Sometimes, especially starting in late October, the coolness of the night bathes the town in refreshing sweetness. The night air is drenched with the scents of things growing. The sweet aromas of alfalfa and even manure from the feedlots filled our noses. After dinner my father would go outside and sit on the porch and smoke his pipe. It was the kind of pipe I saw Sherlock Holmes use in the movies, and the aroma of his pipe tobacco added to the flavors of the night.
Roberto and I would sit there for a while with him. We could see the glow of the nightlife in Mexicali. Occasionally the music from the dance halls reached our ears. A lot of the houses near us were dark. Most of the people went to sleep at sundown. My father worked on a drawing board, or he met with people and talked business, so he could afford to stay up a little later than most.
Sometimes he would talk about the old days, of his life and our family in Tacubaya, Mexico City. Other times he would talk to Roberto about going to a college or university.
“All of these people that you know here, work really hard. They bend their backs under the Sun. They work all day from sunup till after sundown. It is good honorable work. All work is honourable, but if you have a college education you will not have to work outside so much. You won’t have to work so hard and be weary all the time. If you can use your brains, you won’t have to use your back and grow old before your time.”
My father usually sat quietly and puffed away at his pipe. I looked up at him and wondered what he was thinking about. What do grown-ups think about? I am still trying to figure that one out myself. Maybe he was wondering what I was thinking about.
We watched the stars twinkle, and listened to the quiet of the night. We could hear the house noises inside, those of my mother and my sisters cleaning up after dinner. Then we heard the house get quiet again as they begin to settle down for the night.
I felt the sleepy feeling coming over me. I remember Roberto taken me inside and tossing me on the bed. I knew my father was still out there by the occasional cough and from the aroma of the pipe he was smoking wafting through the window. I fell asleep with the taste of his tobacco smoke still in my mouth.
I remember waking up to the sound of the walls shaking and the windows rattling. I sat up. A loud steady wind was beating against our house. I found my mom in the kitchen crying.
“Don’t be silly, woman! It is just the wind.” My father sounded like he was scolding her and I could see that his words were not making her feel any better. We could hear the wind whistling through the rafters and I thought the windows were going to break.
I saw that my father noticed me staring at them, so I made a funny face and pointed to my privates. We had an outhouse which we used most of the time but my parents had a chamber pot in their room where they slept. My father just gave me an understanding nod and I went in there and took care of business.
I got back and found Roberto looking out the window. Natalia and my other sisters were clinging to my mom. All of them were crying. My father shook his head in disgust and joined my brother in looking out the window. I looked too. It was the dark of night and there was nothing to see but the blackness. We could hear the violent sound of the wind as it scoured the earth and shook and rattled our house. We began to smell the dust in the air.
There was nothing to look at except at my mom and sisters crying. I got bored with that and the big sleepy took me away to my bed. Eventually the big sleepy took the sounds of the wind away and I drifted into the night.
It was business as usual when I woke up. Roberto and my sisters had already gone to school. My father had already gone to work downtown. One of his jobs was that of the postmaster and he took care of the mail there in the government buildings. I still have some of the stamps that he cancelled by hand.
The wind was still blowing, but it was just a mild breeze. I looked around the house and saw that one side of our house had no paint. The wind and sand blew it away. The man that lived in the tent across the street now lived in the open-air. In fact he didn’t live anywhere, everything was gone. Even the wooden floor was gone. Down the block another neighbour had no roof. The whole top of the house was gone. There was a stove in the middle of the street. It was almost completely buried. Dogs were wandering around sniffing. All over our neighbourhood was littered with pieces of houses and furniture.
Our house was okay except for the paint job, but the inside of our house was completely covered with dust and I don’t think my mama ever got it entirely clean again.