Chapter 10, The Rio Grande
“A Different Country Altogether”
Riding toward Roma, Texas, we saw an old man in a yard holding an ancient-looking accordion. He was small and dark and wrinkled, with a smile full of white teeth. He wore his Sunday hat. One of those cute little old men Claire and I always want to adopt. He was obviously patriarch to the family that streamed in and out of the house behind him.
Then he began to play. We couldn’t ride away from that.
We pulled a U-turn and stopped. He came to the fence with his accordion, a big smile, several kids around him, curious about us. He took off his hat, rolled the brim nervously and held it against his breast. He nodded to us. “Buenos dias.”
We complimented his playing, pointing to his accordion. He smiled, put his hat back on and played another song for us. The accordion was small, the buttons worn, the red leather cracked and the wood polished by his hands. When he tapped his foot, puffs of dust rose from the yard and dulled the shine on his shoes.
We applauded and complimented his playing again. It was clear that he didn’t understand our English. I gave it a shot, “Muy buena la musica.”
He smiled. I think he understood.
More family began arriving, and a small girl began asking questions about Zippy. Everybody looked at us. We smiled. They smiled. The old man nodded his head as if he understood.
The others spoke English. We stood and talked with them, answering their questions. I couldn’t take my eyes off the old man. He reminded me of my father in his last years, the wrinkles, the leather skin, the shrunken stature.
We learned we were talking to four generations of one family, preparing to go to Mass together. They enjoyed our story, gave encouragement and cautioned about the local drivers. (They do drive fast here.) We said good-bye and waved as we rode away.
We would never even have seen him had we been driving an automobile 50 miles per hour. Zippy helps us see such things, and breaks the ice for us.
In Roma, we had a breakfast of egg fajitas in a cafe where Spanish was spoken at every table. There was a beautiful little girl in her new church dress, with white stockings she kept tugging on, and bows in her long straight hair. She danced in front of a mirror and smiled her black eyes at me.
Later in the day we stopped at a quick mart/gas station and talked with the Hispanic family who owned it. As we were getting ready to leave, the mother asked to take our picture. At the same time a man and his young son drove up with a four-point whitetail deer in the back of their pickup; probably stopping by to show it off before heading to the tagging station. After hearing our story from the woman, he sent his son to stand between us so he could take a picture. Instant celebrities.
These people are wonderful to us. I wish I knew what makes the Illinois couples of the world dislike them so much. Fear. Fear of someone different I suppose. As far as I can see, that fear is baseless.
What a Sunday. We didn’t go to church, but were showered with blessings anyway. Then again, maybe we did go to church.
The ground is rising and our legs are remembering the climbing past and preparing for the climbing to come. The Chihuahuan desert is hot under clear skies, cactus and mesquite dominate. Unidentified plant life is increasingly exotic. The sky is expansive and our eyes are drawn to the horizon, a horizon that grows more distant as it grows more appealing. One day soon we will see mountains.