Back at Doña Margarita’s house I told you that she had called someone named Rosa María and asked her to think about what sort of lady friend they could find for me, advising me to visit Rosa María the next time I was in town. Well, I was not looking for a “lady friend”. But I wanted all the “plain” friends I could get. So in due time I went to see Rosa María.
She is universally known by her nickname of Chanía, and she is the organist at the village church. She never married. Her age is somewhere north of seventy. She spent her life teaching music in the local schools. Her home is just down the hill from the church, perhaps a hundred yards. Oftentimes after the eleven o’clock mass on sundays her small choir will gather round the kitchen table, perhaps with a carafe of wine, to discuss books, movies, art, music; occasionally there will be evening gatherings as well as Chanía hosts her salón.
Chanía’s house was the first old house I visited here. It was built around 1900. Elegant little double doors lead one from room to room through adobe walls two feet thick. Ceilings and trims are of rich, heavy old wood, as is the furniture. Heavy drapes help make the place quiet and cool in summer. Little has been changed about this house since it was built. Visiting there for the first time I thought I must have slipped back to about 1913, and I found myself listening for Pancho Villa to gallop up with his men and ask Chanía if he might water his horses at her well. In due time we migrated to the piano in the front room; and before the evening was over we were singing, in latin, Franck’s “Panis angelicus”.
Chanía herself is a lady who never had the first piano lesson; yet if you let her hear a recording of, say, the “Moonlight sonata” a few times, she will be able to play it back, and play it as it was written, and play it well.
It was eventually to Chanía’s kitchen that I repaired to ask for help in finding a rental place in Casas Grandes. I dropped in one night and asked Chanía whom she might recommend that I see.
It happened that several older ladies were gathered around Chanía’s kitchen table that evening, so Chanía escorted me into there and made known my need.
And it happened that one lady, Bany, spoke up at once and said, –Right here!– And she invited me to stop by her place the following day and see what she had to offer.
It was beautiful. She had about an acre on the edge of town, almost in the bottoms of the Río Casas Grandes. It was but a five minute walk from the center of the village. The place was like a park. Flowers, pools, grass, bordered by a pecan orchard on one side, with Bany’s house lying on the other side. Through the property ran an irrigation ditch, happily babbling and gurgling.
The place she proposed to give me was a little brick cottage, a single room about twenty-two feet by fourteen. The furnishings included a fridge and wood stove for heating, as well as gas cook stove. There were windows on all four sides. There was no bathroom attached. Rather there were two little brick huts out back, one being a shower room and the other having the other fixtures. Both lay on the far side of the ditch; I never did know why. But all in all it was a charming little place.
There were a couple of shortcomings. There was no hot water for the cottage, and hot water for a shower had to be made by firing an ancient charcoal-fired water heater. And the little bed was hard as a rock. But Bany assured me she would have these deficiencies remedied. She did. She put in gas water heaters for cottage and bath and bought a decent mattress. A couple of weeks later, when I returned to town on my next trip, I paid rent, picked up the key, and took possession of my new house.
During this same period a buyer turned up for my Lordsburg
property, thus placing me in position to live full time in
Alas, my Shangri-la had to wait. Family obligations necessitated my passing the next three months in the eastern States. When the call came I had barely time to haul a load of stuff to Casas Grandes, pay three months’ rent, and assure Bany that I would be back.
I did get back, and after another trip or two to haul stuff from my storage place in the States, I settled in and passed a pleasant nine months in the casita, reading, loafing, and writing, the last including the earlier chapters of the present book.
The casita, I knew from the beginning, was temporary. It had a low ceiling, and a steel roof, and no insulation in between, so in summer it would be hot from late morning until it passed into the shade of a tree in late afternoon. And I craved a little more space. I kept the casita for just over a year, after which I moved into an elegant apartment in a wing of the house of a lady named Delia.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield