Where do I start?
It’s almost completely hidden from view. We only found it because she knows the land even though it’s been decades since she’s returned.
There hidden behind branches, and 7 ft nopales are what remains of the house my mom lived in. We have to enter through what would have been the back of the house because the front is completely blocked off by the land and all that lives on it that has taken over. We walk over what used to be a wall and walk into a room smaller than a freshman’s dorm room. This was the bedroom she says. For all of her sisters. Where did they sleep, I ask. On mats on the floor, right there, she points to a corner of the room that most of us would think is too small to even be a bathroom.
She keeps pointing out parts of the house, where her sister and niece stayed, where the kitchen was, where my grandmother planted nopales to keep animals from venturing too close to the house, how the land looked differently back then. She showed us the school she went to and tells stories of her childhood. A childhood she treasures. A time she calls as seeing life through rose colored glasses.
I try to see what she sees. The green alfalfa that has been replaced by dry land, the river that ran up into the mountain, that has now become a reservoir, the hacienda owners and their house in full glory instead of the shuttered windows and rusting metal that has overtaken it. I try to picture my mom in her braids, with the pair of shoes she was made to last all year, walking to school. I try to see her picking tunas from the nopales, peeling away the skin to find the cool sweet fruit underneath.
My mind races trying to visually fill in pieces of stories she’s told me over the years.
Where did she hear la llorona?
Where was the snake that was hiding in the kitchen’s chimney?
Where were the trees she climbed?
Where in the house did the reflection of the mirrors shine from the boys from farther away villages trying to communicate with one of my aunts?
I’m disappointed when I find out that the home she’s showing me was temporary. They only lived there for a few months at a time while my mom and her sister’s went to school. They never lived there the whole school year though. Their permanent home was farther up in the cerro. Their mom, my grandmother, still wanted them to go to school. So they had to walk the whole way down to still get to school. It was during those walks that she sang to keep her sister from fainting of fear, that my aunt threw rocks at boys harassing and following her, where they found “shiny rocks” to play with that now my mother realizes was probably gold. Those walks where they had to leave before sunrise and would get home almost at sunset, traveling to and from school. All by foot, because not even the burros could cross the land.
I get it, even though I really don’t. How she says life was so beautiful even though there were clearly many luxuries and comforts missing to her. I’ve never had to live like that, so I don’t really know. But I can imagine. Usually only the wealthy are privileged to live in beautiful places. She had it in her backyard and she clearly was not wealthy. I can imagine what it would be like to not worry about life’s demands on you, find a career, find a partner, find a home, build your network, leave the place a little better than you found it, lean in, ask for raises but do it strategically, send flowers, be present and on and on. The quiet of that place let’s you be entirely in that moment with nature. Your thoughts disrupted by the fresh breeze you feel passing through, the sun beating on your skin but bringing you back to life, the sound of a cow mooing. Forget about self-actualization. This is enough.
It wasn’t all fun and walks in nature. Obviously life could get hard. The days when they only had beans and tortillas to eat. The time my grandfather left home to go into town to sell and came back not knowing he had a family, and nobody could explain what happened to him along the way. My grandmother lost 2 boys, one of which my son is named after, my mom left home at 14 to work. It’s a life that my mom worked hard to keep me from, but it’s also a life that she doesn’t look back at with pity or sadness. She loved her childhood. Life was simple.
That’s where I’m trying to be. Not physically although, obviously I would go back in a heartbeat. But mentally, spiritually. In a place where what I have is enough. In a place where I appreciate the beauty around me.
That’s the thing I most took away from the trip. I could see the luxuries that were missing, the little ways life is made harder. And yet, my family shined. They looked alive. Even my uncle, who is quiet and chooses his words carefully, even he came to life. He sang, he danced. He laughed. We all sang, danced and laughed.
Sometimes we’re bombarded with messages that what we have is not enough, that we are not enough, not ambitious enough, that there is not enough time, that there isn’t enough to go around. But in that corner of the earth, where time stood still, I was enough. And I felt I had come home.