5. Christmas or Halloween
THE LENGTHENING March day lingers. Its warmth has an enlivening effect on the young Aroses, glad to overflow into the yard once more. Poso Nuevo, tight and lonely after winter sunset, is pleasantly at play this evening. In the corral the little calves bawl now and then to check on where their mothers are. The chickens that roost at the corner of the pumphouse are loitering and gossiping. There are sounds of yapping dogs, Frank's guitar, and the children playing on both sides of the building.
Ramón and Chato are vigorously pitching horse-shoes in the back yard outside my little window, and showing enviable skill. Eloísa and Socorro, amateurs, are their partners. The air rings with clang of iron, girlish cries, and lusty male shouts. They jangle over scores
The smaller kids are whooping and yelling out front. Arturo forgets that I can hear him and lets loose the wild laughter I try to suppress. He and Pili and Víctor are tormenting the little burro that the vaqueros brought for Víctor because he had made a vow to be the best cowboy in the world when he “is a man.” Sullenly Víctor sits on the stubborn, confused little beast, heels digging vigorously, sawing on the bridle. Arturo and Pili attack from the rear. When the tranchito balks, they rush at his heels with a rattling old iron wheelbarrow, and blows from sticks and Pili's rawhide rope. The tranchito kicks up as he dashes forward and pitches Víctor over his head. Arturo and Pili shriek with laughter. In true cowboy fashion, Víctor jumps up and assaults his mount.
As I opened the screen a moment ago to try some referee work, Pancho came out of the hayroom and gave Víctor a good wallop for hitting the burro on the head. Pancho, I notice, has more sympathy for animals than any of the other boys. Capitán and Guardián, the two old ranch dogs, come over to him as he squats on his heels, back to wall, to watch the donkey training.
Frank has heard Pancho come, and calls to him. But Pancho shouts: “No, hombre.” He wants his supper first. He knows that Frank, who does not have to do chores, has already eaten, and that when the singing starts it will be hard to break away.
The little girls are playing over by the arroyo. Chelo and Meli have been taking care of Mercedes, pulling her around in a battered little wagon. Now they have left her and are running across the iron pipe that bridges the little gully, yelling and waving their arms to keep balance. Mercedes wails in protest of abandonment.
All these sounds blending in the mild evening breeze make the place alive with human clatter. By contrast I think of the lonely quiet of Los Alisos, the homestead I left yesterday at daybreak. In that remote canyon the far side of the Catalina Mountains is the quality of melancholy that haunts any isolated, impoverished habitation. It seems to be waiting, like an empty stage.
Last fall, the day before I came down to make ready to open school, Buddy, my horse, and I helped drive the south canyons of the upper water to gather the weaner heifers. When we reached the head of Trail Canyon and rimmed out on the high rise that overlooks not only the little ranch but the whole twenty-mile length of Pepper Sauce Canyon and about a hundred miles of the San Pedro River Valley, I stopped the bunch and held them there while The Cowboy scouted a draw for some we had missed.
I gazed deliberately to mark the scene well in memory. In the months since, I have treasured it while living in cramped quarters in the midst of a large family with little chance of privacy. The loneliness in the canyon is peaceful, broken most often by the wind in the branches, the call of night birds, mourning doves and hunted quails, the evening yipping of coyotes and hooting of owls, the bawling of lost calves and worried cows, and—so rare that it scarcely seems worth mentioning—by thunder and violent winds and rain showers.
Since I must work abroad to keep things going, I appreciate the noisy vigor of Poso Nuevo where I hope to create, by school activities (in addition to school routines) an environment of stimulation, to develop resourcefulness and social responsibility in individuals whose lives are short on opportunities.
When I drove up to see Sally Ronstadt recently after school she asked for copies of Little Cowpuncher for October and November, and mentioned that the December issue was sad. Others have said the same. But I am sure we were not sad when we wrote it, although I do not discount the dreariness of being left out of the world's festivities.
Even if it didn't work I still think my idea of trying to skip a big Christmas was good under the circumstances. But I've learned my lesson. Never again—where children are involved—will I try to rationalize the social calendar to fit into budget or income. It is useless to claim that I didn't have the money for a Christmas celebration this year. In all my years of schoolteaching I never have had the money. This time I was trying to be sensible. In October I told the children that I could afford only one big party before the rodeo parade in February, and asked them to decide on the date: should the celebration be for Christmas or for Halloween? The decision was made by secret ballot. Slips of paper were distributed to all members of the school (myself included) and the two holiday names were printed on the board to be copied by
Until that Christmas there had never been a night program or a community Christmas party in Baboquívari School District. There was our chance! The whole great field of a traditional Christmas Eve in the grand American manner was open—including a crowning surprise to all, even the grownups, when—just as the children were lined up in front of the Christmas tree singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” the door was shoved open and in came Old Santy Claus, red suit, white beard, and all, carrying a sack full of green net bags filled with goodies for all the children present including preschoolers. The gasp of astonished delight that filled the room could never be repeated.
And if we had another indoor party we would have a smaller audience for last year there were more transients in the vicinity. This wide valley-plain between rough, treeless mountain ranges seems to tempt those adventurous enough to want to come in and take a chance on making a stake. There are dreams of prospects that might develop
So our twelve-by-twenty-four foot space was packed that clear cold Nochebuena, and our program wasn't the only attraction. The Aroses killed their pig, and their guests were making a double party of it. They attended our show the first part of the night—until 11 o'clock—and then spent the remaining hours until daylight visiting and eating tamales in relays. Two dozen tamales made, four or five guests sat down to eat them and drink coffee. Their dishes removed and washed, two dozen more tamales cooked, another handful of guests sat down to eat and drink coffee. So it was on through the night, the smaller children sleeping bundled up in clothes and quilts, the older ones playing around the big fire out in the yard, the women gossiping and holding fretful babies, the men mobilizing against monotony and the stinging cold with wine or mescal from across the border.
Our entertainment was not the usual bashful half-prepared children's performance for an audience to smile at and applaud politely. It was a real play in three acts with costumes and make-up, and it was a smash hit! It was the first time in the community that players had worn elaborate costumes and spoken their lines with vigorous feeling. It was several “firsts” in the annals of our
Among the characters we had such fun creating and naming (how Edward roared aloud with laughter as he dashed off page after page of dialogue for them) were a charming widow, a timid bride, a solemn priest, a swashbuckling sheriff, a heroic horseman wrongly accused of banditry, and the hit of the play—Don Cacahuate (Mr. Peanut), Edward of course, a rich old bachelor, foppish, fastidious, excessively romantic and courteous. The house literally shook with laughter from the moment the curtains (sheets strung on a clothes line) parted. From the first scene to the last the performers were urged on by stamping and hand-clapping and hearty vivas. Two of the fathers now and then yelled at me in English: “That's fine, Mrs. Bourne!” “That's all right!”
The enthusiastic reception to our play I felt justified my risk in using Spanish in a county school program. Had there been a chauvinistic critic present I might have been “defrocked,” as the law insisted all Arizona schools be taught in the English language. This wasn't exactly school, and yet in a way it was. We had composed this play and studied the parts and rehearsed it during school sessions. Yet I felt that honoring their language would help parents to be more interested in their community school and cause them to cooperate in its aims and programs. I knew that the parents present who had attended public schools in our state during their youth had been snubbed and scolded and even punished for speaking the melodious tongue of the padres and conquistadores. Some of them were even trying to bring up their children with no knowledge of their “native” language—but it is good to know two languages; it is a fine thing for little children to accept both languages as their heritage. It has been my observation that teachers who come out hard against speaking any Spanish at all are themselves monolinguistic.
After I retired at 2 a.m. I lay listening through the thin plank door to the boys and the girls (allowed in the boys' room while the all-night festival went on) repeating our songs and scenes at the request of their visitors, and it made my heart glad.
As it happened we had another triumph. The weather was perfect. Sparks from the huge bonfire rose high and straight in the still, moderately cool night air. The audience was jolly and responsive. To cap our success five teachers from other rural schools took the time and trouble to come. When they crowded into my room after the show to drink coffee and eat the tacos that Pascual's wife and mother had made for my personal guests, they overwhelmed me with compliments.
That it turned out so well was a big relief for I was worried. Our last rehearsal was terrible. The children must have been inspired by their costumes. They went through lines and steps so perfectly that I was ashamed of the shouting tantrums I'd had during rehearsal. That very day I had kicked Ramón out of the show. Not until I was dressing the dancers in my room did he come with
It took a lot of sewing to make all those costumes. My-Mother made nine different outfits. And Amadita (Pascual's wife) sat up until midnight the two nights preceding the show sewing by a kerosene lamp. After her own four children's costumes were made, she found material and made another for a little girl in a family of five children whose mother tries to run a household on fifteen dollars a month.
The star of the show—which was probably as much of a surprise to her as to the rest of us—was Ysidra. It was her first favorable impression on the public. I could scarcely believe my eyes—after the nerve-wracking time I'd gone through trying to train her. At an ungainly age, she sulks because she isn't allowed permanents and cosmetics like her sisters. Stubborn, if she can't get a step the first time or two, she balks. “I can't,” she says flatly. “I can't do that.” She was unhappy about her part. Mary was a Spanish dancer. Socorro was a colonial dame. Both had lovely costumes. Ysidra had to be an old witch, and hers was the last dress to be made. I bought several yards of black cambric and sent it home with her. When My-Mother got ready to make it (after dark the night before the party) she sent Ysidra to my room to ask how I wanted it. Frantically busy, I sketched roughly a long uneven skirt, tight bodice, and big sleeves. My-Mother improved on that. She sewed into the neckline at the back a long jagged-edged cape that swirled gorgeously in the dance, and made a tall cap with bells on it. The day of the party she made a special
Friday evening Baboquívari School had a real show here at Poso Nuevo which cost our parents and our teacher a lot of money to have it really nice. We tried to help Mrs. Bourne in everything we could to have our dances as cute as possible on account of many people coming from far away to make our big audience. Everybody was doing his best and felt merrily all through the show. It was a little play with many dances and all with costumes. Some were cats' dances, a witch's dance which was the hit of the whole play, and some other dances.
The main thing to make it nice was everybody and the teacher were dressed in different costumes. Another interesting thing was that we dressed our stage with corn stalks and strips of colored paper. It was outside with the car lamps for lights and everybody said it looked gay and pretty.
At the party we had distinguished guests. Some came from Three Points, some from Sahuarita School, some from Tucson, the whole school from Las Moras, and a woman from the 7X Ranch. Two came from Las Delicias, our clerk Bill Ronstadt and a sailor boy by the name of John Hill from the U.S.S. Pennsylvania who for our pleasure he wore his beautiful sailor suit and he looked very nice in it. All enjoyed the show, the players and the audience, too, and some seemed to have a joyous time. I know I did. It was lots of trouble and work and expense and a long way to come for our audience most of them. But it was a fine good party. —S.A.’’
After that exciting triumph I thought we could let up and hit our lessons hard until February. Then came December. And all the children in the nation and all the schools in the county began getting ready for Christmas.
They were given a brief history of the origin and practices of the ancient Christmas festival; and a propaganda talk about its modern transformation into a commercial enterprise by which merchants hook people into buying more than they can afford of things they could do without. Emphasis was made on the expense, the trouble, the disappointment, the sacrifices, and the heartaches. They listened attentively, searching their editor's words for a cue that might plunge them into the deeps of literary composition. There was a silent period of earnest struggle, then one by one they came up and turned in their papers and took up something simple, noncontroversial, and rational: arithmetic.
Examining their sincere and touching efforts that evening, I knew I had lost. I had made a stand against tradition and custom and, alas, the longing in young hearts, and I had not prevailed. Like it or not, ready for it or not, Christmas would roll right on around and come to Poso Nuevo and our impoverished school. Without a hint of disappointment and dismay, next morning in a calm teacher's attitude of directing learners, I handed
I like Christmas because we have a holiday and a good time playing and running and jumping free. And I like Christmas because our mothers and fathers and some other people give us presents and we eat good things. Yours sincerely, A. A.
I like Christmas when I go to other places to pass the night. When I stay here at the ranch sleeping I don't like it so well. I used to like Christmas when I used to be a little boy because Santa Claus used to bring me toys. —F. A.’’
I honestly love Christmas for being the a memory of Christ when he first came to earth. One reason I like it is because we have some vacation to refresh our minds and to go and see our faraway parents [she meant relatives] and friends. And have enough time to go to parties in the middle of the week. And the main thing I like, and this is the truth, is I like Christmas because in Christmas my mother and father do their best to give us clothes. In Christmas I receive more clothes than any other time. —S. A.
Sometimes we are invited to parties (Nochebuena we call it in Spanish) to have tamales, tacos, enchiladas, and so on. Now these are good things to have while you are awake all night dancing, singing, shouting, and laughing. Friends all meet together and have a good time and sometimes make new friends.
My other answer is No, because it is the custom to give presents and postcards. When somebody gives you something it is your part to give something in return. But if you can't afford it, as our teacher says? You feel cheap and even stingy. It sometimes gives you headaches to think of it. And some Christmases are worse than others. So it is hard to judge from both sides. —E. H.’’ ’’
There it was. The little ones still believed in Santa Claus and the older ones were good sports. We had a Christmas Party. It was not a grand affair with community participation as on Halloween. It was a simple, unrehearsed, noisy, raise-the-roof, costly frolic with three gifts to each child distributed by the old but new-to-them
Perhaps the story that touched them most was that written by Antonio, a short-time pupil who was with us a few days while his father worked on a mining claim assessment in the Sierritas. His Christmas story was: ‘‘