It’s wonderful living in a rural environment and at Lake Chapala, spring and early summer still means the arrival of baby animals.
I think that the profusion of animals with their wobbly new offspring was one of the endearing things that increased my intense feelings of “coming home” in the middle of Mexico – especially since home had once been small-town Iowa.
In that Iowa farmhouse, I stood washing dishes while watching the little calves with their mothers on the hill in the pasture across the gravel road.
The baby pigs lived with their moms in the farrowing house for a time, and then were turned out into a large lot with the clanging automatic feeders out beside the barn. (They were less endearing when they squeezed under the fence and rooted and snacked on the tender, sprouting plants in my vegetable garden.)
Even the mama quail got into the act, parading their family of little ones across the freshly plowed and planted garden and out toward the machine shed.
It was one of my own little offspring – about 40 years ago – who coined the phrase “horse puppies.” The origin is obvious – we thought the logic brilliant.
I suppose it is a lot easier for a toddler to call all of the baby animals “puppies” than to learn the whole range of correct baby animal names: calves, colts, piglets, kids, etc. So while we didn’t encourage baby talk, we adopted cow puppies, horse puppies, pig puppies, and goat puppies. The family adopted the phrase – one I still catch myself using out of habit, all these years later.
The Horse Puppies Made Me Do It…
So was it just the appeal of farm animals – horses, cattle, goats, pigs and chickens that attracted me to a new life at Lake Chapala?
Well, the animals, small corn fields and fruit trees were certainly was part of it – but I think that was only part of the whole that caused me to fall in love so completely, so thoroughly and deeply with life here.
Daily life here at Lakeside sparked a series of warm memories – the daily scenes here reminded me of how life was in rural American back in the early 1950s.
I think the combination of the simpler way of life, the connection of the extended family. the constant attraction and stream of entertainment in the town plaza all caused me to feel so strongly that I was “coming home” in spite of the cobblestone streets, profusion of fiercely colored tropical flowers and surrounding ring of mountains.
The Way It Was
There were a multitude of experiences that played into that feeling and into those remembered images. Some have changed little in the 20 years I’ve been here. The Mexican families walking together to church or the plaza on warm evenings continue to remind me of being “uptown” on Saturday night back when Iowa farmers didn’t yet have electric service and needed to come to town on Saturday night to buy groceries, get haircuts, and “do their trading.”
I grew up in a small town; on Saturdays we parked my grandparents’ car as near as possible to the intersection of Broadway and Main so my mother, grandmother and aunt could sit in the car and “watch the people go by.”
Where did the music originate? It was always there -- Sousa marches, happy late 40s big band, and polkas – there must have been a juke box outside somewhere on the sidewalk.
Dad and grandpa leaned against the wall between Kelly’s Jewelry store and the barber shop and shoe shine place, or sat on the hood of the car, smoking and visiting with old school friends, customers, and business contacts.
Meanwhile my uncle sold popcorn from his sidewalk gas-powered cart and I ran and played in the courthouse lawn, browsed in the dime store, and poured over the enormous display of penny candy at the Candy Kitchen next to the Ritz Theater.
The Way It Is
Have you visited the plaza in your nearest Lakeside village on Sunday nights? Sunday in Ajijic is the old Saturday in the Midwest. So much so that a child’s allowance here is called, in Spanish, su domingo (your Sunday).
Folks of all ages still stream to the plaza, all cleaned up and with hair slicked back. Children run and play among the walkways, pelting each other with cascarones (eggshells filled with confetti). The old folks sit on benches and visit with old friends, relatives and neighbors. The teens and young marrieds either walk in the paseo (strolling around the plaza – the boys in one direction and girls in the other) or dance to the band in the plaza kiosko (bandstand).
The ambiance and intent of these experiences are nearly the same – yet the scenes unfolded 1800 miles and a lifetime apart – reminding many of the expats who venture into the real life of central Mexico of home, and of growing up 50 or 60 years ago.
Ahh…it’s good to have come home – especially when home means I can see a horse being bathed on a sidewalk in the middle of Ajijic while her horse puppy looks on and then go to the plaza on Sunday night, sit on a bench, listen to the music and watch the people go by.