Throughout June and July, while our house in Anthony languished on the market and as the fires of summer raged beyond our doors, I once again boxed items for another move, my hands becoming raw from grappling with cardboard, tape gun, and tape.
One evening ten days before our departure, Ernesto, his wife, Linda, and I walked across the Santa Fe Street International Bridge for dinner in Juárez. From the bridge, I noticed, painted high on the sloping concrete bank on the Juárez side of the Rio Grande, a three-foot-square portrait of Che Guevara―a reproduction, perhaps a stencil, of the world-famous Alberto Korda photograph of the Cuban revolutionary and summary executioner. Except for a red star on Che’s beret, the painting was in black and white. In black letters beneath the portrait were the words “El Che Vive XXX Aniversario,” surely a reference to Guevara’s own execution by the Bolivian army in 1967. I was tempted to draw the painting to pinko-hater Ernesto’s attention, although, given his respect for Mexican self-determination, he probably would have reserved judgement.
At the Juárez foot of the bridge, vendors sold popsicles, handbags, plastic Jesuses in agony on plastic crosses, and automobile sun shades; meanwhile, idle cab drivers tempted, in creaky but nonetheless effective English, callow gringos: “You want something big? Something special? You want young girls?” Juárez was dusty and weary after another day of 100-plus temperatures. Gazing upward to the foothills of the Sierra Juárez, I saw a crush of one- and two-story businesses and residences, many painted in lavender, sky-blue, pink, and aquamarine.
After a brief walk down Avenida Benito Juárez, we entered Martino’s Restaurant, where Ernesto and his wife would treat us to a meal. In the hot evening, the restaurant’s dark, air-conditioned interior was welcome. Martino’s was classy: white tablecloths, plump cloth napkins, waiters in white jackets and bow ties, ice in the urinals. I drank Corona and scarfed down freshly-baked white bread. I ate onion soup, its chopped white onions mild, sweet, and crisp. My salad was pallid iceberg lettuce; tangy shrimp cocktail followed it. My entrée was a slab of lean beef piled with strips of roasted poblano peppers with a side of whole beans. Dessert was the Mexican custard known as flan. I don’t recall if Ernesto disappeared behind another bowl of caldo. Immediately after supper, the four of us re-crossed the bridge, and Linda and I said goodbye to Ernesto, Lupe, and Juárez.
While we lived in Anthony, we heard lurid stories about Juárez’s crime related to the exportation of illegal drugs to a drug-hungry United States. A Las Cruces colleague of Linda’s, a Mexican-born physician, told us of a Juárez plastic surgeon who remade, at gunpoint, the face of a Mexican drug lord, and was then mercilessly dispatched. But it would be another ten years or so before the complete explosion of the Juárez drug wars, which were coupled with the mysterious, because apparently non-drug-related, murders of hundreds of Juárez women, turning that city into a fearful place day and night. In any event, between my El Paso students who commuted from Mexico, my Instituto students, my adventures in the city with my father and Ernesto, and my experience at Martino’s, I left Juárez with a soft spot in my heart for the city.
Our final night in Anthony was warm, breezy, and humid as fantastic electrical storms, distant and silent, surrounded the little town. The crushing heat of July made it easier to say goodbye to Anthony. Although I considered our experience in the Chihuahuan Desert largely a disappointment, I knew I would always remember the good neighbors we had as well as the cheerful, soulful, humble Mexican-Americans of southern New Mexico and west Texas in general. The following afternoon, with the moving van loaded and gone, I climbed in the truck with Buddy, and Nick and the two cockatiels joined Linda in the sedan. We arrived at a motel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, before nightfall. The following day we were in Alamosa, Colorado.