all dressed up in his
Angel all grown up as El Vaquero
Personal Stories from My Childhood
I grew up in New Mexico: Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque along the Rio Grande Valley; Wagon Mound and Springer at the edge of the eastern Plains. My childhood included family gatherings at my Albuquerque home and the Martínez farm house outside of Springer, where the adults would talk late into the night telling stories, with the children gathered at the periphery of the adult circle, intently listening to the exciting conversations filled with stories and tall tales. These are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.
My earliest memory is of going to a pond with my grandpa Martínez at his farm outside Springer, New Mexico. As I remember it, it was a hot, dusty day and the walk seemed forever for my little legs. When we arrived at the pond we sat down and spent a few minutes talking. Flies buzzed around us. Dust and heat covered us. Suddenly, a snake appeared, long, thin and green, with yellowish markings. The snake’s red tongue flickered in and out in a menacing rhythm. Without a word my grandfather reached out and grabbed the snake and held it close to my face. I remember he then told me a story about a snake, a man, and an amazing power. It would be years later when I rediscovered this story and found it contained in my own memory of a day at the pond with my grandpa Martínez, and the first cuento I ever heard.
- from The Corn Woman, and Other Stories and Legends
from the Hispanic Southwest.
One of the best memories of my childhood is an image I have of myself sitting in front of the television set, black and white only in those days, watching my hero, the Lone Ranger. First I would hear the thrilling and rushing notes of the William Tell Overture. Then those stirring, noble words:
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi Yo Silver!’ The Lone Ranger. ‘Hi Yo Silver, away!’ With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again.”
As I watched each danger filled episode I eagerly anticipated the closing refrain of every show: “Who was that masked man?”
Rivaling the Lone Ranger in my boyhood cowboy pantheon was the elegantly attired Hispanic cowboy hero the Cisco Kid, with his comic sidekick Pancho. The Cisco Kid actually had a job very similar to the Lone Ranger. They both traveled the old west, righting wrongs and fighting injustice wherever they found it. I still chuckle when I remember the closing words of comic affection passed between Cisco and Pancho after they had once more vanquished the evil villains, saved the day and brought to a close another exciting Cisco Kid episode: “Oh, Cisco! Oh, Pancho!”
- from Riding tall in the Saddle, The Cowboy Fact Book.
My childhood memories are filled with details of this extended family. Even the passing of the years and the dimming of adult memory has not faded these early memories. A simple recitation of a few of these memories reveals a rich life centered in family experience and strong in folklore heritage.
I remember going to my grandmother’s farm and eating a delicious white home-made goat cheese with a heavy sweet molasses poured on it. I can hear my father singing an old, joyous Spanish song at a wedding. I can taste the fresh, warm, just-off-the-griddle, jam-covered tortillas my aunt made especially for me whenever I came for a visit. I can feel the small, hard beans under my little fingers as I sort them from one pile to another, carefully completing my childhood job of cleaning the beans by separating the rocks from the beans before they are cooked. I can see my mother kneeling and praying, eyes closed, hands folded, before the altar to “la Virgen” she kept in her bedroom. I can hear my mother sternly admonishing me not to turn around in church or I’d turn to stone. I can hear the rustle of my sister’s fancy, lacy white First Communion dress. I can see my parents, aunts and uncles sitting around a large round kitchen table at my grandfather’s house, sharing a pot of posole with red chile, telling cuentos, laughing and reminiscing about the good old days, their own childhood. I can hear the hushed, droning, muffled voices of my aunts saying the rosary at a velorio, or wake before a funeral. I can feel my parents’ warm and firm hands on my head as they gave me their blessing when I left home.
- from Una Linda Raza, Cultural and Artistic Traditions
of the Hispanic Southwest.