My Apizaco CaneFriday, April 22, 2011
For many years I have been a devout non-believer but there is a streak of tradition in me, which I will never get rid of knowingly, that makes it difficult for me to feel cheery on a day like today, Good Friday.
Perhaps it has to do with those cloudy or rainy fall Good Fridays in Buenos Aires (I am sure there were some sunny ones, too but those I have forgotten) in which my grandmother would bid me come into the house some time early afternoon. With my mother we would kneel. Then my grandmother would recite the Stations of the Cross in her Castilian Spanish. On that day I was prohibited from turning on the radio. I never did turn it on, but on that day the radio was like an itch that would not go away. My grandmother would explain, with a luxury of detail as to why it was we did not play music on the day “our lord was crucified”. I knew the story well as the day before she would have marched through as many churches we could walk to. This was the ritual of Holy Thursday. In each church we would pray. Then we would be off to the next one.
Mario Hertzberg, who lived across the street, could not understand why I could not go out to play. I remember one day when I told him, “The reason I cannot go out to play is that my grandmother has told me that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death." As I looked on Mario’s round and cheery face I should have known better. But I didn’t.
Years later I remember that in 1959 my mother gave me a copy of Taylor Caldwell’s (only recently did I find out that he, Taylor, was a she) Dear & Glorious Physician which was a novel about St. Luke the Evangelist. I remember how my mother expressly told me that because St. Luke was a doctor the details of Christ’s suffering and death would be accurate. In fact that led me to go to all four gospels to the incident where Judas betrays Christ on Gethsemane and St. Peter becomes very angry. One Gospel does not mention the incident in any detail and another is precise as to which ear Peter lops off with a sword!
My Catholic education has served me well. In a trip to Guanajuato, Mexico some years ago I took my granddaughter Rebecca to the beautiful church of La Valenciana. She spotted the Stations of the Cross and asked me to explain. This I did with a luxury of detail.
Sitting in my den today I turned on the TV for a few minutes but then turned it off. I had thoughts of my grandmother not approving. And of course she would have not approved. Behind the TV set I a corner is this multi coloured Mexican cane. I looked at it and remembered that Ale, my eldest daughter brought it back from Mexico some 15 years ago. It had been sent to me as a gift by Carlos Zamora who was (he died last year) of three girls and a boy who have been friends of my daughters since they were small when we lived in Mexico City. Carlos Zamora and his gracious wife Eliana (died of cancer some years ago) were our neighbours. We kept in touch for years and we would alternate the sending of our children every few years for visits.
“Why the cane?” I asked myself when I first got it. Did Carlos Zamora think I was already over the hill? Only today did I really examine it and find out that it was made in the little town of Apizaco in the smallest state of Mexico, Tlaxcala. Tlaxcala’s questionable reputation to this day lies in that the natives of the region, the Tlaxcaltecas helped Cortez defeat the Aztecs. Like La Malinche who translated for Cortez, the Tlaxcaltecas and their descendants, the Tlaxcalans are not revered in Mexico. In fact Tlaxcalans have a reputation for duplicity.
I remember Apizaco well even though I never stopped. Apizaco was on the way to Veracruz. Rosemary and I would often drive from Mexico City to visit my mother in Veracruz. Apizaco was simply a town on the way and no more.
Today I looked at the cane in a sober manner but at the same time it seemed like the Apizaco cane is now beginning to shine. I have admired it and as I struggle to walk up the stairs as my arthritis gets worse I wonder if Carlos Zamora knew what was coming? I can see myself looking for a nice rubber tip for my Apizaco cane. I suddenly miss Carlos Zamora. I know he is one more person whom I have known who is now dead. Death is inevitable but perhaps not so unpleasant, if the way to it, somehow includes a firm grasp of my Apizaco cane.
Today I smiled when I looked at my Apizaco cane. It felt good even if my grandmother would not have aproved of my Good Friday smile.