Preparing Grandfather’s batism

Chapter 4… Baptizing the celebrities


Still life Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua
Still life
Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua

All in all, and be it as it may, as far as Grandfather is concerned, history depends on the historian that’s making up the story at the moment. When for whatever reason, the subject changed to his early childhood, his traits as a historian would assuredly rise to the occasion, his eyes twinkling as he warmed up to one of his favorite topics. His smile would give way to his mischievous grin, the prelude that signals the birth of one of his forthcoming pranks. Like the proverbial cat and the mouse, he’d seize the opportunity to unveil the circumstances of his baptism, narrating his own extremely personal version of the events…

“The question that begs to be addressed is where he got that amount of ashes to clean the silver. You don’t go to the store and buy them by the pound. So I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those ashes that he used to clean the silver, they came from the Cuban cigars that he loved to smoke; he collected the ashes, as he was cheerfully drinking the nights away. And he had the best rum in town to do it. I have to admit, he had the good stuff. I should know, for it came from my uncle’s sugar mills; my uncle only gave him the best. It was quality, like the Guatemalans love to say. But, the truth of the matter is, he never used it to clean silver, no sir, thank you very much. It would have been a waste! He drank the good stuff to calm his nerves; naturally, they were on the edge, because of the attention he knew he’d receive, when the time came to baptize me. As for the alcohol he used to clean the silver, he bought it by the gallon from the druggist, a block from the church.

“Well, there’s that bit of gossip, good juicy tidbits of gossip that began to circulate among the townsfolk. It went round like wild fire, from mouth to mouth. Of course, people started to gather, a busybody here and another one there. You might have thought they were only a sad bunch of curious onlookers, with nothing better to do; but also, you have to understand, just how unbelievable it was to even try and imagine that good for nothing padre José, out of bed early in the morning… Sure enough, pretty soon a huge crowd had gathered surrounding the priest. Their mind had been blown to smithereens, amazed to see the guy actually working for a change. Simply, nobody had ever seen him do it before, not for the life of him, not even by mistake! As the Colombian that owned the bakery in Sutiapa used to say: not even for the berraco, whatever he meant by that!


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History, according to Grandfather Jairo

Chapter 4… Baptizing the celebrities


Las Peñitas Beach Leon, Nicaragua
Las Peñitas Beach
Leon, Nicaragua

All in all, and be it as it may, as far as Grandfather is concerned, history depends on the historian that’s making up the story at the moment. When for whatever reason, the subject changed to his early childhood, his traits as a historian would assuredly rise to the occasion, his eyes twinkling as he warmed up to one of his favorite topics. His smile would give way to his mischievous grin, the prelude that signals the birth of one of his forthcoming pranks. Like the proverbial cat and the mouse, he’d seize the opportunity to unveil the circumstances of his baptism, narrating his own extremely personal version of the events…

“That priest was understandably nervous about baptizing me, the first-born son of don Leobardo Díaz Alvarez! As it turned out, the so-called priest, padre José was a card, quite a character. On that very day, he got up early in the morning, something that guy never did, so that nobody would see him. What’s more, talking about early in the morning, I’m sure he didn’t even have the slightest idea, what that meant. Anyway, he got up to wash the font really carefully, because he thought ultimately, “it’s me he’s going to bathe in it.” That poor thing was beyond filthy; it was both as neglected, as it was abandoned. The silver base was grimy and caked with dirt, which accumulated through a long time and because of his carelessness. Of course, the silver had lost its luster and shine. Let me tell you a fact of life: fear rides not, upon a donkey’s back. In his case, even though this glorious event was still a week away, there you have him: rising at the crack of dawn, feeling clumsy from the sleepless nights of anxiety. He’s on his knees, puffing, huffing, and polishing that poor font, to bring it back from oblivion and shine once more!


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Cleansing the silver

Chapter 4… Baptizing the celebrities


View of the church Vilcabamba, Loja. Ecuador
View of the church
Vilcabamba, Loja. Ecuador

Grandfather was baptized in a small town called El Viejo, which literally means The Old Town. The old church had a well-known baptismal font, and it was quite famous as a matter of fact, as it dated back to the year 1560. The beautiful font’s antique base had been completely coated with hand-crafted silver, elaborately crafted. It was precisely in it, that Grandfather was baptized. The baptismal ceremony was held during the week that followed a popular annual festivity, known traditionally as ‘The Cleansing of the Silver’.

 This festivity was widely celebrated each year on the sixth of December. Part of the most important religious celebrations in Central America, its significance had transcended far beyond Nicaragua’s borders to most of the Central American countries. For a space of twenty days, this small town becomes the religious center of the country; when thousands of people visited El Viejo to participate in its ceremonies. Visitors gathered from every nook and corner of the country, and there was no lack of pilgrims that even made the difficult journey, from faraway lands in other countries, to finally converge together, as part of the massive annual religious peregrinations to Nicaragua.


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They start to kiss you!

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


The fishermen Granada, Nicaragua
The fishermen
Granada, Nicaragua

“Thank you very much, I´m sure I am all that and so much more,” he added with a mischievous smile, “you’ll place them right in your pocket, and you can keep them there too; but, allow me to enlighten you: in this valley of tears, there are no free lunches, no sir, nothing, my dear, nothing comes for free.”

“Whatever are you talking about, Grandfather?”

“Honey chile, they´ll be so pleased with you that they will want to pull your cheeks with pleasure, mark my prophetic words of wisdom! But the worst of it all…the most infamous thing that can cruelly be done to an innocent child, like I was once upon a time is… you know what I´m talking about?” he innocently asked wearing his favorite poker face.

“They start to kiss you! Oh yes!” At this point he began to get carried away as he raised the volume of his voice. “With lips crammed with sticky, gooey, fire-man red lipstick, they will kiss you on the cheek, if you’re not careful, on the forehead too! Just in case that’s not enough, they will lick a finger and then wipe you, or smear it all over your cheek, like Aunt Sagrario loved to do. You’ll walk off there with your face painted like a Navajo warrior in the middle of a steaming Nicaraguan tropical day. Your friends will cry themselves to an early grave, and you´ll have nowhere to hide!”

 


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And to die… nobody’s in a hurry

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


La Esperanza Store Leon City, Leon, Nicaragua
La Esperanza Store
Leon City, Leon, Nicaragua

“But I don´t remember any aunties with such strange names; did they die already?”

“They´re dead all right, you can be sure of that!” he replied with a huge grin. “Look, this happened when I was around seven years old. Miss Clarissa, at the time, was probably close to ninety. She was the eldest of the three, which goes without saying.”

“Wow, they were really old, don´t you think, Grandfather?”

“Old? That’s certainly the understatement of the year, honey chile!” he answered with a nice long chuckle. “It´s true those hens wouldn’t cook at first boil! Fact is, when I was a kid, back then, like you are today, we didn´t have to hurry for anything. No one was in a hurry. Why we hadn´t even heard the word! Least of all, nobody was in a hurry to die, especially the magpies. They had forgotten it was their turn to get up and die and make some room for the next.” As he answered, I noticed he was thoughtful. Suddenly, he brightened, as he spoke enthusiastically.

 


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And the cheeks too

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Sunset at the island Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua
Sunset at the island
Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua

“Yes and no chile. In my case, and not feeling at all like a hero, I had to pay with a peck on the cheek! And right on top of that silly makeup, they plastered their ugly faces with.”
“Wow! That sounds more like a scary tale than a fairy tale, Gramps!”
“That’s so scary, Grandfather, did you close your eyes so you wouldn’t see the trolls?”
“Yep, I didn’t see them, but I smelled them, chille. Those ugly trolls reeked like mummies in a closet during a hot day!”
“The funny thing is that they must have believed in miracles and with their eyes closed…”
“If not, why would they bother with all that makeup? Now, if they were looking for miracles, they could have gone to church! Anyhow, when times are tough, we tough guys get our cheeks pinched. That’s life hon, so, may as well start getting used to it!”
“They pulled your cheeks, Grandpa? With those mean old women sitting at the street, I’d stop eating candies, but there’s no way I’d go out and walk to the store just to get some!


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The quest for candies

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Sunset at Poneloya Beach Poneloya, Leon, Nicaragua
Sunset at Poneloya Beach
Poneloya, Leon, Nicaragua

“This will give you an idea, of what life was like back then, when I was growing up! I would walk from my house to a store, called ‘Hope Store’ (La Esperanza). The owner, doña Lencha sold all the available candies in the world. Well this store was maybe, eighty yards away from the house. To get there, first of all, I had to pass the carpenter´s shop, which was right next door. I would say hello to Master Alfredo, the carpenter and owner, and also his three assistants, for starters. But if he had customers in the shop, then I would have to say hello to everyone, shoot the breeze for a few minutes, spread some gossip around and surely swap a round of the latest jokes, at least. That would have been considered proper manners.

“Now, this was the critical part. If it was after lunch-time, by then, as God is my witness, the magpies would be out, sitting in the shade!”

“The magpies, I didn´t know there were magpies in Chinandega, Grandfather.”

“Yep, the magpies: doña Clarissa, who had more hairs on her legs than any of us; doña Refugio, who had the largest mustache I´ve seen in my life! All the guys envied her. And last, but certainly not the least, for I never understood how she could pack it all in such a small chair, was doña Sagrario. She was always dressed in black since the mythological day that her chimerical husband died, supposedly after their assumed wedding!

“They spent the days in their white plaited wicker rocking chairs (the white thrones for the three Dark Queens of the Sidewalk). To get by them, you had to pay.”

“They made you pay just to walk by, that was very mean of them. They were like witches, Gramps!”

“Trolls hon. The word you’re looking for is trolls. It was just like in the fairy tales. Remember how to pass the bridge, the hero has to pay the trolls?”

“Wow, sounds like it was scary when you were a kid.”

 


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The town’s bicycles

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Downtown streets Granada, Nicaragua
Downtown                 Granada, Nicaragua

“My honey chile when I was, more or less, your age, I grew up in Chinandega. You could say, I knew everybody that lived in that flea-smitten town (if not, at least, everybody knew about me!). I knew the newly born babies, whose faces were all wrinkled up, and I also knew those, way past their prime babies, with faces covered in wrinkles again. That was the way it was in those times. We all knew each other and sometimes, maybe even a little too well.

“Once the day cooled down a bit (from those sometimes unbearable, hot Chinandegan, tropical days), the sidewalks would fill up with all sorts of chairs: rocking chairs, folding chairs, kitchen chairs, and even boxes or crates. As long as you could sit on it, by definition, it was a chair. Naturally, people would sit outside in the cooling air. They would play cards, dominoes, perhaps read a book, or a magazine or maybe, the gossip in the newspapers. Then, of course you had old timers drinking guaro (rum or moonshine) or a few cold beers to get rid of the heat. Then there were always a few people, why not, spreading some nice, juicy tidbit of a hot gossip.

“As kids, we would spend our time playing our games in the street. At times, we would chase the bicycles down the street. There were all kinds of bicycles: the personal bike for one passenger; then you had the classic lovers’ bikes, the couples would ride by. She´d sit daintily on the handlebars, meanwhile the guy was working up a sweat, as he was peddling away, and in the middle of it all, they´re both making these dumb I´m so in love with you faces, at each other. The family bicycles were also in demand. In these, the father would normally carry mom and a few kids on his bike. Some were quite an act.

 


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A brand new day

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Fisherman's camp Las Peñitas, Leon. Nicaragua
Fisherman’s camp
Las Peñitas, Leon. Nicaragua

 Sometimes Grandfather and I would talk about his childhood in Chinandega. He always remembered those days as happy moments of his life. There, he had studied most of his grammar school. In between the week, besides going to school, those warm and sunny mornings, he’d help out at the farm during the long afternoon hours, where he worked, side by side, with his father and uncles. The weekends (when his mom was busiest at the restaurant), he’d go to Corinto and help at the restaurant. On Saturdays and Sundays, before the break of dawn, he was up and about and out on his bike, enjoying the ride to the port. He would arrive to buy the fresh fish and fresh seafood from the fishermen. After he had swapped a few jokes, enquired about the weather, satisfied himself with the conditions of their health, of their families, and had a good time, he was ready to rush to the restaurant and help his mother with the chores.

“When I was a child, I learned an important lesson, and I believe it’s helpful still. I discovered that we all need our own personal space, to be alone with our thoughts, our feelings, and with ourselves. The bicycle ride, to the port, in the mornings was my personal space. It was a moment for reflection, I could go through the things in my mind, look back at all that was happening and sort them out. When I arrived to the wharfs, I had found my balance and my inner peace. By then the fishermen were returning from the sea and the day’s catch. The waves gently tossing the boats to and fro, those crazy seagulls flying around, excited and filling the air with their calls and shouting, and we would catch sight of each other. They would be out in their boats, tired and hungry; and I sitting on my bike and standing on the pier. Our lives were so different, yet there we were, all together, present and accounted for, ready to talk, to laugh, to joke, and to smile a big, warm smile, at the beginning of a brand new day…”

 


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The Diaz farms

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Encounters Miraflores Reserve, Esteli, Nicaragua

Encounters           Miraflores Reserve, Esteli, Nicaragua


     Grandfather´s mother, doña Leonor, was the owner of an established and rather highly regarded restaurant in the nearby port-city of Corinto. She was a happy and carefree soul, maybe leaning a little towards the plump and a bit portly side; most probably caused by the long hours she spent in the kitchen, during the weekends, cultivating those heavenly culinary arts of hers.

     To the north of León and in the south of Honduras, she was particularly acclaimed for the huge and delicious servings of Gallo pinto. She heaped it onto the huge dishes she served, abundantly sprinkling them with delicately seasoned shrimp and fresh shredded fish (the preponderant Nicaraguan dish, prepared with white rice and red beans).

     The Díaz farms (belonging to don Leobardo and his four brothers) were located at the foot of a mountain range called Los Marabios. There stood Nicaragua’s four tallest volcanoes. The San Cristóbal volcano, for instance, is considered the tallest volcano in the country. Another of the volcanoes, the Cosigüina, is well known for the most violent and dramatic volcanic eruptions, in the history of the continent, during the mid-XIX century.

     Due to the acidity of the soil, so characteristic of these volcanic lands, the sugar-cane and delicious peanut crops tended to grow in a plentiful and most abundant way, with bountiful harvesting all year round. Needless to say, these plantations were excessively lucrative and decidedly successful; consequently, the Díaz family was considered one of wealthiest families of northern Nicaragua.


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