We’re back. The Baron’s friend, who was the oldest of eleven children and much beloved by them all, was buried today. Afterwards, the very large family and the old gang — who aren’t exactly old yet, but are well on their way — gathered to talk about childhood memories. I felt badly for Mr. S., the grieving father. At any age it’s hard to bury your children, but at eighty-one, burying your oldest son is particularly rending.
On the way south, we went through horse country. There are acres and acres of smooth pasture, rolling on to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the far distance. Houses hide behind long drives or, in the case of the really old ones still extant, sit right on the road. No asphalt back in the 18th century.
Many of the old houses are built of local stone, and there are low stone fences everywhere. These are the fruits of the field, gathered over the years when those fields were actual farms and the rocks were impediments to plowing. In some ways, it looks like New England here, but a gentler version. Less flint, more quartz, perhaps.
We stopped to talk to two Mexican immigrants who were rebuilding the crumbling walls of one estate. The more extroverted of the two, whom you can see standing outside the wall, has been in the U.S. for four years. He likes it here, but the cold bothers him. When told that his English was good, he laughed and said he had attended night school for ESL classes.
He asked if we minded having so many Mexicans in America. I said the problem wasn’t the legal immigrants, it was the ones who came in illegally and were worked very hard for little money. “It robs them and it robs the country.”
His face got serious and he said he believed Mexicans could stay in Mexico if it weren’t for the corrupt government. “We have everything we need: oil, minerals, much good land. But the government doesn’t care to help us. They just take for themselves.” When asked if he liked Vicente Fox he frowned and didn’t speak.
The section of wall he is currently working on takes about three days to build, sometimes longer, depending on how much rock he has to break and the way it lies. And yes, his back hurts at the end of the day. Five hours is his limit, he says. When this one is done, he will move on to the next section, taking it apart and putting it back together. It is satisfying to finish a section and he likes to work with his back turned to the falling walls behind him. Otherwise, he says, he’ll start thinking about that instead of what’s in front of him.
The secret is to make the rock kind of meld into place, with balance and with a smooth surface. He thinks his work will last about twenty-five years, but knows that in the old days they could make these walls last many centuries. It’s a skill that’s been lost, but he thinks if he works at it long enough, he might learn how they did it. Someday he hopes to have his own stone masonry business.
So there you have it: one piece of the American dream.
A little further down the road we spotted a fox. He was hopping from one side of the ditch to the other, as though he were looking for something. Since he was out and about in the afternoon, indifferent to the presence of human beings just a few feet away, we wondered if he might be rabid.
But no, I do not think he was named Vicente.