Saturday, April 13, 2013

Acapulco - Fate

Death grabbed at me twice in one day when I was an eleven year old boy.
It was in Acapulco in the summer 1965. My mother and father and I were traveling in Mexico for the summer. My father's brother had hired a driver to take us from Mexico City to Acapulco through the mountains and jungles. It was one of the most fantastic sites I had ever seen with huge waterfalls plunging hundreds of feet down to the canyon floor far below us.
It was also filled with terror and sadness as the driver sped along the winding mountain road. I remember the terrible thud of an unfortunate dog that we hit, my parents angry with the driver as he tried to explain that any swerve to avoid the animal would have resulted in the car going over the cliff.  I wept in the back seat the remainder of the drive.
But Acapulco was a magical place and my tears dried in the magnificent sun and surf vacation Mecca. It was everything one would expect from the Hollywood movies. The candy stripped electric carts, the cliff divers  at La Quebrada and hotels surrounded entirely by swimming pools. It was the first time I had ever swam in a heated pool in the rain and the pool was cooler than the rain water.
My parents made friends with another vacationer named Roy whom I became very fond of. Roy was a cool single guy in his 30's, funny and took me on glass-bottomed paddle board rides in the beautiful, fish filled crystal waters.
Months later, Roy came over for dinner to our home in Woodland Hills, California where we introduced him to my mom's good looking friend Barbara. Roy accidentally took Barbara's cigarette lighter so that he had an excuse to call on her again. My parents said that Roy was quite the operator.
One day in Acapulco, we went swimming at the beach. I had one of those little Styrofoam paddle boards that were popular back then and headed in to the surf. Paddling out a ways, I suddenly found myself caught in a whirlpool and could not paddle out. I remember waving to the adults on shore for help, the sound of the crashing surf swallowing my cries. My mother smiled and waved back as I began to spin in circles around the funnel of water.
My father had never learned to swim and was always a bit uncomfortable in pools and on the beach. In fact, he generally preferred a three-piece suit to swim shorts and confided to me once that Mexicans in his day looked down on men in shorts.
But he could tell that I was in trouble and quickly started wading into the surf. A few moments later a young life guard jumped in to the water, swam over and pulled me free from the whirlpool's grasp.
On the shore, everyone came running and I finally let go of the little paddle board, my chest burned red by the Styrofoam I had clutched so tightly.
Everyone finally relaxed and after a short while I noticed a horse and her colt down the beach.
I went over to have a look, my parents saying "stay out of the water for a while son."
I reached out to pet the colt. I remember hearing my mother scream at the exact same moment I saw the shadow move. I felt the wind from the Mare's hoof as it missed my head by a fraction of an inch. I dove and rolled in the sand, the mare still kicking in anger. I made a mental note not to play with other animals children without permission.
Again, everyone came running and I was escorted back to safety once again.
Perhaps Fate was playing with me that day. Perhaps it laughed in amusement and said "Let's let this one live a little longer and see what happens." Perhaps I was just lucky.
I ponder and write about this on another, more distant Mexican beach on the Caribbean, not far from Belize. Either way, it was a day I will never forget.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chihuahua - The Curse

My mother was cursed. It happened in the town of Chihuahua, Mexico when I was a boy. My parents and I were driving from Los Angeles to Mexico City to visit my uncle Carl and my aunt Pepita who lived there with their children Carl Jr. and Monica.

We drove across the American southwest in our new Dodge Dart station wagon. It was in the summer of 1965. I recall that the days were long and hot during the trip and I used to look forward to swimming in the pools of the motels recommended in the AAA guides that were popular at the time. This was my first trip to Mexico. We drove south into Mexico from El Paso, the blue tourista decal affixed to our windshield. You didn't need passports back then.
We arrived in Chihuahua early in the afternoon and checked into a beautiful hotel on the hills overlooking the city. The front of the hotel consisted of large balconies instead of hallways and with the doors to the rooms opening to the stunning vista.

After checking in, we toured some of the classic streets and buildings of this beautiful colonial city, one of Mexico's greatest treasures. My mother, a first generation German-American, was excited to explore the city's many historic colonia, aqueduct, government buildings, the old, wide cobble stone avenues and photograph the classic architecture with her Kodak Instamatic camera.
She insisted on going inside the great cathedral in spite of having nothing to cover her head. It was hard to pass up such an historic building and she was a Protestant, unfamiliar with the Catholic traditions practiced there and by most of the members of the paternal side of my family, except for my father. Even I was schooled through Catechism and wondered at this, but no one warned her as we entered.
The interior of the cathedral was dimly lit from the stained glass and many prayer candles. A few locals sat in the pews, deep in their own thoughts and conversations with God. One old women dressed in black looked up from her rosary and muttered something in Spanish, first to my mother and then to the crucified figure of Christ at the head of the church.
My mother asked my father, who was fluent in Spanish, what the old women had said. He simply said "Nothing."
We were about a block away when my mother started to vomit. We got her back to hotel room quickly, where she endured a long and uncomfortable evening while my father and I went off to dinner. She had no interest in eating and wanted only to lie down.
Upon returning, she told us that someone had repeatedly knocked on the door, but that no one was there whenever she could bring herself to open the door.
The next day, my mother was weak, but recovering and my father finally told her that the old woman had cursed her vehemently for her transgression.

Later, we learned from the hotel staff that it was common for bats to bang into the walls at twilight, in search of prey.
Afterwards, whenever we visited other churches, and later, at weddings and funerals, my mother always covered her head.

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