A woman across the way from Carol’s was having a yard sale yesterday. She had recently sold her place on Aldama and was moving back to Atlanta to be closer to her children. She said she and her husband had lived in San Miguel for 18 years—right after he’d retired—and loved it but then he passed away of pancreatic cancer in the spring. So she was going home.
She had a lot of Talavera pottery. The good stuff. Large serving plates and beautiful pitchers, the sort of stuff that costs hundreds of dollars. She said they’d been collecting it for over 20 years, long before they moved to San Miguel, and she didn’t want to sell it piece by piece. “I’m looking for someone to take the entire collection,” she said.
She also had some nice watercolors. They weren’t very sophisticated, which was fine, but whoever had done them—they were in different styles so I’m guessing there was more than one artist—had done a fine job of capturing the neighborhood scene. I particularly liked one showing Aldama street towards La Parroquia. It was almost identical to a photo I’d taken last week during the Day of the Dead festivities.
The watercolor of Aldama Street.
I asked the woman about it but she said that particular painting wasn’t for sale. Her husband had painted it. There wasn’t much else I was interested in. It was mostly old household items—pots and pans, some small chairs, a dusty lamp or two.
A photograph of the same view. Photo by David Lansing.
Just as I was about to leave a middle-aged couple came in. The woman headed straight for the watercolor of Aldama that I had been admiring.
“Y’all sellin’ this painting?” said the woman. She had a thick Texas drawl.
“I’m sorry no.”
The woman’s husband, whose face was raw and red looking, as if he’d been out playing golf all day, came over to take a look.
“That is nice,” he said. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of Winstons and lit one. “It’s not all bright and garish like so much of the Mexican crap you see down here,” he said after blowing a puff of smoke sideways.
“Darryle, you ninny, did you even think to ask the lady here if you could smoke in her house?” his wife said, swatting him on the arm.
He held the cigarette out in front of him with his thumb and index finger, like he’d just picked a bug up off the floor. “Damn,” he said, as if he had no idea how it had gotten into his hand.
“It’s quite alright,” said the older woman. “I used to smoke myself.”
The red-faced man smiled. “Leila here says I’ve lost all my manners down here and I reckon she’s right.” He stepped outside and tossed the cigarette onto the cobblestones.
“His wife shook her head in mock disgust. “Men?” she said, as if it were a question. Then she gave the elderly woman a conspiratorial smile. “Y’all certain you don’t want to sell that painting?” Her drawl seemed to be getting thicker.
Her husband chuckled. “I know where this is going,” he said. He dipped a fat hand into his pants pocket and pulled out a folded wad of pesos. I don’t know why it is, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Texan use a wallet in San Miguel. Hell, maybe they don’t use them in Texas either.
He flipped through a stack of one-hundred peso notes and said, “Just tell me when to stop.”
The elderly woman shot me a glance and I raised an eyebrow. I think she knew they were going to keep on until they got what they wanted. They just seemed like the type.
“She can’t sell you that painting because I already bought it,” I said.
That did nothing to slow down the husband. “Then how much do you want for it?” he said, still flipping bills.
“You know what?” said the elderly woman. “Why don’t you just take it.”
The husband stopped flipping through his money and gave his wife a look of surprise. “Hold on there,” he said. “We mean to pay for it. Just tell me how much.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said the elderly woman. “Please. Just take it.”
Telling them they could have the painting took all the fun out of it for them, of course. They looked at each other, confused, and then the woman reminded Darryl that they were late for a lunch engagement at Villa Jacaranda and they hurried out into the late afternoon glare of Aldama without looking back.
When they were gone, I apologized to the elderly woman. I don’t know why. I guess I just felt bad that this Texan couple had been so unpleasant. She asked me if I’d like a cup of tea and I didn’t but I told her that would be lovely. We sat in her living room, with most of her possessions spilling out of cardboard boxes, and she told me about her husband working for the military and then being posted in Mexico City—“This was way back during Eisenhower,” she said, “when living in Mexico was quite an adventure.” Then she mentioned again how much they’d both loved San Miguel.
I asked her if her husband was buried in the panteon outside of town. “No,” she said. “Neither one of us ever liked that place. Too sterile. At least the American section.” Then she pointed towards one of the beautiful Talavera vases. “He’s in that,” she said. “I had him cremated. Don’t know what I’ll do with him when I get home.” She was silent for a moment and then said, “Too much to think about.”
I smiled and thanked her for the tea and told her I had to be going.
“Would you do me a favor?” she asked as I stood up.
“Would you take that painting with you?” It was the watercolor her husband had painted.
“I really couldn’t,” I said. “Now that I know what it means to you.”
“But that’s just it,” she said. “I somehow feel like that Texan couple were giving me a message to find a better home for that painting. And I don’t know why, but I just feel certain that you’re the one who should have it.”
I tried to pay her for it but she refused my money. “It’s a gift,” she said. “Take care of it and maybe down the line you can give it to someone else sometime. My husband would like that.”
I carefully pried the painting off the wall and carried it under my arm down Aldama street. In the evening I hung it on the pale blue wall of my living room, facing the Parroquia.