“No” is my answer, but the question surprises me. Why do they assume I went there? Terlingua, while close to Mexico, is still not Mexico.
The last time I was asked that question I thought: I’m lying. I have so much from Mexico no one would believe it. But my Mexican treasures are in my heart and soul, not in my truck.
I have memories that begin early in 1981, when I first looked across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park and into a foreign land that looked the same as the place I was standing. While it seemed the same, I knew it wasn’t, and I felt the lure of the differentness of it. I longed to go there. What I couldn’t have known then was that my life was about to become so intricately woven into Mexico that it would be as much a part of me as the USA.
In an earlier column I wrote about my first trip to Ojinaga. It was not great because of the person I was with, yet it was still wonderful. I enjoyed the multitude of bright colors, the foreign look of the architecture, the cobblestone streets around the plaza, and the tiny stores and restaurants that are infinitely more fascinating than our superstores.
On that trip I saw the inside of a males-only bar—not pleasant but also riveting in the way that forbidden things are. The sight of drinking, gossiping, singing, card-playing men cutting up and cutting loose and then yanking their heads up in surprise when I came through the door is forever burned into my memory.
The aromas coming from the restaurants and outside food vendors are enough to make you fall in love with the country even if nothing else appealed. In addition to the sizzle and pop on the hot grills, there are chilies stuffed with cheese, tortillas that melt in your mouth, and sticky-sweet, hot sopapillas or pan dulce. Fresh, ripe fruit in season is offered for sale: peaches, pineapple, mango, or watermelon cut up and served in cups or impaled on a stick. Don’t get me started on the big, fat, mouthwatering Mexican avocados.
Music spills out of cantinas or is performed on the street by mariachis in charro outfits or by solo musicians wearing blue jeans. Either way, who can resist it? Whether it’s a heartfelt ballad that makes you want to cry or fall in love… or if it’s a melody that makes you want to dance, sing out loud, or laugh with joy to be alive, music is one of the country’s best assets.
More than anything, I felt drawn to the smiling, friendly people who are everywhere. They gather on the sidewalks or in the plaza, exchanging news and gossip and hugs. They meet to play checkers, sing, share a cerveza, dance, or watch people. I was captivated by the “unfamiliar-ness” and the “same-as-me-ness” of them. They are beautiful, generous, open-hearted people. So I guess it was inevitable that I would fall in love with one of them.
I was warned. “He grew up differently than you.” “You went to college; he never finished grade school.” “You don’t speak the same language.” “The newness will wear off.” All of those well-meaning people were right and they were dead wrong. None of that matters when you’re in love. Who needs to talk when our deepest expressions of love have nothing to do with language? And who can’t make themselves understood to someone who is trying, with everything in them, to understand?
It’s true that I went to college and he had to quit school after fifth grade or starve. But he taught himself more by living than I ever learned by studying. He’d never heard of Shakespeare, but he could hand-dig a well, shoe a horse, make killer food, ride and rope, walk all the way to Odessa from the Rio Grande, build a sturdy wall with nothing but stones and a strong back, work hard all day and dance all night. That is only the beginning of a mile-long list.
I’ve run out of column space and never even got to mention Mexican folklore or the beaches, jungle, and mountains, or the ranches, train and bus trips, or Cuidad Chihuahua, Guadalajara, Tlaquepacque, or Mazatlán. But there’s always next week.
Did I bring anything from Mexico? No; nothing that would interest Border Patrol. And yes. Every single thing it had to offer.