I drove my mother to the Mesa Temple yesterday. For two hours she told me true stories of the Mexico of her childhood. I love her stories. Below is my favorite of the day.
His name was Chico Leon. Chico means small. Leon means lion. Chico Leon had the small shriveled heart of a small ruthless runt of a lion.
Ugly as sin was this Chico Leon. He was tall and thin with enormous rubbery lips, a giant, crooked nose and great, round, googly eyes than bulged from his head as he played his accordion and sang the patriotic songs of Mexico.
Chico Leon had two wives. Sisters.
He lived in Turicachi, Mexico when my mother was a child.
My mother remembers this Chico Leon with his two sister wives. He would play his accordion at town celebrations and weddings in which the families were too poor to pay for a band. Chico would play for free. People respected and liked Chico Leon both for his musical abilities and also for his relative wealth.
Chico owned a grocery store. He also owned more heads of cattle than anyone in Turicachi.
Chico Leon was cross-eyed. My mother remembers his eyes rolling about like loose marbles in his head as his arms pumped the accordion vigorously. Her own eyes would cross in an effort to keep track of the direction in which his eyes might settle.
He was old and shriveled when my mother was small, which made him all the more terrifying.
I asked my mother how he came to acquire two wives in a time and place when such a thing did not occur. She told me the following story.
Chico Leon was a physically ugly man in his 30's. He had never been married.
He fell in love with a girl of 17. Berta. He struck a deal with Berta's father. A trade. Several cows for Berta's hand in marriage.
Berta was wife number one.
Berta's mother died soon after the wedding. She was survived by Berta, a 12 year old girl and an 8 year old boy.
Men in Turicachi at that time did not care for young children alone. Berta's father left the children at Berta's doorstep and left. He was never seen again.
Chico Leon accepted responsibility for Berta's siblings.
One day Chico Leon took Berta's 12 year old sister, Sara, on a bellota gathering camping trip. Many people from town traveled together to collect the small, bitter acorns of the bellota tree. The camping trip lasted a week.
The first day Sara gathered bellotas from dusk til dawn. She was happy to be of help. She laughed and chatted with the townspeople as she worked.
When night came she climbed, exhausted, into the tent she was to share with Chico Leon.
She would not sleep that night.
Sara's screams and Chico's controlling grunts were heard throughout the camp that night. The next day the girl gathered bellotas with her head down. Tears fell from her small, brown face watering the ground beneath her.
Every night of the week was the same. Crying. Grunting. Until there was no more crying.
One becomes accustomed to everything in this life. She accepted her fate.
Chico took Sara home. Berta and Sara were orphans in a developing country. They saw no escape. They lived as his wives. They grew to hate each other.
Hate can seem much easier to carry than Hurt. One has a tendency to feel powerful when consumed with Hate. But such thinking is a fallacy, isn't it? For Hate and Hurt are sisters. Both ache to the bone.
Little Sara had her first child at the age of 14. Then another two years later. Berta never bore children.
These women lived as the obedient wives of Chico Leon until they were well into their fifties. Then they left Chico Leon.
Chico Leon had the lion's share throughout his life. Then the man of small heart died alone with no one to mourn him.
My great Uncle Prieto (whom I loved dearly and was very close to) watched this disaster from afar. He fell in love with Sara, but was married to an shrew of a woman. Prieto was a good man and would never disrespect the honor of his family. He never acted upon his feelings.
Sara and my uncle never exchanged romantic words. He never held her hand. It was their eyes and hearts that spoke freely.
I remember him speaking of how, finally, as an old man he gone to pay her a visit. She had served him a good cup of coffee. He sat at her table and they talked for hours of nothing. His eyes would light up as he told and re-told the story of Sara and the cup of coffee.
After my uncle died Sara lost her mind completely and was committed.
Life is truly stranger than fiction.