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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Mexico

Memories of My Mother and Mexico
• Tyrel Nelson
To say my mother had a green thumb would be a drastic understatement. It was more like she had fertilizer fingers – whatever she put in the ground was bound to thrive.

Chicueyaco schoolhouse

My early boyhood yard starred sunflowers that towered over Mom’s four feet eleven inches. When I was a teenager, I’d often catch our cats lying low in her flourishing labyrinth of hostas, honeysuckles, and hydrangeas. As an adult, there was never a doubt she would give me a tour of her tomatoes and tulips when I visited. Yet the appearance of ma’s gardens isn’t all I remember. By watching her labor on the Minnesotan soil all those years, I knew that her pristine plots didn’t come easy. She showed me that people must grind to get great results. She also taught me to put forth my best through the endless hours, effort, and attentiveness she invested in her flowerbeds. She exemplified the art of being present to boot. My mother simply loved to be on the lawn, literally taking time to smell the roses while she faithfully watered them. These images lately remind me of an impactful journey I experienced with some other remarkable women a couple of years ago.

Chasing Chicueyaco

It’s a muggy morn in mid-June when the van suddenly stops.

“¿Nos bajamos?” I ask with wide eyes. We’re getting out?

My Mexican seatmate nods. “Y ahora caminamos.” And now we walk.

Chicueyaco road The vehicle can’t traverse the steep track ahead. It may be the end of the road for the combi, but not for its six passengers. A pair of mother-daughter pairs (an adventurous duo from Canada and a tenacious twosome from the U.S.) and I hop out to hoof it alongside our Nahua guide, Victoria Conteras Coyota. Doña Viky confidently leads the team of volunteers deeper into the verdant highlands of the Sierra Norte.

The humidity hangs onto me like a hiking pack while slogging up and down the wooded slopes. My light green tee turns forest. Sharing in shouldering a five-gallon pail of exterior enamel causes my clothes to cling to me even more.

My spirits are lifted, though, upon the site of a distant church to our right. But Doña Viky presses on without hesitation. A closer look reveals that the chapel is godforsaken … akin to my hopes of reaching our destination.

Twenty minutes in I finally spot the final approach to Chicueyaco – a village of less than 400 residents that takes cover five kilometers northeast of Cuetzalan.

church Ruin Mexico
one room schoolhouse

No Grito, No Corro

I don’t yell. I don’t run. These are the rules tattooed immediately below the gable of the pueblo’s old and decrepit single-room preschool. They cannot be found on the drab bricks holding up the current Escuela Preescolar Benito Juárez, which is only thirty feet downhill from its rotting predecessor. I notice, however, that the puny pupils still meet these expectations when I poke my head through the open doorway. A handful of kids are sitting quietly as they contently color in their books. I then feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around to find the all-female parents committee staring at me.

“Están listas,” Doña Viky asserts. They are ready.

“Bueno, entonces empecemos,” I reply. Well, let’s start then.

Ripping the plastic cap off the container of paint, I wonder why we didn’t buy another.

“¿Es suficiente?” I question Doña Viky. Is it enough?

“Por supuesto. Mire.” Of course. Watch.

She lifts the heavy bucket and splashes some of the creamsicle coloring into an empty receptacle. She clutches a two-liter jug of water left by the brigade of local ladies, who are lugging liquid from the neighboring elementary, and dumps it onto the pigment she just poured. She cups her calloused hands and tosses a little more H2O into the mix. Picking up a long stick, she stirs until she knows the paint has the correct composition.

“Hay bastante,” Doña Viky adds. There is plenty.

Aptitude and Appreciation

My fellow volunteers, half a dozen area women, and I grab for the brushes and rollers. Everyone is dripping. Everyone is determined. A well-oiled machine, the crew promptly coats the front of the building and gets the sides half covered by midday. Ladders will need to be built to hit the rest of the gray blocks on the rear of the preschool. Juana María Nicolasa Chepe, a longstanding community leader, requests that everybody gather round.


Doña Juanita gives a heartfelt speech. She affirms that the students, their parents, and the staff of the schoolhouse will benefit from the work that has been done today. First, they will have extra incentive to be involved with the institution because the fresh overlay shows that enhancement is taken seriously. Cantaloupe also provides a warm, inviting hue to those who view the structure from the outside. So hopefully nearby residents will be drawn to and subsequently support the establishment. She further states that this lively tone will surely make for a more dynamic learning environment once it is on the classroom walls. To conclude this emotional moment, a couple of the ladies who helped in the undertaking claim that they are proud to have had a role in the progress of Escuela Preescolar Benito Juárez. The positive energy floating around me could power the towns along the leafy valley.


Pride, Persistence, and Presence

Over 25 months have gone by since the paint dried. Nevertheless, I often think about that fiery Friday in the Puebla state … especially recently. Perhaps my recurring mental hikes through the central Mexican mountains are because the values demonstrated by the women there were the same ones epitomized by Mom, who died a week before this past Mother’s Day.

Like ma, the ladies in Chicueyaco took pride in their work. They regularly strategized prior to meticulously applying their brushstrokes to the cinder walls. They were persistent. The sun was unforgiving, yet the go-getters stayed the course until no more paint could be rolled. They were present. I continue to hear the jokesters’ laughs while they slapped on coats. I never cease to see their grins in the numerous photos together. And I keep on getting goosebumps whenever I rehash Doña Juanita’s moving message in my head.

I replay Mom’s words too. Memories flood my mind. I ignore my laptop to take in the living room plants she gave me several years back. A smile fights its way to the surface. They’re still green as can be.
© Tyrel Nelson 8.1.20

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