This article is from the April 2002 The Mexico File
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Homesick for Mexico
by Bruce McGovern
Driving from Amarillo, Texas, to Iowa to visit our son. It was a dark, cloudy day. As we drove along, a thought came to me.
“I WISH I WERE IN MEXICO!”
Not Cordoba, nor DF, nor the City of Puebla. No, I’d like to be in the little village in rural Puebla, where my wife was born.
Right now, the latest novela would be just finishing up on the little, snowy, black and white TV, in the room Tia Rosa sleeps in. Tio would be watching with interest, especially if it’s a novela with lots of skin and bedroom activities. His brother and sister (Tia and Tio are brother and sister, not husband and wife) would be nodding off. We’d be finishing up a cup of atole, and maybe a red banana if they are in season, or a bit of sweet bread or bolillo (biscuit).
In a few minutes, my wife and I would walk up the hill for a last visit to her brother’s unfinished house, with the bathroom that works if you pour water to flush.
Then, we’d walk down the hill, and into the room we share with Tio and four or more of his fighting roosters. The other 40 or 50 are in wire cages down in front of his brother’s little house, with the little, ugly, skinny, pointy nosed dogs guarding them all night.
Approximately every hour, all night long, right in our bedroom, there is a very loud booming, of a rooster frantically smashing his wings to his body. Right after the booming, there is a loud crowing. Some city folk believe roosters crow just before dawn, but these rascals seem to mark the hours all night long. After a while, you actually get used to it, and barely stir. But the first time you experience it, you come right up out of bed.
Tomorrow, at about 7 am, I’d get up – at least after we adjust to earlier country hours; in DF those rascals go to sleep well after midnight – and about 8, I’d walk up and down steep hills to the tortilleria, to get three or four kilos of tortillas for the days needs...by human and dogs.
I’d greet everyone on the street, which according to the doctor, makes them think I’m strange. He understands, though, that I just like almost everyone I meet, even if I don’t know them.
I’d wait in line usually about ten minutes, watching while the pretty muchacha grabs them off the conveyor, and weighs the correct amount, wraps the brown paper around them, and takes the money.
Usually, there are more women than men, but I’m not always the only man getting tortillas.
On the way back, I may stop by the panaderia for little bolillos and sweet rolls. Then, I usually stop at the little shop at the bottom of the hill and buy a box of ultrapasteurized milk, that lasts several months without cooling. I suspect the stuff is low on nutrition, but it tastes like milk.
Maybe, I will buy a little lollipop for Tia, who is in her seventies, and I always tell her it’s because she’s been a good girl. She says thanks, and a tiny grin curls the corner of her mouth. I never see her licking the lollipop, but my wife has.
On the way up the hill on the other side, I usually meet a cousin of my wife carrying a box of gelatin in cups, to sell in the town square. We often stop for a short chat, then I go home.
Tia Rosa usually has breakfast ready, which except for atole, is about the same as the evening meal at 4 or 5 pm. She knows I like fried eggs, so when she has them, she fries one. She has a barrel lid, cut out of a Mobil oil barrel, and she coats it with cal, a form of quick lime, and the egg fries with no oil or grease.
After breakfast, my wife takes the dirty dishes in a pail to the irrigation canal. If they are irrigating west of the house, that’s 50 feet. If someone downhill gets the water, she has to walk several hundred yards to the spring.
I may take some clothes, and wash them by hand in the museum_grade lavadero that has been in use by the family for hundreds of years.
Or, maybe I’ll mop the floor of the bedroom that we share with Tio and his roosters.
Or, maybe we'll go visit family members in the area.
If I get bored, I walk a mile and a half down and up hill, to visit my friend, the Doctor. He is a fine intellectual, and, between patients, we usually discuss politics, or anthropology, or literature, or something of that order.
A few months ago, I mentioned Thoreau, and he was amazed. He’d never heard of Thoreau! He was extremely interested in “Civil Disobedience,” which is the precursor of both Ghandi’s and King’s ideas on the topic. Last month, when I popped in for an hour, on a day trip from Puebla, he said a few
weeks after I mentioned Thoreau, there was a show on satellite TV, on Thoreau. He is going to try to get the book(s) in Spanish. He said there’s a store in Puebla that handles things of that sort.
The Doctor and his wife have always been amazed that I actually enjoy staying on the family farm, because it is very dirty and primitive. I’ve tried to explain it many times, but they obviously didn’t get it, because they kept asking how I could ‘support’ such a place. Finally, last month, when they again asked me, I had an inspiration, and said, in English, “CAMPING!” This time, they got it! The doctor explained to his wife in Spanish, except he inserted the word ‘camping.’ and she laughed.
Maybe after he reads “Walden,” he’ll have even a better understanding.
Anyway, that’s where I wish I were at this moment.