By Fay Tarlock
Jim’s face softened. “If I had my way,” he said in a half whisper to Graciela, “I’d take you to Salt Lake to see the golden angel on the temple, but that will have to wait a while. Anyway,” he gave her a little hug, “we have first to see that you are prepared for baptism.”
“The baptism, we are ready for that,” Graciela told him eagerly, her face alight.
“No,” Jim still held her, “it is too important a step to be done emotionally. It is forever, and I want you to be sure you know what you are doing.”
I watched Graciela withdraw from his arms and firm herself to oppose him. “If we do things without emotion, we are cold, useless things.” Her voice rose a little. “My mother and I have had two years to know the Church, and in this I tell you the sacred truth, I was ready before I met you. My mother will tell you that.” She stood there, an exquisite figurine, but there was strength and decision in her.
When Lolita spoke her agreement, Jim demurred no more.
“But there is,” Jim said, his hands thoughtfully in his pockets, “an old Spanish custom that bothers me.”
“Meaning what?” I spoke to him in English, and he answered me in kind.
“It’s hard to explain it, but I guess it’s the whole thing, the big wedding with all the fuss. I like privacy and simpleness. Once we started the thing, we’d follow tradition and go the whole way, the full three days. And you know how it is.” He looked like a small boy caught in a transgression. “The bridegroom has to furnish everything, the wedding clothes, the feast. It would take all I’ve been saving to equip my office when I’m ready for practice. But all that aside, I’d like nothing better than a quiet ceremony in your garden, with your permission of course, and El Presidente officiating.”
He looked first at Graciela, then at her mother, and back to the girl. “Couldn’t we do that, no fuss, no feathers, no band, just a marriage?”
Ardently Graciela translated for her mother. “Couldn’t we,” she ended in a plea, “be married here in the garden by El Presidente? Jaime says it is an American custom to have simple weddings, and we should consider his wishes.”
“I have heard of these simple American weddings,” Lolita replied, all scorn. “Three minutes to be married and not much longer to be divorced. I have but one daughter, and I want her to have a wedding to remember all her life with pride. If you,” she turned to Jim, “are sincere in your wishes to live here, you will respect our traditions.”
“What can I say to that?’ Jim grinned at me. “Everything seems to be turning out all right. I’ll go along with anything except a three-day fiesta.”
“You’re in capable hands,” I told him. “You get back to the hospital and don’t worry about a thing.”
With Jim in proud possession, I bade them goodnight. Lolita’s bow was formal as to a mistress, and I was troubled, for we should be friends.
That night may not have been the exact moment when the idea began fermenting in my mind, but the germ of it was there when I awoke the next morning, refreshed from the first sound sleep in a week.
I told Amporo to get breakfast for the children while I went to market. It was so early that, save for an occasional maid sweeping the sidewalk, only the rag pickers were on the streets, eager to get first chance at the storm’s debris. Overhead the sun moved in a washed sky, and the breeze was light and warm.
In the market a few customers were about, cooks who had risen early and a few energetic housewives. I found Roberto alone at his stall, arranging a pyramid of oranges. After my compliment on his design, he selected a few limes, a small papaya, and a kilo of bananas for me. All the while I kept the conversation on one theme, that of the friendly, helpful church people who made me feel so at home in Mexico.
“Si,” Roberto beamed, holding the bananas for my inspection. “The Church makes us one indeed.” Graciously he inquired if my little protege and her mother were ready for membership, though of late he had been saddened because of their absence at the Sunday service.
He would soon be happy, I told him. Lolita and her daughter would probably be at the service next Sunday. “Graciela and the young doctor – to be,” I said as if it were an afterthought, “are to be married.”
“No me digos!” Roberto pushed over the pyramid of oranges in his excitement. “Esas son de veras buenos nuevos!” Over the tumbled fruit he leaned, his face close to mine, exclaiming, “When will wedding be?”
By now Jorgina, his wife, who presided over a nearby stall of fruit, rushed over to hear the news.
Absentmindedly I pushed the oranges towards Jorgina, who stacked them with expert brown fingers. “It presents a little problem,” I mused, eyes on the oranges. “It is the wish of the doctor to have a simple ceremony at my home with only the immediate families present. The doctor would find it difficult to provide for the Mexican wedding with the feast and the bridal finery. He also likes quiet weddings.” I rolled the last orange into Jorgina’s hand.
“It would be a pity to deprive their friends of the pleasure of the wedding,” Roberto said, signaling the curious Jorgina to attend to a customer. “La Senora Lolita, what are her wishes?” He leaned close to my ear.
“Oh,” I said, lowering my voice to meet his whisper, “you know women, Don Roberto.”
Signifying with a humorous smile that he did, he led me aside, the papaya display shielding us from the customers. “Ay, senora,” he sighed with an elaborate wink, “I do indeed know women. But in this instance it is my opinion that la Senora Lolita has good reason.”
“With that I agree.” I set down my basket, heavy with fruit. “Yet you must look at the young doctor’s side. He feels that any money spent must go to fix up the old house at San Angel, since Lolita insists that they live there, and he insists that the place is not a fit habitation for them. This,” I whispered discreetly, “is for your ears alone, Don Roberto. For a time it looked as if the San Angel house would prevent the marriage.”
“Que lastima!” He wiped his hands on his stained apron. I could see the idea growing in him. Proudly he raised his head and smoothed his black mustache with a confident hand. “If you would be so good as to give me a little time I think a way can be found to meet Lolita’s wishes and, at the same time, satisfy the good doctor.”
“You amaze me,” I said in admiration, “but I leave it in your hands.”
With a lordly gesture he lifted my basket and summoned a market boy to carry it.
“The marriage is to be very soon,” I confided, holding a finger on the basket to detain the boy. “Whatever you do must be quickly executed.”
“You spoke this morning of the co-operation of the brothers and sisters in the Church. Perhaps you will see something new.” He put out his hand.
“Remember you may call on me for anything that is practical for me to do.” I shook his hand and signaled the boy to go.
“For a little of the material things, Senora, we may call on you, but the work we will do entirely.”
Less than three weeks’ time passed before the wedding, preceded, a few nights before, by the baptism of the two women. The marriage ceremony, at Lolita’s request, was held in the garden of the old San Angel home.
After a few preliminary skirmishes with Roberto, I was not consulted. “You are to be surprised,” he told me mysteriously. “I am working with the missionaries.”
The Relief Society women were directly responsible for the feast. My assignment was the wedding cake. It took Amporo and me a full day to buy, beg, and borrow the proper pans to make the big three-tiered cake – and all my raisins and nuts. Amporo dressed the miniature bride and groom and placed them under the silver bell I loaned for the occasion.
Oddly I felt a little left out. Jim telephoned me only once. “I’m getting the afternoon off to spend with my future mother-in-law.”
“To do what?” I was mystified.
“To observe an old Spanish custom.” He took delight in teasing me.
“I hope you’re not going to do anything foolish.”
After all, the wedding was only the beginning. The future should not be mortgaged for it.
“We’re spending our money in the mercado – the one you frequent – so judge for yourself.” and I had to be satisfied with that evasive answer.
Graciela came once for dinner. All she would tell me was that the Relief Society women were helping her mother make the wedding dress, rather wedding dresses, for Lolita was to have one.
I don’t like mysteries and there was a dark spot in my mind that said Lolita still resented me. She had not even told me of her interview with Miguel Munoz, whose early return was heralded in the dailies.
Late afternoon of the wedding day, John and I dressed in our best suits, and with the Senora de Vargas as our guest, rode to San Angel. The twins were with Esperanza, who had a tooth extracted earlier in the day and was in no mood for a fiesta that would last late into the night.
On this day of autumn the rain came early, staying only long enough to polish the shrubbery and splash the pavement clean. Overhead was an opalescent sky and the air was cool and sweet. We were in a gay mood as we rode past Obregon’s monument and the suburban villas onto the rough streets of the old part of San Angel.
John’s hand had no sooner found the bell, than the gate in the high wall swung open, and the happy confusion of the party spilled out to meet us. The laughter of a hundred people was mingled with the strum of guitars and the higher notes of the marimba.
Before I got past the entrance, Amporo, wearing a new pink dress, her hair oiled and coiled, and her feet uneasy in high heels, pulled at my arm. “Come quickly, Senora,” she trilled, “it is almost time for the ceremony, but Roberto says you are to see it first.”
With no time for a “con permisso,” I followed her through the shaded hallway into the main house where the newlyweds would live. “See!” She opened the heavy door with a flourish. “Es marvelleso, no?”
It was indeed marvelous. The long room with the windows overlooking the gallery and garden had been made into a living room. New boards replaced the rotted wood and over its newly painted surface was a collection of bright serapes from Pueblo. A combined bookcase and table, so new that I could still smell the fresh wood, was decorated with multi-hued flowers.
“Jorge, the carpenter, made it for a wedding gift, but the other things are from the Mormones,” Amporo told me, awed at the generosity.
The room had two comfortable chairs made of cowhide and a number of cane-bottomed chairs, bright with paint. I recognized the other piece of furniture. It was a couch Senora de Vargas and I had found in her attic. The cover was one of native sheets of heavy muslin, which Amporo had dyed and embroidered with vivid flowers.
“There is time for only a glimpse,” Amporo reminded me, dancing with excitement. “You must see the wonders of the kitchen.”
In my heart I had sympathized with Jim. It was an impossibility to live in this kitchen, so little changed from colonial times. The brick stove needed the attention of two stokers, and the cavernous sink, with its trickle of cold water was high enough to break a woman’s back. I thought of the dirty cob-webbed walls, the lack of cupboards.
When Amporo swung open the planked door I saw a high-ceilinged room freshly whitewashed, the high windows sparkling and framed by freehand drawings of fruit and flowers. The ancient brick ovens were covered by a dark blue cloth and brightened by a basket of golden mangos.
When my eyes had taken in this splendor, I saw something that was akin to a miracle, a shining table top, enameled electric range, so new that it sang. In the States at this wartime, a new electric range was as unobtainable as the moon. Here in Mexico it was the possession of the rich. When I stopped to examine the flower-splayed card tied to the oven handle, I saw “Congratulations” written in the firm hand of Miguel Munoz!
“Look!” Amporo threw open a closet door to show me an electric water heater, dazzling in its newness. “Also the gift of the Senor.”
Surprise was hardly the word for my reactions. I had not thought him capable of sportsmanship in the grand manner. After this I could think pleasant thoughts of the Senor.
“But the wiring? The house needed to be wired for the stove?”
“It was another of the Mormones, a man who is an electrician who came with his helper and put all new wires in the house. Now,” Amporo was brisk, “there is but time to see the bathroom and the bedroom of Lolita.”
The bathroom I looked at only long enough to see that some modern fixtures with a banker’s card had been installed, and the broken tile repaired. Lolita’s room was a simple one, far from the street wall, and had a dressing table concocted by Jorge, the carpenter, and a long chest that must have been in the old house. I took time to sit on the bed. The mattress was new, one made of innersprings.
“El Doctor himself gave the bed to Lolita,” Amporo explained, her fingers tracing the design in the blue and white spread.
So Lolita had her soft bed.
From the kitchen we hurried to the gallery to see the wedding feast. The late afternoon sun shone through the poplars against the convent wall and threw a light around the bell in the tower. Golden shafts slanted across the garden, freshly trimmed and weeded, and rested upon the deep green of the pomegranates. The rays filtered through the Poinsettia trees and over the Burmese honeysuckle that separated Ramon’s rows of beans from the garden. On the lawn, still shaggy from neglect, were the lovely red day lilies, open these last days of the rain.
Last of all, the westering rays lighted the wedding feast that lay like a vast mural against the green background of the garden. There were stacks of tortillas, warm in blue and green napkins; terra cotta trays piled with dark green chili rellanos; braziers holding steaming pots of frijoles, fragrant with hot sauce and oregano; a copper cauldron filled with carnitas; dishes of chicken mole brimming with dark sauce; deep pans of cabrito el horno, and bright dishes of sharp-tasting guacamole; colorful baskets spilling with the fruits of Mexico – mangoes, golden ripe, papaya ready for their baths of lime juice, sticks of freshly cut pineapple, slices of the pink mammea, and rosy strawberries, small and fragrant.
In the very center was the wedding cake on a bank of flowers, and scattered about were the lacy baskets of sweet rolls and the glazed pastilles. In the background were the gayly designed pitchers, full to the brim with limonade, and the exotic drink of mango juice. So colorful was the feast that it seemed a desecration to touch it.
Against the flaming bougainvillaea and blue plumbago that shaded the south gallery, the wedding guests waited in the shimmering light, ready for the feast that would begin as soon as El Presidente pronounced the words – and the bride kissed within an inch of her life. I saw among the expectant group the bright blouses and shirts of the country people, splashes of accent for the dark garb of the city guests. To one side, half lost in the green shade, were a group of young persons dressed in green and white with sequin trimmings. They carried silver-trimmed sombreros and crimson serapes for the graceful jarabe tapatio to come later in the evening.
In the far background against the plum trees were the musicians, shepherded by the proud Roberto, their instruments hushed but themselves poised for the signal that would start the festivity. All of a sudden, a wave of something that was more than exhilaration possessed me. It was a disembodied elation that seemed to lift and hold me above the garden with its riot of color and emotion. This, my heart said, is home. Tonight you will be happy with your people.
My husband’s beckoning eye, Amporo’s quick tug, made me realize that the ceremony waited for my presence beside Lolita. My feet quickened on the damp grass, and I saw El Presidente, benevolent and towering in his black broadcloth and snowy linen, urging me forward. Waiting outside in a bower of autumn flowers stood Jim and Graciela. Jim was smiling and confident in his white jacket, but it was Graciela, petite and radiant, who drew all eyes.
Jim’s almost imperceptible wink brought my gaze to the bridal dress. It was a simple one, white, and fashioned after the native style, with a long swirling skirt and full blouse, embroidered in bright bands of cross-stitch. On the girl’s slender feet were thonged sandals, and her blue-black hair was brushed into a shining pompadour in which she wore a single red camellia.
Jim’s eyes took me from the bride to her mother. Lolita stood to one side, her graying hair coiled at her neck, her black eyes wet with happy tears. Like Graciela’s, her dress material had been purchased by Jim in the market and made with the loving hands of the Church women. It was deep blue, with a full skirt and embroidered in red and green flowers. On her arm she carried a long white scarf with a band of intricately woven flowers. Later, when the evening wind blew cold from the snow-topped mountains, she would place it on her child’s shoulders.
Quickly I advanced towards Lolita, my hand outstretched. Would she greet me with a courteous bend of her head and a respectful “Senora,” or would her eyes look straight into mine? So near was I that the hem of my tailored suit touched the crisp folds of her blue gown; yet I did not know the answer. But, as our hands touched, her fingers were firm in mine, and she raised her eyes. With a warm smile, her hands pressed tightly over mine, and she said, “Bien venida, mi Hermana.”