,,,Q611111001″.”””- AFTERWARD I BY ERASMO GUERRA Once More to the River Each summer, as a young girl, Maria Guadalupe crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico to spend the long months at the ranch that belonged to her mother’s family. They rode to the riverbank by taxi, steered by her do Garcia. “He was fat,” she says, which is about all she remembers about him and the drive to the Los Ebanos Ferry, which she calls el chalcin. Her father never went. None of her brothers remember going, though she insists that they did. It may have just been the women: Maria and her sister Belsa, their mother, Victorina, and their aunt Petra and cousin Elvita. The taxi would leave them at the river, and they would board the hand-pulled ferry on foot. The ferry is named after the surrounding community, which is named after the Texas ebony, a thorny tree with horned-moon husks; white wing doves nest in its branches; the black-brown seeds are eaten by wild tusked pigs. The plaza at Los Ebanos itself is not much more than a sun-scorched baseball field and St. Michael’s Catholic Church; it’s one of those communities that upstate folks cannot resist calling “sleepy” and “quiet.” The truth is that everyone is miles away at work on the morning that Maria Guadalupe \(no longer that young girl of summer, but my mother, a woman in her late fifties who suffers from high blood pressure and too much free-floatMost of the houses are made of clapboard or cinderblock. The smaller, mud brick and straw jacales seem slumped over with the pain of calcified bones. At the local cemetery, the decorative arch proclaims La Puerta; pink and aquamarine funereal bows are tied to the sagging chain-link. My mother turns off at the sign for the ferry; the gravel road turns to dirt. Up ahead, a line of dusty, Chevy pickup trucks and Crown Victorias with tinted windows are parked on the downward slope toward the river; they’re waiting for the ferryboat, which is banked on the Mexican side. But we’re not driving across. We haven’t risked that since the late seventies. We park under the shade of a mesquite and walk to the wooden shack that serves as a tollbooth. A man with an apron heavy with coins charges the 50 cents. “Before it used to be a quarter,” my mother gripes. “Pues, ya no. Now it’s 50 cents.” I hand over the dollar for both of us. Across from the shack are the Border Patrol barracks. Two agents sit outside waiting for the next load from Mexico. As my mother and I wait for cars to disembark and cars to board \(the ferry we spot a pair of swim trunks discarded under the thick brush. The drawstring is knotted, the mesh lining bunched and crawling with ants. The Mexico-bound cars start their engines. My mother hurries alongside, covering her nose and eyes against the up-churned dust, threatening to stumble and go head-over-tennis shoes into the dirt or the river. “‘Uenas,” she says to the ferrymen, as we set foot onto the metal ramp. Down river, a flat-bottom boat floats between the banks of the two countries and cuts a silhouette against the glare off the waterLa Migra. The agents are motionless as they watch us drift. “How many cars pass back and forth each day?” my mother asks one of the ferrymen. He asks the others for an estimate. When they fail to reply, he concludes, “Maybe around 50.” “Now, why do you stop service at four o’clock?” “Because that’s a full day. From eight in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon that’s eight hours.” “Right,” my mother says, and then she looks at me with an arched brow to make sure I got that. She still plays the sometimes meddlesome, always helpful and forever self-sacrificing mother who does for her kids what she thinks they are too embarrassed to do, like ask questions, get the story. But really, she likes doing this. She tells the ferryman that she used to ride this thing as a girl, on summer trips to the family ranch in Santa Gertrudis. He nods and then joins the others who have distanced themselves from our leisure life. For them, this is just another workday. They are middle-aged Mexican-Mexicans; sunburned brown; who wear baseball caps and T-shirts, except for one in a sweat-stained straw hat. These are the kind of men who do not miss a day of work unless they wake up and find out that they have died during the night. nlike the visits my mother remembers from her childhood, there is no one waiting for us on the Mexican side. We walk to the shade of a few sparse trees, where a teenaged vendor has set up a drink cart and a rack of salted peanuts and chili-spiced chicharron. “iHijesti!,”my mother says to him and to the old men who sit nearby eating their lunch. “I haven’t been here in years.” She tells them about the ranch. My mother says that in the mornings, when she’d go fetch the nixtamal for the corn tortillas, the town boys would say, “Here comes the gringuita.” She says it was because she was light-skinned. “I’d tell them, Not gringa and not anything but Mexican. ‘Soy mexicana!'” It’s the first time I’ve heard my mother raise a little flag of Mexican pride. Usually she complains about all the Mexicans JUNE 10, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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