“The Brown Eyed Girl”
The original Pelota was born mid May, 1441 under the Peruvian stars on the outskirts of urban Cusco. She would also name her first born Pelota and like all obedient Incan’s, would escort her brown eyed namesake to the Qhapaq hucha when important events required.
Pelota was in a sense privileged because her mother was the third living wife of Pachacuti, who after birth, placed her into the custody of Andone Sambro, a close friend of the Incan leader.
It was in the Sambro household that the lineage of Pelotas would begin. Their history of passing down the same name Pelota to the first born female would remain unbroken over the centuries that followed, surviving war, disease and natural disaster.
The Sambro family would ultimately leave Cusco to avert civil unrest and become amongst the first settling families chosen to inhabit Machu Picchu. Life amongst the llama and stone was simple and chronicled like everything else, only by word of mouth. The families’ history being passed down from Pelota to Pelota over the generations, surviving to share the tales of their great Meso American culture and heritage.
Andone Sambro would name 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. It was indeed his honor to be the caretaker of the leader’s daughter and over time it became less about his promise and more about the love he felt for young brown eyed Pelota.
Andone was 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 amongst the high Andes. At the end of an athletic competition, it was 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 competition and honored their shared pursuit of excellence and relief that losing no longer resulted in their being beheaded or thrown down the steep steps of the tall stone pyramids.
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 melody while kicking back and forth the prize game ball. Pelota strongly felt his love for her and his reverence for being in motion playing on the famous field outside their home. When darkness arrived they would walk hand in hand under the observance of the local llama back to the warm fire waiting at home 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 finally 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 in the shade of 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 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 felt the sadness in her eyes, kindly extended his hand and led 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 like every day as if 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 Pelota 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 was to receive a small stipend to help work on Crazy Horse’s 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 there 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 sculptures 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 near 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 confined to the sun with no 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 her only attachment to her immediate past. Although Niarkrok would be predictably indifferent to 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 between the corral and the parked truck and trailer. The sounds of the wind through the canyons differed from those in Santa Fe. They seemed less like home, yet helped dry her tears before accepting battle with the evening’s chill.
The morning sun came with a crescendo of heat that in the next few hours would would bear down on anything and everything trying to survive without shade. This morning, when Pelota peered around the trailer, she found the small makeshift corral next to her parked truck empty. Alarmed, she frantically followed the narrow dirt path beyond the open gate for close to an hour, scanning the horizon for Niakrok until sadly and frantically returning without him.
Back at the base of the monument Pelota asked the other workers beginning their climb up the ladders to the work stations if they had seen, or could see Niakrok from their vistas over the valley below. Sadly, no one could help.
Pelota was unable to continue working the stone until she could find 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 window of his 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 small check for her work performed on Crazy Horse’s nose and was told there would always be a position for her on the project should she change her mind.
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 now 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.
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. Pelota saw 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 $28.50″….Samual looked up and momentarily stopped carving as he reached into his pocket and produced $15.00 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 $15.00 and thought it best to leave Samual in the back of the truck to attend to what she sadly 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 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 I 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 small 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 lite 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 the consistency in their dignity and dress.
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 noting the piece in his hand said “so Nootaikok, you’ve finally returned to your true calling” and with that he received 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 next to the dying embers of hickory wood slowly exiting the kiva at the corner of the small casita behind Samual’s parents house. 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 speak with her.
Pelota shyly wandered across the tiles of the rear courtyard as the muted conversation of those in the kitchen became more discernible….”she seems so lovely, I feel as if I’ve known her forever”…as she entered the kitchen of the aromatic adobe Pelota 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 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 talk of things like the merits of bell peppers and their shared experiences of living in the land of enchantment.
Pelota and Samual would never forget the evening of their encounter with Pablo La Boca and his link to their family carvings. She and her extended family would have gladly embraced and brought Pablo in, allowing him to find the space between his heartbeats until finally flailing into the mystic, but the morning after they met, Pablo was gone, leaving forever behind the memories of his Grandfather’s guitar melodies and the carving of the bull with the bird forever affixed atop his head.
It would forever be Samual (Nootaikik) and Pelota’s calling to make replicas of the bull and bird including with each carving an insert of the “The Forgotten Tale”….. a tale that has threaded time since the era of the big hearted ancients, taking respite in the simple joys of holding on to one another while floating down their river of dreams until reaching the great vast ocean awaiting at the end.
“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 tomorrows ahead of them. Across the courtyard of the village center the bench by the fountain invites me for a final respite. 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 at my parents house. I take a final look across the calle and site the slow silhouette of a bull with a bird gently perched on his head as they exit the village together down the center of the roadway. A lone pickup drives by them, headlights still on, with the radio playing “The Ballad of Easy Rider”……..”Wherever that river flows that’s where I want to be”…….the chronicle of my life accelerates into a bright white. I am overwhelmed with a clarity that embraces my spirit and all who I’ve touched along my journey. I indulge to take one final turn back to remind……
I will ALWAYS be yours in earnest!
Pablo La Boca