“CRYING WITH THE WHALES” Chapter 7

The Santa Ana joined my father and me on our trek along the eastern face of the Sierra Madre canyon.   Bringing with him the warmed scent of the eucalyptus trees that bordered the hardened dirt pathway downward to my grandfather’s small bungalow below.

We flowed in trio, along the small creek that gently passed the front porch where my grandfather would usually sit to whittle, play guitar and smoke his pipe.

I anticipated the melody of my grandfather’s welcome, his sparkly eyes and generous smile.  My father’s stride picked up pace as the vacated silhouette of the house begin to appear, his back and frame pulling away from me, I began running to keep up.

Today differed the norm.  The porch was empty except for the guitar leaning against the wooden stool, an envelope intertwined through the strings.  On the floor, next to the stool, was his pipe and a half finished wood carving doing its best not to be taken by the Santa Ana.

With our first steps up to the porch, Santa Ana disappeared taking the shavings around the wooden block without notice, leaving us behind with only the sounds of the water gently caressing the creekside rocks and my grandfather’s familiar heavy “breathing sounds”.  We looked into the one room cabin to see our common thread in deep slumber, singing randomly between his non rhythmic breaths.  My father felt it best to leave him to himself to complete his “conversation with the whales”.  When we retreated to the porch, we sat in the absence of the Santa Ana, listening to the melody of my grandfather’s moan/sing/speak concert, trying to figure out what he could possibly be saying to the kings of the ocean.  The crescendo of one run was so incredible that we turned to each other and began laughing uncontrollably, mimicking the same patterned laughter learned over the years from our adored sleeping host.

As quickly as Santa Ana’s exit, the singing/moaning abruptly stopped forever…..

By weeks end, my father and I travelled to the white sands of the Pacific Ocean, carrying with us my Grandfather’s pipe, guitar and unfinished wood carving.

My father awkwardly, but in earnest, attempted to replicate the melody of my Grandfather until giving into tears. The salted water flowed heavily from our hearts and eyes, raising the tide with what must have been the tears of the whales.

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“TURNING INLAND” Chapter 8

Surrounded by strangers, the shade of the San Jacinto blended with the tinted windows of the Greyhound as we all rolled through the darkness about the Coachella Valley.  The seat next to me, occupied by my grandfather’s backpack and blanket had no words for me.  Without my fishing companion, I sadly travelled alone, my void being filled only by the voice of a now too familiar ghost.

The annoying spirit, recently and often reminded me that as designated keeper of the “Forgotten Tale”, I must have it.  Out of habit, I reached into my coat pocket for reassurance that I still possessed my Grandfather’s letter of introduction, hoping that upon arrival to the village of Saint Francis, his prose would deliver the tale to me.

For nearly a decade, since I stopped fishing for my bride’s smile, I had, on occasion, tried to decipher the content of his letter, wondering why my Grandfather chose to be so mysterious about it…..why my father had taken so long, before his passing, to give me his father’s directive.

Traveling across New Mexico’s rich red clay, in my one hundredth year, as instructed, I followed, the stars and green shrubbery eastward to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo, still sensing that finding a blanket matching the color and pattern of the one given to me, seemed as unlikely as finding someone with it that would lead me to the “Forgotten Tale”.

With a heavy sigh, I tucked letter into my pocket, and with one breath, I imagined……..

“TUESDAY AFTERNOON” Chapter 9

Slivers of light pierced the greyhound’s darkened cocoon as the last expellation of air pushed the doors open to the outside.  In the background I could hear my ghost friend engaged in conversation with another off the isle to my left.

They argued, in some different language, over what to call where we were.   Agah Po’oge, Yooto, as well as several other options were being considered.  Both liked La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asisi, but agreed it took too long to pronounce.

Each spirit grabbed on to my arms to assist me in standing and lifting my backpack. I accepted their help, escorting me towards the steps into the light.  My hands, bruised from carrying extra weight, even at my age, looked foreign to me…these hands could not be mine.

I was happy earlier for the darkness in the greyhound and the absence of reflection off the glass, allowing no confirmation of how lost and disoriented I really was.  Immensely tired and alone, except for my two ghosts, I momentarily questioned the importance of finding the tale at all and considered going back to my seat to surrender to this life’s ordeal.

Once the three steps to the mid day sun were cautiously navigated, my aquaintences tugged on each arm in different directions.  Stubbornly, I trekked north towards the village center, content that I was accommodating no one, except my Grandfather.

Giovani, the newest spirit, slowed as we passed the Cathedral Bassicilica and insisted we all stop at the San Miguel.  My ghost on the right was angered that our path missed the plaque commemorating Dr. Baumann and the burial site of the giant heart he cared for.  On it went, as on we went.

We passed numerous trinkets and opportunities to eat, the abundant colored crafts and warm smell of corn tortillas didn’t curtail our pursuit along the path towards the Palace of the Governors.  About to collapse, the spirits helped me push on until together we all converged on the blanketed isle described in the letter of my Grandfather.

Now with second wind, my eyes sharpened as we reviewed the various blankets displaying the wares and crafts of the local artists. I examined each blanket in detail for the entire length of the block, looking for a match in color and pattern, without success.  I asked anyone that would listen, if they had ever seen a blanket similar to mine before or a carving that resembled my Grandfather’s half finished piece……..I may as well have been invisible.

Ready to give into the heat of the sun high above the Sangre de Cristo, the spirits again assisted, grabbing my arms, leading me to a seat shaded by a simple awning next to a small bubbling fountain.

My eyes closed, I yearned for sleep’s end. I had done the best I could do, it was all I had, this Tuesday afternoon…..I was ready, at last, to let go and flail into the mystic.

“THE INVITATION” Chapter 10

Desire abandoned, I was content with my life’s reconciliation.  The bubbles off the water fountain rolled on, audibly dancing through the rocks as in the stream bed by my Grandfather’s bungalow.  The faint smell of eucalyptus intertwined with the soft scent of butter and corn tortilla.  Santa Ana had followed me from the San Gabriels, past the billboards and giant wind fans of the Coachella Valley, beyond the grandeur of the magnificent San Jacinto, now to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo.

No longer feeling angst for my shortcomings, I suffered only the loss of those left behind.  I was now, lost, alone and knew it to be true.

I had come through this Tuesday afternoon to find the space between my heart beats, strangely content with my pursuits regardless of outcome.  Love and loss abounded in my heart, alternating faster and faster until merging into a silent blurred film of my life.

The diminuendo about me, swiftly approaching complete silence, was then interrupted by the faint strum of a distant guitar playing the melody of my Grandfather.

I opened one eye, looking across the narrow calle towards the music’s source.  My spirit friends now vanished into the New Mexican sky, I sited a small cluster of three people, sitting around a guitarist playing atop a brilliant blanket of blue.

I mustered everything I had to cross the hardened clay pathway towards them.  When arriving, I was invited to sit, but was too excited noting the exact similarities in their blanket to mine and the finished carvings around them replicating my Grandfather’s unfinished work.

Hands shaking, I fumbled with my coat pocket until producing the letter of introduction to the eldest of the group.  After reading, her eyes welled up…. they could have been my father’s eyes.  She implored me to wait for her return and ran off to a nearby casita.

Not five minutes later, the woman of half my age and an elder approached handing me a sealed envelope and a single wooden carving.

They again invited me to sit and rest while offering me food and drink. The familiarity of their eyes and melody of the guitar overwhelmed me.  I graciously accepted their invitation, with the secret knowledge I was nearing my one hundred and first birthday with no where else to go.

“THE GIVING” Chapter 11

Hardened wax covered the seam of the envelope.  The seal embedded on the wax imitated the carving it accompanied.  My eldest host lent his hands in opening the parched container.  Inside, a single piece of paper exhibited the steadier handwriting of my grandfather’s prose to say –

    “To the keeper of “The Forgotten Tale”, I am writing these instructions as I know not yet who you are.  Afraid of dying or forgetting the tale before I’m able to find one of true heart, I have written it down and hid it inside this carving, which I’ve entrusted others to deliver to you.  Simply remove the nesting bird from the head of the bull and inside you will find “The Forgotten Tale”, as recited to me in my youth.

Delivered in earnest,

Simon La Boca”

While attempting to pull, without success, the likeness of a grey pigeon, from the head of the wooden bull, I observed twilight giving into the stars dancing over the Sangre de Cristo to the guitar’s familiar melody of my Grandfather.  Across the narrow paseo, next to the empty tables normally hosting trinkets and blankets, I could make out the silhouette of a real bull tied to a statue of Saint Francis in front of a gift shop.  Rather than fight his captivity, he seemed calm, swishing his tail while searching for small blades of grass within his reach.

At that exact moment, Santa Ana picked up the corners of my blanket seat and delivered three pigeons.  One landing on the outstretched arms of Saint Francis, one on the hardened dirt next to me, and the third exacted a position precisely on the live bull’s head.

The hands, I thought not mine, inexplicably ceased to shake and found the counterclockwise motion needed to unscrew the bird from the wooden carving.  I pulled out a scroll from the carving and began to read……

“THE FORGOTTEN TALE”, as recited to me before I thought I knew who I was.

“Always remember.  Remember to never forget that we are all lost in our existence.  With this knowledge, let us always be compassionate Human Beings.  If you’re continent drifts and you cannot find your way home, give comfort to your fellow travelers and you will soon find your way.”

The tributaries off the Sangre de Cristo accepted my tears.  The water would flow westward to the Pacific, and later merge with the great salted oceans of earth.

Tomorrow, I will return to my bungalow near the sea. I will again pass the San Jacinto, the wind farms and the billboards promising heaven. I will take pause by the banks of the Whitewater River to remember my beautiful bride, Mestolio, and the El Stupido.  I will give thanks for another day on this journey and remember to never forget, never forget “The Forgotten Tale”.

But this evening, I will share my Grandfather’s blanket and pipe, play guitar and tell stories under our magnificent stars and give thanks for another Tuesday amongst my fellow travellers.

I am forever and always yours in earnest,

Pablo La Boca