There are still some places in the
west where the quails cry “cuidado”;
where all the speech is soft, all the manners gentle;
where all the dishes have chile in them, and
they make more of the Sixteenth of September than
they do of the Fourth of July. I mean in particular
El Pueblo de Las Uvas.
Where it lies, how to come at it, you will not get
from me; rather would I show you the heron’s
nest in the tulares. It has a peak behind it,
glinting above the tamarack pines, above a breaker
of ruddy hills that have a long slope valley-wards
and the shoreward steep of waves toward the Sierras.
Below the Town of the Grape Vines,
which shortens to Las Uvas for common use,
the land dips away to the river pastures and the tulares.
It shrouds under a twilight thicket of vines, under
a dome of cottonwood-trees, drowsy and murmurous as
a hive. Hereabouts are some strips of tillage
and the headgates that dam up the creek for the village
weirs; upstream you catch the growl of the arrastra.
Wild vines that begin among the willows lap over to
the orchard rows, take the trellis and roof-tree.
There is another town above Las
Uvas that merits some attention, a town of arches
and airy crofts, full of linnets, blackbirds, fruit
birds, small sharp hawks, and mockingbirds that sing
by night. They pour out piercing, unendurably
sweet cavatinas above the fragrance of bloom and musky
smell of fruit. Singing is in fact the business
of the night at Las Uvas as sleeping is
for midday. When the moon comes over the mountain
wall new-washed from the sea, and the shadows lie like
lace on the stamped floors of the patios, from recess
to recess of the vine tangle runs the thrum of guitars
and the voice of singing.
At Las Uvas they keep up all
the good customs brought out of Old Mexico or bred
in a lotus-eating land; drink, and are merry and look
out for something to eat afterward; have children,
nine or ten to a family, have cock-fights, keep the
siesta, smoke cigarettes and wait for the sun to go
down. And always they dance; at dusk on the smooth
adobe floors, afternoons under the trellises where
the earth is damp and has a fruity smell. A betrothal,
a wedding, or a christening, or the mere proximity
of a guitar is sufficient occasion; and if the occasion
lacks, send for the guitar and dance anyway.
All this requires explanation.
Antonio Sevadra, drifting this way from Old Mexico
with the flood that poured into the Tappan district
after the first notable strike, discovered La Golondrina.
It was a generous lode and Tony a good fellow; to
work it he brought in all the Sevadras, even to the
twice-removed; all the Castros who were his wife’s
family, all the Saises, Romeros, and Eschobars, the
relations of his relations-in-law. There you
have the beginning of a pretty considerable town.
To these accrued much of the Spanish California float
swept out of the southwest by eastern enterprise.
They slacked away again when the price of silver went
down, and the ore dwindled in La Golondrina. All
the hot eddy of mining life swept away from that corner
of the hills, but there were always those too idle,
too poor to move, or too easily content with El
Pueblo de Las Uvas.
Nobody comes nowadays to the town
of the grape vines except, as we say, “with
the breath of crying,” but of these enough.
All the low sills run over with small heads.
Ah, ah! There is a kind of pride in that if you
did but know it, to have your baby every year or so
as the time sets, and keep a full breast. So
great a blessing as marriage is easily come by.
It is told of Ruy Garcia that when he went for his
marriage license he lacked a dollar of the clerk’s
fee, but borrowed it of the sheriff, who expected
reelection and exhibited thereby a commendable thrift.
Of what account is it to lack meal
or meat when you may have it of any neighbor?
Besides, there is sometimes a point
of honor in these things. Jesus Romero, father
of ten, had a job sacking ore in the Marionette which
he gave up of his own accord. “Eh, why?”
said Jesus, “for my fam’ly.”
“It is so, senora,” he
said solemnly, “I go to the Marionette, I work,
I eat meat pie frijoles good,
ver’ good. I come home sad’day
nigh’ I see my fam’ly. I play lil’
game poker with the boys, have lil’ drink wine,
my money all gone. My family have no money, nothing
eat. All time I work at mine I eat, good, ver’
good grub. I think sorry for my fam’ly.
No, no, senora, I no work no more that Marionette,
I stay with my fam’ly.” The wonder
of it is, I think, that the family had the same point
Every house in the town of the vines
has its garden plot, corn and brown beans and a row
of peppers reddening in the sun; and in damp borders
of the irrigating ditches clumps of yerba santa,
horehound, catnip, and spikenard, wholesome herbs
and curative, but if no peppers then nothing at all.
You will have for a holiday dinner, in Las Uvas,
soup with meat balls and chile in it, chicken
with chile, rice with chile, fried beans
with more chile, enchilada, which is corn cake
with a sauce of chile and tomatoes, onion, grated
cheese, and olives, and for a relish chile tepines
passed about in a dish, all of which is comfortable
and corrective to the stomach. You will have
wine which every man makes for himself, of good body
and inimitable bouquet, and sweets that are not nearly
so nice as they look.
There are two occasions when you may
count on that kind of a meal; always on the Sixteenth
of September, and on the two-yearly visits of Father
Shannon. It is absurd, of course, that El
Pueblo de Las Uvas should have
an Irish priest, but Black Rock, Minton, Jimville,
and all that country round do not find it so.
Father Shannon visits them all, waits by the Red Butte
to confess the shepherds who go through with their
flocks, carries blessing to small and isolated mines,
and so in the course of a year or so works around
to Las Uvas to bury and marry and christen.
Then all the little graves in the Campo Santo
are brave with tapers, the brown pine headboards blossom
like Aaron’s rod with paper roses and bright
cheap prints of Our Lady of Sorrows. Then the
Senora Sevadra, who thinks herself elect of heaven
for that office, gathers up the original sinners,
the little Elijias, Lolas, Manuelitas, Jose, and Felipes,
by dint of adjurations and sweets smuggled into
small perspiring palms, to fit them for the Sacrament.
I used to peek in at them, never so
softly, in Dona Ina’s living-room; Raphael-eyed
little imps, going sidewise on their knees to rest
them from the bare floor, candles lit on the mantel
to give a religious air, and a great sheaf of wild
bloom before the Holy Family. Come Sunday they
set out the altar in the schoolhouse, with the fine-drawn
altar cloths, the beaten silver candlesticks, and
the wax images, chief glory of Las Uvas,
brought up mule-back from Old Mexico forty years ago.
All in white the communicants go up two and two in
a hushed, sweet awe to take the body of their Lord,
and Tomaso, who is priest’s boy, tries not to
look unduly puffed up by his office. After that
you have dinner and a bottle of wine that ripened
on the sunny slope of Escondito. All the week
Father Shannon has shriven his people, who bring clean
conscience to the betterment of appetite, and the
Father sets them an example. Father Shannon is
rather big about the middle to accommodate the large
laugh that lives in him, but a most shrewd searcher
of hearts. It is reported that one derives comfort
from his confessional, and I for my part believe it.
The celebration of the Sixteenth,
though it comes every year, takes as long to prepare
for as Holy Communion. The senoritas have each
a new dress apiece, the senoras a new rebosa.
The young gentlemen have new silver trimmings to their
sombreros, unspeakable ties, silk handkerchiefs,
and new leathers to their spurs. At this time
when the peppers glow in the gardens and the young
quail cry “cuidado,” “have
a care!” you can hear the plump, plump
of the metate from the alcoves of the vines
where comfortable old dames, whose experience
gives them the touch of art, are pounding out corn
School-teachers from abroad have tried
before now at Las Uvas to have school begin
on the first of September, but got nothing else to
stir in the heads of the little Castros, Garcias,
and Romeros but feasts and cock-fights until after
the Sixteenth. Perhaps you need to be told that
this is the anniversary of the Republic, when liberty
awoke and cried in the provinces of Old Mexico.
You are aroused at midnight to hear them shouting
in the streets, “Vive la Libertad!”
answered from the houses and the recesses of the vines,
“Vive la Mexico!” At sunrise shots
are fired commemorating the tragedy of unhappy Maximilian,
and then music, the noblest of national hymns, as
the great flag of Old Mexico floats up the flag-pole
in the bare little plaza of shabby Las Uvas.
The sun over Pine Mountain greets the eagle of Montezuma
before it touches the vineyards and the town, and
the day begins with a great shout. By and by
there will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence
and an address punctured by vives; all the
town in its best dress, and some exhibits of horsemanship
that make lathered bits and bloodly spurs; also a
By night there will be dancing, and
such music! old Santos to play the flute, a little
lean man with a saintly countenance, young Garcia whose
guitar has a soul, and Carrasco with the violin.
They sit on a high platform above the dancers in the
candle flare, backed by the red, white, and green
of Old Mexico, and play fervently such music as you
will not hear otherwhere.
At midnight the flag comes down.
Count yourself at a loss if you are not moved by that
performance. Pine Mountain watches whitely overhead,
shepherd fires glow strongly on the glooming hills.
The plaza, the bare glistening pole, the dark folk,
the bright dresses, are lit ruddily by a bonfire.
It leaps up to the eagle flag, dies down, the music
begins softly and aside. They play airs of old
longing and exile; slowly out of the dark the flag
drops down, bellying and falling with the midnight
draught. Sometimes a hymn is sung, always there
are tears. The flag is down; Tony Sevadra has
received it in his arms. The music strikes a
barbaric swelling tune, another flag begins a slow
ascent, it takes a breath or two to realize
that they are both, flag and tune, the Star Spangled
Banner, a volley is fired, we are back,
if you please, in California of America. Every
youth who has the blood of patriots in him lays ahold
on Tony Sevadra’s flag, happiest if he can get
a corner of it. The music goes before, the folk
fall in two and two, singing. They sing everything,
America, the Marseillaise, for the sake of the French
shepherds hereabout, the hymn of Cuba, and the Chilian
national air to comfort two families of that land.
The flag goes to Do+-a Ina’s, with the candlesticks
and the altar cloths, then Las Uvas eats
tamales and dances the sun up the slope of Pine Mountain.
You are not to suppose that they do
not keep the Fourth, Washington’s Birthday,
and Thanksgiving at the town of the grape vines.
These make excellent occasions for quitting work and
dancing, but the Sixteenth is the holiday of the heart.
On Memorial Day the graves have garlands and new pictures
of the saints tacked to the headboards. There
is great virtue in an Ave said in the Camp
of the Saints. I like that name which the Spanish
speaking people give to the garden of the dead, Campo
Santo, as if it might be some bed of healing from
which blind souls and sinners rise up whole and praising
God. Sometimes the speech of simple folk hints
at truth the understanding does not reach. I am
persuaded only a complex soul can get any good of
a plain religion. Your earth-born is a poet and
a symbolist. We breed in an environment of asphalt
pavements a body of people whose creeds are chiefly
restrictions against other people’s way of life,
and have kitchens and latrines under the same roof
that houses their God. Such as these go to church
to be edified, but at Las Uvas they go for
pure worship and to entreat their God. The logical
conclusion of the faith that every good gift cometh
from God is the open hand and the finer courtesy.
The meal done without buys a candle for the neighbor’s
dead child. You do foolishly to suppose that
the candle does no good.
At Las Uvas every house is a
piece of earth thick walled, whitewashed
adobe that keeps the even temperature of a cave; every
man is an accomplished horseman and consequently bow-legged;
every family keeps dogs, flea-bitten mongrels that
loll on the earthen floors. They speak a purer
Castilian than obtains in like villages of Mexico,
and the way they count relationship everybody is more
or less akin. There is not much villainy among
them. What incentive to thieving or killing can
there be when there is little wealth and that to be
had for the borrowing! If they love too hotly,
as we say “take their meat before grace,”
so do their betters. Eh, what! shall a man be
a saint before he is dead? And besides, Holy
Church takes it out of you one way or another before
all is done. Come away, you who are obsessed with
your own importance in the scheme of things, and have
got nothing you did not sweat for, come away by the
brown valleys and full-bosomed hills to the even-breathing
days, to the kindliness, earthiness, ease of El
Pueblo de Las Uvas.