Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who Says You Can’t Teach An Old Dog

Who Says You Can’t Teach An Old Dog
            When one grows up and spends much of one’s life in the country of “far from”, in the land of the irreducible minimum, one develops specific habits of adaptability. One telling example in my life is a trait that my friends from elsewhere call my “siege mentality”. You might recognize it by my refrigerator and freezer crammed with so much food that I have to lean into the door and wrap it with a ratchet tie-down strap. Unlimited shelving in the basement was stocked with all manner of non-perishable foods and goods. Who else would have one hundred eight rolls of toilet tissue and suffer heart palpitations if the stock falls lower than two cases?

            We, who live far from everything, in the land labeled the last frontier, that’s who. We never know when the snow will falleth in malicious clumps, the wind bloweth the roads closed, and the apocalypse cometh. I’ve been there. When I was eighteen, living at the end of a dirt trail south of Dodson, we were snowed in from November through April. For Christmas I made cookies with flour, molasses and corn flakes. To replenish my larder my husband drove the work team with hay sled to town. We got mail once a month, horseback. No, I never slogged to school barefoot, through six feet of snow, uphill both ways. But that winter indelibly imprinted on me. If fifty pounds of flour is good, one hundred pounds must be better.

            My lifetime habit was to look at things as if there might not be enough. I have changed. If you were to open my refrigerator today, you might say, “But it is empty.” I say, “I see a tomato, an onion, a poblano pepper, a jalepino, two beets, milk, butter, cheese and two eggs. The fruit bowl on the counter is opulently filled with a mango, key limes to make limonado, tamarindo, an avocado and a potato. I have masa for tortillas and flour to make bread. Beans simmer on the burner.”  Who could ask for more!

            With a dozen little markets (My basement had a larger stock of goods than some of these emporiums.) within a three block radius, why worry. Every day I walk to get what I think I need or want. I can hop a bus to the large Mercado at Centro or to any number of big box stores including Wal-Mart.

            Everything is different south of the Border. I see things differently. It is not just the neighborhood markets with milk and eggs, brooms and bleach. Many services come by my door.

            Mario drives by in his water truck every day. When my empty jug is sitting outside my door, Mario shoulders a fresh twenty liter jug of water and brings it, not just to my door, but inside, sets it on the counter while I wash the jug and upends it onto the ceramic dispenser for me.  For this service I pay twenty pesos.

            Juan is usually parked a couple blocks away with his water buckets and cleaning cloths. While his customer is in the restaurant at the Solomar, Juan washes and polishes the client’s car. One day with my minimal Spanglish I asked him if he would come wash my van. We negotiated a price. Granted, he didn’t show up that day or the next, but eventually he came, scrubbed my poor grit encrusted van and made her shine. For this I am happy.

            Everyday I see others: the housepainter with the twenty foot extension ladder balanced on the front of his bicycle cart, the cardboard recycler, the junk man, the man with the truck for hauling things either to or away, the ice vender, the propane truck, the man who picks up bottles and cans (residents leave them on the edge of the sidewalk for him). If I need help, there is a good chance I can find it on my street.

            A couple weeks ago I heard a shrill whistle. The knife man, sharpening stones balanced on his shoulder, was striding down the middle of the street. I rushed to the kitchen to get my chopping knife, which I could sharpen myself, but I also need a small repair.  I was too late. The knife sharpener had gone around a corner and out of sight. I’m listening for the whistle. I laid my knife on a cabinet by the door. He’ll be back.

            I’m returning to Montana in April. I know that my newly trained eyes will fasten onto things I cannot find in Mexico. My challenge will be to ignore them, and like a good Montana woman, make do with what I have. 

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

March 27, 2014

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