As a teen-ager, I never had any ambition to travel. I thought that a person should know his own country well before traipsing off to parts unknown. In High School, my closest friends wrote in the yearbook that their goal was to travel the world together. My goals were of a stay-home nature. It just goes to show that we are not as in control of our destinies as we think. My friends married just out of High School, started having kids, and never went anywhere. How I ended up spending half my lifetime in other countries is a long story. One thing just led to another. As I look back, I remember the series of decisions that I made that took me to other places, but I’m amazed to see that most of my original reasons for traveling never actually panned out. Yet the final outcome seems to have always been better than my original plan. Did I not say that Someone Else was in control? I’m convinced of it! I am, in the final account, the observer, and not the “doer” of my life, and that’s as it should be. This is not something we discover when we are young: it takes a lifetime.
In the course of my moving about, I’ve laid my head on my pillow at night to look up at more roofs than I can count. The wood-beamed, tin roof of a chicken coop is only one of them. It was nevertheless no less “home” than any of the others – and comfortable enough.
After a couple of years on the ranch in Martinez de la Torre, and continuous undermining by the local ranch hands in the form of midnight fence-cutting, lost cattle and unfinished jobs by some of the workers, who resisted the fact that the “boss man” was sent from the city instead of one of them being put in charge, my husband decided he’d had enough and turned in his resignation. In tears, I packed our belongings, looked wistfully at the plants I had so lovingly repotted to move with us, and said good-bye to our two beloved dogs, none of which my husband would allow us to take, and we jeeped and horse-backed everything down the hill, loaded everything onto a truck and drove off. My husband left for the capitol to pursue work, while my two children and I stayed with friends on their ranch until my husband could find a position and come for us.
We were to share a house that was basically one large room with some cots, a sofa, a kitchen space on one side, and a large doorless bathroom, with a toilet at one end and a shower at the other. No hot water, and no curtain or tub, just a drain in the concrete floor. After showering, you would mop the floor and dry off the toilet, all of which shared the generous shower with you. By unspoken rule, everyone knew when to look the other way when someone was using the bathroom. In spite of the simplicity of the accommodations, our visit there was a joyful one. Spending time with these beloved friends was all the comfort I needed. It was a bit like camping out, and who doesn’t like to camp out!
This humble ranch house was in the middle of fields of grazing cattle and orange groves, with palm and rubber trees vying for space. I love nature and would far prefer living in a shack in the middle of natural beauty, than in a mansion with no yard, so I felt right at home. The kids were oblivious to any lack of comforts, spending most of their waking hours playing tag or hanging out in the large rubber trees with our friends’ children. After dinner, we adults would sit outside and watch them play until they were too tired to stand up, then we’d tuck them into bed and talk the night away under the stars.
Attached to, and running the length of the back of our friends’ house was an enclosure that harbored a large extended family of chickens and other foul. It had four concrete walls, with two doors, and two large windows at one end. The tin roof was perched atop a foot wide opening that ran the length of the walls just under the eaves. Since there was no place to store some of our furniture after our move, we had decided this house appendage would do quite well for us to take up temporary residence. The chickens were moved out, the place was hosed down and sanitized until it sparkled –as much as a concrete enclosure can sparkle of course – and we moved in.
Our full bed, a portable clothes rack and some boxes covered with serapes containing necessary household items, graced the far end of the “coop.” I placed our kitchen table and chairs at the other, the side with the doors and windows. There was a small table for my portable propane stove with shelves for dishes and pans above it. Under one of the windows with a beautiful view of the back acres, there was a sink with running water, but no drain. No problem! I placed a large bucket underneath the sink and when it filled, I’d take it out and throw the water onto the grass.
Night time would find my two children and me bundled up in bed together to stay warm under an array of blankets as the cool night breeze wafted in from the opening under the roof. We spent a couple of months in this make-shift home while I did everything possible to make it look as if it had come from the pages of a house beautiful magazine. Imagination and ingenuity have no limits! We whitewashed the walls inside and hung pictures, put up shelves and curtains, and laid down area rugs. I gathered fresh flowers from the field every few days and placed them lovingly in a large earthenware vase on the colored serape that graced the kitchen table. As chicken coops go, it was delightful.
Through the years from the time of my youth, home has held a sacred meaning for me. Whenever the four walls and roof took on a less than familiar form, I would make it a home by filling it with my artistic touch and plenty of love. As they say “home is where the heart is,” as long as that heart knows love, there is no place on Earth where we cannot carve out a peaceful niche from whatever is available and call it home.
My husband eventually found work in Xalapa, the capitol, and came for us. Good-bye peaceful, frontier life! Hello, Big City. We would spend the next ten years in the capitol, see my third child born, and gather many happy (and finally, some personal unhappy) memories before it all came to an end, and I would say good-bye forever to Mexico, which had become my heart and home.