Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of Little Boys and Mexico: A Maria Story

A few people asked me last month when I was going to be visiting Maria again. It delighted me. It meant that already you are beginning to love Maria, as I do. This month's visit took place at my house, oddly, because my brakes were bad in my van and I couldn't drive it, but I'd scheduled my visit with Maria prior to that. Remember how she has to drive all the way down a dirt road, through the canyon, stopping several times to open gates and close gates? Well, I got up the gumption to ask her if she wouldn't mind just coming to my house instead this month, and she was gracious enough to oblige.

Maria has invited my Lyndsay to travel to Mexico with their family this summer for two weeks. Her large family of eleven siblings, with their families, is gathering at the family ranch to spend time with their aging mother. Since Lyndsay has become close friends with Maria's oldest daughters, they wanted Lyns to come along on the trip. I was delighted for Lyndsay to have the opportunity to visit another country, especially with a family. Now she can finally put all her Spanish to the test! And, she can witness the blessings of her life, that so many of us take for granted.

Maria and I always talk motherhood. Her struggles, my struggles. The difference between mothering young children and mothering teens. The difference between mothering boys and girls. And inevitably, Maria takes me back in time, to her little town in Mexico, when she was growing up as a child in another world.

Maria is the eleventh of twelve children. She has a brother, number ten, who is three years older than she. He had, what some might call, "wanderlust", or "an independent spirit". Parents would call it a nightmare, but it makes for a pretty good story, which she gave me permission to share. I don't know her brother's name, so I'll call him Ten, for the story.

When Ten was six years old--six!--he ran away from home. Not your typical pack a backpack and go to your friend's house until dinner and his mom sends you home sort of running away, no. Ten left without a bag packed, told no one, and hitchhiked to Guadalajara, the major city about an hour away from their small town. Now, you think to yourself, who picks up a six year old? (And Maria tells me that he was a teeny tiny six year old at that.) Well, I guess a kind Mexican man who believes what he hears when a teeny tiny six year old tells him from the side of the road that his parents have died and he has no family and he needs to go to the city to work. So, Ten gets a ride to Guadalajara, and as they arrive in the city, Ten asks the driver to let him off there, at a roadside taco truck.

Ten gives the owner of the taco truck the same sad story. He has no parents, no family, and he's willing to work. He doesn't ask for money, just a job and a place to sleep. So, the (fortunately!) kind man, sets up a big tub of water and soap on the sidewalk outside of his stand and puts the little boy to work washing dishes all day long. At night, he locks Ten inside the taco truck to sleep and "take care of the business," in case customers come. Ten is happy as a clam.

Meanwhile, back at home, Maria's mother calls the family for dinner. Ten doesn't show up. She figures he's probably out playing in the sugarcane plantations near their home, but hours go by and he doesn't come home. Maria's mother gets worried. Now, Maria was not even four years old at this time, but she said this memory is permanently engraved in her mind because the emotions surrounding it were so intense. Her mother was scared to death. In the dark of night she loaded the other children with flashlights and they all went into the sugar plantations, searching high and low for Ten. She remembers carrying the big flashlight and looking for her brother. She remembers how serious it was because her saintly Catholic mother was already dressed in her black mourning clothes as they searched. The older kids were just mad that they were out in the dark hunting for the little rascal. He was nowhere to be seen.

The police were alerted. The mother, deep in worry and mourning, went to the radio station. Everyone around was on the lookout for little Ten. Maria remembers worrying that if Ten didn't come home, her mother would die from the ache in her heart, and if she died, then the rest of them would die without her. A three-year-old's anxieties!

Days went by. In Guadalajara, Ten was living it up. As he scrubbed dishes during the day, strangers would walk by and marvel at the little scrawny boy working so hard. Ten would tell them his story, orphan that he was, just trying to get by. In pity, they would give him money.

A week with no Ten. (Can you mothers even imagine?)

Well, one day, the oldest brother, who happened to be in Guadalajara for college, was riding in a bus through the city. As fortune would have it, he was sitting in the window seat, and as the bus drove down a street, this brother did a double take at the little boy bent over a tub of water busily scrubbing dishes next to a taco truck. "Hey! That's my brother!" He jumped out of his seat and begged the bus driver to stop. Running off the bus and back toward the taco truck, he called out to his little mischievous brother. Of course, he had heard of the missing boy, but never expected to see him here in the city.

As he approached the boy, calling out to him, Ten looked up, thrilled to death to see his big brother. "Hi!" he greeted. "You have got to try these tacos! They are sooooo good!" Those were his first words to his brother! He hadn't a clue that he was in trouble, or that people were looking for him, or that his family was distraught with grief. Just, "try these tacos!" The brother told him, "You are in so much trouble, little one." And the owner of the taco truck came out to see what was going on.

"You know this kid?" he asked.

"Yes, it's my brother!"

"Your brother? He told me he had no family and he needed a job. I'm sorry I didn't know."

And so big brother dragged little brother, I imagine by the ear, back home to the family ranch in their little town, Mother still dressed in her black mourning clothes.

Well, everyone was so happy to see him! He was safe! He was alive! Ten was home! And it felt like such a party to him, that he never realized that what he had done was wrong. Plus, his pockets were full of cash, which he gave to his mother. "Look at all the money I got, Ma!"

Well, Ten would pull that stunt over and over again throughout his childhood. Just pick up and leave without anyone knowing. He got kicked out of school after first grade because he kept telling the other children about his runaway adventures and how lucrative they were and the directors of the school feared he would influence the other children to follow in his example. It was the only school in the town, and his mother worried about what to do with her boy if he couldn't get an education. Ten's response? "Don't worry, Ma! I can already read! I don't need school, I can work!" So at six years old, that's pretty much what Ten did, never going back to school. Of course, life has been hard for him, now a father with several children, and without real education. He still works hard, job to job, carving out a meager living for his family.

Maria and I had laughed and laughed at the craziness of this story. It seems more movie-like than real life, and yet we were talking about her brother! Ten loves Maria. She's always been his favorite because she was his little sister, and he looked out for her. Well, when he was home, I suppose.

The great thing about that story is that now I feel so much better about that time when Conor got out of the house when he was two and toddled down to the end of our street alone, while I was in the bathroom. The garbage lady (female sanitation worker?) spotted him, blocked the street with her garbage truck, picked him up and carried him back to the door that he said was his house. Imagine my horror and embarrassment to open the door and see the garbage lady (female sanitation worker?) standing on my porch with my toddler in her arms. Mother of the Year, right? Well, at least he hasn't hitchhiked to Los Angeles. Yet.


Heidi said...

Oh, so funny! My husband served his mission in Mexico. I would say, not totally surprising when you know the culture and their inborn ingenuity.

isshou ni said...

I loved to hear this. I think pretty much every mom has her, "lost track of my toddler/young child mother-of-the-year" moment. Ten, though, that tops it all!

amber watt said...

I can't even imagine! I think I love Maria already.

Sarah said...

I'm so glad that you got to visit with Maria again! That really was a great story! Thank you for sharing!

How exciting for Lyndsay to be able to go to Mexico with them! What a great adventure!

Luisa Perkins said...

What an amazing friend! I'd love to meet her.

I'm imagining Daniel hitchhiking to Manhattan--and I'm trying not to have a heart attack.

amber_mtmc said...

Wow. What a story!!! I think I would have been so devastated "Ten" would have been locked indoors. Like that would've stopped him, eh?