ELEGY FOR A VAQUERO / Jesus Torres
Handsome and elegant in his choice to stay with the old ways, Jesus Torres rode his beige stallion along the dusty village road daily -- pushing his cows from one pasture to another, as well as moving his horses from here to there. No 4-wheeler for him. I loved hearing his calls to the cows -- "HANH! HANH!" -- to keep them moving, as he rode past our casita of a morning and evening..
Just the other day we three (for Peter Carey has joined us awhile) were spread out in our hammocks in our jungly back property ramada -- and silently shared, with Torres, the watching of quite the battle scene -- he in the shade in his pasture across the fence from us, and we in our hammocks. Two of his stallions took to fighting. The first and most amazing attack was when one stallion lowered his head below the belly of the other and literally flung that other stallion into the air and down on his side... There followed horrific rear-leg kicks to the skull and ribs -- each horse delivering his best shots -- then dusty races around the pasture, afterwhich the vicious kicking would resume again.
The battle ended when the stallions tired. No apparent injuries. Torres moved on to other chores and we continued with our siesta. We had shared this in silent awareness, no need for words or gestures.
Yesterday, the day they buried Torres in his family plot, the beige stallion stood quietly, alone, just there by the gate of the pasture that is across the fence from us, waiting.
We learned of his death simply by returning home from the previous town-trip to find the little center intersection of our dusty pueblito lined with chairs, and people sitting in them. The front yards of various houses, all kin of Torres, were filled with tables and chairs where there were more people, sitting quietly, some eating, some simply silent. One yard was transformed into a kitchen and a butchered cow hung from the roof. Numerous pots bubbled away on wood-fires. It was almost a tableau, for it was so silent, and seemed nearly motionless.
We gathered our own shocked hearts together, and waited til the cool of evening before going to pay our respects to Torres, to his widow, to his grown children. We slowly made our way through the crowd in their huddled chairs, to where Nicolasa sat, in black, staring at nothing. She was facing away from the crowd, towards the low fence in her side yard. To my surprise, she rose up and hugged each of us. As she hugged me, she broke down and sobbed, saying (and the emotion of it all, and in Spanish, I write only what I can recall from that way-too-poignant moment) "Sara y Roverto have come! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.... Oh, Sara.... Sara. He is gone. I am alone... all alone.... what will I do...¨" and then she just sobbed more. I said what little I could manage including what I could find of prayer... "que Dios te bendiga, que Dios te quida.... Mamacita, nos te amo..." something like that.
We sat by her in that silence for some time.
Then she made her way into the room where Torres lay in state -- a large, classy casket -- closed, but with a window over his face. Numerous large bouquets lined the walls, and four tall sturdy candles in their brass stands, kept guard. Nicolasa now sat in a corner, crumpled in her chair.
In the far opposite corner sat Mirna, our long-time friend, and daughter of Torres... After I paid my respects to Torres through the glass, I made my way over to her, and again was surprised by the passion with which she embraced me, rocking and sobbing...
Why, you may wonder, am I surprised? Because I have been shy about visiting my pueblo friends over these years. My Spanish is still so primitive that I am embarrassed to visit. I don't want to put them through the awkwardness of those long silences and stilted conversations.... That's how I see it. And more embarrassed now, for having NOT kept more closely in touch each time we stay here.
It was Mirna who showed us the humble casita we now own, telling us that it was for sale, suggesting that we consider buying it, since we clearly loved this surf-beach, and were friends with people in this village. Her brother, she said, built this house, but he has moved to Fresno, CA, and has all his US citizenship papers in order. It is for sale. (I intend to post a photo of Hulbert Torres and his family, taken in those day, when I return Stateside.)
...and that brings up sweet anecdotes of the early days -- our interactions with Torres.
The casita had been abandoned for some 18 years when we bought it and moved in -- quite basic, you might say -- peeling paint, chipped walls and floors... Three brick rooms in a row, not connected. Each had a door out to the porch. That's it. (But a great, large yard surrounding the casita...) Torres kept watch over our needs -- stopping by, and always atop his stallion, to see if we had enough water in the brick pila/tank, to ask what else we might need. Each time he passed by, we would offer him a generous handful of raisins. A sweet exchange, warm-hearted. "Pasas?" he would say...
Too, I recall his delight in seeing me hard at work with bucket of soapy water, and mop back in those early days! Of course, he rode his stallion right up to the porch -- this time he was beaming and gesturing at my work -- the soapy, soaking floors and porch. In fact, I took a photo of that visit (in 2004)-- posted here. He spoke to me in simple Spanish, as you would to a 2-year-old, praising my work repeatedly, telling me how happy he was to see that the gringos cared about cleanliness --- how good it was to see, how good it was to see!
Just days before his collapse, we watched together the stallions fighting. The next day, I watched him as he pushed the cows in, and again admired his classy vaquero style...
They say that the following day, when he tried to walk, he wobbled and was near fainting. He was rushed to a hospital, transferred to a more distant, larger one .... where he died. I do not know any more than that.
A pillar has fallen. Another will take up the weight...