Julie Chinitz

Don José in the Desert

Now, much of what my friend don José said I didn’t believe. His stories were too good to be true, starting with the tale of how his family had settled in a tiny town in Jalisco, Mexico, sometime in the late 19th Century. It goes as follows:

His grandfather, an army captain from Michoacán, landed a post on a Jaliscan hacienda at the foot of two snow-capped volcanoes. The captain’s post was meant to be temporary. He’d been roaming Mexico for years and fully expected to go back to Michoacán. But with time the temporary post became permanent, and he forgot about the wife left behind, married another woman, and had a second family.

The captain’s first wife, though, didn’t forget. She left Michoacán in search of her husband, trekked over the mountains, and appeared on the hacienda, climbing the hill in long, heavy skirts.

“I’m looking for Captain Silverio R—,” she said. “I’m his wife.”

A mounted soldier went off to summon the captain, who established a new home, right there, with his original and true family. He had to. Honor demanded it.

With a story like that, don José had a lot to live up to—his life would have to take on an epic cast. He made a go of it by telling me the origin of his name:

He was born not José, he said, but Ligoberto Pomázar. Naturally, he couldn’t bear the flourish of so much name, and his classmates teased him and rolled their eyes at the pomp of it. (Ligoberto!) So, when he was nine, he told his fat