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>Granja la Rosita & The 4th of July

August 29, 2010

>Initially, the move to this little farm worked out okay; things went well for us. Even though I was pretty much isolated from all my friends in Chapalita, Mexican and American, there was much to explore around La Rosita. (‘Granja,’ by the way, means ‘farm’.) 

Granja la Rosita
Our new farmhouse in Mexico was structurally sound but needed a complete overhaul inside. Like the purchase of the farm itself, the cost of gutting and remodeling had to have been borne by Antonio; this was nothing that Mom could have afforded.
The house was almost complete but some work was still in progress as we moved in. Workmen were installing the water tank and pump on the roof (flat, as are most of the roofs in Mexico, for that very reason). The front room was a mess with the walls not yet painted and blocks of oiled and polished granite in random stacks on the floor, waiting to be installed around the fireplace. (Why a fireplace? I ask myself now; I can’t imagine ever needing to use it.) Two bedrooms, Mom’s and Val’s, opened of f the living room. There was a master bath in Mom’s room with not only the usual bathroom equipment but also the first bidet I’d ever seen. Mom explained to me what it was used for and I silently determined that at the first opportunity, sometime when Mom wasn’t around, I’d try it out for myself to see how it worked. I did, and it took two towels and ten minutes to dry myself, the bidet, the sink, floor, shower door, and walls. Plus, I had to change clothes.
The kitchen and bathroom, too, were located just off the living room. My bedroom was reached by going through the bathroom. It also had an outside door so I could come and go without disturbing anyone and without being noticed. What teen wouldn’t like that?
Some fifty yards behind the house were quarters for our hired hand, Jose, and his wife, Maria. Their quarters were small and, while not exactly crude, neither were they built for comfort. I never questioned the disparity between our comparatively wealthy lifestyle and their much, much lower standard of living – that’s just the way it was.
Adjacent to Jose and Maria’s quarters was the stable where we kept our two horses and two cows. We had a truck garden behind the house where Maria raised corn and vegetables of various kinds. Alongside the house was a well. It wasn’t the quaint, picturesque well you see in storybooks with a little peaked roof over a low brick wall and a rustic windlass with rope and bucket. It was just a hole in the ground covered by pieces of plywood.
One day a duckling fell into the well through a crack between the boards. Mom and Val were distraught, pleading with me to go down and get it. “Hurry, David, hurry! Save it!” So, for the second time in my life I got to descend a deep, dark well with an electric pump at the bottom. Hand-over-hand (actually, hand-under-hand) I went down the steel rungs built into the crumbling brick sides of the well. Once down there, it wasn’t too hard to grab the duckling (after all, where was it going to go?), tuck it in my shirt and make my way back up. After that, I made sure every day that the well was covered. Well-covered, you might say.
An odd feature of our farm was a swimming pool. Or maybe it was a holding tank for irrigation water; who knows? It was no more than four feet deep, fairly small, surrounded by weeds and half full of dirty brown water. We drained it one day, cleaned it, filled it and began enjoying it as a swimming pool. One of our farm cats, Tonch (so called because that’s how Mexicans call to their cats, tonch, tonch, tonch) also enjoyed it. He’d bat at the water from the side of the pool and never seemed to mind when one of us would pick him up, take him to the middle of the pool and let him go. He simply swam back calmly to the side, climbed out and started to wash himself. After a while he took to going in on his own and swimming around. He didn’t like to be splashed, though.
Tonch had another habit that puzzled us. Why did he keep showing up regularly smeared with grease? His little secret came out when I changed the oil in the car one day and found him curled up, sleeping in the engine compartment. After that, we learned to open the hood to look for him or at least bang on it and scare him out. One trip, though, I forgot. I got in the car, started the engine and took off down the highway. I glanced in the rearview mirror and I saw a little gray fluffball rolling down the road. He’d been in his usual place and was dislodged, falling to the pavement. I stopped, ready to turn around and retrieve a dead cat, but he somehow escaped not only being run over but any injury at all. But he did stop sleeping in the engine compartment.
 Alfalfa was a good cash crop for us. It was easy to grow and harvest and we raised three crops a year. There were many ranchers in the area who bought it for their livestock. Behind the alfalfa field was a neglected orchard. I don’t know what trees grew there and I don’t think we ever paid much attention to that part of the farm. I think the plan was to cultivate the orchard and bring it back into production after we had established markets for our alfalfa and animals.
The Fourth of July
The Fourth of July was approaching and this year Mom wanted to celebrate it. When we lived in Sherman Oaks we celebrated it every year with all our neighbors on Stern Avenue, but we’d never celebrated it in Mexico.
Food and fireworks were de rigueur, of course. Mom, Maria and Val would prepare the food, Jose and I would get the fireworks and set them off. One  morning Jose got in the car and we began the half-hour trip to Mercado Libertad, the huge open-air market where you can buy just about anything, legal or otherwise.
When we got to the market Jose directed me where to park and led the way in. We walked through the leather goods section (purses, wallets, belts, decorations) with its distinctively masculine smell; the guitar section (I wondered how so many people could make a living selling the same thing in the same place); and the fortune-telling section with its row of small bird cages, each resting on a table or chair or stool, each holding a small bird, usually a canary. The proprietors, clearly bored, sat or stood nearby, reading, gossiping, nodding off. I was curious.
SNAPSHOT: A small wooden box, an inch high and six inches long, sits on a table covered with a red, blue and yellow serape. The box holds maybe a hundred small, neatly folded pieces of paper. A canary stands above the box, holding one of the folded papers in its beak.
“Wait, Jose, I want to see how this works. ¿Cuanto es?” I asked, turning to the middle-aged woman at the table where we stopped.
“Un peso,” she replied.
I gave her the one-peso note which she tucked into her blouse, adjusting her bra as she did so. She took the canary from its cage and placed it on the counter in front of a box with the small, neatly folded pieces of paper sitting side-by-side. The bird hopped a couple of hops this way, a couple that way, stopped, cocked its head and picked one out. It hopped over to the woman who took it and handed it to me. “Your fortune.”
I opened it and read: ¡No encontraras el amor; el amor te encontrara a ti!, meaning you won’t find love; love will find you. As we left I wondered how many bills her bra could hold.
After the birds came the scribes, men sitting behind typewriters who for $2.50 pesos a page will type any kind of letter for you. They must be privy to many, many secrets. Just beyond the scribes were the cohetes, the fireworks.
We checked out the handful of booths selling them. Jose argued with various stall keepers, determining prices, trying to assess how much bargaining leeway there might be. I trotted along behind him, silently oohing and aahing at each stand. After about ten minutes he decided which stall offered best value for the money and we spent 300 pesos ($24 US) on fireworks, enough that it took three trips to get them all back to the car.
I don’t remember everything we walked away with, but I do remember the dozen skyrockets. They were wicked looking, almost a foot long and attached to the end of a wooden dowel that was itself about three feet in length. I was particularly excited about them. The man who sold them to us promised not only a great visual display, but thunderous explosions we wouldn’t soon forget. And he was right, although not necessarily for the right reasons.
We piled everything in the backseat of the car and headed back to the farm, where we stored the fireworks in the stable. We wouldn’t have a fireworks show as impressive as the Virgin’s at the church in Chapalita, but it would be a good one, nonetheless.
Mom and Maria started cooking early in the afternoon of the Fourth. Our menu, like our celebration, was quintessential American: fried chicken (two of our chickens beheaded and plucked clean by Maria the day before), corn on the cob (our corn) and mashed potatoes, followed by apple pie and ice cream.
Jose and Maria and their ten-year old niece, Rosa, joined Mom, Valerie and me for the dinner and fireworks. The dinner was excellent, and the fireworks display, with many oohs and aahs, came off without a hitch. Most of it, anyway. The dozen or so skyrockets we’d saved for last didn’t go off quite so smoothly. We recognized that they were powerful and potentially dangerous, and we handled them accordingly. Each skyrocket needed to be held lightly in a vertical position. Then the fuse was lit and the person holding the skyrocket had to let go at just the right moment. Let go too soon or too late and there are problems. We had problems.
First, I tried holding a skyrocket while Jose lit it. I let go too soon and it fell to the ground where it promptly took off like the buscapies we lit and dropped at the Virgen of Zapopan’s celebration. Only this was several magnitudes of order larger and it swooshed into the corn patch twenty-five feet away. After a few seconds came the promised explosion accompanied by corn stalks hurtling into the air. Jose frowned and said he’d hold the next one and I was to light it. He didn’t have any better luck, also releasing it too soon with the difference that this time it fell to the ground and headed for a storage shed by the stable. And again, after a few of seconds, we heard the thundering explosion, shattering a window and panicking our horses. Jose spent the next fifteen minutes calming them down.
The third one was worse yet. Again, Jose let go too soon and the rocket fell over. But this time it just lay there, wedged against a rock, the fuse rapidly growing shorter.
RUN!!” he yelled to our already retreating backs. We just made it to the corner of the house when it exploded, sending a shower of dirt in all directions.
When we reassembled, Maria turned to Jose and me, hands on her hips (always a bad sign), feet planted wide and she gave us an ultimatum: Either we let her set off the remaining rockets or the evening is over. Discretion being the better part of valor, we acceded and she very competently set off the nine remaining skyrockets. They were very impressive, if not as exciting as the three that Jose and I did.
After the first couple that Maria successfully launched, Jose leaned toward me and said, sotto voce, “Those first ones must have been defective.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 8:20 pm

    >Great, explosive story… Never heard this one.Exra Diohom Bre

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