I told you that my friend Delia had offered, and I had accepted, an apartment of two rooms in the east wing of her house. As of today’s writing I have been in my rooms for about six weeks. I find them most comfortable. I’ve told you once about the house; now I’ll tell you about it again, with more detail.
Delia’s house was built about 1900 in the prevalent style
of that time. The house stands right on
the sidewalk and presents to the outside a very plain wall with barred
windows. The house is of an ell shape
and stands on a corner lot. The west
face of the house, on
Summers can be quite hot here, and the house was built to
stay cool in a pre-air-conditioned age.
The ceilings range from nine feet to more than twelve. The higher ceilings are on the front part of
the ell, facing
This house is quite spacious. Measured on the outside, it would appear to have 5700 square feet of space. The thick walls, however, eat up about a thousand square feet. It’s still a big house.
The exterior doors out front are double, opening to a magnificent six feet, leading into a spacious foyer. I am told that back before the renovation began, there was an old couple here who had a Volkswagen bug, a bug that they drove right in the front door and parked in the foyer. The story is credible; one could still park a VW—or two—in the foyer today. The windows are all of the casement type, opening inward. They are of an elegant design, each sash having three lights in its upper part but solid wood in the lower part. Many interior doors are double and have many small lights, like french doors. Other doors have a single plate glass panel, round-topped, in their upper half.
Back to my apartment. The main room (18 foot by 15) is my office, sitting room, and kitchenette. A somewhat smaller room (16 by 15) serves as bedroom. The bedroom has no window save a little transom over the patio door. The main room has one window, and a transom over its patio door. Despite this shortage of window space, the rooms are light and airy. The walls and ceilings are of white plaster. The floors have a very light gray tile. A single hundred watt bulb overhead in each room makes the room much lighter than you might expect.
The wall of the main room facing the patio is my kitchen space, with washing machine on one side of the patio door and stove, sink, and
refrigerator on the other. The stove and
sink are quite old. The stove burns
gas. I have never seen an electric stove
We walled off one corner of the bedroom to make a bathroom. It is tiny, but nicely finished, with tile floor and walls. A corner shower is bounded by the walls on two sides and curtains on the other two. With a little practice even a man of my size can shower without flooding the place. It took three or four floods to get the hang of it.
The building of the bathroom was an eye opener for
me. Coming as I do from the eastern
I have told you elsewhere that Casas Grandes is a very old town. Much of its age is highly visible. For old buildings and other structures, when they cease to be useful, are generally left standing until their space is needed for something else. And, when possible, old buildings and ruins of buildings are incorporated into new construction.
We have a dramatic illustration of this policy just off the patio. You go through an opening in the east wall of the patio and find yourself in a rectangular walled space about fifteen by twenty feet, and right in the middle of this space is the old privy that once served this house. No, mexicans usually don’t tear down their old privies. They can still be mighty handy when the city water system, as is its wont, breaks down for a few hours. And one thinks here, What a neat idea, a little walled space to hide the privy. But wait. In one corner of this walled space is a fireplace. And as one looks up, one can see vestiges of old rafters and a mud roof. And one realizes the privy was built in what had at some former time been a room of a house.
Living among the ruins. The old left to fade slowly, at its own pace.
It is a most civilized way to live.
* * *
As for living in this house, it proves to meet my needs quite well. It is easy to organize and clean. It is quiet and cool. It is a good place to work. And there is ample privacy. There can be any amount of activity in Delia’s wing of the house without my ever being aware of it. And I am one short block away from the church, both plazas, the post office, library, and grocery store.
And Delia and I function well here. I usually spend the working hours of the day alone, writing and doing whatever else I have to do. I go over to her kitchen of an evening for supper and conversation, then wash her dishes and come back to my rooms. Some days this is the only time we see each other. But we also set aside shopping days and go into Nuevo together (she does not drive!) to run all our errands.
I also help Delia with landscaping and small repairs, and try always to be present when she negotiates with men to do some work, and while the work is being done. She believes that workmen are prone to take advantage of a lady who does not have a man to back her up, and she may be right. In any case I watch workmen when they are here; and sometimes, if I have any competence in the kind of work being done, I join in with them.
I do miss having windows on all four sides, and large shade trees, and the babbling irrigation ditch I had alongside my casita. But my gains in taking these rooms easily outweigh my losses.
* * *
Not everyone here lives in a fine house. I have described Guille’s house for you, three small rooms. There is another lady here, Germinia, who built her house with her own hands. She describes her house succinctly: –Everything is crooked, but nothing leaks.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield