Death, a constant presence

THE OLDER you get, the closer to death you are and the more death you witness in one way or another.

In my years here on this Mexican mountaintop, plenty of people I’ve known have died.

The brother-in-law, of course. He killed himself unintentionally with a small-caliber pistol that he aimed too close to his heart.

Long ago, there was an old fellow named Charlie who drove around town in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug the color of a bluebird. Every time he saw me, he asked: Are you still here?

And I always was.

Once Charlie was having lunch at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant on the main plaza when a car pulled up and thugs got out. They walked by Charlie, went into the restaurant, grabbed a man, tossed him into the car trunk and drove off.

They were rivals from narco gangs. This all happened right next to Charlie who didn’t bat an eye. He later said he thought the guys in the car were cops. But they were not. Charlie is gone now, a natural demise. He’s not here.

But I still am.

There was another fellow. He was quite fond of my child bride, and he often would sit with us Saturday afternoons during the weekly pastry sales that my wife did then and still does now.

He was a nervous man, gay, quite smart, about 50 years old, but very nice. We enjoyed his company. He was a Cárdenas, a descendent of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. One day we heard he died under questionable circumstances.

Then there was the wonderful Al Kinnison. I loved that guy. He was almost like a father to me. When he died here in 2005 at the age of 79, I wrote a tribute to him. And I miss him still. His wife, Jean, preceded him into the unknown a year or two before.

Almost two years ago, a nephew died at age 31 of cancer. We had driven him almost weekly for a year to the state capital for chemo treatments, to no avail. He left a wife named Alma (soul) and two small children.

Last May, a second brother-in-law died. A heart attack in his early 50s. He was a younger sibling of my wife. No one had a clue about his health issue, so his death came out of the blue.

And very recently, two more. One was an old man we knew fairly well. The other was a young boy we knew far less well but who had impressed us mightily the last few years.

Almost every Saturday, before heading downtown for our pastry sale, we eat lunch at a very humble, roasted-chicken eatery on the highway near the Hacienda. The family business started about three years ago in exceedingly low-rent surroundings. A small dark room with a couple of metal tables and chairs.

A father, mother, two children and a granny who made the tortillas by hand.

The father roasted the chickens on wooden stakes stuck vertically into glowing coals which were spread directly on the ground outside. He also cooked chorizo and ribs in the same way. He is a very serious young man whom I’ve seen smile just once.

His wife is far more outgoing, a young, happy woman who looks in her late 30s. The husband is about the same age. The children were a daughter about 7 and a son, 16.

They toil seven days a week.

The food they sell is excellent, and the business grew. Last spring they moved a few doors in the other direction to a larger, less gloomy location, but the roof consists of log beams and a plastic cover. That’s what keeps the rain at bay.

My wife and I always noticed the boy. He was tall, good-looking, clean-cut, polite, attentive to the needs of both customers and his parents. He seemed like a great kid, the sort of son anyone would be proud of, and they were proud of him.

He did home deliveries on a small Honda motorcycle. He was killed on that bike two weeks ago. This is what tragedies are made of. We learned of that last Saturday.

Last week, Michael Warshauer died. He and his wife, Susie, came to our house not long after they moved to the mountaintop in 2005. Mike was a superlative cook, and I had mentioned that I missed Vietnamese pho soup, which I often ate in Houston.

Mike and Susie visited, and Mike made pho. It was good. Not quite what the Vietnamese served in Houston due to the lack of some ingredients hereabouts, but it was a stellar effort. The inimitable Jennifer Rose has written an excellent tribute to Mike, which you can see here.

She did it far better than I could have.

R.I.P., Mike, and to all of the others I mentioned or, as it’s written in Spanish, Q.E.P.D.

Perhaps I won’t be far behind you. Have pho prepared, please. Fixings shouldn’t be an issue up there. And I’ve heard good things about your chocolate eclairs. That too would be appreciated. I adore eclairs.

Thanks in advance.

The Graduate

danii
The Little Vaquero isn’t so little anymore.

THE NEPHEW I once called The Little Vaquero graduated from Middle School yesterday. After the ceremony, we went out to lunch in a fancy place.

I have quite a few nephews, it being Mexico where people breed like bunnies, but this guy is the one I see most often, far more frequently than the others. He is my sister-in-law’s son, the woman who owns the coffee shop, and he was adopted fresh out of the hospital in nearby Santa Clara over 15 years ago.

bebeThis is how he looked back then. I took this photo as he sat on his new mother’s bed. Cute, huh?

The Vaquero’s had quite a few ups and downs in his still-short life. One of the worst parts was his father shooting himself to death in a sympathy play that went wrong about seven years ago.

It happened after his mother tossed her spouse out on the street due to philandering.

After that, the boy had just his mother, no father and no brothers or sisters. He and his mother quarrel a lot. She’s not well suited for motherhood. He and my child bride, however, are very close.

He’s had some unusual ambitions. For a good while, he wanted to be a priest. That notion’s been shelved, thank God, and a few months ago he announced he wants to be a model (!). My wife suspects that ambition is based in part on his idea that it’s a career that doesn’t require any studying, plus he combs his hair a lot and is fastidious about his clothes.

He does not like to study.

I doubt he’ll be a priest, and I doubt he’ll be a model. Since he’s not fond of studying, it’s almost certain he’ll follow in his mother’s footsteps as the owner of the coffee shop that will land in his lap. And that’s okay as long as he continues the custom of not charging me for café americano negro.

Sixteen years of Mexican matrimony

TODAY IS MY ANNIVERSARY, 16 years of wedded bliss.

I’ve been married three times, which has been interesting. The first lasted just five years but resulted in my only children. There were two. A girl who’s now almost 52, and a boy who died in the hospital after three days.

I then got a vasectomy. I was just 24.

My daughter is named Celeste, and my son was named Ian Lee.

The first was a self-imposed shotgun marriage. The second, which lasted 10 years though we lived together 19 years, was done for practical matters, health insurance mostly. The moral of this is don’t point a shotgun at yourself, and don’t marry for practical matters. Do it for the traditional reasons.

Do it for love and romance.

This last marriage, the ceremony, took place in the interior patio of my sister-in-law’s coffee shop on the main plaza. A judge presided. I had no idea how civil marriages were done in Mexico, so it was all a surprise to me.

You stand there with your witnesses, and the judge goes through the words. You don’t say, I do. You say, I accept, but in Spanish, of course.

wedding

Here we are waiting for the judge to show up. She was late. That’s me on the left, of course, my child bride, her sister who seethed with envy the entire evening (note face) and her husband, a man who later shot himself to death by mishap in a “cry for help” after his wife tossed him out in the street.

Mexico is full of endless drama.

We had a great time. About 30 people showed up, and we danced in the patio after the rather dry ceremony with the judge. This fellow provided the music.

This video was not shot during the wedding, but that’s the guy.

Having been married three times, twice to Gringas and once to a Mexicana, I cannot avoid making comparisons. Since the nations’ cultures are drastically different, so are the women. I recommend the latter over the former.

There is no comparison.

While I rather fell into the first two marriages, I was quite deliberate with this one. I even got down on my knee to propose, and I did it between two pyramids built centuries ago by the indigenous folks of our area.

pyramids

These are the actual pyramids. Women like it when you make a splash.

Whether it was the pyramids, the singer known as El Potro, the magic of the judge or some other unknown factor, this marriage has been a keeper.

Best move of my life.

The in-between time

CHRISTMAS, FESTIVUS and Kwanzaa are all behind us, and we’re careening toward the New Year. It’s an appropriate time for memories.

I went to the photo album, found these shots and, being a sharing sort of fellow, I’m putting them here for you … and me.

jax

This is the house I grew up in, the Arlington area of Jacksonville, Florida. The house looked far better back then. This photo was taken by my daughter about five years ago. There was no sidewalk in my time, and the yard was well-tended by my father. There was a mimosa tree to the left. There were flowers everywhere.

The house was painted aquamarine.

My parents purchased this place brand new in 1952. I lived there from the Third Grade until I graduated from high school. The window on the left was my parents’ bedroom. The one in the middle was my bedroom. My sister’s room was in the rear. Due to my father’s drinking, this place does not hold fond memories for me.

houstonhouse

This small apartment is in a high-rise called the Houston House or, as it was known locally, the Heartbreak Hotel due to the number of divorced guys in residence. It was where I moved when my last wife decided to take up with an illegal alien yard boy half her age in 1995. Like the home above, it too holds no fond memories.

But it had a spectacular view. I was on the 22nd floor.

fly

I’m including this shot just for the heck of it. It was taken in rural Texas, as the time stamp clearly indicates, on July 30, 1994. That was about a year before my second wife developed goo-goo eyes for the yard boy.

That’s me on the right, and we’re about to take off in an ultralight. I already had a private pilot’s license, but I didn’t know how to fly ultralights. The guy on the left was the pilot. I never got around to learning ultralights. Life intervened, and not in a good way.

patio

The photo shows a happy time, my Mexican wedding in 2002. Well, for the two on the left, me and my child bride. I was 57 at the time, and she was 41. The not-so-happy folks are the other two, my wife’s sister who spent the evening glowering with jealousy. Yes, that’s a double-dip ice cream cone over her head. Irony.

The guy at the right was her husband. Long-time readers here may remember him as The Eggman. They later split up, and a couple of years after, in a cry for sympathy, he shot himself with a .22-caliber pistol. He did not intend for it to be fatal, but it was. He now lies beneath the floor of the Basilica here on the mountaintop.

Forevermore. Like the Raven.