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- Tales of Aztlan - 5/17 -

emanating from the shrine of the patron saint of Don Jose. His grandfather had whittled this famous image out of a cottonwood tree, whereon a saintly Penitente had been crucified after the custom of the order of Flagellants. This Penitente resembled the penitent thief who died on the cross and entered Paradise with the Saviour in this, that he was known to be a good horse thief, and as he had died on the cross on a night of Good Friday, he surely went to Glory Everlasting. Don Jose's grandfather made a pilgrimage with this image he had made to the City of Mexico, to have the Archbishop bless it in the cathedral before Santa Guadalupe. During the ceremony, it was said, there grew a fine head of flaxen hair on the image and it received beautiful blue eyes. And it had the miraculous propensity to ever after wink its eye in the presence of a priest and at the approach of a Christ-hating Jew, it would spit. This virtue saved much wealth for the family of Don Jose, as they were ever put on their guard against Jewish peddlers.

The rumor that Don Jose Lopez had carried the household saint with him in his wagon was at once contradicted and disproved by his wife, Dona Mercedes. The lady declared that San Miguel had never left his shrine in the patio of their residence except for the avowed purpose of making rain. In seasons of protracted drouth, when crops and live stock suffer for want of water, crowds of Mexican people, mostly farmers' wives and their children, form processions and carry the images of saints round about the parched fields, chanting hymns and praying for rain.

On this occasion Dona Mercedes availed herself of the chance to extol the prowess and power of her family's idolized saint, San Miguel. She said as a rainmaker he had no equal. He disliked and objected to have himself carried about the fields when there was not a certain sign of coming rain in the heavens. Her little saint, she said, was too honorable and too proud to risk the disgrace of failure and bring shame on her family. Therefore, he would not consent to be carried out in the fields until kind Nature, through unfailing signs, proclaimed a speedy downpour. When thunder shook the expectant earth and the first drops of rain began to fall, then he started on his little business trip and never had he failed to make it rain copiously. Friends of Don Jose Lopez, hearing all this talk, were not slow to take advantage of it. The time for the election of county officials was near and they promptly placed Don Jose in nomination for the office of the sheriff of San Miguel County.

When people applied to the parish priest for advice in this matter, he laughingly told them that he did not know if all these current rumors were true, quien sabe, but surely nothing was impossible before the Lord and the blessed saints, and Don Jose being a friend, he advised them to give him their support, as he was a very good and capable man who would make an ideal sheriff. To be sure, the Don paid his debts and was never remiss in his duties to Holy Church.

We crossed over the Raton Mountains and were then in the northern part of the Territory of New Mexico. What a curious country it was! The houses were built of adobe or sun-dried brick of earth, in a very primitive fashion. We seemed to be transported as by magic to the Holy Land as it was in the lifetime of our Saviour. The architecture of the buildings, the habits and raiment of the people, the stony soil of the hills, covered by a thorny and sparse vegetation, the irrigated fertile land of the valleys, the small fields surrounded by adobe walls--all this could not fail to remind one vividly of descriptions and pictures of Old Egypt and Palestine. Here you saw the same dusty, primitive roads and quaint bullock carts, that were hewn out of soft wood and joined together with thongs of rawhide and built without the vestige of iron or other metal. There were the same antediluvian plows, made of two sticks, as used in ancient Egypt at the time of the Exodus, when Moses led the Jews out of captivity to their Promised Land. The very atmosphere, so dry and exhilarating, seemed strange. In this transparent air, objects which were twenty miles distant seemed to be no farther than two or three miles at most. In such a country it would not have surprised anyone to meet the Saviour face to face, riding an ass or burro over the stony road, followed by His disciples and a multitude of people, who, with the most implicit faith in the Lord's power to perform miracles, expected Him to provide them with an abundance of loaves and fishes. Here we were in a country, a territory of the United States, which was about eighteen hundred years behind the civilization of other Christian countries.

As we passed through the many little hamlets and towns, the male population, who were sitting on the shady side of their houses, regarded us with lazy curiosity. They were leaning against the cool, adobe walls, dreaming and smoking cigarettes. The ladies seemed to possess a livelier disposition and emerged from their houses to gossip and gather news. They viewed me with the greatest interest and curiosity and, shifting the mantillas, or rebozos, behind which they hid their faces after the Moorish fashion, they gazed at me with shining eyes. And I believe that I found favor with many, for they would exclaim, "M'ira que Americanito tan lindo, tan blanco!" (What a handsome young American. See what beautiful blue eyes he has and what a white complexion.) And mothers warned the maidens not to look at me, as I might have the evil eye. I heard one lady tell her daughter, "You may look at him just once, Dolores; oh, see how handsome he is!" (Valga me, Dios, que lindo es, pobrecito!)And the way the young lady gazed was a revelation to me. The fire of her limpid black eyes struck me as a ray of glorious light. An indescribable thrill, never before known, rose in my breast and she held me enthralled under a spell which I had not the least desire to break. And they said that it was I who had the evil eye! To say that these people were lacking in the virtues and accomplishments of modern civilization entirely would be a mistake very easily made indeed by strangers who, on passing through their land, did not understand their language and were unfamiliar with their social customs and mode of living. They extended unlimited hospitality to every one alike, to friend or stranger, to poor or rich. They were most charmingly polite in their conversation, personal demeanor, and social intercourse and very charitable and affectionate to their families and neighbors. These people are happy as compared with other nations in that they do not worry and fret over the unattainable and doubtful, but lightheartedly they enjoy the blessings of the present, such as they are. Therefore, if rightly understood, they may be the best of companions at times, being sincere and unselfish; so I have found many of them to be later on, during the intercourse of a more intimate acquaintance. In the large towns, as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, where there lived a considerable number of Americans, these would naturally associate together, as, for instance, the American colony in Paris or Berlin or other foreign places, so as not to be obliged to mingle with the natives socially any more than they chose. But in the village where my relatives lived, we had not the alternative of choosing our own countrymen for social companionship.

Therefore, I realized when I reached my destination that I had to change my accustomed mode of living and adapt myself to such a life as people had led eighteen hundred years ago. I thought that if I took the example of the Saviour's life for my guiding star, I would certainly get along very well. Undoubtedly this would have sufficed in a spiritual sense, but I found that it would be impractical as applied to my temporal welfare and the requirements of the present time. For I could not perform miracles nor could I live as the Saviour had done, roaming over the country and teaching the natives. And then, seeing that there were so many Jews in New Mexico, I feared they might attempt to crucify me and I did not relish the thought. Therefore I accepted King Solomon's life as the next best one to emulate. While I was greatly handicapped by not possessing the riches of the great old king, I fancied that I had a plenty of his wisdom, and although I could not cut as wide a swath as he had done, I did well enough under the circumstances. I was, of course, limited to a vastly smaller scale in the pursuit and enjoyment of the many good things to be had in New Mexico. Ever joyous, free from care, I drifted in my voyage of life with the stream of hope over the shining waters of a happy and delightful youth.


In the month of September I came to the end of my journey, as I arrived on the Rio Abajo. Now I began the second chapter of my life's voyage. No longer a precocious child, I was growing to young manhood and was not lacking in those qualities which are essential in the successful performance of life's continual struggle. I was heartily welcomed by my uncle, my mother's brother. My aunt, poor lady, had, of course, given me up as lost and greeted me with joyful admiration. But she did not venture close to me, for in me she saw a strong, lusty young man, bright eyed, alert-looking and carrying a deadly army revolver and wicked hunting knife at his belt. To be sure, I was suntanned and graybacked beyond comparison with the dust of a thousand miles of wagon road.

As I had expected, I found my uncle in very prosperous circumstances, in a commercial sense. And no wonder, for he was a tall, fine-looking man, under forty and overflowing with energy and personal magnetism. And my mother's little family tree did the rest--aye, surely, it was not to be sneezed at, as will be presently seen.

Of course, mother traced her ancestral lineage, as all other people do, to Adam and Eve in general, but in particular she claimed descent from those ancient heroes of the Northland, the Vikings. These daring rovers of the seas were really a right jolly set of men. In their small galleys they roamed the trackless seas, undaunted alike by the terrors of the hurricane as by the perils of unknown shores. On whatever coast they chanced--finding it inhabited, they landed, fought off the men and captured their women. They sacked villages and plundered towns, and loading their ships with booty, they set sail joyfully, homeward bound for the shores of the misty North Sea, the shallow German Ocean. Here they had a number of retreats and strongholds. There was Helgoland, the mysterious island; Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the river Elbe; Buxtehude, notoriously known from a very peculiar ferocious breed of dogs; Norse Loch on the coast of Holstein, and numerous other locker, or inlets, hard to find, harder to enter when found and hardest to pronounce. In the course of time these rovers were visited by saintly Christian missionaries and, like all other Saxon tribes, they accepted the light of the Christian Gospel. They saw the error of their way and eschewed their vocation of piracy and devoted their energies to commerce and the spreading of the Gospel of Christ.

Piously they decorated the sails of their crafts and blazoned their war shields with the sign of the cross. They kidnapped holy priests (for otherwise they came not), and taking them aboard their ships, they sailed to their several ports. Then they forced the unwilling Fathers to unite them in holy wedlock to the maidens of their choice. To many havens they sailed, and in every one they had an only wife. They made their priests inscribe texts from the holy Gospel on pieces of parchment made from the skin of hogs, and instead of robbing people, as of yore, they paid with the word of Holy Scripture for the booty they levied. This, they said, was infinitely more precious than any worldly dross. All hail to the memory of my gallant maternal ancestor, who, when surfeited with the caresses of his Fifine of Normandy, flew to the arms of Mercedes of Andalusia. Next, perhaps,

Tales of Aztlan - 5/17

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