Another tale from the annals of the Roving Reporter:
It was another hot week as I drove South of the Border on assignment. My editor had heard from a “source” there was an interesting human interest story which her readers would enjoy.
I was to talk to a woman named Valentina. No last name and no address.
When I pulled into the small town, my blue VW bug was dust covered. However, there was no Texaco station like the last town that I visited.
There was a service station so I drove up to the pump. On the pump and door was a sign:
“Ido a pescar con mi hijo”
Well, I would never blame a father for taking his son fishing. Good bonding experience.
There is nothing like fried fish in corn husks with onions, fresh tomatoes, and marinara sauce. Of course, adding a few, well—several, drops of serrano pepper sauce, entices the palate.
Enough about my imaginary culinary odyssey. I headed toward the church to see the Padre since he would know where to find Valentina.
As I walked down the rocky path, a young woman who was leaving the church passed me. She seemed self-absorbed and unaware of her environs.
Going into the church, I was surprised to see a young Padre. I introduced myself. As we talked, I shared about my quest for Valentina.
His facial expression changed to sadness and asked me to follow him. In the back of the church was the cemetery which had generations of the town’s people.
As we walked, we paused at a fresh grave. It was Valentina’s.
The Padre related what he knew of this mysterious woman. She moved to this town twenty years before from some unknown city.
She was very generous with her means and time to the church and community. However, she was an enigma, never discussing her past.
There were many rumors. She had escaped from an abusive husband or lover; she was a mistress to a high ranking politician; she was descended from General Santa Anna; the last living Mayan; and the list gets more bizarre.
As we stood there, I noticed a fresh dahlia on the grave. A bee was enjoying the nectar.
When I asked about the dahlia, the Padre said dahlias were Valentina’s favorite. She had several bushes growing around her house on the outskirts of town.
Then he told me about the young lady that I saw leaving the church. She arrived in town a week after Valentina had passed, and every day she would bring a fresh dahlia to the grave without speaking. She would kneel beside the grave for twenty minutes and walk away.
The Padre believed she was related since she was living in Valentina’s house. The young lady and the house intrigued me.
After taking my leave, I decided to visit the cantina for a hot meal and a cool drink of Sangría Señorial with some fresh baked blue corn tortillas and a steamy plate of frijoles y arroz or, perhaps, I would try another dish. As I walked into the cantina, I was greeted by Qiang, the owner.
As I glanced around I saw the young lady sitting at a corner table with a glass of Agua de Pepino. I decided to order one myself. I grew up on my grandparents’ farm, and we ate a lot of cucumbers, but we never imagined making a cool drink out of them.
I sat down at another table in the afternoon shadows. As I sat there, I could see her face clearly. Definitely she was very forlorn.
I was debating whether I should attempt to engage her in conversation. After taking a sip of my agua fresca, I glanced up and our eyes met.
Hurriedly, her eyes went back to her drink. After a few minutes, she rose from her chair and walked toward the door.
Pausing at the door, she turned and asked me a question. “Was I was an American?”
Usually, when I am asked that question south of the Border, I say that we all are Americans since we live in the Americas. However, I replied yes and decided to say why I was here.
Her facial expression did not change when I stated my reason. I asked if I could discuss Valentina with her.
She asked me to walk her to Valentina’s house. It took less than a second to say yes.
Her name was Galina. We will leave it at that.
For the next few hours we talked about Valentina. Galina was her granddaughter.
Galina’s mother had said little about her mother Valentina. Valentina’s house was modestly furnished and the only pieces of her personal life were two black and white pictures of Galina, one when she was a child and one from five years before now.
Whoever Valentina was died with her. I did contact Galina’s mother later, but she did not want to discuss her mother.
She said, “The past is better left to a few memories. My mother was a remarkable woman who lived in the mystery of her past and treasured her privacy.”
My editor never told me who gave her the tip which sent me in search of Valentina. However, along the way I discovered lives are touched by individuals who walk a solitary path wrapped in their own enigmas and, many times, in their sorrows.
Their stories are just footprints left in the sands of time. Who they were remains like the fabled El Dorado—touches of gold and silver dot their road of life with brief glimpse of a life well lived.
G. D. Williams © 2016
The Roving Reporter