Last updateFri, 09 May 2014 2pm

A child learns math from a poor teacher while dodging school and people’s renewed speculation about her mysterious age

Squinting, there’s a blurred drawing of an ample stone-sided, tile-roofed house. Deciphering faded words, reassembling insect chewed, time-weakened pages, bits of history unfurl.

It’s a task exceeding the effort it takes to put together today’s machine shredded documents.  It’s often puzzling, mostly cheering.  Everything’s all out of order.  Time-bleached pages have to be held up to the light to make out the trail that a pencil’s graphite marked years ago.  These trace – 18 – people’s lives, a weathered arch across time.

Finally there comes a clearer finding.  A girl, small for the age scratched on a tiny yellowed photograph of her holding the reins of a tall horse.  She’s a member of an extended foster family, though some of these “relatives” view her as la huéfana, “the orphan.”  She was an infant survivor of a soaring mountainside bus wreck that destroyed her fellow passengers as debris hit the fields below.

By the time she quit the nearest pueblo school, she was 15, though already there were rumors questioning her age.  Chema and Guadalupe Rosales asked for help with la chica’s reading, writing and arithmetic.  After a false start, she began to read because her grandfather had fought in Mexico‘s 1910-1924 Revolution, her father in the Jalisco-centered “Cristero Rebellion” (1924-1929).  They had fierce tales to tell, and I roamed through Mexican history books with her, showing official records of those battles. Once that began, her writing improved.

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