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Strange work for parents, children: Growing up in ‘60s where firearms were a part of Mexican rural apparel

When Lena Curiel’s kidnapped young mother, Chela, was found, it was said she refused to come home.  Several members of the extended Curiel family, plus three armed family friends, were sent to bring the stolen young mother home. They were led by the family doctor and a bruja. (In the 1960s, brujos, male and female, rural and city, were popular.)   

Ten-year-old precocious girl faces evil as her ‘unknown’ mother is a victim of hard-to-understand hate

Last week’s column here snagged some readers’ curiosity.  Campesino vocabulary –1950s, ‘60s – changed a lot, courtesy of U.S. war vets.  They migrated to Mexico, bringing a fresh Spanish vocabulary to rural Mexico.  Example: Lysander Kemp’s essay regarding Jocotepec/Nextipac appeared in Issue Six, 1955, of the much applauded “Discovery” literary magazine.  Kemp also was the unparalleled translator of Octavio Paz’s ground-breaking biography of Mexico, “The Labyrinth of Solitude.”  Meanwhile …

A very young, adopted child learns  to handle a pistol while trying to deal with contemptuous adults

The “jefe” of the Curiel family took away the pistol twelve-year-old Lena Curiel was carrying.  Toño Curiel wasn’t surprised his adopted daughter had the weapon.  He wasn’t angry at her.  But he quietly swore at whoever gave the loaded weapon to her.  Lena wasn’t careless with firearms. She’d been taught to take care with weapons early on. But accidents happened.  Lena and her kin were brutal proof of that.

Land-thief gunmen threaten pueblo peacefulness, church-goers, hooker’s exceptional gift, mar kind memories

A North American couple was visiting me just as I was finishing fitting the cochera door of my new house in Nextipac.  They walked past Elario Medina, a Mexican friend testing the door’s hefty lock.  Joan Palnor asked, ”Somebody fire a gun as we came up your road?” 

“Not here,” I politely lied.  “Probably farther up the mountainside.  Lots of wolves, coyotes, small bears, eight-foot cascabeles – rattlers - uphill.”

“That is wild life,” said her husband, Tom. “Better be careful.  Is your friend prepared for that stuff?”     

I smiled.  Like many country Mexicans, Lario Medina seemed to have been born prepared.  He also carried fairly concealed, but accessible, pistols.  

He didn’t speak.  Being Mexican excused him from dealing with things North American.  

“Does he speak English?” Tom whispered.

“He doesn’t speak much of anything.  Thinks there’s too much prattle in the world.  Much of it gringo.”  I grinned at Lario. 

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Lario Medina had recently been hired to prevent a short vicious-seeming man from stealing a large piece of mountain-side property.  He put posts and barbed wire around it.  Once a day, this “land thief” checked his illegal fencing.  Lario asked the municipio office to check if there had been a recent change of ownership.  But on such matters, Lario lived at a different gait than the government.  He asked around on his own, and found that the “appropriated land,” belonged to a prostitute from to one of the six whore houses operating in a local pueblo.  The pueblo also boasted of its large iglesia and its consequent intent religiosity.  Lario laughed at the irony of this tangle of moral pretense and opposing reality.       

“ Got to look this lady up.  Got interests in common.” 

A few days later, we were refreshing our marksmanship with a hand-painted bullseye wired to the new barbed-wire fence, when a rattling pickup came bouncing up hill.  

“Yi!  What are you hombres doing to my property?” shouted a woman in her thirties.  Had died black hair and a fashionable dress.  Her cheeks were smooth, her breasts pleasantly prominent.  She wore sandals, not huaraches.

Lario took off his sombrero.  Gallantly he explained what was going on.  He did not mention who hired him.  But when he named who’d put up the fence, she erupted with colorful lurid of Spanish curse words.

“We believe that’s true.” Lario said.

She suddenly noticed my pale skin.  “He speak Spanish?”

“Veces en cuando.”  Sometimes,” I said.  She blushed.  

“You together in this?” she said.  We nodded. “These are bad people,” she declared.  

“Could be,” Lario said. 

Turned out, an older “close client” bought her this slice of mountainside two years ago.       

“He was a good person.  What he did, nobody knew about.  Then somebody shot him.”

“For this?” Lario asked.  She shrugged.

Later, Lario and I met her and a younger whore at a cantina near the bordel.  Enjoying cena, tequila, getting acquainted.  I scribbled story material.

“That’s them. The whore and the nosy pendejo.” I heard a voice from the cantina doorway.  

“Trouble coming,” I told Lario.  

“Get the women out of the way.”

“I took them to a corner eatery where people gathered before evening mass.  

“Stay here.  Don’t leave.”

I started for the cenaduria back door.  But I saw two men, one the land thief, walk past the family of a low-level member of the presidente municipal.   As those two slyly touched their pistols people frowned.  Lario and I watched as the newcomers passed the dinners.

The gunmen’s weapons were almost out as Lario raised a napkin-covered revolver; the other he held lower, more lethal seeming.   

And this quiet crowd? Was hysteria going to happen to it? The gunmen slid their hands out of sight.  Tried to go deep in the crowd.  Lario, at a distance, stayed in front of them.  He nodded to a well-known local municipio sub-jefe.  “Might want to calm those two,” Lario said.  “Got cuetes, guns”

The sub-jefe was pushing his family out the door.  He warned a cop outside.  He motioned to Lario and me.  “We have to separate them from all these people or all hell takes place.”

“We will disappear,” both Lario and I said.  “We are who they want.  Not these people.” 

‘And we are who they will find.”  Lario said.  “No problems from you with what happens when this takes place, eh?”

He narrowed his eyes, and nodded.  

By the time we sneaked back inside, our targets were gone.  We couldn’t find them anywhere.  Lario swore and swore.  

“Don’t think there will be any more land thievery,” I said.  “We’ll have a lot of barbed wire. You can use it elsewhere.”

“Pricey damned  wire.” Lario noted.