From time to time I find myself called on to read a lesson at the mass in the village church.

Very seldom do I hear a lesson well read by the local people.  They tend to read rapidly and none too distinctly, and take no account of the building’s prolonged echo.  I have no training in elocution.  Being a gringo, and from the american South at that, I twist nice diphthongs out of what should be short spanish vowels, though I do roll an R somewhat better than many locals.  But I speak clearly, and make brief pauses, carefully coordinated with the meaning of the text, to allow the echo to subside and not obscure the next phrase.  Hence the first few times I read I overheard folks saying, –Well!  I can understand this gringo’s lessons better than those read by our own people.

One recent sunday, as I stepped up to the lectern, I spotted some folks in the congregation who looked american, and looked familiar to me.  After mass, we edged toward each other.  I, to see if they were people I recalled seeing somewhere.  They, to see if this tall, ruddy chap, who read spanish so distinctly, would prove to be gringo or mexicano.

I proved to be gringo, they to be people I had spoken briefly with one time in church at Rushton, New Mexico.  The gentleman turned out to be Scott Easterley, with his wife Leona, and his two sisters, whose names I don’t recall.  Delia and I chatted with them a few minutes, and then Delia suggested I ask if they might like to come to the house for tea.

They did like, and the tea turned out to be dinner, which that day comprised dishes that were all mexican.

It also turned out that one of Scott’s sisters was a Sister, dressed the usual american way, in somewhat dated civilian dress.  I asked her, as the ranking person, to offer the grace.  She seemed rankled to be found ranking, but she did say a prayer, of which I vaguely recall more humanist content than catholic.

These people were, I’d say, in their late sixties.  Talk at the table disclosed that the sisters were members of a prayer group for peace.  Scott, on the other hand, had had a military career.  One sensed a tense truce between the sisters and their brother.  They allowed that at least one good had come from his career: It was on an overseas assignment that he had met Leona.

Talk also ranged over how insensitive americans were to mexicans, how misinformed they were about them, how closed americans were to mexican ways.  And indeed, these refined people confirmed themselves, declining to eat one or two of the menu’s mexican dishes, for fear they might be victims of “turista” [upset stomach or diarrhea (literally, “tourist”)].

After dessert I asked Scott if he might like a bit of brandy.  He said he would, but that the ladies did not touch alcohol.  So I poured out three glasses of brandy, straight, placing one in front of Scott, one at my place, and one in front of Delia.  Whereupon Scott’s jaw dropped and he exclaimed, –She’s going to drink that?–  Well, yes.  That’s the way mexican ladies take their liquor—straight, just like the men.

The visit concluded with profuse thanks from the americans, and the observation that such hospitality they had not found in America.  They added a standing invitation to visit them when we were in their area, indeed to take their guest house overnight any time it was convenient.

Some weeks later we did plan a trip through their town.  We called a couple of days ahead to accept the offer of the guest house.  We left a message on their voice mail, then tried a few hours later and left another message.  We never received a return call.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield