I first visited Alamos in 1986. I had heard about the charming small town for years as I spent winters with my parents in San Carlos since I was a child. We always stayed at Playa Cortes, the old, elegant hotel in Miramar.

My parents died in 1985 and my husband and I returned to San Carlos in 1986 for the winter as we always had. San Carlos seemed empty without my parents so we decided to go see what Alamos was about. We were enchanted by the lovely foothills of the Sierra Madres and the winding road to Alamos. We were delighted when we crested the last hill and saw the little town in the valley and the church steeple rising above it.

We ventured up the small street that led to the Plaza de Las Armas and took note of the lovely adobe architecture and felt like we had ventured back in time to another era. We parked on the plaza, crossed the street, and sat on a bench to feel the town. We looked at each other and remarked on how we both felt as though we had been there before. I could see myself as a Spanish lady living there long ago. In my mind I had on a silk dress and silk slippers and was carrying a parasol. Was this just an active imagination or recalling a past life? My husband had the same feeling of knowing he had been here before, but not in this life.

Someone directed us to Hotel Casa de los Tesoros and we checked in for the night. At that time, Edith Pratt was the hostess as Darley had been before her. Cocktails were served at 6:30 on the portal and musicians played. We also were told that one dressed for dinner and that we would be seated with other guests.

As promised, we sat on the lovely portal in leather chairs and were serenaded by mariachis as we sipped our margaritas. Local Americans drifted in. We were sitting in two leather rocking chairs near our room and soon two American gentlemen arrived and informed us we were in their chairs. That was our first introduction to Pember Nuzum and Craig Hill, who had their cocktails at the Tesoros every night. They were delightful gentlemen.

Soon Edith Pratt informed us dinner was served and she escorted us to our table in a lovely dining room and introduced us to the other diners. Edith made sure we had interesting people near us. This was part of the enchantment of the Tesoros at that time.

In the evening, while we were at dinner, a fire was built in our room and the beds were turned down, so we returned to a warm cozy room after an enchanting dinner and a short walk through the plaza. During our evening walk, we sat down on a high curb on Calle Obregon in front of what is now La Mansion Hotel. It was dark except for the glow of dim street lights and as we sat there, we heard a man playing a guitar and singing. The music seemed to reverberate off the high adobe walls of the houses that lined the street. It was very surreal. The musician strolled up the street, singing and playing and as he passed us, gave a nod. At that moment, we knew we were in love with the little town of Alamos.

The next morning, we heard a knock on the door of our room and found a boy with hot, very strong Mexican coffee and fresh orange juice on a silver tray with flowers. He informed us that breakfast would be served in the dining room in an hour.

After breakfast, we set out on foot to explore the town. It was such an incredible adventure for us as our profession in Taos, New Mexico, was restoring old adobes. We thought we might have fallen into adobe heaven.

We spent the first week in Alamos just walking the streets and looking at the incredible architecture. Gerda and Bill Guevara had recently purchased an old adobe home on the corner of Obregon and Juarez and were just finishing the renovation. We wandered in and Gerda, whom we immediately liked, told us she would give us a special rate if we wanted to stay for a month or two, as she was just opening. She showed us a lovely room on the Jarez side and we moved in. She served breakfast in the courtyard every morning and we ate with her and Bill. People who had recently acquired houses and had no kitchens yet came every morning. So we met more delightful people at La Mansion.

We were at this point hooked. The enchantment of the town, the ambiance, the relaxed lifestyle, the lovely people, both Mexican and American. So we started searching for a house. In those days, 1986, there were very few houses for sale in the historic district. They were either owned by Mexican families who had lived in them for many generations or foreigners who had discovered Alamos jn the 1950s. So it took us several years to settle on a house that was right for us. We eventually bought Calle Sonora, #18. We needed a yard and not just small courtyard as we had two black lab-mix dogs that needed space. The house had a walled acre with a lovely courtyard, orchard, and garden.

We bought the house from Mary Alice Montgomery who was from Texas and she had, over the years, brought fabulous, citrus trees of exceptional quality to the orchard. Every year at harvest time, I had the gardener load the truck with fruit and I’d drive out to the barrios and he’d open the back and invite the people to take fruit. Soon the word got out in the barrios that some gringo was giving away fruit and everyone came with bags, five-gallon buckets, and tubs of various sizes to collect fruit. It never took longer than half an hour and the truck was empty and I was on my way home.

Our bedroom fronted on Calle Sonora and every morning I loved to listen as the townspeople went to work. Lots of men going from the campo to work at a ranch or house rode up Sonora on their horses. I heard the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones. Wood for the fireplaces was delivered on burros, so many burros also passed our house with loads of wood. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. I also heard the ladies of town walking by and discussing the day ahead. It was lovely to hear the town slowly coming to life.

We lived in Alamos until 2001 when a house in San Carlos I had always wanted came on the market and we bought it. I still miss Alamos and who knows, I may return some day.

Pat Frazier. Photo by Stephen H. Williams.

I believe mine is a different kind of story.

I have known for a very long time I adored Mexico. After acquiring our Magical Place in Alamos, I now know I also adore Mexicans. I jokingly say I am sure I was a Gomez in another life, although it really does not feel like an untrue joke. We have our Beautiful Box sandwiched in between our wonderful Mexican neighbors in our charming barrio.

I am regularly humbled by the joy and peace I witness in our Mexican friends. The depth of meaning in their lives that to some may appear to be lacking and sometimes tragic. To have so much with so little is, I feel, a powerful lesson. I have followed the tradition of “helping” our friends and neighbors only to lament that each time we return I am just imposing my beliefs of what brings happiness.

Mostly I am grateful for the trust and friendship I have been shown and am hoping to be worthy of these relationships. So, Alamos and its people are, for me, the Magnificent Teachers in my life from whom I hope to learn to be a happier and more balanced person.

Babs Watson. Photo by Janie Wright.

by Emily Preece

Coming from the cold, damp northwest area around Seattle, the warm and sunny Sonoran desert was a welcome winter respite for both Bob and Babs Watson. Their first trips to Alamos were in the early 1980′s as visitors; but it wasn’t long before the charm of the town worked its magic, and they started house-hunting. The Watsons purchased a home up on Loma de Guadalupe, with a beautiful view toward the plaza, the distant Sierra Madre mountains as a backdrop, and the Purisma de Concepcion church as a focal point. This scene would become the subject for many of Bab’s splendid watercolor paintings. As an artist, she was primarily self-taught, and had amazing talent and flair. Many collections in both Mexico and the US contain pieces executed and signed by Beryl Watson.

Bab’s loose and colorful method of painting reflected her lifestyle, wit, and zest for life. And why shouldn’t it? Color was an important feature of her daily activities. Beautiful blue eyes, shiny red toenails, naturally curly and soft grey hair, long black eyelashes, mis-matched silver hoop earrings, and the full palette of colors that Babs dipped her sable watercolor brushes into were all the signature trademarks during the years Babs was with us in Alamos. Bab’s artistic talents extended beyond the brush to acting, as well. Much to everyone’s delight, she starred in at least two stage productions in Alamos written and directed by Doris Mellen

Babs could take any occasion and turn it into a spontaneous celebration of friendship and fun. Many times an impromptu drop-in visit to the Watson’s could result in drinks and dinner just because the opportunity presented itself. A quick scrounge in the kitchen and Babs would exit with a meal created from nothing! Everything was always presented and served on her eclectic collection of “vintage chic” silver, stemware, and china; augmented if necessary with her “fluted shell” pattern of paper plates! Her hostessing skills were a reflection from the Watson’s days as owners and guides of the elegant “Hoquiam Castle,” a Washington (state) Historic Landmark for tourists who were on their way to visit the ocean.

Babs was herself, also very fond of the sea, and that prompted the Watson’s purchase of a small property out at Huatabampito beach. The sun and ocean breezes seemed to revitalize Babs, and she relished any time she could spend there; very often inviting a group of girlfriends to accompany her for a few days of surf and salt air.

Although not overly religious, Babs had a deep respect for the Divine, and called upon the Lord to take away her fear and guide her step by step her through the final drama/event of her life – a surgery which revealed the seriousness of her cancer, and lead to her departure from this life in June 2008. Babs was smart, witty, brave, adventurous, imaginative, welcoming, curious, sometimes blunt, dramatic, loyal, and worked at seeing and affirming the positive in others. Babs never stopped challenging herself. Her last words were, “One step at a time.”

How lucky we all were to have known Babs and to be reminded of her colorful life each time we look at one of her wonderfully executed and vibrant watercolors.

Jamie Swickard Alcantar. Photo by Arcadio Willis.

My daughter, Mariah, and I moved to Alamos in the summer of 2000. I purchased the house, known as the Axelrod home, and was delighted to be raising Mariah out of the congestion of Tucson. We were so excited to be spending the first night in our beautiful property that has two huge mango trees standing tall in our patio area.

Little Mariah, age 7, looked out the window and saw children her age playing freely outside in the little Plaza that borders our home. She begged me to go out and play. I was leery since she knew not a word of Spanish and I knew none of the people on the Plazita. But I thought, isn’t that exactly why I moved to Mexico? My daughter could have the freedom to play outdoors. Off she went. The game the little ones were playing was tag, so no language skills were required and as I peered out the window they seemed to be delighted with her company. A new fountain had been installed, just that day, and the bottom of it served as home base for the game. Mariah in her over-excitement, not to be tagged, jumped toward the safety of the fountain. Just as she hit it all the layers of cantera flew off to the ground and were shattered. She did not know that it had yet to be connected. Her little face turned bright red and I saw her run for home. All the people in the plaza got onto their feet and just stood there. First they stared at their precious, long awaited fountain and then at our house. I took her hand in mine and we marched out together to confront this embarrassing situation. Since my Spanish was very limited I tried to explain that it was not her fault and somehow we would get it fixed. No one understood me, but they understood my feelings and began to smile and welcomed us to the neighborhood. I look at that fountain every day and have to suppress a giggle thinking of our first day in Alamos.

Day two was just about as interesting. Mariah and I went out to spend some time in the afternoon sun on our portal. When we decided to return to the coolness of the inside of our home, we found the door had locked behind us. It was a big sturdy Alamos door and there was just no way to get back in. I decided I would have to climb to the roof which is about 20 feet in the air. I had no idea how to accomplish that but little by little I made my way to the top. Then I was still at a loss because no one was in the street. After a bit a young man sauntered down the street and I began yelling, “Help me, please.” He did not have a clue what I was saying but could see that I was distraught. He went back to his home to get his father, who fortunately knew my dad and mom and went to the Hacienda for a key. Problem solved.

I shudder to think what the neighbors must have thought about the two “gringas” in those days, but now many years later, I realize that they have always been there for us in helpful kind ways.

Ten years ago, in 2002, I married the most special man on the planet, Ramon Alcantar. We have managed through culture and language barriers to have a marriage made in heaven. Nine years ago we were blessed with a darling baby boy. My passions include exercise, delicious healthy food, Latin dancing and sobriety.

I work as a Manager at the Hacienda de los Santos Resort and Spa. It is a dream job for me as I get to work with my family and meet delightful people every single day. Who could ask for more?

Elena Chavarria. Photo by Carlos Valdes.

 

 Un Deseo Cumplido

Dios te salve María,

llena eres de gracia,

el Señor es contigo,

bendita Tú eres entre todas las mujeres

y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús….

Santa María, Madre de Dios,

ruega Señora por nosotros los pecadores

ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.

Amén.

I repeated my prayer three times, just as my mother had taught me to do in every visit to a new church, and saluted the Holly Virgin in order to be granted one wish; a wish you are not supposed to reveal until it comes true. As I knelt, I asked for my wish, made the Holly Cross sign on my forehead and entered the crisp light of Álamos as I left the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción. The year was 1991.

I had my first real job at the age of 21. As most of us are at some point in life, I had become trapped in the belief that I needed a salary. I had a good reason for it: Carlos and I were planning the wedding of the millennium, and so it took us three long years of saving to accomplish this dream. Now that I see it in retrospect, every second of that challenging first job was worthwhile, for our wedding day and ever since after. But, could this event have been the one wish I asked for? Not necessarily. My marriage has been a blessing, and with regard to my first job, besides the accumulated savings, important answers came years later as I uncovered the real lessons I learned as a bacteriology technician when working with rural women.

An earthquake in September 1985, ended my reluctance to leave young patients, co-workers, and that first job in Mexico City. I escaped with Carlos from the most populated city in the world and the next day woke up in Cancun. My new colleagues, fishermen, provided our daily sustenance which consisted of lobster heads, and we survived on lobster broth until we were able to pay for our first apartment. As we feasted on this savory seafood, other creatures feasted on me as well, including living things such as ants, wasps, ticks and flies which terrified me during my expeditions into the jungles, that, as a hopeless field assistant to a famous French entomologist, I was forced to do. Had I known that most of these wilderness sites along the Riviera Maya would disappear as hotels sprouted by the hundreds, I would have judged my new job a greater adventure, been there as an entrepreneur naturalist.

I learned fast about the secrets of these tropical jungles, not from the Frenchman, but his technicians, indigenous Mayas who enabled me to conquer my fear about the wild all around me and within me. This life in paradise though, wasn’t the wish I asked for either, but it was a dream come true. I woke up from the dream to the roars of Hurricane Gilberto in 1986, whose winds swirled me away from the last remaining Maya culture and their precious landscape. Carlos considered it a risky existence and convinced me to pursue graduate studies. The next two thousand days we lived far away, soaked in Pacific Northwest rains, academic thinking, and the diapers of our first two babies. It took me seven years to return to México. From Oregon, we landed in the Sonoran Desert with Carlitos and Elenita, Vinchenzo, our border collie, a Masters and a PhD degree and a magic wand: English language and cultural understanding of the United States.

When I crossed the threshold into the Sonoran Desert in 1991, my beloved Mexico held greater passion; nothing but magic appeared around us and within me. We had the water up to our necks, literally. In Guaymas our house was right on the beach of Bacochibampo Bay, the surf, our noisy neighbors. Along with the day and night wave lullabies, a decade of broad and colorful horizons nourished me. One morning the call of the waves sounded louder, Carlos heard its whisper and I accepted Carlos’ eagerness to follow it. We moved again, this time to a very peculiar island, a tiny cosmopolitan particle of land along the Saint Lawrence River in Québec. What discovery was I going to experience in Montréal? Daniel was born, French language germinated, and we nourished it in our daily lives during those 4 years of embracing the very diverse natures of Canadian people.

Finally in 2006, Carlos, Dani and I arrived in Alamos. “Pas de pâte à modeler -There is no Play-Doh? pas de LEGOS? – there are no LEGOS? pas de beurre d’arachide, maman? There is no peanut butter, Mother?’’ asked our five-year-old son.

“No, Dani, there are no such commodities in Álamos… You will discover new wonders.”

Daniel came to Álamos with us reluctant from the beginning. We brought nothing, since we no longer needed what he had. The temperature, sometimes reached over a shocking 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was 50 when I returned to Álamos, 25 years after my first visit as a tourist. This time I came to share with Carlos the need to work and the pleasure of raising Daniel. We immediately embarked on the quest of alternatives for Play-Doh, LEGOS, and peanut butter for our son. I visited Daniel’s first grade teacher. We made our acquaintances and as a sign of politeness or maybe arrogance, I offered him whatever kind of help for Dani’s classroom, help such as music, storytelling, outdoor excursions, all these activities with a hint of magic disguising their true outcome in enhancing environmental appreciation.

The teacher’s response was immediate but incredibly remote from my expectations: -“!Ah, claro aceptamos su ayuda! Venga a barrer el salón de clases los lunes, miércoles y viernes. Los estudiantes de la tarde deben encontrarlo limpio. I was shocked with these words “Please come and sweep the classroom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays!” Suddenly my disappointment turned into astonishment. I realized my wish had been granted. I remembered praying, “Virgen de la Purísima Concepción, please bring me back and let me live here in Álamos as part of this community, even if it means starting as a sweeper in a school.”

Jo Hodges Yelton. Photos by Ted Glattke.

 by Jean Glattke

Aqui la puerta es Corazon siempre abierta.

“Here the door is a heart always open.”

Jo Yelton’s writing and her life reflected her love of travel, and of kitchen, hearth, and home. This pleasure in all facets of life came from a temperament naturally tuned to enjoyment. Things pleased her. Life pleased her. And the living of it to the fullest, pleased her.

Jo was a television writer, newspaper columnist, and lecturer, who traveled around the world several times, far from her beginnings in Caney, Kansas. She was able to continue those adventures after she married Elmer Yelton, a career foreign service officer. Together they lived in Laos; Cambridge, England; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Washington DC; Tampico and Hermosillo, Mexico; and finally Alamos and Tucson. As the wife of a foreign service officer and Consul General of Hermosillo, Sonora, hospitality and entertaining were a way of life. Her natural joy in sharing her experiences with others became books: The Joy of Mexico cookbook and Entertaining Ideas. These books are testimonials to her creativity and deep love of Mexico and its great food and culture.

During their assignment in Hermosillo in the 1970’s, Jo and El discovered Alamos. Like so many others, they fell in love with the cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and way of life created by centuries of history and tradition. They purchased a small adobe home on Loma Guadalupe and began to restore and expand it. Jo’s eye for detail, proportion, and grace resulted in Casa del Sol Divino as it stands today. The swimming pool has been converted to a fountain and the gardens have been expanded, but the house itself remains very much the same.

Their home became a center of social life for the early group of gringos and expats who came to Alamos to experience the charm and slower pace of a time gone by. Guests were welcomed in each other’s homes for coffee; handwritten notes were sent to each other to schedule social events; Saturday night at the Tesoros for the deer dancers and cocktails, was the place to be. Cars were few and cowboy hats were still the norm for the locals. The Saturday Home Tour was a must. The telescope was always set up and ready for guests to view the brilliance of Alamos skies at night. And El was always up for a swim in the pool or a game of chess. They hosted many houseguests from around the world, passing along to them their contagious passion for the charm and joy of Alamos.

My husband and I were fortunate to be among those lucky houseguests, On our early visits, we would fly into Obregon from Tucson and return from Guaymas. Jo drove us to the Guaymas airport for the return trip, always making it special. On one of our trips, we arrived at the airport to learn that the only flight out that Sunday was cancelled. We had work commitments on Monday and dogs and a housesitter expecting us. Without skipping a beat, Jo said—Wonderful, I will drive you to Tucson and show you some other special places on the way. And she did just that. She turned what could have been a travel nightmare, into a fun and memorable day. She never complained or showed any indication of being put out. Just JOY over the chance to show us more of her beloved Mexico. She delivered us to our home and then turned right around and returned to Alamos the next day. That was Jo. Always finding pleasure and JOY in life….living it to the fullest. “He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” (Proverbs)

Linda Hughen Adams. Photo by Bill Adams.

In 2008, my husband and I hugged our family and friends, sold the family home while the kids were away at college, put 104 boxes and 2 cats in the trailer and truck and moved to Mexico.

Like many people, we had fallen in love when we first had visited Alamos in 2007. Its colonial sparkle shimmered among the hills and mountains. Captured in timeless culture, the town seemed to stand still and yet at the same time, be immensely alive. Kissed by warm weather and vibrant sunsets, we were more than enthusiastic about living here year round; we were ecstatic. The foreign population was diverse and the Mexican community welcoming.  The architecture was mysterious and inspiring. The food was both simple and grand. We were in the mountains, but close to the sea. Lovers of Mexico for many years, we felt Alamos had what we wanted and we eagerly settled in.

On the night of October 11, 2008, Hurricane Norbert blew into Alamos. Throughout the night, the wind and rain pummeled our house and everyone else’s and sirens wailed nonstop. In the morning all was quiet, but for a rushing sound I heard as soon as I stepped outside our casa. A quick ride on my bike led me to the sound. The Chalaton Arroyo, now filled with rushing water and huge boulders that had tumbled down the mountain destroying everything in their path, had raged through town, meeting with other arroyos only to make more confusion and disorder.

I quickly returned home and brought my husband Bill, or Señor, as we call him, out to see what Alamos now looked like. Houses we had seen the day before were gone. The arroyos were swiftly raging in and out of homes. Trees were uprooted and lying inside living spaces, cars were stacked on top of each other. Roads filled with flowing water and thick mud were no longer roads, windows were without their panes, and glass covered the walkways, houses no longer had rooftops, and walls were in the streets. People wandered around, our own faces mirrored in their dull, dazed eyes.

We had been in this mysterious and adventurous new life for only four months and suddenly our lives here seemed unpredictable. Alamos had been turned upside down and shaken inside out by Norbert, and now, standing in the middle of a street filled with knee high mud and garbage, we weren’t sure where we really stood.

Immediately DIF, the Mexican government institution that deals with family services, became the command center for lost people, displaced and hungry people, the military and anyone who had nothing to do but wander around in disbelief. I went to DIF thinking there might be something I could do.

In my limited Spanish, I asked to help, and after much conversation, a man led me to the kitchen. The women who were inside dicing potatoes and carrots watched as he took me to the big propane stove. Stir these beans, he said. Then he left. While the Mexican women watched, I stirred and I stirred until my arm went numb. Eventually another man came and began to introduce me to the women who took charge of me and my willingness to help.

Meanwhile, Señor began to ferry families, animals, beds, and grandmas across the arroyos in our large truck.  We were both doing something to help ourselves and others.

The military flew in food and water and after the roads were passable, DIF trucks from many Sonoran cities began to arrive with more supplies and clothing. Many, many people of Alamos, both foreign and Mexican, helped in ways that could not be surpassed. The passion and love that had already belonged to Alamos increased in great measures, from not only the people of Alamos, but from people around the world.

Slowly, at DIF, I became the trusted early bird, first to arrive around 5:20 a.m. The night watchman came to know me and escorted me to the kitchen. There I lit the stove burners and began to crack the eggs.  By 6:30 a.m., when there was a brief hush in the building while the Mexican National Anthem played, others were arriving and the bustle of the morning began.  The eggs went immediately into the huge pans, and when cooked, onto the plates with tortillas and beans. Drivers came, one after the other, to take plate filled crates to the barrios and distribute them.  As soon as the last morning meal crates went out, we began to work on the mid-day meal. Often we made and delivered over 1,000 plates for each of these meals.

One morning at dawn, after lighting the stove, I stood at the large kitchen window and saw outside what looked like willowy ghosts rising silently and slowly from the huge piles of clothing that had been delivered to five large tent awnings.  In that silvery eeriness of the dawn light I could barely make out the military men who were lucky enough to sleep among the clothing and were just rising. Most of them slept inside DIF, on the floor, without blankets, their boots off, toes curled inside their socks, their guns cradled in their arms. Like little boys, they breathed heavily and slept hard and I agonized as I stepped gently over and around them each morning to get to the kitchen.

Alamos recovered very quickly. The government, and the people of Alamos, both foreign and Mexican, worked hard to make that happen and today Alamos is very much alive and filled with tourists, both foreign and Mexican. It is truly more complete than it was before Norbert came and it flourishes with beauty and activity.

When I walked away from DIF, after more than 2 weeks, I knew something remarkable had happened to me. Something had brought me even closer to belonging to our new town. And I had made lasting friendships. I often see my Mexican friends from the kitchen. I smile and launch into a thousand hugs and kisses for one of the younger women, who not only lost her home and some of her family but was stung by scorpions that night yet continued to find her comfort by working in the DIF kitchen. I see another woman at the Plaza on Sunday nights and we touch fingers. I see yet another as she walks the Alameda in the mornings, we wave and smile. And my special friend, whom I came to call the egg scrambler, stops and shows me the newest picture of his daughter and now of his wife who is expecting their second child. I think we all have a bond, one that says we have shared something that no one else has shared.  I hope I will never share in that way again, but the bond created is surely one worth treasuring.

* * * *

Linda and her husband, Bill, or Señor, have kept a blog since 2006,      It is a collection of more than 500 posts and photographs since they made their decision to move permanently to Mexico.

Louise McPherson. Photo by Bernadette Mertens-McAllister.

Aurora, A Love Story

Louise McPherson

            Tequila was made here at Aurora where I have lived for almost 21 years. The ruins of the grand hacienda, with its crumbling walls and outbuildings, are said to be around 300 years old. The giant majestic mesquite trees stand testimony to its age.

* * *

            A tall man in a Stetson at Nancy and Jim Swickard’s daughter’s wedding in San Diego started it all.

“Is that bourbon?” I asked him. No one in southern California drank bourbon, only red and white wine.

“Is that water?” he replied. It was the age of Pelligrino for non-drinkers. I told him I was raised in Kentucky where drinking bourbon is an art form. Served at weddings, it is put in squat, silver “julep cups” that get beaded in dew from finely crushed ice. A sprig of mint is added.

“Seems like a waste of mint,” was his terse reply. Social skills were not in evidence. He said he was raised a poor boy on the plains of Kansas. “We had no silver.” He had gone to vet school on the GI Bill, and had just retired to Alamos and built a house away from town, and had no phone on purpose. He invited me to come see Aurora when I visited the Swickards in a few weeks.

About a month later, I heard the housekeeper answer a seven-in-the-morning knock on Nancy’s door in the Tacubaya house they had rented while restoring Los Santos. A bouquet of 24 roses had been left; no name. no card. I was a goner.

* * *

            On New Year’s Day, 1993, Don and I had a pig roast for practically everyone in town. We were a smaller gringo group then and accustomed to gathering together. I fretted over tablecloths for ten tables. “Use sheets,” he said, as he butchered a 250-pound pig in the backyard and spitted it on his large grill. We had a glorious feast. But there was a lot of pork left over, so I invited ten friends for Sunday night supper and games.

We sat at the table as two bandits with automatic weapons entered the kitchen, hoods over their heads, small slits cut for eyes.

In a matter of minutes, it was over. Don died instantly, two others and I were luckier with gunshot wounds that eventually healed. They hadn’t meant to kill. I was certain. It was a botched robbery.

* * *

            The thing about living alone is that you have plenty of time to think. Would I feel less afraid back in my San Diego house that had an expensive motion-detection system? Or in Kentucky where my family never locked doors or cars? Or is anywhere safe from random horrors? I knew I had to get over fear fast or I might be afraid for the rest of my life. While I was in San Diego for his memorial service, Don’s good friends there had found dogs for me. I carted those wild dogs in a pouring rain to Alamos with my arm still in a sling. The dogs and I walked every night in the orchard among orange trees in full February bloom. How could anything bad happen in such a magical place? The dogs and I decided that we were all right. As a backup good luck gesture, I buried Don’s collection of cowboy boots all over Aurora, the place he loved to be.

It was the right decision. Living bi-culturally has been the most exciting life, learning to speak a language of poetry. Seeds planted here are “nacio,” born. A thump on the head and the words, “no entera,” is poetry for “that person is not listening to a thing I say.” We sing  Christmas carols in the streets and are joined by Mexican friends who teach us the Spanish words to Silent Night and Feliz Navidad.

Passing strangers are not too busy to say, “Buenos Dias,” or the more confusing, “Adios,” which can mean hello and goodbye. I walk more slowly on purpose. I smile at sunrises over the magnificent Sierra Madres and sunsets behind Cacharamba.

I am happiest when I return to Aurora from wherever, and feel an instant calm.

It may be all those buried boots.

Nancy Edwards. Photo by Joan Gould Winderman.

After 10 years of invitations from Donna Love to join her in Alamos, I arrive in February of 2008 at 6:00 a.m. on the overnight bus from Tucson, AZ. I take a nap while she is off to Tai Chi, and settle for coffee on the Terracota patio. Memories of a month in a San Miguel language school, eight years before, afternoons on a convent patio studying, the warmth, color, challenge of another language, swirl around me. I will soon be 81. Maybe another 20 years, a significant amount of time. I’ve been thinking of moving to Mexico since those days in San Miguel.

As we walk around the town, Donna introduces me to many women in the midst of planning the big fund raising event for scholarships at Hal and Michelee Cabot’s home. They are found at impromptu meetings on the raised curbs. There is a lot of energy here. Suddenly the phrase, “This is it,” flashes through my mind. This is where I want to spend the rest of my life, or a lot of it. That sleepless night I give serious thought to moving here. How can I leave my granddaughter Maya? A few tears. She is entering teen years, her world expanding rapidly. Not so much time with me. The next day Donna and I find our way to Liliana Carosso’s real estate office. We look at a few houses. I find the only one here that suits me. It’s funky, with walls of many colors; yellow, purple, pink, orange, green. Donna and I sink into well-used overstuffed furniture fit for a vacation casita. Three days later it is mine.

October 1, daughter Sally and her friend Steve drive down from Wilcox, Arizona, for a week to help me settle in. Sally’s departing advice, “Always keep a flashlight handy.” Everything in its place, my first night alone, a quiet supper in front of my French doors, listening to the sounds, a satisfied sigh. Later it begins to rain. I had my roof sealed yesterday, it had leaked all summer leaving an antique finish on my walls.

Rain gushes out of downspouts onto my small patio, crystal waterfalls glisten in the streetlight. Will it drain away or back up into my bedroom? I move my shoes and computer into my raised bathtub. About 11:00, I hop out of bed, flashlight in hand and venture into the living room to see if my newly sealed roof is leaking. “Whoosh,” French doors, kitchen door burst open. “Flood!” Water rises to my hips. I head for the closet, grab raincoat, passport, Visa. Printer is floating in its box on the bed, down the hall comes the small almost empty refrigerator. I push it away, grab my one prescription from the kitchen counter and head out the door, the water already reversing course making it possible for me to reach the blown-open front gate.

The back end of my car is floating in the streetlight. Interesting. The flashing red light at the corner of Mina and Chihuahua is a police car. Waist deep, going with the tide through my gate, I cling to the red pickup parked there, and can go no farther. Death lies a few yards away in the water rushing downhill into the arroyo. Hop into the back of the truck? Will it wash down into the arroyo?

A policeman jumps out of the van, grabs my hand, helps me into the small space in the rear. Four of them, busy on cell phones, “Americano.” Someone will be able to locate me later. We drive a few blocks, the van stalls on Serdan, water is rushing in all directions. Things bump on the sides of the car, water seeps through the floorboards, the roof door is popped open, we climb out and down to the street, knee deep water. Now barefoot, hand in hand against a wall, we gain higher ground at a door part way up the block where a group of people watch the local drama. Only one open door nearby. Idalia Reyes takes my arm, pulls me into her muddy floor house, gives me dry clothes, puts me on a bed where I perch until things settle down about 2:00 a.m. The few inches of muddy water are frequently swept out the front door. Warm rain has ceased, chatty neighbors depart. Our Lady of Guadalupe flickers in every room. I tell Idalia in my best Spanish that I have friends where I can go in the morning.

It’s something about Alamos! It is the interconnectedness of its inhabitants. Help appears. In six weeks I’m back in my house, my car back from the garage in Navajoa, phone and Internet installed. They connect me to my larger world.

Thanksgiving potluck at Ellen Price’s house; her mom, Leila Gillette cooking the turkey, newcomers gather, exchange stories of how we got here. Feliz Navidad is around the corner. We practice Christmas Carols at Sherry Hale’s house, and sing on the streets Christmas Eve. Tamales for supper, for Christmas day, made by our neighbor a few doors away.

New sounds. It is warm and parties are on porches, patios. Dogs, chickens, donkeys communicate, amplified bands compete across the valley. Hot summer follows. Huge yellow butterfly migrations daily up the arroyo. A few days after rains start, squashed frogs decorate streets, followed by swarms of black gnats, which mark the passing seasons. History club on Thursdays at Los Santos, marks my week.

I love my large bark dust, cacti, bougainvillea high-walled yard. Coffee in the sun, birds in the trees, pruning to keep the jungle in shape. Hiss of palm fronds on windy days like the hiss of the surf on sand. Clouds ever entertaining. Wonderful neighbors.

My family comes to visit. Garth, Sara, Maya, Sally, Steve, Eric. Maybe one day the others.

Now it is 2/2012, night bus to Alamos for three months. A mostly retired Episcopal priest, associated with Grace Church on Bainbridge, serving occasionally; mother of three, Garth, artist on Bainbridge, wife Sara ,teacher, daughter Maya; Sally, nurse, artist, her friend Steve, Wilcox, her daughters Martha/Hans, Anna/Cory, husbands; Eric, Portland and LA, independent director of photography, artist. I mainly organize things, occasionally write memories, try to keep things neat.

Jeri McAndrews. Photo by Joan Gould Winderman.

Why did I come to Alamos? Coincidence, happenstance, just one of those things? My gringo friends, Kenny and Maggie, drove me to Alamos from the little ejido of Melchor O’Campo. They had a house, garden, and sewing co-op there and I had been working on various projects in exchange for staying with them. When I had just broken up with my partner and was moping around sad-faced, they told me, “We’re taking you to Alamos for some R&R.”

We packed their car with wonderful embroideries, dolls, and clothing that women from local ejidos had made for Maggie’s co-op. Now we were bringing them to Teri’s B&B to sell. I stayed at La Puerta Roja under the fine care of Teri Arnold, and I so loved it right off the bat that Kenny and Maggie left me there for a few days. Later I bused back to Melchor.

Shortly after that, Kenny and Maggie heard that Jennifer and David McKay, who lived in Alamos, were looking for a teacher for their two daughters, Selena and Elli. I went back to Alamos and met the McKay children and interviewed with their parents for the job. We all liked one another and seemed to be a good fit. I was hired for the next fall/winter season.

On a bright sunny September morning in Tucson, I was in my bathrobe sweeping the terra cotta floor in my living room, when I heard on the radio that The World Trade Center in New York was being attacked. The next day Kenny arrived at my house because we had planned to drive down to Mexico together. Maggie was already in Melchor O’Campo. I planned to drop Kenny off there and proceed on to Alamos to start my teaching job..

My students, Selena and Elli, and Jackie and Yesinia, who were Mexican, huddled over the globe searching for Afghanistan. We were in the Cunningham’s casita which was large enough for both my living quarters and the school room. One night the fragrance from a gigantic jasmine bush pulled me out of bed to go stand near it. It was intoxicating. I had to walk into its embrace breathing its sumptuously sweet flowers. The next day I cut some jasmine blossoms and placed them in a glass by my bed. So many trees, bushes, and vines of fabulous plants grow in this biome where the desert kisses hello to the tropics and each month something else gloriously blooms and enchants us.

Years passed, things changed, and eventually I taught English classes at a language school formed with my friend, Linda Hellman. But each winter I had to rent a place to live until finally one day I walked by a little house and my friend told me, “You know, Jeri, even though there’s no sign on it, I think that house is for sale.” That turned out to be true and I bought my little house in Tacubaya Alto, from José who worked in the museum. When I first saw that house, there was a calf tied up to the column between the arches of the portal. When José ushered me into the house to show me the interior, a bale of hay was in the living room. It was muy rustico.

“Gringos have to have bathrooms. If you want to sell that place, you’d better add a baño.” That’s what someone had told José, so he had done just that and not much more. Linda helped me decide which room to make into a kitchen, which one a bedroom and then a living room. I learned construction Spanish, hired workers, and renovated the entire house. The workers also made an underground el heibe (water storage tank), a bodga (small storage building), and added a chimenea. The labor seemed to go on and on until one day it was completed and ready.

Yeah. Everything’s coming up jasmine. I’m happy as a flea on a perro, when one day I’m in my newly tiled bathroom and decide to empty the wastebasket. I rest the straw basket on the sink for a moment and wham, the sink falls off the wall. Instantly, water is rushing out the pipe into the bathroom spilling over into the bedroom and I’m thinking, “What the crap!” I run out into the street and call for help. “Ayudarme, Ayudarme, por favor,” I scream. An old man walking by hears my plea and comes inside to have a look. He tries tightening the same handles under where the sink had been, as I had tried, but they don’t stop the water. The water is spurting directly on us and we are getting soaked when he says to me in Spanish, “My wife’s going to think we took a shower together.” I suddenly realize that I have to turn off the pump, and the water stops.

Life is rich here. At my little house, I have no Internet service. Instead, I have tortilla service. Every morning a man drives up the hill selling flour or corn tortillas. Another man drives up with garrafones of water, another with oranges. Many of the expats I know who live in Alamos are lucky to have wonderful Mexican caretakers. In my case, it’s the family of Mickey, Willy, and their three kids. Fatima, Luis, and Mariana, who aid me. They live just down the street a few houses. Willy and his father Guiermo did the electricity and plumbing, tiled the kitchen and bathroom and put the fencing up. Ever since I bought this casa and began fixing it, these people have helped me. They sent a doctor up to see me when I was ill and drove their pickup truck down to fill the prescription he gave me. Another time I had a swollen ankle and Mickey went someplace in the barrio and came back with herbs she had collected for me to use in soaking my feet. If it weren’t for their kindness, I wouldn’t be here.

I think most of us extranjeros feel like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy in Oz because it so exactly feels like we fell through a rabbit hole and landed in Alamos! Or maybe we clicked our heels together three times one day and a whirlwind tornado twirled us to Alamos!

I wake up every morning and say, “Oh, yeah, another rapturous day!”  No more running from this, that, or anything. My epiphany came when the bathroom sink fell off the wall. Water splashed everywhere and I got over it. Bliss happens here. It’s as simple as that.