Sunday, January 31, 2010

Las Chicas Norteñas

My prima-once removed was posting the cutest pictures on FB, and I had to ask her if I could please, please have Guerra and Negra over for a visit?

Then I realized Beckie might be thinking that I meant for her to actually drive down from Pasadena with Guerra and Negra, so I went back to FB and clarified that I was thinking of them visiting on Chickenblog... you know, like a guest spot.

But wouldn't it be kind of hilarious if they did ride down, stopped at In-N-Out for a veggie burger, then got here in time for a light dust bath, and a bit of chisme with cracked-corn?

And isn't it nifty that FB can keep family and friends chatting and exchanging deep thoughts and other musings? I think so. Especially when we are far apart. Geoff's FB status is blank, but I see he did pop in to thank everyone for their birthday wishes. Near or far, FB keeps us in the loop.

I am guessing that Negra is the hen with the black scarf. Isn't she elegant? Her fair feathered sister must be Guerra.

Hola Guerra.
Hola Negra.
Pretty chicas.

I think Guerra sees something good to eat.

They remind me of our dear Gracie. She was an Ameraucana, and laid green-blue Easter eggs just like Guerra and Negra. Those colored eggs are so pretty.

Baby pictures.
Even this small, I can see which one is the blondie, and little Negra has her sharp eye on the camera. When Maria sees these she is going to renew her pleading for baby chicks. She really, really wants Betty to "get married and have some babies." Oh my. But when I see these itty-bitty chicas, I kind of think the same thing. Wouldn't some tiny, peeping fluff balls be lots of fun running around the garden...

Besides giving fresh eggs and beautifying their garden, I know that Guerra and Negra hold a place in my cousins' hearts for other reasons. Beckie shared a bit with me:

My Mother got them for her 89th birthday. So, she enjoyed them for more than a year before she passed and went to heaven. They were so tiny and delicate, both could fit in the palm of your hand. They brought her so much joy because they followed her around while she did her yardwork. When she would sit down and take a break, they would happily jump up on her lap...just like a cat! Well Negra and Guerra are wonderful egg layers...gorgeous grade AAA blue green eggs. They are inseperable yet competative should you treat them to a hand full of crickets.

Reading this made me happy, and a bit sad. But mostly I smile and think how wonderful life can be.

Also, if the chicas from up north ever do come to visit I am going to be sure I have a supply of crickets on hand. I never thought to provide such delectables for Lady Betty, but now I know... thank goodness for FB.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009 Strong Barcelona

The Tour de France is riding through town today. We crossed paths with Lance's support crew while driving to Barcelona from Avignon. They stopped in Montpellier. There was a small parade of black cars with bright yellow graphics: Just Do It and of course Live Strong! This will not be TDF's first time in Catalunya... it seems the race came through here 44 years ago.

It is raining today... should be interesting to see how this affects the ride. As for us, we are enjoying the thunder and big drops and splashes. In this Internet cafe we are staying dry and comfortable. Yesterday we walked and saw a lot, so I don't feel as disappointed about being indoors today.

We walked up Las Ramblas and to Placa Catalunya, then Casa Amatllr and Casa Batllo. We continued our walk all the way to Sagrada Familia, which was breathtaking in the twilight. Maria made friends in the park, and everyone rested a bit before the next walk to the Metro... we rode linea La Pau back to our Barrio near Jaume 1.

Our journey is nearing its own finish line. Tomorrow is our last day in Catalunya, and our last day in London will mostly be occupied with airport security and hurrying up to wait. If the rain eases I imagine we will squeeze in more sightseeing and long walks, otherwise we will concentrate on reorganizing and reflecting on all that has passed. On home and on another passage.

It has not always been easy to post and it's even more challenging to get the photos in here. You should know that the silent partner, Geoff, really keeps the blogging going when technical obstacles slow me down, so I owe him much gratitude. I am also thankful for all the commments, for new readers, and for old friends too. It has been wonderful sharing points of view, getting tips, hearing encouragement... the interaction in blogging is a favorite aspect. Thank you.

Where does the rain go? Here in the very old gothic barrio all is walls and ancient paved alleys, and I wonder where all the water will flow. To the Mediterranean, I suppose. We should go there. We should go to Parc Guell and... where does the time go? Rain and time, dropping and slipping away, pattering on the stones. It is good to have this time to reflect and be thankful. To remember where we have been and to ponder what comes next.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Driving Fast

As fast as we are driving, we don't seem to get any place too soon. Our mistake? We may have aimed for too many stops in our European Sampler. Geoff will never admit that he regrets stretching ourselves so thin, even though we are sitting at a German rest stop while he naps. Yesterday we drove from Gelderland, Netherlands, through Limburg and all the way to Triberg, Germany. And by “we” I mean Geoff, because we are in a manual transmission Espace. I drive automatic. Anyway, driving all that way and stopping to see the Kasteelruins of Valkenburg, got us in to our hotel at 23:50. Such a beautiful drive, while it was still light, but hard too. The GPS is either doing an amazing job or she, we call her Sheila, is completely random and prone to stoopidty. It's hard to tell. We drove through the Netherlands, then Belgium, then France, then Texas, then back in to Germany... Sheila delights in making us take horrible and absurd detours when a u-turn would suffice.

Update: That was written on our way to Switzerland on the fourth of July and now it is Sunday morning. 5 July. Brienz Switzerland.

Geoff never should admit we are spread too thin. It is all worthwhile. We are a bit travel weary and we definitely wish we had more time to spend in the places we are driving through and the places we have stayed over.

Triberg, Germany was adorable and the people were incredibly friendly and considerate. We made an embarrassingly fast visit of the town. Saw the giant cuckoo clock and took dozens of pictures of window boxes full of the brightest and prettiest red geraniums I have ever seen. Everything was unbelievably quaint and charming... to the point where I have abused the words “quaint” and “charming,” and was forced to rely on “cute” and “precious” as well. The drive out of town was almost excruciatingly quaint, charming, cute and precious and I was gasping, sighing and exclaiming over every barn, window shutter and foxglove filled meadow in sight. We even came to a narrow stretch where we had to wait for cows to be herded across the road. Chickens on haystacks and a woman in an apron and a kerchief on her head was raking in a forest clearing... I got the picture in my mind, but unfortunately not in my camera.

Switzerland. Whoa. Hey, when they say “going through the Alps,” they are not kidding. We have never been in so many tunnels in our lives. Long ones. Forget the time of day long. Uphill long. Really, really long. Longer than this description.

We had a blast. We laughed and marveled and delighted at every twist and rise. Toward the end of our drive we stopped going through the Alps and actually started driving up the mountain. The green and lush, waterfall dotted, chalet covered mountain. I begged to hear yodeling and craved fondue. I wanted to find grandfather and the goats and drink milk and make cheese and braid daisy chains to wear in my hair. I need a drindle.

We passed many lakes that are a color I have no name for. Slate blue? Sky gray? Iced jade? It rained. It is a perfect temperature. We arrived at our hotel and could not believe our fortune. Brienz is the kind of place you would feel lucky to see, to drive by and hope to visit, and we are actually waking up here... on a lake! We are in a comfortable hotel apartment with views of the lake from all three rooms. We have been watching clouds and water, chalets and boats, ducks and mountain faces... all changing, appearing and disappearing in the sunlight. It was not fireworks for our Fourth, but it has been a breathtaking display. Also in view is a church and we have been serenaded by its bells ringing the hour. The view from every corner, from any angle, is an idyllic postcard. Honest. How will we ever leave? When can we return?

I do not want to temper my mood, but I am keenly aware of how much I want and need to appreciate being here, being in the moment and thanking God for our blessings. I am quite certain that the Blue House will not be ours. It breaks my heart. Pity Party forthcoming.

My aunt Liz has been keeping us updated on her parents' health. My tia and uncle Bill have been fixtures in my mind and heart for as long as I can remember. If I were not here, I would be there, visiting them and trying to find the words that comfort, trying to be helpful somehow. Liz, and Beckie... their entire family, my Abuela too, are all easing my tia's days as she prepares for heaven.

At this very moment the church is ringing out the hour and a calling for service. Tearfully, I recall our own church in El Valle, all the services there and the inspiring and sustaining faith my Abuela has. The resonance of the bells is vibrating in my heart. It is not stopping. To the very last ring, it stirs the air and my spirit.

Maria has been sad, homesick, only twice on the entire trip. The first time did last several tear filled hours in which she mournfully called out for Izzy. “I miss Izzy! I need Izzy! Izzy. Izzy! Oh, Izzy...” sniffle-sniffle. I've been homesick too. I think every pretty house, fat hen, and lovely town makes me wish for home, for a home of our own... otherwise I think I could just keep traveling and seeing new sights and waiting. Someday I will have flower boxes and chickens on haystacks and a fenced yard with a veggie garden. Someday I will be unpacked and have family pictures on walls... walls painted the colors that I like.

But now... now we are Here and here is a beautiful place to be. We are healthy and feeling strong from many great walks. We have enjoyed amazing sights and good laughs, even the stimulating challenge of being a bit turned around or wondering if we are in the right place, doing the right thing... just yesterday Geoff and I had an unexpected lesson in “how to use a public bathroom in a Swiss truck stop.” Our trip won't last much longer, but I hope to be in the moment, appreciating all of it while I am here and then savoring the memories later.

Oh for goodness sake... it's too good here. Too good, I'm telling you. Geoff just called me to the porch so I could see the white swan on the lake. It glided by on mist, as regal and elegant as any fairy tale swan could ever be.

I am too cynical to believe that any place is perfect.
I am too hopeful to stop wishing for something that comes close.

I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Yo Tambien Quiero Volver
Un regalo para mi Tia Elvira. Con cariño, departe de su sobrina. Yo tambien tengo buenos recuerdos de El Valle de Tacupeto. Besos a mi Tio y Tia. Les amo muchismo.

Desde El Ojo de Agua, noviembre, 2003. El Cerro Cabezón.

Antonia y Ismael en su casa, en el pueblo.

Huele a humo y tortillas. Se oye los coros en la iglesia. En la cocina... bondad y amor, risa y comunión.

Leche. De la vaca de Kia, en El Ojo de Agua.

Un paseo en el campo. Caminando a Los Cajoncitos.

El año pasado escribí mas sobre El Valle... "Maíz, Leña, Agua y Memorias"

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Are 5 for 5

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
Is this alarming? I wondered where we would stand, how our list of dangerous things would compare with Gever Tulley's list of dangerous things and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. It's not that I relish the idea of implicating myself as a careless, reckless, negligent parent. On the contrary, incorporating these 5 dangerous things in to our lives, I believe, demonstrates our careful, rational, attentive parenting skills.

1. Play With Fire
It's primal. It's the gathering place. It's practical. Fire is good. As a grown-up I have never hesitated to build a backyard campfire... in a sandpit, in a tin can. I remember when I was about 10 years old my mother observed that I could not light a match and she made me learn. She really had to make me do it, because I had a fear of fire and heat and getting burned and I would not light a match. I think I was crying and protesting, but she broke through my fear and gave me a skill. It was a beautiful exchange of ignorance and anxiety, for knowledge and ability. I offer that same opportunity to my children as soon as they seek it. I do not withhold fire and they do not glorify it or fear it. They understand its virtues and its risks.

And they understand that I will let them experiment with fire and test it, under supervision. So, when we went camping Maria could not resist cooking the onions she chopped (see Dangerous thing #2) in the candle. She could feel the heat, and she observed that she needed a tool to extend her reach and she learned that candles have a weak flame, easily snuffed out by too many onions. The worst result of this experiment was a delayed dinner, because I was by her side and ready to intervene.

Fire takes patience. It takes practice and fire needs our full attention. Patience, practice, and full attention are also very helpful in raising children. I keep my expectations high and my patience higher. I accept that there will be injuries and there will be messes. Lots and lots of messes. I consider messes a certain indicator of intelligence and creativity. I consider cleaning messes a certain indicator of training, intelligence and maturity. I tend to value creativity more than training, but there is room for practice in all areas.

I wish I had photographs of the first trip I made with the boys to El Valle, Mexico. It was in February of 2001... so, William was almost 10, Alex was 6 and Max was 2. It was on this adventure to the remotest corner of Sonora that the boys fell in love with fire. We cooked with fire, we warmed the house and water with fire. We played with fire. Yes. I know "play" sounds so irresponsible and wrong. Playing with fire rocks. Too often we think that play is trivial and that it minimizes responsibility. Play is the work of explorers, of learners, and work is the play of the inspired, the motivated. We can play and work and it can be both responsible and fun.

They observed the open fire where we were cooking meals, they watched their bisabuelo keep the fire lit for the water heater, and they became aware of this element as a tool and a resource, and a source of something to do in a place where there was no television, bookstore, theme parks, toy chests, or playgrounds. So they gathered wood and kindling to help keep the cooking fire going. Then they burned sticks and observed the transference of heat from wood to sticks, from coals to leaves, from stones to fingertips... and they learned about burns to skin... sufficiently to avoid serious injury.

An element of danger is present everywhere and I cannot see the point of avoiding experiences for the sake of avoiding pain, confusion or disorder. They learned, not from a book or cartoons, about what fire is and what it can do and why it matters and how it can behave. There is sufficient evidence that this kind of learning is hugely beneficial and lasting. Also, they learned that I trust them... I trust their intelligence and ability to gather information, I trust their judgement and sense of responsibility and fairness, I trust their intuition to act in accordance with sound principles... these are not experiences to be acquired from any book or video.

Coming up:

2. Own A Pocketknife
3. Throw A Spear
4. Deconstruct Appliances
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Una Noche en Mexico... Celebrando

Well, technically speaking we were not in Mexico, and since this is not a political blog, I am taking artistic-cultural license and staying with the birthday theme: A Night In Mexico. We were celebrating my cousin Isaac's 18th birthday. There was an abundance of good humor, good food, good company and gozando... there was plenty to enjoy.

The birthday boy. Here he is playing cowboy and rounding up this stray doggie who wanted desperately to join the party. The dog is too much of a party animal to be trusted among the guests and platters of tamales. My tio kept taking tour groups of sweet children to the room where the doggies were, which made the children and the dogs happy.

I know it was my cousin's big night, but it has to be mentioned that his little cousin, the one in the blue dress, was having very good time.

Found a peanut.

Max and Maria were delighting themselves with the bowl of nuts and use of a nut cracker, which is a bit too much tool for just peanuts, but fun just the same.

She did not skip a beat... and played con gusto right to the end.

The big kids, Isaac's posse, hung out around the PS3, happy to game and chill. The younger children, almost all girls, to Maria's utter bliss, took down this piñata in no time at all!

Dale, dale, dale,
no pierdas el tino;
Porque si lo pierdes
pierdes el camino.

Ya le diste una,
ya le diste dos;
Ya le diste tres,
y tu tiempo se acabó

Smarties, tamarindo, lollipops... bags were filled to the tops!

Maria was thrilled to fill her bag up and the other girls thoughtfully helped her get more than her fair share. The best part is that at this point in her life Maria had even more fun redistributing the candies among all the guests. She shared most of her treats, and then sampled her first taste of Smarties... Pink is my favorite!

William, Alex and Max. Quiet, pensive party-ers.

Arroz, frijoles, tamales, ensalada, chips, salsa... and chocolate cake. Perfection for a brisk December night. With all there was to enjoy, like familia and masa, it's no wonder we got home so late.

Alas, all good things must come to a rest.

Buenas noches.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Maria Con Su Bisabuela

Maria and I spent the morning together with my grandmother, Abuela. She is Maria's great-grandmother, bisabuela, Antonia.
They drew pictures and played with Maria's bunny figures. Abuela made tortillas de harina. Maria said, "Mommy, you should make tortillas like
these." I should.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Thank You. Muchas Gracias.

Writing about Mexico and memories felt like a private memorial, that I had to get out of my head. Part therapy, part record keeping, so that my children could understand me and how I was feeling. I couldn't leave with 1 hour's notice, at 11 p.m. Monday night, to drive 16 hours for my abuelo's funeral. I was sad enough that he died, and I think I was even sadder to realize I was missing an opportunity to say goodbye, to share my story and hear theirs. Having always felt some uncertainty about my ability to write effectively about my memories and feelings, and being reluctant to commit to saying things out loud, writing this post was liberating and personal. It also felt as though I have barely crossed the threshold of a part of my life, of a hundred stories, of things I know and believe, but have yet to give a voice to.

Blogging can be a lonely business. I've been writing for a while. Some posts are nearly pointless, and some posts are full of my deepest thoughts and happiest musings. As much as I have wanted to be a good writer, to reach people and start a conversation, I have mostly resigned myself to the puzzled looks from family and friends, and feeling like a goof. Receiving comments is a relatively new pleasure, and it is wonderful. Bloggers, you know it's true: feedback, encouragement, connection, community, discussions and exchanges are the fuel and frosting that top the blogging cake.

Thank you for your comments. You may have convinced me I can say things, say them well enough to start a conversation that we can all share. But mostly, because of what you shared with me, I felt like I had kind and tender company as I sorted my thoughts and feelings and began to say goodbye to my abuelo, to chapters and days that in some ways are forever beyond my reach. I could not be at the funeral, where they say it rained for days, and the lightning did not wait for the thunder, but lit the night sky with every percussion. I could not be there to hold my abuela and to share the grief, and the healing that comes with company. I have been to too many funerals in the last year, and I have seen enough death and loss to understand that support and compassion are a tremendous resource for comfort and courage. Thank you for reading about my abuelo, about things I am trying to make sense of, and feelings I want to hold on to. Thank you for responding and encouraging me, for being supportive and compassionate... it helps. I feel less alone.

I think I have been afraid to post again, because I was pretty sure I wouldn't be as eloquent or interesting as I seemed to have managed in my last post. What? I'm not too proud to admit positive feedback felt really good. Really good. So, maybe I will slip back into mediocrity and obscurity. Maybe I have the rough draft of the next best seller, but writing is like surfing. Some days you paddle, paddle, paddle and never get a ride.

And some days you catch a wave.

Perhaps every post won't be an exhilarating ride, but I am hooked on blogging, and I love looking through the archives and seeing my children, recalling the things they've done and said. I love reminding myself that there have been good days and bad days, and I am still around to know the difference.

Independence Day was a good day. I planned a long day at the beach with the children, expecting Geoff would work, as he usually has to, but he exchanged this day for working the weekend (which he usually does) and he joined us for an entire day of surf, sand and sun fog.

Truthfully, I love the fog. It was overcast, but warm, and it made it easier to play all day, without feeling scorched. We dug a private pool for Maria. Max, Geoff and William did a lot of bodysurfing. The beach was crowded and happy. We had chips and dip. I love chips and dip. We ate strawberries, we walked, we built drip castles.

It didn't stay crowded. By late afternoon the beach was deserted, and we enjoyed a very foggy walk, collecting all kinds of treasure along the way. Suddenly I decided to tile our shower with the smooth stones that cover our beaches. Not the shower here, at Garage Mahal. The shower in our own, future, imaginary, hopeful, some day house. I walked back to our base-camp carrying about 15 pounds of shower tiles. It's a start.

Someone got hold of my camera. Notice my relaxed, at ease expression?

Nothing's ever as easy as I think it should be. This day, this no-stress day at the beach was days in the planning and took hours to prepare and pack for. I was totally absorbed in making an idyllic, classic sort of celebration. I even envisioned presenting one of those clever fruit decorated flag cakes. So, you know, I was scurrying around, gathering towels, finding swim shorts, hats, sunblock and anticipating every need and patriotic whim. And finally, we were ready to head out. Stop for gas, and pick up ice, then the beach, and our beautiful celebration of freedom and family time. In the market I grabbed an extra bag of corn chips and a magazine to read while lounging luxuriously, and I kept noting how terrific everyone looked. Cute T-shirts, red, white and blue details, and snazzy summer sandals. Everyone was looking dressed for a holiday. It wasn't until then that I realized I had forgotten an important detail... I was still in my pajamas. 'nough said.

I let the children decorate the Fourth of July Fruit Flag Cake.

It was beautiful.

It was a very good day.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Maíz, Leña, Agua y Memorias

I should have learned to speak Spanish. I wish I were fluent. My mother insisted it would benefit me. My tias and tios implored me to learn Spanish, and mocked me too. I absorbed enough to ache for more. I learned enough to know that I am missing entire stories and insights. I understand enough to feel a profound connection to phrases and concepts, to emotions and spiritual convictions that I am powerless to explain en español or English.

I believe I am as much a part of Mexico and my family, the piedras del campo, as I am a part of my own children, my life in a suburban home with suburban experiences, but I do not know it.. I have always wanted to write about Mexico, El Valle, about border crossings and crossing cultural borders, about tortillas de harina, Seris, Opata, iglesia, and being an outsider here and there. I never have, not significantly, because I was afraid of messing it up, getting it wrong, missing important details, overstating insignificant bits. My story might be false memory and lies. My story might not ring true, or it could be too true.

I used to dream of knowing enough Spanish to glean the truth, the whole story, and I knew my abuelo was the source I needed to visit for those stories, for the genealogy, the adventures and history of a family and region, for a time rich in intrigue and improbable truths. I used to dream of writing all of it down and knowing the stories so well, that no one could doubt that I belonged too. No border or barriers, no lack of knowledge or cultural missteps would deny me access to that elusive feeling of belonging.

When I was a very little girl I was taken to El Valle de Tacupeto, 2 or 3 times. I don't know. I remember eating oranges and my first recollection of the smell of a cut orange is standing at La Mesita, with my Mom, waiting to board a small plane. I was there for my 5th birthday and received a harmonica. What happened to my harmonica? My brother Bill was a baby, we went to church, there was a wedding and a death. The river was flooding the dirt roads that cold winter. It seems like the river has always been flooding the roads.

I went 3 more times when I was a bit older... 11, 12, then 14 years old. By this time my parents were divorced, and I was traveling with my abuelo, then my tia Magali, then my tio Elias took us. Those first times were by bus. From Tijuana we traveled through the night for 12 hours to Hermosillo. It was hard to wake-up for the check-stops. I was always fearful of the bus leaving without us. We would be alone in the Sonoran desert, which wasn't really any less familiar than that bus. In Hermosillo we would wait to board another bus. The first bus was like a tired, old Greyhound. The next bus was like a tired, old, dangerous school bus. Not yellow and swept, but blue and red and yellow, dusty, crowded. We sat on fruit crates in the back. Were there live chickens on the bus? Is that my memory or something lingering from an old movie? I think there were live chickens. There were twine wrapped boxes, which served as luggage and there were stops in the middle of nowhere, so we could pee in the bushes. There were hours of narrow dirt roads, and river crossings. The entire journey was at least 20 hours long. One trip finished in the bed of a large truck, when the bus came to one river it could not cross.

On our last visit to El Valle we drove to Nogales, Arizona, crossed and continued to Hermosillo. No more bus rides. No more Sonoran summers and Sonoran heat. We went in November. Where is the bridge, the one over the river? Is it Rebeico? Is that where we cross, where the bridge is like a passage back in time and memory?

The new roads cut the travel time down to 16 hours. It's such a luxury traveling in our own car. This long ride is one that my abuelo made by horseback. There were no roads then. There were Yaqui to hide from. On this trip to El Valle we faced nothing more daunting than cattle in the road.

My grandfather was a musician and he travelled with a band, playing from pueblo to pueblo. Music for dances. Music in the placitas, for weddings and festivals. His father had traveled too and came home with a Bible. My bisbuelo Gabriel gave his land for the church. The church that shares the backyard of my grandparent's home today. And when my abuelo Ismael gave up being a musician, he came home to herd cattle, to milk vacas and to plant the mule-plowed fields. I remember shelling peanuts for planting, eating watermelon from the field, washing potatoes, picking chiles. I remember chewing on stringy, sweet cuts of sugar cane and watching my grandmother grind corn for tortillas.

When I see cows, I see vacas and I hear a guitarra. I see the nata scooped from the top of a pail of fresh milk... fresh, sweet cream. I can taste the cheese my abuela makes. The white rounds of cheese, the salty cheese crumbled over a bowl of beans. When I see vacas I think of my abuelo walking to the family ranch, El Ojo de Agua, early in the morning, returning with a pail of milk for our breakfast. It's a song, words I cannot speak, but the tune is in my soul.

We ride through many towns to reach home. Bacanora, the town, not the drink... though they are synonymous. Sahuaripa. And Arivechi. We get closer and closer. We see the Cerro Cabezón.

After Bamori comes El Valle de Tacupeto, and abuela and abuelo. There will be hugs and kisses and welcome. It is a comfort to find a familiar door and familiar faces, the same walls and trees, the sound of coros coming from the church, the certainty of a place that comes to me in my dreams.

November 2003. Alex in his abuelo's embrace. Home in Mexico, where we will cook by fire, and sleep on burlap cots. Where the doors are unlocked and every neighbor is familia or at least knows who I am related to... hija de... nieta de... sobrina de... Everyone knows the relations and connections. Home in Tacupeto.

They were married for 70 years. They have 8 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I have never said it, but I feel a kind of pride and specialness, because I am the first grandchild. It doesn't matter, not really, but when I was a child it gave me tremendous pleasure to think of it. I held to a secret belief, unfounded by anything but my romantic imagination, that being first entitled me to something good, to a promise and security. Maybe someday I too would have a rancho and vacas, grind, corn, keep chickens, make tortillas. The clouded line between beliefs and knowledge can be untested, and now that I think on the truth, and not my childhood fantasies, I am amused and saddened. I am not sure why.

Catre. I wasn't sure I was saying this right... catre... cot. We slept on them for weeks at a time when we were children, spending summers in Tacupeto. My brothers and I each had a burlap cot to sleep on in the open patio. I remember we would pull thin sheets over our bodies, then turn on our flashlights to see what might be crawling across the ceiling. Think of the suspense and squeals as we lit a creepy crawly scene of overhead cockroaches, mosquitos, scorpions and beetles. We'd scream and pull our sheets over our heads! I do not miss the anxiety, the fear of something falling in the dark night, but I miss catres. I miss sleeping on the porch, hearing burros bray and abuelo snore. I miss waking in the morning to the music of crowing gallos, more donkeys, cows calling to be milked, and the beautiful rhythm of my abuela's hands making tortillas. There is more love, beauty and will, in the sound of my abuela's hands clapping masa for her wonderful tortillas, than in any symphony.

Her tortillas were never rolled out, but were formed between her soft, capable hands. My grandfather kept an ample wood supply available for cooking and baking, for heating water. And my abuela kept the fires burning so she could feed us tortillas, beans, enchiladas, gallina pinta, pozole, atole, empanadas. Food is more plentiful now, than it was in those summers when my brothers and I sustained ourselves with tortillas, beans, beans and tortillas, and either watermelon, or chiles or potatoes... whatever was being harvested at the time. And leche and leche con Nesquik. Markets and pantries are not what we are accustomed to here.

It is a strange gift to know hunger, or at least to know longing for something more. Now, when I cannot decide what to eat or what to buy, I can appreciate how ridiculous my quandary really is.

The summer that my tio Memo was growing chiles, chiles was all we heard about, saw or ate... besides the usual staples, and chiles were everywhere. We even tried our hands at picking chiles, a job whose appeal was lost very quickly. My cousin, RosaMaria and I were passing the hot, humid afternoon together, looking for places to be, for diversions. Times like these often found us down at the river, wading, or up to La Mesita just for the stroll, but on this particular day we were hungry. Having had fried chiles, roasted chiles, chiles con huevos, chiles con frijoles and every other kind of chile dish, we thought, "Why not raw? Crudos."

It was a good question, but not a good idea to execute. These chiles, mild, almost sweet when cooked, proved to be so painfully, fiercely hot when we bit into them, that we were overcome with the pain. It began on the tongue, a burning, like embers. Then we quickly realized that the sensation was moving to our throats, to our noses and up to our cheeks, so that our heads were blazing with cactus pricks, with fiery torture. Water only spread the fuel. We ran to the little store, and we stared at each another in painful sympathy when we came up to the shut doors... shut for siesta meant no chicle to cool our torment. I wonder if we told anyone. Our agony would have been a great amusement for everyone else.

My abuelos have a home in town. It is made of adobe, like all (most) buildings, and it has a walled yard. In this picture Geoff is walking toward the river, away from my tia Armida's home and towards my abuelo's home. This is the way RosaMaria and I travelled back and forth between our houses. With summer rain, the road can become a river itself, emptying out down the way, passed Ma' Juana and Pa' Chico's little house... where their little house once stood.

My great-grandparents, the ones that raised my abuela when she was orphaned as a baby, lived in a small adobe facing the church. I used to sit with Ma' Juana, in her cool, thick walled home. With a gourd she would draw cold water from a clay pot and serve it to me in a tin cup. The room where she cooked was dark from smoke, from years of fire cooking. In the corner was dry corn, and stalks of cane. I remember when she butchered a hog and was in the yard mixing soap. Soap that smelled of pork rinds and felt as greasy... eeew! I was so enchanted with her. She was small, her hair was long and still mostly black. She slept on a cot too, and had no more than 2 or 3 chairs, a small table. I promised her the moon and the stars. I wanted to bring her a prism, so she could have rainbows dancing on her bare walls. Pa' Chico was almost as small, but no less strong. He walked to his rancho too, every morning and it was further than Ojo de Agua.

In the walled garden of my abuelo's home is an orno, a clay oven, flowers, trees, and the pila where abuela used to wash clothes. I washed clothes there too. One side was filled with water and the other side had the lava rock that was there to beat the clothes upon, and water drained into the garden from the little hole at the end. Everything was hung in the sun and brought in before the monsoonal rains in the afternoon. My great-grandmother's soap was famous for getting clothes very clean, but with hunks of pork in it, one had to guard it from hungry dogs. It was poisonous of course. I like bacon, but I can honestly say I was never tempted to sample the soap.

When I was 11 years old, and my abuela did all of the washing, I loved to be by her side and watch her bale water over the sudsy clothes. It smelled good near the lemon tree, and felt cool with the water splashing. She washed and hung all of our garments and they dried quickly in the sun. They came very clean with her vigorous scrubbing on the worn stone of the pila. How many times had my dresses and p@nties been dashed and wrung by hand?

My abuelo brought us home on the 2 same busses we had ridden to El Valle, and we arrived in Tijuana so early in the morning that the sun was only beginning to show. We each had our own duffel to carry from the bus to the street, where we would await a ride from my tio. It took both hands to manage my duffel and besides this heavy load, I was really not all together awake. That may account for the fact that it took me a moment to realize that my p@nties were around my ankles, having slipped down. I hauled them up in a flash. I was confused and embarrassed, the bus terminal was mostly empty and I consoled myself that no one witnessed. And I resumed the task of dragging my bag, trying to keep up with my brothers and abuelo, and my undergarments slipped again. I caught them between my knees, shimmied them up, and shuffled carefully, keeping my legs locked together. Mine was a slow, awkward and mortifying gait, that I could not properly explain to anyone. It seems that 5 weeks of thrashing my underwe@r clean on a stone made of lava had completely undone the elastic in them.

Returning to El Valle with my own children, my husband, was one of the best times of my life. I happily found that very little had changed... some of the few changes were sad, like not being able to sit with Ma' Juana and Pa' Chico, or to chat with my tia Ventura... she and I liked to read Reader's Digest en español together. And it would have been a great privilege to visit Maria del Guero... she was one of the oldest woman I think I ever met and she sewed my clothes on a pedal machine. Her patterns for my dresses, skirts and blouses were in her head, she measured me with her fingers. I was keenly aware of the blessing that I could return to this place and still find both of my grandparents... still healthy, still smiling and eager to shower us with their prayers and affection.

I looked on this visit as a tremendous gift, for myself and for the boys. It was their second time in El Valle, and I loved that they were so receptive and enthused about all of the things and sights, the people and experiences that I held dear. We did and saw and treasured as much as we could.

We explored and hiked. We filled our pockets with flint and other pretty stones, crystals and pottery shards. Bits of our past.

We used to hike to this place, to swim. Oh my. The water was just as muddy and uncertain, but it was so hot and the walk home so far we drank this water too. It was delicious. I love how thinking about an event or place can lead to more curiosity. As much as I remember, I am aware of how little I know. How far is this place and how do I spell the name of it?

We sat together. We remembered other days, other nights, other faces and their laughter. I remembered how wonderful it is to sit together... just talking, just sharing each other's company.

I just got a call... everyone is back from Tacupeto, abuelo's funeral. There are many more memories I plan to write about, many more pictures I want to share, but right now I am going to my tia's house, where my abuela is.

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