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August 15, 2010


Everyone has a “first love,” not puppy love, not infatuation, not sexual attraction, but the first taste of a deeper kind of love and devotion. Such it was with Pilar and me. She’ll always have a special place in my heart. 
Pilar in her front yard
Memories are not always reliable, not only in the sense that what we remember may not be accurate, but also because there are often blanks, dead spots, where there should be images and emotions. Such is the case with the three times we moved in Mexico: I remember nothing of any of them. I draw another blank with meeting Pilar. I don’t remember when or under what circumstances I met her. As with our moves, where I’m suddenly in a new house, Pilar just appears in my memories. I wish I could remember. She meant so much to me at the time and even now, half a century later, the memory of her occupies a special place in my heart.
Pilar was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I fell in love with her. Her long black hair contrasted with her unusually light complexion, which in turn set off her dark, shining eyes. Her voice danced lightly, merrily in my ears and she had a way of looking at me and smiling that made me melt inside. It was First Love for both of us, the first serious feeling either of us had developed for anybody beyond school crushes. This wasn’t puppy love, it wasn’t like “going steady” with the American girlfriend I’d had and, unlike my physical infatuation with Anita, this was something meaningful, something new and different, something much deeper than I’d ever experienced before. It was beautiful.
Our two families lived five blocks apart on the same street, Santa Maria. She had a very attractive older sister, Chelo, a younger teenaged brother, Carlitos, and a couple of even younger siblings. Her mother (why don’t I remember her name?) was a large, cheerful woman, always smiling, always glad to see me. Her father, don Carlos, was quite handsome with a full head of dark hair. He was usually not around on my visits but always treated me kindly when he was there. I spent a lot of time at their house and I began to learn what serious courtship was like in Mexican culture.
Pilar and me, Parque Agua Azul 
Here was to be the clearest evidence of the difference in boy-girl relations in Mexican versus American culture. It had been hinted at with Georgina, when we’d been in Mexico only a short time and I still spoke no Spanish, and I’d seen a little of it when visiting with las Elodias. Now, however, the cultural norms and expectations of courtship in Mexico became crystal clear. And this was to be courtship, not “going steady” or dating – unheard of in Mexico, at least not as we know it in the U.S. Here’s how it worked with Pilar and me:
I walk up to Pilar’s house and knock on the door. She opens it, smiles and invites me in. Before I can say anything, her mother has called out, “Quien es?” A quick kiss and a hug before she says, “Es David, Mama”.
SNAPSHOT: The living room of Pilar’s house. Entering, the gray velvet couch is on the left, a framed woodland print above it on the light blue wall. A small table with ornately carved legs stands against the wall opposite the door. It holds family photos and a few mementos: a little wooden boat with ACAPULCO painted on the bow; a figurine of the Mexican national symbol: an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its talons; a vase with flowers, an old framed baptismal certificate. More family photos are on the wall above the table. The floor is tiled with a blue and white area rug between the couch and the two matching easy chairs opposite, a table with a lamp between them. There is a refrigerator in the dining L between the living room and the kitchen.
Her mother comes out of the kitchen, smiling and drying her hands on her apron. “Bienvenido, David, sientate, sientate,” and I take the indicated seat on the couch. She offers me coffee and empanadas or some other little snack and then calls for one of her other children. Pilar sits at the other end of the couch and we cast quick glances at each other.
            “¡Carlitos!” she might call, or “¡Chelo!”, depending on who’s home. No matter what Carlitos or Chelo are doing, one of them has to come downstairs and sit with us. If for some reason they can’t, or if they aren’t home, then the little ones are summoned. If nobody is available to serve as chaperone then Mama herself sits with us, putting aside whatever she has been doing, and waits until somebody comes home. So, we sit around and talk about things. Innocuous things. Everyday things. Polite conversation.
Chelo, father, Valerie, Pilar
SNAPSHOT: Chelo, our chaperone on this occasion has left the room and Pilar is kneeling on the couch next to me, her arms around my neck, my arms around her waist.
Pilar and I are patient, however, because we know that eventually whoever is chaperoning us will have to leave the room, even if briefly, for some reason. Then, for a minute or two, longer if we’re lucky, we’re alone and in each other’s arms, trading kisses and little exclamations of love. Then we hear the toilet flush or footsteps on the stairs and we each retreat back to our own corner of the couch, a little flushed, perhaps, but sitting apart again. We always hope Chelo will be the one to come down and sit with us. She’s two or three years older than Pilar and knows what it’s like to want time alone with your boyfriend. Her absences from the room are more frequent and more prolonged, kind of a returning-the-favor for all the times Pilar has done that for her.
This was so different from what I had seen and experienced for myself among American teens – and I liked it! This was formal, stately, ritualized courtship. It was not only allowed to develop slowly, it was a requirement. And because our moments alone were so rare they were all the more precious.
I invited Pilar to the movies one day. She said she’d ask permiso and when she came back she had kind of a good-news/bad-news look on her face. Yes, she says, they’d all like to go. All six of them. But on the plus side, I knew I wouldn’t be expected to pay for them all. Well, I thought to myself, sitting next to her, in the dark, I can at least discreetly hold her hand. But, of course, no such luck. When we took our seats in the theater, her father went down the row first, followed by Pilar, the rest of the family and then me. I wound up sitting next to Carlitos. No fun holding hands with him.
When I think back to these heavily chaperoned visits and outings, I now realize there was more at stake than just protecting the honor and reputation of the family, more than just maintaining tradition; it was also a test of the novio’s seriousness and intent. Does the boy love the girl enough to endure the weeks or months of chaperoned courtship? Or is the attraction for the novio purely physical? If so, he’s not likely to waste his time. For me, it was never a waste of time.
After a few months of courtship it was accepted that Pilar and I are novios, not yet engaged but heading in that direction. Her family had come to know and like me. And, more importantly, to trust me. After this, it was easier for the two of us to find time alone. Mama no longer felt obligated to call for a chaperone on my visits, although she pointedly made regular trips into the living room to “look for her sewing” or “dust los muebles,” even though the maid had just dusted the furniture in the morning. On Sundays, we walked to mass by ourselves and then to the glorieta to stroll hand-in-hand, oblivious to the sights, sounds and smells, to everything but each other.
There was to be more, much more, of Pilar in my life.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 18, 2010 5:56 pm

    >Ah, budding love at blue water park! That's actually a pretty good photo of the dashing young David…Peppy

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