The Lourdes of Jim Wells County “Where is the farm of the vision of the Virgin Mary?” I asked at the Alice filling station, feeling as though I was delivering a line memorized for a play. The Mexican attendant was un-self-conscious, serious, matter-of-fact. He was respectful of our mission. “Seven miles down the highway toward San Diego and one mile to the left off the main road. You can’t miss it. It’s pretty plain.” A truckload of watermelons for sale stood at the turnoff onto a narrow rutted road. The cars going and coming stirred the yellow dust. A teenage Mexican boy held up a sketch of the Virgin that he had for sale. He had a malformed jaw. A but had been converted into a tamale stand, a handwritten sign in front. We slowed to a stop at a worn cattle guard. A tiny notice pinned to a post said in handprint : “You are entering private property. Proceed at your own risk.” On a rise, several hundred cars were parked in a field around a weathered shack with a windmill and cistern in the yard. A large teenage Anglo approached our car from a makeshift shelter on which was handwritten : “Parking space $1.00.” It was signed “Jack Butler.” Butler is the owner of the farm. He said that he started charging a dollar a car to discourage people’s coming to the cistern. That his water supply was running low and he was going to have to install a pump to water his cattle. That he meant to plant grain , in the field but couldn’t. That having so many visitors was wearing out his cattle guard and other property. That he could see a design in the wood that looked like a lady, but what it was, he didn’t “profess to know.” The boy who took our dollar said, “Good morning. Thank you. Stay as long as you like.” When I asked him how many people had visited this Sunday by 12 o’clock, he said, “About 1,500.” A younger Anglo waved us to a parking place in the sandy field. We waded through what had once been cotton rows, now pulverized into fine blowing sand, as on a beach. At the base of the windmill, the ancient wooden cistern listed heavily to one side. About 500 people, most of them Latin, were collected around the cistern, and a group of Mexican singers in front of it made nasal harmony that float 10 The Texas Observer Georgia Earnest Klippie ed out over the stripped cotton patch. There was no frivolous talking, no giggling. There was a constant coming and going. Almost everyone carried containers for water, some bore gallon jars in each hand, and others carried quart jars, pint mayonnaise jars, cups, empty soda pop bottles. Many who approached crossed themselves in reverence. This was a solemn cathedral under the cloud-piled coastal skies of South Texas. Those who had already filled their jars with water from the well wrapped handkerchiefs around the jars and held them up to the glaring midday sun. Shining through the glass and the water and the handkerchiefs, the sun could reveal shadows that looked like the shrouded figure of the Virgin in alcohol-filled paperweights, made in Japan, that are sold in variety stores. You move them and a cloud of silver flakes floats up around the Virgin. “Mira, mira,” they called softly as they gazed upward through their jars. Or they looked silently and long. Many people sat tiredly under the doubtful shade of a half-dozen mesquites. Two new plyboard privies had been thrown up. Children ran through the crowd, but they were big-eyed, impressed, well-behaved. One black-haired two-year-old in a bright red dress tried to find her way back to her family through a forest of knees. A frecklefaced boy of about nine years said, business-like, to his partner, “Come on, Bill, let’s get some water.” THE SINGING CEASED and the crowd thinned out. We could now see the spot where the vision of the Virgin Mary had appeared at first, and the imprint of which had continued to be seen since, according to reports. Rosaries were tacked to the soft rotting wood of the cistern. Artificial flowers had been stuck underneath the metal bands that hold the staves together, so that the cistern was engirdled with them. Photographs of visitors who had sought healing or of loved ones they sought to help were interspersed among the flowers. A pot of real chrysanthemums wilted on the corner of the platform that supports the cistern. The wind blew steadily. The windmill pumped valiantly. A woman held her arms under the overflow pipe, washed her face and wet her hair, and then added an artificial rose to the circle. One let the water flow over her back. A woman with leprous looking legs wet her hands and wiped her sores with them. A spastic carried around a tin cup full of water. A man with a giant stomach tumor stood waiting his turn. An older woman assisted by her son drank water from a green Sprite bottle. People milled quietly or stood still, looking steadily at the cistern. “Do you see it?” a Mexican man carrying a baby unexpectedly asked me. “No,” I answered. “I don’t, either,” he said, and resumed his watch. The Virgin was seen originally from a door in the shack. The rotting wood of the cistern has a spot faded almost white on that side. Beside the door, a man sat in a chair facing the cistern, his crutches leaning on his lap. One of his feet was bare; it was a dark, slick, dangerous-looking purple and had a sore on it, and the leg, swollen to the size of three legs, was crossed on top of the well one. The man wore a dapper moustache and held a prideful attitude. “Just wait. You’ll see,” it suggested. ON THE SEVENTEENTH of April, Mrs. Tony Botello, Sr., 35, whose family live on the Butler farm, saw a vision, clearly, she said, of the Holy Mother by the wooden cistern. She told her husband, a friend, and two priests. One priest counseled her to continue to be good and go to confession and to be quiet. Since that time, thousands of pilgrims have visited the well, as many as 5,000 in a single day, and from many miles away. The Associated Press picked up the story, and it spread all over the United States. Several healings have been reported. Mrs. Pedro Moreno of Corpus Christi was healed of a paralyzed hand, she said. The Most Rev. M. S. Garriga, Catholic bishop of the diocese of Corpus Christi, received inquiries from cities hundreds of miles distant. In a prepared statement, he warned Catholics not to go to the farm and not to believe in the vision and the healings. The apparition was “not a fact,” he said, and the healings had not been proved by medical evidence. Mrs. Botello arranged a press conference through an Alice justice of the peace, Mrs. Tina Villanueva. Mrs. Botello said she had told the truth. That she had seen the vision. That she would not lie, because she believed in the Ten Commandments. That she did not care who did or did not believe her. That she was not connected with the
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