Next two chapters of book. Up to page 295. Will definitely finish revision in January. Happy me!!
Pureza, a loose limbed, weak minded, exceptionally flabby child, turned into a flabby teenager with unexceptional brown hair and forgettable eyes. Perhaps the hardy genes that originated in the snowy mountains of Andalucia had run their course. Perhaps they had been inalterably thinned by eccentric couplings through the years. Some of these were not even revealed to other villagers nor certainly to me. In any case, here was the lumpy and forever fretful Pureza. And it is she we will now have to tell. She became the mother of Rosada (of whom we will speak later) and was the child of Rosalie, left behind while Rosalie flew about strapped to the wings of freedom, her partner, Mary, at the tiller. How, everyone wondered, could such a lively woman as Rosalie produce such a flaccid child as Pureza? “Can you imagine the father? What a lifeless little man he must have been. Probably a raisin farmer,” the people speculated, and just a wrinkled and lifeless as the fruits he packaged.
Pureza, of course, spent little time with Rosalie, so there was not much opportunity for her grand spirit to rub off on her daughter. The child did receive frequent surprise packages full of exotic and often edible goodies that would have sparked the imagination of most any other child. Also, Rosalie sent copious clippings of her escapades from newspapers around the country, and even a few from a successful European tour. The pictures that accompanied the news stories showed the WACO nicely, but it was hard to see Rosalie. “Where is she grandma? I can’t see Mama anywhere?” “I don’t know dear. Often, Rosalie was that slim speck of a toothpick standing on the wing of the aircraft, the picture shot by someone standing on the ground while Rosalie was balanced several hundred feet overhead.
Consuelo could not make out the likeness of Rosalie at all, even when she got right down on the image with her eyeballs. Then the image became a mass of grey and black dots to her. We’ll have to wait for Hermes to help you.” How often Pureza had to be reminded that grandmas was blind was a sorry gauge of her intelligence.
Consuelo enlisted the help of Hermes to read the letters aloud to her and Pureza before Pureza had been to school and learned to read them almost by herself. Two syllable words eluded her most of her life. “Hermes,” she’d call out in the direction of his door if he himself had not delivered the letter. He was still often sitting on his painted chair so it was not so hard for him to hear her. “Hermes, letters are here among my packages and manuscripts. I can smell one, “ Consuelo cried out. Rosalie wrote to Pureza on mauve notepaper scented with orchid perfume. “It must be for Pureza. And, here, I can feel another the same size. Maybe for me.”
Hermes made his way quickly to Consuelo’s side and opened the treasured missives as Consulelo called Pureza and held her close against her bosom for the reading. Hermes pointed out Rosalie in the photographs with the tip of a finely sharpened pencil so Pureza might see her or at least the place where he supposed her to be. Sometimes Rosalie had helpfully circled the speck.
Consuelo took it on faith that Hermes told her truthfully about what came in the lovely pink envelopes addressed especially to her and that arrived bi-weekly for as long as she lived. She also took it on faith that Hermes was keeping her books accurately and depositing the generous checks that floated out from the pink envelopes. “Dear little man,” she said to him after the first two or three of these, “Do whatever it takes to make me rich.” Indeed, Hermes was taking care of business and Consuelo had nothing to worry about or want forever.
Meanwhile, Pureza grew but did not thrive even with the best of care and surrounded by love as she was. Her robust exemplars, Sophia and Consuelo and even Juanita, were not able to foster a will in the child. She wandered off on an unworthy path at an early age. She often wondered, when she was older, where and how she had misplaced herself.
She rationalized that she had the disadvantage of many more choices to make than her parent and grandparents had. Times were different, she told herself. Even so, she could not hide, even from herself, the many ill-considered decisions she made.
Pureza, you see, in addition to her other shortcomings, was one who as a youth wore her heart on her polyester sleeve and was, thereby, ever in danger of bleeding to death. She seemed to believe it was her duty to take on everyone’s suffering, especially the suffering of rudderless and predatory men. No one in her ancestral family had taken up this particular burden before. They had loved and lost or tolerated and reproduced. But they had never willingly carried a cross for an emotionally and psychologically impaired man. She reckoned, it seemed, that bleeding to death from a broken or over-exposed heart was better than slitting her wrists. That was, of course, also a rationalization. Still, she believed that the church would have less trouble pardoning a slow suicide than a more overt, quick one. So she bled from her teenage years on for this man and that. She supported them, put up with all kinds of silly behavior, and made herself a fool over them.
Indeed, her life had been, as they say, no picnic. But she had invited the ants.
There were a series of disastrous adolescent affairs with older fellows she thought she could reform. But then she met the cowboy.
He was a randy, red haired, Irish cowboy. She met him in a bar. “Hey babe, come on over here and have one on me,” were his first words to her. “Come on, don’t be shy now. Sit right down here. What’re you drinking anyway?” He was tall and muscular, a lean fellow and not bad to look at then. He was, he declared good at his work and valued by the ranchers by whom he was employed. It was true that he was known for his ability to hang on to any bucking horse and rope a calf in thirty seconds flat. He had a dozen or more rodeo belts and had even competed for the title of All American Cowboy once. “You ever go out with a real cowboy? Let me tell you sugar, if I can ride a bronco I sure guarantee you I can give you the best ride you ever had,” he said to her and winked. He did indeed transfer his skills to the bedroom, including the bucking and roping.
She went home with him to his little trailer that night and stayed for the next week. She found out that he drank just about anything he could get his hands on. He drank in the morning. He drank in the evening. Moreover, he was morose and evil tempered most of the time. If the telephone rang, it was a creditor. Stacks of unpaid credit card bills littered his kitchen counter. Several cans of dog food, half consumed, took up most of the refrigerator shelf space. No dog was evident anywhere.
Yet, there were the dimples, the broad even-toothed smile, the moist doe eyes. She stayed on. She reckoned that something about the bucking and the falls and endless close escapes had rattled his brain. She forgave the screams in the night, and the nightmares he reported in which a team of clowns often appeared.
The drinking and bad temper, rather than warning her off, aroused Pureza’s fatal attention. “Oh honey,” she’d say. “You just need some of my good loving,” she cooed when he yelled at her about imaginary flirtations she was presumed to be having when they went to the bar at night or when the bacon she bought and cooked for him in the morning was too crisp.
He would have been of no interest to her if he were only a successful rodeo rider. But because he was evil, difficult and poor, Pureza found him endlessly fascinating and decided she would have some of what she called adventures with him. “Yes, baby, I’m in it for the long haul,” she told him.
So he took her with him to the next rodeo date up north. They left for Denver in his older model Chevrolet. They put their few clothes in grocery bags and stowed them in the rusting trunk of the car. They stashed a case of beer on the floor behind the driver’s seat. The car’s transmission chattered. The seats were torn and filthy with foam popping out here and there. The windows wouldn’t roll down, so the two rode in the stench of their own sweat and breaths.
Empty beer cans soon cluttered the back seat; each can was tossed in that direction as soon as it was drained. And many were drained. The cowboy drank his “brews” all along the way, pausing briefly at rest stops so he could relieve himself. There was that to be thankful for. They drove up through Pueblo and Colorado Springs, drinking but otherwise silent except for the occasional curses when the cowboy had to change gears or stop for gasoline. Or when he said, “Woman, give me a goddamn beer and make it fast.” Pureza convinced herself that all of this was romantic. She joined him in another.
When they arrived in Denver, she married him in the office of a justice of the peace and imagined herself triumphant, wedded as she was to a handsome rodeo king. She thought of the women who would envy her. She pictured herself standing by his side, hanging on to a loop in the back of his jeans, patting his bony behind, as he won buckle after buckle. She pictured the wealth that would follow his wins and the small ranchero they would buy. In her dreams it had with flowers all about and, eventually, scrawny fair-skinned children riding on their own ponies. He pictured nothing because he was always inebriated. He didn’t even know they had married and at times could not remember his wife’s name.
Then, just weeks after the wedding, he rode drunk and fell under the weight of a bronco more evil tempered than himself. He tried to hold on as the horse placed all of its intention on destroying that scrappy entity he felt on his back. He worked to deposit the thing on the dusty ground of the rodeo ring. Clowns, it vowed silently to its bright horse brain, would not distract him. Not this time. It thought, “This is not worthy of me, that thing,” the horse muttered as it bucked up and down and up and down and without cease. The horse won, of course. In one last fling of its rump, it made of the man a helpless feather of a thing that floated groundward and hit with a pitiful grunt. Then the horse purposely threw himself on top of the hated creature. The horse got up, first on its knees and then to proud, full standing position, head up in victory. It gave out an earth shaking bellow then pranced all around the dusty arena, braided mane and tail waving like the flag of the conqueror it was. Not much of a victory, truth be told. The man was unworthy to begin with. Now, he could not get raise himself to salute his better. His legs were crushed.
While he recovered, Pureza nursed him in a cheap, dirty little motel at the edge of Denver near where Route 25 and Route 70 cross. It was, she thought at the time, her finest hour.
The motel was home to migrant workers and ex-convicts. There were fights there in its unkempt, garbage strewn courtyard every night. Sometimes one could hear screams from behind the closed doors of dark rooms. Babies cried incessantly as if they were being tortured. Women called out for help. One dared not respond if one valued one’s own life. In any case, Pureza ’s heart was able to bleed for only one human at a time. Pureza stuffed her ears with cotton and stayed in the room with the cowboy. She watched soap operas, drank, and heated cans of ravioli and spaghetti on a little propane camp stove. The empty cans were strewn around the torn linoleum floor of the hovel.
There was not much money. So the canned food was the cheapest they could find. Pureza would not eat dog food. They spent the rest of what they had on alcohol. The man took to begging on the streets. His legs were so bad, he couldn’t ride again. But he could walk, or rather drag himself, though uncomfortably, with crutches. He always had a stash of liquor in a small duffle bag he carried with him on the streets. It was slung over his shoulder. The bag was emblazoned with the words Pan American. No one mistook him for a tourist. Even Pureza dimly realized that he was no longer exciting. He was filthy. His red hair stood up stiffly all over his head. Sometimes he could barely talk. Sometimes he urinated all over the bed during his drunken sleep.
One day in December when the two were out walking to no purpose, the man tore a piece of cardboard from a refrigerator box he found in an alley. He stooped down on a curb and, with the stub of a crayon, laboriously made a sign. Carefully, in very large letters he traced the letters, going over and over them until they were bold and quite readable from nearly a block away. Pureza was given the sign and told to sit on that very corner with it. “BLIND. PLESE GIVE GENERSLY.” Blind and illiterate, she thought to herself. Pureza could spell the word “please” she didn’t catch the problem with “generously.” A small shoebox was placed at her feet. On it he had written, “DONASHUNS,” another misspelling that escaped her. He said she’d know how to behave as a blind person since her grandmother was blind. “You oughta be good at this. You been around it enough.”
The sign seemed to burn into the skin of her hands even though it was freezing outside. Even wrapped in all the clothes she owned, every part of her was cold except those hands. She kept her eyes fixed heavenward and the box at her feet for the entire day. Meanwhile, he had gone, he said, to work the next block. “We gotta do something, you know. We got no money left. We gotta get some funds somehow.”
Pureza peeked now and again to see if anyone was around or noticing her. No one put money in the box. As the skies darkened, the air temperature dropped dramatically. After the mountains obscured the sun all together, she thought she couldn’t stand it anymore. She was hungry but didn’t dare to move.
Street lights came on and he still didn’t return. “This isn’t much of an adventure,” she thought. Her grandmother would be disgraced by a blind person begging, let alone a pretend blind person, let alone her own granddaughter. She had been taught that it was not possible to be poor or without if one had family, land, the means and will to work, and pride. No infirmity could do damage to the soul.
When she could stand the dark cold no longer (or the thought of Consuelo), Pureza got up from the curbstone and tossed the signs in a garbage can. “No more. I can clean up and find some work. I’m not doing this, goddamn it.”
She began to search for him, fearing he was ill or had fallen or was asleep and drunk in some byway. “He could freeze to death,” she thought. “I’ve heard of people freezing. It wouldn’t take much tonight.” The dumpsters they’d looked into in the past weeks weren’t hard for her to find again. And the alleys. The patrons in the cheap bars they visited knew her, called out to her. None had seen the cowboy. Some of them snickered as she left. “What a hard case. What a pair of losers.” Finally, she returned to the motel. Everything was gone. That is, the car and the remaining canned goods. And the rodeo buckles.
Consuelo got the call on Christmas day. With Hermes’s help, she had done well for herself. Hermes had not only kept a substantial amount of the money Rosalie sent in a savings and checking account. He had managed to build a herd of cattle in her name and to hire good men to manage the herd.
A small mail order business brought in money. Hammered tin and enameled images of saints were sent all over the world in small boxes that bore a delicate calligraphed label that joined the names of Hermes and Consuelo. Hermes hammered the tin and Consuelo, lowering her head so that her eyes were within an inch of the tin so that she could just see, and using a very fine pony hair brush, created beautiful portraits of the saints. One could order these lovely little tin and enamel saints for one’s own name day.
Consuelo continued to write, of course, and she received a small income from the royalties attached to her previously published work. Consuelo was content with her life and reasonably wealthy compared with others in Solución. There was plenty to share and to treat Juanita like a queen until the day she died.
Ramona, also enterprising as ever, had opened one of the nicer stores for tourists in the village. She took work on consignment, including Hermes’and Consuelo’s saints, and made a good income for her household. Her little shop had become a kind of informal community center where people who did not drink or fight could always find conversation and companionship.
Consuelo was in Ramona’s store sitting near the wood stove having a cup of Yerba Matte with the affable proprietress when the call came from Pureza. The desperate granddaughter had called around the village with her last nickels searching for her grandmother and finally remembered her habit of sitting with Ramona in the store. Even though it was the Christmas season, the store, she knew would be open for the tourists, mostly skiers this time of year, who were looking for the quaint and unusual upon which to spend their money.
Life was never a surprise to Consuelo. She who had, some thought, been singled out to suffer for the village’s sins, was never concerned to plan or worry. Life, she had come to believe, unlike many others in the village, was a series of random events. The life of the village was not really cursed nor blessed. There was no room for such thinking so far as she was concerned. Rosalie and Mary’s meeting was random. That an altar fell upon her was random. Whatever she would be told on the phone was not connected, in her mind, to anything else that had ever happened or might ever happen. There was no God, no divine plan. No, the call was not a surprise nor was it expected. It just was.
Pureza wanted Consuelo to come and get her. But Consuelo, though wealthy, did not like to spend her cash. Sometimes the bank called Hermes and suggested he help her decide to invest the money that was sitting in savings and checking accounts and not working for her. It may as well have been under her mattress he told her after these calls.
He had managed to persuade her to buy a few bonds and stocks but Consuelo wouldn’t risk much. “You never know when you’ll need it,” she was fond of saying. “Just let it be, Hermes, one day we’ll all be glad I have it.” So she would not write a check for a bus ticket and would not take any money out of the savings account. The cash she had could be spent on groceries and necessaries, but not on something like a trip to Denver. Even one to rescue her own granddaughter. So she directed that one or two animals be sold to raise the money for the Denver trip the sole purpose of which would be to fetch Pureza back to the village. Consuelo didn’t mind selling the cattle. The cattle would produce more of themselves. Money, she believed, would not. Anyway, selling cattle to support a female relative was not unheard of in the world. She’d read about bride price in other cultures in one of the magazines she wrote for. Except that, she mused, that was something the husband would have paid in order to procure the wife. This did seem a bit upside down.
So, Consuelo sold the cattle and directed Hermes to purchase roundtrip bus tickets for the two of them. Hermes had to go. He would be her eyes and advisor. He also bought a one way return for Pureza.
Consuelo and Hermes found the motel, glad that there had been only a light snowfall in the city. She convinced Pureza to leave the few things that were still hers and they took the next bus home through the icy mountain highways. She was pregnant though didn’t know it for another month or so.
Sophia fed her broths during her pregnancy to build up her strength and made certain that she ate lots of green vegetables and well cooked meats. Consuelo and Sophia watched her like a couple of Minerva’s owls and kept her away from any temptations for alcohol or inappropriate male company.
She was given a few little jobs around the house. She split kindling and kept the fires going during the winter and spring before the birth. She was expected to iron clothes and stir a variety of soups and potions for Sophia in exchange for the good care.
Among men, only Hermes, well over seventy, was allowed in Pureza’s company. He read to her, of course, to keep her entertained.
Pureza had a lackluster spirit and though she was surrounded by female wisdom, she took in nothing, showed no interest, and asked no questions. Pureza had learned to crave only one kind of excitement and this always, for her, lead to disaster. Other than her interest in men, she had inherited much of the village’s general lack of curiosity and absence of determination. No amount of Sophia and Consuelo’s attention and advice could overcome her listless will and dullness.
The baby, conceived around winter solstice, was an August baby. The Perseid meteor shower announced her coming. She was born at home with the aid of Sophia. Pureza delivered a small, light skinned, dark-eyed baby. She was a robust baby. She was striking to see from the very beginning. She was a source of great awe and wonder because she was the first baby of her generation actually born in the village among the women to whom she was kin. Even Rosalie, though born in Solución, had been kept under wraps for several days. No one had seen Pureza, either, as a new born. Pureza, Rosalie’s little one, was at least three months old when she first arrived in the village and was deposited with her grandmother.
So this baby, little Rose, was a first experience, for many of her direct kin, at actually looking at a new born.
The villagers thought this might be a large baby but didn’t have much with which to compare her. So someone said, get a bag of flour and we’ll see how much she weighs by hefting her, then the flour. Sophia went with Consuelo to her cupboard and found a five-pound bag of Red Rose flour. They took it back to the cradle. Ramona put the baby in her large right hand and the flour in the left. The baby was decidedly heavier. Epiphany was sent to find another bag of a Red Rose. When she returned, the second bag was stacked carefully on top of the first and the baby and bags once again held in the air over the cradle. By means of this experimentation everyone decided that the baby was about the weight of two five-pound bags of Red Rose flour. That, plus her very pink complexion and auburn hair with decidedly red and blond highlights, is how she came to be called Rose most often rather than Rosada, her given name. Rosada was the name on her birth certificate and Pureza’s way of honoring her absent mother, Rosalie.
Sophia was still concerned about the baby’s health after the pregnancy, though she seemed stout and sturdy, and so followed some ancient customs she found in her books and encyclopedias. She required Pureza and Rose to be confined for sixty days after the initial presentation and viewing. During those sixty days, Pureza was taken out of bed twice daily and seated on a chair with an opening in the seat that allowed an herbal steam to rise up to her female parts. Sophia’s skilled hands had rubbed mother and baby’s body with sweet eucalyptus oils and swaddled little Rose closely against Pureza to increase the circulation. So no one aside from Sophia and her mother, and Matilda the Toad, who, in the absence of a priest christened the baby, saw little Rose again until she was over two months old.
Rose, oh Rose. I remember her birth because she came along the summer that I was working on an ethnobotany of the area with several women herbalists in the village. I’d collected a lot over the years from Sophia. However, I couldn’t absolutely trust Sophia’s information because she was so ecumenical in her approach to healing. Some of her recipes were taking directly from other traditions, including the Eclectic movement journals. I needed a check and balance system before I published anything. I was there most of the summer that year and part of the fall for I’d taken a sabbatical year. I was close to retirement and had some semesters owed me by the University.
I had known Pureza, of course, from her childhood. Consuelo always kept me abreast of her life though Pureza and I never did become very close. I was much closer to the older women whom I’d known for so many years. Pureza was a little too removed from the old ways to be very interesting to me professionally. She hadn’t bothered to learn any of the old stories, so she couldn’t tell me anything new or anything that would deepen my understanding of the village’s history. What she did know was confused.
We were all happy that August. Abundant flowers filled the air with sweet scents. It was a good year for fruit. The piñón crop was extraordinarily large. When Sophia announced that the baby was past danger and could come out to be seen, the women of the village collected money and purchased this sweet baby diamond stud earrings. Ramona took a needle and an ice cube with which to numb her small lobs and pierced them straight through. The earrings were threaded through the tiny holes. The women sang and cooed to this baby with the diamonds.
Pureza’s had someone of her own, someone she could keep close to her, someone she could successfully bleed over.
There were no jobs when this baby of Pureza’s came along. There were never jobs. There was no money. This was the condition of Solución. Of course, when people worked the land and put their backs into, there was always enough to eat. But as the years went by, fewer and fewer people made the effort. Pureza’s habits and predisposition toward life turned out not to be flukish but rather seemed to define the character of a whole generation. This had been building for years. More and more the people thought of themselves as forsaken and helpless. It was what might be called a mind set.
Though no individual could imagine creating a different life, people from the outside came to the village occasionally promoting schemes that promised to bring more money to the village. Residents of Solución gathered and listened stonily when such schemes were presented to them.
For example, just a year or so after the Dawson mine disaster of 1913 in which a number of distant cousins and uncles were killed, and after several long seasons of sun spots and the drought and after the apple trees had all but died and the beans and chili fields were parched, a couple of French fellows came to the village and promised a grand revitalization. Their scheme was fool proof, they said. They would buy all the garlic that the villagers could possibly produce. It would all be loaded into large trucks and driven to the Gulf and from there shipped to France. In France it would be distributed all over Europe. Garlic is easy to grow, they said. All you need to do is stick the little cloves in the ground and from each clove comes a bulb. There is little else to do, they said. There will be garlic galore. You will become rich.
People pulled out failing chilies and withered beans and all their other dying crops. Men, women, and children took to the fields. They bore heavy canvas bags loaded with garlic cloves purchased on credit from markets all over the next valley. They convinced the sellers that they would repay with interest. They convinced the sellers, and themselves, that they would soon be wealthy.
Soon there were acres and acres of garlic sprouts. In fact, the village smelled of garlic especially after a light rain and when the sun came out and beat against the ground.
The French fellows promised they’d be back at harvest time. Indeed, when the stalks of the garlic began to turn brown and dry and the bulbs were ready to dig, the fellows came.
The crop was abundant; the villagers were excited. Everywhere you looked there were villagers with baskets as large as small tractors filled to bulging with braided garlics. Whole families tugged and pulled and scooted the garlic to the center of the field where the sale would take place. Ramona was there with her child, Epiphany, now a stout young woman of fifteen. She had managed a large plot all on her own. Her garlic bulbs were the largest, people said. Hermes, a keen, if short, young man, had followed his enterprising sister’s efforts with interest and had calculated the expense/return ratio on his toes almost daily. He helped with the braiding of the garlic from the comfort of his little chair. He counted on at least having enough profit to buy a new suit and pair of sandals.
Juanita, in her fiftieth year, still robust and fit, had grown and picked enough to fill two of the largest baskets. She was dressed in a black velvet gown and wore a lace mantilla that draped her handsome face for the sale day. She rode Paulette who was looking her best in dress braids and striped blanket.
Consuelo, recently injured, was still immobile and cared for daily by Sophia. Sophia dressed her in a soft yellow dress and placed her in a cushioned blue wheelbarrow so that she could be pushed to the fields and join in the fun of the day even if she couldn’t see it. Everyone was there. Even the newly employed Matilda the Toad went to the fields dressed as always in her icons and ears plugged to minimize the chance of repeating nastiness.
As Sophia pushed Consuelo along, she described the scene to her. Each person from the village was dressed in his or her finest. Women were in long gowns. Some held parasols. Others had lace scarves over their heads and shielding their faces from the sun. Men were in dark suits, many too tight around the chest and waist for them. Children were in church clothes, smocked dresses and little suits with short pants and collarless jackets.
Someone was strumming a guitar. Ramona fetched a toy piano from her lunch basket and joined in. The buxom Epiphany jumped up from behind Ramona’s skirts and startled villagers. Even at fifteen, she was still a surprise. She began dancing to the music, her ample skirts a havoc of color compared with the dark attire of most villagers and against the amber of the field itself.
In the center of the field, the French fellows had set up a little table and were engaged in inspecting garlic bulbs that the villagers had assembled before them.
The French fellows looked very serious. They were both thin, and dressed in slim, pinstriped suits. They each had tiny moustaches, just narrow lines above their pursed lips. They talked with one another in their language. They picked and pulled at the bulbs and broke them apart and ate whole cloves and measured them with little metal rules and calipers. This inspection lasted, it seemed for hours. The fellows were more and more serious looking, even grim. Hermes, who had pulled his painted chair up near them, listened intently and was seen to do a number of quick and complicated figures using both feet.
Villagers grew quieter and quieter as they watched these serious French fellows and noticed the sour expression on Hermes’s face. Finally, not a sound could be heard except the low mutter of the inspectors. There were no more festivities. The toy piano was put away. The guitar rested in the shade of an old apple tree. Epiphany’s dance ended. Without her, the landscape was overwhelmingly grey and brown; the people were somber in their black clothes. The deep blue sky clouded over while they watched.
At last, the French fellows stood and one of them came forward from behind the table. He spoke to the crowd and he said, his forehead all wrinkled and his eyebrows pulled together and his mouth tight, the lips seemingly missing altogether, he said, these garlic bulbs will not do. They are too small. And with that the French fellows gathered their calipers and note pads and lunch buckets and thermoses and bottles of Vouvray and got into their Model “T” Ford, and rode away while the villagers stood silent. And that was the end of the garlic scheme. The garlic that had not been collected for inspection dried to dust in the fields and that was that. No one had a penny. Everyone was in debt. The watchers thought, maybe they will leave. Maybe that will happen now.
But they didn’t leave. The villagers accepted what happened with their typical faith in the order of things and dug even more deeply into their love of tragedy.
Another entrepreneur came with a scheme. This was much later. Pureza was a teenager and hadn’t run off with the Irish cowboy yet. In fact, had this scheme not been such a disaster, she may have stayed home with the baby, her grandmother, and had a much more pleasant life.
This entrepreneur built a big steel building near the village and on it placed a giant painted sign. On the sign he painted the picture of a jolly lop-eared rabbit in full stride. The rabbit was a purple one and ran against a bright image that depicted a field of cornflower yellow. Above the lop-eared, smiling rabbit were inscribed the words, “Thumper Industries.”
This entrepreneur, it must be said, was quite a pleasant, honest fellow, if naive and altogether ignorant of market place economies and local taste and preference. It might be said that, on his behalf, and to the relief of the villagers, he was not French. He promised villagers that they and he would all get rich. The entrepreneur said that the villagers would raise rabbits and he would process and sell them. Rabbit meat, he said, was not presently part of the everyday diet of people in the region, but once the folks tried it they would love it.
Some were still living that remembered this promise of riches made by schemers in the past. These few were suspicious. Things simply do not change for us, they thought. They went to the church and prayed for the eradication of desire or wanting they found in themselves. The younger ones did not heed the warnings of the elders. They did not pray. They told the fellow to count them “in.” Their wanting was for things their ancestors never dreamed of and couldn’t possibly understand.
So, in the end most people were persuaded to join the scheme. Most everyone, except Consuelo, was quite poor and really did need something. Having lost the knack and will to grow their food, they all took to building hutches. Any spare lumber was turned into a hutch. Even Juanita, now nearly ninety, had a dozen hutches. Hermes, a short, middle-aged man, helped construct a few. Matilda Toad, a warty seventy, had fourteen.
Villagers purchased does and bucks from the entrepreneur as a loan against their first “crop.” Soon the village had hundreds of rabbits eating rabbit food purchased on time. They ate by the hundred-pound bag. The lusty creatures, their fur many shades of brown and grey, drank all the water the people could haul or pump or pour.
“Thumper Industries” massacred the first hundred or so of the rabbits. Their bodies were wrapped, weighed, and taped in white paper, then carted off to market. The furry little rabbit feet were returned to women in the village who were to dry and prepare them as charms to be sold in east coast specialty stores.
Everyone in the village was busy every day feeding, watering, hauling food, taking rabbits to slaughter, working in the factory itself, or fixing little looped chains on the lifeless, boney feet of the rabbits.
These were bright and hopeful days, and villagers thought about the new tin for roofs they could buy or how they might improve the irrigation ditches or where they might purchase seed potatoes or bags of beans and thus begin their lives again. They ordered and read Sears catalogues. They clipped pictures of mirrors and chairs and stoves they would buy and wrist watches they would wear. Oh yes, these were hopeful days.
But as you may have guessed, the rabbit meat did not sell. The rabbit meat did not sell at all, you see. Oh, yes, a few pounds here and there. But nothing of money to pay the villagers came of it. “Thumper Industries” had no cash with which to make its payroll. Villagers were in debt to feed stores and farm suppliers. The hutches were bursting with new bunnies, dozens born, it seemed, each day. No one could tell the male from the female and keep them one from the other and thus reduce the population growth. No one.
Villagers ate as many of the creatures as they could stand and then opened the cages and turned them all loose. There was nothing else to do. They would have to survive on their own now, these lop-ears. Coyotes, of course, had a field day. But the rabbits ate every bit of vegetation within a mile radius of the village before they fanned out to meet their fate in the high desert and dry hills beyond the old orchard and garden land.
Thumper Industries closed its doors. But this was not the end of the village’s financial fiascos.
Even the tiny Solución branch of the Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by business people in Purgatoria to assist the several fledgling businesses behind the church and in the plaza, primarily set on attracting tourism, went under because people did not pay their dues and the president embezzled what little money there was. Even Walmart by-passed Purgatoria and every other town in the area for a long time. The watchers filled the sleep of the Walmart promoters with anxious nightmares. “I’ll lose my shirt if I get involved with this,” the men thought through sweat wet sheets and gnashing teeth. So, until recent years, when the watchers gave up on trying staunch the flow of cheap goods and cheaper values into the community, there was no hope for employment even there.
Was there nothing successful? The watchers laughed at the garlic scheme and egged on the enthusiasm for Thumper Industries. The watchers laughed, but not with much humor.