Becoming a Writer – The Early Years, A Country Wedding

26 Sep

Becoming a Writer
The Early Years, A Country Wedding

San Miguel de Allende, San Francisco Street from Calvario

San Miguel de Allende, San Francisco Street from Calvario

El Chivo, Don Lieberman, a disabled veteran, and I had become friends, he being the only gringo I knew that had met my brother during Bob’s year in San Miguel. We spent time talking in the
backroom of the Cucaracha bar when no one else that mattered was around, and we had similar tastes. Every Thursday, as a condition
of his disability pension, Don had to take a bus to Mexico City and go to see a shrink. He didn’t talk much about it, but complained about the drugs that he had to take daily. He felt that they interfered with his life.

One of Don’s passions was magic. He had found a magic store in Mexico City that he patronized every trip and had built up a pretty decent act which he began to perform for kids parties. I don’t think he charged any money for these shows, but they had to feed him which was quite a chore. He would get really nervous when he was called upon to entertain adults, but he did a pretty good job. It was about that time that Don got an eviction notice, and had to find a new apartment.

I had gotten tired of the scorpions hiding in my clothes, shoes, and towels a my first apartment and had begun looking around for another one too. There weren’t many places to choose from in those days, but through the Cucaracha grapevine Chivo had heard that the House of Miracles was vacant.

We went to see it, trudging all the way up San Francisco street to the Calvario chapel and knocked on the door of the house next door. We were shown around and were suitably impressed with the
size of it. It was mostly unfurnished, but we put our heads together and decided that the price was right, and we could buy some furniture at the Artes de Mexico store. So we took it.

The furniture we bought was a living room suite and a couple of beds. The living room was the room closest to the street and rumbled almost constantly with the roar of trucks and busses that
downshifted right outside our window to make the sharp turn to the left. The only time we used it was to play gin rummy.

The rest of the house consisted of our bedrooms upstairs and the most used room in the house, the kitchen. We had a gas stove. A luxury in San Miguel in those days, and we actually cooked some.
Chivo set up his sculptors stand with a rag covered blob of clay in another room and that became the studio where he also kept his white doves. They coo coooed all day long and messed the curtain
rods and the floor below them so we kept the door closed.

Chivo had a maid that came in a couple of times a week and swept and mopped the place. She had been working for him for quite awhile and Chivo knew her kids who were by then all grown up, in fact, her daughter was to be married and we were invited.

Well, the maid invited Chivo, and he invited me, and I invited Roselia who invited all the girls at the store. It was quite a group. We sat through the wedding in the Paroquia and then boarded a pollero bus, a chicken carrier, that traveled between San Miguel and Celaya. The bus was packed with people and livestock, bicycles piled up on the roof where more than a few passengers traveled hanging on for dear life. The cobrador, fare collector, was a small boy about 10 years old who squeezed his way along between passengers and collected the big copper coins and made change from a small zinc bucket he carried. It was hard to believe that someone so small could make change so fast.

The bus slid to a stop just before the bridge of Calderon and all the wedding party piled out. We began walking a dirt path off toward the empty skyline and the girls, wearing the ever-present high heels began to complain and wonder out loud where in hell was this wedding anyway. About then a couple of guys on horseback rode up and jumped down off their mounts and offered the reins to the groom. He took one of the horses and walked around offering the other to the bride who refused and then to the other people in the group. No one wanted to ride, Hell I did. I mounted up and rode off down the path. The groom seeing that I knew how laughed, and took off at a full gallop. Well, I wasn’t that confident, but hung on when the horse I was on followed its stable mate’s example and took off lickety split. I was able to get into the horses rhythm pretty quickly and then urged him on easily overtaking the groom who had slowed down for some reason before entering the central clearing of the rancho. I couldn’t
understand why he’d let me go first until a few days later I learned that the Godfather is accorded that honor. I didn’t know that the few pesos that I had chipped had in fact made me that.

What do you know, eighteen and a Godfather!

The ranchfolk happily welcomed us and seated us in a bower made of some scrawny mesquite and huizache branches that barely made some shade and were served plates heaped with rice and chicken
covered in a reddish brown sauce. My first experience with mole, a spicy chocolate/peanut sauce. The tortillas were twice the size of what I had seen in town and they were blue. They had made them
with the vari-colored ears of corn. I looked around and realized the bride and groom weren’t there. I stood to protest this fact, but was pulled back into my seat by Roselia who whispered, “Shut up,” at me. Properly scolded I ate my mole and then watched as the real wedding party sat down to eat after we
had finished.

Ollas, clay mugs, of pulque were passed around to all the adults and I pulled up a seat on a log and tasted it. It was a little sour, but frothy and tasty too. I took a few more sips and looked around at the crowd that had gathered around my log. All the kids had set themselves down all around me and began openly staring at me. It made me feel very strange and selfconscious. Roselia told me later that they had probably never seen a gringo before, or maybe they’d never seen blue eyes before….

Roselia and I had, by that time, slipped into a comfortable routine. I would meet her after she got off work and walk a few turns around the Jardin with her and her workmates who laughed and giggled the whole time. I never could figure out why, but it made the evening very pleasant, and I was learning more and more words, even a few phrases to use in conversation. I’d walk her home through the dark streets, stopping here and there for a stolen kiss, but she never let my roving hands have their way. An
attitude that I began to respect and even admire. The girls back home had never put the breaks on me.

Every Thursday we’d all go to the movies at the Angela Peralta, and every Sunday we’d go for rides in my convertible. I had made a few friends among the townspeople, but outside of Roselia and her crowd I didn’t really pay any attention to anyone else.

Except for Doña Carmen. Carmen was Roselia’s Godmother, and had a large brood of boys and one little girl to raise. Her only amusement was a few stolen hours riding around in a green, 1937
Dodge. It was a big box on wheels that had the stiffest shocks I ever failed to feel. We’d dash around town between eight and ten bouncing all over the place with that car full of us and Carmen’s
kids screaming with laughter. Almost every night we’d go for a picnic. Picnic in Carmen’s words. A picnic in reality was a mad dash for the railroad station along a two lane piece of smooth asphalt highway that had been put in recently. No one knew why, but there it was, the only smooth street in town. Carmen’s son Pico would floor it and we’d fly along that road, wind whistling through the car, and even the rattles stopped for awhile.

It wasn’t until many years later that a guy who grew up during those years when I was tooling around town in my red convertible, a young man who obviously had money (I didn’t really), and who preferred to have as his friends the lower class people (I had nothing in common with the rich ones), explained a few things to me. He said that I had completely turned the old, established traditions of San Miguel right on their heads. Young men began demanding their own cars, and refused to date the daughters of
the family friends who were “of their class.” They began to think of travel and adventure, and some even adopted my devil may care attitude. Well, it’s what he said!
One Sunday, the girls and I took the convertible out to a local balneario, a hot-springs pool. The girls had trouble giving me instructions to the exact spot at the Santuario of Atotonilco where this pool was located, and we ended up off the road at the entrance to a grassy meadow. Well, there was no fence, so I drove on in. We spotted the pool, sitting all by itself, at the other end of the meadow, and I drove toward it. About half-way through, the heavy car began sliding around, and I stopped in the middle of a slippery, muddy, swamp. We looked around the meadow, at each other, and the girls began laughing, evidently finding the situation uproariously funny. There was nothing to be done so we piled out and walked to the pool in our bare feet, mud sloshing through our toes.

Beside the pool, which was constructed of stone slathered with cement, was a small shelter made of corn stalks, and there we took turns changing into our bathing suits. It was the first time I’d ever seen
a natural hot-springs pool, and I was amazed at how warm the water was, out here in a meadow in the middle of nowhere. We spent a pleasant afternoon splashing and swimming around the pool, and after a few hours the owner of the meadow came on his tractor to collect his fee for the use of the pool. The girls dickered with him and for an extra peso or two he agreed to pull my car out of the meadow. Nice fellow! No, he’d rigged the drain of the pool so as to spill out into the meadow creating the swamp so he could collect his fee for towing people out of it! Talk about entrepenureship!

San Miguel de Allende, Ancha de San Antonio and Zacateros

San Miguel de Allende, Ancha de San Antonio and Zacateros

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