After my visit of some days with Guille and her family, the obvious next move was to find myself a cheap apartment so that I could come to the area a few days at a time at my convenience, and not have to shell out for a hotel.

When I showed up at Guille’s house the day after Christmas, word went fast that there was a visitor in town.  I had had a hard drive and had gone to bed early, about eight thirty.  At ten o’clock I was summoned to bestir myself and come to the kitchen.  Lupe, one of Guille’s daughters, and David, her husband, had arrived; and David had a six pack and wanted to meet the visitor.  So I rolled out of bed and had a few beers with David.  Beers prepared the mexican way—each with half a lime on top of the can.  Mexican limes, smaller than a golf ball, and bursting with flavor.

David also wanted me to visit his parents, Enrique and Ramona, and I did.  This is where Guille and I went the night we got locked out of her house—twice.

It was near the end of january when I was able to get back to Casas Grandes to seek an apartment.  I found out very quickly that nothing is advertised in the newspapers.  Rather one just has to know where to look.  Not knowing, I turned to David, who seemed to know everyone in town.  And he and his wife spent two long evenings driving me around to everyone who might have a place.  But without result.  On the third day, when I had to head back for Loris, it was Henry who came up with a place for me.  I don’t know how he found it; he told me but I did not understand enough spanish to make sense of it.  Anyway, the apartment was in Dublán, a bedroom suburb on the far end of Nuevo Casas Grandes; not where I wished to be permanently, but it would do for a while.

David did, however, get me a place to stay for the two nights of the visit.  He told me there was an elderly lady called Doña Margarita who had some rooms in her house that she would let to travelers, and asked if I would like to stay there.  Well, yes I would.  So off we went, turning into an unpaved street a few blocks past the main plaza, walking past a dilapidated sign lit by a bare bulb and in faded letters offering rooms in both spanish and english, and ringing a bell at the gate.

Doña Margarita came out, accompanied by two little white dogs, and lit up when she saw David.  She must have seen me too, but I never caught her looking at me.  She spoke only with David.  She led us to her patio and there David explained that I was a newcomer, that I was looking for an apartment, that I needed a room for a night or two, and that I was safe and reliable.  Doña Margarita, without looking at me, said that would be twenty dollars; and without looking at me she took the bill from my hand, pointed to a door, and said, ­–There’s the room.  –And the key?  ­–There is no key.  There’s the room.  Open this gate and pull your car in here.–  I did, and got my bags, and went to my room and went to bed.

Doña Margarita’s house is quite unique.  Her husband—a commercial pilot who spent most of his time out of town flying—her husband’s family had been in aviation from the very beginning of that industry.  Her husband’s main avocation was the collection and restoration of antique aircraft.  She herself is also a collector and occasional trader of antiques in general.  The house, imagine this, the house is built to resemble an aircraft hangar!  The central patio, about sixty feet square, is spanned by a roof such as hangars have; that is, trussed, to give a clear span with no posts in the way.  Hanging from the trusses were the skeletons of two ancient airplanes.  Around three sides of the patio were the rooms of the house, and the guest rooms, like workshops and storage stalls around a hangar.  The fourth side, facing east, was open to admit bright morning sun.

Well, as standoffish as Doña Margarita had been, I thought it best just to slip out without bothering her and go about my business.  Trouble is, she had a hose and a broom and was washing down the patio.  Right outside my door.  And she did not seem to be moving on.  She just stayed right there.  So I finally opened up and said, –Good morning.  –Good morning.  –Nice day.  –Yes.  –Well, I guess I’ll be going.  –Wouldn’t you like some coffee before you go?  –Well, yes I would.–  She pointed to a door and said, –Go in the kitchen there and sit down, and I will be right over.

She finished her cleaning and was right over, and within a few minutes we were having coffee and she a cigarette.  Once the cigarette was over she said, –Wouldn’t you like some breakfast with that coffee?  –Well, yes I would.–  And she proceeded to prepare me a delicious breakfast, mostly of things I could not name, nor even remember now.

And we chatted the whole time, until I finished breakfast and got out for the day.  Mainly she chatted and I listened.  I could not understand all she said.  But I learned quickly that if I smiled, nodded my head, and said Um hmmm now and then, she would be happy.  I did and she was.

When I came in that night, Doña Margarita had a bedtime snack prepared; and the following morning she tapped on my door and did not ask, but told me breakfast would be ready in a few minutes.  She chattered happily through breakfast.  After we had eaten, she looked at me and said, –Young man, if you are going to live here you will need a lady friend.  Here, let me make a phone call.–  And before I could say anything she had called someone, saying she had a young man (I was 57) who was moving to town and would need a lady friend.  The call ended, she said I needed to pay a call to a Rosa María, and gave directions to Rosa María’s house.

After a good bit more chat I finally said I had better get going, I had a lot to do.  And I was escorted to the gate by a Doña Margarita with a radiant smile on her face who insisted that I promise to visit her frequently.  How could I do less than promise?  And the promise received, what did she do but put her arms around me, and kiss me on the cheek; then she released me, signed the cross over me, blessed me, and called me Son!  And thus blessed, I went back to apartment hunting, finding the little place in Dublán which I mentioned above.


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Doña Margarita had no trouble understanding what I said during these three days.  I made a return visit some months later and found that she understood very little of what I said.  It seems that one of the dogs had eaten her hearing aid.  From time to time I still visit her, but I always take along a certain lady.  The two of them can talk and all I have to do is smile, nod, and say Um hmmm from time to time, and Doña Margarita is happy.


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Do you understand what “doña” means?  It is feminine; there is a masculine equivalent, “don”.  It is a title of respect.  It is somewhat like “lord”, or “lady”, or “sir”, but there is nothing official about it.  It is accorded as a speaker sees fit.  In Chattanooga several of my guatemalan friends called me Don José.  I don’t recall anyone calling me that here.  It appears to me that one needs a few more years than my youthful 58, and perhaps other qualities as well, to be “don” here.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield