5. Christmas or Halloween


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"Happy merry Christmas, Pancho." "Same to you, Ramon. Let us ride our broncos for our celebration!" -- Edward Hernandez

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


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goodnaturedly, then suddenly their voices all sound at once, shrill with passion, as they call each other chapuzero and bribón. The side yelling the loudest wins the argument. They glance at my window and see me smiling at their contest and omit saying the usual palabras malas.

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.


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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.

Friends who struggle up the deep sand in the rough box canyon say: “Why did you pick such a faraway, hard-to-get-to place for a homestead?”

Yet they must know that stockraising requires grass and water rather that accessibility. And the little place has enticing beauty.

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.

The summer of tending my garden, helping with


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the cattle, and hardening myself again to the saddle had gone too swiftly. I looked long at the dramatically picturesque little homeplace on the shelving slope above the two great trees in the canyon, noticing the pink roadway up the narrow side gulch where I had done so much pick and shovel work; the red adobes and gray roof of the cabin I had helped construct; the stout brown poles of the new corrals I had sweated over; the bright corrugated iron hay barn; the gray cement water tank and the shining round pila where the animals drink. Looking, I felt a stout pride of ownership. Sparklingly green at the back of the house was the garden enclosed by a green ocotillo fence whose fifteen hundred thorny branches I had helped weave through the barbed wire, watering them until they began to grow in place. The flowers and squash vines (one forty feet long!) weren't visible from that distance, but my eyes rested pleasurably on the bunchy green of the young trees and the tall corn stalks soon to turn yellow with frost.

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.

I fit into the landscape there as our pioneer forebears fitted into the Far-West frontier—enjoying


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the liberating quiet, finding time to read and work and create a chance for a life with meaning. It is a place of hardship—with now and then precious contentment.

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


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the voters. Of course Halloween won. It came first! Also, in Arizona October is one of the best months. Weather was an important factor for us as our program could be more elaborate if held outdoors. Also the participants in the program would be healthier before the cold weather set in. Then too there are few distractions in the fall so we might hope for a bigger audience, especially as the roundup—with about twenty cowboys—was due near the end of the month. Finally, what counted most with me, we had given a wonderful Christmas party the year before, one we couldn't hope to surpass or even equal.

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


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into gold mines or copper mines; of dry farms or small ranches; of temporary jobs on the big established ranches. In a few months most of the new settlers fold their tents. Even many of the vaqueros—those less typical than Prieto—hear the call of shorter hours and bigger wages over the mountains. Last year we had an extensive road camp which brought more families into the neighborhood to crowd the school and give us two bus routes.

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


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school. Frank, miserable when conspicuous, made his debut as a guitarist—so made-up and dressed-up that he forgot most of his self-consciousness. The actors were herded into the teacher's room and prohibited by main force from circulating among the crowd in their exciting get-ups before curtain time. Greatest novelty of all: the comedy was in Spanish. Excepting a very few (and they all understood the language), all our visitors were Mexican-Americans. For their pleasure, and our own, we wrote and produced a play in the only tongue the entire audience could comprehend. Never was an audience more entertained. Never did actors receive more spontaneous applause.

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!”

As the first scene was ending Pascual sneaked up to where I was hidden in the folds of the makeshift curtains and loudly whispered: “Say, Teacher, begin it


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over! Some people have come in late and that first act is too good to be missed!”

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.

What a wonderful Christmas program! I wanted to retire on my laurels in that particular department. I planned to have this year's first show an outdoor festival


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that would depend on the visual effect of bright costumes and lively dances. I was leary about trying another all-Spanish program—for this time, as our acquaintance and reputation spread, our audience would not be a hundred per cent Spanish-speaking. So I made my bid for Halloween rather than Christmas for the first semester grand blow-out, and the children—for the time being—were with me all the way.

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.

“The hours and hours it took to teach those dances!”

“And to do them with such finish!”

“The mothers made those costumes? Now if I gave anything like that I'd not only have to buy all the costumes, I'd have to make every one of them myself.”

One teacher said frankly: “I'll never again have my pupils give recitations and readings on a school program.”

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


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apologies. I gladly let him take his part which I'd thought I'd have to do myself.

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


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trip to town to buy her nine masks and got one for Ysidra so ugly that it was grand. Thus motivated, Ysidra turned into a vigorous old witch with a bloody whip in her hand driving the spirits of mischief, winning laughter and applause with her amazing leaps and fantastic postures.

All the children wrote accounts of the performance; Socorro's was chosen for the news story in Little Cowpuncher.

‘‘

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.

After the performance we bubbled for apples, toasted marshmallows on the big fire in the yard, and had songs with the guitar, and went into the school and danced for awhile for fun.

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.


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We were going to skip it. Oh, of course there'd be a quiet family-like party in school the afternoon before the beginning of the holidays. Teacher would give each pupil a small gift, and the girls were making handkerchiefs and pincushions for teacher. But we had already had our big celebration. We would stick to our agreement and take Christmas lightly. But the December Little Cowpuncher was coming up. For language lessons one morning the pupils were asked to write a few words on this subject: “Do You Honestly Like Christmas the Way It is Now?”

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


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back several papers saying: “Put periods and capital letters to your sentences;” “Arrange your ideas into paragraphs.” “Look up correct spelling of words marked.” Then I cut the stencils that evening and printed the stories verbatim. And took to heart my own lesson: Christmas is overwhelming; there is no escape from it.

Here are excerpts from each grade's contribution: ‘‘ CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS ‘‘ Second and Third Grades:

I like Christmas because Santa Claus bring me lots of things. But big children dont like Christmas. —D. B.

I like Christmas because my Santa Claus bring me toys and all the children are in bed and the Santa Claus put toys in a stocking and some candies. —F. S.

I like Christmas because my Dear Santa Claus brings me some candies and a pair of shoes. —M. H.

I like Christmas because in Christmas time all the children are asleep and Santa Claus brings some toys. —P. S.

’’ ‘‘ Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grades:

I like Christmas. I like Santa Claus. And I like the Christmas tree. I like the turkey and I like the dance. —V.A.

I like Christmas because we make tamales. And I like it because Santa Claus comes at night and leaves the toys for my little brothers and sisters. I like Christmas. —Y. A.

I like Christmas because we give some Christmas presents and because it is fun too. —L. B.

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 because it is a great holiday. And because we go to sleep and dream that Santa Claus brings us toys and other things, and sometimes is true. —H. B.

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.

’’


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‘‘ Eighth Grade:

That is the holiday I enjoy most when I have money. Without money Christmas is nothing for me. —R. 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.

I usually like Christmas because there is some excitement at home every year. This year my married sister is coming from Los Angeles and it is a long time since we have seen her.

And nearly everybody is happy at Christmas, especially little children. They always get something even if they are very poor and they are easy to satisfy.

There is much to think about Christmas. It is true that the merchants win because you have to buy from them as Mrs. Bourne says. It is a commercial holiday. But I do like Christmas. —M. H.

Do I like Christmas? The answer is Yes and No. Yes is because it is a custom of the family to have a little candy and something new. That is if our parents can afford it.

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


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“Fishing Game.” And there were candy, nuts, and fruit—enough for everybody to take some to the ones at home. And there was a Santa Claus. In fact, three of them. They were kind readers so touched by the Little Cowpuncher stories that they went to the trouble to beg and buy materials for a nice Christmas box for the school.

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: ‘‘

Santa Claus is going to give me nothing.
I dont like Santa Claus because every year she bring me nothing.
My mother one time she gave me shoes and a toy.
But Santa Claus has never bring me nothings.

’’

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