Monday, February 25, 2013

A Good Samaritan

This morning I went out to shovel the snow from my driveway and sidewalk.  It snowed all day yesterday, off and on, and I had no idea how much snow had accumulated.  Aside from two-foot drifts formed on my front porch there seemed to be about a foot of snow!  It's as if I stood in a winter wonderland. On the side of my roof, there is an over hang of layered snow.  Reminded me of the sand dunes!

The front yard gave the impression of being a large, white field of a sparkling white carpet. Not a track disturbed the beautiful yard. I felt as if I was all alone on a snow covered island!

Then, I picked up the snow shovel and realized that the snow was heavy and over a foot deep. To do a path from the front door to the sidewalk took over half and hour of back bending agony! I remembered the saying of "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao-Tzu I knew it would take most of the day to clear my driveway.

The neighbor across the street came out and started the noisy snow blower. He did his yard, his neighbor's yard and his whole side of the street while I slowly shoveled a narrow path. Then, he crossed the street and continued on my side of the street. He did my walk and my driveway. The noise did not bother me at all!

In less than twenty minutes he had the snow removed from my driveway. All I could say was thank you to him and thank you to God for sending the good Samaritan!

Santo Nino de Atocha

Certain countries have their own special saint or blessed person.  Mexico has Our Lady of Guadalupe, Peru has St. Martin de Porres, Italy has St. Francis of Assisi, Spain has St. James, Ireland has St. Patrick, Germany has St. Boniface and so on.

My grandmother had many saints on top of a tall dresser and she prayed to all of them! In working on my genealogy I found out that my father's family always prayed to El Santo Nino de Atocha.  An eighty-three year old cousin told me that each one of the sisters in my grandmother's family was given a large statue of El Santo Nino.  She asked me if I knew what had happened to my grandmother's statue. I told her I did not know and let her know I had no idea my family was devoted to El Santo Nino de Atocha.  She told me that each sister, Adelita, Monserrate, and Guadalupe, were given a statue of El Santo Nino. Each generation passed the statue to the next. She had the one given to her grandmother and she would pass it on to her daughter. She believed that the statues were considered antiques!

I knew about El Santo Nino de Atocha because I would hear my mother mention his name.  And then when I took tours to Chimayo in New Mexico I saw the small chapel called the Santo Nino de Atocha capilla  I would walk into the old church and the wooden floors would creak, the statue of El Nino was on the main altar, and there were many baby shoes surrounding the statue. It is believed that at night the Child Jesus goes out and performs miracles and he wears out his shoes and people come and leave extra shoes for him on the altar! I found out that during the time when the Moors fought in Spain, many Spanish Catholics were put in prison.  For whatever reason, no one could visit the prisoners except children twelve and under. The children would take food and drink to family members in jail but those prisoners that had no family were destined to die in prison.  Then, a young boy began showing up with food and drink for all the prisoners.

Santo Nino de Atocha
Before long, the families began to suspect that it was the Christ child that was delivering food and drink to the unfortunate prisoners.  They gave thanks to the Christ child who was believed to come from the city of Atocha in Spain.  Before long, El Santo Nino de Atocha was prayed to for assistance with problems.  Miracles took place and the Santo became famous throughout Spain.  When the conquistadores came to Mexico, they brought a statue of El Nino and the original statue is in Plateros, Mexico. As the Spaniards moved north from Mexico, the devotion also came north and ended up in New Mexico.

He is usually shown with a plumed brimmed hat, cloak or cape, staff with a gourd, spikes of wheat, a bread basket and sandals. My cousin, Simona Mora Baca, from Sacramento, California, sent me a small statue so I could continue the tradition of our family being devotees of El Santo Nino de Atocha. The only thing is that my statue seems to have a basket full of grapes instead of bread!

Jesus, under the title of Santo Nino de Atocha, 
nourished the prisoners with his bread. 
May we continue to sustain ourselves through the power 
of his presence in the Eucharist.

"The bread that I will give, is my flesh for the
life of the world" (John VI, 52)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It Was Meant to Be

 Do you believe in love at first sight?
Or do I need to walk past you again?
Jane Seabrook

The girl was outside playing catch with neighborhood children.  She was thin and tall.  They stopped playing to watch a wooden wagon, being pulled by two dark horses, approach.  The girl continued looking after the wagon passed and kept thinking how the young man holding the reins was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  He wore a black turtle neck sweater, had a pipe in his mouth, his wavy hair was neatly combed  and when he looked toward her she could see his eyes were a greenish-grey color.

"Come on," the children yelled, "what are you staring at?"  The girl turned and entered the house. She yelled over her shoulder, "I'm not playing anymore, I am too old for silly games!"  The children returned to their game and the girl began to dream. Her dream had different versions but they always ended with a secret wish of someday marrying the handsome man she had seen!

Years went by and  her family moved to another farm.  This was her life for as long as she could remember. Her older brother would find a farm to work and she and her two sisters would help work the farm. They planted, hoed weeds, thinned beets, pulled onions, and put potatoes into gunny sacks.  It was hard work but it was all they knew since none had gone on to school after completing the third grade.

Unbeknownst to her, the farm about three miles away had another family.  On that farm, there lived a young man who supported his mother and sister. On his errands, he had seen a slender woman with dark brown hair.  He would see her hanging clothes on the line or walking along the gravel road. Secretly, he fell in love but knew there was no way anything could develop because he had too many responsibilities.  From afar he also had dreams and if they included the beautiful neighbor, he knew it was just a dream. His mother asked him once, "Why are you looking out the window toward that farm?" He replied with a shrug, "I'm just looking outside to see if it will rain."

One day as he returned home from work, his mother casually said, "You know those neighbors to the east of us?  They moved today." He felt his heart plummet into a painful place. His mother noticed him at the window, staring out with a sad expression on his face, and knew he was not looking to see if it would rain.

The young woman was excited to be moving to a new farm. She looked around the empty rooms and on a whim decided to write her new address on a piece of paper and left it on the window sill of the empty bedroom.

The young man, also on a whim, decided to enter the empty house that his beloved had left.  He wandered through the hollow sounding rooms. The rooms had been her home but now she was gone forever. He opened the door and as the wind blew in, it lifted the piece of paper on the sill and he watched as the paper floated down to the floor. He picked the paper up and a smile formed on his lips. He now knew where she had gone!

Before long, he began going near the girl's farm. Sometimes he caught glimpses of her and one day he found her near the mailbox. He spoke to her.  When she looked up he saw that her eyes were a deep, chocolate brown. They opened wide as she saw him and for the first time they spoke. He did not know that she knew him already from her many dreams. They made plans to see each other at a dance in the small town of Greeley.

As fate would have it, he drank shots of whiskey to get his nerve up to be able to ask her to dance, but never asked her. He could see her dancing with other fellows.  He felt jealous, yet his fear kept him from asking her to dance. What if she rejected him? He drank some more and then the dance was over.  As the crowd all left the hall, he felt a shove on his shoulder. He turned to see her smiling at him.  Then the crowd separated them. Could she be interested, he wondered? Why else would she shove him?  Had he imagined her shove?

It took a few more months before they were able to dance together.  They dated off and on for over a year but he kept telling her he could never be married because he had a mother and sister to support. He told her he was too old for her.  She made it clear that the ten years difference did not matter and she could learn to live with his mother and sister. Finally, on June 29, 1936, they married.
Ramona & Silvio's Wedding with Jim and Cora Aragon as Padrinos

I have always loved this story that my mother told me about meeting my father.  It was as if it was meant to be.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Superstitions or Not?

All around the world, 
people believe that there is conflict between good and evil. 
Well, it's true there is conflict, 
but it only exists in the human mind. 
Don Miguel Ruiz

After seeing the movie, Bless Me, Ultima at a local theater, stories my Mother told me came to mind.  The adobe house with a tin roof made me remember that my mother told me she grew up in an adobe house with a tin roof. Among the tales she told me about witches, are the three below.

Once there were two elderly sisters living at the edge of the village.  Every Friday, neighbors could see them outdoors hanging clothes on the line.  Everyone believed doing laundry on Friday was wrong. Christ was crucified on a Friday and doing work on that day was next to sacrilegious. All the neighbors could do was make the sign of the cross when they saw the clothes flapping in the breeze. When one sister died, the remaining sister continued hanging her clothes out every Friday.  Years went by and then she also died. The house where they lived remained empty.  No one would go near it. Yet, every Friday, neighbors could see clothes on the line.  When some of the neighbors decided to go investigate, they found a dusty, empty house.  This proved to them that the sisters were witches and their spirit continued hanging the clothes outside. The neighbors got together and burned the house down hoping to destroy any part of the witches who had lived in the house.  Yet, every Friday, they could see clothes swinging on the line and the people would look away and make the sign of the cross!
When people approached an old lady who lived in the woods near their town, they would cross the street because they did not want to meet her face to face.  Everyone knew she was a witch.  It was said that she had animals in her house and that at night she would send them out to do evil deeds.  It had been reported that one large owl always flew into the house in the mornings. People began to suspect that the owl was the old lady, transforming herself at night. If anyone had an ailment or bad luck struck a family, the old lady was blamed. "Es la bruja," they would say. A man who had lost his wife knew it was the old lady that had caused his wife's death and one night he hid in the trees near the old lady's house.  He patiently waited. Early in the morning, when it was still dark,  he saw the large owl flying toward the old lady's house. He aimed and pulled the trigger. The sound of his gun and the screeching of the owl made such a terrifying noise that the frightened man ran away. He did not know if he had killed the owl but later that day the old lady walked to the village store with her  bandaged arm in a sling.

Never eat anything prepared by persons you think may be trying to do you harm.  In the village there lived a woman who was called upon to help neighbors in need. She was the curandera of the village. She was trusted more than the doctor in the town. A farmer did not believe in the curandera powers. He called it hogwash and phony.  One day the farmer's healthy son became ill.  He suffered from headaches, stomach aches and high fevers. He lost weight and soon he never left his bed.  A helpful young girl from the village brought him food to eat and would sit with him for hours. The father was impressed with the loyalty of the young girl. He knew that a healthy person could not fall ill overnight and knew someone had put a curse on his son. He suspected the curandera and began to examine the food being given to him by the young girl.  In a tortilla he found fingernails, ground up with the flour.  He found a small wad of hair wound around a bone in the soup. He confronted the young girl and she cried that she had fallen in love with his son but the son did not love her.  She told the father that if she could not have him, nobody would!  The father banished the young girl from his home and asked the curandera if she could reverse the evil curse on his son.  The curandera, seeing his anguish and pain, told him she would give him a potion that would cure his son. Slowly, the young man began to get well and the farmer became a believer in the power of the curandera.

I grew up hearing about "the evil eye," and many times when something bad happened the comment was always "le dio ojo."  If you see something that you like, like a cute baby, or thick braids, or a smile, it is best to touch whatever is giving you pleasure or you might give ojo. This was quite common in my household because I would hear members of my family say, Que miras, me vas a dar ojo!" (What are you looking at, you will give me the evil eye!) If someone got ill the suspicion was that someone gave the sick person ojo.

Are these beliefs superstitions or is there some truth to the tale of witchcraft? I do believe that curanderas were knowledgeable women with a gift passed down from generation to generation to heal persons by using  natural plants.  A cousin suspects that our great-grandmother may have been a curandera because she remembers hearing stories about how our great-grandmother wore a large skirt with many slips underneath the skirt. One of the slips had pockets and she carried roots and plants in the pockets. My cousin told me that her mother remembered seeing her grandmother raising her outer skirt and from the slip with the  pockets, she would take out a root to chew on if she felt ill! The mysteries of curanderas and witches will always be around as well as the fight between good and evil.

It is because good is always stronger than evil....
the smallest a bit of good 
can stand against all the powers of evil
in the world and it will emerge triumphant
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fear of Speaking in Front of a Group

The idea of getting in front of a large group to talk frightens me.  My heart pounds, my face gets flushed and my hands get cold and sweaty. I often see other speakers going on and on about anything and it does not seem to bother them.  I have tried to analyze the reason I have such an anxiety attack. People that have heard me speak say I look calm when I am speaking and do not see any signs of the fear in me. Could it be that I am a better actress than a speaker?

I blame my 5th grade class.  Mrs. McNutt's class had to give a report about some famous person.  I chose Christopher Columbus.  I remember going to the front of the class and I do not remember feeling afraid or anxious.
"I am going to tell you about Christopher Columbus.  He sailed the ocean with his three sheeps, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Columbus...." but I did not finish my report. The whole class was laughing.  Not a subtle laugh, but  loud chortling.  I felt so humiliated that I began to cry and  ran out of the room.  Mrs. McNutt came running after me. "What did I do?" I asked my teacher.  "You did nothing wrong and it sounded like it was going to be a good speech," she said. She encouraged me to return to the classroom but I was too distraught and upset so she allowed me to go home.

"Ya salistes de la escuela?" my mother asked as I walked in the front door.My mother always spoke Spanish to me.  When she saw my red face and eyes she said, "Que paso?" I repeated what had happened and she could not understand why the class had laughed.  When my father arrived, I told him the story and he said, "Sometimes kids can be mean, here sit down in the share and tell me again why you think the class laughed."

I didn't have a clue.  The next day I hated going to school.  Mrs. McNutt met me at the school entrance and said, "Look, I know it is difficult for you to distinguish words beginning with ch or sh.  Listen when I say Chips, ships, sheep, sheets; can you hear the difference? I nodded.  Yesterday, you just mispronounced the word ships and said sheeps and that made the class picture Columbus with three sheep.  I had to agree that it was funny.  When a classmate got up to speak, Mrs. McNutt warned the class about laughing out loud if someone didn't say a word right. From then on I practiced saying the sh and ch words and tried to correct my father.  My father spoke English but he never quite got the hang of the sh/ch sounds. He called potato chips, cheeps and chicken, cheeken. Whether my fear of speaking to large groups stems from that childhood experience, I do not know and probably will never know.

I have a Mexican friend who used the word shits for sheets.  My children laughed when they heard her mispronounce the sh word! I've noticed that most Hispanics have problems with those sh sounding words.

I believe I have conquered the English language though sometimes I know I mispronounce a word. Growing up in a two language home is difficult learning either language correctly. I do know that knowing Spanish helped me when I visited South America, Central America, Mexico and Spain. Working at the Hispanic office of the Archdiocese of Denver improved my Spanish and I now do not have any qualms about speaking either English or Spanish. Though I still do not like to speak in front of large groups!

Time Travel

The sense of smell can be
extraordinarily evocative, 
bringing back pictures as 
sharp as photographs of scenes
that had left the conscious mind.

Do you ever smell something or taste something that instantly takes you back to the past? There are a few things that return me to my childhood.  One is the taste of tomato juice.  I am three years old and at a nursery school, (now called pre-school).  My guess is that they would give us tomato juice though I do not remember drinking it. Not much is remembered, yet, I do remember that one day I walked to a grocery store with my teacher.  I felt so proud I had been picked to help the teacher. We walked, what I thought was a long way, to a Safeway and bought bananas. Later, as an adult, I returned to the nursery school and saw that the Safeway was about three houses from the nursery school. My Mother would tell the story that she would walk us to the nursery school so that we could learn to speak English. She always said, "I do not want my children to be like me and not know how to speak English." She would laugh as she recalled walking my brother and me to the school, dropping us off, walking home, and by then it was time to turn around and walk back to pick us up.

The taste of raspberries places me at about five years old.  Mr. Moffat, our neighbor, had raspberry bushes in his yard right next to our chain link fence.  Branches would be on our side of the fence and I liked to pick the raspberries and eat them.  Mr. Moffat had a grandson by the name of Allen and my brother and I would play with him. Allen gave me rides in a red wagon and I felt good riding up and down the block!
During my college years, I took a class on hypnotism and was asked to put my arm out, told I could not move my arm, then asked to lower my arm. I could not do it. When I came home I sat in a chair and relaxed.  I knew I was not asleep but I did "see" my body hovering above me. I could see me sitting in a red wagon while someone pulled the wagon.  My hair was blowing in the breeze and I was laughing.  It was a good hearty laugh without a care in the world. The laughter seemed to stem from happiness and began in my stomach, moved to my chest and burst out of my mouth. A peaceful feeling surrounded me.  Just then, a door slammed and I came out of my trance. I have tried to return to that peacefulness, that feeling of being suspended, but have never able to capture that wonderful feeling. I have often wondered if it was something left over from being hypnotized.

Ether is a smell that if I get a whiff of something that smells like ether, I am transported to a hospital room and my tonsils are to be taken out. I was probably around 12 years old and since I seemed to catch a lot of colds the doctor said it would be best to get my tonsils out.  I remember being in the operating room with a large, round, bright light above me.  My last thought before I went under was: God's will be done and if he wants to take me, I am ready. I remember eating Popsicles and soft foods. Warm milk with white bread soaked in the milk and sprinkled with salt was my favorite.  My mother catered to me to make me feel better. I notice that the smell of ether is strongest at carnivals, bazaars, or vendor setups where there are a lot of thick and heavy electrical wires. I  am glad I do not smell ether very often because it tends to upset my stomach.

The yeasty smell of homemade bread lets me picture my mother wearing an apron over her cotton floral dress. She is working with a large blob of dough kneading it over and over again.  I can see the pans of bread covered with a cloth and waiting for the dough to rise. When she puts the raised dough into the oven, the smell of bread baking is one that I will never forget!

Tortillas have a toasty type of smell and though this smell is not too popular in my neighborhood, I remember coming home to a steamy kitchen to find my mother with a pile of tortillas she had just prepared.  Add that smell to green chilies being toasted on top of the stove and I instantly recall my growing up days in Greeley, Colorado!

Strange how a taste or a smell can stir up so many memories of my past.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Almost Homemade Tortillas

When I think back to my childhood, I can picture my Mother bent over the table rolling out dough into perfect round circles.  The "thump, thump" of the rolling pin, the warm, steamy kitchen, and the delicious aromas of green chili, frying potatoes, or tortillas spot-toasting are memories I will never forget. I remember trying to help my Mother turn the tortillas and always seemed to burn my fingers.  She, on the other hand, could grab them and flip them over without getting burned.

I have attempted to make tortillas but either the dough is never the right mixture and if I happen to get the dough just right, when I roll the dough out I get odd shapes instead of a round tortilla. I truly believe that rolling out tortillas in an art accomplished by a few artists!

When I think about how many tortillas my Mother rolled out for every meal, I am amazed. For one meal she would have a stack of warm tortillas about a foot high.  We seldom used silverware because scooping up food with a tortilla made the food taste twice as good!

One day a friend and I were talking about food, a favorite subject of ours, and she mentioned she had found some uncooked tortillas at Costco.  She said, "I will never make tortillas again, because these Costco ones are just as good and all you have to do is cook them."  Today I went to Costco and found the package of forty-four in one of the coolers.  I then went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and purchased a griddle.  I hurried home and began my adventure of preparing the uncooked tortillas.

After washing the griddle, I set it on the stove.  Turning the dial to medium high I let the griddle warm up before placing a pre-rolled round tortilla on it.  The smell wafting in my kitchen was just like my Mother's kitchen.  The tortilla also looked like the tortillas my Mother would make. While still warm, I ate a tortilla and it passed the test. It tasted like a homemade tortilla and no hard work had been involved!

But, what am I going to do with 44 tortillas?  I froze most of them and left about 10 in my refrigerator to have whenever I decide I need a tortilla.  The ingredients are:  flour, canola oil, water, salt and sugar. This is good because they don't have a lot of preservatives. I suppose my Mother would shake her head at the idea of buying uncooked tortillas or maybe she would be tired of rolling them out herself and would also buy the Costco tortillas!*

*My friend told me she found packages of eight of the uncooked tortillas at King Soopers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Another Pilgrimage?

In the past, I planned pilgrimages to New Mexico. Usually it was one bus with 54 persons but sometimes it would be two buses. At the beginning I thought of planning the pilgrimages as "my job."  When I began to see how devoted pilgrims were, how peaceful they felt in the small chapel, how friendships were being made and how some persons returned year after year, I knew it was more than "a job."  I felt good when the pilgrims felt good. Someone said to me, "Thank you so much for bringing us to this holy place.  You are getting so many people closer to God with these trips." Suddenly, it no longer felt like a job but a path to help others follow their hearts toward holiness, become better persons, and show their love. When I saw how strangers became friends and how kind they treated each other, I knew the pilgrimages were something special.
I am always being asked if I will ever plan another pilgrimage to Chimayo.  Last week I received a call from a past traveler asking me if I would plan another trip.  A few days later, a lady told me she had heard I used to take persons to Chimayo and wondered if I would ever do another one.  Today, I was speaking with a couple who went on one of my pilgrimages and they wondered if I would be planning another trip soon. I began to wonder if God was working through them and giving me pokes to get me moving.

Last week I began figuring out where we would go, how long would the trip be, and how much would it cost. I could feel an excitement as I called places in Denver, San Luis, Taos, Chimayo and Santa Fe to plan a trip. Eight years have passed since the last pilgrimage and it was like starting all over. When I called hotels, transportation, points of interest, and restaurants I was pleased when a familiar person remembered me.  Hours of Internet use, e-mails and phone calls made me remember the amount of time needed to plan a trip.

Two of the hotels remembered me and were willing to give me good prices for our stay. Some of the restaurants had changed hands and/or  prices, making me wonder if the quality would still be the same.  The bus company no longer employed the lady I would talk with (she used to give me excellent prices) and I had to begin cultivating a new person. It seemed as if the local tours had raised their prices. I was happy to hear that the Cathedral in Santa Fe still had a free tour.

The Internet is such a marvelous tool to do research, look at photos, and get phone numbers. All in all I worked two and a half days in trying to prepare a a pilgrimage to Chimayo.
Picture on a post card.

Chimayo Dirt
For those that do not know about Chimayo, I will give two brief summaries:  A light was seen shining near the Santa Cruz river.  Bernardo Abeyta went to check out the light and found a crucifix buried in the ground. He took the crucifix to the parish church and placed it on the altar.  The next morning the crucifix was gone. The crucifix was found in the original place and again it was taken to the church.  Once again the crucifix came up missing and was found in its original place. A small chapel was built to house the crucifix since it did not want to be moved from the area. Before long, the dirt or sand in a hole became a "healing" dirt and miracles were attributed to it. 

Chimayo became a place for pilgrims to visit and many swear that after putting the dirt on their problem, they have been healed.  A priest once told my group, "It is just dirt.  It is not holy.  It is not blessed.  It is your faith in God that heals your ailments."

The other legend is that a priest from Guatemala came north with the first settlers and stopped in Chimayo. He carried a large crucifix as he preached in the different Indian pueblos. He was killed by the Indians and buried with his cross. In 1810 there was a flood and the priest and the crucifix were uncovered as the water receded. The crucifix became known as the Christ of Esquipulas because that is where the priest had lived. It hangs in the small chapel at Chimayo.

Which ever legend is true, or if there is another explanation, no one knows. I found it interesting that before the Spaniards arrived and in ancient  times, the Tewa Indians believed the dirt in the area had medicinal powers. The room next to where pilgrims gather the dirt is covered in religious cards, colorful statues, crutches, canes, photos, rosaries, ribbons and medals of miracles that have occurred. Chimayo has become a place where one can be spiritually renewed,  be physically and spiritually healed, problems can be lifted,  answers can enter your mind, your heart is filled with happiness,  one is filled with peace, and where miracles happen!
Staircase in Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe

Mysterious Painting in Taos
Ascension in San Luis, CO