An Afternoon for Tales

Sonia told me that her friend really wanted me to come to her house.  I was not exactly sure who the friend was, though Sonia insisted I had met her a couple of times. The friend wished to express her gratitude for the positive impact I had had on her family and the women in her community.  I was   genuinely touched by the invitation delivered through a friend.  We arranged a date, and on a sunny Sunday afternoon, four of us drove out to the farm.

The farm is nestled in the hills, down a cobbled and mud path, well-hidden below the main road.  We stepped out of the car and breathed in the warm scent of earth and wet leaves.  Three little sheep blurted out their welcomes.  Beyond the sheep, the pastures opened up into two emerald bowls, framed by trees and wire fences atop earthen rims.  We followed our hostess down a little path toward her house - one of a few homes in close proximity.  This farm is actually a small community made up of members of one big, extended family.  A deep moo emerged from the pasture.  This was the El Salvador of painters' imaginations and of romantic folk dances.  This was the beloved El Salvador, preserved in the tales of campesinos and campesinas de la tercera edad.

The home was low and sprawling, with 50-year old wooden beams and adobe walls.  Rooms had been added over time - a baking kitchen with a round earthen stove, a kitchen with the comal and open fire,  the wash area with running water and a long, rectangular pila, bedrooms, storerooms, and two indoor bathrooms.  A wooden wheel stood in a corner, home-made tools for baking and for working the land stood or hung in their places.  It felt like a living museum.

Our hostess scurried around to finish making lunch between bits of conversation. The warmth, the kindness, and the welcome given to the four of us was biblical.  The daughter, our hostess, lives with her elderly parents.  Her mother is very ill, and the women spent considerable time at her bedside while the men listened to stories.

The chicken soup with vegetables was delicious.  There was a little conversation about the kindest way to kill a chicken.  A plate with round mold of soft cheese (a gift from the mooing cow) came out of the fridge.  Would we like toasted tortillas for the cheese?  Oh, yes please.

The daughter learned all of her skills from her parents.  The farm is self-sufficient.  The father built the home and all of the buildings on the farm.  He plants and tends and harvests with the knowledge gained over years.  The father told us he never went to school, he cannot read or write, but he can raise animals.  And he can tell stories.  Oh my, can he tell stories!

Each story began exactly the same way:  "I will tell you a pasada; it is from the Antiguo Testemento." We soon recognized that a pasada is a tale from the past - like a fable, and if it is from the Antiguo Testemento (the Old Testament) it is a fable which has been told by generations of story-tellers.  I think we must have listened to 25 or 30 pasadas during our visit.

As I listened to the father's tales, I promised myself I would try to remember them - or at least one of them.  Some day I will need to return to the farm with someone who can interpret the stories a little better than I can because they are filled with local references and caliche (slang) that make them tricky to follow.  One story did stick with me.*  Picture an old man, standing in the field, cows frolicking on the hillside, dogs barking and roosters crowing.  The old man begins...

I will tell you a tale from the past.  It is from the Old Testament.  It is about St. Joseph, his wife Mary and the boy Jesus.  Of course Jesus has all knowledge, and he spoke perfect castellano (Spanish).  He was just about 3 years old.  Joseph was working every day in the milpa (corn field), and it was Jesus' responsibility to take lunch out to his father in the field.  Mary made lunch from what she had in the house:  a couple of small tortillas and some beans.  Jesus thought, "Oh I wish we had something besides small tortillas and beans.  I would really like to take Joseph some cheese."  

It was still morning, so Jesus laid down and took a little nap.  He was only three years old.  When he woke up, there on the table were a stack of tortillas as big as dinner plates and a large cuajada (mound of soft, wet cheese).  Jesus realized this was not a dream, but the large tortillas and fresh cuajada were real!  

Mary told Jesus it was time to take lunch to Joseph.  Jesus divided the cheese into two parts.  He took half the tortillas and half of the cheese and walked out to the field.  When Joseph saw the tortillas and cheese he was surprised.  "We did not have any cheese in the house," he said, "only small tortillas and beans.  Where did these come from?"

Jesus answered, "From my Father."  

And Joseph was a little confused.

*I am sure that I did not remember all of the details of this story.  Some day, I hope I can return to the farm with a notebook and a recording device.  The tales told on this wonderful afternoon are worth remembering and sharing.  If you have heard this story before, please share your version in the comment section!


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