"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Beautiful Season

My entire childhood was a process designed to push me to manhood or kill me

It's not clear who spotted the cat first. Word of the sighting quickly spread to all the farms on the western slope of Red Mountain. It was a mountain lion (un gato montes) folks whispered, though in reality it turned out to be a rather large bobcat. The alarm was raised and all kids were ordered to stay inside and not stray into the fields or the mesquite bushes. 

One morning, my father ordered me up at dawn, after breakfast we drove out into the fields. The fact that he brought a rifle with him was exciting, something was up.  We drove to the edge of a remote irrigated field, my dad stopped the truck and in short order shot two jack rabbits (which he made me retrieve) after tying the hindlegs together he slung them on a fence post.

The two of us then retreated into the milo, (which was 4-5 feet high that time of year) we squated down and we waited.... and waited.... after an hour or so, my dad ended the stakeout. "Por aqui anda el gato" he assured me, as we examined a number of feline tracks in the damp earth. The big cat was near and we were about to spook him out. 

Right about then I'm thinking we should just leave that old mountain lion alone. My father had other plans, he handed me a stick and had me walk along beating the sorghum stalks while he held the rifle ready to gun down the feline in mid-rush. We criss-crossed the field a few times to no avail, finally he called off the lion hunt. 

A black ant had made its way up my trouser leg and on the way home it bit my testicles, I sat there in excrutiating pain without saying a word. Much to my relief, Dad let me stay home that afternoon. I took a fitful, fevered nap, my balls were on fire and I couldn't tell anyone, least of all my mother. Many years later, I ran into a fellow who had grown up on the farm next to us, he told me they had cornered and shot that bobcat. Somehow I felt cheated, that was our cat to kill.

Eventually this need to drive me away, drove a wedge between us 

The fields were watered by a network of cement lined irrigation ditches, which were fed from a reservoir (tank, tanque) Most of these tanks were lined with trees (weeping willows & alamos  mostly) and populated by some of the biggest damn bullfrogs you could ever find. 

The bullfrogs had a nasty habit of migrating into the irrigation ditches and then getting sucked into the pvc pipes watering the rows. It was determined that any bullfrog caught in a ditch should immediately be dispatched to meet his maker. Catching them was another problem, like I said... they were big and their legs kicked out like goddamn mules (so it seemed to a seven year old)

My dad had me strip to my underwear and jump into the ditch (about 3.5 feet deep) Then he told me to get the bullfrog. I reached for it and it kicked violently, I started to panic and tried to climb out of the ditch. "Get back in" my father yelled, which he emphasized by hitting me with a black pvc pipe. I thrashed into the water and grabbed the bullfrog again, it kicked away from me. The pvc pipe came down on my back, "Get the Bullfrog" my dad yelled, I tripped and went face first into the water. I came up gasping and spitting, "Get the bullfrog" I heard, followed by the sting of pvc. 

This time I grabbed hold of the frog's legs and held on for dear life. I stood there holding it as it tried to break free. I had conquered my fear "I got him, I got him" I yelled out. My dad rushed over with a gunny sack. "Good" he said "now let's get some more"  So it went, I never faulted him for being excessive, turning a goofy kid like me into a man was a tough job.

He was unconventional, this was something I noticed about him when I was a child.

Alvino Aguirre was an extraordinary man, a composer of thoughts and letters, a connoisseur of a wide range of music and books. He was an urban man who spent most of his life in a small town, far too intelligent for the menial jobs he labored at his entire life. I knew him mostly as a farmer, he took pride in his work on the farm, even if he was just a farmhand. 

I recall how he would point out the straightest neatest furrows and tell me "Those are mine"  We would squat next to cotton plants as he peeled apart a cotton boll to show me how healthy and clean it was. He would measure the passage of time by the height of the cotton, "When it's this high, you'll start school", he reminded me, holding his hand about five feet off the ground.

My siblings all have their memories and stories about how they related to Alvino. The family being so large mandated that each child would forge their own relationship with him. All are unique, a few carry only pleasant memories and others grew up with mixed feelings. Some of us felt the sting of verbal and physical lashings, others didn't.  

I grew up the only boy in a large family, because of that I bore the brunt of my father's expectations and disappointments. As men the dynamic between us was different from that of my sisters. I don't know what he expected from me... he never said. I do know this, that as an adult, I'm a mirror image of him in every way... for better or worse.  

The last time I saw him he was already bedridden, wasting away from the cancer that would kill him. As I walked into the room he tried to cover himself, ashamed that I would see him in that condition "Aqui me tienen" he said, before he closed his eyes. I don't know what went through his mind: tractors, bullfrogs, bobcats, mountains?... The cotton was tall... fall was upon us and it was time for the harvest.

"In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too."  

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