The Husband Factory
by Bruce McGovern
My wife lived until she was
fourteen in a small town in rural Puebla. She was taken to the States by
missionaries, to take care of kids during the Summer Linguistics Course in
We visit that little village
several times a year. Since her aunt and uncles are getting old, she cooks for
them. I get up in the morning and walk UPPP! and DOWNNNN! (mostly UPPP!! both
ways) to buy three kilos of tortillas for the family and the dogs.
A tortilla machine is a
large, noisy device. There is a large hopper where the mash is tossed. A
complicated mess of gears, cups, and rollers takes a precise quantity of mash,
and rolls it into an almost perfect tortilla. Then, a series of moving metal
belts move the tortillas back and forth over a gas flame. At the end of the
complex cycle, the tortillas fall off the end.
Or, they would fall off, but
a person stand there and grabs the tortillas one by one, making a nice pile.
Another person takes the pile, and weighs out on a scale, sometimes a modern
electronic scale, the precise amount the customer has requested. Some of the
more experienced ‘catchers’ count the tortillas, and pass them to the
weigher in exact kilo groups.
When I arrive at the local
tortilleria, sometimes there is a long line, especially if some
smart‑aleck has ordered fifty kilos. I stand in line, and watch the
workers go through their repetitive motions, and discreetly observe other people
in line. And, they discreetly watch me, often the only other adult male, and the
only foreigner in town.
I thought that it was
strange that some of the women working in this steaming hot place were often
dressed in very elegant clothes, with their hair done up beautifully. But, I
attributed it to female vanity.
Each visit, I notice most of
the women in the tortilleria were new. Recently, I asked Tio if those poor women
were worked so hard they could only last a few months.
Tio laughed, and said, no,
the women there usually get married right away! Well, that explained the fancy
clothes and beautiful hairdos. And, it makes sense. In that culture, a woman
can’t possibly look more domestic than when she’s making tortillas. And,
she’s on display for every young man – and his mother and grandmother – to