The Nevada Appeal's tradition of publishing Holiday Memories written by our readers will continue through Christmas. Thanks to all those who took time to share their stories.
- Editor Barry Smith
By Jan Bachman
I had had a wonderful start as an American Red Cross Social Worker in San Antonio, Texas. The Vietnam War was on in 1965 and I was stationed at Brooke Army Medical Center to counsel and aid returning injured servicemen and their families.
My Red Cross roommate was Patsy, also a recent college graduate and also facing a Christmas far away from family. Patsy's were in Puerto Rico and mine in Illinois. But she explained that all was not lost ... her uncle, a handsome mix of black and Latino heritage, had moved to Mexico City as a young man and married a red haired Irish-Mexican beauty. One of their now grown daughters lived in Chihuahua, Mexico, and was asking Patsy to join in their family gathering for Christmas, and she asked her to bring me!
Off we excitedly went by Greyhound to El Paso, then boarded a Mexican bus for the trip south to Chihuahua. I hadn't been out of this country yet and was thrilled to be sitting on the front seat as the bus filled with hard-working Mexicans going south with gaily wrapped presents of every size. Add to that chickens in crates, bags and bags of food, babies, puppies, everything. Every seat was taken and we were off!
I had been used to taking buses in Minnesota where I went to college, but I wasn't used to a bus driver going right down the middle of the two lane highway which stretched straight ahead as far as the eye could see. When we heard a tire blow out, he slowed and stopped to allow several passengers to get out and change the tire while he lay on the center aisle and snoozed. It was explained to me that he'd been driving for 24 hours straight and was exhausted.
When we finally were ready to go on, a couple passengers (truck drivers) took over the driving while he continued to sleep. Patsy and I just laughed and were amazed at our grand adventure, too naïve to be worried.
Arriving in downtown Chihuahua about 9 p.m., we phoned the cousin's house and asked to be picked up. Much to our surprise, a short time later a large vintage GM four-door sedan arrived with the whole family, including Grandma in the back seat and everyone else. Luckily we were still thin because we rode on friendly laps to the house. We drove slowly and heavily past the large plaza where buildings were ablaze in Christmas lights of all colors and soft Christmas hymns were playing inside and out of the beautiful church.
At their home, everyone piled out and we were greeted by our tall graceful hostess with "Mi casa es su casa" and were given our own bedroom and made to feel like royalty. The next day was Christmas Eve and we would be part of the traditional family picnic and dance later in the evening. All day we watched fabulous dishes being cooked, toured the jalapeno "factory" in the back yard (the family business), visited and ate and ate.
That evening family members played guitars while others sang or danced. Close to midnight our hostess pulled from hiding a large beautifully decorated carton filled with small wrapped gifts for everyone. We were moved to be included and received lovely handkerchiefs in bright paper.
But the real present that I will always remember happened on the stroke of midnight as we were all ushered in to the bed of little daughter Natie, short for Natividad, to sing softly the lovely birthday song Las Mananitas.
She was serenaded awake on her fifth Christmas birthday to the sound of guitars playing, the sight of candles burning and many presents waiting. It will always be a cherished Christmas memory.