The Old Cantina And The Young Guitarist

Years ago driving in Southwest Texas, I made a wrong turn and found myself in a small town about twenty-five miles from the Texas border.  My blue VW bug was dust covered as I pulled into the peaceful town.

At the edge of the town was the only filling station, Texaco.  Back in the day Texaco was everywhere.  The theme from Texaco Star Theatre was still popular:

Oh, we’re the men of Texaco
We work from Maine to Mexico
There’s nothing like this Texaco of ours!

Sky Chief, fill up with Sky Chief,
And you will smile at the pile of new miles you will add
Fire Chief, fill up with Fire Chief
You’ll find that Texaco’s the finest friend your car has ever had

Luis, the proprietor, directed me to the local cantina, Rosita, as he took care of my car.  He was going to do a full inspection, but this is what Texaco did back in the day.  They knew how to take care of their “friends”.

Walking into the cantina, I was greeted by the owner, Manuel, who asked if I was hungry since it was about supper time.  Matter of fact, I was.  I had not eaten since 7 am. Those buckwheat pancakes with Agave syrup had done their job and moved on to leave plenty of room to fill.

I discovered the cantina was named for Manuel’s wife, Rosita.  She was in the kitchen, and he told me to sit by the window looking toward their adobe church.

Soon, he returned with a cold bottle of Sangría Señorial, some fresh baked blue corn tortillas and a steamy plate of frijoles y arroz.  It was a meal fit for a crown prince.

As I ate, a young man, carrying a guitar case, came into the cantina and sat  in the far corner.  He was American with reddish, long hair and an army jacket.  Faded blue jeans, an old yellow shirt, black boots and a red bandana finished his wardrobe.

In a few moments he took out his guitar and began to play.  The melody added a nice touch to the ambiance.  The music was captivating.

Being an inquisitive newspaper reporter, I asked Manuel about the talented young man who definitely had a musical gift.  Manuel sadly shook his head and told me about three months before the young man had wandered into the cantina.

Manuel had given him a free meal since he did not have any money.  After the meal he began to play his guitar.

So for ninety nights he had come and played.  Rosita always gave him a good supper.

During the day he would help the Padre.  The Padre provided him a room in the back of the church.

Manuel said he had spoken very little in the three months.  His hazel eyes spoke of a deep sorrow as well as his melodies on the guitar.

I surmised that he had served in Southeast Asia.  Like a number of veterans that I encountered in my travels in those days, there was always a sense of loss, of the innocence of youth which could never be repossessed.

After supper I wandered over to his table as he ate his delicious food.  He greeted me with a slight smile, but I was not able to get much conversation—just a few words.

I left a ten dollar bill ( my editor could afford it ) at the table and told him that his music had been the best dessert I could have found.  He thanked me and went back to playing.

Saying good-bye to Manuel and his lovely wife, I strolled down the street to the filling station.  To my amazement my VW bug was as clean as a cactus wren leaving a bird bath.

I thanked Luis, the owner.  As we conversed, the Padre came walking over.

I asked him about the young man.  The Padre said that he was a troubled soul, a wandering sprit in search of peace.

At night the young man had nightmares of war.  The Padre said names of Donny, Alvin, Sam, Philip, and Dan were cried in the night.  The Padre surmised that these men were his friends, killed in some jungle battle which still haunted him.

There was a pause in the story, and we all listened intently to the guitar as the wind carried the sad melody up the dusty street.  The guitarist touched lives each day in this small town.

Years later I received a poignant letter and picture from the Padre.  The guitarist had played his last song at the cantina.  He had died in his sleep.  Now he was free from his nightmares of war and loss.

He was buried in the church cemetery, and the whole town attended the funeral.  The local stonemason had made a nice monument for the grave.  Carved in the stone was a picture of a guitar with notes rising to the heavens.  The name Mariachi was given to the young guitarist which was a very high honor.

In a pocket of the guitar case the Padre found a Purple Heart and a crumbled piece of paper with these fading words:

Young men go to war.  Some return home.  Most never do.”

Around the globe many young warriors are buried far from home.  Sadly, some are in unmarked graves where they fell.  Some like the young guitarist never returned home and are buried in a place no family member will ever find.

At night as I gaze at the midnight heavens, I am reminded of the guitar played so skillfully in that cantina in another country so many decades ago.  I am sure from time to time that I hear the guitar melody faintly from the cosmic orchestra.

G. D. Williams  © 2013

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For your enjoyment: if you love the guitar:

Pablo Arellano