When I was about 14 I had already dropped out of school and begun working, two women and a grandfather had instilled a pride in me and a survivors instinct that would not allow me to become dependent on anyone, or allow my family to be either as long as I was physically capable of doing something to provide.
I’m sure I felt I knew considerably more than I actually did- now it is I understand there is more to know, more to be, than I can ever hope to attain. What is left is to strive to be the best I can be-I take it be a core principle of live.
On the job I was working then there was an aged Mexican man, bowlegged and crippled from a lifetime of ranch work and breaking horses-he had no formal education but he read anything he could get his hands on.
Often in the evenings he would sit on the porch and read aloud, in time this drew me to sit close by and listen, and a little later to ask questions. I respected his space and he mine, each waiting for the other to venture the first words that began a friendship.
He would tell me hair raising tales of his younger days in Mexico,of women loved and lost,of children born and dying before their first word or first step, of poverty and the desperation born of it-in these tales of poverty and desperation common ground was found and a bond was formed.
He allowed that in his youth he had been a hell raiser-but also that when he loved he loved “hard”, was devoted, and never abused woman or child.
Being the cook he would favor me with an extra portion, or some little baked treat, telling me I needed to grow and be strong.
I grew to love his tortillas, hot and smothered with butter- he would tease me in saying I would make a good Mexican, and was I sure somewhere in the woodpile along the way there wasn’t a Mexican?
He didn’t take kindly to others calling me kid or chief-though those who did meant no offense, and it didn’t bother me as everyone had a nickname of some kind.
Apparently he felt our relationship was endowed with a different protocol as he would alternately call me Indio or Hijo, and in a round about way let it be known if I were to refer to him as Tio it would please an old man, and so I did.
We were born of the land-he at his age looking back and me at mine looking forward.
He was by his own words Mestizo, a mixture of indigenous and Spanish, and as was his way would say “damn good proud of it”-and as was also his way would say if he could he would bleed the Spanish out of him as he despised them for what they had done to his land and people-that his people and mine had been carne de cañón for the Spanish and others.
He had a philosophy all his own-always had a rosary around his neck, crossed himself frequently, and at the same time adhered to many beliefs of his ancestral people-it seemed a little conflicted to me without ever saying so, but he found a comfort in it and I supposed he was covering all the bases as he perceived them.
Oddly though in asking me about indigenous beliefs he would always say to never give them up, that a river can only flow in one direction at a time, and I have found that to be true. Something we as a people must come to understand after having forgotten it-for we are living a life like cracked ice as F. Scott Fitzgerald said.
He was a man of no guile, no pretense, as honest as they come-strong in his beliefs, but tempered with a humility, and I am proud to say he was my friend.
One day while sitting on the porch with his ever present tattered eared, broken tailed dog he waved to me from the distance that separated us to come join him-when I did he handed me something wrapped in paper and said it was for me and to open it-when I did it contained a well worn copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and he explained it was how he taught himself English and had inspired him to read.
He opined that if my people had written books I would probably appreciate one of them more, but as they hadn’t Whitman would have to do.
I still have that book, still read from it, and marvel at the sheer force of Whitman’s brilliance and insight. Marvel at how such a diversity of people can and have been moved by it-and though within it’s pages I find mention of some things I don’t agree with it is a tribute to a free thinker and an independent spirit-I like that.
Below is an excerpt-and I say much of it could have been spoken by one of our own, for me it supports my belief that truth is truth regardless of who speaks it or the language employed in doing so.
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
― Walt Whitman
Muchisima gracias Tio.