I had the opportunity to meet Chuy on a recent hunting trip to Sonora, Mexico, just South of the Arizona border. We were many miles from our camp and my guide said he knew a place to have lunch and rest up for a while. He took me to the cowboy's shack. My guide shouted out as we approached the old structure and Chuy whistled from inside. We exchanged greetings in my broken Spanish and Chuy invited us in for lunch. We pulled our cold sandwiches and burritos out of a bag, he insisted on warming them up for us. I watched in admiration as he stuffed a handful of dried grass and sticks into his pot bellied stove he had fashioned from a 55 gallon drum. We struggled with conversation because my Tex Mex Spanish just didn't make much sense to him, and his dialect and delivery was hard for me to grasp. I laughed to myself thinking that we must have looked pretty silly playing our game of Charades, with all of the motions, hand waving, and facial expressions. Nonetheless we continued, and as the room filled with smoked from the old drum, we continued with our conversation. At one point, Chuy jumped up as if he had forgotten something and scurried out of the house, he momentarily returned with some "Queso Cocido", a home made cooked cheese that he had prepared right there in his little kitchen. He was very proud of it, it was delicious, and he will never know how much I cherished the fresh cheese and our conversation. It seemed as though time stood still as I was mesmerized by his colorful stories. My mind flashed back to my childhood when I would hang out, visit and eat with the "wetbacks" who worked at our family ranch. My grandmother used to laugh at me because I preferred to eat beans and tortillas with the hands, rather than retreat to the main house for some of her awesome cooking. They taught me many things in that old red lean to. They cooked their barbacoa underground, wrapped in maguey leaves, I actually watched Jose make a rope from the strands he stripped from a dried Maguey leaf. Robert Earl Keen captured it all perfectly in his song "Mariano". I was always intrigued by these good people.
After enjoying our lunches together, we eased outside and each of us found a spot on the cool ground where we wiped aside the stones and stickers and stretched out with our hats pulled down over our eyes for a quick siesta under the warm sun of the Sonoran desert. I later woke up to the familiar sound of a horse walking by and sat up to watch my new friend saddle up and ride off into the endless Cholla and Palo Verde flats this area is known for sustaining. It was a happy, and sad moment. I was sad to see him go, but so happy that I had the opportunity to meet him.
I never hunted that area again on our trip, so I never got to see him again. A friend who was in our hunting party went back to that area later on in the week. He said they had crossed paths with Chuy at daylight. The old cowboy was horseback, leading three other horses on the end of handmade ropes. He explained that he was delivering the three horses to a ranch some fifteen miles distant. They ran into him again later that morning riding solo, and carrying a sick calf across his saddle that he was carrying back to the shack to be doctored and nursed back to health. I'll tell you that I’m pretty handy around the ranch, but Chuy is a cowboy.
I have always loved old Mexico and her people. All we hear about Mexico these days concerns a corrupt government, drug cartels, and border violence. But amidst it all, one old vaquero named Chuy gave me an awesome, fresh memory about the country I remember traveling as a kid with Grandma and Grandpa, and an industrious, creative, fascinating and proud people, who have always been special to me.