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by bkies
Rated: E · Chapter · Children's · #2182840
Sugar Cane Stalks and Red Checkered Handkerchiefs
Chapter 11
Sugar Cane Stalks and Red Checkered Handkerchiefs

On a lovely Saturday afternoon in Angangueo, the red-tiled roofs shone brightly under clear blue sky. Maria leaned out the small window that faced the narrow road behind the house. Her three daughters played jump rope in the fresh autumn air. Amparo and Rachel held the ends of the rope, and its circular motion moved in step with their singing. Nora kept up with each new verse's increased tempo. Seconds from the end, the rope hit Nora's ankles and all three started laughing. With a pause in the game, Maria said, "Girls, this would be a nice time to gather sugar cane stalks.”
         Each October, the children of Angangueo gather stalks of sugar cane to use as arches over their Day of the Dead altars. A week or so later, families move through open fields and pick wild marigolds to adorn those arches. These traditions, passed from generation to generation, as grounded as children hunting Easter eggs or wearing masks on Halloween night, move forward each year with clockwork precision. If a family were to bypass this time honored ritual for departed loved ones, if such an omission occurred, a hole would exist in the heart of that family.
         The three girls went to their room and retrieved the same baskets they used each year. As their feet pattered across the wood floor toward the front door, they heard from behind, “One moment.” They turned to see their mother leaving the room. When she returned, she held Diego's soccer ball.
         “Remember how much Diego enjoyed gathering the stalks?”
         “Yes, Mama,” said Rachel.
         “Why don't you take it with you,” and she extended the ball toward them.
         Rachel took the green, red, and white ball from her mother. The girls stepped back outside, and the porch screen door slammed behind them. Now Maria leaned out a window on the front side of the house. The three daughters moved down the dirt road with baskets in hand, kicking the soccer ball among themselves. After they disappeared around the corner, Maria thought of Diego and how the monarch butterflies had to arrive by the Day of the Little Angels. She looked to the sky and said a short prayer for it to be so.

         The girls came to a field abundant with sugar cane. They began to separate stalks from the thin green leaves of cane and place them in their baskets. As the afternoon passed, the three chatted more and gathered stalks less, slowing their task. At one point, a memory sprang into Amparo's mind and she said, “Remember the first time we brought Diego with us.”
         “The rabbit!” said Nora.
         “He didn't even help us,” said Rachel and she laughed. “He started chasing that rabbit and would not give up on catching him.”
         Amparo said, “The way he kept shouting, 'I'm gonna catch you Mr. Rabbit.'"
         “Remember how the rabbit would stop,” said Nora, “and as soon as Diego came within a few feet, it would hop away. I can still see him chasing it through the trees and around those big boulders!”
         The sun, now low in the sky, reflected off a thin blanket of clouds and painted that brilliant red only found in nature's palette. The wind had picked up and the sugar cane swayed in the field and made a soft swooshing sound.
         “He must have chased that rabbit for over an hour,” said Rachel, placing another stalk in her basket.
         “Diego sure had a lot of determination,” added Nora, laying a stalk in her basket, too.
         Amparo's eyes teared up prompting Rachel to ask, “What's wrong Amparo ...
         She began to sob. “What's wrong Amparo?”
         “Why did Diego have to die?”
         “I don't know,” answered Rachel. “I don't know.”
         Amparo walked over and hugged her older sister. She could feel Rachel breathing and held on tight and could feel life in the arms of her big sister and it made her feel better. After she calmed down, Rachel decided it was time to leave having collected enough stalks for the arch. The girls returned along the dusty white road with baskets in hand as the sun behind set on a china blue horizon.

         At the bottom of the Prado's block, a steep hill rose up away from the little houses. It leveled off into an open field where Miguel guided his pair of oxen in the last light of day. As he walked behind the oxen, the plow cut the soft dark soil and the old wooden yoke creaked with each step. The heads of the oxen slowly swang left and right in rhythm with the pace at which they plodded. Then Miguel brought the yoke to a halt. Across the field another farmer was teaching his son the proper way to plow. Miguel stood still in the silent dusk and momentarily observed their lesson. Then he pulled a red checkered handkerchief from his pocket. He normally used it to wipe the sweat from his brow, but this time he dabbed tears from the corner of his eyes. After Miguel returned the damp handkerchief to his pocket, he commanded the oxen to move and continued plowing the field.
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