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Patience, Mexican Style

There was no sign where Luis Felipe’s property began. If you didn’t know to look for the three lone clumps of trees along the highway where the dirt road began, you’d miss it entirely. Once you made the turn there was a dip in the ground, then a clearing and a hand-made road, barely wide enough for a car to navigate. To the left of the clearing was a stick house where the Mayan caretaker and his family lived. The caretaker’s name was Us (I am not sure of the spelling, but his name was pronounced Oos, like oops, without the p.) The yard around the house smelled of wood smoke from the fire where Us’ wife, Doña Us, made tortillas every morning at dawn. A mound of discarded items grew and spread like a junk tree next to their stick house, a collection of old car tires, discarded clothing, pieces of tire, bottles, whatever Us and his wife found and would take back to their village to sell or give away when they visited. The trash heap did not make an appealing first impression for Luis Felipe’s and Molly’s guests who came to visit, but Luis Felipe didn’t say a word to Us about that.

Luis Felipe had the kind of patience that is not born into the North American character. At one point he and Us went into the turkey raising business together so that Us could earn some extra income. They agreed that Luis Felipe would buy several baby turkeys and pay for their food and Us would raise them. The birds would reproduce and when they were fat and ready for slaughter, Us would sell them. It seemed like a perfect arrangement, but Us turned out to be a terrible businessman. The turkeys grew and reproduced, but he let the flock ran wild like pets around the yard, getting so much exercise they became too scrawny and tough to make good meat. Us never killed or sold a single turkey. Eventually even the young birds died out and the turkey business ended before it ever really got started. Luis Felipe just laughed when he talked about it.

But after several years, Luis Felipe wanted to move the family away from the entrance of the property and deeper into the jungle. He had his masons build them a new two-story, three bedroom adobe house with running water, electricity and an indoor kitchen. The stick house had no such conveniences and the new location would give the family more privacy. But when the house was finished and Luis Felipe took Us and his wife to see it, Doña Us looked up at the concrete ceiling, frowned and shook her head. “No, that will never work,” she said, pointing to the ceiling. She had never lived under cement before. Her house and all the houses of the Mayans she knew had a palapa roof. She didn’t trust that cement ceiling, and so she refused to move. Instead, they moved the turkeys into the new white stucco house with running water, and the Us family stayed where they were. The smell of Doña Us’ tortillas cooking on her orno continued to perfume the jungle, and secretly, I was glad.

Two years later, when she saw that the cement roof on the new house was still holding, Us’ wife decided it was safe for the family to move into the house that Luis Felipe’s masons built for them. Often I think of them and the patience Luis Felipe had waiting for them to change and adapt to new ways. He had confidence that things wiould turn out his way if he waited long enough. I, on the other hand, who was born and raised in the US, have only learned to hurry things along, or give up if they take too long.

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