"Bless Me Ultima" copyright ©1972 by Rudolfo A. Anaya.Reprinted by permission from Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Book Group).
“¡Antonioooooo!Wake up.Your uncle Pedro is here—”
I dressed and raced downstairs.Today was the day we went to El Puerto.My uncle had come for us.Of all my uncles I loved my uncle Pedro the most.
“Hey, Tony!”His embrace lifted me to the ceiling and his smile brought me safely down.“Ready to pick apples?” he asked.
“Sí, tío,” I replied.I liked my uncle Pedro because he was the easiest one to understand.The rest of my uncles were very gentle and kind, but they were very quiet.They spoke very little.My mother said their communication was with the earth.She said they spoke to the earth with their hands.They used words mostly when each one in his own way walked through his field or orchard at night and spoke to the growing plants.
My uncle Pedro had lost his wife long before I was born and he had no children.I felt good with him.Also, of all my uncles, my father could talk only to my uncle Pedro.
“Antonio,” my mother called, “hurry and feed the animals!Make sure they have enough water!You know your father will forget them while we are away!”I gulped the oatmeal she had prepared and ran out to feed the animals.
“Deborah!” my mother was calling, “are the bags packed?Is Theresa ready?”Although El Puerto was only ten miles down the valley, this trip was the only one we ever took and it meant a great deal to her.It was the only time during the year when she was with her brothers, then she was a Luna again.
My uncle Pedro loaded the bags on his truck while my mother ran around counting a hundred things that she was sure my father would forget to do while we were away.Of course, it never happened that way, but that is how she was.
“¡Vamos!¡Vamos!” my uncle called and we clamored aboard.It was the first time Ultima would go with us.We sat quietly in the back of the truck with the bags and did not speak.I was too excited to talk.
The truck lurched down the goat path, over the bridge and swung south towards El Puerto.I watched carefully all that we left behind.We passed Rosie’s house and at the clothesline right at the edge of the cliff there was a young girl hanging out brightly colored garments.She was soon lost in the furrow of dust the truck raised.We passed the church and crossed our foreheads, then we passed the El Rito bridge and far towards the river’s side I could see the green water of the dam.
The air was fresh and the sun bright.The road wound along the edge of the river.At times the road cut into the cliffs made by the mesas that rose from the river valley, then the river was far below.There was much to see on such a trip, and almost before we had started it was over.I could hear my mother’s joyful cry from the cab of the truck.
“There!”There is El Puerto de los Lunas!”The road dropped into the flat valley and revealed the adobe houses of the peaceful village.“There!” she cried.“There is the church of my baptism!”
“The dusty road passed in front of the church, then past Tenorio’s Bar and into the cluster of mud houses with rusted tin roofs.Each house had a small flower garden in front and a corral for animals at the back.A few dogs gave chase to the truck and in front of one house two small girls played, but for the most part the village was quiet—the men were in the fields working.
At the end of the dusty road was my grandfather’s house.Beyond that the road dipped towards the bridge that crossed the river.My grandfather’s house was the biggest one in the village, and it was rightly so, because after all the village had been largely settled by the Lunas.The first stop we made was at his house.It was unthinkable that we stop anywhere else before seeing him.Later we would go and stay with my uncle Juan because it was his turn that my mother’s family visit with his and it would slight his honor if she didn’t, but for now we had to greet our grandfather.
“Mind your manners,” my mother cautioned us as we got down.My uncle led the way and we followed.In the cool, dark room which was the heart of the house my grandfather sat and waited.His name was Prudencio.He was old and bearded, but when he spoke or walked I felt the dignity of his many years and wisdom.
“Ay, papá,” my mother cried when she saw him.She rushed into his arms and cried her joy out on his shoulders.This was expected and we waited quietly until she finished telling him how happy she was to see him.Then came our greetings.In turn we walked up, took his ancient, calloused hand and wished him a good day.Finally, Ultima greeted him.
“Prudencio,” she said simply and they embraced.
“It is good to have you with us again, Ultima.We welcome you, our house is your house.”He said our house because a couple of my uncles had built their houses against his until the original house spread into a long house with many of my cousins living in it.
“And Gabriel?” he asked.
“He is fine, and he sends you greetings,” my mother said.
“And your sons, León, Andrés, Eugenio?”
“The letters say they are fine,” and her eyes were full of tears, “but almost every day there is a tolling of the bells for a son that is lost to the war—”
“Take faith in God, my child,” my grandfather said and he held her close, “He will return them safely.The war is terrible, the wars have always been terrible.They take the boys away from the fields and orchards where they should be, they give them guns and tell them to kill each other.It is against the will of God.”He shook his head and knitted his eyebrows.I thought God must look that way when He is angry.
“And you heard about Lupito—” my mother said.
“A sad thing, a tragedy,” my grandfather nodded.“This war of the Germans and the Japanese is reaching into all of us.Even into the refuge of the Valle de los Lunas it reaches.We have just finished burying one of the boys of Santos Estevan.There is much evil running loose in the world—” They had turned towards the kitchen where they would drink coffee and eat sweet breads until it was time to go to my uncle Juan’s.
We always enjoyed our stay at El Puerto.It was a world where people were happy, working, helping each other.The ripeness of the harvest piled around the mud houses and lent life and color to the songs of the women.Green chile was roasted and dried, and red chile was tied into colorful ristras.Apples piled high, some lent their aroma to the air from where they dried in the sun on the lean-to-roofs and others as they bubbled into jellies and jams.At night we sat around the fireplace and ate baked apples spiced with sugar and cinnamon and listened to the cuentos, the old stories of the people.
Late at night sleep dragged us away from the stories to a cozy bed.
“In that one there is hope,” I heard my uncle Juan say to my mother.I knew he talked about me.
“Ay, Juan,” my mother whispered, “I pray that he will take the vows, that a priest will return to guide the Lunas—”
“We will see,” my uncle said.“After his first communion you must send him to us.He must stay with us a summer, he must learn our ways—before he is lost, like the others—”
I knew he meant my three brothers.
Across the river in the grove of trees the witches danced.In the form of balls of fire they danced with the Devil.
The chilled wind blew around the corners of the houses nestled in the dark valley, brooding, singing of the old blood which was mine.
Then the owl cried; it sang to the million stars that dotted the dark-blue sky, the Virgin’s gown.All was watched over, all was cared for.I slept.