In 1970, having just turned 21, I rented an apartment in a little tri-plex building on 2nd Street, in Yakima, Washington. Other than the brief time I spent living in Hollywood, CA when I was in the teen band, the Velvet Illusions, this was my first time living away from my folks. I was close with Mom and Dad, and I was kind of late getting out on my own.
The apartments in this building, located near downtown, were not luxurious in any way. They were quite old, and quite small. But we had a kind landlord who kept everything in working order. They were a whole lot better than nothing….
My next door neighbor was a fairly young Mexican/Mexican-American woman named Rosa. She was about 35. Rosa had five or six small children. The boys and girls ranged in age from about two, to eight or nine — big sister was certainly no more than nine; little brother had entered the talking stage…. Rosa and the kids, along with Rosa’s tiny grandmother, lived in the cramped-up little apartment right next to me. They had a dog, and maybe a cat or two. – It was a long time ago, folks. Some details are faint….
Rosa didn’t have a telephone. Back in 1970, not everyone had a phone. I know that might sound odd; but it was the case. It was a matter of money. Rosa asked me to give her my phone number, so she could call me in case of emergency. And, every once in a while, I’d get a call from her. She’d usually have a message for me to relay to her family — something along the lines of, she would be getting home later than usual. – Nothing too serious.
Rosa was really into traditional Mexican music. She obviously loved it, because she played it all the time – she especially liked to listen to it late at night, when her boyfriend would visit. In the middle of the night, through the thin walls of our building, I could hear Rosa and her man, laughing, dancing, and spinning Mexican drinking songs — ranchera and polka records. And this used to drive me crazy. The rancheras featured a crying vocal style — they were mournful dirges, and not at all pleasant to listen to at 2 a.m., when I was trying to get some sleep, so I could make it to my crappy Holiday Inn desk clerk job. — Then, the polkas would kick in, and they’d be like sonic whiplash – very fast, and punctuated by squeals, laughter, shouts.
I remember pounding on the wall on several occasions, trying to get Rosa to quiet down. I really needed to sleep. And, maybe I was a just little jealous, because she was having a great time with her lover, drinking beer, dancing on the apartment’s bare wood floors, ultimately falling into a lover’s embrace — and there I was, all alone….
Sometimes, when my pounding on the walls didn’t get Rosa to turn down the music, I would crank up my own stereo and put on my most psychedelic records. I’d turn them up very loud, in order to not just drown out her music, but to send a message. It wasn’t very nice of me, but I guess I was trying to scare her. Actually, I was probably scaring someone else, entirely. You see, Rosa and I had another neighbor, a very old woman, who lived in the apartment behind us. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the old lady, to hear a traditional version of “Cielito Lindo”, and Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, simultaneously, at 2 in the morning!
Enough background — would you agree? OK. On to the heart of Rosa’s story….
One night, around 10 pm, my phone rang, and it was her. She was very distressed — crying, talking rapidly. I could barely understand her through her sobs. But the message eventually came through, and it was tragic: Rosa was calling from St. Elizabeth hospital. She needed me to go next door and tell her family that someone named Juan was dead. There had been a car crash, and he was gone. She told me to prepare myself, because everyone would be extremely upset. She asked me to be very gentle with the kids and Grandma. I promised I would do my level best to break it to them gently.
Well, I was only 21 years old, and I was going to have to do the very grownup act of informing Rosa’s family of Juan’s death. Thankfully I’ve always been good at keeping a cool head during trying times. I knew what I had to do, and I set out to do it.
I went next door and knocked on the weathered front door. Rosa’s grandmother opened it. I said, “I’ve got some really bad news for you. Rosa needs me to tell the whole family something”. In broken English, Rosa’s grandmother asked me in. She then went about collecting the children.
She hurriedly gathered them together in the living room, where everyone sat on the old couch and a few wooden chairs. And there I was, a young man, facing all these kids and a little old Mexican lady whom I hardly knew – about to tell them something so bad. I started breaking it to them as gently as I could. I said, “I have something sad to tell you. Your mom just called me, and she told me something really bad. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. But I have to. So I want you all to get ready to hear me out. OK?” I stopped for a minute, to compose myself, and to allow everyone a little time to brace him or herself. Then, I said in the softest, kindest voice possible, “I’m really sorry, you guys. But your Mom said for me to tell you that there’s been a very bad car accident, and Juan is dead”.
For a moment, it got very quiet in Rosa’s living room. No one made a sound. Then, the little kids all looked at each other. They looked over at Grandma. Grandma looked at them. And then everyone looked at me. And they all blurted out at once, “Who’s Juan?”
If you liked this story, please read my other story which relates to Mexican culture: “Crowning Glory — The Mariachi Sombrero”: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/crowning-glory-the-mariachi-sombrero-3/
And, look for a story I wrote about my Grandpa and Grandma Bowles’ Pal, Leo Carrillo (see below photo, from my collection), who played Pancho in the great Cisco and Pancho TV series, in the 1950’s. There will a surprise in that story! https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/panchos-surprise/
Here is the actual song I used to play to try to scare Rosa. It’s done by H. P. Lovecraft, with guest Ken Nordine doing the voice:
Here we are in 2016. And, I must say: I love traditional Mexican music. Maybe Rosa somehow brainwashed me. The music has so much feeling. I love those violins, accordions and crying vocals. Wanna hear some, to make your experience complete? And a little Pink Floyd? Here ya go. Try playing them at the same time!