Guille (2)


–Well, let me have your address.  Thanks. Now how do I find this place?


–Oh, just ask anyone.


Ask?  Just light out and go to a foreign country, where I’ve never been more than a mile inside the border, and ask where to find someone?  But that was all the information I could get.  If I was going to act, I had the name of her town, and the names of the streets on whose corner she lived, to go on.  It was this or nothing.

Guille left Duncan early in december of that year of 2002.  As an organist I could hardly get away before Christmas, but I could and did get away the day after Christmas.  Bright and early, off to Mexico!

I crossed the border south of Columbus, New Mexico, and found myself in Las Palomas, Chihuahua.  The migration office gave me a tourist card, then sent me around the corner to the Banjército office to get a customs permit for my car.

And with these I was off into the interior.

Straight through Palomas, straight south to El Entronque, where I picked up Mexico 2 westbound.  Through Ascensión to Janos and Mexico 10 southbound.  To Nuevo Casas Grandes, and then just five kilometers more to Casas Grandes.

Casas Grandes appeared pretty small, maybe one and a half a kilometers from end to end, and I found no street sign that even resembled the street names Guille had given me.  But she had told me she lived in Barrio San Antonio, and I found a chap who pointed me into the barrio.

The old part of Casas Grandes extends no more than a few blocks in each direction.  The San Antonio barrio, what americans would call a subdivision, lies to the north and is a grid of dusty, rocky, dirt streets which is home to maybe two or three hundred families.  There are electric lines and water lines, but the area has never been wired for telephone service.

Nor are there any street signs.

Nor do the people know the names of the streets.  When I asked someone where was Calle Coahuila, he very cheerfully directed me to go three streets west.  But upon arrival, asking someone if I had found Coahuila, I was told, –No, it’s three streets east of here.–  Really!

–Well, what about Callejón 5 de febrero?  –Oh, yes, it’s the fourth street to the north.  –Well, thanks.


I needed a new approach.  I drove about a block, then flagged down a driver and asked, –Where do I find Guille?  –Hmm.  Let’s see.  –Widow of Beny.  –Oh, sure.  I’ll show you.  Just follow me.


I did, and we stopped in front of a modest little house standing at one end of a deep, dusty lot, looking mighty quiet but with the door open.  As I approached, out came Guille’s daughter Mague.  (I had met her in Duncan, whither she had brought Guille, though she had gone on and spent most of her time in Phoenix.  That’s why Guille was stuck without a car in Duncan.)

And after Mague came Guille.

And she saw me, and started screaming, and ran and jumped into my arms, and I swung her round and round, and she screamed some more.

And we thanked the man who had led me in, and brought my car into the yard and parked it.


*     *     *


Guille’s house was square; two rooms by two, except that one quadrant had been left open as a porch.  So that left a kitchen and two bedrooms wrapped around the porch.  The porch was oriented to receive the winter sun and served as a comfortable outdoor living room during the sunny part of all but the coldest days.  The rooms were small, little if any more than ten feet by ten.  The kitchen had a wood range for winter use and a gas range for summer.  It gave onto a bedroom with twin beds and no heat, this room being for Guille’s two youngest but adult children, Dick and Mague, who lived with her.  Their room in turn gave onto Guille’s room, equipped with double bed (mexicans call it a matrimonial bed), small wood stove, and a bath tacked onto the back wall.  The bath comprised a large shower stall with a sink on the wall opposite the shower head and a high shelf to keep a few articles out of the shower’s reach.  There was no commode.  For that, one followed a path down to a little wooden building at the far end of the lot.

The path led first through a carport housing a couple of defunct S10s; two more S10s driven by Mague and Dick were alongside and exposed to the weather.  Next one passed a storage shed, then the wood lot and chopping area, then the chicken lot, where lived an ostrich as well as a few dozen chickens, then an idle space once home to a cow, and finally arrived at the privy.

Elsewhere on the property I found a clothesline, a shelter where Guille raised doves, an elaborate cage for Mague’s tropical birds, a laundry shed, and a tool room.

This humble family, over my protest, gave me the master bedroom.  Guille, tiny thing that she is, folded herself into a corner of Mague’s bed.


*     *     *


I passed five days here with Guille.  Guille’s routine was to rise with the roosters, start a fire in the kitchen, make coffee, and sip it down while reading her prayers from a devotional book of some sort.  Then a few chores, and breakfast.

I fell easily into this routine.  Each morning I rose with the roosters, made the kitchen fire, then poked my head into the children’s room, where Guille slept, and softly called, “er er ERR er!”  Guille then got up and made coffee, and we had coffee and read our prayers together, I having read the liturgy of the hours for years and having a condensed travel version with me.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield