Uprooting one’s roots

datura
At the top of the stairwell.

FOR THE FIRST decade after moving to Mexico I visited the United States once a year for a week or so. The primary motive was to see my mother.

The first three or four years I did it alone, flying. It was not until 2004 that my child bride had obtained a U.S. visitor visa. We then continued the trips, sometimes flying, other times driving. It’s a long way from our Mexican mountaintop to Atlanta, which is where my mother lived.

My mother died in January 2009 at age 90. After that, we’ve only been above the border once, a few months later, and that was to do paperwork related to my mother’s death. We went to San Antonio for that.

I have not visited my natal nation in nearly a decade. Instead I’ve remained down here in tumultuous Mexico and, oddly, life here has begun to seem normal. This is so even though I continue to equate Mexican life to Alice’s Wonderland.

This is because so many things here don’t make a lick of sense.

I almost never speak English, and I find myself forgetting English words on occasion. And though my Spanish is quite passable, I hardly would qualify as a Spanish professor. This occasionally leaves me dangling in a verbal limbo.

I find myself picking up Mexican habits. More and more, I respond “yes” to most queries. It’s easier that way. And doing something mañana instead of today leaves more relax time for today.

My driving habits cannot now be described as admirable.

One local habit I’ve not acquired and never will is epic, rampant, shameless lying.

I won’t be crossing the border again, ever. Everything I need can be found nearby. I watch America on the internet, and it looks disgraceful and sad. Walking the sidewalk here, on the other hand, I see people smiling.

With two exceptions, I have no relatives above the border. They all died except my sister and daughter. The first I do not like, and the second does not like me. I own no property in the United States.

I have no U.S. identification papers aside from my passport which I will not renew when it expires. Don’t know why I did it last time.

At this moment just past dawn, the church bell is slowly gonging down on the plaza, so someone died. It’s a mournful sound, but I feel pretty good about things in spite of having uprooted myself from the dirt from which I sprouted.

bones
On the stairwell landing, halfway down.

You never know where you’ll end up

OR WHO YOU will end up with, for that matter.

There’s a photo of me pasted to our refrigerator door.  I was 19 years old and standing with one of my best friends at the time in my barracks room at Castle Air Force Base in Central California. It was 1963.

The friend, Adrian Landres, died about a decade ago.

I paused and looked long at that photo this morning. What a fresh-faced young fellow I was. I sported a sweatshirt tucked into blue jeans and had a watch cap on my head. I was smiling broadly. I had no clue about the future.

Or about much of anything, for that matter.

Adrian was wearing a slick suit he had tailor-made during an assignment somewhere in the Far East.

If someone had told my smiling self that I would spend the last couple of decades (or more) of my life in the middle of Mexico, married to a Mexican, how would I have reacted? With incredulity, I suspect.

Still in Houston in 1999, I visited bookstores (remember them?) and sat in cushy chairs with Retire in Mexico publications. Virtually nowhere did I see references to the mountaintop town where I now live. I recall just one mention of it that said it was not a popular destination due to its being quite cold.

It can get cold. Bring a wrap.

I imagine that advice has changed lots in the past 19 years. When I landed here, there were about 40 Gringos in residence. Many were quite odd, present company excepted, of course. Now there are at least 10 times that many.

And they’re not nearly as odd.

The place was colonially cute but tatty when I moved up from the nearby state capital (eight months there), and it did not change much until renovations got under way in a major way about two or three years ago.

It started with the streets and sidewalks in the dead center of downtown. That work is still ongoing because it’s incredibly labor-intensive. And just this weekend, the city government began a painting project that will freshen the façades of homes and businesses in the downtown zone, free to the owners.

We are a major-league tourist attraction, and the town fathers want to amplify that. Our “look” is from centuries ago, plus we’re one of the top Day of the Dead destinations in all of Mexico.

This is all fun to watch and, of course, it’s increasing the value of our two properties. Here are photos I stole from an online news website.

Screenshot (1)

Screenshot (2)

You never know where you’ll end up or who you’ll end up with. Life is full of surprises and unforeseen detours, eh?

Confessions of a right-wing welfare king

I LIVE OFF welfare. I don’t deny it. It’s called Social Security.

Lots of folks argue that they’re just getting back the money they paid into the system over their working life. They don’t like to think they’re living on the dole.

While it was true for many years after the Social Security system started in 1935, when life spans were shorter, that you were just getting your money back, it’s far less so these days when life spans are longer.

Many, possibly most, recipients now get back what they paid into it, and after that they become welfare recipients. It’s a federal handout, not all that different from food stamps and Aid to Dependent Children Old People.

I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. If Uncle Sam had not promised me this decades ago, I would have made other plans. I might not even be living in Mexico.

I might be a greeter at Walmart in Houston.

Social Security recipients who live outside the United States are sent a snail-mail letter every year that we must fill out and return by November. I receive mine almost always in late June. I return it by registered mail which gives me a tracking number that works on both sides of the border.

I’ve been doing this for 11 years now.* The letter has always arrived, and my return letter has always been delivered. The Mexican mail system works well.

I sent the form on its way north just this morning from the post office downtown. My welfare greenbacks arrive at BBVA Bancomer on the 3rd of each month. As it sails over the Rio Bravo it magically morphs from dollars to pesos.

Mexican pesos are “real money” to me.

My monthly amount this year is $1,617 U.S., a 2 percent increase over last year. That’s the princely annual sum of $19,404. Some years we get an increase, some years not. It never decreases. I also get a small corporate pension. Living in the United States on this would be a colossal challenge, but not down here.

Down here I live like a Welfare King.

* * * *

* From age 55 to 62, I lived in Mexico almost entirely on savings.

The arrival

vista
The view that changed my life.

I’M FOND OF noting milestones.

I just missed an anniversary, but only by three days. My arrival here on the mountaintop on September 10, 2000. I was not entirely new to Mexico, but I was quite green.

I’d lived seven months at a lower altitude, 40 minutes away in the state capital. Four of those seven months had been dedicated to attending a language school because when I got off the plane in Guadalajara I didn’t speak Spanish.

I was a language ignoramus.

My decision to move from the state capital up here was made while sitting at a coffee shop and looking in the direction shown in the photo. I looked at that view and told myself, I’m gonna move here. And I did. Lickety-split.

My first challenge was to find a furnished place to rent. While my town now is chockablock with real-estate agencies and lots of furnished rentals, there was not even one real-estate agency in 2000. I knew no one here, and I had no idea where to start. I was alone, and my Spanish was dicey.

Someone online pointed me to an old Gringo named Gray who’d moved here after the Second World War.  He had married an indigenous woman, and they had multiplied.

Gray had some furnished rentals that catered mostly to the sparse Gringo crowd. I moved into a two-story house on a main drag with furniture that aspired to the junk heap.

The first thing I did was buy a new mattress and sheets. The second thing was to buy an equipal love seat and matching chair. The store here neglected to inform me that the set would be made in and shipped from Guadalajara.

I got it about four months later.

I lived in that rental for two-and-a-half years. My child bride was there the final year while we constructed the Hacienda.

It wasn’t a bad place if one didn’t cringe at the hordes of mice during the rainy season or the two times I found dead rats in the toilet. They had come up from below, and I flushed them back to where they came from.

And there was the matter of the house abutting a open sewer/creek that provided a notable fragrance during the dry months. And the lights went out a lot.

It was an interesting home along the lines of the Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times.

We were elated when we moved into the Hacienda in May of 2003. It’s been a great 17 years here at altitude. The changes are considerable. Plenty of rentals available now. With rats or without. Ten times the number of Gringos. Some people regard that positively. I’m not one of those people.

But I’m glad I sat at that coffee house that long-ago afternoon, gazing up the street. It was a decisive moment.

The photo’s from yesterday. It hasn’t changed much.