was the child of Don Emitereo and this woman. He was a few years younger than Alvarro and a few older than Chemeley. Alvarro seemed proud of having a bastard half brother and a father who meandered. Vidal stared at me the whole time and said he didn’t want to act, but came to meet the American girl he had heard of. Great.
So, I had a strange mix of talent – Santos who couldn’t read, Jesus who took five minutes to read his two lines, a sword fighting renaissance fantasy living middle age Californian, and Tere and Maricela only there to be seen. Somehow we got through the rehearsal and I was impressed that Santos was so excited that he learned his lines the quickest.
One of the goals of us volunteers being up there was to bring the community together. That goal seemed to be becoming accomplished with the Halloween practices as I was falling apart. The two sides of the village even worked together to rehearse for the play. Don Emitereo’s face lit up whenever I mentioned the cookies and candy that would be at the party. Maricela was making me a tail for my cat costume and her little brother was making swords for the sword fight scene. Everyone was talking about it and excited.
Yet one rehearsal almost ruined me. I was working so hard on writing these skits and play. I decided to imitate the novelas we were watching every night. Yet when Ereberto rode up on horseback from Mesa and Cheno showed up for rehearsal they complained that it wasn’t funny. Ereberto left saying Mesa would do their own skit. For someone who usually flirted with me, this new technique wasn’t getting him any bonus points on the novio front.
I was feeling used. Unappreciated. What did I know about what was funny in their funny culture anyways? After rehearsal Maricela must have seen my feelings as I slumped behind. She asked if I was okay. I said I was fine, and went home to have a big cry.
There were lots of holes in our cabin and everyone must have heard my sobs. I cried not just over the play but missing home and knowing how to do everything there. Culture shock was bothering me. Plus I was still upset over the whole Jose Luis thing and that lead to pain about the Yoga teacher dumping me over the summer and still missing the boy I left behind at home – Rob. He was sweet and wrote me letters even if I never confessed my true love for him. I even hid it by telling him about Jose Luis who he replied in a letter when I worried about our age difference that age doesn’t matter unless you are cheese. He was so cute. Would we ever get together? Me in Mexico, he still back home? Would I ever settle down and live a normal life?
“Maybe I should just leave at Christmas time and never come back?” But then I thought, “Nah, I have the rest of my life to do that.”
I was in a break between sobs when Tere came in and asked if I had been crying. I admitted that I had.“You shouldn’t be alone” She told me. They never were and it was a weird concept to them. So I followed her over to Maricela’s house. Maricela and Riqui (her cousin, 17, who just returned from the city) were busily writing all the scripts for everyone. I was touched. I was not being used. This was a joint effort. We stayed up late talking and planning the party. I left feeling thoroughly cheered up.
The following day rehearsal went as smooth as the sugar cookies Carolyn helped me bake. It was a simple fix to make the show funny to them – they all just wanted to wear costumes and the men wanted to dress in drag. It’s always the simplest things that are the hardest to learn. Once I figured that out, they all had fun hamming it up and it was difficult not to laugh and ruin the onstage rehearsal.
Maricela, Riqui, and I went on a walk to the squash field. We found the green squash now orange with age and rot. Perfect. We picked our Pumpkins. Carolyn helped carve them since I had never done that. Maricela, Riqui, and I made Halloween like decorations out of the toilet paper – same material used at the quinceneara.
I had gone to Ensinal and Campo to officially invite and explain the Halloween party it’s strange US customs, now I couldn’t avoid it. I had to go to Mesa. Rosalba planned to go to visit Maximo and Elia and their precious daughter Asuzana for her little birthday. So in the morning I actually poofed up my copete bangs and put on make up. Rosalba looked out at the dark sky and we heard the thunder in the distance. She said she wasn’t going. There went my ride. She told me to go on ahead – she promised it didn’t lightening in October. I hoped she was right.
Alone, in the dark cloudy environment, soon just like every crevice of these mountains, I wasn’t alone. Independence, alone, privacy never exist in the Sierra. Chemeley was heading back from the bean field. We chatted a bit and I felt like I would make it safely to Mesa, and back. I walked on a bit and it started to rain. I saw some men and horses under a tree. It was two men from Mesa. I greeted them and moved on saying I would say hi to their wives.
I felt like a mail deliver – nor sleet, snow, or rain could keep me. But not from delivering mail. From delivering myself to Jose Luis. My wish came true sooner than I expected. I saw a tiny casita – a little shelter to store feed with some bestias tied beside it. I peeked in to find a nice surprise – Jose Luis. Plus his father, Manuel, Maximo and his brother Ereberto. We all talked as we waited for the hard rain to stop. I sat myself next to Jose Luis.
The rain didn’t seem to ever want to stop so they decided to abandon the bean work and go home to Mesa. Everyone jumped on a bestia of some kind – horse, mule, donkey. So Jose Luis was left to walk – with me. They rode away fast so we were alone. I felt happy – a kinda date/visita like they do up there.
Then in Mesa it got better. Since we walked in together, he invited me into his house for lunch. Manuel wasn’t doing well without his wife so he demanded I make the tortillas. I agreed. I warned them that I never could make them in the proper circle form but Jose Luis said he enjoyed my odd shaped tortilla’s taste at least. I had him take a photo of me making tortillas for him – and wearing his jacket to warm up. There are two things I most love about men – their chests and me getting to wear the jackets they use to cover them. Must be some repressed 1950’s Soriarty girl in me – wearing his jacket thing.
I stayed a bit then said I had to go see Asuzana for her birthday. I asked, on a whim, if Jose Luis would like to come with and he agreed. Again, I felt like we had possibility.
The cake was tall and she was small, not everyone made an eight later cake. It was nice visiting with her mother Elia. Asuzana looked cute in the frilly poofy dress, decked out for her day.
Continueing our time together, Jose Luis walked me up to the gate that divided Mesa in two. I knew I had to visit everyone – not just Jose Luis. That was part of my job as community organizer. I got to see everyone in town this occasion– even Santos’ mother. Her house was way at the edge of the village. It was like she knew she had to stay away, that everyone knew, well they did, about her affair with Don Emitereo forty years ago. She even seemed old and sad. I was glad I got a smile or two out of her. I was learning the art of conversation – talking about nothing and anything possible. This day I asked her about her plants and the baby chicks pecking around them. It might not have been intellectual conversation but it worked for the time and especially the place.
Tere’s sister lived in Mesa and I went to visit her too. I had met her husband out in the field earlier that day and had promised to say hello. I had only met her once before – when she was going to the big city to have her new baby girl and Norman was coming to drop me off in this new place. I wondered if the shock for the baby infant from being born and me being dropped off in an isolated place was the same. Either way I met the other newcommer’s mother in the woods on the road up even before Mesa Campanera. I remember because she was the first Sierra person I ever met and the first thing she said when she shook my hand was “Que bonita.” (How pretty). That should have been a clue that 1) I’d feel good up here but 2) I would be judged by looks and dating ability.
Now I got to talke with this new mother as she warmed up water for the baby’s formula. They had come home about a week ago when they deemed the infant was old enough to travel. She told me how women never visit the novios here – the novio has to come visit the girl. Great, I was doomed. Out here chatting away with Jose Luis all morning. But I was different – I was a foreinger and a community organizer. My job was to socialize.
She also informed me that when she and her husband were novios he would come all the way out to Mesa Atravesada (two days away by horseback from Mesa Abajo) seven times a year. That was never heard of. At best, most saw each other once a year at a big quinceanera or boda, wedding, then after a few years throw a wedding for themselves. Wow, he must really have loved her.
I wandered back to my favorite side of town and said I had to get back for play rehearsal. Maximo told me he was driving up there so I caught a ride with him and Lupe and her sister, Minda.
At Cordon the women visited with Tere. I sat there humiliated as they said that I had told someone in Mesa that I asked Jose Luis to be my novio. Rumors. Pure Rumors. I never did such thing. I knew there wasn’t much to talk about but at least get it right!
Rehearsal went smooth and I liked seeing things come together – especially the two sides of Cordon. Maybe I was a good community organzier.
All the reahearsal paid off – the day of the play and party arrived. I cooked and cleaned all day but felt criticized and bossed around by the whole town. They wre making the party into a Mexican event, not the American one I had planned. Dona Matilda hobbled over just to tell me the dirt floor needed more sweeping. Even little Eremita called me lazy for not helping to put up lights in the garage for our stage.
After Carolyn and I finished cooking and prepping the dinning area – our house, as best as possible, I put my hair up in two pony tails, looking like ears. Tied the long black tail that Maricela made for me through a belt around my mini skirt. Then used eye liner to make whiskers. I felt like a cute cat and took a picture of me with my little black kitten – Amorcito or Amorcita – we still had not determined the gender of this cute little puff.
A car came full of everyone from Mesa. I went out to greet them. They told me to take off the whiskers and tail. I said no – I was sure others would come in costume. But soon I felt embarrassed in front of everyone – it was obvious no one brought a costume – not even little Asuzena. Carolyn wore one but it was her renaissance get up that she wore on most days. So, I wiped off my wiskers and tucked away my tail.
Soon it was time for the show and now they proudly wore costumes – those in the cast. I was nervous – like in any show. I looked out at the benches full of people of all ages and wondered how those in the back would hear us. They heard us enough and the whole show was a hit.
I tried not to laugh watching Cheno and shy Freddy from Ensinal dressing up in heels and dresses along with fake boobs. My script mocking the novellas didn’t work, but everyone liked the drag. The camp skits were the favorites – especially when we poured water all over Everaldo from Mesa. My biggest failure was my attempt to be political and eventhough Chemeley and Cheno liked dressing like the United States and Mexican presidents, the NAFTA signing scene just wasn’t funny – in any language or culture. It was my first lesson as a playwright.
After the comedy I was relived it was all over but now what do I do? I froze. Rosalba steeped in and helped me get everyone seated and served the dinner of Mac and Cheese – thanks to all the boxes Carolyn brought up with her “necessary” supplies. Later when we stepped out to pee I told Rosalba how thankful I was – as the party spirled out of American control and into Mexican fiesta, she was the life saver.
Earlier in the day I had delivered candy to each house so that they could give them to the children trick or treaters. I have no idea what happened to all that candy, each family must have quietly gobbled up each sugary morcell since no trick or treating or sharing came about. Instead I was mobbed all night by adults and children for the candy they had heard of. Not having stores and sugar made candy a bid draw for this fiesta. But they were aggressive trick or treaters, crowding me, shoving, demanding ducles. Finally I was tired of it and just handed over the bag and said “Treat yourself.” I walked away so I wouldn’t witness the mascre of the store bought bag of sweets.
After everyone ate their American dinners, I couldn’t wait for the dance to begin because after having two of these shindigs under my belt, I knew what to do at this part of the evening. I was tired of being a hostess at my failed attempt to have a party like we do at home. By this time I just wanted to relax and be led around the dance floor – one of our garages.
The dance started and I stood behind the fence and watched the people dancing. Kili, Minda’s fiancé was even there – in town to help make arrangements for their upcoming wedding. I liked watching the hopeful fiancées waltzing and dancing to the Ranchero music. Rancheros are the local country music of northern mexico, from the ranches is where the name comes from. They are similar to corridos but without the story of those songs. That’s how I hoped this dance would be, without the drama of the quinceneara.
I was standing next to Riqui and Maricela’s little sister who asked me who I wanted to dance with. I said it didn’t matter. Riqui said in a condescending way “Jose Luis?” I repeated that it didn’t matter but got a weird vibe from her.
I soon moved to the bench and Everaldo caught me. I was surprised he wanted to dance after we poured water all over him in our trick skit. He had dried himself out in the fire pit all the cowboys stood around in front of our house that they made for the cold night and wait period while everyone ate one table full at a time.
We talked and it seemed okay but I noticed everone was dancing more than three songs together. How would I ever sit down to be able to dance with Jose Luis. Well, Everaldo’s brother came to my rescue. He told Everaldo that he wanted to dance with his wife, Elia, and he needed him to get the bottle for Asuzana out of the car. He didn’t want to let me go but he had to, big brother had spoken.
Sitting on the bench a popular song came on. I didn’t know many of the local tunes but this one Chapo and Minda had taught me on the drive back from the quinceneara. It was by Chalino Sanchez, a famous singer shot down and killed just a year previously in one of the first occasions of singers being caught up in the imerging drug war. The song was about unrequited love. I thought it was cute when Chapo asked me to dance – he knew it was “our” song now.
It always felt familiar dancing with Chapo. He was from “my” village, Cordon. I’d see him often when I’d visit the left side. It wasn’t until after the quinceneara when I realized he liked me by giving me gum at midnight that I noticed he did seem to perk up whenever I was over there visiting. And Carolyn said she always noticed him looking at me and, sometimes, he even turned red. He was such a cute country bumpkin.
We danced a few songs then the music stopped. It dawned on me that I had made a huge muchacha gaff and forgot to put on panty hose which was a must for women in the Sierra – no bare body parts allowed to be shown, not even the skin on your leg! I ran inside to fix the problem which I had completely overlooked due to all the hoopla of the play and my stupid attempt to be a cat for Halloween. So what was for a Halloween? An American fool who thought she could share her culture with people who live isolated in theirs.
I sat back outside next to Minda and she asked why I didn’t put on lipstick or more makeup. I had also forgotten that. Now it was too late. Two male figures came out of the darkness of my yard and one put his hand out for Minda – Kili, the fiancée. The other for me. My heart leaped as I leaped up; it was Jose Luis.
I decided to play it cool this time. I wasn’t going to get hurt like at the quinceneara. I was quiet and let him talk first.
“The comedy was good.”
“Did you write it.”
“You were good in it.”
I couldn’t take it anymore, I just started my normal rambling. He seemed to like that. I asked if he remembered any of the words I had taught him in English from the other day.
”See, now you see how hard it is for me here.”
”Why do you want to learn English?”
“So I can talk to you.”
A big awww rang through my brain.
This time when the music stopped, he sat me down on a bench and didn’t desert me. He sat with me. This was great – a visita, a normal dating thing for up here. I wasn’t left to the wolves again.
I was happy chatting away under the Big Dipper. I even asked if I could come help him and his father pick the beans now that I was an expert helping Don Emitereo. Plus, if flirting was part of the work I’d rather do it with someone my own age.
The music started up again and we continued to talk. I was still wound up from the party planning, cross cultural disaster, and the acting performance to focus on the night of dancing. But suddenly a man sat next to Jose Luis and whispered. What was it? Some cow trade agreement?
It was Vidal. Santo’s younger brother who came to check me out during rehearsal. The quiet one who beamed at me with his little eyes peaking through his huge mustache. I had no idea what they were talking about but I learned a new word as Jose Luis said “sueltala.” Then Vidal put his hand out to ask me to dance. Norman said we could never say no. No woman ever did unless she wanted the same consequences as that famous corrido song of Rosita Alvarez. But I wanted to say no. Could I have said no? I mean, I was talking to Jose Luis? Doesn’t that mean I was “taken”. What was up with this place? Unfortunately, I felt I had to say yes. Is that what Jose Luis wanted? Did I make another mistake?
But why did Jose Luis let me go? Why did they treat me like some cow to trade? Why couldn’t I have any choice in these things? I was so frustrated with this men only in control dance. Even when you married, the men had total control. Wives had to ask permission to go to the edge of town and especially to leave town. That and the tortilla making and the stone washing of our laundry in the cold water and the heavy buckets of water from the well made me sure I could never marry and stay up here forever. I would have to just leave it at dancing and flirting.
I counted three dances then said I had to get something inside. I did, I went to get the rap tape since Carolyn asked when we were going to show them “our dances.” Inside our cabin I found Jose Luis so I stopped and talked with him. I forgave him. We joked about the little ghost decorations we had made out of toilet paper. He pretended that he was scared of them. That lead to real ghost stories we had heard.
Maricela walked in complaining of the cold. Jose Luis said, “Then you should dance” and he asked her to dance. I figured it was payback for me agreeing to dance with Vidal. I didn’t mind – I thought I deserved it. At least Maricela was nice and asked, “But what about you, you’ll be left here all alone.”
”I’ll be fine.” And I was. I dug through my bags for the tape with a rap song on it. Found it.
Carolyn and I jumped around pretending us two middle class women knew how to dance this stuff. No one joined us and quickly I felt embarrassed. The cross cultural attempts were total failures and I had had enough of them for the day. Following the rap music on my cassette tape was a bluegrass song and Freddy from Ensinal danced around to that. They liked it more – more like the ranchero polka type music they play which is a mix of texas german culture and Mexican mariachi wind instruments. Rancheros came back on and Freddy asked me to dance. He never did at the quinceneara like Mariclea had hoped when she introduced us a few weeks before it. But now I knew him from his sweet hike up the hill every night for rehearsals. I thanked him for his dedication. Plus, he had an adventurous goofy side with the drag costume and bluegrass dancing. Most people up here were terrified to try anything new, especially in front of others.
The night was wrapping up. Everyone from Mesa said they wanted to leave but half begged for a few more dances. Jesus the ligtening red pants survivor asked me to dance and we caught the last dance.
I shook hands with everyone before they drove off. Jose Luis shook my hand twice. He seemed happy that I said I would come by the following Tuesday to help him with the bean field. He also found it rara, strange/rare) that I asked why everyone would be driving through in two days for the Day of the Dead. He couldn’t believe we didn’t have that holiday over the border. I said we had Halloween but this Dead day thing, I had never heard of.
They drove off. I went back and sat at the table. I know I wasn’t happy with rumors especially false ones about me but a new one I heard I liked. Rumor had it that some guy named Fernando from Campo Americano liked me. Now I finally got to find out who he was. It was some tall cowboy sitting at the table. He seemed nice. He asked about the US. He was older than me – 24, not 19 and young like Jose Luis. And he had finished high school which was unheard of around here. My prospects were looking good.
I got up to serve everyone some of our cookies. He still sat at the table while Maricela, Chapo and Freddy joined us. Then he didn’t talk. Maybe it was just gossip and those three sisters in Campo were just blowing air like everyone said they did. They were known as gossips so maybe Fernando didn’t like me like they said. He might have been here for the candy even if it was probably closer to get to a store than to our village from his.
Soon the party really was over and I thanked everyone before they left. The party had used up all our light power in the cabin. The solar panels could only hold so much and we already knew that bed time reading was impossible – too low voltage. No wonder most were illiterate, no light to literate your life with. Now we found out that using the lights all night for a party put us in complete darkness. Another reason we always went to bed early – besides getting up at dawn for farm work, there wasn’t enough light to stay up with. Yet I never felt overtired or stress. They say that is what our bodies are meant to do – go to bed with the sun. Maybe these scientists are right – life is better withought artificial light. Yet we needed it at that moment.
We had moved everything over for the party. Now we had to move back Carolyn’s bed and put out my cot, find our blankets and pillows. Plus we couldn’t sleep in our nice party dresses, so pjs had to be put on through touching and dim flashlight. With the cold creeping up the mountainside, my pijamos were getting thick and now included a jacket and hat – plus my sleeping bag and a wool blanket on top. Fires, just like the solar powered light, only lasted so long each night.
In the morning Tere, Maricela and her younger sisters came over as I tried to clean up the house. They demanded leftover cake. I felt like a slave until I realized that it is a serviing culture. Not only do the women stand the whole dinner and serve the men more beans and freshly cooked tortillas, but women serve each other – like when I went out visiting. That made me feel better and I saw how we really are a do it yourself culture.
When I went home months later I was shocked when my mom had a guest over and the guest had to ask for some food and my mother had her make a sandwich for herself. In the Sierra, you never even asked, just put food in front of the person. Yet my feminist side could never get used to the way men would just put up their plate for more beans, never asking, “please, may I have some more beans, Honey?”
Later in the day, I went around giving leftover cookies to each of the houses. That’s when I found out that my attempt at getting the community to peacefully mend had a huge hitch. Since I had announced the party so far in advance it had become big – fifty people. That also meant they had time to plan to get beer from Yecorra and Alvarro filled his pick up with it. He sold it at a huge profit.
That also meant drunks. And drunks means old tensions flair up. My cabin was in the middle of the village. Carlos, Ramona’s quiet tall blond husband, and Esperanza’s husband were cold and drunk. They started a fire under an old oak tree. Don Emitereo informed them that it would kill the tree and to make their fire elsewhere. They didn’t like being told what to do by the town’s original owner and stormed off. Luckily someone started a fire pit in the middle of the yard instead.
A good time to start a fire, or conflict, is the day before you have to leave town. As the embers cooled off so did Don Emitereo and his surviving tree stopped shaking it’s leaves, Carlos saddled up his horse on a pre planned important trip. It was to bring Ramona, who now was always dressed in black, to her hometown. She would go to visit her brother’s fresh grave on the Day of the Dead. As they both quietly rode off on their horses, she in black with her coat and hair waving back in the wind, it spooked me. What was this Day of the Dead? Chilling.
The next day was November 2nd and I didn’t understand what this holiday was but I said I’d go along to the cemetery with the others who choose to go and pay Chapo 3000 pesos for gas like he was asking from everyone. That was about a dollar so I gave him a US dollar and I offered some more pesos in case my exhange rate was off. He refused all of it. Plus Maricela insisted I sit up in front – with Chapo and an aunt. Seemed suspicious, the town was trying to set us up. I didn’t mind since it was a cold November mountain morning and I was warm inside the truck’s cab. The only time I did mind was when we rode by the car full of people from the Mesa and Jose Luis saw me there, with Chapo. I could have died. Now these little potential gossip nuggets were getting to me.
We all arrived at the cemetery outside of the “big” village of Bermudez. The women put flowers and candles on a cross. Then a bunch of women wearing black gathered around the recent grave of the patriarch of Mesa Abajo. He had died in April. Their wails reached towards me at the graveyard entrance. They cried together, some repeating over and over “Papacito” (My dear daddy).
So as I lit a candle for my Grandma and Grandpa (now gone over three and two years) I had to hold back tears. What fascinated me the most about day was how it was mixed with tears and laughters, greetings and gatherings, rosaries and beer. In a big way it was a big Sierra gathering – almost everyone I’d met was there, but to me it was for a sad reason. They didn’t seem to think it was sad, just at times.
The children and Tere and the other mothers who weren’t in immediate mourning were going to almost every grave cleaning up the weeds and brush. Such a small town, this is the one time of year it gets cleaned up. No caretaker hired. This was a way to show respect for the dead.
Once I pushed away my own thoughts of my past beloved, I started to observe and watched everything like an anthropologist. One woman from the Mesa started reading rosaries and it was like a funeral with all the other women repaeting the roasies, crossing themselves, and sometimes crying. The younger women were sitting around talking and givng an occasional cry. The muchachos were over by a truck talking and drinking beer. I thought it was so funny when I looked over to see Jose Luis taking a big swig – at a cemetery! The children were having fun lighting candles on top of the graves. The older men were talking in a corner, at the farthest point of the graveyard.
Tere suggested we sit in the shade. Other muchachas came with us and soon the cowboys wandered over. Freddy, Everaldo, Chapo, Cheno and others finished their beer bottle together. Then Maricela suggested we play spin the bottle. In a graveyard? It wasn’t really the game I expected – we just blew kisses. I was relieved. I didn’t want to kiss anyone anyways, especially not as the women were still crying and praying a few tombstones away.
The graveyard visit ended and all the caravan stopped at the store in Bermudez. I bought a can of tuna then wandered by the car where I finally got to talk to Jose Luis. He was helping Chapo fill the gas tank. No automatic credit card pumps here. Chapo had to suck with his mouth to get the tube to pull the gas from the container. When it wouldn’t pump anymore and syphering with his mouth no longer worked, Jose Luis made me laugh by trying to just throw the gas into the tank. Not very successful.
We drove on and soon caught up to where the Mesa had stopped to have a picnic lunch. They invited our carload from Cordon. The cold torillas with beans tastied fine to me. Afterwards someone suggested we all switch who rides where for the ride back. Someone told me to jump in the one with Jose Luis. Okay. It was just me and him and his dad plus Eveeraldo and Freddy. I talked mostly with Jose Luis. He was sitting on the corner edge. I put my hands on the back for balance which placed them between his and Everaldo’s hands. To my delight Jose Luis put his thumb over mine. Were we really holding hands? Was he being sneaky in front of his father? We talked about Ranchero songs and then I taught him some more English. I taught him to say “shut up”
I yelled out, “Hey Carolyn.”
Jose Luis said to her face, “Shut up”. Carolyn threw back her head in laughter.. Her cackle was contagious in joy.
Everaldo asked about my silver bracelet which I wore and cherished. My older brother had given it to me before he left to travel a year around the world. He gave one to my older sister also, trying to make a family heirloom. It didn’t work and he has no memory of it now. Instead our only family heirloom is a dead, stuffed parrot, someone’s pet from long ago and no one knows who. I think it’s hilarious but everyone else thinks it’s creepy.
Jose Luis asked to put the bracelet on. So I helped squeeze it on his tan arm. Later Chapo joked that he saw it all and he was angry and jealous at me. Did I owe hin gas money now? Or was the ride up with me by his side worth a buck?
There were rumors of a dance for the holiday and I wasn’t sure if they were kidding or not. The whole thing seemed like a weird funeral. Why was there drinking and kissing games while the women cried for their dead father? I still didn’t understand this Day of the Dead. Were Mexicans not afraid of death? Did they laugh at it? Years later I would learn more, that yes, they didn’t have the fear and silence we puritans have. There was some laughter and fun in skeletons dancing and inviting spirts to your home – especially in southern Mexico.
The dance never happened and I went straight to bed as the sun sank with the disappearing trucks from Mesa. I didn’t sleep much. Seemed like every pre-Jose Luis event I couldn’t sleep well. He made me nervous, anxious, a romantic lurching in the stomach. Plus, he always kept me guessing.
I woke up at 4:30AM after a night of tossing and turning due to thoughts of Jose Luis. I got ready, ate re-fried beans and tortillas for breakfast (typical), and petted the kitty. Then at 5:30, when a little light started to shine, I started walking towards the Mesa. I thought about walking alone in the dark and scared myself remembering the ghost stories Maricela and Jose Luis told me at the phantom holiday party a few nights before. I shook my head considering myself ridiculous.
Then I came to a gate that had never been shut before. I opened it but had the hardest time getting it shut. When I finally got the wire over the post, the sun made the field brighter but not clear enough. The minute I turned around it looked like two figures were coming towards me. They looked like elf like cloaked figures laughing at me, kinda like Ewoks from Star Wars. Then I saw that it was a horse coming towards me at a quick trotting pace. I thought it would stop or go towards another direction when it saw me but it kept coming. I got a little nervous, never really trusting these big beasts anyhow. I started walking off the path but it kept coming, stopped, and stared at me. I thought horses were supposed to be scared of people. I tried that approach and yelled, “Vayase Caballo,” get out of here, Horse.
It jumped up and neighed. Still watching me with that one eye I could see. I had never seen a horse do this and it was freaky. I walked in the bushes thinking if it attacked, I’d run around a bush more nimbly with two legs versus his four. Norman had warned us not to ride the horses up here since they were either half wild, not properly trained, or both. Was this a wild horse? Or was it Cheno’s horse that I knew was half wild. This one had a white diamond shape on it’s face – I would have to remember that and ask Cheno.
It kept looking at me and wouldn’t move so I went under the fence and walked on the path on the other side. Unfortunately the gated part ended and I had to cross back into his field. I was still scared and began trotting myself. Even though the strange equius was out of sight I didn’t breathe until I crossed the next gate.
When I reached Manuel and Jose Luis on their beanfield, Manuel christened the horse “El Diablo”, the devil. I thought he was joking but later in Cordon when we needed to roll over anything possible for conversation and I told my campfire story, they believed me saying how there are ghosts in that particular lot and that they come in the form of animals How convenient. Not only are there rumors running wild in the Sierra for entertainment, now I discovered the horror stories too.
They said Don Emitereo’s illegitimate son Santos was chased by some big wild animal, and that Rosalba’s sister once saw a dog that then disappeared. Rosalba herself once heard a trumpet and it was during a fiesta with the hired live band. I was pretty spooked – especially after talking to Cheno – it wasn’t his horse. His dad, Hiliberto said there’s a treasure buried in that field and that the ghosts were from the Indigenous people who hid the goods. Maybe there was some truth to the saying “There’s gold in dat dem hills!” No matter which person or story I wanted to believe, I choose to never walk alone through that patch of woods again and Carolyn named it “Sleepy Hollow”.
When I did arrive safely to where Jose Luis and his father Manuel were picking the beans. I yelled “Buenos Dias” and startled them both. Jose Luis must have forgotten I said I would be there and of course, didn’t mention it to his father. Either way, they never expected a gringa at dawn.
I got right to work – showing the skills I had learned helping Don Emitereo with his field. Lean over, pick a stalk, gather it up in your hand, pick another stalk. I was quiet and let them talk first. Jose Luis and I laughed at his father’s jokes. Manual was clearly the one to invite to any party. Finally, Jose Luis did converse with me. I noticed he had my bracelet on – that was a good sign.
With Don Emitereo, that’s all we ever did – pick the beans. Now I got to see the next step. They took canvansas, gathered up a huge sack of beans, flung them over their backs like Santa Claus and walked up over by the road. We were joined by Everaldo and Maximo who brought their beans from their fields. Jose Luis hopped in his truck and after the beans were all put on a tarp on the road, he drove over the beans. I didn’t expect that. It was the easiest way to remove the actual bean from the stalk (SHEATH? WHAT IS THE FARM TERM FOR THIS?)
It looked so easy. For the next batch of beans I asked if I could drive. Jose Luis scooted over. I drove back and forth just like he did. They yelled out “pare!” Stop!
Jose Luis got out and soon came over to the drivers side.
“You drove too fast. Too many beans fell off the tarp.”
Opps. I scooted back to the passenger seat and he drove back and forth, slowly. I didn’t know there was skill involved. He had been driving since he was 14 – so about five years, where I was 22 and had been driving since my permit at 15 – but all my years of experience did not prepare me for beans.
After the truck did it’s duty, next up was the wind. Holding the bucket high above their shoulders, the men would pour the beans into another bucket on the ground and let the dirt fly to the side.
(THIS HAS A TECHNICAL TERM TOO LIKE THEY DO WITH WHEAT???)
It took a few times with that heavy bucket before they seemed more dirt free. I already knew the last step since I did it everytime I made beans in the kitchen- grab a handful and sift out the dirt, then wash them before soaking or cooking them. Now I understood why we had to do that, you could find dirt, rocks, or mud from the truck tires – at least in the Sierra of Mexico.
We talked and joked and Jose Luis didn’t notice when I took a photo of him getting the dirt out of the beans. That made Maximo laugh. He asked me who I liked. Not this game again. This time I let them play. I admitted it was someone in Mesa. Jose Luis and Everaldo exchanged a look – some of the few bachelors from that town. Everaldo asked if I’d marry a Mexican. Now I had changed my mind from when I first met them – yes, I said.
Jose Luis said “I’m going to be a gringo.”
”Why?” I asked. He never answered but I took it as a sign that he approved of my change of heart.
After all the beans were out of the stalks and reasonably clean, we gathered up the empty stalks for the animals in the winter. Making hay. We brought them to the little casita shelter I had found them all in during the rain awhile back. Now it was filled with the stalks and very soft. They told me I could jump in them and I did. It was fun. They told me to do a sommersault so I tucked in my shirt and did. Jose Luis said he never knew how so I taught him to do an egg roll. A real roll in the hay.
The hard day’s work had ended. I enjoyed all the physical labor, joking around, the picnic for lunch which Maximo’s wife, Elia, and his sister Minda had carried over and shared with us. I also liked the flirting with Jose Luis. But it was time to go. All I got was a hand shake and thanks from each of them as they headed back to Mesa to their families. I had to head home alone – through the ghost filled woods, to my lonely cabin. In my sad realization I imagined instead being part of a romance novel and Jose Luis would grab me and take me to that casita and do whatever they do in those books.
But home I walked and avoided all the ghosts except the ones in my mind – ghosts of boyfriends past and lost chances. What would life be like if I hadn’t broken up with that cute guy in high school? Or if I stayed with my college boyfriend. Scratch that. Nightmare. Or if I could actually understand the guy from Portugal who called every few months after we had only taken a romantic moonlit walk by the Meditereanean sea? Or if that guy in Denmark hadn’t ruined everything by spiking my drink? Then maybe I would let him ride his rickety boat all the way to Baltimore like he wanted. Or what if I wasn’t so far away from Rob and could see if he really liked me too, in an adult fashion, not this Mexico Mountain high school stuff. I longed for the day when I didn’t leave a love in every port. I wondered what it’d be like to settle down and just be me and some guy I loved, me and him against the world. Traveling together. Learning together. Not me, alone in a crazy amor dance.
It was a Tuesday night in November, the first one. Carolyn stayed up all night listening to my battery operated am radio. I fell asleep but in the morning she told me President Clinton had won. It didn’t seem real that there was such a change until I saw the footage on the TV that night at Alvarro and Rosalba’s house. Earlier in the day I helped Alvarro in the cornfield. The Sierra didn’t have any tractors or fancy machines that run over corn and shoot it into a truck. We had to cut each stalk ourselves. That’s why Vidal was over from Mesa- as hired help. I was glad to help, for free.
Vidal told me how he and Everaldo who lived on the other side of Mesa were sworn enemies. Apparently Vidal was still angry at Everaldo for not honoring his request to play an hour more of music at Sidonia’s despedida party about a year earlier. Maybe us community organizers were doing more destruction with these dances.
I couldn’t understand why he would still be angry over something so silly. But living so close to each other caused many conflicts. One woman was still mad at her neighbor for borrowing a bucket and never returning it. They hadn’t spoken in years.
Hearing about the goodbye party dropped my stomach as fast as the corn would fall out of a tractor if we had one. I would soon be leaving and already I was being pressured to have a party. I knew my lesson now. I didn’t commit to anything. No party planning then party problems such as city imported beer and far off strangers.
As I picked up each corn I thought about how I truly loved the farm life and working outdoors. I didn’t just go to help Jose Luis because I was obsessed with him but because I loved trying this new work and being a part of the Sierra world. How different everything was. I didn’t want to go back to boring Hermosillo. I grew up in Washington DC. I knew the big city life. I wanted this exotic one.
I didn’t know if I would be allowed back. I had called my best friend from college, Elizabeth, months earlier asking if she would come be the community organizer since Norman originally planned for Shiela and I to just fill in. she agreed. Now I wondered if she’d let me tag along – and would Norman be okay with that?
One day Cheno showed up from the big city. I assumed he was making more arrangements for his wedding in December. It would be way too far for me to make it – in the woman’s village off in Sinaloa. It was weird to think that if and when I came back, he’d be married.
He walked all the way from where the bus drops us off at the Punto de la cruz- the highway, up to Bermudez. Then his father had met him there with a burro. They knew he was arriving thanks to our faithful radio station that gave out every message and minuit news.
The minute he arrived back he was treated like the king that a boy is in a family. India took his bag. Maricela made him dinner. And I noticed that wherever he wanted to sit, the sisters would immediately jump up and give them their seat. So opposite of ladies first and the siblings yelling “shotgun” in our side of the border. See, this is why I had to stay? So fascinating a place.
Time was running out, so when Alvarro and Rosalba set off for Mesa I took a ride with them. It was time to start going to every village to say goodbye. I only had about a week left.
We visited his two aunts who scandously live with one man. No one seemed to care that much since they all were in their seventies. The man happened to be named Facundo and once Carolyn couldn’t pronounce his name and mistakingly said “fuck fuck fuck Fuckondo”. Made me laugh even if no one else knew what it meant. Maybe that’s why he needed two women.
Then Alvarro pointed out that he was going to see “one of us” – his half brother Santos. The mother was a lot warmer this visit. Despite the tsk tsk rumors, the two families formed a relationship even if Dona Matilda never even liked hearing Santos’ name and I noticed that all her medical headaches and problems started about the same time as his birth. Maybe it wasn’t headaches but heartaches.
Santos jokingly asked me to marry him so he could go to the U.S. Now that became the big joke – us getting married. I joked around but told him the truth – the going cost was $3000 a wedding and $300 a month. Plus it’s a federal crime so there was no way I’d do that.
Alvarro and Rosalba headed back but it might be my last chance to be there, so I stayed. Besides I was hoping one young man would be nice enough to walk me through the Joya – their name for Sleepy Hollow. I stuck around and ended up hanging out on Jose Luis’ side of town.
I ended up talking with him a lot. Even once alone sitting on a log. Many people ended up walkin by, with silly smirks on their faces. When I visited with Minda and Lupe they kept asking if I’d agree to be his girlfriend if he asked me to be.
It was getting late and I knew I had to cross La Joya before dark or I’d really be terrified. Jose Luis did walk me through it. I realized later that leaving town with Jose Luis was probably not the best idea. Young couples were never alone here. There went my reputation – depending on what he said happened or not. Or what they think happened in their minds.
For me I was glad to have precious privacy for these parts. I got to ask all the things I really wanted to know.
“Why do they like us gringas here when we dress differently and don’t wear as much makeup.”
“I like girls with lots or little make up.”
“ Why didn’t you talk with me much at the quinceneara?”
”I was talking with people from school and didn’t dance much.”
Then he asked me some questions.
“How many boyfriends have you had?”
”Three. Is that a lot for around here?”
I asked about him. He had two girlfriends. One from when he was 13 to 16. And the other when he was 18.
He asked me a big question.
“Would you ever think of living in Mesa De Abajo?”
”It’d be nice but I wouldn’t want to serve tortillas all my life.”
”You’d get used to it.”
I stopped walking, too full of laughter. When I stopped for air, he said,“When you spent the night that time a few months ago I had a dream that you were my girlfriend.”
“Yes. They say that what you dream is really what you want. Have you ever dreamed of me?”
”Mucho. One where you weren’t talking to me – like at the quiinceneara and I kept running after you, yelling at you – please, talk to me. It was a nightmare, actually”
“Here, let me show you the bordo.” He wanted to show me the edge of the mountain. In hindsight I realized that was another cross-cultural mistake, to follow him off the path, through the woods, and prickly bushes. But it was gorgeous – overlooking the valley and other mountains in the distant. We had already passed the Joya – I should’ve just said goodbye and kept going. What can I say, I’m a sucker for romance?
The sun was setting and we sat down on some rocks. We playfully threw the stickers we had just walked through onto each other. Laughing as we grabbed each one off of our clothes only to make them stay on the other.
Then he said, “When you said you liked someone at Mesa the other day, who did you mean?”
“Why do you want to know?”
”Because I like you.”
”Of course it was you. Who did you think it was?”
“I’ve liked you since you and Lupe came to visit us.”
”I came to visit after you came here with Shiela.’
”My first day?”
Then he took my hand and we held hands. I felt like a teeny booper again. The simple things in this simple life. He said he was embarrassed because his fingernails were so dirty. I told him it didn’t matter. My fingernails could never get cleaned with all the work we did in dirt.
“So when you dreamed I was your girlfriend, did you really want that?”
”Dame un beso.” Give me a kiss, was his only reply. I wasn’t used to that. Usually guys just went in and did it – didn’t ask for it, or demand it.
I said “No.”
“Because we have plenty of time”
I thought we did. I thought we had danced, We had talked, We were holding hands. Okay, so we were all alone and could have gone into major Sierra slut territory, but I liked this retro dating thing.
“dame un beso.” There it was again.
”No, we can go slowly.”
Was he one of those type of guys? Was he not the friend I had thought he was? Was this novio thing all a big mistake. I shouldn’t have mentioned being his girlfriend. Did he only want to try his luck out on an unsuspecting foreigner?
After a few minutes of silence, he motioned we should get going. He made it clear that we were not novios and not to tell everyone we were. What was up with this guy? What had we just talked about? Was it because I wouldn’t kiss him?
He shook my hand and said “see you later.” I blew it.
It was bad enough we were all alone. I may have soiled myself for a little romance and for what? For him to rescind his offer of being novios? At least I knew the truth – we just held hands. Back in Cordon, Mariclea said they never walk alone with a guy but I’m from another country and everyone knew that so it wouldn’t be malvisto, seen badly. Phew. Maybe my reputation would survive even if my heart couldn’t.
That night I was wathicng TV at the left when Maricela stood up suddenly. She walked over to the door and said she heard noises coming from Don Emitereo and Dona Matilda’s chicken coop. Her ears were on the lookout since everyone knew a chicken had been killed the night before.
Now it was my turn to jump up and run out to their side of “town” to wake them up. They didn’t mind. With my flashlight and the light of the full moon I followed them over to the coop where they investigated the alleged crime scene. No animal was there but some evidence was left behind– a hole where the animal dug to try to get to his trembling victims. The next morning we found a chicken, dead. The perpetrator must have returned later as the whole town slept through any suspicious sounds. So Don Emitereo caught and killed that skunk, waiting quietly in the night
How could I leave such an exciting place? If it wasn’t the boys driving me crazy with romance ups and downs, it was animals attacking, or ghost horses. None of this to me was dull. No electricity didn’t mean no entertainment.
Now that we were scheduled to leave, I was getting sad and stressed. Stressed out trying to visit everyone before the dreaded day. Carolyn was supposed to come along to other villages but she tripped over a rock and twisted her knee the day we had planned to walk down the ninety degree slope to Ensinal.
No loss – I always thought that village was dull even if Virginia was a character. Virginia was a thin woman who burped loudly and no one seemed to care. I think Carolyn only went to Ensinal once and I had taken pictures. One was of Carolyn and Virginia but later Virginia ripped it up. She was certain that Carolyn came down the straight angle degree hill every night to have sex with her ugly old husband. Carolyn could barely walk in the daytime, why would this woman ever think she’d run down everynight for some affair?
I survived the Ensinal visit, alone, with the two families. I enjoyed chatting with Freddy who now at least was a little more interesting after befriending each other from the Halloween comedy. The next day Carolyn couldn’t come to Campo Americano since her knee still hurt. I loved Campo, always had a good time with the four households there.
I always stopped at the three sisters house first. It was hard to avoid, the path ran right into their porch. I think they would have noticed if I tried to dis them and sneak somewhere else. This time I asked Socorro, the biggest and most outspoken of them all, why she never married.
“I don’t want any man telling me what to do”
A true friend. A woman I could really talk to. She would understand me and how I felt about married life in these parts. Too bad I might have to leave, forever.
“Yeah, I’m not sure if I want to marry either.”
She told me how she liked the dancing and had a few proposals but she wasn’t in love. For the time being they had Jose, a hired man, to help with what she and her two sisters could not do. That seemed like the option for the most freedom for women in the Sierra.
But she still bossed me around. She saw the condition of my blue jacket – now full of dirt, and demanded I washed it. I used her stone and rubbed it up and down and let it dry the whole day while I visited.
I visited over at the other families’ houses and had a nice time. Like always. Yet at the last house in the village, there was a surprise. A young man on horseback. A handsome more anglo American looking cowboy. And very flirtacious. He came from a far away place called Ranchito. His name, coincidentally, was Jose Luis. I started to think I was attracted to anyone with a Luis in his name.
Whenever I talked about my Jose Luis, he thought I was talking about him. He just had an onslought of flirtacious comments. In fact he even got me to get up on his horse when we went out into the field to herd the cows to the corral. Then to my surprise he got on the horse too – riding behind me. Flirting and more flirting. He said he wanted to robar, steal me, away from my Jose Luis. I got off as soon as I could. Looking back at him, sitting high up on the horse I noticed the beautiful mountains behind his shoulders. That’s why there is so much romance and flirting in these hills. Just the air and earth is romantic enough, that must drive everyone to poetic verses.
He was there helping one family brand their cows. The man of the house warmed up the branding poke in a fire, Jose Luis II held down the cow, the man put the brand on the skin of the calf till it steamed, then his wife cooled it off with a bucket of water. I don’t know how much water helps after being burned but it must have been better than nothing.
It got dark, I had to get going. To no avail, I took the opportunity to spend the night with the three sisters. We talked about men. Jose was there so I asked him why the men liked to boss the women around so much here.
He said “I don’t know.”
Lencha was very motherly and set up the cot and made sure I was plenty warm – especially since my jacket was still wet in the cold November air. I woke up to Lencha and Soccorro talking. I thought it was morning until I looked at my watch. It was 3:30AM. Socorro woke up thinking the cat got into the food and Lencha dreamed it was morning. We all had a good laugh. I went back to sleep and woke up at 7 and had breakfast with them. I went around and said goodbye to all the families one last time before climbing up the hill.
The next day Carolyn was feeling better and we walked to Mesa so she could at least bid one village goodbye. As we got to Sleepy Hollow she chanted some prayers and we sang hymns. Lobo, the huge german Shepard, must have felt our fear because for the first time ever he followed us the whole way to Mesa.
After La Joya we went on to show tunes. It was fun. Eventhough I complained a lot about her, she was actually fun to talk to most of the time, now. She was a lot happier since the quinceanera and now was as sad as I was to leave.
At the Mesa we visited with all the families. We stood and watched Everaldo and Maximo fix a roof. Actually men from both sides of the village came to help out with this task. It was a good way for us to say goodbye to everyone – all at once.
Eventually Jose Luis came out of his house and shook my hand. He told me he was leaving in the morning – at three. He would miss my goodbye party, despedida. Soon he had to go to pick apples. He gave me a shake of the hand. That was it. Over.
I was sad that he was leaving and it all seemed so weird from the other day. Did he like me? Did he not? Did it really matter if I couldn’t come back with Elizabeth in the winter? I was sad about our goodbye but more depressed about saying goodbye to the whole Sierra- this fascinating place.
I was sitting watching the men fix the roof when Lobo got in a fight with a dog from Mesa. They fought near me then ran over me. The growls and grumbling terrified me. I knew I’d be eaten up. I ran towards the men and one hugged me. It took me a second to realize that this isn’t done even if it was comforting in my moment of fear. It was Manuel, I pushed him away. Everyone laughed. I wished it was his son instead.
That night or early morning, Carolyn heard Manuel and Jose Luis’s truck rumble through Cordon at two. I ran outside and only could hear a car and some loud music going out of town. Too far for me to run in my pijamas. The moonlight shone on the porch making me feel stupid, again, and cold. I went back to my dream. A dream where Jose Luis didn’t desert me at every possible dance.
That evening everyone in Cordon noticed that Jose Luis had driven by way too quickly. It was a message. We were nothing. Maricela told me not to worry about it. Noe had recently been to Mesa and not come by to visit her. Soon we’d both be novio-less. That made me feel better. And Dona Matilda told me that all this talk about novios is just a way for everyone to make me crazy. I think it was working.
It was Saturday. Sheila and crew were coming to take us away – maybe forever. I was so busy that day getting ready for the party and packing that I didn’t get to go over and visit everyone in Cordon to properly say goodbye to my hosts. When I went into the bathhouse with a cement floor, that’s when the Suburban choose to drive up, again. I quickly spilled water on myself from the bucket in a deluxe sponge bath. Then I ran back to the cabin to find Pancho, Lucy, Sheila, and surprise, Dolores. She got a chance to see this part of the Sierra and get out of the house duties in Hermosillo. I was glad to see her yet already felt a change. She and Shiela were buds. Sheila was loving Hermosillo and I knew I didn’t want to go back there, to stay.
They took naps so I took that time to slip into my red dress from the quinceanera. I went over to Maricela’s and she poofed up my hair in the perfect bang copete plus, glopped on the make up. When I walked back over to the cabin I found Chemeley there with his half brother Santos and Santo’s brother Vidal. They all did a double take. I forgot that most of Cordon hadn’t seen me at the quinceanera and at the Halloween dance I forgot to dress up. The first dance I ever attended was when I had just arrived so wore my “ugly” American Laura Ashley dress and no make up. No wonder Maricela was insistent that I get a dress made for the quinceneara, she saw she had a lot of material for a Mexican makeover. This night, they would all like seeing the Mexican Carolina – right before I was leaving.
Soon more people started arriving for the dance – the usual youngcrowd from Mesa. But then I also heard that some muchachos were here from Ranchito – that far off town south of Campo Americano. Was all that flirting with Jose Luis II for real – was he keeping his word? Did he come all the way here to dance with me?
I sat next to Minda and she told me that Kili was here and officially proposed to her on this visit. They decided to marry in January since I would be here. Later I would see why this was a smart move – Americans have cameras – free wedding photography where there usually was none.
Cheno asked me to dance first. I liked dancing with him – it was one of the few times we ever got to talk. He told me a wedding secret too – that he wasn’t going to marry until January. That was good news for me – maybe I could hitch a ride with his family and go. This also opened up my Christmas, I didn’t have to stay in Mexico to try to get to this wedding. I could even go home for the holidays. Plus he said his girlfriend would be mad at him – he was supposed to go propose to her officially that weekend but he chose to be at our party instead. I guess everyone knows they’re getting married but the muchacho still has to make an official visit and ask persmission from the families. Now that I know the wedding business in our country, it’s amazing how flexible it is there. Maybe we’ll marry next month, maybe in January. No months of booking the place, church, caterer, etc.
I saw that the room was full of muchachos and since it was my party I wanted everyone to have a good time. I had Cheno sit me down so everyone would have a chance to dance. Next Everaldo asked me to dance. I couldn’t believe how flirtacious he was being. Jose Luis was his friend and cousin. But he insisted that Jose Luis was young and that I needed someone older like himself. I asked to sit down soon.
Chapo invited me next and I was happy to dance with him. We joked around that I owed him a dance – I guess I had sat down too early at one of the dances before. He didn’t talk much but dancing was one of the few times we ever got to know each other.
Next Vidal and I danced. This time I was relaxed, not pissed that he stole me away from Jose Luis. I also learned something – he was a great dancer. The best in the whole Sierra, in my opinion. He would confidently hold your hand in his, high above our heads. The glide was effortless across the floor. And, just to mix things up, he’s sway with you once, then twice, then once again. Always keeping you guessing and having tons of fun.
Chue asked me to dance. That was rare. He was the other bachelor of Cordon. We barely ever danced. Looking over his shoulder I spied Jose Luis from Ranchito. We had been exchanging glances all night. It was very seductive.
So I danced with him next. The minute I did I knew there was no way I would run off with him and leave my Jose Luis. He smelled funny. He talked all big but he too was young – 19. Still, it was ego boasting to have an admirer travel so far. Unfortunately he brought a travel compaion with him, Laurencio. The guy looked just like all the bandito characters in movies. He acted like one too. Way too flirtacious and he wouldn’t let me sit down after three songs like I wanted. He also demanded I take a photo of us together. he made sure to make a point to tell me he wanted to work in the US. Was the photo his documentation to get in?
I snuck off to the kitchen to make hot chocolate like I promised the guests. It was the first chance I had to eat. I was gobbling down a burrito when Alvarro, Jose Luis and Laurencio from Ranchito, plus Santos and Vidal all wandered into the kitchen. All the desperate men. Vidal earned a gold star though – he helped us make the fire earlier that day and now helped me prepare and even serve the chocolate. He seemed like a decent man.
The party ended with me dancing with Chapo. I was glad it ended by me dancing with someone from Cordon. As the music faded off and the room got quiet, Alvarro said now all of the Sierra would be sad that Carolina was leaving. All the men pretended to cry with huge boo hoos. I laughed. It was a sweet despidida.
I shook everyone’s hand goodby and wished them a Feliz Navidad since I woulnd’t be there for it. I hugged Minda and told her, felicidades, congradulations on her engagement. Her brother Everaldo saw that and asked for a hug too. I innocently gave him one and he took the opportunity to smash his lips on my cheek for a sloppy gross kiss. I pushed him away. I was smoking through my ears. He got a kiss whereas Jose Luis was nice enough to ask and he didn’t get one. Maybe leaving all this romance drama wouldn’t be so hard.
But it was. I didn’t sleep well and woke up at 4AM. I cleaned up the mess in the kitchen from the hot coco. On days like that when I didn’t do the dishes, I’d frequently find a huge mouse drowned in the bucket we used to catch the water drippings. Today I didn’t but when I did, the kitty gladly crunched on them for us. The kitty, my little love, I’d miss her too.
Don Emitereo’s light finally went on at six and I went over for our normal coffee routine. This time Dona Matilda got up too. Sadness hung in the air. Especialy for Don Emitereo who still claimed his love for me. I still insisted he was like a grandfather to me. At least he never stole a sloppy kiss like his younger counter parts.
Tere invited Carolyn and I over for breakfast. That was a nice goodbye gift. Then the whole village seemed to wander over to the cabin and watch us pack all our stuff into the Suburban. The hour came to say goodbye and I was a depressed mess.
All the women were by the porch and all the men (including the guys from Ranchito) were lined up on the fence. I said goodbye to all the women. Carolyn was crying. Then, to all the men. I went back to where the women were and some were crying, including Dona Matilda. She doubted that I’d come back.
Then we hopped in the car. I was trying to be happy and light about leaving because I knew I’d be back either as a visitor like Sheila or for real if Norman and Elizabeth said I could. But as the car drove out Tere’s face broke into tears and Don Emitereo sunk into the saddest face that tears welled up in my eyes.I wanted to cry but never did. Instead I relived every moment in my mind, the whole way home. Holding onto my new friends any way I could.