Musical Interlude – last chapters

I think I was confused in the last post. This is the last part of my time in Mexico. I forgot that I left twice so when I read the end of the last post I thought it was when I left for good. And this one seems to say the song is Grunge so I thought it was my time in Seattle and wondered why I wrote so much for an epilogue but now I see this is the end – the rest of the winter and spring in Mexico.

I think a lot about their sad faces when I left. It was a permanent goodbye and they were so loving and friendly and welcoming to me. I need to remember how much I miss them but I don’t feel the same at all even though I spent more time with cohousers.

Here is the rest of the story:

Chapter Five: Grunge

I tried to sleep to forget all the sad faces. Once we were done with some quick visits in Bermudez and Mesa Campanera, we ate at Punto de la Cruz. Then it was onto the fast curvy highway – the fastest I had ridden in three months. The terrain changed to more cactus and a lighter green. Too quickly, we arrived in the polluted, big city. I was amazed by all the stores and people. It was weird not to stare down every car or person to see if I knew them since every car in the Sierra was familiar.

We unpacked all our stuff out of the surburban at the Casa de los Amigos in Hermosillo.   Orlando, Dolores’ brother Fernando, and some other local volunteers helped us out.  They started teasing me about re-adjusting to the city. Orlando warned me not to walk up the hill to go to the bathroom – that now I had indoor plumbing, not an outhouse.  Orlando and I joked back and forth about how to use modern things like telephones.

The brighness of the lights in the night bothered me. I was used to our dim lit cabin with one bulb.  And the flow of warm water from the faucets was fascinating. It never got as cold as that mountain water I had to wash my face with every morning.  I had become a hick.

The next day after a nice long sleep, I woke up and called my parents.  When I talked to my mother she was excited to hear of all my adventures and thought returning was a great idea. My Dad thought I was crazy. No wonder they divorced.

He wondered what job I could do when I returned. Luckily I was prepared and rambled off a bunch of possibiliites – Spanish teacher, community organizer, social worker … Seemed to satisfy him. My step-mother mentioned how a cousin my age was applying for grad school and bought a new car. I hung up bitter. Our ideas of success were so different. I loved traveling and they never understood that. Plus this experience, especially the ability to use Spanish, always helped me in future job persueants – even in competive businesses like Show Biz – it was my ticket in. Successes like that always helped me feel like following my heart was always the right thing to do – even if I didn’t have car payments.

After a bit of home through a telephone wire, I went back to Mexico living and washed a huge pile of clothes, on a rock.  It wasn’t as hard here in the city since the water felt incredibly warm.  I could have been more modern and gone to the laudry mat but it seemed to expensive and inconvenient.   Dolores smiled as I washed since earlier she had complained that our clothes stunk. Did she not like the smell of the Sierra? Remind her of home?  Maybe it smells different on the base of the mountains.

Carolyn and I explored the city, owing and aweing like we had never seen one before.  I acted the tour guide since she had never gone around Hermosillo, only arrived the day before being thrown up to the Sierra.

Her trip was focused on the Sierra, so we took the bus to the airport in the morning.  I waited for hours for Carolyn’s plane to take off – they changed the schedule. When it was finally time to board, I said goodbye and was a little sad. It felt wierd without her walking next to me, I’d gotten accustomed to having a Sierra sidekick.  I’d even dare to say I liked her, despite all the compliaing I did about her Spanish.

Being in the city made me depressed. I just wanted to go back to Cordon. Yet Norman seemed to think I was needed to help Sheila and Dolores with the Casa eventhough there were barely ever any guests. He said I could go back for one month in January to help Elizabeth get set up, and then in May to water the walnut grove. He thought it was best for volunteers to be up there alone. I pointed out that I wasn’t up there alone – I had Carolyn with me.  He just wandered off.      

I felt angry – like I was his toy. He put me up there against my will and now that I loved it, he wouldn’t let me go back.  It got worse. I called Elizabeth who was my best friend in college. Now she was saying she wanted to be up there alone. Plus ,she was coming to the city to get ready and bringing her friend Nicole – someone I’d seen around campus but didn’t really know. Nicole was with Elizabeth working at a homeless shelter in Texas.  So, was she planning to go up with Nicole for un rato, a time period, but not me? What about our friendship?  Did it not mean anything to her now that we graduated college? What about Cordon? Would I ever go again – for a long time? What about my future? Everything was all up in the air and none of it felt under my choice or control?

They might keep me from Cordon but they couldn’t keep me from seeing my friends from there. In the winter, most of the Sierra comes down to the warm big city. Some for school. Some to sell the vegetables or fruit paste filled empanadas.  Some just to visit family that lives full time in the city.  I went to visit because I didn’t feel at place at the Casa in Hermosillo anymore and it might be my last chance to see everyone.

I took a bus and called from the bus station to Esperanza’s house. Her husband was from the city so they lived there all year except some of the summer and fall.  No one answered. I kept trying. Finally Don Jorge answered and told me to take a cab. I did and there he was waiting at the door like he’d stand at the gate on the left every morning – gray, tall, chubby, and holding his cane. Still sweet smile.

He was all alone. Everyone else was at a funeral for an aunt. Selfishly I was happy about that – that meant more people left the Sierra to go to the funeral.  So in through the door came Esperanza and her sister Lencha plus Beatriz and Tomas whose city house it was, plus half of Mesa – Minda, Lupe, and Everaldo. Plus Cheno and Hereberto his father, to make the official visit over to Sinaloa to ask the father’s permission to marry his daughter. 

It felt normal – sitting around chatting, drinking coffee, being served beans and fresh tortillas, watching the soap opera novelas (now in color), and then going to bed right afterwards. In the morning everyone wrestled up around 6:30/7.  I was eating my favorite breakfast of fried eggs, refried beans, and fresh tortillas when the phone rang. Everaldo answered it and said,

“Yes, Jose Luis, she’s here. She’s eating breakfast.”

Yet he didn’t ask to talk to me and was acting strange since I called the other day from Hermosillo. In fact I caught him in a lie. He said he was working at the Mexican cookie factory, Gamesa, and might not have time to see me. Lupe said he didn’t have a job at all.

That day I walked to centro (downtown) with Everaldo, Lupe and Minda. It was weird walking through a city with them. No dust under our feet. And in the center we saw Freddy and his parents from Ensinal crossing the street. It was weird to see all these country folks around pavement and stores. 

The next day I walked over to Jose Luis’ house. Earlier I found a paper store and bought a map of the city. The Sierra people were amazed that I could find my way with this weird modern thing called a map. It didn’t help me find everyone – at Jose Luis’ he never showed up. I talked with his mother and father and sister. They all said that Jose Luis had “robbed” a woman at that weekend’s dance and was now married. I had a feeling they really wanted me to stay away from their city and their precious boy.

The next day I did see him – sitting on the corner drinking a soda with his buddy.  They also repeated that he had married and that the girl was pregnant. I was obviously being put off. That was an impossible story.  If he really had ruined the whole social system and made a girl pregnant, he would married her publicly and quickly with the big dance and whole affair. The only difference would be the rumors that would follow them the rest of their lives that she was gorda, fat-enlarged, at the wedding.  I knew this from the way people talked about the scandalous wedding of some couples even over thirty years ago up there in the Sierra.

When his buddy went inside to return the bottles (glass bottles that the store wanted returned to get the recycle deposit back), I took the alone time to get the real facts

.

“I heard that you told everyone you had three husbands?”  Was his cool reply to Que pasa?


”What? I never said that. I told you that I had three boyfriends, I’ve never been married”

 “I just want to be friends.”


”Fine. Do your parents have anything to do with this?”


”My father doesn’t want me to go to America.”

Okay, I’d leave him with his dilision – I never wanted to marry him. I never wanted to bring him to the US. His father could only dream so much. Maybe I was a tad bitter.  Fine, it was over. 

Soon they walked onto his house I assumed.  I was hurt, but not too much. I’d have to find something else to obsess about than a dumb guy.

Luckily soon all thoughts of Jose Luis left my system. Another reason I went to this big cty was that my Yoga teacher summer fling from Hermosillo had actually been transferred there. I surprised him and using my map showed up at the yoga center. He was generally happy to see me. We took a bus to the waterfront and strolled around.  He said he had visited with Sheila and checked up on me. He knew that Carolyn and I didn’t get along so obviously he was telling the truth. I was glad he did still want to see me.

He liked my new Mexican look eventhough wearing all the make up made me uncomfortable. We even talked aobut the possibility of me staying in this town. Maybe we could get back together? With him I could have a real future, I could imagine taking him home as a souvenir. We had intellectual talks – stuff I hadn’t done in months.

He had to go teach a yoga class. He gave me the two kisses on the cheek but it seemed to be in slow motion. Was it supposed to be a real kiss? A longing kiss?

But by the end of the week he hadn’t called. More empty promises and being stood up just like the previous summer of heartache. I re-assessed all the stupidness with Jose Luis and my Yogi.  I realized I should just forget about it all. Not marry a Mexican. Not even date them. Just go home when the whole experience was over and date Gringos. 

One morning I helped Esperanza and Beatriz make empanandas by slicing the winter squash. It was neat to see how they take a bit of the Sierra with them to the city.It was familiar to make empanadas. We made about 120 and they all sold for $50 American dollars total. Tomas, Don Jorge, and the kids went around the neighborhood selling them.  Now I knew I didn’t have to be afraid when some old man knocked on the door at the Casa in Hermosillo selling baked goods from a canvas bag. Now I knew they came from the countryside.

Even though they were in the city with electricity and plumbing, everyone choose to use the shower as a bath house instead. I don’t even think they connected their showers to the city’s water supply. I didn’t mind because by then I liked the temperature control of mixing a scoop from the hot water bucket then the cold water bucket. And it saved water. It felt politically correct by never wasting a drop of water as you soaped up.

I bathed up and went around for one last day.  I walked towards Jose Luis’ house and caught him alone in the centro. He started acting weird again but I just let the whole subject of his “marriage” and my supposed “marriages” drop. I said we’re friends and after that he showed me which bus would take us to his house.

It was strange to be in a modern contraption with this awkward Sierra cowboy even if he didn’t wear his hat in town. We talked and laughed and everything felt back to normal so I was pleased. I had closure. I even gave him the Hershey kisses I ordered from someone at the Casa crossing over the border. Jose Luis was pleased with the chocolate and didn’t even mind their name when I translated it for him.  Since Jose Luis liked the chocolate candy kisses, I could finally say I did give him a kiss.

After spending a relaxing normal time at his family’s house for dinner, I headed back to Esperanza’s house to say goodbye.  Hilibeto and Cheno came back from asking the girl to marr.  With the bureaucratic duties of marriage over, it was time to return to the Sierra and plan for the party. I bid them farewell and no one cried this time.

Everyone was nice enough to wake up early with me in the morning to say goodbye to me too. I wasn’t sure if I’d be back to the Sierra or not but I said I’d try my best, at least to deliver supplies. They gave me gifts of dried fruit, canned fruit, and nuts. The same Sierra gifts. Esperanza loved all the perfumes I gave her to thank her for making me a dress and they all liked the trinkets I ordered from the US (the perfume was from there too.)  I jumped on a bus back to Hermosillo thinking, “Goodbye Sierra people wintering in the big city.” 

I spent a few days in Hermosillo trying to reconnect with Sheila and Dolores.  Not wanting to get too attached to anyone or anywhere since I wasn’t sure where I’d be in the next few months. I did know I would go home for a week during Christmas.  I took the bus up to Tucson and dressed like a cowgirl from Cordon.  I’m glad I blended in on the bus ride up to the border but found this was a big mistake when trying to cross. The Immigration agent doubted my passport and nationality. I rambled off the birth facts on there with my perfect American accent and he looked over my cowgirl look again.  Paused, then let me through. That was the last time I mexicaned up before going home. 

In the Arizona side of Nogales I did like all the Mexicans – I shopped.  All the stuff was catering to their styles so I found some cowgirl boots and a dress for the wedding if I got to go back and see Minda say I do.  It was cheaper and would be easier than having to order all the supplies for a custome made one like for the quinceneara. And it looked really cowgirl – I knew I could only wear it in Mexico.

I flew home and my mother didn’t even recognize me, at first. Till she saw my gait.  That was fun.  She liked hearing about the Sierra world. I spent the week visiting friends and seeing how much we’d changed, not just from high school but now from finishing college.  My best friend since I was 7,  Ami seemed the most distant. She had gone straight home and, to my horror, was thinking of getting back together with her college boyfriend. I hated him throughout the four years they were a couple. I called him “the ape man” though I never told her that. I just tried to tell her we’ve graduated, move on.

My huge crush, Rob, came over and he still made me laugh. We stayed up talking and laughing until four in the morning. He brought some tapes of his music, some new depressing sound called Grunge.  I was happy to chum around with a young man and not have to worry about my reputation.  But with Rob I’d do anything, I’d risk any self respect for him, that’s how much I liked him.  Yet that weekend when he and some other friends came over for a Mexican dinner  I had prepared, it was obvious he liked Ami.  As I played the Ranchero tapes I had bought in the centro, they danced together and looked cute – their blond hair matching. In fact, the first time my mother met Rob he was asleep on our floor and she thought it was Ami until she saw the hairy legs. So she always called him “Hairy Ami”.

Even if he loved my homemade tortillas and asked the secret to the re-fried beans (I wouldn’t reveal all that I had learned from the Sierra), I knew that he wouldn’t be asking me to make tortillas for him for the rest of our lives.  In reality, I didn’t mind that he liked Ami. In fact it felt freeing. Now I wasn’t wondering about anyone. I was completely at the wind’s bay – go where I want, when I want, and not worrying about anyone else, especially not about romance. Plus, if Ami got together with Rob, it would mean no Ape Man, so it seemed all good, at the time.

I flew back to Tucson and took the bus to Nogales. The minute I crossed the border I knew I was back in Mexico – their Immigration control officers flirted with me, loud music blasted from every store and in the taxi I took to the bus staion. I was happy to be home.

Arriving at the Casa it was overcrowded now. Elizabeth had arrived and brought Nicole with her. They seemed so buddy buddy and I had more in common with Sheila now.  Would we still be best friends? Would she let me go to Cordon with her?

Dolores invited us all to her town, San Bernardo, for New Years, so all night, again, we drove the desert and into the foothills of the Sierra. It was nice to see her family again and I helped out – now that I knew how to make tortillas and the tamales – for special occasions like New Years.

I was excited aout the dance. I put on my red dress and got all poofed up. Elizabeth was shocked to see me looking like that.  The dance costa 10,000 old pesos to enter. In a few hours the country would start a system of “new” pesos making it easier to enact the NAFTA agreement.

I sat at our table by the dance floor looking as pretty as I could. Elizabeth said I looked stoic, and as the night wore on, desperate. No one asked me to dance. Another disappointing dance. Dolores tried to comfort me saying the men had to pay to dance. I guess I wasn’t worth another 10,000 old pesos. (about five dollars).  At least we all got up and danced to the ranchero version of “Aud Lang Syne” right at midnight.  How would be my new year in Mexico?

The first day of the year was going fine for me but not for Elizabeth and Nicole. On our ride back from San Bernardo they rode in the back of the van with a young woman we gave a ride to, her six kids, and a pig.  It was freezing back there and they literally froze still. I had no idea – I was warm and cozy the whole nine hour trip in front next to Dolores who kept warm next to her boyfriend.

Hanging out at the house with all the girls – Elizabeth, Nicole, Sheila and Dolores was like being back at college – fun. And the best news was that Elizabeth decided that, yes, I could come with her to the Sierra. Even Norman said if it was okay with her it was fine with him but she would be the only sponsored volunteer so I’d have to pay for my own food. No big deal. I used one hundred bucks and bought a ton of beans and tortillas, a few canned goods.  This time I knew it’d be enough – no starvation fears anymore.

The sixth of January we American girls were riding a bus around town doing nothing in particular. We started talking with one man who told us he won the muneco, doll. What they heck was he talking about?

He explained that it was the Day of the Three Kings. Literally the tweth day of Christmas and that’s about how long it took for Melchor, Baltazar, and Gaspar to reach baby Jesus with their gifts. In Mexico, they make a round sweet bread cake and hide a plastic Jesus “doll” figurine in it. Whoever finds it has to give a party on February 2nd.  This is also the day you are supposed to take down all remaining Christmas decorations. I think we should do this in the US and pass a law jailing all those who keep up their lights until April!  It’s also the day, Candlemas, when some started predicting the weather for the rest of the winter and the Pennsylvania Dutch decided to throw around rodents for that purpose.

Anyway, learning about a new holiday we all sighed and said “Oh, how interesting.”  He was nice enough to give us his figurine. We stopped at a store and bought a chocolate cake mix.  Cleaned the hibbijibies off of the germy stranger’s plastic doll and put it in the mix.

When the cake was cooled and frosted, we wanted to try out the tradition. At that moment Mario arrived with one of our few actual hotel guests. His name was Jeff, from New York, but had been a leader of a work camp ten years earlier. Blond, shy, with glasses – a scientist on vacation.

I sliced the cake and felt the doll with the knife so I gave that piece to Mario.  He was such a generous Mexican host that he gave it to Jeff. Jeff was a great sport and said he’d throw a party but not in  February since most of us would be gone by then.  We were amazed by his genoristiy and using his memories of the Sierra past and ours of Mexico present, planned a fun fiesta to end his trip.

A few days before the party, Dolores and her boyfriend brought us around town with his new friend, Asael.  In the back of the truck, Elizabeth and Nicole kept looking up front at Asael and in English going over how cute they thought he was. He was all right, I thought.

By the University plaza where the hot dog stands lay out their goods, Elizabeth and Nicole kept looking over at Asael and giggling. I was busy eating the hot dog. . Someone had gone to the US, learned about hot dogs, and mexicaninzed them. They were wrapped in a sweet like roll and you could top it with beans, guacamole, salsa, and onions. Plus, the usual ketchup. Whenever I ate it, the toppings would roll down my arm. I always knew this was not date food.  As guacamole, beans, salsa, and mayonnaise slid down my arm and face I knew Asael was a goner – no man would ever like me or any of us seeing hot dog all over our upper bodies.

The next day, us Americans got together with Mario and his church group to paint the Casa except they didn’t have any paint. So we left and played ultimate Frisbee instead. I got annoyed with Mario and the other guy for making the game into some big competition, I thought it was just for fun. It remeinded me why I never played team sports – even with my short jint trying ultimate in college. It was the guys then and now that annoyed me. I kept to swimming – something you could be in a team yet compete alone.  Elizabeth was the opposite. She grew up with brothers and thrived in competition and was on the Ultimate Frisbee team all four years of college. I used to joke with her that she was like a man – all physical release of emotions and never talking them out. She wouldn’t even do normal girl talk like kiss and tell.  I never even knew if she was a virgin or not until years later when her children gave me physical evidence. She talked about nothing. She could work for the CIA she was that good.

Another night we all went dancing.  Orlando dropped us off at the discotece but didn’t come in. I didn’t know why – Jeff was his age and he came dancing. Otherwise it was us youngfolk – Elizabeth, Nicole, Sheila, me, Dolores, her beloved, and Aseal. To my surprise Asael asked me to dance and danced with me most of the night, plus sat and talked with me. Unlike the Sierra, I knew that it was modern and didn’t necessarily mean anything in the big city. I was just amazed he could like me after seeing me eat one of those hot dogs. 

But the next day Dolores reprimanded me – I had danced too close to him during the slow songs. I shouldn’t have put my arms around his neck.  I’d never understand all these dancing rules – in the city or out, nowhere in Mexico.

After that Mario was nice enough to show me the rules.  I would use my hand as a freno, brake. Place the hand on the man’s shoulder, in the front, so you can lighly push him away. But, we joked, if you really like him, use the accelerator, put your hand on the outside shoulder blade and pull him towards you.  Mario was always good for a laugh and a great dancer.

A few days later, before Jeff went home for Christmas break, he did throw the party. We all helped prepare the party beans (refried mixed with chile powder and cheese) and empanadas – I taught Elizabeth and Nicole and we had a little “factory” going on.  Some neighbors came that Sheila knew, some of the city youth volunteers, and some of the older ex-volunteers like Orlando and Norman’s sons.  I was happy to see Aseal again. We danced and talked all night. I felt like I finally got everything right – I didn’t get left behind like Jose Luis always did to me and I used the brake properly so Dolores couldn’t accuse me of anything. It was obvious he liked me and I could probably like him too, but I was leaving. I was upset that it always seems that way – meet someone nice right before you put on the traveling boots again.  I wondered if the moss around the rock that was me would ever grow if I ever stopped rolling on.

The next few days were torture. Waiting to go to the Sierra. Not feeling like I had a place in Hermosillo anymore.  We didn’t even know what day we could go. We were waiting for a delivery of baby pine trees and there were floods in Los Angeles so the delivery was delayed.  Would we miss Minda’s wedding? Was everyone missing me up in the Sierra? Or did I now have some awful reputation because I stupidly took a walk alone with Jose Luis?

CHAPRE SIX: Dollar Dance

Finally the trees arrived. I bought all my food days earlier and now I went shopping with Elizabeth and helped her get her supplies.  Now we could also get fresh vegetables for our first few days up in the winter Sierra. One that I discovered I like was a green squash called “chayote” but Elizabeth and I didn’t know it’s name so we called it boca de abuela, grandmother’s mouth, for it’s wrinkled up edge.

The drive up was too smooth – I felt road sick.  Then we got to Punto de la Cruz and the bumpy dirt road slowed us down. I was happy seeing the familiar sights – brooks and mountain peaks that unlike a hike through a National park – had actual meaning and memories for me.  The cold air felt nice and fresh but made me realize I was no longer in the Hermosillo warm desert of the winter.  We would really have to work on our fire building skills.

In Bermudez Eremita and Karim didn’t seem excited to see us but Rosalba gave a big smile and said “Carolina, you’ve finally come back!” I was sad when we drove off so quickly – I couldn’t wait to spend more time again with her. 

We finally reached Cordon and everyone came out to meet us – both sides of the village. I had never seen that before – with my first arrival nor other times that the suburban drove into town, so I was honored. Was it for me?

We shook everyone’s hand and everyone said they were waiting for us.  Some asked if I was happy to be back. I gave a big “si”.

We visited a bit then Lucy wanted to go over to Mesa. We quickly said hi to everyone and I felt forgiven – no one gave me a “you took a walk with Jose Luis, Slut,” look. I breathed again. 

The whole village talked about the wedding.  It was a big deal – everyone even remodeled their houses. Preparing for house guests and many many visitors. Elizabeth and I promised we’d come and help with the preparations – I told Elizabeth that was the most fun part of the quinceneara – helping with the party duties.

We didn’t get back to Cordon until night. We watched TV with Tere and Chemely who were nice enough to let us all sleep there. In my absence the cabin was crawling with spiders.  Plus the Bat wasn’t doing his job – eating all the bugs.  He lived in the attic and we rarely ever saw him. Carolyn named him Tinkerbell. Elizabeth said that name would be gone with Carolyn herself.

The next day Lucy left us and told Tere to take care of “her girls.”  We got right to work. Gave every family their equal share to the walnut trees, then helped Chemely plant his in his orchard.  We learned how hard it would be to water them – walk down the hill, down a pretty path, to the well, then carry two heavy buckets (one for each arm) way back up the hill. We only lasted two trips.

Tere came out and helped and then Maricela. I was glad to have time with her again. She seemed to be buddy buddy with her new sister in law, Elba and I felt threatened. Yet talking with Elba she asked if we were with novio or esposo, husband. When Elizabeth and I both said we were single she said that was better. Ya? Already? She’d barely been married a month? Was the promise of sex not worth it? Yet in all reality it was hard for her – far from home in a new village where she’d have to spend the rest of her life. She didn’t know all these people, only her husband Cheno.  She seemed bored, lonely, and homesick.  It was different for Minda, her fiancée was from the same mountain area and she’d have cousins and friends in the new village where she would live. I don’t know how Cheno met such a far away girl.  Maybe in the big city where everyone seemed to spend time.

Even if I missed his wedding (they did hold it during Christmas even if he told me they weren’t), we were there for every step of Minda’s.  We had barely arrived and helped some of Cordon plant their trees, when Elizabeth learned how to take a Sierra bath. I then took mine and put the curler in my hair so it would dry into the perfect poof of a copete. Maircela poofed up my hair higher with tons of hair spray and then did the same for Elizabeth.

All of us muchachas jumped into Chapo’s truck and headed to the Mesa for Minda’s farewell party – her despida, it wasn’t just for us volunteers whenever we left. A bridal shower of sorts.   I brought the gifts from the states.  Cheno already thanked me a hundred times for the can opener and knife I gave him. While shopping for Minda’s gift I thought a messager would be nice because of all the muscle aches of farm work until Ami pointed out that it was really a vibrator. I was so naïve. Instead I got her a can opener and a cheese grater that would be considered fancy for them – stick in the cheese and turn the handle.  If I barely knew it was a vibrator I doubt she would.  Women weren’t even supposed to ask about sex. Her husband would have to teach her everything.  Yet I had so many questions.

Earlier when I gave my wedding gifts to Cheno I asked if it felt different to be married.

“Yes” he agreed.

“Were you nervous at the wedding?”

“Yes”

When I took in another breath to ask another question I must have made him nervous. He responded with “ya”.  Enough. But I’d never get enough. What would it be like marrying as a virgin? Knowing nothing? All I knew is that after they got married, Cheno and Elba went to a small hotel in a village near her home. Not for some exciting honeymoon but to consummate the marriage. I figured it must have been scary for her.

As we rode to Mesa I was excited to see this wedding. A closet anthropologist’s dream. But I wasn’t surprised when we hit the joya – sleepy hollow, and the car sputtered then stalled. I reminded everyone it was the ghost at work.  All of us girls stayed warm, and crammed up in the car as poor Chapo took his nice dress shirt off and climbed under the car. Then we all had to get to work. In heels, dresses, and freshly painted nails we had to push the truck. It worked, the car got us to Mesa just as they were serving dinner at Minda’s house.

I looked around – everyone except us were from Mesa.  Soon I’d find out that Elizabeth would literally take half my suitors from there – Everaldo and Vidal. They saw her and Carolina was history to them.  Well, not right away.

After we ate, everyone loved looking at all the gifts and passing them around. Very practical starting your first house, old fashioned type of wedding gifts – blankets, kitchen items, etc. They thought my cheese grater was fascinating.

Then the dance started. Vidal asked me to dance first and I really liked dancing with him. I remembered how good a dancer he was from my despida and how sweet he was helping out that night. He asked if I wanted to dance all night. Wow, that’s how it worked.  No wonder Jose Luis sat me down, he never asked for it to be a committed all night thing. I mumbled some excuse to get out of the compromise and soon sat down since no one else was dancing.

Next Jesus the lighting red pant guy asked me to dance.  He was quiet so Maximo, dancing with his wife Elia next to us, nudged him to platicale – talk to her. This is the only chance guys really get to talk to girls. But then he was annoying – talking about marrying a North American.  Later he talked the same thing to Elizabeth. Even Vidal mentioned the same to her. I was good for dancing all night, she was good forever!

Everaldo asked me to dance and I told him I was mad at him for stealing a kiss. He was shocked. Never suspected I wouldn’t want a slobbery forced kiss. So we discussed it and he was being as nice as could be bcause he wanted my help with Elizabeth. I said “For starters, don’t force any kisses”.

Next I danced with Vidal. His sweetness was gone. He was now loud, drunk, and obnoxious. He held my hand to dance but used his thumb to caress it. I was so glad I had learned how to use my hand as a freno, break, because soon he put his cheek next to mine and licked my ear. I pushed him away with the freno hand and said “This is our last song”. 

Glad I didn’t promise him the whole night.  Elizabeth could have him.  Norman had warned us not to ride the horses – they were wild and unbroken. The wedding experience would show us that the boys were too.

Chapo always had perfect timing. He’d wait till I was hurt or annoyed by all the Sierra boys, and then ask me to dance. Being with him felt secure. He was sweet and trustworthy. Never loud, obnoxious, or one big hand, Mano Grande – touchy, feely, all one big hand touching octopus). We talked and laughed and ended the dance together. Maybe I’d dance with him all night at the wedding. I could trust him. He didn’t seem like he’d ever hurt or embarrass me.

The next few days Elizabeth and I had the chance to go visiting the other villages, so she could meet everyone. The sisters were sweet and fun as always. They taught me how to dance with high heels – which they lent me to use for the wedding.  At both Campo and Ensinal they all loved the photos I gave them and looking at everyone else’s photos. In one of Vidal had his eyes closed by accident. They all said “He’s sleeping” and had a good laugh. Pobre Vidal.  Were my photos ruining his reputation or had he always been the brunt of jokes since he was usually a hired hand and didn’t own land like most.  Was I learning about class discrimination?

One thing about returning to the Sierra left me in shock.  The leaves of the trees were all gone so as the red Suburban passed through the cabin’s yard I saw our trash pile – too big and disgusting.  Carolyn and I had both thrown out the cans ( I guess we forgot about recycling without curbside pick up). No one else had trash piles because they didn’t buy or bring up as many cans as us weird Americans – Don Emitereo always commented that we had too many bougbt goods. Everything they ate was organic. Or burned off periodicatedly.  So, now with my embarasment, I cleaned it all up in one day. Burying the trash.  Hidden away. Not thinking of the environmental effect for later.

People started to pass through town. I thought the quinceneara was big, that was nothing. It seemed like the whole mountain range heard the invitation to the wedding on Radio Alegria and were arriving by car through our village, by horse from both sides of the valley, and even the American Jesuit priest missionary rode by on his moped. 

I was in the bathhouse and just leaving with a towel on my head when Jose Luis came by.  I grabbed a comb and quickly combed my hair as I arrived over at Tere’s house where the road to Mesa led.  I got there in time to watch the dirt behind their tires.  Left in the dust again.

The next day we made it back to the Mesa and went directly to Minda’s house to help out. We made a ton of empanadas – rolling the dough, adding the paste made from the past summer, baking them, and then putting them on an empty mattress shell to cool. We had to make enough for all the guests to have a nice snack.

We stuck to the cooking and women’s work. The men were busy preparing the dance floor – putting up decorations with wood standings and flattening out the floor and making it dust free by hosing it down every day.  No measly last minute effort to stop the dust bowl like at Sheila’s despedida when Carolyn sprinkled a cup of water on our floor in the cabin.

As we visited a little with everyone I found out they had a dance the night before with all the visitors. One was a young girl – barely fifteen, named Ericka. She supposedly danced all night with Jose Luis.  Within a few hours my jealousy would be gone forever.

Elizabeth and I walked home and were almost at Cordon when a truck pulled up. Jose Luis was driving with a bunch of muchachos. They begged us to come back for a dance. I left the decision up to Elizabeth and she said “vamos”, let’s go.

But the minute we stood in the back of the truck we regretted it.  The men acted drunk and now we could tell they were – Jose Luis was driving drunk. The rocky rough roads and curves were scary enough sober, now we were terrified. We yelled at him to slow down but he ignored our pleas or couldn’t hear us over the loud music.  I felt like he was just being macho – not listening or honoring women.  So the minute he stopped instead of us flying over some mountain cliff, Eliizabeth and I jumped out of the truck and said “we’re leaving. We will never ride or dance with you drunks.” 

We walked out all high and mighty. I doubt it even registered with Jose Luis or the rest of them. But I was certain of one thing – he could dance with Ericka and whoever else he wanted, we were through.

The next day we went down to Campo to pick up some tortillas they had promised to send to Mesa to help with the wedding preparaion. When we got there they hadn’t made even one – they had heard that we weren’t coming to pick them up. News through word of mouth was unrealiable in the whispering hills.

No bother, we had fun making them with the muchachas. We rolled the flour dough out and pressed their circles onto the 1800s stovetop, asking them about weddings and their glory days dancing in the past. They knew the game. It was fun to be a muchacha and dance all night. But they took it far, or too long, and never choose a guy to settle with. But Socorro said she didn’t want some man to tell her what to do and up there, that’s all the men did.

I carried the heavy bag full of tortillas half way, and Elizabeth the other half until we reached Mesa.  Everaldo and Jose Luis were sitting on a bench and claimed they were just talking about us. They asked what happened the day before. We re-stated our case – we didn’t want to dance with drunks. They still didn’t understand and we soon figured out why – everyone was drunk. All week long while the women were working hard, the men were drinking hard with all the liquor brought up for the occasion.  Even on this last day before all the festivities began we were with the women making tortillas and beans, and one man stumbled into the kitchen, sat down a minute, and stumbled out. The women didn’t even blink. Elizabeth and I were livid – how did they get a “get drunk and not work free? card?

The next night was the pre-dance before the big wedding night dance.  I didn’t get all dressed up thinking it was more casual but then saw how everyone else dressed up so spent most of the night hiding inside, behind a tree, or sitting with the married women – the Senoras. It worked. I didn’t dance much. But I saw the men gather by Alvarro’s truck.  He was in business again – selling tons of beer and making mucho dinero.  Maybe being intoxicated wasn’t all bad. Elizabeth noticed that this was the only time we saw the men affectionate with each other – arms enlaced, singing, drinking. Male bonding.

Jose Luis danced with Ericka right away. I didn’t care but did feel sweet justice when she had him sit her down.  I danced with a few of the usuals – Jesus the red pant lightning guy and Vidal. I had fun talking with a new guy from Campo, but mostly hid and enjoyed the chance to finally talk with Cheno’s new wife, Elba. We both shared a sweater to cover our cold exposed legs.  Who plans an outdoor wedding on the moutain top in Februrary?

The next morning Tere knocked on the door and woke us up. We had a message on the radio. I couldn’t believe it. I finally warranted a message. It said “A Cordon, Carolina Brook que mandan saludos Lucy, Pancho y Sheila y que no vienen porque la camioneta se descomposo. Vienen este fin de semena que entra”.  (To Cordon, Carol Brook that Lucy, Pancho and Shiela say hi and they can’t make it to the wedding because the car broke down. They will come next weekend.)  I was so excited. I got a reportaje on the radio. The whole mountain and some of the big city heard it. I was famous!!!

That night after our baths, Elizabeth and I wandered over to the Cordon Hair Salon – also known as Maricela’s house where all the muchachas who now were here in town, from all over, getting ready. The iron was on the old wood stove warming up.  Maricela did my hair up like a big 1950’s bee hive.  Elizabeth got into her borrowed dress which she hid under her shirt when we snuck it out of Lupe’s house in the Mesa. She didn’t want the whole world to know she was using a, gasp, used dress.  Such a shame to re-use a dress in these parts when there was nothing else to do than sew your own.  But she had no time to get a dress made or bought like I did.  She looked fine in Lupe’s golden dress.

We rode over to Mesa with Chemely and Tere and her cute brother, Chezlo. He was heartbroken because his girlfriend – Cordon’s own Riqui, had dumped him at the previous dance. To make us more connected, she later danced with Jose Luis that very night. 

It was hard walking in high heels on the rocky road to Minda’s house from the car. We stumbled over to the porch where the American missionary friar said the mass. He didn’t like the atmosphere – only a few family members on the porch with the bride and groom and four bridesmaids.  The rest were on the dance floor, drinking, singing, playing acordian, yelling out “viva” and shooting pistols straight up in the air.  Yet, he went on, stressing fidelity.  He went on with the usual in sickness and health.

They exchanged rings then did a Mexican tradition – the enlace. The roping together. The bridesmaids placed a ring of flowers around both of them. Trucly enlaced together. Then the bride and groom and the bridesmaids and parents did a valse step around the dance floor – the same waltz type song from the quinceneara.  Then just the new bride and groom – Minda and Kili, danced and the bridesmaids held hands and danced around them which looked to me like the hokey pokey.

Then the wild rucus began. The dance was on and I was in for a ride.  First Lorenzo from Rancho came up to me and asked to dance with me all night. I didn’t remember him at first but then placed him as the guy from my despidada who demanded a photo of us togther though I barely knew him then. Now I didn’t like getting to know him. He was already drunk and stupid. He showed me off to his friends – see the gringa!  I wanted to sit down but he asked me to dance the whole set, called a tanda, with him. I said I would if he promised to leave me alone. He promised. Which he broke. All night he kept harraisng me and aksing to dance. I just got more aggressive in yelling at him to leave me alone.  He reminded me of a serial killer. Persistent.

The next set or tanda I was glad to hide out taking pictures of the bride and groom and bridesmaids. But soon everyone and literally, their brothers, asked me to take their photo with the couple too. I was the unofficial photographer. It started to get on my nerves. No one smiled in the photos, not even the “happy” couple. It’s not tradition plus most had rotten teeth. Only the one photo I got of me and Elizabeth with them are we smiling.  Some of the photos are hilarious – some men already stone faced plastered.  Ah, the party was just beginning but it was getting worse for me. 

I tried to control who I could dance with, I made eyes at Beto, the cute helper who visited Cordon months earlier. He didn’t notice but Everaldo did and he asked what was wrong with my eyes. Then asked Elizabeth to dance.  Then India, Maricela’s tom boy sister, told me my slip was showing. I just wetn inside, sat on a chest and vented to Elizabeth – once she broke free from Everaldo.  This dance was stressful and she listened as I talked  away my complaints.

Later we were told we were muchachas, we had to go out and dance. Plus the chest  we sat upon was full of the cookies and empanandas they had to pass out. It was hopeless to escape the madness of this wild Sierra wedding.

Just when I was feeling my worse, Chapo asked me to dance. Good timing as always but he barely talked to me and soon I just daydreamed trying to forget how miserable I was. At the next tanda I got to dance with Vidal.  He was his good dancer self again so I lost my depressing thoughts and had to concentrate on the dance steps instead.

The special dollar dance tanda came up. I only had one dollar so I danced with Kili and pinned a dollar on him.  Most danced with both, no matter if they were male or female.  While I waited to dance, Jose Luis was next to me. Sometimes it looked like he was going to ask me to dance throughout the night but then someone else would jump in and ask me – especially married men which was bothering me.  But this moment we had a chance to talk. He asked if I was still mad at him and seriously was never going to dance with him again – which I threatened the other day in our anger. I just said “I don’t know.”

Maybe I had a chance, but by then I didn’t want anymore Jose Luis drama. I just wanted to stay safe as friends and no hopes for anything else.

Around midnight, we all ate the menudo made from hominey and the intestines of the freshly killed cow. They also had beef, party beans with chile powser and dried cheese stored from the fall cow rancho season, plus cake – which tasted good all mixed togther.  I felt proud eating the tortillas we helped make. 

The next day many complained of heartburn and food poisoning. Some claimed the cow was angry when it was killed for the meat. I could understand the cow being angry about that sacrifice. They said the adranaline ruined the meat. Maybe a surprise attack at the next party would suit our bellies better.

I danced on throughout the night as it got later and later. Beto kept walking past me and I’d make eyes. He was nice and sweet from the time he visited in the fall and I figured he’d be nice to dance with unlike these drunk strangers. Finally one of the drunk strangers quickly sat me down. I figured he had to run off and pee or puck, hence the rush. Thank goodness for body functions induced by alcohol, they freed me.

Beto saw me and started heading towards me. But another muchacho was coming too. Beto walked faster. I could tell he wasn’t going to make it so I dashed inside. The band stopped just then. So when they started up for the next tanda, I immerged and Beto held his hand out for me – no words are needed, just an extended hand sometimes. 

I was relieved. Finally someone I really wanted to dance with.  He admitted that he saw me making googly eyes at him but didn’t’ recognize me. Finally he decided to just try out who this cute girl was and was happy to find out it was me. He claimed he came to Cordon to visit me in December and waited for me to return from Hermosillo but I never did. 

I danced with him for the next few tandas and then the dance ended – at 5AM.  We sat on a bench next to Vidal, who was his friend, and Elizabeth since they ended the dance together. It felt like a double date.  Then Laurencio crashed it and sat next to me rambling on about dancing or something. I was so mad, still and wanted to push him off the bench.  Luckily Maricela’s boyfriend, Noe, came over, put his arm around Laurencio and said “Compadre, come sit with us over here.”  Later I thanked him for the sweet gesture which saved me from that dance’s harraser.

Elizabeth and I sat on the bench alone, watching the sunrise, as all the men pooled their money together They paid for another tanda out of the band. Then another.  Some muchacho asked me to dance but I only danced one song. Beto was amazed that I wanted to dance with him and only him. He was sweet and my insurance against drunks and strangers. I was learning this game.

When the sun was fully up, Elizabeth and I looked around and saw that most of the mucahcahas had gotten out of their prom like gowns and were now in jeans. So we left to change at Don Emitereo’s sisters’ house.  I found someone to lend me jeans and they were the style everyone liked up there – skin tights.

So we headed back for the morning barbeque – from the mad cow.  Then danced some more.  Now it was light out and I could see everyone clearly. Mesa started shining in a bad light. All the married men plus even guys like Jose Luis were laughing at me dancing with Beto. I caught on quickly – how dare someone like a prized Gringa dance with a helper – a man who doesn’t own land. Plus he wasn’t tall and white like most of the descendents of the three German/Irish Americans – he was short and dark like most common Mexicans.  I was growing angrier by the minute by this town and their prejudices.

Once we sat at the bench, it got worse. Beto asked Everaldo for a sip of beer. I joked, pushing the beer away, like he shouldn’t drink. Everaldo quickly yelled out to everyone – Look, he’s a mandolon”  (being bossed around by a woman).  When I realized my cultural gaffe I gave up the joke. I was mad at Everaldo but also by the fact that women had no control at all over here – no say in who they can dance with, and no say in how much their partner drinks.

Some men got drunker than others. One very large man who’s name was Rafa but later I heard that some people called him Rafelon – the “on” ending meaning big as compared to my favorite nickname “Carolita” with “ita” meaning little or dear.  He was so drunk that he passed out in the middle of the dance floor, belly up. No one cared they just danced around the huge manThat is, they didn’t care until his hand started creeping down his pants and he enjoyed himself like he was snug at home. The women horrified, five men were needed to each grab a limb and drag him off the dance floor. I never saw him again but obviously he didn’t need a dance partner or a spouse, he was happy with his own hand.

We danced a bit longer but then I was too tired – couldn’t take the social scene anymore. We took a nap at Don Emitereo’s sisters. They woke me up to tell me everyone from Cordon was leaving so we caught a ride home and slept more.  Once we woke up hours later, we got all dressed up. It was now the day for the visitors – visitors on their way out of town plus the anticipated novio visit. Would Beto come visit me? 

Elizabeth threw a knife and fork on the floor. In the Sierra if you drop an eating utensil it means someone will visit. I joked that now no one would come because she intentionally threw the silverware. Was I ever wrong.  A truckload of people showed up at our door. A truck with so many standing packed in the back like cattle, holding onto the cow truck fencing. I told her never to throw silverware again.

The truck was full of our pals from Mesa and the far off Mesa Colorado. The women said hello then ran off to other houses.  Most of the men sat in the grass under our quince tree, but Vidal and Beto came in for a proper visita. Luckily we were prepared to grett them – we had hot chocolate, a special treat compared to the usual coffee everyone got. They were kind even if they drank the burning hot drink.  Unfortunately the guys in the grass acted like snakes and were teasing Beto about the visita.

Soon we got in the truck too and headed over to Mesa for one last dance. Everyone ate dinner at Minda’s brother’s house and then we had a small dance in the living room.  Noe asked me to dance first. I liked him ever since the quinceneara. I think some time throughout the night he and Maricela broke up. I danced a few songs. He asked why I wasn’t dancing with Beto. I said “I don’t want a boyfriend” but soon he sat me down.

I did dance with Beto. That’s when Noe turned into a monster. He egged all the other muchachos, especially from his town of Mesa Colorado – next to Beto’s house, to tease Beto. They laughed at the way he danced since he was shorter than me.  They even had everyone clap.  I was getting madder and madder.  Beto was taking it in stride – just dancing and ignoring them.

I had it. My Italian temper was about to blow. I stopped and yelled, ”Let’s see if any of you can dance better?”

I crossed a line. I know it because Lupe crossed the dance dirt floor to tell me it was time to go. Obviously women had no say to stop men at anything.  She brought us over to her house and I went to sleep, pissed. I vowed to get out of town as soon as possible and to punish Mesa – not visiting for a few weeks.

The next day Elizabeth and I walked home. We didn’t want to make a scene getting a ride from Beto on his mule, but he walked us half way. He explained that this was normal. They always teased him because he never had a girlfriend before. And he was an orphan. Racism? Being an orphan? Clearly not this guys fault.  Us three outsiders agreed, people were mean. Can’t be trusted.

I gave him my gloves so he woulnd’t be cold on the long mule ride home. He happily said goodbye. I hoped he wasn’t angry at me for dancing with that jerk Noe. I hoped he knew how much I respected him and hoped someday he would leave the Sierra like he wanted. He walked off singing a happy tune – at least one person in the Sierra liked him.

The next day people kept driving through Cordon on their way home. Some were on horseback. We visited a little but we’re so worn out, trying to recover from the whole wedding experience.  Now I knew why they choose February – they needed the cold months when there wasn’t all the immediate harvest work to be done. All these days running around de yoqui, not doing anything, were only for the winter.

Finally we were well rested and I thought the wedding was behind us when I found an unwanted souvenir. I walked by Alvarro and Chemeley spraying the cows one day. I asked what they were doing.

“We’re getting rid of their lice.”

I joked, “Maybe that’s what is making my head itch.”


Then I realized, it might be true. I had never had such a persistent never ending itch before. I looked it up in the book we had in our shelves Where there isn’t a Doctor.

Yep, looked like lice. Then Tere digged through my head and found a few nits.  Alvarro and Chemeley said they’d lend me the toxic potion they use on the cows. I didn’t care, I was desperate. They joked that some cowboy from the wedding had given me my own ganado, herd, but instead of cows, it was a herd of lice.

It seemed f unny at first but that night I couldn’t sleep. I only thought of the wormy things crawling all over my head. And Elizabeth stayed as far away as possible from me. We both washed our sheets and bedding in hot water and waited for them to dry in the cold February day. I went into the bath house and made myself at home. I kept my clothes on since it was so cold.  I put on the toxic chemicals and left them on for fifteen minutes. So I wrote letters for friends back home – telling them about how romantic the wedding was with  all those cowboys wanting to dance cheek to cheek with me that the lice were jumping from their heads to mine.

Then using the Where there isn’t a Doctor book, I put vinegar on my head and combed with a fine tooth comb. Lastly I washed it all off with shampoo, stripped down. and had a real bath with soap. I left hoping I’d left the Ganado behind and vowing never to dance cheek to cheek again.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Yaqui Deer Dance

February 14 came upon us. We learned that in Mexico it’s called the Day of Love and Friendship. We liked that – more inclusive and not as depressing when you don’t have a boyfriend like in the US.  We made red cookies shaped in hearts and passed them out to each family. Yet while we were baking we got lazy and made one huge red cookie to use the last of the batter. We put a big V decoration on it with cake writing icing tubes. Elizabeth wrote it to mean Valentine’s Day but rumors started circulating that the huge cookie with a “V” was declaring her love for Vidal.  There was no need for tabloid magazines in the Sierra – people made up enough gossip about every little inconsequential detail.

Valentine’s day ended up being cold, windy and rainy. But it was comforting sitting next to the fires at each family’s house and sitting around talking. I brought my kitty cat – my true love – Amorcita, and she purred as I sat and chatted.  We were at Ramona’s house – Riqui’s mother, when she too held her cat – male of course. Female cats were unwanted and only given to foreign volunteers who usually got them fixed like Sidonia had done two years earlier.  My cat started to lick and clean her face.  Ramona said that meant a visitor was coming. I noticed that a lot of the old wives’ tales all resulted in a vistor visiting.  A cat licking it’s face. Droping silverware, etc.  But it was always true – there was always someone visiting from another village or even just to stop by from Cordon. Visiting was the only form of entertainment and only form of social life.

Ramona was right, soon Freddy and his cousin Luis visited from Ensinal for the day of love and friendship. They came into our cabin and we gave them some of our valentine cookies. I was impressed by Luis – he was smart and cute. I had one of the most intellectual conversations I ever had in the Sierra.  He said he wanted to learn English so we taught him how to say “I love you” and “Fuck you”.  He said he’d have to come back for more lessons but after knowing those two phrases, what else did he really need?

After sitting in our cold cabin, they went to a warmer fire at Marcela’s where the other Cordon muchacha, Riqui, joined her. They set up a pit fire just for warming, unlike our barely functioning stove that Norman made for the volunteers.  Still, we were glad to have visitors and have a proper Valentine’s Day in the Sierra.

Despite my joy of having a reportaje on the radio, no one came from Hermosillo. We got no word. I was starting to feel anxious – like something horrible happened. Was Norman’s recent cancer diagnosis getting worse? Were my mother and brother okay on their long cruise to Antartica?  Why didn’t we hear anything?

To make it seem even worse, Don Emitereo and Dona Matilda came back from staying warm in the big cities with a bag they found for us – waiting for delivery at the Punta de la Cruz.  Had the Suburban gotten that far and turned around?  Did they send it up with someone else coming up to Yecora, like Orlando who worked there part time? And all it contained were two bags of groceries and an empty bag of cookies. Who ate the cookies?  Why couldn’t they leave us a note?

I was starting to dread being in a place without communication. When a plane would fly over – every once in awhile,. I would look up and think, “Tell everyone at home that I love them.”  I felt all alone. Like no one in my world knew I was up here on a mountainside.  Or no one cared.

The naked winter trees showed the huge trash pile in my backyard and now in the dead winter, I was finding out about people’s lives under the surface. Through our visits in all the villages we got to know people more personally. One woman admitted that she married too young, at 16, and the love had ended. That they just stay together for the kids and that’s all she lives for. Divorce is never an option up there. Elizabeth and I felt sorry for her – she was our age.  Another woman admitted that her childhood was tough. Her father was a widower and the step-mother was mean and beat them. So she and her sister escaped and grew up mostly with the grandmother.  Another man was hired help from the Sierra Oscura, as they called it – the dark Sierra. And he was dark, not in skin but in a weird, spooky way.  He was helping a family out in Campo Americano and complained that the Americna women in the border town of Nogales only want to dance.  Elizabeth and I felt uncomfortable. No one in the Sierra ever expected women to put out, at least not till now. As we left up the hill back to Cordon, two women warned us to stay away from this man. We already got the hibbie jeebies and climbed up in our fastest speed ever. Afraid he’d follow us or worse, throw a knife at us like he claimed he did to some man. We were finding out the dark side of the Sierra.

Another reportate came over the radio that everyone from Hermosillo would visit us. I didn’t get my hopes up. On Saturday it was rainy so Dona Matilde said they wouldn’t make it. She was almost right but we heard the Suburban. Sheila, Lucy, Pancho, Lucy’s brother and all their kids piled out of the Suburban with shock and horrors on their faces. The wet roads scared them and they even hit a tree. But they made it and it was like Christmas for us. Not only to chat and gossip with Sheila, but from all the grocery goods they gave us. Elizabeth and I quickly hid them away behind our usual food and in boxes. Later everyone would happen to drop by, really to check out what they could borrow, and some would even comment that we must have eaten everything right away – like they do. But we tucked our suprises away.

I got letters from home and my mother and brother traveling in Antartica.   We were all in far off places, middle of nowhere on opposite ends of the Earth.  Luckily, everyone was fine. Rob wrote me two letters. I really missed him and wanted him but he talked about Ami in his letters so I figured it’d never happen between us, but like with Jose Luis, at least we were friends.  Sheila told me that Asael – Dololes’ boyfriend’s friend who I danced with back in Hermosillo , really liked me and was upset I was up in the Sierra. Too bad. Who knew how many broken hearts I’d leave behind, not only in Mexico, but in all my travels.

One of my ominous feelings was correct. Norman was getting real sick. Dolores and Sheila even helped nurse his neck wound after the cancer surgery. It looked like he’d never make it up to visit the Sierra again. That seemed the biggest tragedy – the man’s blood ran with Sierra river water.  Ever since he had the chance to come visit the wild Mexican Sierra when he was doing laundry in the basement at our alma mater, he never left, and became an institution up here – bringing volunteers from all over the world. And now he’d never return to the land he loved. That fate seemed worse than death.

Sheila left too quickly. They stayed over night, visited Mesa in the morning (I didn’t go, in protest for their behavior towards Beto at the wedding), and then picked up Sheila to return to city life and good roads.  Luckily she brought up some of the goodies I had bought in the states. Don Emitereo and Dona Matilda loved the little toy tube I gave them that when you turned it over it made a moo sound. They thought it was hilarious. And the kids liked the jumprope.  Elizabeth and I got a kick out of seeing cowboys trying to jumprope – grown men like Alvarro and Chemeley.

The next day I figured Mesa had gotten the message. Now we could visit. I was nervous walking into town but we started at the side that wasn’t at that last dance. Don Emitereo’s sisters gave me a big hug. They were so happy I was back and told me not to get mad. Others didn’t even mention it or seem to know. But over at Minda’s side where the dance had taken place we talked it out. They claimed they have a running joke with Beto and that they never meant to hurt me. I still felt it was childish but figured I had to accept them and their way of life up here. No point being mad.

As we left Everaldo was more than happy to walk us home. He had his rope and lassled Elizabeth. We all laughed. I guess that’s what happens when you hang out with cowboys.  He left us before the Joya since it wasn’t dark and we made it through sleepy hollow, barely avoiding a skunk.

In the morning a real cow train came through – Freddy from Ensinal came up the hill herding his cows. It was just like the movie City Slickers but this wasn’t for tourists, it was for business. Chemeley gathered up his cows and horse and joined them. All traveling for miles to sell their herd of cattle. 

It was still cold but we were able to do some work.  I put on my crusty jeans and shirt and weeded our baby pine tree grove. Norman thought they could make money selling Christmas trees and knew us volunteers would have to get the trees going before they started thinking of them as “theirs” and not “Norman’s.” Elizabeth thought of making our house more of a home and covered one of the windows with plastic. When Alvarro came over to help he took over the project and got on her nerves. 

Another day, Elizabeth and I went out to gather wood for our stove.  We didn’t have a saw or any way to really carry heavy wood home so we just grabbed some fallen thin sticks and branches. Later when Alvarro and Vidal came to visit they laughed at our wood pile.  Word got around and in a few days Don Emitereo led his burro over and dumped a huge pile of thick, saw cut wood for us.  He was always looking out for us.

Because Elizabeth grew up with older brothers and was the only girl, I used to tease her that she was like a boy. Never shared her emotions.  Not scared of the fire like I was – I never got over that don’t play with fire lesson from preschool.  So she was in charge of our wood stove and keeping the house warm. It also meant she had the disgusting chore of burning our used toilet paper which we kept in a bag in the outhouse and would periodically take it out to get rid of it the right way. She used a stick at least and never touched the stuff.  We didn’t have lime in our outhouse, so no paper could go in there. Just the natural deposits.

On their visit, everyone from Hermosillo brought us a volleyball. Rumor got out about it so one day Vidal asked to play. We were just throwing the ball around us girls versus he and Alvarro. Alvarro quickly noticed that Elizabeth was good and I wasn’t. Those old feelings came up about how I hate playing team sports epecially with competive men. He kept going on and on saying how horrible I was that I snapped and dunked the ball saying “I’m not playing this pinche game anymore”.  The women who had gathered around watching us play looked shocked. I thought pinche meant damn and that was what I had said which was bad enough for a woman to say there. Later I found out it’s closer to the F word.  So I broke the cursing for women rule with a harsher word than I thought.

Elizabeth kept playing as more men and women joined in.  She was good – playing hard. A little too hard. She dove for a ball and we all heard her ankle crack when it got stuck between two rocks.  She hobbled off. The rest of the night I served her dinner in bed and urged her to go to town. A car was coming through from Mesa to go to the clinic in Yecora for childhood vaccines anyways. It was perfect timing. She could see the doctor. She refused. I warned her that she had to stop being like a man, talk out her feelings and not let her body release them all the time.  But she was stubborn.

Soon we’d learn how the locals healed broken bones and twisted ankles. That was a cultural experience in itself.

As Elizabeth lay immobile in the bed, we got word that Karim was very sick.  Alvarro ran off in his truck to go visit his son and wife in the village with the school. Soon after he left the dogs started howling, which they never did. Tere said that meant someone was going to die. That was an old wives tale I hope wouldn’t come true.

The cold of winter seemed to drag on for days and made me feel depressed. There wasn’t any work to do outside – just the chores inside of damping and sweeping the dirt floor, cooking the beans and tortillas, and doing dishes. The whole Sierra seemed to be one dead earth of winter full of cold wind and people.  Karim got better but others fell sick with colds and flu. So visiting wasn’t much fun. I retreated into the cabin and wrote letters like one long letter just to Rob.  I didn’t spill my heart out but just rambled about light stuff on more and more pages, since there was nothing else to do.

Elizabeth forgoe medical treatment but decided to try Sierra remedies. We heard through the Cordon grapevine that Billy down in Campo Americano knew how to fix broken and sprained bones.  So she hiked all the way down there.  He looked at her swollen foot and held it gently up on his own knee. Then crack – twisted it back into place. By the sound and look on her face it didn’t seem like fun.  It did heal, but I think more from time than being manipulated.

One day it was warm enough to sit outside. Tala told me to bring over the crochet material we had the Hermosillo delivery bring us. She finally was going to teach us to make the small knitting dollies that all the women decorated their house with. I was nervous learning in front of everyone  – her daughters Maricela, Eva and India, plus Rique from next door and Cheno’s wife, Elba. My omnition was right. They saw how Elizabeth picked up so fast.  Was there anything Elizabeth couldn’t do? 

Tala pointed out that Elizabeth already knew how to knit and this was my first time doing anything like this.  To no avail. They continued to tease me in my awful awkward techinique. Riqui even went so far to call me a burra, a stupid donkey. That was it.

So I couldn’t sew some stupid dollies?  I went to college, didn’t I? I wasn’t dumb. Alvarro had already pointed out that going to school for 16 years was a waste of time. Apparently in the Sierra it is, it’s more important to make perfectly round tortillas and sew dollies. And I was emergining learner in the hard agricultural labor.

I wanted to tell them to all to buzz off but instead quietly left with the great excuse that Chemeley had just asked to borrow the volleyball. So after throwing the ball to Marcus, I locked the door to the cabin and balled. I was tired of everything and everyone. Culture shock big time. 

I felt like I couldn’t do anything right in this place. I had nothing to offer. Elizabeth could play sports and knit.  My tortillas still looked like Africa and South America but never like the globe. I couldn’t even figure out the dancing and novio thing.  I just cried and cried and let it all out. I felt like no one cared about me here and since I barely got any mail, probably nowhere in the world.

Soon Elizabeth came back home and asked if I wanted to take a walk. I said no. She went back into the main room and I stayed in the kitchen and now cried silently. Tala came by and Elizabeth lied and told her I wasn’t there.  Tala said to tell me that I did fine for the first time and to not feel badly. That made me feel better. Tere also came by to see me. At least they and Elizabeth cared about me. I figured I could just stay away from the mean young girls and the new wife trying to find her way in Cordon and obviously feeling threatened by us Americans here in her new village.  Later I would learn the whole drama was caused by jealousy – Riqui liked Jose Luis. Jeez, she should have just told me. She could have him. I didn’t want to take him home to the US. How many times did I have to reiterate that? She didn’t have to call me a stupid burra!  Later they did become novios and I just wanted to yell at them that they didn’t have to make me miserable over it!

Finally I decided to take that walk with Elizabeth. We had to sneak out of Cordon without anyone seeing us since we had told them I was gone. We laughed as we hid behind trees and ran out to the road. On the walk I told Elizabeth how I was feeling and she just listened. She was always good at that. Then she made me laugh by imitating dancing with Vidal – how we never knew which way he would lean or if he’d do one small dip or twoShe cracked me up further talking about sometimes the boys got so close that you could feel their “excitement” and afterwards it felt like it was still on your leg – “the phantom penis” we called it.

We walked home and she made me laugh futher. She took a big sip of water in our kitchen and said, “Do you know what I love about living here in the Sierra?”

“No, what?”

“You can spit on the floor”

She turned her head and spit on one side then the other. We both just cracked up.  There were benefits to a dirt florr!  Plus we never had to clean up spills, they just absorbed into the ground. If they were really bad you would have to wait for the big puddle to evaporate.

Now, I felt much better. Don Emitereo wandered over and asked where I was when Tere came by. We left it a mystery. We followed him back to his house to watch the evening TV. Chemeley asked why I was crying. He heard my balling and said it made him feel sad. I told him the mean girls called me stupid. He said that must have hurt and he knew I was a sensitive person.  I was touched at how kind and observant he was.

The next day we found out we could take a mini-vacation – right when I needed one.  Chapo was going to the big city and said we could go along. Sounded great. We made cookies and packed cold burritos – tortillas wrapped with beans inside. It took most of the night to make our bags – trying to figure out what clothes we needed for the city and the journey back. I didn’t sleep well – worrying about a whole eight-hour trip with Elba, who was going too. I wasn’t liking her much these days. 

The next morning we got up at 5. We had some breakfast and did dishes. Don Emitereo came by and said he was sad to see us leaving, like it was forever.  So we went and had coffee with him and Dona Matilda.  Elizabeth pointed out that that was the first and last time she had coffee with them.  I guess it was a special treat for me, even if I had to deal with the annoying come ons from an old man!

We heard a honk. Chapo was ready to go. I was relieved to see Elba sitting up front next to her husband Cheno. I wouldn’t have to deal with her for most of the trip since we sat in back.  I sat on my huge green back pack from traveling all over Europe – with patches from England, Spain, France, and Austria. Chapo said my bag was too big for just a few days. We had planned to bring up more supplies, but they were right, the bag almost killed me and Elizabeth who had a similar one.

I also brought my coat thinking it would be a cold ride but once we got onto the paved road, we drove past the pine trees and started seeing lush green in the warm desert valley. Spring was already there.

It took seven hours total, including a stop by a river to eat our lunches.  That was the only time I had to deal with Elba and we mostly ate quietly.  Once in town we visited with Freddy’s family from Ensinal.  We had to drop off something for them.  Freddy was wearing stripped pants. I thought they were pajamas at first. Then I realized this is where kids go bad, like Jesus buying red pants here in the city. But it was more shocking to see his grandmother wearing a bright yellow dress instead of the black one she had to wear in the Sierra in mourning for her husband, forever. I figured once in the city, all the Sierra rules could be broken.

Then we finally went to our resting spot – Don Jorge’s daughters place in the city. It was nice seeing him again. All the elderly generation spent the winter in the cities so I hadn’t seen him in awhile. His daughter’s Esperanza and Beatriz shared the house.  We relaxed and chatted and walked around the corner to the store where the other sister, Lencha, worked. Then went to sleep on the floor by Beatriz and her husband, Tomas’ bed.

In the morning I couldn’t stop laughing, being woken up by a loud fart coming from Tomas’ half of the bed.  I especially liked hearing his weakness since he was so touchy feely and made me feel uncomfortable in the walk to the cow rancho months ago. It was nice to see their human weak spots after they made me feel so weak sometimes

Elizabeth and I did the city thing and ran around shopping and doing errands. We found thread for Tere and materials for a dress that Rosalba said she’d make for me for the next upcoming quinceneara which I was daring myself to go to.  We also bought candy to prepare for Easter. I exchanged some money, sent my letters, and made calls home. It was nice talking to family.  I spoke to Ami a bit but could barely hear her in the corner phone booth.

Later that night she called back at Esperanza’s house. I was so excited to talk to her, clearly, and that it was on her dime that I ignored everyone trying to get my attention. Apparently my favorite city sandwich in Mexico – bologna, queso fresco (fresh cheese), lettuce, tomato, mayo, and the cheap avocados on Bimbo brand wheat bread was being attacked by a local alley cat who somehow got into their kitchen. I didn’t think it was a disaster worth hanging up on Ami. I just made another one after talking to her.  She was worth a sandwich.

Ami had told me that just the night before she and Rob had gotten together and gone all the way. But that she wasn’t interested in continuing the affair.  Okay by me.  Next we talked and planned our summer together. She wanted to travel. She was tired of living at home after graduation and hadn’t taken advantage of the off campus studies like I during college like I had.  Now she asked the one friend she knew would be crazy enough to agree to go anywhere. She was busy planning our whirlwind tour of the US, she was thinking of Greyhound bus which I was fine with. Then we would end up in Alaska and work there. I liked the idea – the ratio of men to women in Alaska was 10 to 1, one of them had to like me, I figured.

Then as an added surprise, Rob got on the phone. He was there visiting her.  I didn’t tell him that Ami wanted to dump him because I could tell he was still smitten with her. I just liked talking to him and in a way felt relieved that they got together instead of he and me. Now the pressure was off, we could just be friends, if and when I was ever home again.

So feeling good after talking to them, I made another sandwich and thought of my future. The next day I’d change my plane ticket for May eventhough I was feeling fed up with the Sierra. I almost thought of leaving that weekend. But I had left half of my stuff up in the Sierra plus I had made such a big deal about going up again – convincing Elizabeth and Norman to let me. I wasn’t a quitter. I also knew it was just culture shock rearing it’s ugly head.  As a world traveler, I was accustomed to this side effect of being in other cultures.

The next day we went around doing more errands. Plus visiting some of the Sierra folk, including Jose Luis’ family. He wasn’t home. I acted like I didn’t care.  Why should I? Who knew if I’d ever see him again anyways?

I may have been a little disappointed to not see Jose Luis but walking away from his house I got to see something I never dreamed I would.  There was a Yaqui Deer dancer. I had heard of this ceremony in my Native American class in college. I knew it was around spring time but I never imagined I would see it in Mexico.  It probably wasn’t as nice as it could be on the Yaqui reservation in the states since here someone paid the man and he danced around like a street performer.  I liked his costume – flowing ribbons around his waist and a hat with a deer head on top.  In general it actually was pretty depressing, doing a sacred dance for a handout of a few pesos.  Plus I knew Indigenous people were the lowest on the, uh, totem pole, so was this just another way to humiliate them in Mexico?

After the “show”, we found a pizza shop and  Elizabeth and I relaxed, talking and laughing and listening to the good rock n roll from our country that they were playing. For me it was a nice vacation from the Sierra and gave me the energy to go back. The next morning we walked out of Beatriz’s house and everyone watched us go down the street with our huge European backpacks on.  We caught the bus up to Punto de la Cruz.  We felt we had to get back right away and there was no possible way we could have waited for when Chapo had planned to return.  Otherwise I have no explanation for the crazy idea we had to walk back from Punto de la Cruz. Luckily I had taken the road so many times and noticed the twists, so I felt secure that we wouldn’t get lost. Or at least I hoped we wouldn’t. 

We almost rode past Punto de la Cruz and I had to yell “baja!” We got off and had a coke. They were amazed we were going to walk and told us to wait for a ride but off we went. We were the community organizers, we had to get to our post.

It was nice and warm in the Sierra now and soon I got hot as we climbed up the hill. I was afraid I’d get another heat stroke like my very first day in the country. We had a road choice and I choose the road that a jeep soon arriving didn’t go up.  Elizabeth tried to run and tell them to wait for us, but off it went. Soon we climbed down onto that road and when the rocky hilly road ended we stopped and had our lunch eventhough we weren’t hungry – we just didn’t want to carry it anymore. We headed on the road again as our bags got heavier and heavier. Chapo was right – our bags were too big and now driving us crazy.

There were more road divisions and soon we realized that we took another wrong one because it got plantier and plantier with more trees growing and some cut on the side of the road – it was a road to get wood. 

We had to backtrack which made my Boy Scout Outback bag feel more imprisoning and I didn’t want to have to take back all the steps we had already accomplished. We thought of giving up and camping.

“I hope we aren’t lost.”

Elizabeth started to laugh at that.

“It’s not funny!”

“I know but I was just thinking. Whenever I’m lost, I ask for directions. Who are we going to ask out here?

Then I laughed too. She was right. This was a real lost.

We got on a better loking road and sat on some logs to rest.  We heard a car.

“Let’s just take the ride as far as it goes. Forget about our plans to visit everyone in Mesa Campanero, okay?”

Elizabeth agreed. Yet this car was going the wrong direction. At least the people inside confirmed we were on the right road towards Mesa Campanero.

We carried on and heard a car and soon realized it was actually coming our way. The car almost passed us by. We stopped the car and asked for a ride with them. I was so relieved to take off my backpack and sit in the back of the truck. We found out that after our four hours of walking, we were at the brink of  Mesa Campanero.            

After we passed the town, they stopped the car to fix something and we got to talk to them. One man was the owner of the saw mill in Bermudez and another had met me before so we all felt relieved about the ride. We worried they’d rape us, and true to  the Sierra, they worried we’d rob them. Now we could all breathe easier as we rode on.

A little more down the road we picked up more walkers – two men and a boy. They lived outside of Bermudez but they were Pima Indians. I was so excited to finally meet some Native people up here, eventhough I had heard all the prejudice remarks from the locals. Being called an Indio is like the worse insult, except for India who got the nick name from being born with dark skin compared to her white twin brother who soon died after birth. 

One of the men was cute and talkative. I liked flirting with him.  They seemed more sincere than most of the people up here. Plus they didn’t do the usual loud jokes all the time.  They were quieter in that sense.

We dropped them off in their houses off on the side before we entered Bermudez. They were made out of long logs and looked different. I wondered why they lived apart from everyone but then again, I knew that everyone was prejudiced so why would they want to live near them?

We ate at the teacher’s house with the wife he found in Cordon.  I was quiet from being exhausted from the bus ride, hike, and truck ride. Plus Riqui was there, and I didn’t want to hear her teasing me for my accent or anything.  We went to sleep soon for the night and I slept away all the travel dust.

The next day we tried to help out for the big event – their daughter was turning one year and they were going to have a big party.  Most of the decorations and preparations had all been done so we were left to cut up the cow intestines for the menudo. Elizabeth and I agreed that we wanted to be vegitareans but we ate some later anyways.

Maricela and her sisters came from Cordon, along with Rosalba who was still living in Bermudez for the school.  Many people from the town came but not the whole town since Bermudez was big compared to the other pueblocitos.  First they took pictures of their little girl next to her ten layered cake and then next to the even bigger store-bought piñata. Next there was a photo of all the children next to the piñata.

The birthday girl took the first gentle swing and everyone clapped.  Then they went from youngest to oldest, clapping and yelling louder as they went up in age and strength. The teacher seemed to enjoy tugging the string which made the piñata go up and down and back and forth on the pulley to make it harder for the blindfolded child. Finally one broke it and the candy poured out. The mad rush was not just kids but adults who could never get enough sugar up in the Sierra.

Everyone was invited to eat lunch, a table full at a time to be served by the women. Then that was it – a quick party. I was happy I got to see one for babies, one for fifteen year olds, and one for lovers – the wedding.  I even caught a sort of funeral with the Day of the Dead.  My anthropologist checklist was complete.

We were happy to catch a ride to Cordon with one visiting family from Mesa.  Our mini-vacation was over. We vowed not to bring big bags ever again.  And maybe next time send out a reportaje on the radio that we were coming so if we had gotten lost, someone might have looked for us.

The vacation also seemed to jump start spring. The weather was warm in Obregon compared to the cold of the Sierra but now in mid-march, it was warming up in the Sierra. And that meant new things to taste and do.  When we arrived back we had dinner at Tere’s by Chemely’s invitation. They served up nopales – cactus. Yummy.  Fried green parts with beans – no spikey parts.

In the morning we checked on the walnut grove. We hadn’t seen it since around the wedding when they were planted.  Now we were in for a spring surprise. They were blooming!  I felt proud to watch my babies grow – something I had help plant and nurtured was growing up.

CHAPTER EIGHT: THE LAST VALSE

I got a huge rewind.  In the fall there was plenty of food with the harvest. Now it was time to plant, which meant first preparing the fields.  I got to see the beginning of the process.  Since there wasn’t any electricity, or running water, that also meant no tractors.  Plowing meant mules.

The men told us we couldn’t help but we had to at least try. They pleaded that it was too hard.  Don Emitereo indulged us and showed me how to hold the wood plow. It wasn’t as heavy as I thought but the hard part was sticking it into the thick still cold earth – trying to break it down. I had to keep pace with the two mules who wanted to run.  When I looked at my work I realized we were truly useless – I had plowed a wild crooked line. Don Emitereo was nice enough to let Elizabeth try after that. We left respecting him and all the men for this difficult work and were glad we had a good excuse not to help, unlike most of the agricultural duties.  We walked away amused watching Don Emitereo slowly holding the plow and yelling “mula” to get the mules to walk. 

Spring was officially arriving – even if it was a few weeks before March 21st.  The signs were real in the Sierra .  Everyday a new calf was born.  The hens were running around with five little chicks squeeking “pio pio.” The sun warmed our faces as we women sat and crocheted together in the afternoons. And one morning, Don Emitereo came through the gate. I looked up and saw his bright face blocking the sunlight which rayed around his smile and white hair.  His hand outreached with his sombrero which made me scream with delight because it was filled with fresh eggs!  Such a treat – eggs, especially for Elizabeth and I who didn’t have a coop or hen.  “This” I thought, “ is spring.”

Like the calves, Dona Matilda was born in the spring.  It wasn’t easy to hide baking since the whole pueblo could smell it, but Elizabeth and I sneakly made a cake and cookies. We woke up early, rustled Eremita awake and walked through the porch to her grandmother’s house and greeted “Happy Birthday.” She was so delighted that we remembered her birthday.  We baked for her since she wasn’t up to baking it herself like most have to do. We ate the cake for breakfast with our usual morning coffee that we daily made sure to take with her, listening to the reportajes on the radio – a visitor coming to some far off village, a shout out, a death, a news report from the city, followed by another visitor, etc.

Later that day all the women gathered in Dona Matilda’s yard to make coffee. First we toasted it in the cauldron on the open fire. Then we added a ton of sugar to make it into a sort of paste. Next we put it on a pan and with a rock, chopped it into blocks, and took the final step – throw it into the grinder and make it grinded like the coffee we all buy at the store.  I put my portion in a jar and brough it home to enjoy a taste of the Sierra for months.

The next day we went to visit the Mesa because we heard Minda and Kili were back for a visit. We wanted to see her again before she spent the rest of her life off in his village. When we saw her and asked about married life she said she didn’t feel any difference at all and liked living in the new village. We ate lunch with her family and afterwards she and Kili were alone in a room. I could hear them talking and giggling.  Were they fooling around? I doubted it. But when they came out, Kili had his arm around Minda and even squeezed one of her love handles on her hip. Elizabeth and I thought it was the sweetest thing – he loved every part of her.

After Cheno got married he and Elba would hold hands or he’d put his hand on her knee. Public affection seemed only okay for the married, especially newlyweds who didn’t hate each other yet like 95% of the other married couples in the Sierra.

            Another day we went to visit Ensinal and had a nice outdoor picnic with them. Virginia’s husband proudly told us about their family history. I was writing it all down – out of curiosity and to determine who married first cousins. On the way home skinny Virginia walked us half way to help us gather the wild fresh oregano. We were amazed how fast she climbed the hills and weaved through the trees. Obviously this mountain living was healthy for all ages and she was in much better shape than us 22 year olds.  That night we did enjoy the fruits of our oregano hunt with a delicious spagetti and tomato sauce.

A few days before St. Patrick’s Day we started telling everyone about the holiday. No crazy party plans, just a warning that if they didn’t wear green they would be pinched. The night before we used the food coloring I brought from Christmas at home and made our tortillas green. Chemeley, Tere, and Alvrarro came over – curious about everything turning green like we said we were going to make. They couldn’t believe we had green tortillas. But they really marveled over the green cookies we tried to shape like shamrocks. Alvarro even helped make a wire cookie cuter so we could shape the shamrocks. There was one glitch, they didn’t believe they were shamrocks; they teased us that they were “marijuana cookies.” 

We knew from Norman that this was a taboo subject. Norman never mentioned sex but I knew that was off limits for a “good” girl to ask about because in Mexico that would mean you were participating.  Even if I tried to push the envelope sometimes to find out what their romance lives were like, marijuana was a whole other ball game.  We all knew but never talked about the fact that there were drugs growing out in some of the Sierra fields.  Norman had given sparse information and one was that the towns that had airfields later had them destroyed, against their will, by the government which were cracking down on the airplanes filled with drugs.  Norman warned us never to ask about any of this drug stuff, nor did we want to know the truth.  Now we got the closest to confirmation that we ever got – they at least knew what the plant looked like.

The only other drug information I ever got was that Ramona warned me to be careful walking out alone at night – even to my outhouse half a block away (built by the workcampers who were there years ago and now inconveintly far from the volunteer cabin).  She said one time she was walking outside and heard a russell and someone threw a rock. She quickly went inside. Everyone knew that the drug burros traveled by night and you didn’t want to face them.

And years later, rumor had it one of the muchachas I hadmet at the wedding had run off with a rich drug dealer. Flew off in his private airplane. If the marriages turned for the worse in general, would hers be better or worse? Either way, her family seemed heartbroken.

The next day, I was disappointed that not everyone wore green.  Alavrro got by without a pinch by putting a green leaf in his pocket.  But later everyone did surprise me. I just didn’t realize that they took the idea of a holiday seriously – they each took a bath first like during any other big event. By afternoon everyone emerged shimmering in green. Elizabeth and I were happy that they did play along with our American holiday.  They thought it was funny that they had to wear green but they participated and enjoyed the shamrock cookies – normal flavor, just a different color.

The next day I took a bath myself. Now that it was springtime Tere’s bathouse also served as a gallinero, hen house.  A hen sat on her eggs and she wasn’t happy to share the room at me. I had to make sure not to invade her space and when an elbow went over the imaginary border- she snaped at me. 

Another time I brought in a bucket full of cold water and another that I had left on the stove too long. It was boiling hot.  The hen found this out the wrong way. After I had stripped down she decided to try the water out and went gawking and cawking from the burn on her bottom as she touched the hot bucket through full immersion.  I screamed too. Opened the door and hoped no one saw me naked. But all they did see was a hen flying out and hearing her and myself screaming.  I couldn’t wait for those eggs to hatch, but I also had to avoid the cow that was drying in another corner. The bathhouse was also a meat drying facitility. At least they used the bath house, apparently while we went to the big city on our spring break, they killed and bled a cow in our cabin. We wondered why the floor was so well swept. We never got the hang of how to properly sweep a dirt floor – didn’t have years of practice like they did.

After dodging mother hens, it was time for another quinceneara. This time both Elizabeth and I had dresses made. Rosalba made me a nice black one.  We were both not only ready on the outside but mentally prepared – knowing what these big dances were like now.  There was only one problem – no one else wanted to go.  Let me restate that, Maricela wanted to go but her father did not give her permission so she couldn’t go. None of the men who could give her ride wanted to go.

We would have to walk. In a way we liked that. We had walked up from Punto de la Cruz and had almost made it to Mesa Campanera. Now we could walk all the way down from Cordon to Mesa Campanera. Going down and without a huge turtle shell seemed easier.  And in the end we could brag that we walked the whole distance, eventually.

In the morning we woke up early and packed up the leftovers of the stir fry Chinese rice we cooked the night before.  We were waiting to see if the rumor that Jesus from Mesa was going to drive by at seven in the morning was true or not. As we drank our morning coffee with Dona Matilde and seven rolled by we realized it was false. So we got ready to walk – putting on jeans and our hair up in pony tails.

I went over to Tala’s house and borrowed a curler for my hair.  Hiliberto, her husband, thought we were crazy to walk all that way for a quinceneara. He said the walnut trees would dry up from neglect all weekend. That haunted me – I believed him. 

Maricela asked us to spy on her new boyfriend from the wedding. He lived there. She asked us to figure out why he hadn’t visited her yet. We promised we’d at least try.  I had another agenda – to yell at Davidcito for the sexual harrasment from the first quinceneara. Elizabeth and I practiced what we would.. 

We left at 7:20 and walked the familiar walk to the puerta, gate, and then down to the ranch by 8:00. That’s where our lunch bag broke and rice fell all over the caretera, road. We walked down to the brook and then up and down and around unfamiliar walking territory. We talked every once in awhile but mostly walked in silence and I thought about my life, indulged in my usual deep thoughts and daydreams. We arrived at Bermudez at 9:30 am. Just waved to the folks we knew and kept on moving.

We walked up and out of Bermudez into a field of blooming wild flowers but unfortunately no shade. We started getting hungry and at 11:30ish stopped to eat lunch on a hill looking over the whole colorfull valley.  In the Sierra automn comes in spring and the leaves were changing from winter green to passionate red, spring yellow, and orange. We ate our Chinese take out then headed on. Soon there was a dreaded fork in the road. I was afraid we’d get lost but luckily both roads went up the hill and met at the same place on top. 

We walked on and on and got more tired.  I even had a little cramp. Soon the dirt highway smooshed flat but shadowy.  We heard whistling. Was it an abductor? Rapist?  It was the same guy from Bermudez who had given us a ride when we were hiking up from the big city. We joked about always meeting him when we were on big hikes.. He told us Mesa Campanera was about an hour away. “An hour!”

We dreaded his “hour” which probably meant 1 ½ to 2 hours for us. But as we walked on I kept looking at my watch and consoling myself – one hour more, only one hour. By then we had two sips of water left and we hoped we could boil water when we arrived. That was the only water we were warned to drink – boil the crap out of the local amoebas and bacteria.

In about 40 minutes we heard a car –coming our way. We kept walking but soon saw it and waited. The driver said “Carolina” but I didn’t recognize the muchacho. As we jumped in the front of the truck,  I asked where they were from.

“Bermudez. Don’t you remember dancing with me?”

Then it came to me. He was the one that was so drunk he sat me down in a hurry to go off to do what I assumed was a biological need.  Now, in a sober light, he seemed nicer and cuter.

“Are you going to dance with me again?” He gave a wink.  Now at least I knew his name, Rogelio.

“Maybe” I flirted back.

Elizabeth and I were happy to relax and be off our feet but ten minutes later we arrived. They dropped us off at the house where I stayed last time,  They told us to rest and then we could bathe.  They put us up in the attic, seemed normal, that’s where Carolyn and I stayed last time.  Elizabeth and I were glad to let our feet rest after the four hours of walking. We were wondering if we could survive dancing all night, in heels.   We came down in less than an hour since we got to town at 2:30 and the mass was set for four.  They let us bath in the bathhouse, not the barn like last time. I put the curler in my hair and let it air dry into a perfect round copete,  big poofy bang, on my forehead.  I wondered how big my copete would be with a curling iron, but I couldn’t test out that hypothesis until I returned to a city.              

We walked over to the quincenera’s house where they held mass. No drive to the church this time. Some wore their dresses but most were still in jeans like us so I felt okay about that.  The same American priest was doing the mass. It lagged on so we snuck away to get all poofed up with hair and make up, then snuck back but it was over. I just went up to him and apologized for missing it. It was great seeing him again and he cracked us up with his story of returning home from the Mesa wedding by putting his mo-ped in the back of the band’s truck. They were all drunk and it was a wild ride – he had to beat the drumsticks to keep them focused on music and not crashing. Then, he gave me a synopsis on what he had preached about at this quinceneara. He had told them that this comes from the Aztec tradition of presenting the virgin to the village and to not let some man rob her.

Speaking of which, as I was getting dressed, a young girl told me that Davidcito, who lived in that town, told her he was going to rob me that night. I was horror struck. Robar had two meanings. One romantic – being whisked away and eloping if parents didn’t approve of a marriage or you wanted to get it on faster than waiting for the whole big ceremony. Or the more violent version – of literally being taken off against your will.  I hoped he was joking and meant the former one so I joked back “he doesn’t have my permission.”

 I was starting to regret coming to this party without everyone Cordon.  Normally girls would have a father or brother there to protect them, and now I was starting to understand, it was from very real boy danger.  What was Davidcito capable of?  So far he was the only one I had ever experienced real harassment from? Could he hurt me?

The party was ready to start. I sat down as much as possible, to rest up before the dancing began.  First the quinceneara came out followed by fifteen little girls and boys who served as her damas and chaperones.  They danced the valse on the actual cement floor.  It would be my last time to see this traditional valse dance in the Sierra.  A cute one too, no teens this time, just cherub children.

It seemed like there was less people at this quinceneara.  They trickled in as the celebration momented.  They came by car and bestia, including some of our unmarried friends from Mesa (but not Jose Luis, he was still in the big city.) at least I was guaranted not to get my heart broken at this quincenera.

Soon the dance began but I was too tired, I hid inside. I ate the dinner instead. Finally I felt up to it. I sat by a bunch of young girls. A short man came and asked a few of them to dance. They all said no, they were waiting to have a quinceneara of their own. So by default, he asked me to dance. I didn’t have an excuse – even being exhausted from a hike wouldn’t work. 

He seemed nice enough and his friend asked Elizabeth to dance so it was nice being like a foursome double date.  But the band seemed to go on and on. No tandas? What were they doing? Breaking the rules. They played a long time then we finally got to sit down and leave these guys for the next ones.

I noticed, the band not only played way longer than normal sets, but took English tea long breaks.  That’s good, we had more chance to sit and rest. My feet were killing me. One of the mucahchas noticed I had my heels on backwards. I had just bought them when we went to the big city, not like the borrowed ones I had at the wedding from the Campo sisters.  I thought pain was a part of them, but putting them on the right feet helped reduce some of my feet’s aching.

I sat with the married women and hid inside after the band started up. At this big party it was easy to choose when to dance or not – just go inside. The women ate. I figured that’s all that married women got to do at these things – eat and talk. The dancing was for the dating game.

Soon I did go outside and a tall blond cowboy asked me to dance. He was cute. He was nice. So he was young – only 17, but I liked him and I told him I was leaving within two months so there was no danger in falling in love or something big like that. I figured I’d dance with him all night if he was game.  I knew how to play it and was determined not to suffer with drunks again like last time. 

He was from Yecora – the big kinda city near by.  His name was Oswaldo and he pointed out all his friends. This time I liked dancing with an outsider – from the bigger town.

At the next set of songs, someone else asked me to dance but I soon had him sit me down after one song. Soon I saw Oswaldo’s hand and big smile. Oh yeah, this quincenera was going to be much better.

I got my wish, I danced with him all night. I felt happy and in control this time. He told me he was the youngest of six sisters. I knew those guys were always the sweetest.  We danced to the slow songs and he just held me tight. It even felt romantic.

But too soon the dance ended and he sat me down. I knew he was leaving that night. I never even got to say goodbye. But I was glad to survive the night without the drama of the last one.

As we walked over to our guest lodging for the night, Everaldo walked next to Elizabeth. He had gotten to dance with her most of the night.  But two boys started to get too close to me. They were some muchachos from the village where the work camp had spent the summer. I remembered the reputation of one them. The American workcamper woman had told me she rode a horse with him and he was trying to feel her up the whole time. Now he was trying to put his arm around me, and then lower the arm.

Dejame en paz, Leave me in peace, leave me alone,” I said to him and then I yelled over to Elizabeth, in English. 

“Elizabeth, wait up. This is that guy from the work camp. The octopus.”

She waited up.  And we quickly went into the house thinking we avoided them.  The Senora said we could sleep in the attic, again. So we made it up in peace and started to get ready for bed. Quickly we noticed someone was climbing up the ladder. It was the Octopus.  I looked down and growled at him to go away.  He kept climbing up. I was tempted to throw the ladder off but then we’d be stuck up there until who knows when and he’d have the ladder.

Instead I climbed down and pushed him aside, stumbling off the ladder. I went into the Senora’s house and demanded that they help us get rid of these “inappropriate” muchachos. They did nothing, just sat there blinking at me.  When I stepped outside back to the ladder, all muchachos were gone.

Inside again, and safe in our sleeping bags, Elizabeth said Everaldo tried to pull her head close to him for a kiss. We vented on how annoying these boys were.  Especially for us at this fiesta without our fathers or brothers around to beat them to a pulp.  Americans up here were like free candy to them. They would never act this way with the Sierra muchachas.

I fell asleep but awoke to Elizabeth yelling, in English.  “Carol, they’re coming up the ladder.”  It was my worse fear. I quickly jumped out of the mattress where I was sleeping, taking my sleeping bag with me, and joined her in her bed. For safety. We quickly pretended we were asleep again and somehow fell asleep, lightly.

In the moring I woke up pissed. Why did the Senora let these muchachos sleep upstairs with us again? Didn’t she care that we could be hurt? Did she think we were of questionable morals just cause we came to the whole quinceneara unprotected without the towns’ men? And why did she send the worse ones up – Everaldo and Octupus? 

Luckily I soon got a glimpse of the sleeping bodies. It was one stiff, not two. And it was the guy who Maricela liked.  Phew! We were safe. He already had one girlfriend plus a night of dancing with Maricela. He wouldn’t need to bother us. Instead he pretended he was snoring and we giggled. He had a fun, warm, playful spirit. 

As I combed my hair, he put his shirt on. I stared, hiding behind my hair for cover. I hadn’t seen a nice bare male’s chest in so long. I forgot how nice they were, especially in the lazy morning light. I realized that to the American lifestyle, I had been living in some bubble – only touching guys during the dances.  I wanted to throw Elizabeth off the ladder and jump on the mattress with this guy. But I was good and climbed down the ladder for breakfast.

At breakfast us muchachas chatted. Some of them teased one girl for who she danced with but she was strong and said she danced muy agusto, very well, thanks.  I liked these girls from the city but it made the Senora serving us eggs look that much more country.

After breakfast we got ready for the day after dance. I ironed my blouse and put on the tight jeans I had bought in the big city. Now that it was probably my last big fiesta up in the Sierra, I finally figured out how to do these things. What to wear, when to wear what item, who, and how to dance, etc.

While waiting for the dance to start, I also took the opportunity to boil some water since we had run out from our hike.  When we got to the kitchen the quincenera’s mother, offered us muchachas wine. And they drank it which was more of a surprise. It was a given that men drink, but women, I thought it was forbidden. And muchachas, young unmarried women at that.  These city slickers looked like it was not their first night out clubbing, and enjoyed it like a strip club or something.  Elizabeth and I refrained – Norman told us to stay away from all the alcohol especially since most was bootleg, as close to rubbing alcohol as possible. 

The men were drinking in cars and benches but finally, hearing the music blasting from a boom box, wandered over and the dance began.  There was one man, Samuel, who was friendly to all the muchachas and danced with most of us. I danced quite a bit with him. He was a great dancer and talked a lot as we danced. He reminded me of Mario back in Hermosillo – fun, great dancer, great friend, nothing else.  I was happy to hear music like from the city- cumbias, and to dance those with him.

One time, he took my hand, cupped it in his, and put it by his chest. His shirt was open right at that spot.  Now, that was dangerous for me. I just wanted to touch it all. I didn’t want to be friends anymore. I was nervous from excitement as my hand lay on his bare, no hair, tan chest but unfortunately he moved it away too soon. And then we sat down and he moved on to dance with others. 

I had a taste of dulce, sweetness, and now I wanted more. First seeing Maricela’s guy without his shirt on and now getting a little touch.  I’d be home soon, I consoled myself. It’d be easy to find a man to touch there. And more if I wanted.  Once, before the wedding, I was bragging to Lupe that I didn’t ever want to marry. Her mother asked “So you’re never going to sleep with a man?”  I think I let her question drop but I wanted to say “Honey, in my country you don’t need a marriage license for that.”

I sat on a bench and waited for the next muchacho to ask me to dance. I was shocked when it was Davidcito. Not again. Not on the day after. Was it going to be bad again? No, this time he was nice. I asked him if it was true that he was the quinceneara’s boyfriend? He said he was. I guess they just made it official since she wasn’t supposed to have one before then, to be a true quinceneara.  Then I really surprised him, I told him I was mad at him from the last party in his town. He had no idea why.  I reminded him “You were drunk, you had me dance near your friends, and told them I was their lonche, lunch.

“Oh,”  he said.  “Do you forgive me?”


”Yes.”

Soon the music stopped and we sat down. He sat down next to me. Luckily Elizabeth came and sat on the other side of him, like we rehearsed in our ambush. We let him have it. We told him that what he did at the last quinceneara was wrong and abusive to women.  We explained that women can and should be able to get angry with men and express their feelings. We also said that he needs to respect women, all women, even from other countries. His mouth litereally dropped open. He’d never heard such a brazen speech before. He found the quickest excuse to leave and went to sit with his male buddies at another table.  Elizabeth and I high fived – mission accomplished.  At least we told him what he needed to hear, if he ever used it, we doubt it.

I finally caught one man’s eye who I wanted to dance with. He was the Indigenous man who lived near Bermudez. He came over and sat by me. He explained that he and his buddies had been drinking the whole party. He excused himself for being drunk, and for that, said he could not dance. I was so impressed, most of the guys didn’t care at all, literally danced until they dropped. I figured with all the racism and discrimination against them that they really couldn’t dance at these things and could only drink.  So, he went on his way.

The next person to ask me to dance was drunk. It was Rogelio – the guy who gave us a ride. I asked why he hadn’t asked me to dance earlier like he had promised on the ride to the town.

“You never gave me a chance”

But again, like before, he quickly sat me down and ran off. He must have had bladder problems in his life, aggravated by the beer of course.

This dance went on all day and even until sunset. That meant a lot of drinking which the men seemed to prefer to do than dancing.  They just sat in and around the drunks, guzzling Tecate, Mexico’s beer.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise to see a fight break out. A lot of men moving around and yelling, and then breaking apart the two men.  Later I saw another man with a bandage wrapped around his hand.  Stopping the blood from a bullet wound. Not from a fight, but from boastfully showing off a pistol he thought was empty. At least this town was closer to the doctor but he didn’t seem to want to go there. It was rumored he was a drug dealer – keeping his marijuana groves way out in the far off villages. He could have been wanted or just didn’t want to see a suspicious government doctor.

I had seen him earlier show someone his wallet and I spied lots hundred dollar bills from the U.S. I wasn’t scared. Another guy was rumored to have spent four years in jail for getting caught at age 16. He was now free and preparing for his wedding. I shrugged it off as neat to meet such exciting people.

It did get dark and colder and reason won the battle of the dance. The music stopped and we went and ate dinner with the Senora.  She said we’d be sleeping in the attic. Again? Did she hate us? At least this time there were no men around and I slept agusto, very well, thank you.  Okay, not that well. Only thinking of men, and sex, I tossed and turned tired of having Elizabeth as my cot mate. I wanted to feel those chests. I wanted to make out. I wanted more than this dancing game. I was getting tired of being up in a mountain without any physical contact. Real physical contact. Only a month left and plenty of cold baths to survive until I made it home to available men.

In the morning we had breakfast with the quinceneara and thanked her and her mother for their hospitality. We saw a car drive by towards Bermudez and tried to run to catch it but missed. The Octopus and Everaldo offered us rides on their horses. What? We declined that nightmare of a ride. Instead I found Rogelio and he agreed to bring us all the way back to Bermudez. So we rode with him and I talked a lot to my new friend, with the great chest, Samuel, in the back.

They dropped us off in Bermudez and we went to visit Rosalba.  Soon to our horror the muchachos arrived on horseback. I had heard it argued in the Sierra that horse was faster than a car since you didn’t have to stop to open gates and could take the paths that criss crossed through the trees.  They rode right up to Rosalba’s house and sat on the porch .  They knew out of all the houses in that huge town, we’d go there.  They and talked with Rosalba’s sister so we hid inside – pleading with Rosalba not to let them know we were there.

Once they left, we thanked Rosalaba but the treat was for us – while “hiding” inside she told us gossip about everyone in the Sierra. She told us the drug dealer was really a drug dealer but a nice one. Whereas the Octopus’ family was iffy. She divulged of one woman who was waiting to be “robbed” by one guy who never showed up so she went off with another guy and now they are unhappily married. And a woman who was “gorda” (literally fat but in this case, meaning pregnant) already when she married and soon after the wedding went crazy. They still are miserably together, of course.

But the best story was when she lit up telling us about when she and Alvarro were courting.  She was right here in this same house in Bermudez, owned by her family.  Alvarro would visit and they would sit outside on the porch and talk.  Chapo, who was a little boy then, would keep coming by and bothering them. Sounded familiar – when Maricela had the visit from Noe, Tere and Chemely kept sending Eremita in to pester them. 

Her favorite memory was when Alvarro daringly snuck a kiss. An actual kiss, before marriage, scandalous. She was in the exact same room and he surprised her at the window. They talked a bit and then he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Next he walked around the outside of the house to the porch. Rosalba went outside to the porch and causally said “Buenos Dias,” pretending to her mother that she hadn’t seen him a few minutes earlier.  Elizabeth and I both said “Aw.”  If only our lives back home were so innocent, but then again my mind was getting murky– wanting those chests!

We caught a ride home with Vidal. I rarely saw him out in his car but we were glad to not have to walk back to Cordon. He even let Elizabeth drive once we got over the huge scary hill. She drove right by the guys on horses and honked. We had a good laugh about that.

Once in Cordon, we visited with Tere and Chemeley and Don Emitereo and Dona Matilde on their porch.  Everaldo and Octopus came by on their horses. Lobo, the dog, instinctively sat on my lap. He was too big a dog to do that, but he must have felt danger with Octopus around.  Good puppy!

Octopus blew kisses as he rode away. I said to everyone “He blew those to Lobo”  They all got a good laugh at that.

The next week all the walking and dancing must have caught up with me because I caught cabin fever.  Literally, a fever, runny nose, and nausea so that I could only lie around in our house. Being in the dark cabin feeling icky and reading Interview with a Vampire didn’t help, thanks to whoever lent it to me for my trip! That book terrified me, especially under those conditions. Elizabeth still went out visiting and back to watering the walnut grove, which were not dying unlike how I thought I was. 

Many came to visit and make sure I was okay. Vidal came to visit Elizabeth but she was visiting all day so he was nice enough to play cards and dominoes with me.  I worried what everyone thought since the door was shut. We always left it open but since I had a cold and the weather was the same outside, it was shut.  I hoped they’d trust that I was too sick to have sick sex.

I couldn’t eat anything but Alvarro brought in soup from the deer he killed. Don Emitereo came by everyday and one day Tere and Dona Matilda came in, insisting I had to eat or I’d die. Saltine crackers was all I could handle.   Was this morning sickness? Had I gotten pregnant from my thoughts?

I felt a little better when the big day arrived and the whole mountain had to descend to Bermudez to get their voter identification photos.  I rode in the truck with everyone and took the chance to buy more crackers at the store.  All the women got make up on and poofed up their hair in Rosalba’s house.  My fever was gone but I didn’t feel like painted my face and making it unnaturally rosy.

Elizabeth and I sat on a deck and laughed with Chemeley and Tala’s husband, Hereberto, at everyone else’s photo. I couldn’t believe the women got all decked up for a mug shot. But I was amazed how everyone came from far and wide just to have the abilitiy to vote in the next election. Most people in the US don’t even bother to vote and these guys came by truck, horseback, foot, anything to get their rural voices heard. 

I completely healed and March went away with my flu symptoms. The first of April arrived and we warned them it was the Day of Stupids (Dia de los Tontos), our translation of April Fool’s Day. We didn’t do any tricks but Hereberto said we were going to Ranchito de los Morales. I thought it was a joke, yeah right,  That far off place? Why would we go to the town with pyscho stalkers like Laurencio from the wedding and public masturbators like his cousin Rafelon who pleased himself on the wedding’s dance floor?

Then Tala came asking if we were ready.  No joke, and luckily we did prepare our bags, just in case.  So soon we headed off with Tala, Hereberto, and Maricela behind on bestia. We walked down the familiar route to Campo Americano. I had never been down it so fast. We were running down that hill and Hereberto’s mule was right behind me and I was afraid it’d slip and fall with it on top of me.  I tried to outrun the animal.

We were by Campo in ten minutes and I was relieved that I hadn’t fallen or been trampled over by the horse.  From Campo we climbed up the road that goes to some town named Filo. On top we switeched “rides” and me and Tala got on the mules. I wasn’t scared at all this time even going down hill unlike when I rode to Mesa Abajo’s milking ranches monthes earlier.   In fact I really liked it and felt like a true cowgirl and wishing I could live here, just to ride more often. Soon the ride was over and we walked down a steep slippery hill to a valley where we could see how much father we had to walk towards the big rock they called copete over Ranchito.  I guess copete doesn’t just mean big bangs but a huge something on top of your head.

After about two and half hours, we saw some kids letting their cows drink in a brook. They were from Ranchito.  We could see the airstrip. Maybe that’s why the town had wild guys and an even wilder reputation – their airstrip wasn’t destroyed which meant fishy business.  Ahem.

Once in town I realized one reason for the visit. Hereberto had a sister living here. How many kids did Don Jorge have? It was obviously before the big government birth control campaign. Even Hereberto and Tala had five kids themselves.  But this sister, Elena, was outgoing and friendly, not shy like some of the others.  We sat and visited. Then we discovered the other reason we were on this journey – we went up to see the panocha work. Panocha is hard sugar candy pack that keeps for months. This town was so warm and lush that they had sugar cane and thus, panocha.

Elena showed us how they boil it down and keep stirring and stirring. It was like the paste they made out of fruit, in a way. But this was a huge cauldron.  We went out into the cane field and cut some cane. We sucked them to taste raw sugar. And as the melting went on throughout the day we tasted all the forms of sugar – first as a miel, oney, then as a carmelo, candy syrup.  Yet all the sugar was making me bloat up which wasn’t good since I wore the tight jeans I had bought in the city. They were fashionable but not reasonable during sugar season.

The sugar boiled down to the perfect temperature to be made into panocha blocks. They first poured it into a canoe like shaped container and let it cool a little. Then they poured it into molds. They had cute molds not just the traditional triangle shape that it’s sold in the stores in the city. They had a gun, turtle, flower, etc.  They gave me the turtle one as a gift since I said how it reminded me of making maple sugar on the reservation where turtles are respected for starting the land we call the North American continent -Turtle Island. 

It was similar, maple sugar can also be made into sugar blocks that traditionally Native Americans would use all year for their sweetening needs. Panocha was the same except out of sugar cane instead of maple trees. In the Sierra, they would slice off pieces all year to eat as a candy, put in their coffee, etc.  Of course, bags of sugar were also bought nowadays for making sweet bread, fruit paste and to put in the daily coffee. 

We went back down to where the houses were and got invited into one woman’s house.  Now I started to see the reputation of this town – she had apparently lost her mind along with her husband who had abandoned her. Plus to make it worse, she was talking care of Rafelon who hadn’t made much of a good impression at the wedding. Now he was just plain weird. He tried to convince me that he possessed special powers. I wanted to say that I had seen at the wedding that he had a magical hand but let him ramble on instead about his mind. 

We had to stay awhile because they had mentioned the perfect host word “dinner.” It was an honor in the Sierra to have a guest eat over but it could be torture for us, especially if it meant they were starting from the very beginning like they were – just putting the wood into the stove. Luckily it was a delicious meal with fresh cheese they had made that momrning. One of the perks of this warmer climate town.  But after we ate we left for Elena’s house and more sane people.

Elizabeth and I shared a cot again like we usually did whenever we were sleeping over in other villages.  That night I dreamed that I was sleeping next to Jose Luis. My hormones were really acting up. In the morning I woke up to find that I was hugging Elizabeth. At least I didn’t throw her onto the floor like I wanted at the quinceneara.

After our favorite part of being guests – a breakfast with fried eggs since everyone had chickens but us, we went back up to the Panocha work area. This time they were starting from the beginning – taking the sugar cane, cut at the end of the previous day, and putting it through a grinder. The grinder was a two wheel like contraption that squeezed out the juice. But to get the grinder to work they had tied a mule onto a post and he walked around and around as they grinded and grinded. I felt sorry for the dizzy mule but I liked the fruit of his labor.

Soon it was time to go and most of the town walked up the hill with us to say goodbye.  They were sweet and I was glad that I hadn’t seen Laurencio the whole entire time. One woman we barely even met gave Elizabeth and I a bag of fresh lemons. We would be grateful for her for days as they added such a great taste to our beans, eaten three times a day.  Funny thing is we got so used to eating the beans that the few times we didn’t have them with a meal, we missed them. 

The walk home seemed faster. Elizabeth and I climbed up and down the hills. We got to ride the bestias through a field of flowers on a plain.   It was relaxing and pretty. I came home exhausted and took a nap. Only woke up to make tortillas and go back to bed.

The next day we were excited, like the rest of Cordon.  Semana Santa was approaching – Easter’s Holy week. So that meant lots of festivities and visitors from abajo, under – meaning the big city way under the mountain.  Don Emitereo’s family would be returning from way out in Mesa Colorado – his daughter and all her young daughters.  We were waiting for all of them but got a surprise ourselves – we got visitors. Maricela and India ran over to the cabin saying the Norman mobile was coming. I thought they were joking but soon enough the Suburban turned up in front of our porch and out popped the usual crowd – Lucy and Pancho, plus Sheila and Norman’s son.  It was the usual routine – go around with them to greet everyone in town and then ride over to Mesa to see everyone there.  In Mesa I teased the lighting victim Jesus that he owed me candies from visting the big city. He turned as red as his pants admitting he didn’t have any. I also asked where he was going to dance on Sabado de Gloria – Holy Saturday. He said “In Cordon.” I was starting to get the hang of this flirting game and take control.  It helped that I knew it was just a game and nothing more.  I would never again want anything more, I thought.

Back in Cordon, Sheila and I stayed up all night talking. I stayed up even later by our dim solar powered light and read my letters. Rob’s floored me. Not only did I not want to hear the details of how he and Ami had consummated their relationship, doggy style no less, but he even asked me what I thought of them as a couple. I couldn’t answer that, at least not honestly.  I still had an interest in them not being together and me being with him.  I fudged some sort of answer.

In the morning, Sheila helped Elizabeth and I pack most of the dishes. They were for the work camp and we used them only as temporary storage.  She expressed interest in staying all week for the holiday. But when it was time to go Lucy basically forced her return to the Casa. I was glad I wasn’t volunteering there anymore. But at that moment as they drove away, I wasn’t sure if I liked it here much either. I was mentally ready to go home.

CHAPTER NINE: LAST DANCE, OUT IN A BLAZE OF GLORIA

No other visitors came from abajo, the city. Only Don Jorge returned now that winter was officially over. And Don Emitereo’s daughter did show up and it was nice to see her girls again.  I was hoping I’d hear or see Beto again but nada.  I figured it was for the best, I didn’t want to actually dance with him again – just be friends.

It was cute to watch how the girls had their Tata, grandpa, wrapped around their fingers. Anything they begged for, he’d give them.  They wanted to go on a hike and that was usually unheard of – all the walks were for a real purpose. But he said yes because it was his granddaughters and during Holy Week, it’s custom to take a long hike and picnic.  He was even happier to find out that Elizabeth and I were going along too.

We walked past the other side of town’s ranch and even past the other side of Mesa’s ranch. Now I had officially visited all of the milking season ranches.  We walked so far south that we came to a small waterfall with palm trees around it.  Elizabeth and I had brought our swimming clothes – shorts and shirts, not a bathing suit which is too scandalous for the conservative parts of Mexico (but fine to watch on the women on television).  We and the kids stayed in the freezing water as long as we could, screaming and splashing at each other.  Our inner children came out to play with all the children.

We dried off and Don Emitereo showed us a cave above the waterfall. On the walk home, the girls spied a bee hive and begged Tata for some honey. He promised to return and he did, bringing honey to share with the whole village.  Seeing a hive was serious among being a sweet treat whenever it occurred. 

A few days later, we tried a paseo with the other side of town. Another Semana Santa event, but this time I was miserable. I realized that I really didn’t like all the people I was stuck with on this outing. Maricela had been haning out more with Elizabeth, probably because she would be staying and I’d be leaving. Riqui had always been cruel and Tala’s younger daughters were bratty most of the time, to me. The only one I liked was Chapo. I realized that he had never hurt me and was siempre, always, sweet even after he had to watch me dance all night with other men. 

He drove us all in his truck past Campo to where the road splits. He parked the car. We walked down the road – me following quietly and cautiously behind. At one time they were all walking together like a herd and that’s how I thought of them – a herd of cows that always walks and dresses and acts the same. We walked – or I should say slid down a steep ass hill.  No one saw me when I fell on my ass and I was glad for it– fear of more teasing.

We stopped to have a snack. It was a bonfire with bon bons, marshmelows.  Chapo wandered off to look for turkeys. I wanted to shout after him, “Don’t leave me.  They’re already here”.

Mariclea said, “Eliza, let’s go take a walk”.  That’s how they said Elizabeth’s name, sometimes. I didn’t care. I sat alone as they walked off together and the other girls went the other direction to collect palms.  Soon Chapo came back and sat and talked with me.  I was glad to have company, company that I really wanted to spend time with.

Soon we walked up and up the steep hill.  We all took breaks to catch our breath. One time Chapo slipped back into me and I touched his waist. I wonder if he got a thrill.  Or was it not a real accident?

I felt better walking up since I was more ahead of everyone and didn’t have to deal with them.   I felt even better when we arrived at the truck and the paseo was over.  Arriving in Cordon, I was in for a treat.  Vidal’s car was there and he had candy for me.  I had won it through our card games when he was on the sick visit.. He had just arrived from the city and brought me another treat – his brother, Uriel. I had never met him before but I immeditaly saw that he had a cute smile.

We went to play volleyball – just us four.  Uriel was so sweet, not the horrible competive man at playing sports. He would actually pass the ball to me and never got angry when I messed up. I was really starting to like him.

We ended the day talking and joking with them on Alvarro’s porch.  Their other (half) brother Santos came by and we continued the joke from months before – that Santos wanted to marry me to get to el otro lado, the other side – over the border.  It started right away when he sat at the porch and I said “Did you come to finally ask for my hand?”  This time it went so far that Uriel wrote out our marriage contract.  I insisted that we have different houses. 

Santos said, “I don’t like that idea.”

He even insisted that I sign my name closer to his. He was always good for a laugh.  Everyone enjoyed the joke and when it died out everyone went on their way.

The next day, was Sabado de Gloria – the Saturday before Easter. Elizabeth and I played Easter bunny. We had brought up and hid chocolate candies from the city. Now we used my Joy of Baking book recipe to melt them down and try to form them into bunnies. We had no idea that candy making was so hot.  Elizabeth burned her hands rolling the chocolate into balls. At best they looked like chocolate snowmen – three balls on top of each other.

We put one in a jar for each family and added some grass that we made by coloring some notebook paper green. Then threw in some regular candy, one for each person in the household. The jars were a gift from Carolyn for their canning needs and now were being used as our “baskets.”  We hid them until nighttime since we said the bunny would come that night and leave a basket in the moring. It worked out better that it wasn’t a real basket and an enclosed jar since the dogs would have gotten sick stealing the chocolate.

After closing our candy shop it was time for baths and to get ready for the dance. It was the infamous “Sabado de Gloria dance” and Mesa Abajo agreed to host it.  I hoped it’d be better than the last time I danced there.

I put on my red dress from the quinceneara, honestly, my favorite dress ever. Elizabeth did my hair and I did my own make up. I didn’t want to deal with Maricela. I didn’t trust her anymore – she barely talked to me and only focused on Elizabeth. I was hurt.

We jumped in Chapo’s truck with the usual muchachas – Mariclea and Riqui. Once we got to the gate at Mesa Abajo, Uriel came over and talked to me. I asked “Are you glad we made it for the dance?”

He shined a smile saying “Si.”

We went and ate over at Don Emitereo’s sisters’ house. Their man, Facundo, joked about my “marriage” to Santos. Jokes never ended in the Sierra, they echoed on throughout the rocky walls. 

After dinner we wandered over to Elia and Massimo’s house where they were hosting the dance.  There wasn’t a live band so I didn’t understand why it took forever for the music to start. Finally it did. Chapo sat next to me and then asked me to dance.

I danced with him for what I thought was going to be half of the dance – about an hour and a half. I liked talking with him. He was the only man I trusted in the whole mountain range. He had never gave me lines. He even still liked me after Elizabeth arrived on the scene unlike Vidal and Everaldo. And he was patient – with all my cultural mistakes, language mistakes, and dancing with others mistakes. Still, I considered him a friend and I was curious about Uriel.  I asked to be put down, sitted that is.

Uriel took the opportunity I gave him. I liked how he danced and with every step, I liked him more. He asked how far it was to get to Washington D.C, my hometown. He said he wanted to go.  Was he just interested in me to get to the US?  Soon, I didn’t care.  

I ignored the Norman rules and danced more than three dances. Sure I had done that before but for the first time, this dance was different. I felt something.  It was probably from being in the monkey experiment too long – needing physical touch like those poor baby monkies ripped away from their moms. But all I knew was that, for the first real time at a dance, my hormones reved up, my head was reeling, and I wanted to break all the rules – run off into the woods and mount him like the wild beasts that these boys could be.

            We only talked a little – he asked if I had siblings. We small talked about music. He said he’d send me a tape of music. I thought that’d be nice. But the best part was just the slow dancing with him – rocking back and forth, his arm tightly (but gently) around me, touching the arch of my back.   His face lightly resting on the top of my head and (the best part) his hand holding mine on his bare chest. (I didn’t even mind that he had hair). I was completely lost in my hormones. I put my hand up near his neck and my thumb would lightly fall onto his neck from time to time. Then his neck was craddlying my face and I just wanted to turn a bit and kiss his neck. And kiss all of him. I was so gone. It felt so much like we were actually having sex – we were so close. I just wanted to stay like that forever or run off and do more. I almost once sat down because I was so exhausted but he didn’t seem to want to rest and I didn’t want to let him go. 

The dance ended at two in the morning and I felt like we were being forcefully pulled apart.  I didn’t want to let go. I think he felt something too. There was definitely an attraction. A big one.  The first and only time that had really happened in the Sierra for me at least.  I guess it was good I was leaving soon, before my feelings got the best of me and ruined my reputation.

He walked behind me towards the car in the dark, but didn’t try anything – only helped me with one step.  Unlike Octopus after the recent quinceneara. He was a gentleman even if I didn’t want him to be one. He helped me up onto the truck bed and whispered “I’ll see you tomorrow on my way back to Yecora.”  I was excited, a visita. Was this officially something? 

I left exhausted but feeling oddly enough, post coital like. I never knew dancing could be so erotic. Now I learned a new lesson about this dancing dating thing. It could be hot!

Elizabeth and I were tired when we got back but we had to deliver our Easter baskets. We had fun playing Easter bunny, a first for both of us. Yet in the Sierra, moving around the village in the dark is never a good idea. Luckily the dogs just barked and didn’t bite.  We went as fast as we could so as we wouldn’t meet any drug dealers walking past. (We had heard warnings not to even use our outhouse in the dark since that’s when drug delivers would walk past, not people from our town of course.  Now they were probably too busy dancing and drinking that night to do any deliveries.

I slept the best I ever had since arriving in the Sierra. I smelled Uriel still on me and dreamed of his smile. In the morning we waited for the visita and made bags of candy for Uriel and Vidal, as Easter baskets and little souvenirs of us.  Maricela came in to say their truck was arriving. We did the opposite of the good visita and shut the door.  We had to do that to run to our hiding spot for the candy. When I opened the door, Uriel was standing on my porch.  I offered hot chocolate but he said they had to go.  No time? What!  I was denied another chance at a real visita.

I had Elizabeth take a picture of us together and was confused why he didn’t put his arm around me. But he asked for my address in the US. I hoped he would visit, curious to see where this dance dating thing really could go.  I gave him the candy bag.  Elizabeth gave one to Vidal. We walked them over to the gate of Cordon, and they jumped in the truck with their mother and Santos.  I said I’d try to go to the dance in Yecora next week. I wanted to dance with him more. And in Yecora, there was a hotel. No, I couldn’t think like that, but I did.  Either way it didn’t matter, they drove off and that was the last time I ever saw his face, but not the last time I would hear from him.  He would have a lasting impact.

Once the visita was over, it was time for our last Easter event – a US one.  All that week we prepared everyone not just for some mysterious visit from a rabbit from over the border, but also for an egg hunt. We didn’t have any eggs so we collected two eggs per household per child – a down payment of sorts. Today on Easter Sunday, we invited all the children over to color the eggs. I had the food coloring from home and we added vinegar. They loved dipping their eggs and changing the eggs from white to red, blue, and green for their first times ever.

Then we sent all the children and half of the adults to the school house. Rosalba became the natural leader  since she was the most excited. She made sure everyone stayed in the school and didn’t peak. Then Elizabeth and I, with help from Tere and Maricela, hid all the eggs in the courtyard in the middle of town – right outside of our house. Elizabeth went to tell them we were ready.

It was hilarious watching Rosalba and all the children excitedly walking over and into the courtyard. Then they scattered like chicks and dug all over for the eggs. I had never seen such an excited bunch.  They found most but not all and had to keep looking.  Even Dona Matilda casually looked for eggs – in the flower pots around her house. I couldn’t believe how much the town loved it. It was our most succesfull community event ever. Finally, after almost being there a year as a community organizer.

Soon they found all the eggs. The winner was Riqui with six. We gave her a prize.  A plastic Easter egg with silly putty inside.  And the best part of all the Easter festivities was now I realized even if some of the people got on my nerves, they were part of my life this whole year. I knew I loved them and would miss them. Easter sprung me into my final month with hope.  Now I was trying to enjoy every last moment I had in the Sierra.

Holy week ended but it was a two week vacation for those visiting.  When I brought Don Emitereo’s granddaughters down to Ensinal I was in for a surprise. Ramona asked me to do a mandatoton (big favor) for her. Stupidly I said “Si,” the normal curtosy when someone asks you do do a favor. But when she told me it was to bring a hen to one of the women I burst out laughing. She laughed for days at the way I laughed. It was a normal favor for the Sierra but not for me. 

She wanted to get rid of the “bad” hen. The one that would only leave eggs on everyone else’s property but not hers. Everyday was like an Easter egg hunt and they had a sort of finders keepers rule about it. Elizabeth and I were happy to find eggs, on the two occasions it actually happened, once in our wood pile.  Those were good days with fried eggs from really free range chickens.

Now she caught the hen and put it in a flour sack with some holes.  I decided to take the road to Campo which had switchbacks, unlike the faster path that went straight down the hill – I didn’t want the hen to smack into a tree like we sometimes did just to break our speed of tumbling.  The hen was quiet except when one of girls decided to peek at it and it clucked loudly as I screamed from the surprise of the ruckus. I gladly handed it over once we reached town.

I enjoyed visiting with everyone and meeting their relatives from the big city. One  was studying English so I spoke a tiny bit with him. No one ever knew English up there – not enough education and I only met one person, at the wedding, who worked in our country for awhile.  Though it was nice talking to him about George Strait now that my AM radio made me a country fan, I enjoyed being in a land where you were forced to speak Spanish.

They were going to take a paseo as a town together but then it started to rain. So they gave me a towel to cover my head when the girls begged me to bring them home. I kept on talking and enjoying the visit. Finally I agreed to go but by then the rain had stopped and I didn’t need the towel.

Before the vacation ended, Tere and Maricela walked with us to visit all the out of towners in Mesa Abajo. I hung around with Tere while Maricela ran off visiting with Elizabeth. I didn’t mind anymore. I knew Maricela was buddying up with the “new” person and what good was I?   I would be leaving soon.  Besides, I didn’t want to let Maricela get between Elizabetha and I.  We had been friends since week one in college  and I knew we’d go on past the Mexican Sierra. 

When I first arrived  I wanted to be buddies with all the muchachas, now I realized I enjoyed the company of the adults more.  And this day, I got to listen to Tere and other women talking about their “authentic” housewife lives – doing the wash, how the chickens were laying eggs, and their kids.

By the end of week two, it was time for everyone to go back to whatever they did at the end of the “vacation.”  Cars went pass from Mesa saying a quick hello and goodbye.  But when Don Emitereo’s son in law came by horseback to get his wife and children, she cried. It must be hard to live so far away from family – even if she had been away for years. I chocked it up to another reason I wouldn’t stay and marry here – I’d be even farther away from family.

Rumors were going around that I liked Uriel. It was true but I discovered some rumors about him. People were saying that he was either 1) married or 2) was married in a common law fashion.  I was confused but in a way I was 1) mad at him for being a jerk and dancing with me all night and being married or 2) turned on that he was more like us in the United Staes – living with someone, not a virgin, etc. No wonder it was so sexual a dancing experience – he had experience.  Who knew the real truth, or the real Uriel?

April and the holidays hopped away like the Easter bunny, but May brought new visitors. One day a bunch of people arrived from Ranchito and the city at the same time. I didn’t know any of them but they brought enough unmarried girls to town to warrant a dance. Chapo even drove to Mesa to get more – Lupe and the few remaining muchachas since Minda deserted us. 

This dance would be last minute and outside of Don Jorge’s house. Pretty much in a driveway.  To make it more official, they put up one light bulb. It felt more like an Old West bonfire with the stars as our canopy.  Even the accordian music seranated us like in the olden days. But unlike the romantic old west, we were surrounded by drunk, married, city-slickers.

I first got asked to dance by one of them who tried to speak English and tried to pull me too close. Everyone laughed as we started to dance because as Elizabeth put it to me “You always get the little jumpy ones.” – the short men who jump more than glide as they dance.   As soon as I could,  I sat down. 

Chapo was dancing with Lupe and I thought maybe he was getting me back for all the other dances I’d hurt him.  Next I danced with another married man but sat after a few songs. Then Chapo literally grabbed me to dance. I wanted to dance with him for a long time.  I even told him how nice he had been to me all year – a thankyou and farewell of sorts.  He didn’t say anything but we danced smoothly and he even did some fun turns, for the first time with me.  Was he coming out of his shy shell?

Eventually he did have me sit down and he danced with Lupe again. I didn’t mind. He deserved the chance to dance with whoever he wanted after all the times I’d disappointed him. 

I danced with a few muchachos like Freddie from Ensinal and then the dance ended. I went to sleep, exhausted from a “surprise we have enough girls” dance.

The next day we found out why all these people were in town. It was for a religious festival – for the new Virgin Maria Socorro, just for the church.  So we all rode over to Bermudez – the only town with a church. The ride was slow and long and sickening. I could little six year old Lupita from Campo feeling the same as I did. As we arrived into Bermudez she finally threw up – but on top of a cart holding chickens in the back of the truck.  The chickens didn’t mind – they were happy to eat her present.

The day started with a mass for a first confirmation for another little girl. This was a different Jesuit priest. He was from California and his parents were from southern Mexico, so he spoke perfect English and Spanish.  Outside of the church, young boys scrambled to hold the cross and candles, not for religious reasons but because those who carried these objects, got to ride in the truck.  The rest of us walked up a hill and the women sang out of blue hymnal books.  The hike reminded Elizabeth and I of the route we took by accident then had to back track the time we walked all the way to the quincenera in Mesa Campanera. 

We stopped in the woods and they said prayers using their rosaries. I thought, “This is how worship should be done – outside.”  Then the padre, priest, walked over to the road and met up with the Virgin mobile.  This truck held the brand new virgin for the town.  One woman cried when she approached the virgin. Her recently departed mother had paid for the last one.  I wasn’t sure if this virgin recycling ceremony took place every year or whenever a new virgin statue was needed. 

The women continuted singing and praying, even on their knees.  The men sat around and chatted, especially by the road.  Everyone started to walk down the hill and towards the church, with most people taking turns to carry the new Virgin.  I was so tired from the dance the night before that I sat down and let the procession go by.  People would make their way over to the Virgin figure and kiss it.  Elizabeth and I almost died of laughter when Everaldo took a turn carrying her. He seemed the least likely to hold the Virgin after all his thoughts and actions indicated he didn’t want to be one for much longer.

We all reached, singing and joyfully, at the church. Another priest, the one from the first quinceneara, gave a mass just for the occasion. He threw holy water on the Virgin and the new furniture also bought for the church.  After the short mass, I talked with the fourth and last priest part of their missionary bunch.  He was older and from Ireland. Didn’t matter to the locals, he was still a gringo, with a similar accent when he spoke Spanish from his native English.  He was a sweet man but it was hard to understand his English, especially after hearing Spanish all year.  I preferred he just speak Spanish instead of Irish English. 

The day ended with the women finishing the raffle they started earlier that day, asking everyone to buy a ticket. They kept pulling out names with the common last names of De Moss, Clark, and Moore.  The way they chose to do a raffle was to pull out everyone’s name and the last one ends up the winner.  This time the common last names were called and the ultimate name got a nice cross for his wall. 

The Bermudez women seemed happy to host such an event.  They loved the responsibility of having this new virgin, church furniture, and even the church building itself. I realized how the church is the best community organzer of all. It brings everyone together. The event sure was more successful than anything I had tried to do all year, except maybe the Easter egg hunt.

My days as a community organizer were numbered. That meant one last dance – my despida, goodbye for real this time. No chance of returning – not for a long time at least. I tried to convince everyone I was a world traveler and I promised to return to visit. But we all knew, it would never be the same.

So I went to Mesa Abajo for the last time – at least without the Norman mobile crowd.  As a parting gift I showed the women how to cook the American cookies they loved. I was famous for my peanut butter cookies.  I could teach them, thank them for their kindness all year, and bring extras home for the party.

At Blanca’s Elizabeth and I not only showed her how to make the cookies, but brought a box of Mac and Cheese and made some potato salad. We made her lunch to thank her for all the times she had cooked for us. It wasn’t a hard ship, I considered her the best cook in town.  She was my age and seemed so lonely, far from home, little kids and a widow mother-in-law to host. To make it even more as a gift, we had her sit down and we served her husband when he came in. I said “Te sirvo mas?” (I serve you more?) just like all the women did.  I felt like a real Sierra women, but knew it wasn’t the life for me.

We went visiting to the other families and then crossed the gate to la otra banda, the other band, the one I spent the most time with all year. We planned to show Elia how to make cookies but she was busy crotching with Lupe and didn’t want to. I was hurt but sat and talked with them. At least they walked us to the gate that was the exit of town. The whole last visit seemed sad. Maybe they weren’t the friends I thought I had? Or maybe I was just conflicted about leaving?

The next day I watered the Walnut trees – one last time. Our usual chore now had added meaning. I realized how all this time in the Sierra I had been outside for most of it. Working outside in the fields. Walking outside to visit other villages.  Even when visiting at people’s houses, we always sat outside or on the porch. Only the winter kept us inside, for a little bit. To go to the bathroom, we had to go outside.  I wondered if I’d miss this as I went home and probably got some job, inside.

And life outside was interesting.  Once at the walnut trees I lifted up a rock and found a small, coiled up hibernating rattlesnake. I was used to finding a black widow under each rock and to just wait for them to walk off.  Now, I gently put the rock back and let him get his zzzzs.  Hereberto later told me I should have killed him – to them, all wild animals were enemies.

Other outside hazards included the chickens.  Not so much outside, but when they wandered inside.  Once I was getting our daily water supply of two buckets when I returned to our open kitchen door. A chicken came into to look what we were breakfasting and saw me.  For a second all was quiet, who would move first? And true to the Old West, a whistle blew in the background as we waited for the first move.  It was me and the chicken surprised me by not scattering under my legs but climbing up my stomach, and over my head. I was run over by a chicken!

I’d miss the outdoor life, but to prepare for the big party I had to bake cookies indoors.  Everyone started to help. Alvarro brought Elizabeth and I in his truck to go out and get some good cookie baking wood for the stove. Even Maricela came over to help and talked to me and me alone. Maybe she’d miss me. Maybe we were friends.

A Sierra party demanded tons of flour tortillas.  Since it was warmer weather, it was suggested we go to Campo. The three muchachas let us use their outdoor stove. It was a lot larger than our little make shift Hooverville stove in the cabin. This was their second stove that  they used outside so we got to enjoy the nice breeze instead of getting hot in a house. 

First Lencha had to take down the hen that was nesting up there. They had helped it along by providing a bucket to lay in but now they needed it for something besides a chicken coop.  Unfortunately her mate was used to visiting her so as the stove warmed up so did his patas, feet.  He quickly walked across the stove top and jumped off quaking. I hoped he found the brook right over the ledge. 

Elizabeth and I made tortillas all day. Still not perfectely round but they’d do.  I loved talking with the muchachas and as always, loved visiting Campo.  I realized they never hurt me or bothered me like everyone and every where else in the Sierra. There was something sweet and accepting about their town. I was even glad that Sofia across the brook sold me cheese. I had asked some women in Mesa and they refused. She was nice and sold it “Just for you, Carolina.”  Now I could have the proper “party” beans with chile powder and cheese.

Another thing about Campo was it was the only place we could finally ask our sex questions.  The muchachas were virgins so we couldn’t ask that, but both Elizabeth and I grew up in big cities so we became fascinated when the rooster would quickly mount a hen, do one or two “cock a doodle dos” and jump off. It was so fast and we never got to see the cock’s cock, so to speak. So we decided to ask the muchachas. Where was it?

We didn’t know how to start so we said “Uh, we want to know about the roosters?”

“What about them?” Lencha breathed.

“Well we’ve seen them on top of the hens and they are very fast. We don’t see much.  Where is their, uh, you know, their uh?”

“Oh, their chile peper?” Socorro added in.

“Yes, that. Where’s their chile?”

Through laughter they told us that it is inside and no one really can see it, it’s gone so fast. But this let out some unspoken desire within them to talk about thisstuff. We were laughing, cackling actually, even if Lencha kept saying “Oh, we shouldn’t be talking about this.” We stuck to things safe like animal reproduction, but still I could tell, they loved every minute of it.

We were lucky to have those three unmarried women. Even if most in the Sierra looked down on them, we thought they were great. They didn’t want to be bossed around by a man, liked the freedom of just dancing for so long that they never settled down. But since they were “outsiders” they were the most welcoming to differences, like to us. 

We didn’t really have anyone else to talk about with this, even if it was only one conversation.  Once when a rooster mounted a hen, Elizabeth and I looked over, but when Riqui tried to do the same, her mother swatted her on the knee and said, “Don’t look. If muchachas see that they will get warts in their eyes.”

Wow, not only couldn’t girls ask about sex (that would mean they were doing it), they couldn’t even watch the farm animals. We figured wedding nights were scary – being totally ignorant.  But we did get a glimpse of even that. One night Tere somehow opened up and told us the story of her wedding night. She and Chemeley rode down to a hotel in the big city. They were dusty and dirty from the Sierra so Chemeley suggested they take a shower together. She said no, she was too embarrassed for that. She took a shower, put on a nice dress, did her make up and hair, and as she said to us “all for nothing, the dress was off in five minutes.”

That’s all we ever got on the sex life of the Sierra but we relished every minute. We were so curious since everything was so different.

The day came for the despidida party. I was sad that I really was leaving but excited about the party. And it was nice to see everyone coming to say goodbye to me.  Rosalba walked up from Bermudez. Tere and Tala said they’d help with the preparations because they’ll miss “Carolina”. But the biggest compliment came from Tala’s husband, Hereberto, when he said “Ay, Chingado, Carolina se va”.  Oh, f-ck, Carolina’s leaving. It sounds sweet in Mexican.

Don Emitereo set up his Molina, grinder, usually used for meat or corn but now we used it to put the beans through. Party beans not only had cheese and chile powder but had a different, smoother texture than the regular beans mushed together with a potato masher.  He used the chance to beg me to take him with me saying that no matter what, he would always love me. I reminded him that I would always remember him, as a grandpa figure.

After beans were mashed and all over, I got to wash them off my body, plus the dust and dirt with my last Sierra bath.  Afterwards, the women kept their promise and helped us in the kitchen. But at six o clock only Jesus was there. Our reliable bachelor – the one that lighting struck twice but love hadn’t yet.  I worried, maybe no one cared about me, would anybody come? But then the muchachas and Sofia’s unmarried children came up, walking from Campo. Lencha cracked me up and tied up her dog, on our ladder inside our house. Then two men from Ranchito came, they promised they would after meeting us in the sweetness of the sugarmaking season. Plus the usual truckload from Mesa drove over with the umarried folks – Everaldo, Lupe,  etc.  Now I felt loved.

Tere helped me serve everyone the dinner. In groups of ten – all around our table.  Tala did the dishes and Elizabeth warmed up all the tortillas. I felt like I got this woman thing down, asking everyone to “pasale a cenar” (come in to eat).  I finally understood the game, right before I had to leave.

Back in the kitchen, Rosalba joined us to help  clean up. She gave a big burp and I burped back. She sighed and said “Ah, Carolina,” I knew I would miss her and vice versa.

The party seemed to go just like I thought it would. I danced with most everyone to say goodbye. No big romance thing or heartaches this time.  I hung out with the women. I felt happy and sad at the same time. 

Chapo eluded me by dancing with Lupe all night.  I thought it was a lastima, pity.  Alvarro looked so sad, I could tell he was sorry I was leaving. He couldn’t dance either – because he had just gone to the big city for a funeral for his nephew. Proper Sierra mourning means no dancing for a year after the death of a close relative.  Even if he could dance, it would only be one or more songs since he was married. Chemeley got drunk and ignored the mourning rules and danced a few songs with me. 

Everyone from the Mesa decided they wanted to leave so we told them they had to stay for a surprise. Elizabeth and I held a raffle for a non-return ticket (fake) to the United States.  The raffle was only open to single men since they’d have to marry me to get there. We thought it’d be a fun joke way to say goodbye since I was leaving, for real this time.  We told the married men not to enter but some wrote their names on paper and put it in the glass jar. In the Sierra, the way to do a raffle was to pick everyone’s name out and the last one won. We all laughed as I said the names and we gave the evil eyes to the married men who had entered.  The last name was Chue – Chapo’s brother, the other bachelor. We took a photo of him and me and the fake ticket we had made out of crayons and cardboard. Then everyone said “Bailen! Bailen!”  They demanded a dance so Chue and I danced around the floor, all by ourselves, to one last song.

That was it. My goodbye party. I wonder if anyone else ever got two.  We said goodbye to those who came and thanked them, then I fell right to sleep.

In the morning I woke up to go to the bathroom at 5am. Walked to the outhouse half a block away (if there were city blocks). I looked out over the mountain as I did my business (the best part of our outhouse was the view) and saw the red sunrise begin. I realized how much I’d miss that. When you are leaving, everything seems so precious.

I went over to say good bye to the people from Ranchito who came all that way, just to come to my party. I thanked them before they traveled on home, by horseback.  They were staying with Hereberto and Tala’s so I hung around after they left and sat and talked on the porch.  Chapo usually hung out there too so I teased him about not asking me to dance at all.  He said it was too bad I was leaving.  The sadness filled the air. But one person was happy I was going and therefore, finally nice to me, Riqui.  I didn’t care, I was just happy she finally wasn’t sarcastic, teasing, or putting me down.

The next day I went down to the Campo one last time, to make sure to say a proper goodbye since we were too busy with party preparations the last time. We had fun talking and laughing with the muchachas and I told them they were my best friends here. But then we all got sad about me leaving as I gave them the trinkets I bought for them back in the states. They started crying. Then I started crying. I sat down next to Lencha and in between tears she asked me “How do you like your eggs?”

I was confused. Elizabeth started laughing and then we all started laughing. Life still went on. She wanted to know how we wanted our lunch. They were always so sweet.

We reminisced about all our crazy times with them.  Once Elizabeth was wearing red pants and eventhough we had yelled down to put away the dogs, one came over and nipped her in the ankle.  She was in shock. The women dove into action.  Lencha put some rubbing alchohol on it.  Then Soccorro took a swig. I told her that was extremely dangerous. That led to a conversation about if we drink. We said we had a little in the past.  So they pulled at some tequila and in the middle of the day we drank and danced just us women, being completely rebellious in the Sierra.

That wasn’t the end.  Elizabeth brought up the fact that in Decemeber when I went home I got some pre-rabies shots once my mother found out about the bat and all the other wild animals we were living upon. Elizabeth wondered, “Why didn’t the dog bite you?  You’re the one with the rabies shot?”

She didn’t want the shots in the belly which I wouldn’t need. I’d just need two or three more in the arm. So once a week for the next three weeks we visited Campo to check up on the dog. Was it foaming at the mouth?  Was it swaying? Mad? Yet, each time we went the muchachas said the dog was way out in the field.  Suspicious. I turned to Elizabeth and said, “You’re going to die.”

Luckily my joke did not come true and we sat and ate eggs and beans, my favorite Mexican meal, and chatted with our fun pals.  Next we went to Sofia and Billy’s house. The men were building an adobe house. People were always working in the Sierra, always some new thing to build or fix. Something new for me to see, at least.  So we talked with Sofia and her daughter about me going off to Alaska since Ami and I planned to go there. I imagined my life back at home and they marveled at life in the big city in some other country.  Sierra folks couldn’t figure out why us rich Americans would come to their poor country. I tried to convince them that they are rich in so many more ways than we are – they have a close community and family and agricultural work hours versus our 80 hour work week trying to compete with the neighbors.

At the other house in Campo – Beto and Rosita we had another regular chat like it wasn’t our last. It was getting dark so it was time to go. Most of the town walked us to the gate. That’s when Sofia’s cute daughter, Lupita, finally figured out I was leaving, forever, and her face dropped. We hugged them all goodbye and tears sprung in the corner of my eyes.          Walking up, looking back at their sad faces, made me feel worse. Then we climbed up further and I couldn’t believe I was climbing that familiar path for the last time. Clouds filled the sky as they matched my water filled eyes. The sun set shadowed my fading mountain home. 

My days even in Cordon were coming to a close and I relished every minute with everyone. I ventured to try crocheing with all the women since they were busy making as many doilies as possible since Carolyn promised she would sell them in California. I didn’t know how this business was going to work but I was to deliver the goods.  No one knew how to use a stamp and they were always amazed how I ever got letters out of the city in Mexico to my house.  Through me, they knew I could get it to Carolyn and they didn’t really care how.  Making their crafts was one way the women sat together and talked. Idle chatting was for flirting and the winter only.  I didn’t care if I made a lopsided doily, I got to talk with my friends before I had to leave.

I even learned something new.  For fun, the Sierra folks made up some original games. One was like horshoes except they threw rocks, and then the winner, or loser, had to piggy back their partner across to the other line where the  teams would switch sides. All you needed was dirt and rocks, which we had a plenty.  Chemeley and Tere taught Elizabeth and I this game they called Tejas, Texas.  Named for crossing the border perhaps?  We never fully understand the rules but lugging Elizabeth across the courtyard was at least good for a laugh.

Unfortunately our fun game got ruined by the soap operas which I was now dreading. I hated how everything had to stop exactly at six in the evening because the novella was on TV. I remembered how when I spent the night at the milking ranches or in towns like Campo, we had fun all night – talking, playing cards, or being silly. But TV ruined all social contact. Wasn’t I more important than their shows? I guess not, I was gone tomorrow but the shows had more cliff hangers to hold onto.  For years, I never watched it – held my grudge against television throughout most of the 1990s.

After some of the novellas finished, Alvarro was smart enough to break out and come over to visit with us. Somehow we got onto a risqué topic. I was fascinated with the concept that women had to be virgins when they married but not the men. I asked how that was possible, and appartently, prostitutes were the answer.  But all my brazen questions made Alvarro certain that I wasn’t a virgin. If you can’t see the chickens do it or ask any questions, just the fact that I asked these questions made my purity suspect. But I didn’t care anymore – I was outta here.  Besides, I didn’t kiss Jose Luis and I only had one passionate night of dancing so the truth is no one up there would really know my hymen status.

The day that the Norman mobile was supposed to arrive started out normal – with fieldwork. It was spring, a new season, and I got to do something new. Elizabeth and I helped Alvarro load the blossomed oats into his truck. I was glad to do my favorite thing in the Sierra – help out with all the outdoor work. Later toiling away at post- Industrial Revolution jobs made me always miss the agricultural life and it’s freedoms.

I went from house to house giving out more gifts. Dona Matilda cried when I gave her a picture frame.  When she walked into her house to put it up, Don Emitereo snuck, for the first and only time, a chance to touch me. He put his hand on my shoulder and sighed “Ay, Carolina.” He made it clear that my leaving was sucking the hope out of him, or so he said.

I went around and gave out pot holders to all the women. Then we heard the Suburban. Lobo did his usual dance and his tail went into around the world swings.   I realized I”d miss him too. And my kitty, that made me the saddest. I knew she wouldn’t do well living in Alaska or for the summer in Seattle at my brother’s apartment. She was a wild Sierra cat. I found her a home in Bermudez so as I left, I’d have to bring her along.

Out of the Volunteer vehicle popped out Elizabeth’s dad. She was surprised and delighted by the visit.  There also was a new Casa director, again recruited from our Quaker college – the Norman tradition. A man this time.  The seasons were changing – it had been almost a year since Sheila and I finished college and took the bus down to Hermosillo. Now here was a new graduate.

I tagged along as they went on the visits throughout the village. I helped make dinner for our guests eventhough I wanted to just hang with the Cordon people. Luckily Don Emitereo and Tere came over to visit with me. Tala came over and talked with me as I packed up my last bag.

The next day I went over for my last coffee with Don Emitereo. We hadn’t had coffee alone together since the fall and now Dona Matilde was sleeping in so it was he and I again. I avoided the romantic talk and told him I’d always think well of him, as a grandpa. Dona Matilda woke up and we all finished our coffee time together.  I went around visiting and relishing every moment as long as I could. Then came the sad moment – Lucy found me to tell me it was time to go.

I went looking for Amorcita – the cat we now knew was female.  I put her in a box. Then turned to everyone gathered around my porch. Months before they were all here to say goodbye to me and Carolyn, and wondered if I’d come back. Now we knew the answer – no.

Lucy and her brother shook Don Emitereo’s hand to thank him and say hasta luego, see you later.   I tried to keep my tears in but at my very first hug goodbye, to Ramona, I burst into them.  She said, “Awww, she’s crying.”   I never got as close to her family and barely survived Riqui’s torments. I have a suspicion that Manuel and Carlos, her father, made a back door political deal to push Riqui towards Jose Luis so he would stay away from me.  Now was the truth, I was leaving, single. I never wanted anything more than a secure dance partner, not a wild Sierra husband.

After that casueal goodbye, I hugged Tala and Tere who were crying along with me, obviously we had bonded more that it wasn’t just an observation that I was sad but they felt it too. Dona Matilda cried and Don Emitereo’s eyes were soaked red. They were the hardest to leave – I worried I would never see them again due to their age.  The men just looked sad and I hugged with more distance between us. I couldn’t look into Chapo’s eyes when I said goodbye to him. I just mumbled, “Thanks for everything.”

Then I got into the Suburban and waved still crying as we drove off.  Even Lobo looked sad and confused. I cried till the Puerta de la Puerta – the gate that starts the flat journey out of Cordon before the hill down to Bermudez.  I quietly watched my Sierra home ride away as I comforted my cat, scared on her first car ride.

In Bermudez, I dropped off the kitten at the new home. She climbed up my shoulder, where she always felt safe. I pulled her down to my chest and hugged her warm fuzzy body one last time.

Then I went and said goodbye to Rosalba.  That was the hardest. She cried and that made me sob more. She said “It’s like you are dying because no one ever comes back.”

“Don’t say that.”  I said between tears, “I’ll try to come back someday

I went back to the wagon, sobbing. Elizabeth put her arm around me. I couldn’t believe I was leaving my cat and Cordon behind.  The cat was my love, my comfort all year. Cordon was my way of life for almost a year. How would I survive in the cold after college world back home?

We drove on and had lunch at the Punto de la Cruz.  Then everyone decided to drive the fifteen minutes to Yecora. Once there, we even drove by Oswaldo who I danced with at the second quinceneara. I waved and he saw me and gave me his big smile, shined by his blue eyes. 

We went into a store and saw another familiar face –one that everyone knew. Orlando. He worked up here part time but everyone knew him from Hermosillo. I thought it funny to see a city slicker up here. 

Next they indulged me to find Uriel’s house to say goodbye to him. We found it but he nor Vidal were home – they had gone to a wedding. Dancing with another woman? Didn’t we have something? But I knew dances were irrisistable fun for all.  We talked a bit with their family – the usual Sierra talk of chickens and other farm animals.  Then it was time to leave the Sierrra, for good this time.

The highway brought us quickly out of the pine trees and into the Sonoran desert. Back at the Casa, it was weird to see the new guy being told how to run the house. Trained just like we had been a year earlier.  But otherwise life was the same in Hermosillo – sharing dirty jokes with Mario, going to tacos with Dolores and her boyfriend, hanging out with the girls – Elizabeth and Sheila. 

Elizabeth’s dad left and so did Elizabeth and I. we went to spend a few days in the other city, saying goodbye to more Sierra folks. We lived in luxury – staying at Don Emitereo’s son’s house. Not only was he now a city slicker but he ran a taco stand so everynight we ate tacos and my favorite drink – Horchata.  It has a sweet flavor due to the sugar mixed with the rice and a dash of cinnamon.

We went around visiting all those Sierra folks who hadn’t gone up for the summer yet. Jose Luis was nice this time and actually sat with me on his porch. His parents seemed relaxed too- satisfied that they had kept us apart. When he went to drive us home he suggested we go for a ride. We went on a walk around the scenic waterfront – Elizabeth, his sister, me, and Jose Luis. I didn’t feel anything for him but I did feel like asking, “Why didn’t we do this six months ago?” 

Earlier that day Elizabeth and I had already done the tourist thing at that area, just to get a chance to talk to my Yoga ex, for ten minutes. I didn’t feel anything for him anymore either. Elizabeth noticed how handsome he was but all he talked about was yoga. I still thought it was more of a cult, that particalar organization, and they had brainwashed and controlled him. Too bad.  But I had closure, no lost loves to leave behind in Mexico.

Lastly, I went and visited Beatriz and Esperanza. They were busy making bridal dresses. I told them I’d love to come back and get them to make me a custom made dress when I get married. I dreamed of a wedding someday mixing all my travels. I dress from Mexico, rice from Spain, bread from France, and dancing the tarantella I hoped to learn in my next big overseas adventure in Sicily.  The idea of some future groom having a say in all this hadn’t even entered my mind.

I said goodbye to them and Don Jorge. As we left the city, I knew this was the final goodbye. No more ever running into someone from the Sierra, at least until I proved Rosalba wrong, and came back from the dead for a visit.

The last few days in Mexico, us girls hung out in Hermosillo – walking to the grocery store chain, Ley, to enjoy the air conditioning.  The heat was back – the same heat that almost killed me my first day in the country.

The usual crowd would come by at night – Orlando and other past volunteers. I liked talking with Orlando. He was smart and kinda cute even if he was so old, thirty something. But I said to Elizabeth “I think I could really date him.” 

She laughed, “You say that about everyone.”


”No, really. He’s not a wild Sierra muchacho. He’s from the city. And intellectual, like me.”

“Whatever”. She shrugged me off.

I shrugged the idea off too. What did it matter now who I could or couldn’t date. I was leaving the country.  Besides I was still curious about someone at home. I was determined – this was my chance to get Rob. I was on a mission.

I felt lost in sadness when everyone brought us to the bus – Orlando, Dolores, her brother and her boyfriend, and Elizabeth. They hugged us goodbye and led us to the bus.  Sheila and I boarded the same bus number we had arrived on the June before. Now it was for our trip goodbye, and back to the rest of our lives.

EPILOGUE:

I came home and tried to keep Mexico alive.  I baked a cake for my saint day and invited Rob and other friends over to celebrate, just like in the Sierra. Yet, my eight layer cake caved in and looked a mess, still tasted good using their recipes.

Ami and I had an incredible journey on a train from Washington to Washington, fodder for another book. I kept wanted to experience Mexico whenever I could so when we visited my friend in Albuquerque I asked her where the dancing was. She had no idea.  We looked it up in the phone book and went to the “scary” part of town as she described it. The seedy bar scared her so much that she left early. But Ami was a sport and tried the dancing. I quickly learned that I’d never re-create the Sierra dances. For one, these were strangers and one man was so drunk that he fell on top of Ami. I had never seen two people fall down on the floor like that in Mexico. I’d forever miss the “safe” dances in the Sierra with people I knew, even if the boys seemed wild then.

Even when we reached Seattle, I tried another dance. This time I danced all night with a great dancer – he even did quebradita – the break her dance. He threw me up in the air and all around. I had to close my eyes to concentrate. Then tricky tricky the next song was slow and he already held me tight to do those fancy moves. So we were pegged together like two middle schoolers during their first slow song.  But at the end of the night he just said thanks, didn’t even ask for my number.  No love connection there. It was like all the other dances in my country, just a dance, nothing more.

My passionate night of dancing with Uriel would have repecusions. I was surprised one summer afternoon in Seattle to get a letter from Elizabeth in my brother’s mail box.  She must have sent it along with the new volunteer on a Norman vehicle visit.  Enclosed was a bigger surprise.   It was a letter from Uriel. My attempt to try to see him in Yecora before I left made an impression. I read the letter by the pool at my brother’s apartment complex and kept yelling “Oh my Goodness”.  I couldn’t believe what it said.

HIS LETTER:

Carolina, my apreicalbe friend with all affection and respect with all affectional greetings I hope that you are well.

I am a little sad at times because it was impossible to be at your despedida party and I could not see you. Forgive me, with all my hearte.  I wanted to accompany you on your parting, Carolina, even when you went to visit my family’s house in Yecora. 

Do not believe that I have forgotten the night that we danced on Sabado de Gloria. I have it present when we talked and danced in my mind.  It is hard that you are so far from here. I will never forget that night. It impressed me a lot. Even so much that I have dreamed about you.  You do not have to send gifts of photos to my family, I will wait for you always.  I will never stop waiting for you. It is imposible to see you because they will not let me enter the United States but I would like to go there where you are but it is imposible.  Even though it is imposible I would like to go and ask for your hadn, Carolina.  I don’t know what manner to explain it because at best, for you, it would be difficult but me, I wdon’t think of anything else but to marry with you.  Forgive me and believe me that I fell in love with you and I whope with all my heart that you are good and will give a sincere answer. I don’t care about leaving my land, this would not be difficult as long as you loved me and some how everything would work out.  Elisabet says that you will not return until next summer. That is a long time. I hope I can see you before then.

Excuse me while I write this verse

From heven fell a handkerchief

All full of squares

Which were rays of sun

Once they saw your eyes

(rhymes in Spanish)

Carlina, that’s all for this time. Forgive me for what I ask. I hope that I do not offend you.  Please write to me and send a photo of only you. Without anymore, I bid you goodbye from one who loves you a lot and will not forget you.

 Uriel

It was totally true, dance more than three songs and get a marriage proposal. I sent him a letter back, through Elizabeth, explaining we come from two worlds and I was now home so no, I would not marry him.

Two years later, I would take that time machine again and return to the old Sierra. This time I brought a boyfriend. Everyone was shocked that we asked to share a room together. So to them, this wasn’t a boyfriend, but a husband.  Facundo and Don Emitereo’s sisters held no polite niceties back and said “Este no sirve”, this (guy) is no good. They were hurt that I brought along a gringo instead of marrying one of their guys.

I was happy to see everyone again – even Dona Matilde and Don Emitereo seemed healthy and vibrant, like I’d never have to bid them farewell.  But it wasn’t the same. A quick week of hellos and goodbyes. I even got sick, but luckily I was in Campo and the three muchachas took care of me. They were the only ones who accepted my boyfriend. I always respected them.

I did find out why Rikke always was so nasty to me. After I left she and Jose Luis became novios. I was shocked. I had done the family tree- they were third cousins. I guess it didn’t matter since novios are innocent, if they had married that would have been another story.

Now, they were broken up and to my surprise Jose Luis flirted with me, even in front of my boyfriend. But at the dance, he didn’t ask me to dance, again. I danced with others including my favorite – Vidal.  All summer while Elizabeth was all alone, they did become novios and she even kissed him, when they were alone in the cabin. Often. But everyone talked well of her. How did she have an immaculate reputation when she got to try the peach flavored kisses, as Tere described them?, I never got my peaches but took that walk with Jose Luis and always doubted my status?  To me, Elizabeth would forever have a perfect image in the Sierra.

Years went on and I made it back to Mexico a few times – but only to Tijuana because I lived in California. I saw a few people from Hermosillo who married or worked in the United States.  And in 2003 after telling my Spanish class students all about the Sierra I got reminiscent and called some of those who live in the city. I tried to call Don Emitereo’s taco salesman son and was surprised and delighted that Tere happened to be visiting there. I found out that Chue married a girl from the city but even more interesting, Chapo married Lupe of Mesa.  Everaldo married some woman I didn’t know who or from where but he had a daughter whom he named Elizabeth. Another reason I would always be jealous of her – she’ll be fossilized in Sierra history forever. There aren’t any little Carolinas that I know about. 

“And Jose Luis?” I asked.


He was still single.

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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