No. 50, November/December 2001
The Deserts in Literature, II
by Patricia Preciado Martin
From Days of Plenty, Days of Want, by Patricia Preciado Martin. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.
The bell rings, the bus slows, and finally stops. I get off at the corner of Fifth and Congress.
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. APARTMENTS. ELDERLY PUBLIC HOUSING. Yellow and gray concrete walls six stories high. Honorable Mayor James M. Corbett, Jr. Honorable Councilmen Richard Kennedy, Kirk Storch, Conrad Joyner, Rudy Castro, and John Steger. Anno Domini 1982-1983.
I go through the double-wide doors. The high-ceilinged waiting room is painted "robin's egg blue" (to make it seem cheerful). The room is bare except for a few chairs and coffee tables cluttered with tattered magazines: Good Housekeeping—"Decorate a Bedroom with Sheets." U. S. News and World Report—"The Effect of Arab Oil Prices on Wall Street." Cosmopolitan—"How to Tell If Your Husband Is Faithful."
The black-and-white TV drones in the lobby. No one watches it. The elevator clanks along noisily. (Up; Down; Press Button Only Once.) A few viejitos are coming and going with purpose. Some are waiting for the mail. DO NOT TALK OR INTERFERE WITH THE MAILMAN WHILE HE SORTS MAIL. STAND TEN FEET FROM HIM AND WAIT. Some are waiting for visitors. Some are just waiting.
And Tía is there, as always every Saturday, summer or winter, spring or fall, for the last two years. Except when the weather is too cold or too wet. It can never be too hot. Her small delicate figure is nearly lost in the big overstuffed chair. Tía is waiting for me. Quietly, primly, regally, her hands folded in her lap. She is wearing a shawl and a small knit hat. A flowered print dress and black stockings and shoes.
"Ah, m'hijita, ya llegaste." I take her arm, and she rises to her feet, not without difficulty. On one arm she carries a straw bag, and on the other a worn black umbrella, just in case. We walk slowly out the wide glass doors (EXIT HERE ONLY) into a late morning sunshine.
"Qué bueno que llegaste temprano. Tengo mucho que hacer, y la tienda está lejos. It is good that you arrived early. I have a lot to do, and the store is far away."
We begin to walk. Our journey. Every Saturday she insists on taking the same route. Across town. Down Congress Street. Past the Crescent Smoke Shop. (CIGARS, CIGARETTES, MAGAZINES, CANDY, PAPERS.) Past the Chicago Music Store. (TERMS, TERMS, TERMS, SE HABLA ESPANOL. )
Past the empty store windows with the dusty, limbless mannequins. We walk slowly, without talking. We turn on South Sixth Avenue, past the numerous bars and liquor stores. A hippie plays a guitar for quarters in front of Pete's Lounge.
We walk past Armory Park. Winter visitors are playing shuffleboard in the sunshine and winos are sleeping in the grass. On Ochoa Street, we turn west again and walk toward the gleaming white towers of San Agustín Cathedral. The pigeons flutter over our heads as the noon bells chime.
Señor Enríquez, the old bell chimer, died long ago. He climbed the rickety stairs to the bell towers three times a day for more years than anyone could remember. One day he climbed up and played the noon Angelus and never climbed down again. They found him with his eyes open to his last vision, a smile on his face, the bell rope still in his hands. Now the Angelus is a recorded announcement.
Tía laboriously climbs the concrete steps to the vestibule of the cathedral. I open the heavy carved doors for her and she makes her way into the cool darkness. The perfume of the incense from the early morning funeral Mass still lingers in the air. (Señora Juanita Rodríguez. Guadalupana. Sentinela. Legión de María. 6th Generation. Late husband, Miguel, was the founder of South Main Print Shop. Nine children. Twenty-seven grandchildren. Thirty-three great grandchildren.)
Down, down, the long corridor Tía walks until she reaches the side chapel of the Virgen de Guadalupe. La Madre de Nosotros. La Reina de Las Américas. She lights a small vigil candle and prays for the souls of husbands and brothers and sons. The ones who have died or lost their souls in Los Angeles. Father Carrillo walks by, intent on something. Cuentas y almas. Bills and souls. El Padre. Son of Barrio Anita. The pride of the people. "¿Y cómo estás, Doña Esperanza?" He grasps her hand warmly. She signs herself with his blessing.
We walk out once more into the brightness. Past an elegant old home that is now a funeral parlor. Down South Church and west on Cushing Street. Nearby a sign says: ENTERING BARRIO HISTORICO. HISTORIC DISTRICT: TUCSON-PIMA COUNTY HISTORICAL COMMISSION. In bronze. Many of the houses in the Barrio Historico are owned by Stephen Peterson, a millionaire automobile dealer and amateur anthropologist. THE CUSHING STREET BAR AND RESTAURANT: Eat, drink and be merry in the authentic restored old adobe of the pioneer Ortiz family.
A sign has gone up on one of the old Soto houses. AMERICAN WEST GALLERIES-PRIMITIVE ANTIQUES.
"They tore down the Otero house," Tía says in Spanish. "They had a piano. The señora played beautifully. Everyone would come to listen. People would leave flowers on her doorstep. On Sundays, we would all walk down for the paseo in the plaza of the cathedral. Sometimes we would walk down to the river. (It had water then! Can you believe that the Santa Cruz had water?!) In the summers we would picnic under the cool shade of the cottonwood trees. Everywhere there was music."
Still on Meyer Street. Señor Romero is sitting on his porch reading El Imparcial from Hermosillo. He pays his rent now to Coldwell Banker, based in New York.
"Buenas tardes, Doña Esperanza."
"Buenas tardes, Don Felipe."
We walk on, slowly. Tía continues. "His father and his grandfather had tierras by the river. Everywhere it was green. They grew flowers and vegetables. And oh! the flowers! The perfume was everywhere in the summer breezes. His father, Don Enrique, sold vegetables from a cart. All of us children would run after the cart. He gave us free sugar cane. Now the river is dry. The milpas are gone and the people are gone. (The river had water then! Can you believe that the Santa Cruz had water?!)
The freeway has cut the river from the people. The freeway blocks the sunshine. The drone of the traffic drowns out the people's songs. A new music in the barrio.
On down South Meyer. At last we arrive. Lucky's Meyer Avenue Market. Tia opens the screen door. RAINBOW BREAD IS GOOD BREAD. "Buenas tardes, Doña Esperanza."
Tía fills her bag. The ancient cash register rings and whirs. Queso blanco, salsa de tomate, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. White bread, tortillas de maïz, tortillas de harina, Cheerios. Pan mexicano, coffee. Saladitos for me.
"Gracias, Doña Esperanza. Hasta luego."
Then around the corner. Down South Main. Past the shrine of El Tiradito. THIS SITE IS ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. TUCSON HISTORICAL COMMISSION. ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. I follow unquestioning. I know that the journey is not over. There is always one more destination. Toward the Tucson Community Center. The Pride of Tucson. MUSIC HALL. LITTLE THEATRE. CONVENTION HALL. CONCERT ARENA. URBAN RENEWAL. Honorable Mayor Lew Davis. Honorable Councilmen James Corbett, Jr., Hector Morales, James Murphy, Jim Southard, G. Freeman Woods and Kirk Storch. Anno Domini, 1981. Concrete walls, and steps, and fountains. Fountains, fountains, everywhere. (The river had water then! Can you believe that the Santa Cruz had water?!)
Tía's pace quickens now. I follow her, carrying the straw bag laden with groceries. We walk past the Concert Hall to the vast Community Center parking lot. A billboard reads: CONCERT TONIGHT. ALICE COOPER. SOLD OUT. We stop in the middle of the parking lot. The winter sun is warm. The heat rises from the black asphalt. The buzz of the freeway is even louder. It is the end of the journey. I know what Tía will say.
"Aquí estaba mi casita. Here was my little house. It was my father's house. And his father's house before that. They built it with their own hands with adobes made from the mud of the river. All their children were born here. I was born here. It was a good house, a strong house. When it rained, the adobes smelled like the good clean earth."
She muses. She sees shadows I cannot see. She hears melodies I cannot hear.
"See, here! I had a fig tree growing. In the summer, I gave figs to the neighbors and the birds. And there—I hung a clay olla with water to sip from on the hot summer days. We always had a breeze from the river. I had a bougainvillea; it was so beautiful! Brilliant red. And I had roses and hollyhocks and a little garden. Right here where I am standing my comadres and I would sit and visit in the evenings. We would watch the children run and play in the streets. There was no traffic then. And there was laughter everywhere."
"Ah, well," she sighs, "ya es tarde. It is time to go." I turn to follow her and then turn to look once more to the place where her casita once stood. I look across the parking lot. I look down. "Tía, Tía," I call. "¡Venga para acá!" She turns and comes toward me. "Look!" I say excitedly. "There is a flower that has pushed its way through the asphalt! It is blooming!"
"Ah, m'hijita," she says at last. Her eyes are shining. "You have found out the secret of our journeys."
"What secret, Tía?"
"Que las flores siempre ganan. The flowers always win."
We turn away from the sun that is beginning to drop in the West. I take her arm again. There is music everywhere.
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Patricia Preciado Martin was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Active in the Mexican American community, she has written several books of short stories as well as works of oral history. She received the Arizona Humanities Council Distinguished Public Scholar Award in 2000.
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Excerpt from: "Earth to Earth"
This excerpt, from another short story in Patricia Preciado Martin's Days of Plenty, Days of Want, is provided by the University of Arizona Press. The UA Press home page is located at:
The Mexican-American Culture in the Sonoran Desert
This nonfiction article, written by Patricia Preciado Martin, is from sonorensis, Volume 16, Number 1 (Spring 1996). sonsorensis is the membership magazine of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located just west of Tucson, Arizona..
Cuentos de Nuestros Padres: Tucson's Hispanic Community
This page provides links to historical, cultural and social information about Tucson's Hispanic community. All of these documents are part of the Through our Parents' Eyes: Tucson's Diverse Community Web site, designed and maintained by the University of Arizona library.
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