Nearing the end of the book!!!! Happy New Year to ME!!
The Death of Wisdom: 1960 A.D.
Rose was Sophia’s last delivery. She was nearly one hundred years old at the time of the birth. That was by her own reckoning, so give or take a couple of years. Her back, like the much younger Consuelo’s, was bent in a permanent bow and her hands were knurled into ten corduroy roads from years of arthritis. Given their similar coma shaped postures, Consuelo and Sophia women walked the village together looking like punctuation marks as they stared at the ground beneath their feet. The advantage, they found, to these walks was that they occasionally found loose coins and once or twice spotted and captured previously uncataloged species of insects.
Sophia was much healthier than Consuelo, even though considerably older. She still had the skin of a young girl and could eat anything placed before her. She had all her teeth and masses of thick grey hair. So it was a surprise to all that within four months of Rose’s birth, Sophia was gone. She simply didn’t wake up one Sunday morning.
The casket in which Sophia traveled to her well deserved and most conclusive resting place was borne high above the heads of the villagers. The sturdy backs and rough hands of several women of the village supported it there. It was taken to the village cemetery, an acre or so of consecrated ground now dotted with crowds of minimalist crosses. It had been measured and fenced years ago, placed decidedly on a small hill well outside the plaza. The grave dug for Sophia was not so very far from the resting place of Consuelo’s husband and quite near the three large white crosses that had looked over the village for centuries.
Not only were all of Solución’s women present to pay tribute, but even Rosalie, now a grandmother and reveling in this new status, and Mary made a quick return for the funeral.
The women of the village made vast banners of white satin with Sophia’s name painted in enormous red letters on them. The banners gave a nautical air to the procession, almost as if Sophia were being swept out to sea on a magic ship. Villagers also brought out various plaster saints, painted in brilliant yellows, oranges, Marian blue, and green. Tall bronze and gold plated crosses from the church were lofted high on their shoulders and carried in procession. Ramona and Epiphany carried a large painted plaster of the Virgin of Guadalupe between them.
That August was one of many periods when no padre served the parish, thus the elder women were led in their ritual procession by Matilda Toad. Matilda had become a sort of a spiritual leader of the village women for her questions continued to puzzle and challenge them and her oddities had gained her much respect and status over the years. As they processed to the cemetery, she rang bells and burned incense and sprinkled what holy water was still on hand from the last priest’s blessings and the christening of Rose.
Matilda Toad was, of course, not allowed actually to speak during the ceremony. Thus she presided without actually saying anything in words. No one else said anything during the ceremony just to be sure that nothing acted as catalyst for Matilda’s odd proclivity for swearing and repeating what others said to her. The grave side service was not altogether silent. Matilda had learned over the years that she could sing that which she wished to express and do this without the embarrassing consequences of her affliction. Thus, in a full rich contralto, Matilda sang the life history of Sophia and praised her contributions to the community. Since Matilda was not a very creative person with respect to music, she had only melodies she had learned in childhood to draw upon. Thus, Sophia was eulogized to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down and The Farmer in the Dell.
The casket was pelted with fresh roses taken from the church’s morning’s crop by all the women as they sang songs they made up about Sophia’s life. No one cared if Matilda felt compelled to repeat these. In fact, her echoes only strengthened the message of each verse. As the casket was lowered into the grave, several women felt obliged to throw themselves upon it. Women, the roses, and pine box began a dark descent together. The pulleys strained, the ropes broke, and four villagers were trapped momentarily within the deep pit and on top of Sophia. The rest of the women formed a chain and pulled everyone safely to the rim of the hole. The women, though rescued, were bruised, dirty, and spiritually shaken by the experience. The trip back to town was solemn and shuffling and all the women crept silently to their own homes where they stayed for several days.
Yes, the women were satisfied that they had done the right thing by Sophia but dared not look at one another even when they resumed their outdoor duties and wanderings. The fiasco at the gravesite was, they believed, an omen. Sophia, they knew, had somehow held them all together during the last sixty or so years. Sophia had a kind of dedication and spirit that no other one of them possessed. Their ancient fears were once again rekindled.
Yet, there was an abiding happiness, too. Even if the women were fearful about a future without Sophia, it seemed, once again, with this new baby, that there was something to look forward to in life.
Pureza Moves On
When the baby was three years old, Pureza left Consuelo’s house and began to co-habit with another man whom Rose was led to believe to be her father. He was a post office employee. He was not Irish, nor randy. He was not exciting. He was a plodder and a minimal but steady provider and made sure that Rose was well cared for.
Pureza, however, lived with the fact that she was still married to the Irish cowboy. She heard nothing from him, but searched for him over the next twenty years. Pureza finally was able to track the husband down. He was working a played out silver claim near old Ophir, Colorado. He could barely breathe at the 9,000 feet altitude and had taken to sleeping so much that he no longer had time to drink. “Who the hell are you?” he asked when she knocked on his cabin door. “Your soon to be ex-wife. Sign these papers,” she demanded. “I got no wife,” he didn’t remember her, he grumbled, but did as he was told. As soon as he signed, she told him, “Now you got no wife, asshole.” Pureza didn’t linger. She took the papers from his hands, got back into the old Plymouth she’d borrowed for the trip, and sped back down the mountain. She was home that evening.
Pureza rewarded the faithful postal worker for his kindness by never telling Rose about the first husband, her father. Pureza fully repaid him by marrying him as soon as the divorce from the old, broken cowboy in Ophir was final.
The village priest, one who had come in to the village and somehow managed to stand the flying eggs and winds and peculiar habits of the villagers for more than two years, helped her with all of this. He was embarrassed by how many in his parish lived in sin or in civil marriages not blessed by the church. Even the marriages that were blessed were on the whole cursed. Men left wives for other women. Men murdered wives and children in their sleep. Children turned on parents with knives and guns. And the parish faithful prayed on Sundays but used and sold drugs through the week.
Even the church fellowship meetings were not safe. Pureza’s friend Gloria met a nice man there one Sunday night and married him, albeit with foolish haste. He beat her and whipped her, so that the scars on her back were still bright and shiny reminders of those days. They were divorced within six months.
His friends and drugs were packed up and moved out without much trouble. But soon bricks began to fly through the windows of Gloria’s trailer home. “I married you for life!” the ex-husband screamed from behind stands of rabbit brush while the content of her garbage cans turned into frightening conflagrations and glass from the windows fell all around her feet.
The man eschewed condoms and motorcycle helmets among other protective devices. This became something he lived to regret.
One night, he stopped at a drive through liquor store window and bought a quart of Mad Dog 20/20 on his way to his bi-weekly rant at Gloria. He roared off with his bottle coddled in a wrinkled brown paper bag and was just swallowing the last few drops, head tipped far back, when a drugged cousin in a Ford pickup plowed into him headfirst.
Chuckie, for that was what they called him, was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. By this time, both his parents had died in an automobile wreck while running drugs up from the Mexican border to Colorado. So he was on his own now in his fancy wheelchair, provided to him courtesy of various social service agencies. From it, he made daily telephoned threats to Gloria through a little headset microphone. He made it down the mile and half dirt road between her house and his about once a week on his wheelchair, a little cross and bones flag flying above the dust his rubber tires kicked up. There, in her yard, near her struggling solitary red rose bush, and always in the bright sun, he sat screaming obscenities while Gloria showered or did dishes or smoked and read Gothic novels waiting for him to leave.
Clearly, the priest had a full plate if he was to make anything of this parish. Helping Pureza with an annulment was the least he could do. Marrying her to the man with whom she lived would be a statement to the whole village, if only symbolic.
This priest’s stamina and good will might just energize the flock and provide a balance to Matilda’s steady and unresolved questions. And he had managed to stand up to all the flying eggs for several years. Yes, he was considered to be a good man.
Within a few months of Pureza’s annulment he was dead, bashed over the head with a rock by a hitch hiker he had had the bad luck to pick up just outside of Taos. He died unshriven. His reputation was besmirched by rumors that the murder was a result of sexual solicitation gone awry. He was also, after his death and during the subsequent inquiry by the diocese into its circumstances, found to be guilty of simony. Of course he had taken money for a variety of pardons and occasional masses. How else was he to support himself? And what an easy way for the parishioners to redeem themselves.
Pureza’s husband, the postman, died in the summer of nineteen ninety-seven after a lifetime in the post office in Purgatoria. “Good man. Stood right in that same spot, behind that same counter, at least since the Tet Offensive,” one of his buddies said. He grew old and gray behind that counter. “He must have gone through the elbows of half a dozen regulation sweaters in that time.” His official issue blue slacks became moth eaten. His official issue blue pin striped shirt became frayed at the collar. That’s what stability got him. Wrecked knees and scruffy clothing.
The remarks made at his memorial service were half in admiration and awe, half in pity. “Poor old guy,” someone said. “It was his knees, they just gave out, standing there all those years.” He died within six months after retiring to the comfort of a recliner in the living room of his trailer home. His heart just couldn’t push the blood around a seated body.
Along with his meager pension he left Pureza the five shabby trailers he had owned. They were filled with equally shabby renters. Some were runaways. One trailer was used as a meth lab by its inhabitants. Pureza did not know or care. It was the income from these that helped to support her and upon which she would depend for the rest of her life.