THE CASA CHAVARÍN
Although José Vidaca says “Soy muy pecador:” and he ought to know, he is one of the kindest and most generous of men I have met. When our group from Pacific High School arrived last spring, he, more than anyone else in the village, put himself out to help us, and secured for us the burro train which carried our medicines into the Sierra. This year when I arrived he at once invited me to stay in his home, refusing absolutely to accept any payment for room or board.
José, who is now about 40, lives in the casa of the parents of his 20 year old bride, Sofía. Sofia’s parents are Ramón Chavarín, now blind (with cataracts) for some 4 to 5 years, and the old but fiery Micaela Lomas de Chavarín. Also living in the thick walled adobe house are Federico (Lico), 24; Florentino (Tatino), 23; the nearly mute and “inocente” Julieta, 22; and Asención (Chón), 17. Another daughter, María, 22, sleeps with her husband and her two children, Venerando (Vene), 3, and Belén, 5 months, in a near by casa, but spends most of the day with her children at the casa Chavarín. The only remaining member of the family is the 4 month old daughter of José and Sofía, Eustolia (Toya).
Although the Familia Chavarín is far from well off, it is considerably better off than many of the families of the village: and especially of the smaller ranchos and villages surrounding Ajoya. Nevertheless the majority of meals consists of nothing more than tortillas and frijoles, and sometimes the frijoles are not even refried because at the moment no one has the “con qué” to buy manteca. And there are not enough blankets to go around without sharing, but no one seems to mind.
Now that Ramón is blind and unable to work, the family relies on the boys for its “sostenencia.” Most of the days when nothing else turns up to do they go to one or another of the small “milpas” (cornfields) in the surrounding hills, to pizcar (pick the dried corn), haul in fodder on the backs of burros, or clear new slopes for planting. The little spending money that the family has comes from what the boys earn by chopping “leña” (firewood) in the hills and hauling it on burro-back to sell in the pueblo, by fishing for “camarones” (crayfish) in the river, or by hauling oranges and “limas” from La Palma (a wealthy estate owned by Jesús [Chuy] Vega about 2 kms. up the river). The boys also supplement the diet by hunting wild game and hives of wild bees in the hills.
The entire family has welcomed me with the same enthusiasm as has José, and rather than resenting the chaos which has resulted from transforming the portal into a dispensary, seems to enjoy it. Everyone who arrives is always greeted with a friendly, “¡Pásele!” and if there is a seat to spare, offered a seat. The blind Ramón stands quietly in the corners staff in his heavy hand. He does little all day except turn the molino in the morning to grind the corn, listen acutely to everything that is going on (he rarely misses anything) and talk. Yet his life is rich with tales and anecdotes and reminiscences. He has a warm, happy laugh which is almost a giggle. Little Veni enjoys leading him around by pulling the end of his staff. (Veni, like the rooster, is not housebroken, and as I move from one box of medicines to the next I have to watch my step.) Frequently there will arrive an elderly campesino—like 71 year old Caytano, whose trade is to castrate and remove the ovaries of hogs for fattening—to ask for some medicine or another, but who will end up staying half the day or into the night swapping tales and chuckling with the blind Ramón. They talk of ghosts and gold, of the Revolution and of Tino Navari, who was the local Billy the Kid. My head is full of their tales.