1957—A new home (Rev. 4/20/15)
Our new life began in a simple humble home without water or electricity. It was a one room hut without windows; it had an attached lean-to kitchen with a roof of palm leaves and logs; and all the walls were made with strong and thick adobe bricks. My four brothers and I slept in the room. DJ and Maria—our parents—slept in the kitchen in a small makeshift room divided by a wall of wood and canvas. We had a small backyard with just enough space for a chicken coop, a water-well, and, against the back fence, an outhouse that was nothing more than a structure enclosed with canvas.
Our furniture wasn’t much either: we had a table and four chairs. The table was made of logs, and the chairs of palm leaves interwoven with branches. For beds, we used petates, which were floor mats made of interwoven palm leaves. We unrolled them on the floor at night, and rolled them up in the morning. We didn’t even have to make our beds; we just placed the four rolls standing on a corner. Although DJ and Maria had a bed, it was a makeshift structure put together with an old mattress and pieces of wood for support. To light our room and kitchen, at night we used two petroleum lamps. For potable water, we made trips to town on foot with a tin can to get it from a water pipe on the sidewalk of a corner. To wash dishes and clothes, we used water from the well.
The landlord was our neighbor. He had a wife and two daughters. The oldest daughter was 11-years-old (Roberto’s age) and the youngest was about seven (about Manolo’s age). Their names were Rosario, and Nicolasa. Our houses were one unit separated by an empty storage room.
The other neighbor on the northerly side, whose house was separated from our homes by an empty lot, was the blacksmith. He had a wife, three sons, and a daughter. The daughter’s name was Lupe and she was about 12—a year younger than Jacobo. The son’s names from the oldest were Gilberto, Porfirio, and Gregorio. They were the Lara Family. Across the highway from our homes were expansive open lots; and beyond them tall hills with trees, cactuses, cornfields, and creeks.
After our arrival, Mario told me about our neighbors and some peculiarities I would soon notice in town. He said that people spoke with a funny accent. With this he meant that they used a small town dialect in which they started a sentence at low volume and raised it with the last word in high pitch. The last word usually ended with “Vale” [vah-leh], a colloquial for “Friend.” This, however, was a trait only noticeable in peasants, for the rugged ranchers and vaqueros (cowboys) spoke loudly and cared less for discretion when sounding off a profanity.
The following Sunday I was acclimating to our new home and town. I was in the company of my younger brothers Mario and Manolo, the two daughters from the landlord’s family, and the two kids from the blacksmith’s house. We played on a pile of sand in the storage room. That was the first time I saw the blacksmith boys. Noticing their clothes, I asked Mario, “Who are those two guys?”
“That one is Porfirio. They call him Pillo,” said Mario. Pillo (pee-yo) looked about my age. “The other one is Gregorio. They call him Gollo.” Gollo (Go-yo) looked Mario’s age.
Pillo saw Mario pointing at him and proudly stood up waiting for a handshake. I looked at him up and down. Where did he get those silly clothes and shoes with soles from automobile tires? He doesn’t even wear socks, and his toes are sticking out. Bah! How stupid!
Pillo, indeed, wore regional attire; that is, a type of khaki pants with pleats and huaraches. Moreover, this being Sunday, he wore his best clean clothes as it was customary in downtown. So, smiling and eagerly he now waited to be introduced to the newly arrived neighbors—you could say he was our welcome wagon. Then I noticed something very strange in him. What’s the matter with his eyes? Is he crossing an eye? I turned to Mario and said in Mexicali lingo, “That bato looks dumb!” Pillo heard me and his smile went cold. But I didn’t care; I turned back to my game without even giving him the handshake he expected.
Pillo was fuming. He stared at me across the pile of sand with one straight eye, and without blinking. Something made me turn to take another glance at him, and what I saw was so chilling that it made me shudder. His left crossed-eye turned slowly like a doorknob. I felt goose bumps and quickly turned back.
Pillo kept staring at me. He was not going to forget my insult. He had so much rage in him that I could feel his right eye stabbing my back. Yet, I chose to ignore him, thinking that by doing so he would go away. Then, there was a deep voice. “Mario! Come here.” He was calling my younger brother.
Mario went and came back. “Pillo’s asking if you want to throw some trompadas with him.” The girls stopped and stood gaping and looking at us with big brown eyes.
Even though I’d never heard the colloquial “trompada,” I had heard the word “trompa” to refer to the snout of an animal, and some times used in jest to refer to the mouth of some people. But this was different; he wanted a macho fight between us. I understood it so. The word also had a funny ring, and I took advantage to ridicule him. I turned and looked him with a sneer. “Get into a mouth-fight? Huh? Only if I were a girl! Only girls fight with their mouths! What does he think I am?” Pillo looked confused and this gave me the opportunity to jabber him with my Mexicali lingo: “I only fight trancasos. In my town, we fight with our knuckles!”
“Huh?” said Pillo.
Even though he was insulted and humiliated, he decided not to listen any more to my senseless rhetoric. Instead, he picked up his toys and left with his brother; and I won my first fight in our new town, unscathed. However, unbeknownst to me, what I had started wasn’t over. I’d just tampered with the fire of an indigenous boy.
MONDAY MORNING, DJ took me to familiarize me with our town. “You must be careful when you walk this highway to town,” he said pointing to a cross on the side of the road. “People get killed by cars. Especially at night.”
On our way, we passed a large sugar cane field, and an old mill. “This is where they make panocha. The juice from the sugar cane is extracted with powerful compressors and boiled in huge caldrons to make the brown sugar.”
We passed a small gas station on our left, then a row of three houses on our right, and more green fields. Finally, we came to the narrow bridge—the gate to town—and crossed it. From there, the sidewalks came in different shapes and sizes. The streets were clean, except for occasional manure from horses, donkeys, and cattle. The highway was the only paved street, the rest were cobblestones.
“Good morning,” said the town’s highway patrol officer as he cleaned his Harley Davidson.
“Good morning,” DJ responded.
“Another one of your sons, Don Jesús?”
“Yes. And there are thirteen more.”
Next, we walked by a well-kept primary school. I was surprised how well maintained it was; it had volleyball courts and a large field. DJ sensed what was going through my mind and said, “It’s for girls only. The boys go to another school—not as nice as this one.” The homes in town were built back-to-back and side-by-side. On the next block, we passed a huarache factory, a tortilleria on a corner, and a few blocks later we arrived downtown.
Across the street a kid hollered to a friend farther down, “Listen! Listen! Listen!” The other boy ignored him and kept walking. “It seems like you don’t listen!” he would say lowering his voice and then start over again. “Listen! Listen! Listen!” People around us laughed, and I thought it was a catchy phrase and smiled.
The commercial buildings in downtown had thick adobe, brick, or stone walls. The doors and windows were huge and lined up along corridors with tall arches. The ceilings were high with strong beams running across.
It was twenty minutes after we had left home that we reached downtown.