TRILOGYPopos Funeral La Ua Popos Last Anniversary Mass
First, a prelude to better understand the story. The present owner of Rancho San Antonio de los Alamos is Sr. Rodolfo Villarreal. I came to know the Villarreal family and their ranch some few months after arriving in Mexico in 1967. And from early on we became close friends. I helped Rodolfo out at this time when he needed funds for urgent legal maneuvers to acquire a clear title to the ranch. In the course of the years I helped him out in many other ways also. I always stayed at the ranch when I was out in that area, and because sometimes I would arrive late at night, or when for some reason there was no one at the ranch, I had a key to the house. Popo (nickname) is the second son of Rodolfo and Elena, and he was about twenty-two years of age at this time.
It was September l7, 1987, the day after celebrating Mexican Independence Day. I had been out in the villages for several days, and I was now heading back to town. I was still forty miles away, and it was about eleven at night. Off in the distance were the headlights of another vehicle coming my way. When the headlights came closer I pulled off the road and turned off my lights. I always did this because at some places in the trail the way is very narrow, and if two vehicles meet there, there can be problems. Too, one never knew if the other driver had had one too many. When the other vehicle, another pickup, arrived where I was parked, it too stopped because the driver recognized who I was. Angel Gmez got out and came over and said that they had been looking and waiting for me in town all day. He said that Popo had been murdered the night before, and that they were going to bury him at the ranch come morning. So I turned around and went ahead of Angel because Angel did not know that stretch of trail well, and farther along the trail had been washed out, and at night the washout could come up unexpectedly at the last moment.
From where we were it was a drive of only about an hour and a half to the ranch, and so when we were still about two miles away we stopped and slept until daylight, and then went on to the ranch. Rodolfo and Elena were so glad that I had come.
Popos body had been laid out in a casket in the living / dining room. The burial had to be as soon as possible because out that way there are no funeral parlors and no embalming. The law is that the burial should take place within twenty-four hours. It had now been over thirty hours, and it was becoming obvious.
There was a problem. One time, not too long before, Popo was sitting on a slight slope a few hundred feet from the house taking in the scene of the ranch stead: the house with its garden, the corrals and the out buildings, the orchard, the high cliff in front of him, and the other cliff to his left behind the house. And the large cotton wood trees at the entrance to the wooded canyon with its small springs and rippling water. He was heard to say that he could just stay there forever. And it was there that they were going to bury him.
The trouble was that in this area the soil is only a few inches thick, and below that is a bed of tuff which is well metamorphosed, and so very resistant to a sledge and a chisel. A crew of neighbors had been working all night, and when we got there the hole was only about two feet deep. Now they were starting to use small charges of dynamite, but the drill they were using was the blunt end of a jack hammer bit. The plan was to deepen the hole just enough so that slab of concrete could be poured over the casket. But still! I talked to Rodolfo and Elena and explained to them that there was a wedding in La Esmeralda that evening at six, and so I would have to leave no later than one-thirty. Rancho San Antonio is only about thirty-five miles from town by the short way, but the trail is so bad that it takes at least three and a half hours. (This shorter trail is so bad that it is better to take the long way around even though it takes more time.)
Next, it had been some years since I had been over the short way, and I knew that in the meantime some of the trail near the ranch had been washed out, and so another trail had been made. Also that a fence had been put in, and the fence cut the trail off at one point. I explained that I could stay until one-thirty only under the condition that someone would go along back with me to show the way. Angel volunteered. Since this had been an unexpected detour, I did not have enough gasoline to make it back into town. Rodolfo always has several fifty-five gallon drums of gasoline at the ranch for his use, and he gave me enough to get back.
A little later Rodolfo called me to one side to tell me that someone had just told him that Popo had been murdered. Up until this time they had let Rodolfo and Elena believe that Popo had committed suicide. There was only one wound, and that to the right temple. Too, everyone knew that Popo had been experiencing a difficult personal problem. This new knowledge was at one and the same time a slight relief to the parents, and an added wrenching grief. (That will be explained in the second part of this story.)
When it got to be one o-clock it was obvious that it would still be hours before the grave was deep enough. So we had the funeral mass under the porch roof of the house, and the burial would be when the grave was finished. By this time there were at least a hundred people around.
When I went to see Angel about going along back with me, he reneged. When he had agreed to go along, he believed that the burial would be over by this time. He said that there were two teenage girls there who wanted to go back to Rancho Rosarito which is on the way back to La Esmeralda. Angel said that the girls knew the way. It was between San Antonio and Rosarito that the trail had been changed. Once I was in Rosarito, I knew the rest of the road back.
So the three of us started off. For about two miles it was the same old trail, and then we came to a fork in the road. I stopped and asked the girls which trail to take. The girls replied that they did not know these roads. Angel had pulled a fast one on me, and I was a little put out about it because he knew how important it was to me. So we took the trail that headed in the general direction of Rosarito, but after a couple of miles I recognized it as the road that goes directly to Rancho La Pistola. So I turned around, came back to the fork and took the other option. After about a mile and a half we came to the fence that somewhere along the line had cut off the old trail. There was a new trail following the fence and leading directly to Rosarito which we could see away in the distance.
In the meantime it had clouded up and a storm was brewing. When we were about two miles from Rosarito the clouds opened, and there followed one of those intense desert down pours. These are just so wonderful and welcome, so long as one is not on the road. The ground in the area in which we were is quite soft, and when the ruts of the trail become too deep, another trail is made along side. And then maybe a third and fourth. Within a matter of minutes the trail was flooded with water, and it was impossible to see which set of tracks was best to drive. Suddenly the pickup lurched and came to an abrupt stop resting at right angles to the trail, and hung up on the berms between the ruts.
These sudden desert rains are usually over in a short time. So we waited until it stopped raining and the water was going down. In the meantime I told the girls that I was tired and sleepy, and needed some rest. It was agreed that they would walk on into Rosarito and send back some help.
In time a pickup was seen coming my way, and it stopped about three hundred yards from where my pickup was stuck. The stretch of trail between from where the pickup stopped and back to Rosarito is over slightly higher ground, and is made up of small rock and gravel; it was almost an all weather road. Besides, in Rosarito there had been no more than a good sprinkle. Had I not made the mistake of taking the wrong turn at the fork, I would have easily made it out ahead of the storm.
There was no way in the world to extricate the pickup so long as it was surrounded with water. But Gordo (Fats) Lujn had an old Toyota pickup and agreed to taxi me back into town. Trouble was that the Toyota had an electric fuel pump that went out every so often, and it was difficult for Gordo get his bulk beneath the low Toyota to reconnect the wires, or whatever he had to do. So it was just about nine oclock when we pulled into La Esmeralda. Immediately I rang the church bell.
The wedding party had been there at six, and had waited for about an hour. When I did not show they knew that something had happened, and it was no telling when I would be back. So they went back home. only a couple of blocks away.
In Mexico for a marriage to have legal status, it must be performed in the presence of the designated civil official. The ordinary place for the marriage is in the office of the said official, but for an extra fee the official will perform the wedding in another place of choice. And this is usually what happens. Simply it is more convenient that the official come to where the wedding party is than for all the wedding party to go to the officials office. Besides, there are office hours.
So that is what the wedding party did when I did not show. They went back to the house of the bride, the civil ceremony was performed, and then they sat down for the wedding dinner. They had just sat down when they heard the bell, and everyone came to church for the wedding mass. The greatest inconvenience to them was that they had to go to church twi