My dad went home on a Sunday afternoon; December 20th at 2:15 (He asked everyday when he would go home). He had just turned the corner into his 96 birthday. I don’t think a short post can uncover much about the life of a 96 year old man, so this is only a snippet of his journey here on earth.
Manuel, my apa, was born just after the Mexican Revolution (The Mexican Revolution! Pancho Villa?! Wow! I was super intrigued to know that his grandfather and father had been in and around the fringes of that dangerous era.) The Revolution had brought government changes and economic changes for some, but in the end, El Pobre remained poor and struggling. In those days Mexico was bursting with riches in precious metals; gold and silver and he always said “Los Americanos supieron como sacarlo” because the Americans had the money and knowledge to invest in those gold mines. In the Central Mexican hills and valleys of Jalisco through the quick response and hustle of the Americans, a mining town was birthed; El Mineral del Amparo. (My dad always said “los gringos”, I discovered that it was the description of all the whites; European and American who lived and worked in the town). He would share his stories with me during our visits and when he splashed history facts I always went home to research them. One day, as he began to tell me another story, I mentioned how impressed I was about his knowledge of history, I thought I was being generous by telling him that his facts were right, according to Google. With a twinkle in his eye and not a little indignation, he laughed and said “You’re double checking my facts on my history?” Yikes!)
My grandfather brought his new wife to El Amparo and here they started their life together, The Mining Company was his way of surviving outside of working in an hacienda. My dad was the first of nine children. (Since most Mexican families were this large, it’s not something to wow over,) As I heard some stories, I have been amazed at the resilience of man. My abuelo worked hard in the mines and my abuela was very resourceful helping ends meet in the home. Tortillas and frijoles, essentials in every Mexican home.
Dad shared many stories and descriptions of his childhood in this little mining town. Here it is hidden in the valleys, obscure, yet not without culture. He told me of the cinemas and theatres, the large mercado, the mill for grinding maiz, Don Lucios ice cream shop and, the taxi driver (really, it sounded more like Uber, before Uber :D) See the town had to be outfitted for the Americans that lived there and the working Mexicans mostly enjoyed it from afar, but every once in a while with a centavo or two my dad would go right smack in the middle of the town square and partake. There in the center of it all, the boys would enjoy a game of canicas, a time to gamble their marbles. Whenever he described it, it was always with a bit of pride that he too had experienced the rich culture of society; he went to the cinema a time or two and he saw the theatre from afar.
My Dad wanted to see more of the world. He visited his grandfather who ran a huerta and learned about planting and harvesting. For a season he wandered trying to find his place in the world, picking up various farming skills along the way. Then, he heard the call for el Norte and responded immediately. Baja California was the bridge that brought him into Los Estados Unidos de America.
Dad went back home to Jalisco and got married, had two boys and went back to Baja, (Wow! What happened to the love story right? That’s for another post) where he spent a few years living in Mexicali and working across the border. It was probably a good transition time for mom, besides, she was busy having babies! During this time their family grew from four to eight (They were a fruitful couple, and they weren’t done because two more would come, pero, on the other side :D)
He landed in the Imperial Valley and stayed for the next seventy years! He connected with men, patrones that gave him learning opportunities. He learned about agriculture and intricate details of the irrigation system for watering the fields and he also learned about horses and machinery. He earned his way most of his life this way. He worked for the city of Calipatria, he was a night watchman for a cattle company, he had lots of work experience. (You can imagine my reaction when the young man trying to get details on his death certificate said can we write that he was a “farm hand”. All that wealth of experience reduced to that?!) My dad’s favorite experiences were with horses and sheep. One of those patrones hired him to herd sheep in the mountains of Utah. Although it was a lonely job, he loved the whole vaquero swag. His companion in those months out in the cold Sierra mountains was a sheep dog named Cazam. He had already started sporting the cowboy hat and Levi jeans but this season seemed to legitimize his stilo and honestly, it suited him well, my apa was a handsome fellow.