Every afternoon during the month of May, for years, Cielito faithfully brings fragrant flowers of many colors to the Virgin of Guadalupe at Our Lady Star of The Sea Catholic Church. She covers her head in religious reverence with a white lace veil. The same white veil, she once wore on top of her long black tresses during her first Holy Communion years ago, when she was A pre-señorita of twelve-thirteen, except, the veil isn`t as white as it once was during that special Sunday morning when she received the Second Blessed Sacrament; She genuflects, whispers some words, makes the sign of the cross on herself turns around with her eyes down cast and briskly walks towards an old woman waiting for her at the rear entrance of the church.
The six and seven year olds who received their second Blessed Sacrament with her chuckle behind tiny hands because they found it funny that she was much taller and older than them.
She was not escorted to the alter by proud parents or beaming padrinos. Instead walking slowly with her to front of the church at the end of the procession line was a frail ancient couple.
One on each side of her, with her in the middle supporting and steadying their shuffling steps as they braced themselves on her arms. Her hands were gloved white and she carried with her a small bible, a rosary and a candle. She was dressed in all white from head to toe. The old couple served as her as her sponsors. An uncommon arrangement at the time by church standards.
The old woman was dressed in a long black Victorian dress and a black veil on her head.
She wore a pair of dull satin gloves and she too carried a rosary and a small missal bible.
A black leather Patent purse dangled from one arm, a silk cream tone handkerchief in the other hand. Her timeworn cheeks were powdered and coated lightly with a touch of rouge blush.
The small hunched tired old man wore a gray baggy suit and tie that once before long ago fit him tailored. He held in one hand, a matching faded gray felt fedora; his black shoes shone spit bright. Cielito, was new to the congregation. She had never attended church before. She had never gone school before either. Both church and Catholic school were a first for her.
They moved to town years ago during the Mexican revolution of 1910. The rumor was, Don Manuel, as an accountant or bookkeeping clerk, somewhere in Mexico during the Porfio Diaz, dictatorship. He always wore his stiff starched shirts buttoned all the way to the top and he was never seen without a neck tie no matter how hot the weather.
I never saw it; some people in town claimed they had seen it. The story was.
The reason he always kept his shirts buttoned all the way to the top was to hide
A rope burn scare left there on his neck by one of Pancho Villa`s, hangman`s noose.
He had being captured and sentenced to death by hanging. His penalty for being a bureaucrat in the Diaz government, Somehow he had survived, lived and escaped. No one knows how, but he was able to safely cross the border to Port Isabel, Texas.
His son and his son`s wife were not as fortunate. Their small child Cielito, was spared by Villa`s men. The Lieutenant in command of the execution detail, gave Cielito, to Doña Jofesa. He could not find it within himself to kill an innocent victim of war.
The lieutenant`s moral conscience and as fate would have it, also saved her grand mothers` life as well. The child needed a caregiver. The lieutenant decided Doña Josefa, should have the responsibility of taking care of what now had become an orphan of war.
Don Manuel, was not a large man. He was a short thin nerdy looking man. Perhaps his light bone structure had something to do with his neck not snapping when the base he was standing on was pulled out from under him as is the case with most hangings, Perhaps, it wasn`t his time yet. Perhaps, because of Cielito, the Lieutenant looked the other way leaving the execution site before making sure Don Manuel was dead? Growing up in Port Isabel, Cielito, lived a sheltered and secluded life. Don Manuel found employment as a bookkeeper at a general mercantile store belonging to a prominent family in town. Doña Jofesa, dedicated herself to Cielito`s upbringing and schooling.
We all wondered at first why the child Cielito, was not permitted to play with the other children of the neighborhood. Why she was not allowed to go to school or attend any birthday parties or why we were never invited to celebrate her birthdays with her. We knew she had birthdays, everyone has birthdays. As the years passed we learned to accept the fact that within the fenced perimeter of the family`s property lived a little girl with her two elderly grandparents who was kept isolated from us and the rest of the world for some unknown reason. Her only playmates and companions were a little back dog named Pepito and a pair of yellow head parrots named Lolo and Lola.
They loved Cielito and Cielito loved them. They loved her so much that we constantly heard them calling her name all day long. They called her for everything!
They called her to breakfast, to lunch, to supper and to her studies. Most of the time they called her for no other reason, except, that they just liked calling out her name.
They called Pepito a lot too. For the most part Pepito, ignored their mimicking calls and just lay on his side under the cool shade of Doña Josefa`s Mulberry tree snoozing, waiting for Cielito to come outside and play. Sometimes when Lolo and Lola were unable to stir Pepito from his REM state by calling his name. They would mischievously, imitate barking noises and dog howls they had learned from listening to the other dogs in the neighborhood. This usually would get a perked and confused head lift from Pepito.
Once he realized that it was not one the neighboring dogs barking or howling and that it was the parrots playing tricks on him. He would give them a long panting stare, get up from his comfortable nap spin around a few times; sniff and scratch his nestling ground to moving aside the hot top soil exposing the cooler sand underneath, stretch, yawn, shack his body loose of dirt, knats,and other pests, lay back down on his side, lick and nibble different parts of his body, give the rascally parrots another aloof look, scan the surrounds of his domain, to make sure all is well and safe. Satisfied the homestead is secured, he would rest his head on his front paws and stare into space.
Lolo and Lola became love birds and as nature dictates, they began to proliferate baby chicks. Soon after Cielito found herself being the keeper to multiple numbers of parrots.
The broods became too much for Cielito to care for. One day she decided she was going to release the offspring parrots. She set them free to fly the sky unrestrained and unbound, as soon as they were able to. They were free to go where they pleased! Suddenly, the palm trees and eucalyptus trees of Port Isabel had new inhabitants.
Some people said she released the birds because she understood how it felt to be confined and restricted. She knew how it felt like to be caged by obedience and loyalty.
She kept Lolo and Lola. They were her mates along with pepito. She did get gratification however in seeing the other parrots fly about in small flocks. She saw freedom in flight.
Doña Josefa was a cultured woman and knew how to play the piano. Daily, during the quite down time of the evening after dinner and before bed time, her fingers would skillfully press down on the ivories playing classical melodies from long ago famous composers my father once said to me. We had never heard music like that before.
We never tired of listening to the sound of it every evening. It was “musica clasica”, my father would say. It was pleasant to our ears; carried by the always present moderate
Cool Gulf of Mexico breeze that swept through the neighborhood soothingly, lulling the children to sleep and relaxing the grownups before they too went to bed for the night.
The revolution in Mexico continued for several more years after the family`s escape to
Texas. As it turned out, we later found out this was the reason Don Manuel and Doña Josefa, decided to keep Cielito, confined at home almost hidden with minimal contact
With the town folk during her early childhood, pre and adolescent years.
All we knew of the family during their early years in Port Isabel was that they had come over from Mexico and that they had a small child with them, a girl, their granddaughter.
We did not know what had happened to her parents. One rumor was, they were still in Mexico, another was they were dead. We later found out, the dead rumor to be true.
When the revolution finally did end and after Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata were both ambushed and killed by power hungry conspirators. Don Manuel and Doña Josefa decided to allow themselves and Cielito, to sparingly venture out in public, sometimes they went to the mercantile, other times to the movies, where they sat in the balcony.
The Villista and Zapatista followers had become fragmented and scattered. Most allied themselves with the new regime, a lesser few stubbornly held on to the revolution.
This new direction in Mexican government, policies politics and restructuring,
Gave Don Manuel, the opinion and some confidence that the family was now safe.
He felt that the new leaders in Mexico had become more preoccupied with their own profitable positions in government and future wealth to worry about him, a low level accountant following orders in a corrupt dictatorship now defeated. They had what they wanted. He was now a no consequence former federalist, a pawn of war ordered to die.
He`s ever present fear and paranoia since his escape was, that he had not died as condemned. As far as he was knew he was a wanted man, with a price on his head.
Cielito, was allowed to live because of the compassion one revolutionary felt for her.
Her grandmother was allowed to live because the revolutionary gave Cielito to her.
If by chance that revolutionary spies or sympathizers were in the business of searching
For and locating escaped prisoners; coming across and recognizing Cielito, the child who was spared by a lenient, merciful lieutenant meant that the old man and old woman with her were her grandparents. With the grandfather being the escapee Don Manuel, an enemy and fugitive of the revolution who had escaped his death sentence. As long as the revolution raged on in Mexico, he had to keep a low profile. He did this by being a quite, private man. He did not form friendships or associations with other men in town.
He went to work every day at the mercantile where he had a small office in the rear.
He kept the books and ledgers for his bosses; at the end of the business day he went directly home to his family, doing his best not to call attention to himself. They never went out on the town, never attended any social gatherings. All of the provisions and other necessities they needed to live on he was able to bring home from the store.
The property bordering their modest stucco home was fenced with wooden planks. Doña Josefa, planted oleanders and bougainvilleas of many different colors adjoining it.
The beautiful flowering trees and thorny vine entwined and weaved to each other and the fence. This gave the family privacy and provided Cielito, her flowers for the virgin.
With the revolution now behind them. Don Manuel, Doña Josefa and Cielito began to make efforts to resume a life of normalcy within a community they had sought refuge in, while living almost as recluses from public contact so many years. The task proved too difficult, too many years had lapsed. Old age and time, worked against the old couple.
Cielito, had grown almost to adulthood. While her seclusion had managed to keep her Grandfather alive for all these many years. Death, as we all know is unavoidable.
And so it happened. Don Manuel and Doña Josefa did pass on to a better life. Cielito, brought her finale bouquet of flowers to the virgin wrapped in her faded veil once white.
After placing the flowers at the Virgin`s feet, she sat on the front pew of the church looking up at The Guadalupe, in silent prayer and meditation. As the day began to give way to the dusk preceding night, she rose from the pew and walked next door to the convent of the Sisters of Incarnate Word, where she asked for a new veil for her head, and a Habit for her body. This time however the veil was to be charcoal black. She rendered her birth name Cielito to God who had called her to a vocation and life of religious service. She accepted her vows of chastity and devotion and went out into the world to serve the Lord with her new name; Sister Mary Joseph, of Incarnate Word.
Rudy H. Garcia 2014.
Editor: Rudy touches on a very common occurrence during the Mexican Civil War; thousands perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into the United States. At the same time Midwesterner s and Southern people were flooding in down to the Rio Grande Valley and along the borderlands. That brings to mind another tale.
This one by Rudy H. Garcia, answers the questions raised in the opening of the tale, and in the end leaves us with more questions still.
I, for one, am left wondering if the Mexican Civil War crossed the border into the United States, were the vendettas and atrocities avenged? Or was it more or less put on the back burner, as the refugees confronted a new land and culture?
So the story of “Cielito” ends, but the questions linger on.
Author: Rudy H. Garcia
Rudy H. García, from Port Isabel, Texas, has a Master’s in Education from the University of Texas at Brownsville and earned a B.A. in psychology from Pan American University in 1976. He is a participant in the Narciso Martínez Cultural Arts Center Writers’ Forum, and is a founder of the Laguna Madre Writers Forum. Rudy has also been featured on the radio program “Themes and Variations.” His poems are published with “Poets of the East Village” in New York and he has been a featured reader for the El Paseo Arts Foundation and is published in numerous other magazines.