I flew from Dallas to Mexico City four or five times a month when I was a stewardess with American Airlines. All I had to know how to say in Spanish was “coffee or tea? Blanket, pillow?” After flying for three years, I had to quit because I was getting married. Those were the days when you couldn’t fly if your hair was too long or you were married. Jim and I spent our honeymoon in Acapulco. The groom spoke enough Spanish to get by, so again, I didn’t have to speak Spanish.
For fourteen years I owned a business, Missouri Art and Crafts, in Columbia, Missouri. We renovated one of the oldest buildings in town, an old hardware store. A local Mexican restaurant owner asked me to decorate his restaurant, too. I told him I couldn’t do it unless I went to Mexico. I brought my daughter, Moni, to “translate” and we bought out Tlaquepaque, the wonderful marketplace in Guadalajara! We bought so much we had to rent a station wagon and drive back. That was when there was a peso devaluation and phone strike and I couldn’t contact my mother for ten days. It was an adventure.
Another Missouri Art & Crafts patron arranged for me to teach art during the summers at Camp Perry Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The sound of Soda Creek running below my cabin made my decision to move to the mountains complete.
We loved the winters for many years, but things change, as they do. When Jim’s Alzheimer’s became life changing, it was time to think warmth. Our friend said his mother-in-law had a place in Alamos that was empty. We looked it up on the map. They said don’t drive at night. Then on a dark, wet night in 1990, we drove the last fifty kilometers into Alamos with my youngest son, Randy. As he drove the last leg, he looked over and said to me, “Mother, you don’t know anything about where we’re going, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know anyone there and Dad’s not well.” I said, “Randy, it’s an adventure and he’ll love it!”
We got to the church square and no one was around, not a soul. At last we saw a person! “Donde Cleaverdon,” we asked. “Up the road, next right, ” he said. At the house Pancho opened the gates to a new way of life.
The next year we stayed at the Diaz house where Ramon was the gardener. Not speaking more than a word or two in the same language, Jim and Ramon would still carry on like old buddies putting on masks and laughing. On Saturday mornings Ramon would gather neighborhood kids and bring them to the house for a lesson in something—a basket, pressed flowers, paper-making, beading, who knows. I only had to know a few words; the kids taught me Spanish to go along with my demonstrations. I still have pictures of these kids. Once in awhile, mainly at tianguas on Sunday morning, I will recognize one, all grown up with kids of their own.
Every place you look in Alamos, there is something colorful. When the sun shines on the palm trees, they are silver against the blue sky. Bougainvillea climb over the walls. Yellow or orange cosmos the size of your hand are the colors that mean Mexico to me. I had pressed flowers before and made somewhat of a living creating flower art in Colorado, but this color expanded my source of inspiration. I taught a lot of classes in the colorful courtyards and portales of houses I rented over many years. I taught these classes, and again, my students taught me back. I learned so many little things, so much that I felt I was ready to share by writing a book about everything you’d ever want to know about pressing and what to do with the flowers after they are pressed.
Leno planted lettuce before I even got to winter at Doug’s casa on top of the hill, enough for the crew of workers next door and me to have salad all winter. Of all the wonderful settings for classes, the top of the hill was the best. The kitchen was right there and we always had tea and crumpets. One time just before the Barron’s Ball, we made masks; Joan Mellon made a wonderful one, which she wore to the ball carrying a dozen red roses as Miss America. Ernest lived down the road, also on top of the hill. He had a garden of flowers and at night he would go out and meditate and sing to them. These special flowers I then pressed. That year just added to the ideas and energy for the book. I sat at the big table with a thirty-mile southern view and wrote every day.
Year after year I rented fine houses until finally one day Emily told me about the casa they had for sale. Lupe opened the front door. “Nice,” I said. Then she opened the door to the courtyard. Another adventure started. My granddaughter, Siena, stayed with me for six weeks the next winter when she was six. She spoke about as much Spanish as her Maw, but she, with her smile and “buenas dias” opened new doors.
My Spanish lessons are ongoing. When I appear at the market at the beginning of a season, Jose still will see me coming, hold up an onion and say, “onion!” and I, in turn, will say, “cebolla!” our lesson for the day. Gloria also always has words for me. My neighbors on Rosales have been my best teachers. Feliciano tried his derndest, he with not a word of English—but we laughed a lot. His wife, Virginia’s, garden became my garden when their house went on the market. She transplanted all of her plants into my garden, telling me all of the names. She knitted me a yellow shawl and gave it to me before she left.
It’s not over until it’s over. I would like to know how to philosophize a bit but maybe I’d have too much to say. To my dear Mexican friends, I can only think to say, “no excuses, only muchas gracias and mucho amor.