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El Indio Calabaza

Story of "El Indio Calabaza" and how a young boy remembers more than twenty years of annual visits when El Indio left Jemez for the Pecos Mountains.

There was nothing to fear, for this Indian Man was so gentle, so kind, and old.  One summer night, when we were getting ready for bed, the man would knock softly on the door and come in.  He would tell us of his long walk from Jemez and ask to sleep on the kitchen floor.  If my mother had prepared some food, El Indio would eat as he told us of his journey to the mountains above our house.

He was called El Indio de Calabaza.  Every summer, he made his trip from Jemez to the Pecos Mountains when the moon was full.  He was a dark little man with thick lips, his eyes glinting and all the family watching as he stepped into the pool of moonlight.  His voice was soft, his manner slow.  He smelled faintly of sweat and wore a red or blue bandanna on his forehead.  His hair was braided and tied with a piece of brown cord.

Every summer was the same.  El Indio never said what his journey was about, but the story in the village was that he came for cleansing.  Some believed he was looking for lost treasure.  Once, the neighborhood boys tried to follow him up the mountain, but he vanished before them.  At the end of seven days he would return to our house and sleep over, leaving the next morning.  My brothers and sisters and I would all receive a fossil from him and a story about how it might have been formed.

Every summer the stories varied and, the fossils got smaller and smaller.  El Indio would comment that our eyes held pride that we must not lose.  He would take a small pouch from his satchel and hand my father a coin.  My father would nail the coin above the kitchen doorframe.  According to the row of coins, El Indio had been coming for 20 summers.

“Thank him,” my mother would always say.  All would take turns thanking him and looking at him as a long mysterious journey.  Just what did El Indio do on the mountain?  Why the mystery?  The man would tighten his arms across his chest and wink at us.  He would say nothing, my mother would say nothing, and then he was gone.

Sometimes, dark pools of wonder and fear and questions lingered with us for several days after his departure.  Mother would pass her hand over our backs ensuring us that all was well.  The coin would be added to the other twenty coins on the door, forgotten until the next summer.  The fossils would be placed on the porch to look at and perhaps remember.  Mother burning sugar on the kitchen stove would erase the man’s sweaty smell.

Silence seemed to dominate the house for a few hours after El Indio de Calabaza left.  Perhaps part of the treasure he searched for had been found, after all.  He gave us the gift of silence.  And silence is golden, que no?