“Pelota”

“The Brown Eyed Girl”

Pelota was born mid May, 1441 just on the outskirts of urban Cusco to Incan ruler, Pachacuti and his third of three living wives.  Before even the heat of June set in, Pelota was gifted to the celebrity family of Andone Sambro.   Like all obedient Incan’s, the Sambros graciously accepted the emperor’s gran gesture, promising to raise Pelota within the norms of Cusco, faithfully escorting her to the Qhapaq hucha when important events required.

It was in Sambro household that the lineage of Pelotas began. Here, the tradition of passing down the name Pelota to the first born female would incredibly remain unbroken over the centuries that followed, each family miraculously surviving war, disease and natural disaster.

“Andone Sambro”

In his thirty-fifth year, Andone, his wife and Pelota, were ordered out of Cusco to avert civil unrest becoming amongst the first settling families to inhabit the sacred mountain of Machu Picchu.  Life amongst the llama, guanaco and stone would be simple and chronicled by word of mouth.  The family history passed down from Pelota to Pelota over generations,  sharing the tales of their great Meso American family, culture and heritage.

Andone Sambro named the “gift girl” from Pachacuti, Pelota, because she reminded him of what he felt while playing tiachtli in the great stadiums of what now is South and Central America.  This is from where his celebrity was derived.  It was indeed his honor to be the caretaker of the leader’s daughter and with each season it became less about his promise and more about the love he felt for the young brown eyed Pelota.

Andone was widely known throughout Cusco as the greatest tiachtli player ever to grace the home field of Machu Picchu.  It was there that even the best Aztec teams from the north were hosted and brought into the Sambro home in the high Andes.

At the end of an important game, it became customary for Andone to befriend his adversaries from the field and invite them to join in feast, music and the sharing of tales.  Regardless of outcome, the athletes found commonality in the true spirt of competing with one and other, finding joy in their common interests, relieved in knowing that losing no longer resulted in their being beheaded or thrown down the steep steps of some tall stone pyramid.

Andone’s sense of fulfillment after such events was so gratifying he often would take young Pelota out on the field at sunset to share his happiness, singing his favorite melodies while kicking back and forth the prize game ball with her.  Pelota strongly felt his love for her and his reverence for being in motion playing on the famous field outside their home.  With darkening twilight they would walk home hand in hand under the observance of the local llama where a warm fire awaited them before finding sleep and anticipation for the tomorrows ahead of them.

“What Tomorrows Bring”

The chain of Pelotas would miraculously remain unbroken through the millenniums.  The enthusiastic anticipations of thousands of tomorrows feed their inane abilities to simply survive.  Whenever encountering mishap, the family chain slowly migrated to the north until ultimately finding peace at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos in present day Santa Fe.

“Roots Taking Hold”

Pelota was the first to discover Klaus Bauman deceased in his bed.  In that moment, she felt the sadness in losing the kind soul that only eight months ago had hired her to take care of him and his animals in trade for room and board at his small laboratory shaded by the New Mexican mountain range.

He had instructed her at the inception of their agreement that in the event of his passing, she was to find the Father at the church of Saint Francis to let him know….”he would know what to do”.

When she arrived at the church, Father Juarez was speaking to the congregation and she chose to wait outside the entrance on the large stone terrace by the great doors until the end of his sermon. After the throngs of people exited into the surrounding calles under the mid morning sun, Pelota found the Father and delivered to him the news of Klaus Bauman.  He took in the sadness in her eyes and kindly extended his hand to lead her through the narrow center isle of the Church to his office where he retrieved an envelope containing the final wishes of the Professor Bauman.

She was to be given Klaus’s truck and trailer, his bull and rights to use the small meadow next to the lab.  Although Pelota was grateful to receive anything at all, she was more burdened by the passing of Klaus Baumann and the uncertainty of what tomorrows her future held without income and shelter. The slow walk back home found her momentarily at the meadow next to the laboratory.  She stopped to watch Niarkrok (the name given by her to her bull, without knowing what that meant) eating the grass in the field, swishing his tail keeping rhythm to this days passing way.  Pelota had developed a place in her heart for all the animals of the field, but Niakrok was her favorite.

It was difficult to imagine Professor Bauman’s life’s work having come to an end at the near exact time of his passing.  The heart of the great legend bird from the San Jacinto stopped beating at precisely the same moment as Klauss Bauman’s.  With no one left to tend the heart and no longer reason for the curious to visit, it was now a certainty that the lab would be closed down and Pelota would need to find new work.  The local butcher offered her a handsome sum for Nairkrok, but she would have no part in his demise.

Pelota grabbed what flakes of hay were left in the shed by the meadow and loaded Niarkrok into the truck/ trailer to accompany her north to her new employment as a rock sculptress at the Crazy Horse memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

“Another Day, Another Job”

Pelota received a small stipend to help work on Crazy Horse’s gargantuan nose. The duration of her “contract” was not specified in writing, but after two days on the job Pelota knew if she wanted, she could stay the rest of her life. The tools were crude and the progress so slow its completion would take years.

Work occasionally would stop when dynamiting commenced to bring down larger blocks of stone.  This typically required everyone on the project to stop working (sometimes for days) and exit to a field a safe distance away from the explosions. With nothing but time on their hands, the rock artisans often would play pick up games of soccer in a large swath of dirt next to her tail swishing bull.  Pelota made it a ritual to pet Niarkrook on his head for good luck (which seemed to always work) as she was inexplicably and incredibly talented at the game, never on the losing team.

Being inside the cave that was becoming Crazy Horse’s left nostril made the already unbearable South Dakotan summer heat even more intolerable.  Pelota would force herself to forget about her discomfort by honing in on shaping the stone until she could stop worrying about her bull being prisoner to the sun without shade in the small makeshift corral hundreds of feet below.  Seconds would melt into minutes until hours found the chill and darkness of night.  Weary and hungry she would slowly descend the varied ladders until reuniting with the only living attachment to her immediate past.  Although Niarkrok would pretend to be predictably indifferent upon her return, Pelota found reward in his acceptance of her loving hand extending water and flakes of hay.  She often bedded down next to him in a blanket of straw between the corral and her parked truck and trailer.  The sounds of the wind through the canyons differed from those in Santa Fe.  Although seeming less like home, they found utility in drying her tears before she accepted the battle with the cold of the Dakotan nightfall.

The morning sun came on with a crescendo of heat that in a short hour after rising would bear down on anything and everything trying to survive without shade.  That morning, when Pelota arose she peered around the trailer only to find the small makeshift corral empty.  Alarmed, she frantically followed the narrow dirt path beyond the open gate for close to an hour, nervously scanning the horizon for Niakrok until frantically returning without him.

Back at the base of the monument Pelota begged the other workers beginning their climb up the ladders to scan the horizons of the lower valleys for Niakrok. No one replied.  For a brief moment she felt invisible and without voice.

Pelota was unable to continue working the stone until she found Niakrok and with that she started her truck up and began a solo methodic search up and down the highway, stopping and searching any open canyons along the road.  After two full days she became overwhelmed by her loneliness and resolved to return to the rich red dirt at the base of the Sangre de Cristos…. to the only place where she had last known contentment.

The paymaster greeted Pelota through the open window of his dented trailer when her turn came up. The three in line behind, couldn’t help but hear her tale of why she had to leave.  At the end of her story she received a nominal check for work performed and was told there would always be a position for her on the project should she change her mind and return.

Halfway back to the truck Pelota could hear footsteps catching up to her from behind.  An extended hand found her shoulder.  Pelota recognized Samual from the ladders…..”did you say you were leaving for Santa Fe?”  In the next ten minutes Samual blurted out most of the details of his circumstance, including Santa Fe was where his family lived and he was desperate to get back. Given Pelota’s sense of despair, this was enough for her to allow him to share on gas as long as he rode in the back of the truck, to which Samual agreed.

“Nootaikok”

For the first three hours of the journey, Pelota would glance in the rear view mirror to see Samual’s long black hair blowing in the wind across his bowed down head.  She wasn’t sure if he was asleep or simply braving the elements, but she began to feel guilty that her comfort likely trumped his.  At their first stop for gas, after filling up, she approached Samual in the bed of the truck intending to offer him a seat in the cabin after getting his share for gas until seeing wood carving tools and wood chips strewn about the blanket Samual had laid down beneath him.  As their eyes met, Samual was holding a  partially molded block of spruce wood taking on at its base the characteristics of some kind of four legged animal.  Samual was so consumed in his carving that he barley noticed Pelota circling to the bed of the truck.

“Your share for gas is $8.50″….Samual looked up and momentarily stopped carving as he reached into his pocket and produced $5.00 and then, as if at a confessional, explained that it was all he had, but when they arrived at Santa Fe his carving would be complete and he was sure he could sell it and repay Pelota properly for his share.  Pelota reluctantly took the $5.00 and thought it best to leave Samual in the back to attend to what she doubted would ever come to fruition.

Ten miles outside Santa Fe, the rain began pouring so hard the bed in the pick up started looking like a pool.  Pelota pulled to the roadside and implored Samual to get in the cab and watched him without rebuttal quickly get inside to share her immediate domain.  She noticed a beautifully scaled carving depicting a bull with a bird fixed atop his head in Samual’s hand……”You finished?”……”Yeah, it came out ok, I’ll clean out the back when “we” get home and get you that gas money.”  Seeing his artistry (maybe it was the bull) Pelota was more comfortable with Samual sharing her space in the cab.

Samual directed Pelota to his parents small adobe house at the edge of the historic district of the capital city.  When they arrived, Samual insisted Pelota accompany him in getting out of the unseasonal rainstorm.  Pelota could smell the scent of warm tortillas over the hickory burning in the kivas.  She recalled walking by this house before, always being intrigued by how perfectly it fit in on the street.  Although it was smaller in size, the craftsmanship to the entrance and courtyard was tastefully unique and seemed to artfully embrace the abundant pained windows and doors throughout the house.  It always seemed happy and full of light there.  People often were gathered in the courtyard during the Spring, laughing and conversing around the outdoor fireplace.  She did not know the occupants, but was always impressed by their consistency in congeniality, pride and happiness.

When the door opened Samuel was greeted enthusiastically with hugs and shrieks of joy….”Nootaikok, you’re back!!!”.  Pelota, about to ask Samual about his new name, was interrupted by Samual’s introduction of her to his parents, grandparents, brothers and nephews all standing excitedly by the door.  When things calmed down, Samual’s father noteing the piece in his hand said “so Nootaikok, you’ve finally returned to your true calling” and with that he grabbed the woodwork from Samual and raised it in front of his eyes for close inspection.  “You’re even better than before” raising it up even higher for the family to see to which they all audibly displayed their approval and pride in the their family member’s woodcrafting skills.

“Mornings Not Broken”

Pelota awoke to the faint scent of dying embers of hickory, slowly burning in the kiva at the corner of her small casita. On the bedside table she found the cash Samual promised for gas and a note of gratitude for getting him home.  In the note Samual intimated that if she was looking for work his father would be happy to help her.

Pelota shyly wandered across the outdoor tiles of the rear courtyard toward the muted conversation of those in the kitchen until the conversation became more discernible….”she seems so lovely, I feel as if I’ve known her forever.  Yes she is so beautiful, its like they were made for each other”.  Entering the kitchen of the adobe, Pelota took in the familiar scent of sweet corn tortillas and was greeted with such warmth, she momentarily forgot she only had just met Samual’s family.  After sharing the circumstances for her return, she was immediately taken in and accepted as one of their own.

Pelota did speak to Nootaikok’s father that morning and humbly accepted his offer to help with the family business.

Minutes lead to hours and hours to years of happiness, having children with Nootaikok and never missing (always looking forward to) Tuesday’s family gatherings at the grandparents casa.

On warmer evenings, they would leave the house and go across the street to the park, lay their blanket on the cool green grass beneath the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo to play guitar and share the music with their children, while rehashing things like the merits of New Mexican bell peppers and the wonders of thriving in such a land of enchantment.

Pelota and Samual would never forget that evening’s encounter with Simon Birdsong  and his link to their family carvings. She and her extended family would have gladly embraced and brought Simon in, allowing him to find the space between his heartbeats, but that Wednesday after they met, Simon was gone, leaving forever behind the memories of his Grandfather’s guitar melodies and carving of the bull and bird.

It would forever be Samual and Pelota’s calling to continue making replicas of Simon’s carving including with each piece an insert of the “The Forgotten Tale”….. a tale that had been passed down from keeper to keeper since the time before continental drift.

“Final Epilogue, One Early Wednesday Morning, Santa Fe New Mexico”

I am now beyond my 100th birthday and feel reconciled.  I have been true to my family and the ancient storytellers and in that, I have been true to myself.  The slivers of sunlight arouse my contentment as I walk down the empty hallway by the Palace of the Governors.  The varied colors of the spirit blankets and the wares securing them from the wind are momentarily void as the artists and entrepreneurs are likely indulging in their slumbered dreams of the joyous tomorrows ahead of them.  Across the courtyard of the village center the bench by the fountain invites me for a final respite.  Taking seat, the bubbling water off the fountain again delivers me to my Grandfather’s porch in Sierra Madre.  My life’s journey again begins to play out to the rhythm of the glass top hat from my parents house.  I take a final look across the calle and site the silhouette of a bull with a bird gently perched on his head slowly exiting the village together down the center of the roadway framed by the rising sun.  A lone pickup drives by, headlights still on, with the radio playing “The Ballad of Easy Rider”……..”Wherever that river flows that’s where I want to be, flow river flow”…….the chronicle of my life accelerates, all the scenes perfectly blending until accelerating into a heavenly bright white. I am overwhelmed with by the sense of clarity embracing my spirit, remembering with true love all who I have shared with in my journey.   I indulge to take one final turn back to remind……

I will ALWAYS be yours in earnest!

Simon Birdsong