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From the publisher's desk: The señora and the can opener

Rick’s old fraternity brother and his wife announced they were coming for a visit, so Saturday morning I dusted the guest bedroom we refer to as “The Mexican Room.” It’s where I keep souvenirs from the time I spent in Mexico.

There’s the delicate pitcher, a gift for my mother I found at a market outside Acapulco. The curved handle broke off but Mom painstakingly glued it back. I use the pitcher sparingly now as a vase for my garden flowers when guests occupy the Mexican Room.

Another pitcher, a squatty brown one, is folk art from Puebla with bright red and blue painted flowers. I use it to hold pens and pencils.

I lived outside Puebla in Cholula for four months. Cholula hosted an annual fair at its Great Pyramid that dates back to 2 B.C. I was on a tight budget but I scraped up 4 pesos to purchase a pair of hand-carved wooden candle holders signed “Artesanias de Tizatlaln Tlaxcala.” The artisans lived above Cholula and were known for their intricately carved furniture and chests. They worked year round on their projects and brought them down from the hills to sell at the Great Pyramid festival. I can still see the deep lines on the tanned and weathered face of the Indian man who carved the candle holders that sit on the dresser in my Mexican Room.

Driving down into Mexico in July, 1972, I was feeling sick and feverish and soon discovered I had chicken pox — a virus I’d gotten in the states that incubated for two weeks and bloomed as I arrived in Acapulco. At a rest area I met a couple from Texas who recommended I convalesce at Hotel Los Flamingos on the cliffs, just one cliff down from La Quebrada, where the cliff divers perform.

Los Flamingos was built in the Thirties and was once owned and frequented by Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Johnny Weissmuller. Adjacent to the hotel, a privately owned hacienda had expanded to accommodate grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The woman who owned the hacienda added several one-room casitas to the property. When she passed away the hotel took over management of the main house and the casitas. I rented a bedroom with a bath on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean for $60 per month.

The attractive couple living in the main house had a young son and a maid. The señor managed a clothing store downtown and the señora stayed home with their son, walking him across the grounds for afternoon swims in the hotel pool. Alecia the maid followed with inflatable pool toys and fluffy white towels.

Alecia prepared the family’s meals in the spacious outdoor kitchen that the tenants shared. During the month I lived there only Alecia and I used the kitchen. She cooked the daily beans in a well-used clay pot and sometimes scooped out a bowl for me.

Near the end of my month in Acapulco, the señora came to the kitchen while I was opening a can of soup. She told me that during a brief stay in Vermont for her husband’s work, she had used an American can opener, but, regrettably, had forgotten to buy one to bring home. I offered her mine. At first she said she couldn’t possibly take my can opener but when I insisted she suggested we make a trade. I pointed to the bean pot. She laughed. Certainly I didn’t want the old bean pot that had been used by her family for years?

I cooked beans in that pot until I got my fancy new stove. I’m afraid the old pottery might shatter on the halogen glass top. So now my retired authentic bean pot — resplendent with magic that brings Mexico to life whenever I pick it up — has a place of honor in the Mexican Room.

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