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El Retrace

Every Sunday the men would gather on the back porch of Uncle Evan’s house known as El Retrace [patio]. They would take in the sun against an adobe wall as they spoke of starting the spring plowing. About three o’clock more men gathered with musical instruments and did a bit of jamming. The conversation would be if the good old days were better.  As a youngster I loved hearing their conversations.

The weather was always discussed, and all would agree it had been colder this year than last. The older folk, who saw much of the world in their youth, and who saw better times than these, were always present with their words of wisdom. And the afternoon would be off to a darn good beginning.

As a young child, I remember my tio [uncle] saying, “I would not dare be disobedient to my father or grandfather much less to my mother.” “You taught your kids right.” “Your kids are always polite and well mannered.”

They would look at me listening and pretending I was this quiet mouse. They didn’t know I was taking mental notes about their conversations.

Good manners meant everything to old folks. Mi tio would comment that the day was coming when manners would be gone and the spirit of the old ones would be gone. I didn’t understand this at all but I continued to listen and watch every move the adults made.

The neighbor boy came by with a dozen fish he had caught in the Pecos River and stopped long enough to show them off. Mi tio would make a statement about how the river emptied into the Rio Grande, which at some point in history had quenched the thirst of Pancho Villa.  Don Elias would comment that in the Bible another river, the Nile, had been one of the most powerful rivers that had also produced powerful armies that later ruled that part of the world. I didn’t have a clue about either river except that the Pecos River was part of our playground and a swimming hole existed past the Valencia’s house.

“Anda, toca una canción, y deja de hablar tanto.” Upon hearing this, my uncle would take his mandolin and the music portion would begin. The fiddle player was not in tune, and my uncle would bring the music to a halt and say, “Look at the playful kitten, how calmly he chews the fly’s buzzing misery.” It was his way of telling him he needed to tune up, and so five minutes would be spent doing that. “Anda dame sol, give me the E string, compa." The music would resume and all appeared to be in sync. A bottle of white port wine would be passed around and each took a swig between songs or even between movements of the songs.

Don Jose would come out of the house and roll a cigarette and would join in the reminiscences of their times. He would be asked to recite something, and then he would sing it at the top of his lungs:

“Cuando muera no me llores porque lagrimas no quiero Ni tampoco quiero Flores.”  When I die I don’t want any tears and I don’t want any flowers.”

All would clap and ask him, "Well, what is it you want?” He would pretend he was throwing a kiss and say,

“Solamente un beso en mis labios y en mi frente.” [Only a kiss on the lips and forehead]

That would set the tone for more entertainment as they teased him about being a lady’s man.

¡Que mentiras! Anda canta una Buena canción. [What lies! Come sing a song.]

He would smoke another cigarette and ask that some respect be shown to him while he blew the smoke into midair. By now evening had come, and the sun had gone down. Men resembled a chain of shadows all bound by links of bright light. They loved each other like family.  I learned that the Hispanic or raza lives twice: once when he passes through the present, and the next time when he remembers it. Sundays were fun and real and I had seen the reality of today only because conversation and song still echo the same messages today.