GHOST STORY?

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

The call floated to Annie while she worked in her garden one June day. But what was
it? She was used to people walking the street shouting out the different items they
had for sale. She could buy charcoal, ladders, tables, chairs, umbrellas, potatoes,
flowers, tarps, milk, tamales, even casserole dishes. But this didn’t sound like any of
those. The cry came again, from somewhere along the top of the hill.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Annie stopped her weeding and sat still, trying to calm her heartbeat. The little boy
next door had dashed into his house, screaming for his mother. Apparantly he had never
heard this call before either. Annie understood the boy’s reaction. Usually she could
guess at the words being shouted out, but this was not really a word. It sounded more
like the type of noise a ghost might make. Loud and long on the first syllable, soft
and short for the second, and with a drawn out third syllable that lingered sadly in
the air. It was definitely out of place on a sunny summer afternoon. Annie imagined a
lonely wandering spirit, searching for something lost long ago.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Whoever or whatever was calling was now coming downhill on Annie’s street. She wanted
to see it, but she simply could not make herself get up and go to the gate. She had a
good view of a section of the street through her neighbor’s yard. That would be close
enough, just in case. Laughing nervously at herself, Annie sat quietly in the grass and
waited.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Suddenly there he was: a small old man carrying a rolled up reed mat on his left
shoulder.The heavy mat was about six feet long and would be nearly that wide when flat.
A petate…..pEH tAH tEH, of course. Annie laughed again at her overactive imagination.
Nothing to fear from a petate salesman. She went back to her work, wondering how far
the man had walked that day and if he would be able to sell his petate. They had once
been used in nearly every home as sleeping mats, as protection from the rain when in
the fields, even as roofing material. Smaller ones were good for padding the backs of
mules or donkeys when they were being ridden or were carrying loads. But now the fat
reeds used were quickly disappearing, and so were the craftsmen who knew how to stitch
the reeds together. People these days thought owning a petate was old-fashioned, even
embarrassing. Annie slept on one herself and her back had never felt better, but she
did not know anyone else in the town who had one.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

“It sounded just like that and I was actually spooked until I saw the old man.” Annie
was telling her husband about the afternoon. “Where do you suppose he came from? Do you
think he was able to sell the petate? It wouldn’t hurt for us to get a new one…..I
wish I had thought of that while he was still around! Do you think he’ll ever come back
this way?”
Emiliano never knew for sure how to answer these strings of questions Annie threw at
him, but this time it was easy. “I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
Annie laughed. “I’m sorry. I did it again, didn’t I?”
“Yes. You do have a habit of asking questions that I cannot answer. But I think I can
find out something about him next week. I want to ride the bike out towards San V. That
is where I found the petate we have now. I can ask around, maybe this old man is the
same one I bought from. But tell me again….how did it sound? It might help me track
him down.”
Annie saw the twinkle in Emiliano’s eye. “I don’t think you need to know that to find
the old man, but since I like saying it anyway, here goes:”

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Life being the way it is, Emiliano was not able to ride his bike to San V until nearly
two months later, and he returned with a sad story.
“It turns out that the old man you saw WAS the one who sold me the petate. But they
say he is dead now.”
“Dead? But…but…what happened?”
“I don’t know. There was a man standing in the plaza and I described our friend to
him and said I hoped to buy another petate. But he said that the old man had died and
that there was only one petate maker left in the village. He told me how to find him,
and I went to visit, hoping that maybe the man in the plaza was not thinking of the
same old man. But this other petate maker was younger, and the mat he showed me was not
as carefully made as the one from our man. So I thanked him for his time, said that
I might come back some other day, and I came home. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”
Annie did not struggle against her tears. In a way she knew it was silly to cry over
an old man she had never met; a man she had seen only that one time and then just for a
moment while he walked down the hill. But she had never forgotten the haunting call
that had made her picture a ghost looking for something lost. The old man had lived
long enough to see his craft unappreciated, his traditions forgotten, his world changed
forever. He had become the sad lonely ghost of Annie’s imagination. So how could Annie
stop herself from crying over all the endings this one man’s passing represented?
Emiliano did not say a word. He simply held her close and let her cry.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Annie was on a ladder pruning the old rose tree when she heard the call. She froze and
and listened intently. Had that really been the petate man? How could that be? Emiliano
had been told a year ago that the old man had died! Could there be another man selling
petates? But if so, he would not have the same tones in his call. Every vendor walking
the streets had a different way to advertise his goods: if six people were selling the
same item, each one would have a slightly different delivery. Annie regularly bought
tamales from a father and son team, and she could always tell which of the two was
coming up the hill because the son only shouted, but the father could have been onstage
singing an aria. Yet this call, faint as it had been, had sounded exactly like the man
who was supposed to be dead.
Annie waited but no other call came. She must have heard some kids playing or a yell
from a party far away, or even Emiliano playing a trick on her. Nope, she told herself
as she started to snip roses again, no way could it have been…..

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Louder!! And closer!! Annie dropped her pruning shears, stumbled down from the ladder
and hurried into the house to find Emiliano with his earphones on, deep in his computer
world and surprised to see her so agitated.
“You didn’t hear it?” Annie could only whisper.
“Hear what?”
“The petate man’s ghost is walking the street!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard the call….twice! And the second time it was closer! He’s coming this way!”
Annie turned and was outside before Emiliano could unplug himself from the computer.
When he got out onto the patio, she was standing against the brick wall overlooking the
street, staring downhill, tension showing in every muscle. Emiliano went over to stand
quietly beside her, not sure what to do, but wanting to be nearby.
Five minutes passed with no unusual sounds. Annie relaxed a little, leaning against
Emiliano’s shoulder, thinking once again that she had been mistaken.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

Down the hill and to the left, about half a block from the corner where their street
met the main road through town. Annie held her breath. Ghost or man, they would see him
in just a few minutes. She clutched Emiliano’s hand.
“Is this really happening or are we dreaming?”
“This is Mexico, Annie. Anything can happen here.”
Annie was silent, staring down the hill, waiting to see what would turn the corner. If
it had been November, she might have not been bothered by the idea of a ghost. On The
Day Of The Dead, all the ancestors returned to their former homes to pay a friendly
visit. But this was June, a wonderful summer morning, and here she was waiting to see a
ghost! She gripped Emiliano’s hand even harder.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

“Look, look!! There he is! But is he real? Is he a man or a spirit? How can we tell?”
The vision turned up the hill. A small old man dressed in dark work clothes, with a
rolled up petate on his head. He began the long climb, steadying the reed mat with both
hands.
“Do you think he will fade away before he gets up this far?”
“Pay close attention now so you can decide if this is the same man you saw last year.
Then if he does disappear, at least we will know for certain who it was.”
“I only saw him from the back that day. If you want to go tell him to turn around, be
my guest. But I think it would be rude to talk to a ghost that way.”
“But wouldn’t it be just as rude to ask a real man to turn around? Why should you be
more worried about being polite to a spirit?”
“Do you really have to ask such a question? Remember all the ghost stories that you
said your grandfather told you? Of course you have to be extra polite to a ghost or
they will haunt you forever!”
Emiliano could not keep from laughing at the bizarre conversation they were having. At
first Annie looked at him with daggers in her eyes, then she began to giggle. But
before she could say anything else, the call came once again.

EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!! EH ~~~ AH ~~~ EH!!

All the dogs in the neighborhood began to bark. The little black dog right next door,
being the closest to the source of the cry, was practically screaming she was so mad.
Or afraid….Annie was not sure which.
He was closer now. They could see his old huaraches, his wrinkled brown face, and gaps
from missing teeth when he suddenly smiled at them both. Emiliano leaned over the wall
with a big smile in return.
“Good afternoon, my friend! Where are you coming from?”
“Oh, I have been to the pueblo of San M….there was a fiesta there today!”
“Good! But you are from San V, aren’t you?”
“Yes, of course. You have been there yourself, you know.”
“Yes, I have. And weren’t you the man who sold me a petate once?”
“Yes, of course!”
Annie couldn’t stand it anymore. Rude or not, she had to know. “But last year they
told my husband that you were dead! You…..you aren’t dead…..are you?”
“Well, no. I am fairly sure that I am not dead. What do you think?” He slid the petate
from his head to the street, stretched his right arm up to offer a handshake and
laughed when Annie took his warm hand with a cry of joy.
“I am now also fairly sure you are not dead. I am so happy to know that! And….and I
would like to buy this petate!”
Emiliano invited the old man (whose name turned out to be Antonio) into the house
for some cool lemonade while Annie got the money for the petate. He told Antonio all
about his visit to San V and the news he had received there.
“Yes, I know the man you are talking about. He is a big liar. But he is dead now.” He
laughed when he saw the surprise on Emiliano’s face. “Of course, I am only joking, my
friend.”
Annie came in then with the money so Emiliano decided not to say anything. But he had
seen a spark in Antonio’s eye that made him wonder what would happen when this tough
old man got back to San V and found the big liar.
They said their good-byes with more handshakes all around; and while watching Antonio
walk lightly back down the street, Annie began to cry.
“Our friend the petate men is alive and well, Annie…..no need for tears.”
“These are happy tears…..because he is alive and well.”
Emiliano did not say another word. He just held Annie close and let her cry.

Copyright Debbie Zapata ~~ July 6,2014

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TEOTIHUACAN

Any journey is as important as its destination. But since my first trek home from the
hospital after I was born, I have been a horrid passenger. If I am not driving I need
to be asleep or else concentrating furiously on something besides all the swirling
butterflies in my tummy. So our August journey started like all the others: an early
morning walk to the bus station in time to catch the first bus out of town; catnaps and
eyes-closed pondering (Hotel? Rain? Food? Souvenirs for Mother?) until the moment when
Marco finally said “We’re here!”

“Here” was a drop-off point right outside one of the entrance gates to the ancient
complex we had come to visit. We asked about a hotel and followed the ring road as
directed. There had been rain in the night. The road was wet, the large trees screening
the complex on our left were still dripping, mist rose around us as the sun flexed its
muscles. We quickly reached the street leading to the town where we had been told we
could find a brand new hotel. I looked off to the left now that there were no more big
trees in the way.

AND THERE THEY WERE!! The Pyramid Of The Sun and The Pyramid Of The Moon. My eyes tried
to say “Mountains” but my brain said “Nope, man-made”. My heart said “Feel their age,
their power even from here”. And my soul said “I am home”. All within a split second.
From that moment I was under the spell of Teotihuacan. The enchantment only increased
after we registered at the hotel, flung our packs into the room and hurried back to the
entrance gate to buy our day tickets and begin our trip through time.

We had promised ourselves no museums on the first day of this first visit. We wanted to
absorb where we were: for our senses to feel, not for our brains to think. As we walked
across the grand plazas and along the ancient streets, we seemed to have one foot in
the present and the other in a dim but lively past. Were we really here for the first
time…..or were we returning at last to a place we left thousands of years ago?

I was hypnotized by the Temple Of Quetzatcoatl and thrilled by the welcoming dance of a
group of butterflies at the top of The Pyramid Of The Sun. But the very instant I took
my first step into the Plaza Of The Moon, I was electrified by the true energy source
of Teotihuacan. The perfectly balanced plaza vibrates with power, and The Pyramid Of
The Moon seemed to breathe beneath my feet as I climbed the steep steps.

From the top of the lower level, as high as the public was allowed to go, I could see
the entire magnificent city stretching into the distance. There was a sacrifice in
progress on the altar in the plaza below, with a small crowd watching silently. Priests
chanted as they climbed the Pyramid Of The Sun. Merchants shouted their wares in the
market corners. Builders worked on various palaces, while small boys practiced their
jaguar calls, sometimes sounding more like choking ducks than fierce jungle cats.

Then my vision shifted back to the present. The victims on the altar became teenagers
clowning for their cameras. Chanting priests became laughing tourists, merchants turned
back into souvenir vendors. The builders were workmen arranging a screen around a new
dig site. And the small boys? Well, small boys are the same no matter what era they
live in: these were practicing with their new clay whistles and discovering that the
call of the jaguar is not as easy to reproduce as the vendors make it seem.

I came down from the Pyramid Of The Moon feeling the presence of The Old Ones around
me, escorting us through the crowds of people from all over the world. Did these other
tourists feel what Marco and I felt? Teotihuacan is a powerful place. Surely we were
not the only ones touched to the core by its magic. I do know we were lucky enough to
have two more days to explore; and we had no guides rushing us madly through any of our
experiences. We would visit the museums, walk about the grounds, climb the Pyramids
again, sit listening to whispers from antiquity, feel the caress of ancient winds on
our faces. And we would promise The Old Ones that we would return sooner next time.
August 22, 2014

THE 2014 AQUAMARATHON

Three years ago the original idea for the AQuaMarathon was to give some swim students
a final exam. Members of the AQuality group would swim the eight hours of the event in
relay teams, while instructor Marco Antonio Zapata would swim non-stop the entire time.

This was planned as a private event, just for the members of AQuality. But in asking
permission to use their training pool for longer than the normal one hour allotment
time, the organizers were told they had to allow other students and swimmers to enter
also or there would be no AQuaMarathon.

Rather than disappoint his students, who were excited about the whole idea, Marco
agreed to conditions and the first AQuaMarathon was held in July 2012. Everyone had
fun and I could hardly talk by the end of the event because of cheering so much. Other
instructors and students noticed how well the young swimmers of AQuality moved in the
water even after only a few months of lessons.

Perhaps the jealousies arising after this event contributed to the difficulties the
AQuality group encountered the following year. Marco was an independent instructor, not
on staff at the pool. He insisted on courtesy, respect for others, discipline, and the
mastering of basic strokes before moving on to a new phase. He taught proper techniques
in order to help his students feel like a part of the water, not to simply go out and
splash around in a struggle to get from one end of the pool to the other.

After months of dealing with immature behavior by pool staff and management, AQuality
found a new home. Team members were able to swim in pools both indoors and out, gaining
valuable experience for these different conditions. Students also learned how to focus
in what can only be called a rude pool, with no lane dividers and no enforced rules for
other swimmers. Travel time became a problem for some, who had to give up their sport.
But the second AQuaMarathon was held in July 2013 and those students who were able to
participate had fun and demonstrated their ability to overcome obstacles.

Life being what it is, there were more changes in 2014 for AQuality. Distance and
economics finally defeated even the warrior swimmers, and when the time came for this
year’s AQuaMarathon, there were no students to take the final exam. So Marco sent an
invitation, asking everyone to do something special on the chosen day, July 26. Then he
and I went to a hotel for a weekend getaway and Marco swam laps in the pool for 8 hours
non-stop, using all four strokes: freestyle, butterfly, breast, and back.

And me? I watched, took pictures and videos, played solitaire (a LOT of solitaire) and
wondered what has happened to common sense in this world. Because if I were going to
get into a pool, ANY pool, and saw someone consistently doing laps in one section of
the water, common sense and courtesy would keep me out of that person’s way and in my
own area of the pool. Yet time and again on that day, other swimmers risked injury
by allowing themselves or their toys to drift into Marco’s path. Since we had known
this would be part of the challenge for the day, Marco was alert and changed the timing
of his strokes when necessary to avoid collisions.

I was a nervous wreck by the end of the eight hours, but Marco was happy with his time
in the water and probably could have gone on swimming until the pool closed six hours
later. That might be our goal next year, depending on what happens with AQuality in the
meantime. We are looking for a new home…..and I need a new deck of cards.
Debbie Zapata ~~ August 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

Soul Energy

I continued to have nightmares, always the same. I asked why…why…why? I needed to understand what was happening. Months later my parents Reyna and Jose decided to reveal the secret of the dream to me.

They told me how my birth on July 26, 1956 brought happiness and joy but also the headaches associated with people born under the zodiac sign of Leo. Only 20 days had passed when that prophecy began to work.

In those days many families still followed the tradition of quarantine for new mothers as part of the recovery process. My mother was allowed only to feed me; her three sisters and her mother Vicenta were in charge of all my other daily needs.

For some reason my mother argued with her two younger sisters one day and her anger must have affected her milk because after I nursed I became ill. Grandma Vicenta wanted to treat me with traditional cures that she knew, saying that I probably had a tummy ache. But my mother would not allow this and asked her to bring Doctor Apis who had attended my birth. So Grandma Vicenta went to the doctor’s office but did not find him.

On her way back she passed a different doctor’s office and explained the situation to him. He came to the house with her but diagnosed me incorrectly; plus his nurse applied the saline solution badly and I began to swell up, becoming seriously ill.

Grandma Vicenta demanded that the doctor fix his error but he responded that it was not his responsibility and the only thing to be done was to take me to a church to be baptized before I died.

When my father arrived home from work he took my mother’s older sister, her husband and me to the parish church but help was denied them. They took me from church to church with the same inhumane results. Finally we were sent to another town where we were received at last but during the baptism I expelled a big glob of green slime and went limp. The priest told my new godparents that I was dead and that they would need to go to a doctor for a death certificate.

Through their tears, they found their way to the office of Doctor Apis, who became very angry and at first refused to do the examination for the death certificate. But finally he agreed and placed me on a table to begin the process. Then he noticed something that made him send my father out for certain medications and oxygen, telling him to hurry.
He placed me in something like an incubator and after some hours passed, I returned to life. Doctor Apis told my father “Now I am more Marco Antonio’s father than you.”

Papa explains about the people I see in my dream: the man in the white coat is Doctor Apis, and he is talking with my father and my godparents. The baby I see in the cradle is me.

Two years after that night, Doctor Apis died in a car accident when he tried to avoid running over a dog. He was a person of high quality, offering support to the community with his knowledge, and was especially helpful to those people with very few resources. May he rest in peace.

A GRAND ROMANCE

Laverda stood on the sidewalk in front of The Grand Hotel, wrapping her courage around
her shoulders like a shawl.

I can do this…I can DO this….I CAN do this….

Her words were silent now, but during the long walk from her house, she had whispered
them in time to her steps, trying to march rather than simply walk. Soldiers marched
into battle and they were brave; she would be a soldier today!

I CAN DO THIS!!

And she pushed through the revolving door into the lobby, marched across the polished
marble floor directly to the registration desk and looked the clerk straight in the
eye.

“I would like to see the manager, please.” Laverda was happy with the way her voice
behaved when she spoke. No nervous squeaks or false starts this morning!

The clerk was known as The Guard Dog. He never let anyone see the manager unless he
knew the reason for their visit, and sometimes not even then. But he did always try to
be polite, so he looked back at Laverda with a gentle smile on his face.

“And why would a little girl like you need to see the manager?”

For some reason,these words roused the actual soldier in Laverda. She surprised herself
and the clerk with her answer.

“I may not be very tall, but I am hardly a ‘little girl’. And my business is with the
manager, not with you. Please be kind enough to call him.”

The Guard Dog did not know whether to bark or to laugh. He looked into Laverda’s angry
black eyes and decided that maybe just this once the manager could deal with A Problem
on his own.

“Please wait one moment, madam.”

He went to tap gently on a door marked OFFICE, disappeared for a few minutes, then
returned to his post behind the desk.

“If you will have a seat, the manager will be right with you, young lady.”

“Thank you.”

Laverda settled on the edge of a large leather chair. She was not nervous at all
anymore: the little skirmish with the clerk had relaxed her. For once she felt as
though she actually could do what she had dreamed of for so long: get a job, one that
would allow her to help with expenses at home on the farm. Times were hard. Jobs were
scarce, even for a high school graduate. Very few of her friends from the Class of 1919
had found work.

To keep her mind busy while she waited, Laverda looked curiously around the lobby of
the hotel, which she had never entered before today. There were more oversized chairs
and a few small sofas, most with reading lamps and coffee tables nearby. A beauty salon
in one corner, a cigar shop and newsstand in another.

To the left of the main entrance and directly across the lobby from Laverda’s chair was
the doorway to The Grand Cafe, the hotel’s popular coffee shop and another place
Laverda had never been. She made a quick decision: no matter what happened during her
interview with the hotel manager, she would treat herself to a ham sandwich and a
lemonade before the long walk back home. She had twenty-five cents in her coin purse;
even in a fancy place like The Grand Cafe, that would surely be more than enough money!

Just as her tummy began to gurgle at the thought of a sandwich, the manager appeared
beside Laverda’s chair.

“Very sorry to keep you waiting, Miss. How may I help you today?”

Laverda took a deep breath and stood up. This was it, the moment she had been waiting
for!

“I understand that you need a new daytime switchboard operator. I am here for the job.”

The manager supressed his urge to laugh out loud at the nerve of this tiny young lady
staring up at him so intently. He himself had just been informed yesterday that the
current operator was moving out of town, yet here was his first applicant for the
position! Well, times were hard, people rushed to any rumor of work. Why should this
girl be any different?

“I see. But what about your schooling? Wouldn’t a job interfere with your classes?”

Laverda sighed. Sometimes she truly wished to be taller! But she had prepared herself
carefully for this day and nothing was going to stop her. She reached into her purse
and produced her high school diploma, offering it to the manager with a smile.

“I can start tomorrow.”

This time the manager did laugh out loud. And he said the words that would mark the
beginning of a new era for Laverda.

“Fine. You’re hired. Come to the office; we’ll fill out some paperwork. And if you
really can start tomorrow, you can spend the morning with Louisa learning the board,
then be on your own by the afternoon. How does that sound?”

She wanted to jump up and down, sing for joy, run home and share the news! But Laverda
simply smiled.

“That sounds perfect.”

They took care of the paperwork in the office, then the manager took Laverda to the
cubbyhole room that held the switchboard and introduced her to Louisa, who welcomed her
with a hug and a whispered “Congratulations, Cousin!”.

After explaining the plan for the following day the manager left the two women alone,
supposedly to get acquainted, but once the door closed they embraced again and fell
into a fit of relieved giggles.

“I knew you could do it, Laverda! I just knew it!”

“Oh, Louisa I was so nervous! And then that desk clerk made me so mad! I wanted to
slap him!”

This idea caused another giggle fit but finally they got themselves under control. Then
Laverda’s tummy made a hungry grumble and she told her cousin about her decision to eat
in The Grand Cafe before returning home.

“Good idea! The food’s delicious and if you sit at the counter instead of a booth
you’ll be able to watch the cook!”

“And why would I want to do that?”

“Well why else, silly…because he’s tall, dark and handsome!”

“Oh, my stars, Louisa…I won’t have time for romance! I have a job now!”

“Just go sit at the counter and enjoy yourself, dear!” Louisa gave her cousin a gentle
push out the cubbyhole door, then watched her cross the lobby and enter the cafe.
“Okay, Ben, it’s your turn now!” she whispered as she sat down and began making
connections on the glowing switchboard.

Inside the cafe Laverda climbed onto a stool at the counter and tried not to look as
nervous as she suddenly felt. Cousin Louisa had been talking about this newest
short-order cook for weeks; ever since the day he first arrived at the hotel “in the
middle of a raining cats and dogs thunderstorm, dripping wet and laughing about
stepping on every poodle in the street”.

The idea that anyone could be so cheerful under such conditions had intrigued Laverda.
Whenever Louisa had stopped by the house, chattering away about everything under the
sun as usual, Laverda had listened closely for any scraps of news about the cook. But
even though she had decided that he was indeed a very interesting person, she never
thought she might one day have a chance to see him herself.

She peeked a time or two through the large order window, where she could see part of a
huge stove and the usual clutter of a busy kitchen, but there was no sign of any tall,
dark and handsome cook.

Laverda accepted the menu card offered by a waitress, using it only to check prices.
She needed to be sure she could afford the brunch her tummy was demanding.

“I’ll have the five cent ham sandwich,lemonade, and a slice of apple pie, please.” The
sandwich would surely be small, but Laverda didn’t want to spend more than ten cents,
even on a celebration meal. She was too careful with her money according to Cousin
Louisa, but she simply did not like the idea of an empty coin purse and always tried
to keep some change available.

The waitress fastened the page with Laverda’s order onto a revolving wheel and clapped
her hand down on a small silver desk bell. “Ordering, Ben!! Give me one Covered Piglet,
a Johnny Appleseed, and smash a few lemons!!”

Laverda laughed at this description of her meal. She was still giggling when the cook
suddenly appeared in the order window.

Oh my stars, Louisa was right, he IS handsome! That was her first thought. Her second
thought was Oh my stars, he’s looking at me! And her third was Oh my stars, he just
winked at me!!

With that wink Laverda lost the poise she had maintained all morning. Her face felt
warm, and she desperately wanted to look somewhere besides into the cook’s brown eyes,
but she simply couldn’t turn away.

Then he smiled, and the already friendly face became a spotlight of joy. Laverda’s
heart did a somersault. Oh my stars!

A waitress rang the silver bell. “Ordering, Ben!! Give me a Naked Turtle On A Cloud!!”
The cook winked at Laverda once more, then turned to prepare his orders, leaving
Laverda with time to puzzle over what had just happened. And something HAD happened,
she was certain of that. If the waitress had not rung that bell and asked for whatever
a Naked Turtle On A Cloud was, Laverda would surely still be looking into the cook’s…
Ben’s, she allowed herself to think…into Ben’s sparkling eyes!

She watched Ben moving gracefully around the kitchen. He was tall but not clumsy like
her brother. She could hear him whistling a little tune that made Laverda tap her toes
and wish for a dance floor. Then before she was quite prepared, Ben turned again and
put an enormous ham sandwich on the shelf of the order window. He slapped the bell,
called out “Order up….one Covered Piglet and a Johhny Appleseed!” And there was that
smile with another wink too!

The waitress placed Laverda’s sandwich on the counter but surely there was some
mistake…this couldn’t be her small five cent sandwich?!

“Excuse me, but is this really just a Piglet? It’s huge!”

The waitress gave Laverda her smashed lemons and laughed. “I don’t make the meals,
dearie, I just dish them out! If Ben says that is a Piglet, then it’s a Piglet! Enjoy
your food, sweetie.”

The bell rang again. “Order up…one Naked Turtle On A Cloud!” The waitress turned to
the order window and Laverda caught a glimpse of the Naked Turtle: some kind of fruit
salad on a heap of whipped cream, apparantly.

One more peek at the order window, but Ben was not there so Laverda picked up half of
her Piglet and began to eat.There was a spicy flavor that she couldn’t identify, yet
definitely this was the best ham sandwich she had ever tasted. She ate the half, but
knew she would not have room for the rest; not if she wanted the apple pie too. She
sipped her lemonade and wondered what to do.

“Is there something wrong with the Piglet, miss?”

Oh, my stars! There was Ben sitting on the stool next to her! She glanced quickly to
the order window and saw a different cook there, a grumpy looking tubby fellow.

“Was the seasoned mayonnaise too spicy for you? I might have put too many chilis into
it this time.”

Somehow Ben’s concern for his creation relaxed Laverda. “Seasoned mayonnaise! So that
was the special flavor?! No, it was not too spicy, it was delicious! I just was not
expecting such an adult Piglet. I’m afraid I’m nearly full already, but I still want my
Johnny Appleseed so I thought I’d rest a bit first.”

Ben laughed with her and they began to chat, the business of the cafe whirling noisily
but unnoticed around them. She told him about her new job; he told her about his plans
to become a bus driver for the city. She told him about her family on the small farm on
the edge of town; he told her he had been wandering the country since leaving school
one day at age fourteen. She told him about racing through the meadows on her little
black pony; he told her about competing in Golden Gloves boxing tournaments.

She told him about her dream to someday have her own little house in the city; he told
her he had the same dream but was waiting for the right girl to come along. And when he
smiled at her, Laverda felt herself blushing again. Oh, my stars!

Eventually they both realized that the rest of the Piglet had somehow been eaten, and
the waitress had been by more than once to try to shoo them away. Ben would not let
Laverda pay her tab: he fished a dime out of his pocket and left it on the counter,
then offered to walk Laverda home, promising to walk slowly since his legs were so much
longer than hers.

“I may not be very tall, but I am hardly a slow walker, Ben. I will easily be able to
keep up with you! As a matter of fact, I might even need to walk slower just for you!”

Ben’s rich laugh filled the hotel lobby as they left together. In the cubbyhole of the
switchboard room, Cousin Louisa heard the sound and smiled. “I knew you could do it,
Ben! I just knew it!” And she continued making connections on the glowing
switchboard.

 

Copyright Debbie Zapata OCTOBER 12,2011

 

 

MIGRATION ~~ PART ONE

Migration is part of life for many creatures. All those herds on the move in Africa,
following the rains. Birds that fly halfway around the world to keep warm in winter and
cool in summer. Butterflies migrate. So do many people, even though our migrations are
not triggered by instinct but by necessity or desire. We pack up our lives to further
our careers, to look for work in a new area, to retire in a place we once visited and
enjoyed, to be closer to (or farther away from) family, or simply to give our lives a
kickstart in a new direction.

In countries such as the United States, all of this is fairly easy to do. I have had
four major moves so far in my life, but the only traumatic one was the first, when I
was eleven years old and thought I would surely die if I had to leave the only town I
had ever known. We not only left the town, we left the entire state. And I survived,
even though I resented the whole situation for years.

But a pre-teen’s nerves and temper tantrums are nothing compared to what some people
experience during a migration. Now I am not thinking of the people who have moving men
come to the old house to load belongings in a big van and meet them at the new house.
This type of migration can be stressful, but is easy to get through. I am thinking of
the men and women who face death by staying where they are, and risk death by leaving.
They attempt to cross deserts, oceans, and international borders in hopes of gaining
what so many of us take for granted: a fair chance at a decent life.

The majority of the people who make these desperate journeys are honest, trustworthy,
hardworking souls who have chosen the only way they can think of to try to improve the
quality of their lives. When your back is against the wall and your own government has
nothing to offer, what choice do you have? The most basic desire in life is survival.
If that is not possible in your own country you will go wherever you need to go, do
whatever you need to do to get your back as far away from that wall as possible.

Naturally there are also people who do have opportunities in their own countries but
will not take advantage of them, choosing instead to search for soft living. They think
The Good Life will be handed to them on a silver platter once they show up on the
opposite side of a border fence, so they take the same risks migrating as our majority,
but with very different attitudes. They do not want to give, they merely want to take.
Sometimes it seems that they have become the majority after all, but I try to believe
that most people who decide to leave their own countries deserve at least the chance to
succeed, and I salute their spirit.

Of course the final phase in the migrations I am writing about, that of crossing an
international border, is illegal when attempted with no permission papers, and not all
people who try will have these papers. If they make it across, they will live in
constant fear of discovery. If they do not make it across, they will have to decide
once again on a direction for their lives. Stay along the border and try again someday?
Stay along the border but give up the dream of crossing? Return home to press their
backs against that wall and try to hold out as long as possible before giving up on
life? What would YOU do if you were in their shoes?

This is a complex subject that a few paragraphs cannot cover adequately so I will come
back to it in future posts. But in the meantime, I do not think any of these people
should be treated like criminals or looked down upon by those of us who were lucky
enough to have been born with more options in life. I admire the courage of anyone who
dares to take that first step on a dangerous journey. At least they are taking action,
and not simply sitting around waiting for Something To Happen.

copyright Debbie Zapata ~~ July 22, 2014

PUPPY TALES

I ~~ PERRO CHIN

His true name was Smart One. Knowing this, he cringed every time the people of the
house used their name for him. Perro Chin: Dirty Dog, Pig Dog. Because of one little
accident on the first day they brought him here. Would they never let him forget that?
Was there no way at all to tell them the name his mother had given him? He had tried,
but they had yelled at him to be quiet so he merely cried himself to sleep every
night by repeating Smart One, Smart One, Smart One until his own sad little whimpers
changed into his mother’s sweet voice and he was once again snuggled up close to her
warm belly in a pile of his brothers and sisters, not alone in the dark chained under
a tree.

He was not meant to be alone. He desperately wanted to belong somewhere but he knew
that this place was not the right one for him, no matter how excited he became when
the young boy ran and laughed with him. That did not happen as much now as it had
when he himself was smaller, a roly poly little fuzzball struggling to keep up with
The Boy. Now he was ten months old and lean,like a sharp-faced coyote with collie-tip
ears. He preferred to slink rather than run with joy. He felt safer that way. He had
forgotten what joy felt like. It had been replaced with hunger, thirst, fear and
sadness.

The worst was when the big man would come to his tree. Smart One always flattened
himself to the ground, muscles tensed for whatever might happen. Sometimes the man
gave him a small bowl of slop, other times he simply beat him. If Smart One was lucky
the man would unclip the chain from his rope collar and walk away. When that happened
Smart One would stay very still until the man was out of sight, then creep quietly to
a gap in the fence and run like the wind through the streets. He would find the other
dogs of the neighborhood and play with them, learning valuable lessons about how to
behave in Polite Society.

But always the moment came when his companions would return to their houses, to their
duties, to their people. Smart One was never certain what to do then. He did not want
to return to his house. He had duties, but even when he barked in the night, warning
the people that SOMEONE WAS WALKING PAST THE HOUSE, they yelled at him to be quiet. So
what was the point? And he did not feel about his people the way the other dogs
seemed to feel about theirs. He knew his people did not really care if he was
there or not. Except for the little boy. Whenever he was out loose, Smart One could
hear him calling….Perro Chin!! Perro Chin!! Where are you, Perro Chin?! And Smart
One would sigh, try to convince his heart that it was wrong,that nothing would change.
But his heart simply said The Boy. So Smart One would return to his lonely home. The
Boy would fuss over him for a few minutes, then the man or the woman would grab him
by the scruff of the neck, drag him to his tree and refasten the chain to his rope
collar. And there he would stay until the next time the man released him.

Smart One remembered all of these things the night he could not get back into the
yard. He had heard The Boy calling as usual, but he had also heard the man yelling, so
the young dog decided to wait before heading home. And when he did return, his secret
gap in the fence was blocked. He ran to the gate. It was securely closed and he was too
big now to squeeze through the space underneath. He rushed back to the fence to double
check the gap, then sat down to think about what he should do next.

Bark? No, the people never paid attention when he barked. Dig under the gate? No, the
ground was too hard. Curl up and sleep here in the street until morning? He could do
that, but why? Clearly they did not want him anymore. His heart whispered frantically
The Boy!! The Boy!! But this time Smart One silenced his heart with one simple word….
FREEDOM!!

For the first time in months he had a feeling of hope. He could be free from the cruel
man, free from the woman with her broom, free of the heavy chain. He could find a new
home, one where the people treated him the way he knew he deserved to be treated. Or
better yet, he could find the Street Dogs and join their group. They did not belong to
any people, they were responsible for themselves. It could be a hard life but Smart One
decided it would be better than any life involving people.

Then his heart asked What About The Lady? Ah, The Lady. Smart One looked up the hill
towards The House On The Other Side Of The Fence. There was a Lady in there who
understood him. Whenever she was outside, she talked to him, usually without words. He
would have given up on life long ago if not for her. But she was not outside now. And
Smart One did not think she would let him live with her. She was too involved with her
plants. She would not want a dog in her yard. No, she might have fed him tortillas when
he had told her he was hungry, and she might have clucked to him and laughed with him
when he let himself be silly for her, but she would not want him to live with her. She
was an angel, not an owner. But he would remember her forever.

His decision was made. Smart One stood up, stretched himself forwards and backwards,
lifted his nose to see if he could smell anything that might tell him which way to go
on the first step of his new life. And then he set off down the hill, tail wagging,head
high, and a grin on his coyote face. When he got to the corner he yipped a joyous Good
Bye to his street and never looked back.

II ~~ STREET DOGS

The night work is done: food has been scavenged, water has been discovered and lapped
up, perhaps another generation of Street Dogs has been created. Some nights there are
changes in the social order, with arguments between one or more dogs who are ready to
attempt a step up on the ladder of Polite Society. But there were no grudge matches
last night and with the first hint of daylight, the Street Dogs made their way to The
Field, ready for their morning ritual.

Story Tell began in the early days of the Street Dogs, but no one remembers exactly
when or even why. It has become a healing time of bonding, of reminding each other that
they have much in common, even when it seems otherwise.Each dog tells his or her story,
taking as many mornings to do so as they need. Story Tellers are listened to with
respect and attention. Even the most shy dogs soon get over their nerves and are able
to relax while sharing the sometimes painful details of their lives, knowing there are
sympathetic ears taking in every word.

But Story Tell does not have to be serious. If all the current dogs in the group have
shared their tales, anyone is allowed to speak. Some save a funny story for such days,
others are able to take the previous night’s adventures and turn them into hilarious
entertainment. Still others have such a talent for sharing their histories that the
dogs will request a favorite chapter from their lives, such as The Day I Caught The
Cat, told to perfection by Hunter.

Three months ago when Smart One was accepted as a new member of the Street Dogs, he
was surprised by what he heard in Story Tell. He had never realized that most of the
Street Dogs used to live with people who were even more cold and uncaring than his own.
Even though he was shy about speaking, when his turn came he discovered that he was
able to recreate events and emotions easily. Now Smart One was one of the most popular
Story Tellers in the pack and this morning the other dogs were asking him to speak. He
thought for a moment as his friends settled in, then began his Story for the day.

I have told you many tales of my life with people. You have heard how I was left alone
for a week, chained under a tree with a little dirty water and no food. I have told you
about the Lady On The Other Side Of The Fence. How she gave me tortillas that week and
kept me alive, how she used to talk to me and laugh with me. But I have never told you
about The Day The Lady Threw The Turkey.
My people kept pigs, chickens, and turkeys. The two pigs were in pens and never
got out but the chickens and turkeys ran around loose a lot of the time. They had a
small shed to sleep in but it was so stinky I could smell it from my tree. I was never
surprised that they preferred the freedom of the yard. I used to watch them when they
were out. They are such funny creatures, always scratching in the dirt and eating bugs.
Once the turkeys ate all of the green plants lined up near their shelter. The people
got mad about that and locked them up for a long time afterwards.
The next time I saw the turkeys out, there were little ones with them. These were even
more fun to watch. They ran every which way, swirling around the mama turkey like a
cloud. They peeped a lot and would seem very excited about everything they saw. I was
fascinated by them.
There was a wire fence that separated my people’s land from The Lady’s. One day the
little turkeys discovered they could get through the openings in this fence, and they
went over there a lot because there was plenty of green grass, not like the dirt on our
side. Well naturally The Lady did not want those turkeys in her yard. Whenever she
would hear the louder peeps that meant one or more had slipped over, she would come out
and chase them back through the fence. I think maybe she also watched for me to tell
her when a turkey had crossed because I used to stare at them on the other side and
wonder what it would be like to be there myself. Every time I did this, she would come running
out of her house and shoo the them away.
One day she got mad after an especially fat little baby insisted on going over to her
place even after she chased him back. The mama turkey was upset, calling to the baby,
making it run around even more and The Lady was trying to catch it, saying “You do NOT
belong here!!” She finally scooped up the turkey in both hands and flung it over the
fence all in one smooth move. I don’t know if she did it on purpose but The Lady threw
that chubby turkey right to me!! I had stretched my chain as far as I could to get a
good view of the excitement. Suddenly all I could see was a fuzzy baby turkey getting
closer and closer. I could not help myself….I snapped it up before it hit the ground
and I swallowed it. Then I smiled at The Lady and asked Could we do that again?
She laughed with me, but then she went back into her house so I curled up to have a
nap after my snack. I kept a close eye on the turkeys for days after that but I never
got to play catch again because mine was the last little turkey that ever dared to go
through the fence.

The Street Dogs all chuckled, imagining what it must have been like to catch a turkey
in mid-air. Many of them dreamed of juicy young turkeys that morning. And Smart One
wondered for a moment, just for a moment as he was falling asleep, what The Lady was
doing right then.

III ~~ Leona And The Lady

At the very minute that Smart One and his companions were dropping off to sleep, The
Lady was outside in her garden, planning her workday. Should she trim the roses that
day? Or work on those stubborn weeds along the back wall? Or maybe simply sit in the
sun for a few minutes and let the garden tell her what it needed the most? She liked
that idea, and promptly sat on the steps, settling into the peace of the morning and
looking around.

She tried not to feel too proud of herself when she saw the difference between the
neighbor’s yard and her own, because she understood that some people liked to create
while others destroyed. But she always felt a little smug comparing the green grass
and neatly tended plants on her side of the fence to the chaos of weeds and dirt on
the other side.

While she was indulging herself in this ego boost, she realized that something was
missing. The Lady had gotten used to greeting Perro Chin anytime she was outside, and
even now, months after he had run away at last, she felt lonely when she noticed the
empty space around the tree he had been chained to most of the time.

But just three weeks ago, a new puppy had appeared, a fat little golden creature full
of life and demanding attention. Shouts of Fea, Feona mixed with the young boy’s
giggles, and The Lady had hoped that Feona would have a better life than Perro Chin’s.
But very quickly the shouts and giggles stopped and the puppy was left to herself. She
had not appreciated this at all. She would waddle along the fence when The Lady was
nearby, so obviously lonely that The Lady often stopped her work to reach her fingers
through the fence and scratch the puppy under the chin. Deliriously happy at this small
touch of affection, Feona would close her eyes, roll over onto her back, and sigh with
pleasure as The Lady whispered “I will call you Leona, little one….you are much more
like a lioness than an ogre!”

Since that time Leona and The Lady had visited every morning, starting their days off
on a happy note. But now, Leona was not in sight. The Lady thought for a minute, then
remembered what had happened the night before. The neighbors had driven away early in
the afternoon, apparantly for a weekend trip. Leona was left all alone but at first she
had not seemed to notice. She had slept, then roamed around exploring as much of the
yard as she could scramble over.

Than she must have gotten hungry because she sat down and began to howl. She was still
a small puppy but she had a very loud voice and knew how to use it. Pretty soon every
person that went up or down the hill past her gate would look over to see what torture
the poor dog was enduring. When they saw nothing but a lonely puppy, they continued on
their way, but one girl and her brother stopped, calling to Leona not to be scared.

This was all the encouragement Leona needed. She bounded over to the gate, wriggled
through the small gap underneath and proceeded to tell the two children her story. They
were both delighted and concerned. Now what were they supposed to do? They had only
meant to comfort the puppy, nothing more. The brother picked her up and plopped her
back into the yard, then he and his sister began to run up the hill. But Leona slipped
under the gate again and followed them, determined to catch up and telling them so.
This time the girl picked her up and put her back in the yard, but more than a little
reluctantly after Leona showered her face with puppy kisses.

The Lady was outside all this time but finished her chores and went in as the girl
started to run up the hill again. So she did not see Leona escape one last time. And
she did not see the girl scoop up the puppy, look at her brother with a shrug of her
shoulders and say “She has chosen us, we have to take her!”

So now this morning, when The Lady realized that Leona was missing, she remembered the
two children and decided that Leona had either followed them and got lost or followed
them and got adopted into a new family that hopefully would appreciate her special
personality. And as she stood up to start her work day, The Lady made a wish that the
neighbors would give up on dogs and stick to turkeys.

Copyright Debbie Zapata ~~ June 30,2014