Nineteen eighteen was another hideous year for the village. It was difficult because the Spanish flu pandemic had hit many families. Sophia did what she could to help Consuelo around the time of the birth, but she was busy visiting sick families all over the area, including the nearest pueblo. The Indians were losing many people this time. They died, great numbers of them, chanting and mourning in grand circles together. And, indeed, it was these moments of shared community grief that spread the disease among them even faster
Consuelo and her young daughter, in spite of the sad time, survived without much help except from Juanita, of course. Juanita had become nervous and excessively watchful and fearful of leaving her house or allowing Consuelo and her baby out of her sight. They were nearly quarantined from world. Juanita’s memory of previous experiences with the flu came crashing in on her and she could hardly eat or sleep from worry.
“Please God,” she prayed. “Please. I lost my sweet baby so many years ago and now my darling Consuelo, the consolation you sent to me, is blind. Spare her and her fine little girl. Pass this house this time.”
And God or, to be precise, the flu did pass Juanita’s house.
In spite of the hardships of her late adolescence, Consuelo matured into a splendid woman and someone of whom Juanita was exceedingly proud. She let nothing stand in the way of being successful in life. The daughter that she called Rosalie was astonishingly beautiful. It cannot quite truthfully be said that Rosalie was the apple of Consuelo’s eye for she had never seen her. She could, if she came in very close to the child, make out the shape of her lips and the color of her hair, and the hair she regularly touched hair and let her finger tips work her way to the soft cheeks. These tips were very like the gentle pads of rabbit feet and tickled just a bit. “Come near my darling girl. Let me feel your face. Let me run my fingers through your sweet hair,” the trembling mother said through her darkness.
Thus by looking closely and stroking her, she came to know and appreciate her child very well. And she cared for her as best she could, which was very well indeed. She fed her the most delightful fruits and soft breads and sang to her at night.
Others in the village made Rosalie embroidered vests and appliquéd skirts of many colors and little corduroy pants. In addition, many tiny outfits were passed to her from other children. She had Consuelo’s own vests and velvets, Epiphany’s smocks, and Hermes’s walnut suit. “Oh my dear,” Sophia and others said to Consuelo, “If you could only see this child of yours. What splendour.” And the girl was grateful for all the clothes and the praise. She had nothing to complain of and wanted for nothing. Life was as good as she ever knew it to be.
It was in the happy corral parties that Rosalie learned to samba dance. Indeed, the seeds of Rosalie’s future were planted in this corral and sprung out of the thwarted lives of the women in her family: Juanita’s early losses and Consuelo’s blindness had not staunched the flow of ambition and hope that flowed through their veins. They gave this young woman the grit to seek a different kind of life. Had it not been for their boredom and the decision to conduct rehearsals in Paulette’s corral, that life may not have come to her.
When she was about fourteen, a traveling performance troupe came to town. It was a small troupe comprised of, in addition to the maestro, one clown, two musicians, and a pair of dancers. The all rode elegant Arabian mares. The group had traveled north from South America to Mexico by foot, rail, mule, and wagon. In Mexico, they had earned enough money to purchase the Arabians and a brightly painted circus wagon from an aged maestro whom they knew only by the name “Popcorn.” He was from Indiana and said he could no longer stand the arduous life of touring.
Two gigantic Clydesdales named Tiny and Knat pulled the wagon. Another rig, pulled by a second set of smaller Clydes, featured a good sized animal cage, divided into two. In one half of the cage lived a pair of Bengal Tigers. Three brown bears, all of whom could croon tunes, swig beer from bottles, and wrestle human beings on a bet, swaggered around in the other half. A Dromedary camel on a long red leash walked sullenly behind the cage wagon.
“Here ye, Here ye,” the maestro called from the driver’s seat of the main wagon as they approached the village. “Ola. Greetings. Show tonight.” A conga drummer began to beat out a rapid tattoo from atop his horse. A guitar appeared from deep within the saddle bags of a second horse and that rider struck up a lively tune. The camel spit rhythmically and the bears crooned.
The wagon, since they had acquired it, had become their home and stage, for the sides could be taken down so that the bed became a stage and the sides could be reassembled to create backdrops for performances. At night, the troupe slept under the wagon between the wheels. Food and cook pots were stored within it along with costumes and props.
They set up in the plaza for the evening show while villagers watched the odd little group and wondered at the animals, staying well away from them.
At long last, the sun fell behind the mountains, kerosene lanterns were lit and the show began. The dancers’ repertoire featured an exciting number never seen by Solución villagers. It was called the samba and though originally a folk dance, had become popular in the ballrooms of Rio De Janeiro in the past decade. Though the villagers had not seen it, the dance had just been introduced to film going North Americans in a movie called “Flying Down to Rio” and was now being taught in ballroom classes in cities everywhere. At the end of the performance, the audience members were invited to join in.
Rosalie, being young, beautiful, and supple, took to the dance immediately. “My God,” the leader said to the other performers as he watched her, “This girl will bring us such business. What a beauty.” He saw dollar signs dancing in his head.
So she was asked to join them. She happily left for a life in show business.
She brought to the troupe other specialty acts that she had perfected in the corral performances. She could walk a tightrope, having taught herself to do this on a wire stretched between two apple trees on the plaza. She had also learned to play a horn, a C melody bright silver York saxophone that allowed her to toodle right along with pianos without special music.
And her performances did, in fact, bring in large audiences. Eventually, Rosalie learned to do a samba on a tightrope while playing the saxophone. There was standing room only after that.
She stayed with the samba troupe for months, but was seen performing near Delano, California by the owner of a large vineyard that supplied the Butler Raisin company. This was a time when much produce from California and other parts of the world was shipped in wooden crates. These crates were made inexpensively, but were fine shipping containers for they held up on trucks and trains and could be stacked easily. Growers adorned these crates with beautiful labels that advertised their products. The crates were used as displays in stores and the labels became useful in attracting customers. At first the labels were simple, but after a few years skilled artists, often immigrants, were hired to design the labels. The immigrants’ labels romanticized the products and life in the far west where much of the produce originated. There were jolly cats, pink cheeked babies, and Indians in feathered headdresses depicted on the labels. But there were also pin up girls. Rosalie, the vineyard owner thought, would be a lovely model and she soon, with his support, became the poster girl for Butler’s Raisins. In the raisin ads she was posed as some version of Cleopatra in silks and sheer laces, thus to imbue raisins with a kind of foreign allure. Her arms were covered with coils of brass snake bracelets and her neck was adorned with heavy copper bangles. Her giant hoop earrings matched the necklace. She was a sweet, pale Cleopatra and her image, within a year, adorned every single box, bag, and bin of Butler’s Raisins and did so for years to come.
It was because of this exposure that Rosalie decided she must return to the village. For you see, everywhere she went, Rosalie was recognized, especially by Italian men who were major consumers of raisins during this period. And of course she was easily spotted by railroad workers, hobos, and green grocers who regularly saw the label on the shipping crates. At first the Italians and hobos and grocers were simply drawn to her beauty. But then, after a moment or two, she was identified as the Butler Raisin girl. Perhaps it was her face. Perhaps the trademark earrings and bracelets that she persisted in wearing wherever she was. In any case, someone would inevitably call out for the others to see. “Ayyyyah. It is the raisin girl. The raisin girl. Come see.” Crowds would gather and the young Rosalie was mobbed. In those days, it was impossible to have a personal life or go out in public after having one’s image imprinted on the packaging of raisin products. So Rosalie returned to the village.
She returned to Solución in the heat of summer of nineteen thirty seven. It must have been sometime in mid-summer because the green gage plums were nearly ripe and the dahlias were just beginning to bloom. Everyone remembered the night that she returned to the village. One old woman told me, “You know, that girl knew how to make an entrance. The day she came back was the day that we got electricity! That was no coincidence.” Just at the moment that Rosalie stepped out of a handsome black Buick sedan that drove her right to Consuelo’s front door, all the prewired lights in every house in the village went on. A dark man with a pencil thin moustache got out of the driver’s side, opened the trunk, and carefully placed a leather trunk and a black patent leather band box on the ground near the door. Rosalie stood stunned like a deer in headlights as people came out to greet her, back lighted by the gleaming bulbs that shown from within their brightly lit houses. “It’s Rosalie,” they called to one another. “Rosalie,” they said, “Welcome home.” At first they hardly noticed that there was a baby in her arms. It was a baby girl whom Rosalie had named Pureza.
No one asked about the origin of this baby Pureza. The village inhabitants had, in part out of self-protection, lost the habit of asking about anything. The village was, in short, devoid of curiosity. This matter of fact arrival was a way as natural as any to come about a baby, people thought. It was the way of the village to become populated by surprise arrivals. And if the village were to continue to be populated at all, no one could be fussy about how that might happen. No one knew if Rosalie had birthed this baby and no one cared because of course this baby lived here now and this baby was part of the story. And, as I said before, no one was any long curious about much of anything.
One day, two or three years after her return, Rosalie was picking ripe pie cherries. As she was athletically inclined, this was no challenge. She was up moving about the trees behind Juanita and her mother’s house. She had strung up some ropes between the several cherry trees so that she could walk across these to pick without having to go up and down a ladder and move such a heavy thing from tree to tree. In this way she could also continue to exercise her wonderful capacity for balance.
Her mother, barely able to make out her Rosalie’s dark form against the light sky, was sitting near the corral and writing in her leather bound journal. Consuelo wrote everyday for Consuelo did not just write for herself but wrote for publication. Writing had become the work of her life.
It was odd to watch her at her work. She had a very thick pair of glasses and fastened the journal to a small portable desk on her lap. She leaned over the journal and the desk so that her eyes were within about one inch of the paper. She gripped an elegant tortoise shell fountain pen between the thumb and fingers of her right hand. The pen tip moved on the page and her nose rested on top of her thumb as it moved. In this way, she could almost see what she was writing, one word at a time. Incredibly, she wrote a few short stories, many nonfiction articles, and at least two novels from this seemingly impossible position.
Consuelo was, as I said, nearly always occupied with this writing, for as you can imagine, it took a long time just to fill a page. It was only when a story or article was completed that she allowed anyone to read. She could not see enough words in sequence to make sense of the whole of her work. So she needed someone to review and tell her if it made sense. After a friend, usually Hermes, did read a manuscript and she was assured that it held interest for a general reader, she wrapped it in a brown envelope and sent it out to some popular magazines of the period for an editor’s consideration.
At first her articles were of a purely practical nature: “The Harvest and Pickling of Green Walnuts,” was among the first and was published in Good Housekeeping. This followed by an article on “Green Walnut Brandy.” She popularized many of Sophia’s home remedies, including laxatives, in a Good Housekeeping series. She wrote a much reprinted article on hot bedtime drinks. Her fictional stories were snapped up by Women’s Friend magazine. These tales featured the lives of desperate rural widows who are rescued from penury by elegant traveling ministers or salesmen. She also wrote poetry, usually sad, poignant poetry on the subject of lost love and thwarted desire. Many of the magazines in which she was published found their way back to the villages and Consuelo was a local celebrity. She even made a little income in this way.
The writing was not necessarily a bad thing, it was not necessarily good. Though Consuelo was content, she was usually quite removed from the life around her that she could not see. She was an attractive woman all of her life, even with her somewhat empty eyes. But her good looks and sweet face were seldom seen or appreciated by others. You see, not only was her face pressed down into her journal most of the time, but after years and years of writing, and in part as a consequence of the bone stiffening injuries she had received when she was sixteen, she was eventually not able to move from this position. In her old age, she moved crab-like about the village, head always bent, nose to the ground.
This day in the orchard, while Consuelo wrote, Rosalie was up the cherry trees happily picking, and humming to herself. The garment she wore had a deeply plunging neckline. The bodice was made of a bright red and yellow poplin hand painted with merry butterflies. The dress had puffy sleeves and a tiered skirt of many colors. From her earlobes hung long blood-red cut-glass earrings that caught the sun and projected piercing red patterns of light onto the ground below. She danced on the ropes from tree to tree, often bursting forth in song, and attracting birds of all feathers and of sorts never seen before in the village. When she reached high into the trees to pluck the highest, plumpest prizes, the juice of the cherries she found there ran down her arms and into the openings of her sleeves. She frequently popped tart cherries into her lovely mouth and the juice coated her lips and chin. Rosalie was still, in some ways, a child. She was, in fact, still in her early twenties, in spite of all of her adventures.
Sleeping prettily on a blanket just beside Consuelo was Pureza. That little girl, now nearly three years old, was resting and being good while Consuelo wrote. This had become the way of things since Rosalie’s return and the arrival of the baby, Pureza. Rosalie flitted around the village, Consuelo wrote, and Pureza slept. Everyone was satisfied with this arrangement.
Consuelo was writing only her most personal thoughts on that day. She had been occupied with a feeling of enormous happiness. How glad she was, she thought, that things had worked out as they had. How content she was not to have the old man in her life. And though she bore no ill feelings towards him, she was relieved that he had not lived for her to cook and clean for all her life. She wrote about the love she felt towards her daughter and granddaughter. How wonderful life seemed even if she was growing into the shape of a crab and couldn’t see very much at all.
After a bit, she decided that this could all be said better in poetry. And here is what she wrote that day:
Piñón comes so seldom to its ripeness
like my heart
full just then and now
for when it is time
you must taste
As Consuelo was writing, fumbling in her blindness with the paper and the pen, and just able to see Rosalie’s form and more than able to hear the birds, she could feel as well as hear the sound of a horse’s hooves beating at the ground.
Rosalie gets out of Dodge: 1940 A.D.
HK had a niece, the youngest daughter of his sister. Did you think that HK was the only creative genius in his family? No. HK’s family bubbled over with geniuses and his sister and her daughter were two of them. His clever niece was a flyer by vocation. She was one of the first of the Indian women who flew airplanes. Lots of Indian women in those early days of flight earned their wings and flew mail, mutton and beans, corn and flowers, bags of Red Rose flour and handmade corn husk dolls all over the mountains and from village to village. And HK’s niece was one of these women. She knew how to soar.
Mary, for that was the name of HK’s niece, had heard about the brand new Spartan School of Aeronautics and entered the first class in Tulsa in the late Fall of 1928. She joined the famous Spartan Dawn Patrol and learned cross-country and formation flying. She and four other Indian women roomed together in the Spartan dorms and formed the historic Spider Women Corps. They went out at dusk, ostensibly to get in their required flying time for certification, and flew in elaborate patterns over the Oklahoma night skies. Only Cherokee and Chiracauhua Apache people, of mortal people in the flesh, ever witnessed the forms the women made in the sky and only they could read the subversive messages these forms relayed. Those Indian people who watched the night skies thrilled at the flyers’ skill and carefully copied all of the messages they saw in secret books that were concealed deep inside footlockers under beds. These books were fetched out and read aloud upon occasion to children and grandchildren so that the words were kept alive.
Fan letters by the handful arrived for the women each day while they were at Spartan. No one out side of the group was ever the wiser to what the women were doing with their flight hours, nor did they know why the women received so much mail.
Mary and one of her roommates, my friend, Mildred, became quite expert at creating these puffy sky messages and encrypting them in Dené or the old Cherokee syllabary. Mildred, then still a resident of Oklahoma and recently returned from Haskell, had known lots of Cherokee people during her lifetime. So she’d studied the syllabary and was quite adept at reproducing its letters. The women loved making the flowing Cherokee symbols in the skies. Those required skill. They especially liked the curlicues that represented the sounds of que and qui and quo and quu. They worked hard to make sure that their messages contained many of these sounds.
There is a picture of Mary shaking hands with Eddie Rickenbacher in the Spartan archives. Richenbacher liked visiting flying schools and encouraging new pilots. In the photo, the two are framed behind by the struts of a spanking new Waco. It was the year before Rickenbacher was awarded his Medal of Honor but ten years after the end of the war in which he shot down something like twenty six German planes. He is tan, smiling, in his helmet but with the goggles pulled up above his eyes. Mary is looking right into the camera, goggles on her head, and a parachute strapped to her back.
After graduation, Mary came home and bought her own UBF Waco bi-plane. It was such a smooth and steady aircraft that it seemed sometimes to fly by itself. And this was the same Mary, this flyer of the Waco bi-plane, this rebel, this handsome genius sister of HK who came riding into Rosalie’s life that day.
As Rosalie came down out of the cherry tree, skirts flouncing all around her, her toes with their painted nails just touching the earth, cherry juice dripping down both her arms all the way past her elbows and past the place where the puff sleeves ended around her firm upper arms, she saw Mary and met her eyes. She saw her yellow jump suit and flyer’s helmet (which she wore even when riding upon a horse!), and she saw the leather bag slung over her shoulder, emblazoned with the words “U.S. Postal Service.” And she saw Mary’s handsome, deep brown face. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Rosalie felt shy. Mary dismounted and walked toward Rosalie, leading the horse behind her. “And you are?” Mary asked. “I am Rosalie.”
“Ah. Consuelo’s daughter, yes?”
“Yes.” Rosalie found that for some reason she could hardly speak. Her throat was dry and scratchy and her eyes were watering.
“Your grandmother gets lots of mail,” she said as she forked several letters out of her pouch. “Publishers. Magazines. I’ll be bringing her mail to her now. It’s my new route.” Mary was diffident. Her eyes looked to one side of Rosalie’s face, past her.
Consuelo called out a hello. She had known it was Mary from the horse’s gait, but she couldn’t hear what Rosalie and Mary were saying.
“That’s my daughter. Did you meet my daughter?” she called out.
Mary pulled more letters and a small package from the postal satchel and walked with more than confidence to where Consuelo was sitting.
“That’s all for today. Want me to read them?”
“No dear,” Consuelo took the letters and put them down near Pureza’s little sleeping body. “I’ll ask Rosalie or Hermes to read for me later. Thankyou.”
Rosalie stood and watched and said nothing.
Mary, quite a bit older than the young Rosalie, had had a little infatuation with “Aunt” Elsie who was so much a part of her life. Elsie, as we have seen, was her uncle’s best friend and companion. Mary had always adored her. But she also knew, though it surprised her, that this what she instantly felt for Rosalie was quite different. She didn’t dare to look at her again, except just once, when she was back in the saddle and just about to ride away.
“Nice to meet you,” she called out. But her eyes still could not meet Rosalie’s eyes. There was something like pain all over her body. She went back to HK’s house and spent the evening scrubbing herself with sage and singing to the moon.
Mildred likes to tell me the about the letter she received from Mary shortly after that encounter. They stayed in touch after Spartan and saw each other occasionally.
In nineteen forty Mary had turned forty. Mildred never knew her to have any romantic interest in anyone and didn’t think she ever would. So it was a complete surprise to read four full pages in which Mary described a young woman whose sole claim to fame seemed to be that she could dance the samba and had been the Butler Raisin pin-up girl. “Good God, I thought. There’s more to this than meets the eye. A samba dancer! My word,” she laughed as she told me. This enthusiasm for another human being apparently did not sound like Mary. In fact, it sounded down right reckless. Mildred chuckled and waited to hear further developments.
Consuelo, who had never been out of the village and did not have the experiences that Rosalie and Mary had, did not quite understand what happened next. Mary, the flyer, it seemed now was always around. Consuelo could not see the looks that lingered, the shy smiles, the gentle courtesies. Consuelo could not see the arms that touched for just a moment now and then or the finger tips that brushed each other when the two sat on a blanket in the orchard with a picnic lunch and read together. Consuelo could not see anything that was happening. All she knew was what she heard. She heard soft giggles and the rustle of clothing at late hours. Sometimes she called out to assure herself that they were indeed in the house when they became very quiet. “Rosalie? Mary? Are you here?” “Oh, yes grandmother,” Rosalie would answer. We’re just peeling potatoes and thinking,” Or folding clothes or cutting out cookies, Rosalie would say. Sometimes this was near the truth. Consuelo had no way of even imagining to wonder what was really going on. The women didn’t want to bother her with it all. Besides, it was occasionally frightening and quite new to them. They were never sure what they would say to her. They had no words for it.
Consuelo did know that Rosalie was happier than ever and singing and bouncing about the house watering new plants and encouraging fragrant blooms. Those she could smell throughout the air. Rosalie spent hours polishing furniture with bee’s wax. That she could feel when she touched a chair or a table. She heard Rosalie laboriously hammering nails into the wood framework that provided structure for the adobe and from those nails Rosalie hung Butler Raisin Girl pictures that Consuelo, of course, could not see.
Because her mother could not see very much, and Rosalie had been so seldom home until the past few years, no one had paid much attention to how things looked in the house. Now it seemed to matter.
The little house became a showplace. It was inviting, fresh, and full of expectation. Visitors exclaimed, “How nice the place looks, Consuelo! And it all smells so good! Are you expecting visitors? Have you got a new man coming by, ha ha.?”
But it was Mary who came calling regularly and Consuelo needed ask no one to get her mail for her. Mary brought it. And she brought baskets of figs and bags of sweet onions and bouquets of sweet peas and holly hocks. Rosalie placed these in tall vases all around the house and on window sills and in niches next to plaster saints. Mary gave Consuelo enough bags of Red Rose flour to last her a year. Consuelo grew a bit tired of saying “Thank you” every time the horse rode up to the door and Mary dismounted. She finally said sweetly that she had plenty of flour. She began to worry it would get wormy before she could use it all.
Small talk and whispers gnawed at the happiness the women felt together. What Consuelo could not see, others could. It was irritating to have always to be running into this one and that who suspected things, in spite of their discretion. Sometimes everyone in the plaza would simply stop talking and stare at them as they walked past. Occasionally a man would sneer at them and offer to take care of their needs or ask to join them, then laugh meanly.
Then there were old lovers or jealous would be suitors of many stripes turning up at Consuelo’s door. Consuelo in her innocence would graciously feed the guests who then found reason to simply sit chatting all afternoon or evening so that there was no privacy to be had. This was particularly tiresome. Rosalie and Mary were drained by all the interruptions and quite ready to be finished with it. They were too happy with each other to allow others’ judgments and designs to spoil what they had.
One day, she and Rosalie got into the Waco and flew away. They soared into the clouds with Rosalie’s earrings glinting in the sunlight and her scarves and lovely hair flowing from the open cockpit behind them. Mary, in her helmet and goggles, pulled at the yoke to gain altitude, pushed on the left rudder pedal, and then held up her hand in a big okay sign for Rosalie to see.
They had a good time indeed in their lives from then on without being at all mean about their leave taking. In fact they simply left and sent loads of money to Consuelo and the baby, Pureza, for their upkeep and safe keeping. Everyone who knew and loved them well was delighted to receive cards and letters and pictures of these two. The photographs were passed all around. The pair and their adventures provided fodder for lively conversations among Consuelo, Sophia and Juanita, Epiphany, Ramona, Hermes, and HK.
Rosalie, still keenly balanced, became a wing walker, known as the most daring and flamboyant in the air show industry, and was ultimately rated instrument, multi-engine, and aerobatic pilot.
Rosalie and Mary were famous, oh so famous, barnstormers (though World War II shut them down for a bit) throughout the United States and they were happy, oh so happy for all their days. They lived to be very old and very eccentric. They had a wonderful house somewhere on the Pacific Coast and filled it with mementos of their days in the air.
They never, never played golf or tennis but instead took occasional flights in the old Waco who came to be treated much like a family dog.
In the village Consuelo continued to write and to raise her granddaughter, the baby called Pureza, the baby, like herself, who had unknown beginnings.