Excerpt for Marcelino and the Curse of the Gold Frog II: The Next Fifty Years by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Marcelino and the

Curse of the Gold Frog II

The Next Fifty Years

Daniel Chavez, Sr.

Brighton Publishing LLC

435 N. Harris Drive

Mesa, AZ 85203

www.BrightonPublishing.com

Copyright © 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62183-483-0

SMASHWORDS EDITION

eBook

All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. The characters in this book are fictitious and the creation of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to other characters or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher or copyright owner.

Prologue

Now that we are gathered again, children, I will continue with the second part of the story regarding your ancestors. As before, I will share these events as I recall them and quote the individuals as well as my memory allows. You must still keep in mind that these people spoke broken English when they used the language, which was only at leisure times. When things got serious they spoke Spanish. It is the same way with me. And because these events are in my head in Spanish along with their dialogue, I will have to translate from Spanish to English. Doing this might make me speak slowly in places, but we’ll do okay.

Before I begin this extraordinary story I will refresh your memory as well as mine by touching on a few points I have already shared. This will help me set the scene for what your ancestors encountered after 1920, where we left off. Plus, it will allow us to reacquaint ourselves with facts from the first part that will influence this one.

Early in the spring of 1921, Mama Maria’s health was still stable. Fortunately for those concerned, the traumatic as well as hair-raising events her illness caused were slowly slipping from memory. So now with calmness and normalcy prevailing in all its glory, it was like some folks like to say: “let the sleeping baby lie.” And you can bet there wasn’t one among them who cared to disturb those horrid images—out of fear—fear that the unmentionable would catch a second wind and come back to frighten them worse than before. For this reason they just moved on, a very wise thing indeed, and one of utmost importance. The why is because the future still didn’t hold an ounce of promise. Every single day they faced the same ol’ thing, and every morning they opened their eyes to the same harsh environment. But they didn’t complain; no one ever complained. They were all happy. Anybody with any sense knows you can’t beat happy down even with a fat stick.

At this particular time, Marcelino’s immediate family consisted of his wife, Maria, and her two daughters from a previous marriage. The oldest girl was Alisha who was 11 years-old and still scared of most everything around her. What she’d witnessed in her short life had made her so leery of everything and extremely fidgety. At least she took the first step toward being brave by getting use to her shadow following her around everywhere. Of course, I’m just poking a little fun at the girl without meaning to belittle her. We all know she was a hero that night at the creek.

The next girl in line was ornery Ramona. She was 9 years-old and going on twenty, meaning she was entirely too wise for her age. And then there’s Lucia, almost three, and the youngest is the baby, Fernie. This little fella is more than lucky to still be alive after Mama tried to cook him in the big caldron that time. Praise the Lord for those crazy days being long gone.

To avoid confusion later on and for clarity’s sake, it will help to describe those who live with Mama Maria’s parents. Those folks are Mama Maria’s stepfather, Ignacio (Papa Nacio, is what the children call him). Maria’s mother is Catalina (Mama Lina is what she is called). Ignacio’s cantankerous full brother is Eusebio, who is Tacito’s father. So Tacito, age 37, is Ignacio’s nephew. Tacito (pronounced Ta-key-toe) is a grown man who stands a mighty four-feet and eight inches tall or short, if one considers this height to be tall only when referring to midgets. Thing is, Tacito isn’t a midget. There just isn’t much altitude to the man.

Even though there’s a mama this and a mama that and stepfathers, stepmothers, stepsisters, and stepbrothers in this family it doesn’t mean it’s a step in the wrong direction—not one dang bit. This bunch was super close and always tried to live in close proximity to each other so they could visit regularly all year-round. And they were almost all devout Baptists, which accounts for the deep love and sincere caring they felt for one another. Without fail or hesitation, when someone was in need the others immediately stepped in to help in every way they could. It has always been this way and never will change.

This story will begin with what’s churning in a couple of these men’s minds. When all is said and done, most of them will have relocated to another town. This is where the next chapter of their lives begins and where the first chapter starts for us.

And several other things are worth mentioning: Tacito isn’t an old man like Ramona thinks he is. Sometimes to a young girl everybody over thirty seems old. This thinking may be because they are adults, and that’s the way older folks are seen through young eyes. These times are hard; there’s no denying that, which helps to explain why some people look older than they really are. Most of the premature aging is from working outside under a Texas sun that’s notorious for cooking all flesh. But this isn’t the case where Tacito is concerned. He really does looks younger than his years. The fortunate man will continue throughout his entire life to fool many people about his age.

A curious thing about this little man is the relationship he had with his father, Eusebio. A lot of the time to onlookers, these two men appeared to be headed toward an altercation. That stemmed from the rather rough way they talked and interacted with one another. When they acted this way folks would swear the father and son were going to knock each other’s blocks off, but they never did—ever! That doesn’t mean they won’t say their piece to one another; they surely will. To be frank about it, the only abuse they might be guilty of couldn’t be helped most of the time. This occurred when they cooked for themselves—lookout then! And in the very near future they will both learn how rapidly a cold cook stove builds righteous character.

And to be quite honest, this story is mostly about Ramona and Tacito. Around 1921, and unbeknownst to these two individuals, they were on a path to developing a friendship that would be bound with the Creator’s finest glue. Before the date just mentioned, these two rarely spent a lot of time together because Ramona lived somewhere else. She was kept busy following Marcelino as he traipsed for years around Central and South Texas to eke out a living. Because I know what lies ahead and by looking back, I can see how and why fate drew these two together. Ramona, a little girl still developing into an exceptional person, and Tacito, an individualist for 37 years, may seem like an odd pair to form a lasting friendship. Only when the story reaches its end will you see how natural it was for their paths to cross and keep crisscrossing for so long. And on the day Tacito died he expressed with his last breath what knowing Ramona for so many decades had meant to him. He didn’t really have to tell her. He just wanted to say it one more time before he passed on to where he is today.

Chapter One

Early in 1921, Marcelino saw his wife’s health stabilizing and steadily getting stronger. This allowed him to take seriously the notion to investigate the work Aunt Nava’s husband relayed was just north of Austin, Texas. Marcelino’s urge to move on timed perfectly with Papa Ignacio’s same desire. The two men didn’t wait long to act, either. They borrowed a reliable buggy and journeyed from Creedmoor north to Pflugerville where they each secured a steady job. Separate housing for each household was included, so it couldn’t have worked out any better. All they had left to do was relocate to this small town and start work before something interfered to prevent it, as can often happen.

Two heaping loads in the back of a farm truck (loaned to them by one of the employers) got all their belongings to the new location. Eagerness ran high when the time came to get their houses in order. The men had to start work the following day, but not before the furniture, cook stoves, and everything else was in place. This part had to come first so a new routine could begin that would allow some kind of order to prevail. So, while the men did the heavy lifting back and forth from the truck, the women and the older girls did the housecleaning and arranged the items as they were brought in. This was one of those hectic times when the small children were made to stay out of the way. Hustle and bustle made the opportunity too great for one of them to get ran over, or, worse yet, have a switch taken to them for being in the way. The whipping thing never happened, though. This project worked with military precision the entire time.

Even though the sun had set and complete darkness ruled the night, Aunt Lina and Mama Maria still weren’t satisfied with the appearance of their new places, so they all had a late supper and got to bed around midnight. Tomorrow would to be a big day for everyone. They were starting a new life here and were eager to begin this new adventure.

The new location had a unique setup. What made it unique is that neither Marcelino nor Ignacio had ever seen anything like it on any other place they had worked. The vast acreage (actually one humongous rectangle) was really two separate farms that bordered each other. Directly in the center of this expanse ran a barbwire fence from east to west that separated the two properties. With this fence acting as the midpoint, a half-mile, both north and south, would land you at each respective main house.

The north property belonged to an old man named Royce Lilibridge. His two sons managed the field workers and were the ramrods over the daily operation of the spread. Royce was retired, in a sense, and just piddled around at things to keep active. Along with his two sons, Mr. Lilibridge had a wife who was one fine lady. As a matter of fact, the entire family consisted of nice people, nice as you’d ever meet anywhere.

Something quite rare about Mr. Lilibridge is how he treated his farm help. Each and every one was shown complete respect, regardless of race, creed, or education. And the same can be said of the landowner to the south, Mr. Homer Bedore. He, as well as all his family, were good people. The fairness of these two men could be seen by the longevity of their farm hands. Most of them had worked steadily for a lot of years on these two farms. That in itself made Marcelino and Ignacio very lucky to have gotten these jobs. If they had waited another day they wouldn’t have. They were just fortunate to come here directly after a large family pulled up stakes and headed to California. That vacancy is what Marcelino and Ignacio filled.

But anyway, right at this boundary fence mentioned earlier is where the housing was located for the permanent hired hands. In this expanse set a cluster of shacks (that’s putting it nicely), four were on Mr. Lilibridge’s side, and four on Mr. Bedore’s side. For clarity’s sake, the barbwire didn’t run through this section and separate the shacks. There wasn’t any need for it. These two owners were best of friends and had been for countless years.

Speaking of housing, these small, two-room dwellings weren’t much to look at. None of them were insulated, mainly because during this time period nobody knew what the hell insulation was. But at least the roofs didn’t leak, where some of the walls did. Thing is, these shacks were a place to come home to after a hard day’s work, and they provided shelter for your family. So, meager as they were, these shacks were home sweet home to these folks.

Although these living quarters were made simply, they could be dressed up by the women, extended or repaired by the men, or left as is. The terms of employment stipulated that the owners weren’t going to fool with the upkeep. This responsibility fell to the occupants and was fully understood on day one. No matter what the tenants choose, this setup still beat the wholly heck out of being without shelter. It’s a fact that at one time or another everybody living here had struggled on the migrant road. The harsh lessons there included learning to envy birds for their ability to fly away from misery. But personal misery didn’t exist here unless you just wanted it to.

A good hundred feet separated each shack in this cluster of eight, and each had the same footage behind. All the space was super handy, too. It allowed plenty of room for each family to have a garden, pens for domestic stock, or a chicken house—chickens weren’t supplied, had to get your own. You could basically put whatever you wanted behind your dwelling as long as it wasn’t some kind of business or something illegal. Naturally, an outhouse stood behind each shack. And some of these folks had outbuildings and sheds that were used to store garden tools and the like.

No garages in this housing. Nope, there wasn’t the first one. In fact, up to this time not one of these hands had ever considered purchasing a car or truck. It wasn’t from lack of want for one. It was because nobody ever had money for such fancy things. Even if someone did have those kinds of dollars fear would set in, fear of appearing too uppity to these white folks who paid their salaries. See, all the workers in this housing were Mexicans—straight out of Mexico—citizens of that country. Additionally, most of them were first generation in the United States. If you tried your hardest you still wouldn’t find anyone who spoke good English. The only children born in the States were in Marcelino’s bunch, yet none of them spoke good English. Back to my point where I mentioned the workers and vehicles, to their way of thinking, nothing out there could make anyone purchase any kind of motorized vehicle. Hell, doing so might make Mr. Lilibridge or Mr. Bedore think they were paying too much out in salaries—then they’d cut the workers’ money, or freeze their occasional raises. What could these workers do if that happened? Could they slap their kids away from the table when they’re hungry? Nope! The men always played it safe. To them, the best security for living in America is to have a job, and they all had one. They knew they were very fortunate to have what they did possess. It wasn’t any different living here in Texas versus over there in Mexico—no money buys nothing here as well as over there. If a man was able to sock some savings back he sure wouldn’t brag about it, like a fool is prone to do.

If this rectangular-shaped housing district was sketched out on paper and if a person drew two diagonal lines from each corner right in the center of the X is where the water well stood. Just beside it hung a makeshift dinner bell someone concocted years ago. This contraption consisted of a hardened, bent piece of iron and had a round shaft hanging from a short length of rope. The entire rigging had obviously been salvaged from a scrapped piece of machinery. Nonetheless, it worked just as well as any fancy, store-bought dinner bell. Using this thing worked like this: you’d take the shaft and bang on the iron to call the hungry, or, in a pending emergency, you beat the tarnation out of it like a wild man would do. People always recognized the difference between the normal clangs and the wild ones and acted accordingly.

In the future, Mama Maria will use this noisemaker more than anybody else. Folks will come to think she really enjoys making thunder ring from that thing, but she won’t ever just stand there and play a tune on it, just for the heck of it.

Oh, and Gilleland Creek snakes through both sides of this property, that’s pretty much flat as a table top. From the housing, east, about one hundred yards, is where the creek is located. Needless to say, playing at the creek will be a lot of fun for the kids. And then the main dirt road into Pflugerville is a quarter-mile straight north of the housing. In town, you could find the basics such as a hardware store, a bank, railroad depot, eating places, and grocery stores. If a family wanted to do some serious shopping it required a motorized vehicle or buggy trip to Austin.

Although some folks in Pflugerville did own cars and trucks, Marcelino and his clan wouldn’t own one for years to come. Frankly put, right now the man didn’t even own a horse, let alone a buggy of any kind. The contraption he made and used as one in Creedmoor wore more calluses on his buttocks than he cared to discuss. After he lost possession of it to the witch in Creedmoor, it was traded around to several men. The last one finally parked the ugly looking thing out in the weeds, somewhere, to rust and rot away at whatever pace it chose.

If you spun a circle in the housing area, everywhere you turned and as far as you could see would be farm fields. Hard grains to feed the livestock were grown on some of these fields. Also scattered about in this conglomeration were alfalfa fields of all sizes. After this member of the legume family was harvested and dried good, it acted as feed for the livestock. There wasn’t anybody around here into health foods at this time, so the alfalfa wasn’t consumed by humans. And cotton was still king! It was the main cash crop and source of many hours of backbreaking work for a lot of hardworking folks.

Speaking of folks, Mr. Lilibridge and Mr. Bedore shared all the help in the housing district. Outside of Mr. Bedore’s foreman, a bilingual Mexican man who lived in town, all the other hands were told daily which farm to report to. Even though the man needing most of the help got most of the workers, Marcelino usually worked for Mr. Bedore. Ignacio worked regularly for Mr. Lilibridge, and Tacito and his father would work for both farms. The same arrangement applied to Ramona and Alisha when they worked with the men.

All and all, this was a fine setup in Pflugerville. These two families (three really, counting Tacito and his father as one) took a quick liking to it. Time would show how much it suited them. They stayed here a lot of years, and a lot of things, good and bad, happened to all of them.

It needs to be said that Marcelino and Ignacio were excellent workers, experienced as any, anywhere. They were the type of men you didn’t have to see work to tell how well they knew their business. Talk farming to them and they’d display a great knowledge of every phase of it. Look at either man and you saw a real man with big hands, big muscles and very little body fat. And both were tall for Mexicans. They stood a tad over 6 feet in height in their stocking feet.

I described Marcelino and Ignacio in order to compare them to Tacito and his father. To be quite blunt about it, the father and son are completely opposite to Marcelino and Ignacio. If the father and son had not been related to Marcelino and Ignacio they would have been left to starve to death, years ago! If not that, they would have been staked to ground for the ants to munch on at will. These two sets of men are that different and in every aspect one cares to investigate.

You see, Tacito is the kind of man who loves work. He can sit and watch it all day long, where his father is the total flip side of that. Eusebio doesn’t like to work and wouldn’t sit and watch it if you supplied the food and drinks and a cool place to sit in the shade.

Knowing all this makes it a wonder the father and son are kept around any at all. But they are—because they are family. And it seems like there is never an end to the embarrassment they cause the others. Most of time, these two create mischief without realizing they are causing trouble for others. It’s like they were put on this earth to royally mess up things for everybody and, come hell or high water, that’s what they’ll do! To be honest about it, having the family’s prettiest gal in a whorehouse in Austin would cause less grief and embarrassment—but the father and son are family. So they are tolerated and helped by one and all.

This pair is quirky. There’s no doubt about it. Knowing this makes it easier to understand why there isn’t a woman around either one can call their own. It’s quite obvious that Eusebio had a woman at some time or another. He had to have or Tacito wouldn’t exist. But no one has ever known if Eusebio was married to his son’s mother or exactly what the man’s marital status really is. It’s a mystery, because when Tacito made his entrance into the world Eusebio lived in Mexico and Ignacio was already in the States.

Ignacio did try very hard to get his brother to talk about Tacito’s mother. Hard as he tried and for as long as he tried, he never could get Eusebio to say the first word about the woman. All Ignacio knew as fact is that one fine day here come Eusebio walking into Creedmoor, Texas with a tiny, little boy trailing behind him. And all the pint-sized, little boy knew or would ever know about his momma were three things: zilch, nada, and nothing. The only surviving evidence of Eusebio’s mysterious past that halfway proves the woman did exist is a 5x7 picture of her. That keepsake is tucked away among Tacito’s personal belongings. And he is awfully proud of that picture—awfully, awfully proud of it.

***

Everybody settled nicely into their new surroundings and soon developed a regular routine. For the men, less Tacito and his father, they rose early and usually worked until six in the evening. A harvest of any crop brought about an entirely different schedule. When harvest was on they all worked hours galore and until the crop was completely brought in.

Mama Lina had her corner shack to take care of and her man, which kept her plenty busy. The lady also helped her daughter some. Mama Maria, pregnant with her fifth child, didn’t let her condition slow her down. She had a huge workload to stay on top of, and she did. Besides the children, Maria had to care for Marcelino as well as keep an eye on Tacito and his father to curtail their habitual mischief. When she wasn’t too terribly upset with the pair, she occasionally did their washing and cooking. The extra chores added to her workload, but you’d never hear this woman complain about it.

Maria also began honing her skills as a practicing healer. Being so far from town caused a slight hindrance for the few folks who wanted to take advantage of this unique talent. Word really hadn’t gotten around that a healer lived outside of town. It was still early yet, so in time everyone would know.

On the other hand, word had gotten around town that Maria was an expert seamstress. Although the extra work allowed her to make some extra money, time didn’t allow her to take on every project. After it got to be way too much, she had to turn down most of the work, for the time being.

The older girls, Alisha and Ramona, kept busy with farm work, exploring the creek, and doing girl stuff when they had the time. It needs to be said, quite frankly, that farm work is not something Alisha cares for. She isn’t fond of it and never will be. Of course, she did it when told to—that wasn’t a subject one could debate—and you never heard her whistle while she worked, either. Ramona is the complete opposite. She loves farm work and would rather do it anytime versus little girl things. Even then, Alisha isn’t intimidated by Ramona being so different and doesn’t give a dang about her younger sister’s tomboyish ways. Alisha is content with helping her mama do chores instead of being out in the elements. Mama is always glad to have the extra help when the men can spare the girl.

It’s already been mentioned how Maria no longer had to battle the demons mental illness introduced her to. An outsider, looking at the lady now, would never believe how victimized she was. The children knew all too well how she suffered. They were there through it all and saw it all. Witnessing all that horror is why they keep all those ill happenings locked away in the back of their minds. But, as it goes sometimes, monstrous images etched in young minds never entirely go away. Children have a way of hiding them until something makes the dang things resurface. Then it starts all over again—that constant, intimidating fear. Because Alisha and Ramona witnessed the start and conclusion of their mother’s transformations, they knew the signs well—especially Ramona. She knew and has never forgotten what to watch for. Not long ago, she saw the same identical signs creeping up on a certain individual. When those red flags shot up high as the sky, she reacted, and I do mean very quickly.

One day, Mama had some minor business to tend to with Mrs. Lilibridge. This occurred at moment when the lady couldn’t just stop what she was doing. But, lo and behold, another way to take care of the pending business came to mind when Ramona walked through the door—how convenient. Now Ramona could journey the half-mile to the main house and Mama could finish making lye soap.

Living here isn’t anything like Lytle, Texas where it took Marcelino so long to get them away from Fernando Zammaron’s farm. Back in those days, Alisha and Ramona had to go to the main house for their food allotments. The girls really dreaded running the chore because of Pabla’s meanness toward them. Fortunately for them, the current system didn’t require weekly trips to the pantry, and Mrs. Lilibridge is always kind and considerate. Her bubbly personality never changes, which insures a pleasant trip each and every time the girls pay her a visit.

So, after being assigned the chore and reminded to act right, Ramona and her faithful little dog, Spotty, headed out. Everything around these two made it a fine day to be traipsing down the path to the Lilibridge house. The sun warmed their faces; butterflies flew around everywhere, and the birds sang so pretty the girl swore the cows were mooing happily along to the birds’ concerto. To Ramona, this scenario was like living in a nursery rhyme. She even began singing a silly song to Spotty that made him wag the heck out of his skinny, little tail. All of this made the walk across the way very enjoyable, and walking really slow allowed extra time to take in all the glory.

Ramona skipped up on the big, open porch, and then stopped—just like that. Strange sounds were coming from inside, sounds she’d never heard before around this civilized place. She cocked her head to listen. Yes, that’s Mrs. Lilibridge’s voice, but it didn’t sound like it should. There was just cause to investigate—Ramona had to.

(Alisha, as well as Ramona, knew perfectly well that interrupting these folks was one giant no-no. They had to be on their best behavior and act like young ladies or Marcelino would wear out their bottoms. As far as snooping around the boss’s house is concerned, they’d get their rear ends beat raw for doing it. Ramona knew she chanced getting a whipping for what she had in mind, yet she went on, anyway.)

The girl tiptoed to the door and stuck her head against the screen. Cupping her hands around her face allowed a good look inside and, there, leaning with a shoulder against the wall and with her back to her, stood Mrs. Lilibridge. And the lady was moving around so much her dress swayed like she was dancing in place, but she wasn’t. Worse yet, the lady acted absolutely loco, like all sense had left her. Then, to convince the onlooker of what she suspected, the lady slapped her thigh and started laughing like a wild, wacky, woman would do.

Spotty wasn’t any canine fool. He also sensed something was very wrong, but there wasn’t any visibility around the door jamb like at the housing shacks. Hard as he tried, he couldn’t see around this door at all, which made the dog whine once. Ramona quickly shushed him, and then went back to pressing up against the screen to keep watching this eerie spectacle unfold. Spotty got more anxious than ever to take a peek at the big mystery. Being smarter than the average dog made him quit going from side to side to find a slit around the door. After standing on his hind legs and resting his paws atop the kick board, he got a good look inside. What a sight awaited the curious pet! His eyes got really big watching Mrs. Lilibridge stomp her foot to the floor like some drunk square dancer. This wasn’t the only strange thing taking place, either. The lady broke into such a hard laugh she snorted like a scared pig, and her shoulders shook like a conniption fit had a hold of her. Spotty got spooked; he looked up to see Ramona’s reaction to this, but the girl wasn’t there! She’d seen all she needed to see and was already in the middle of a long jump off the porch.

That’s when Spotty hightailed it out of there, right behind Ramona. He just knew the lady would morph into a wild boar and come busting through the screen door after him. The fear of getting ripped into a thousand bloody pieces kept the dog scatting down the trail like a champion greyhound. Eventually, he shot right past Ramona like she was standing still. She wasn’t, though. The girl was running like the devil himself, was hot on her heels.

Spotty lead the way home and only stopped when he reached the yard. Canines weren’t allowed inside the house, so he stayed by the door to see what would happen after Ramona zoomed past him. What happened is that the girl barged in so wildly it scared Mama away from her work.

“What is wrong, Ramona? What is wrong?”

“Mrs.... Mrs.” That’s all the girl could get out before immediately leaning over and resting her hands on shaky knees. She started gulping down massive amounts of air to catch her breath and to calm down due to over fatigue and heightened excitement. The girl couldn’t begin to relay the horrible sight she just witnessed in this condition.

Mama realized the seriousness of this and couldn’t wait another moment. She rushed to Ramona, grabbed her by the shoulders, and shook her a little, “Tell me what is wrong?”

“Mrs. Lilibridge, I’m... I’m afraid for her.”

What? Why! Make sense, Ramona.”

“She’s... she’s getting crazy. I saw her.”

“What did you see? Tell me, tell me!”

“She was standing by the box on the wall, laughing and getting crazy.”

“Oh you, Ramona! You are the crazy one. Mrs. Lilibridge was talking on the telephone, only.”

“What’s a telephone?”

Chapter Two

Marcelino trucked his chickens from Creedmoor during the big move. Only a fool would have left them behind or sold them. Fowl were always the family’s best source of fresh meat. More than just chickens could be found here, too. In this community you would see, turkeys, guineas, ducks, geese, and on and on. Basically, if it had feathers the folks raised them, less ostriches and emus. And the ready-made chicken house easily housed Marcelino’s flock. Because chickens are chickens they never care where they live as long as there’s ground to scratch in and insects for the taking. So, they settled right in. It wasn’t long before the hens were setting on a batch of eggs the roosters had fertilized. Every spring it’s the same thing. Those eggs will be this year’s crop of fresh meat.

One day, Ramona found herself between things to occupy her time. After fiddling around here and there, boredom became too cumbersome to tolerate. Well, she didn’t stay bored out of her gourd very long. She knew several hens were setting on a batch of eggs, so she decided to take a little trip over to the chicken house to check on them. One old hen had already gotten up and gone to relieve herself, which left her dozen or so eggs exposed for the time being.

I probably shouldn’t share this tidbit, but I will anyway. When the hens are setting on a clutch of eggs, they don’t leave the nest very often to relieve themselves. But when they do what they dump on the ground looks like a week’s worth of poop. This is probably where the saying came from when a person is excited or shocked. I’ve heard some men say: great balls of hen shit!

Back to the henhouse and Ramona. Upon entering the small, stinking place, Ramona noticed the unoccupied nest. She lightly stepped over as to not disturb the other feathered gals, setting in the numerous pigeon holes. After arriving at the nest, she stuck her head over the warm batch and spotted an egg with a small slit up the side. With eyes as big around as silver dollars, she watched a little beak peck away at the shell! Of course, the tiny thing wanted out—it was time to enter the world. But it saddened Ramona to see it struggling to break loose. She didn’t need to think twice about helping things along. With gentle fingers and ever so carefully, she peeled away pieces of shell. In no time at all, the little chick was absolutely free. And what a cute thing it was, too, squatting in the middle of her palm and chirping away like it was thanking Ramona for all the help.

Well, it is a natural occurrence for little girls to become attached to fuzzy and cuddly creatures. Ramona wasn’t indifferent. She was certainly very taken by the cute chick, so much so that she gave it a special name. From this time onward she habitually kept an eye on the special pet and protected the thing as much as possible. Likewise, the little feller always got an extra helping of food scraps thrown out to the lot. Ramona even scoured the weeds for insects to bring back as special treats for her pet.

As time went by, the cute, little chick grew into a fine-looking game rooster (also called a fighting cock). And this strutting fella sported the most colorful array of feathers one would ever see on a bird. To be more precise, it looked like a gorgeous rainbow with two yellow legs sticking out of it; it was that pretty. In farm talk, such as it is, I’ve heard it said that a pullet becomes a hen when it loses its first foot race. Well, this rooster was one fast dude, if you get my meaning.

“Mama, please, come here.”

“What Ramona? I’m busy. These clothes do not hang themselves.”

“If you come here I’ll help you to do that.”

“Okay, what?”

“See, that rooster behind Jesse and Isabella’s house? The pretty, pretty one?”

“Yes, your special chicken. You think I do not know?”

“Mama, that is Gustavo.” (Mama chuckled at the name. Long ago, the village drunk had the same name, and he wasn’t anything special.) “Why do you laugh when I say the name Gustavo?”

“I am not laughing. I am looking at your chicken like you want me to.”

“I love that chicken. Promise me you will never kill Gustavo.”

“Ramona, he is just a chicken; that is all, just a chicken. Take the feathers off and you will see meat; very good to eat, too. Have you never heard the men say to never name what you will eat?”

“I have heard that, but I love that chicken. I helped it to be born.”

“That is a good thing, Ramona. Come on, help me hang the clothes.”

***

It was several days later when another rooster crowed outside and woke up Tacito. He raised his head from the down pillow and took a painful look out the window. It didn’t take long to realize the rooster had lied in the worst kind of way. It wasn’t early morning, it was almost noon. Nonetheless, the little man kept looking out through slits and saw what he saw every morning: his father still snoozing on the wooden pallet at the far corner of the floor.

You see, Eusebio was known for his bad back, which explains the reason for the hard, wooden bed he always slept on—it was therapeutic, to his way of thinking. Early in his life this unfortunate soul became inflicted with nagging back pain. This new ailment occurred at the exact moment he determined working wasn’t his cup of tea. Over the years, he’d mastered the grimaces that go with imaginary back pain, the agonizing stretches to work kinks out, and everything else that goes along with faking misery to onlookers. The ol’ “bad back” trick was his favorite excuse to get out of work. Only after exhausting all other excuses did the man work any at all, and then it was only for a short time. Truth be known, Eusebio pitched in to help just to stay in good with Marcelino, Ignacio, and Maria, who would threaten to refuse a meal if he didn’t do his fair share.

To be honest about it, the father and son were always welcome at both tables. But sometimes, due to a guilty conscience from Mama Maria bearing down on them, they tried to do for themselves so they wouldn’t burden others. That’s when all kinds of odd things happened to Tacito and Eusebio. Both men really did tread lightly so Mama Maria wouldn’t get on them—you don’t cross her—that’s a standing fact. They knew when she got riled you had a royal mess on your hands, so they tried to steer clear of that kind of discomfort.

To explain Tacito’s sleeping in this morning (he seldom did), yesterday he wandered off on his own. Nothing new there. Tacito was the kind of man who continually had crazy thoughts rumbling around in his head. That’s not saying he was a lunatic, he just always got these curious notions. And if whatever aroused his curiosity didn’t meet with prompt satisfaction he was liable to be gone a long while. This brand of behavior probably stemmed from having entirely too much free time on his hands. It’s a good thing he never wondered what a polar bear looked like in the wild. If he had become curious about it he would’ve started walking north until he ran into one, or froze to death searching for the beast.

But this particular time, and just because, he wandered over by the train depot in town. This is where curiosity overtook him and made him start walking down the railroad tracks to count cross ties. Understand that Tacito couldn’t read. The man sure as hell couldn’t count, either. Despite these handicaps, in his mind, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do when his determination attacked something. When engaged, his bulldog tenacity resembled a starved piranha attacking a kill of some kind.

So, after getting many miles north of Pflugerville and realizing it, he stood there looking back at the long V of the rails. It didn’t take long to realize he’d gone a long ways, as in way too damn far. To end the task he’d partaken, his lightning fast mind conjured up an astronomical figure as the amount of ties crossed over and recorded. The sum was so outrageous it hadn’t even been discovered yet─ no matter─ he didn’t care. He didn’t invent the sum to justify wasting the day away like he had, nor did he use it as the reason for stopping. No, this was the exact time when howling, hunger pangs hit him. It was supper time, and his belly was starting to think his throat had been cut. But a major question arose, that of how to get back home without walking another five hours to get there?

Wouldn’t you know it, here comes a train puffing up the track to save the day. This train had just left a small town and wasn’t going all that fast yet. To take advantage of this glorious opportunity, he snuck off in the weeds to search the boxcars as they rolled by. A good reason existed for exercising caution rather than randomly climbing aboard. He had to make certain he wouldn’t be spotted by a railroad man wielding a billy club. Hell, in these parts it wasn’t uncommon to get conked on the head then tossed from a moving train for taking a free ride. But that wouldn’t happen this go ‘round. The coast was clear, so when the time seemed right he jumped out and ran alongside the puttering train. After a mighty struggle due to being so short, he finally made it inside an empty boxcar. In no time at all, he arrived back in town and walked home to get his supper.

Thing is, yesterday’s excursion wore out Tacito. It’s why he overslept this morning and why he planned to not work at all today.

Even though most Johnson grass stands taller than Tacito, it needs to be said that he did not like to be messed with, in any way, shape, or fashion. Being disrespectful or talking down to him would always fire him up. That’s when he’d posture like a bantam rooster and stay on you until you apologized, walked away, or duked it out with him. And doing any or all of the before mentioned would suit him, especially with something at stake as important as showing him respect. Contrary to how it may appear, he wasn’t known to get physical with anyone. He would put up those duke and make you think he was about to bust you up good. We’ve always heard to watch out for the quiet ones, they’ll be the ones who’ll turn on you. Not Tacito. He wasn’t like that. He was a peace-loving man and certainly liked his surroundings to be real nice and quiet, too. But when it came to bluffing he was a master if there ever was one.

“Papa, get up. Papa, get up to the day!”

“Who is calling me so early?”

“Someone hungry.”

“Oh, is it breakfast?” Eusebio asked, showing some eagerness now.

“You know Maria does not cook breakfast. But I think it is lunchtime—there’s the bell. Hear it?”

“Yes, I like that ringing. It is the food song Maria plays so well. I would like some of her coffee, too. What... what are you doing?”

“Making you coffee, Papa.”

“No, no, no, no, no, Tacito. No more of your nasty coffee.”

“Why? All I have to do is scrape the growth from the grounds and boil it more. It’s good.”

“I think you want to kill your papa.”

“I have thought about it,” Tacito teased.

“Stop what you are doing. Go next door and see Maria, and bring us food.

“She will not feed us today. We did not work.”

“Tell her I will work this afternoon, and you too.”

“You want me to lie to Maria, again?”

“Never lie, Tacito... I will work until my back goes, but do not tell her that way.”

“Not me—no work here.”

“You will.”

“We will see what we see when we see it.”

When Tacito stepped out of the shack Marcelino and Ramona had just walked up to the well to wash for dinner. Ignacio was at the door of his house when he noticed his nephew outside. The uncle waved to Tacito before he stepped inside for his noon meal.

“What happened today, hombre [man]?” The question overflowed with interest.

“Where, Marcelino?”

“You know where. Don’t play stupid to me. Why you didn’t work today and your daddy, too?”

“This afternoon he will with you. He just said that to me.”

“And you?” That question made Tacito scratch his forehead, but he didn’t respond. “And you, too,” (that was an order not a question). We have lots of work. You can play this winter and freeze to death if you want to.”

“Excuse me, I have to see Maria.”

“Go.” With that Marcelino went back to splashing water on his face to wash away the field dust.

“Ramona!” When Tacito got the girl’s attention he extended a hand and slid his thumb across several fingers to indicate the big money she was earning today. No big money was tallying up, but a big bar of soap did. Ramona reared it back and sent it sailing right for the little man. He sidestepped it, chuckling, and then scatted inside to talk to the lady of the house.

“Good day, Maria.”

“Tacito.”

“Hello, little Lucia. How cute you are today. Little, little baby, are you my little baby?” The little girl smiled at him and got a pat on the head for it. “Maria, Papa asks so politely for you to send him a plate of food and a big coffee. And he asks with a big please at the end.”

“How is your papa today, feeling better?” Maria asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“He is better than most days, thank you.”

“How much better?”

“Good enough for working with Marcelino until the dark makes him stop, or the sun kills him dead.”

“Good. Take this plate to him, and you come back and eat with us.”

“Yes, Maria. I would like that.” Tacito ran the plate next door, and then hurried back out to wash up at the well. He, like everyone else, knew Maria’s standing rule for dining at her place: when you sit at her table there better be fresh evidence of soap and water having touched your flesh, or you don’t sit down. And that doesn’t mean you could eat standing up, either.

There wasn’t much conversation going on around the table. As usual, Marcelino was in a hurry to get back to work, and starved to death best describes Ramona. The rest of the folks weren’t in any big rush. They were just enjoying their calabazita (a soup, main ingredients in this one was squash and chickens parts).

“Ramona, give me another tortilla,” Marcelino requested. The girl pulled back the cloth cover over the stack of flour tortilla, removed one, and passed it over. Immediately afterward, she noticed little Lucia staring at her. At first Ramona didn’t give it any thought until Lucia wouldn’t stop looking her way. The little girl kept watching every spoonful her older sister shoveled in her mouth. Something wasn’t right here. Ramona looked down at the second helping in her bowl, and then across the table at Alisha. Alisha either didn’t sense the look, or was totally ignoring Ramona. And a look at her mother brought the same result. Only difference is that Maria started a conversation with Marcelino, as if to divert Ramona’s attention away from her and hopefully get her back to eating, which it absolutely did not.

“Mother, did you kill my chicken?”

Everyone but Mama stopped eating.

“Did you kill my chicken... Mama?”

In an effort to ease the tension, Marcelino tried to start a conversation with Tacito. The little man wouldn’t respond, though. He was deep into studying Maria and waiting to hear her response to her daughter’s pertinent question. When Ramona saw she wasn’t going to get an answer, she asked, “May I be excused, Mother?”

No.”

“Thank you.” Ramona darted from the table and ran out the propped open door.

“I told you she would be mad with you, Maria,” Marcelino reiterated.

“I know... but she has to learn not to make no pets of our food.”

“She loved that chicken,” Marcelino added with a tad of guilt.

“I love the chicken, too. It tastes good,” Alisha spouted.

“This is no time to make jokes,” Marcelino warned. “Eat your food and hush.”

“She raised that chicken, herself, from the shell, Maria.
She helped it to be born.”

“Don’t you start, too, Tacito. One running mouth is too many. Let me go to see what I can do about this silly thing.” Mama threw her napkin on the table and headed outside where Ramona was nowhere to be seen.

After Ramona came flying out the door, she immediately stopped and took a quick look across the yards for Gustavo. Her pet was nowhere to be seen. So, she instantly ran behind the house and came upon a horrid sight: Gustavo’s pretty feathers lay strewn all round the chopping block. Ramona knew not to, yet she did. She crept around the big stump only to freeze in shock. There on the ground lay Gustavo’s chopped-off head with white membrane down over its eyes—and blood had run everywhere. Ramona spun around and ran from there crying her eyes out. And she was terribly mad at the world and so very upset with her mama.

When Maria made it around to the back of the house, she suspected Ramona came this way. Why, the lady asked herself, did she not clean up this mess? Way too late for such thinking when the damage is already done. Either way, Ramona would’ve found out—better now than later, Mama thought. And, as tragic as this seemed, Mama wanted her daughter to see it for what it was. Ramona had to understand that slaughtering Gustavo was merely feeding the family—nothing more, nothing less.

“Why did you kill my Ramona’s chicken?” Tacito wanted to know, after slipping up behind Maria.

After a turn, she answered, “I did not hear you complain when you were jamming down big spoonfuls.”

“I did not know then that you... you... you kill her pet.”

“So, if you knew before you would not eat Ramona’s chicken later?”

“No. Never.”

Mentiroso.”

“You think you can call me a liar?” Tacito spat out, as he backpedalled to assume his infamous stance of hunching over with both arms curled around, like he was fixing to tackle a grizzly bear. That’s exactly what Maria would’ve been like if she accepted the little man’s challenge. Instead, she’d seen all this nonsense many times before and knew Tacito better than he knew himself. End result: his posturing held more humor than intimidation: “You save those big muscles for working this afternoon.”

“Humph.”

“Don’t humph me. Go finish your dinner, or you will make Marcelino late to work.”

Humph!”

Tacito did settle down. Rather than go to work, though, he walked to the creek and found Ramona still crying over being deceived. She sat there with her hands locked around her knees and had her face hid in her arms. The girl definitely looked sadder than a one-horned billy goat. In fact, she looked downright pitiful, rocking back and forth like she was. And her mind certainly didn’t help matters by blasting one terrible thought after another through her head.

Ramona looked so pathetic that Spotty whimpered right along with her. To be quite honest about it, the dog looked so tore-up somebody who didn’t know any better would’ve thought he really missed the hell out of Gustavo. Such wasn’t the case; Spotty was faking. He knew the bird did taste awfully good, like Alisha said, because of the unknown fact that Ramona didn’t know her loyal sidekick ate her rooster’s innards after Mama threw them to him. If the girl had known what her dog had done she would’ve yanked off his tail and beat him silly with it. She loved her rooster that much.

“Ramona,” Tacito called, softly, to no reply. “Ra-mon-a?”

Go away.”

“Do not cry, Ramona.”

“I am not crying,” she falsely stated, while trying to wipe away tears on a pant leg.

“Can I talk to you about a something?”

No.”

“Okay.” Tacito took a seat next to her, anyway. “Ramona, you have to understand this something. How things are today.”

“I know them and how they are, everything. They are mean.”

“Not because your mama makes it like that for you, to be mean to you for nothing. She has lots of mouths to feed, many peoples.”

“She promised not to kill Gustavo.”

“She said: ‘I will never kill Gustavo.’ She said that to you?” After a long silence, “She never promised, with words, did she?”

“Not with words, but I told her not to kill my pet. And she did it.”

“Honey, this is not a good time for childs to have pets. The safest one is the horse—nobody eats the horse. Well, Indians did, but not since they invented canned beans.”

Ramona laughed.

Tacito was glad she did. In time, she felt a little better and became more forgiving. Eventually, the pair walked back to the field where Marcelino was working. On the way there Ramona ate the two burritos Tacito brought her. Mama Maria made those for her, and, no, there wasn’t any chicken in the food, just warm refried beans.

Ramona worked through the day, but her mind wasn’t on the task at hand due to grieving over Gustavo. Tacito saw her pouting, so he visited her several times during the afternoon. He tried his hardest but still failed to raise her spirits up to normal. At quitting time, the girl moped home and didn’t have anything to say to anyone there. This held true up to supper time and beyond.

Around the children’s bedtime, Tacito entered the house. “Hello, Maria, and childrens.”

“Hi, Tacito,” everyone replied except Ramona.

“Where is Marcelino?”

“In town. Sit and drink some coffee,” Maria offered.

“Not if you do not have some already in the pot.”

“It is no bother to make more. Sit, sit.”

“Ramona, why you don’t talk to me?”

“She is still mad with me,” Mama explained.

“Maybe, the children need a story?” Tacito speculated.

“Maybe the children do not need a story from you.”

“Just one, Mama,” Ramona pleaded.

Mama thought on it for a few seconds before returning to her initial suspicion. “Why you want a story? So you can scream in your dreams more?”

“It is not a bad story, Maria. It’s good, I promise.”

Beings Ramona showed some life now Maria gave in, not before she extended a warning to the storyteller. “Go on and tell your story, but I will listen to your words, too. I will not let you scare the children no more.”

Tacito nodded he understood and left the table with all the children following behind. They gathered around him and hurriedly took a seat on the floor, while he reached out to accept the black coffee from Maria. “Thank you, thank you. Hmmm, I love the smell of strong, black coffee.”

“What is the story, Tacito?” Alisha wanted to know.

He took another slurp, and then set the cup on a little table. “The story tonight is one that happened in my home country.”

“In Mexico?”

“Yes, Alisha, Mexico.”

“Why do you call it home? You don’t live there no more.”

“I used to live there, born there, too. It is what Papa says.”

“And you wish you were there again?”

“No, no, no. I like... I love the United States of all the Americas. Now, just for you, Alisha, I will call Mexico the old country.”

“Is it really old?”

“Shut up, Alisha,” Ramona ordered.

Ra-mon-a,” Mama ordered.

“Yes, Mother. Tell the story, Tacito. What is the story?”

“It is one... I will start by saying it happened not long ago in the old country.” Tacito smiled at Alisha; she smiled back. “You see, there was a very poor, poor man, a baldheaded, poor man so tired of having nothing he would do anything for something. One day, this man was talking with a rich man, and said, ‘Why do you have everything, and I have nothing but grief? Grief as big and heavy as boulders are on me all the time. I work hard like you, but I am not rich like you. I have nothing, as you can see.’”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, yes, please yes. Tell it to me.”

“I gave up God.”

No more, Tacito.” Mama didn’t like the last line.

“Maria, believe me, this is a good story.” (A stern look said it sure better be.) “So, this, the rich man, he told the poor one, ‘I gave up God. I belong to the devil now. All my worship is to the devil. Every word that passes my lips is for the devil, because all I ever wanted worshipping, the devil gave to me.’”

“How did you do this?” the poor man begged to know.


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