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Jack Smith

The closing days of a vacation in Baja and a not-so-grand opening back at home

January 19, 1987|Jack Smith

BAJA DIARY — It is a mile over a rough and stony road from our house to Gomez's store at La Bocana, but we walk it at least once on every visit.

We feel obliged to reassert our ties to the patriarch.

When we topped the hill and the store came into view, I realized we might be in trouble. I saw Gomez's dogs spring to life from the store's porch and fling themselves toward us.

There was pure fury in their attack--five of them, coming toward us like wild dogs attacking prey. They look part German shepherd and part collie, and are probably all descendants of the notorious Firpo, poisoned in his old age by Gomez.

Our Suzie, in her innocence, loped out joyously to meet them. She was overwhelmed by their assault. She streaked back to us, her tail between her legs. Obviously, Gomez's dogs were not going to harm her, or they would already have torn her apart.

Still curious, she trotted back to the pack, withstood their buffetting, and was soon one of the gang.

Three men stood on the store's porch, leaning against the wall. They were vaqueros. They were whip thin. Their clothes and skin were all the same dusty bronze. They looked at us through slitted eyes, unsmiling. They might have been three of Pancho Villa's men.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi," they answered without expression.

I wondered what they did besides lean against the wall. Their horses were not in sight.

I saw a satellite saucer behind the store. So television had come to La Bocana. What next? Sergio was in the kitchen with his wife, Lilia, and their two sons. We had gone to their wedding in Tijuana 15 years before.

It had been held in Nuestra Senora de Carmen, the little church in Gomez's neighborhood. I remembered that Gomez was late, and Delia, Sergio's late mother, was furious. After the ceremony he explained blithely that he had had to go by the restaurant to make sure there was plenty of food and wine for the reception.

It had been a memorable wedding. The bride had been astonishingly beautiful in her bridal gown, when once her veil was thrown back, and Delia had looked so soignee in her black dress and makeup that at first we didn't recognize her. We had never seen her before outside her kitchen.

Now the kitchen was as spotless as ever. The floor had just been scrubbed. Lilia was carrying on for Delia. A small TV stood on a table, but it was turned off.

We exchanged polite gossip and said goodby. Sergio said that maybe in 1987 our bathroom cabinet would be repaired.

On the way back we ran into three children riding scruffy horses. I wondered if the three vaqueros had been reduced to renting out their mounts. As far as we know, Suzie had never seen a horse before. She looked as startled as the Aztecs must have been when the Spaniards rode off their ships.

She kept her distance, perhaps instinctively respecting their hoofs.

On Monday morning we hated to lock up and leave. The dog refused to get into the van. She had never had it so good. I had to put her leash on and wrestle her up through the door.

All the way back to the border I worried about not having her rabies papers. I had always carried papers for Pugs, and several times the customs officer had asked to see them. What would they do? Impound the dog? Make us go back to Tijuana to get her shots?

Every border officer is different. Once, when my wife was coming back alone, the officer had made her pull over for a detailed examination. Without me at her side, she must have looked suspicious.

We got into a slow line. I was afraid we'd run into a stickler who would want to see everything we had, including the dog's papers.

We crept forward, trying not to make eye contact with the hordes of hustlers selling serapes, sombreros and hideous plaster copies of "The Last Supper."

When our turn came the dog moved up to stand between our seats, looking at the customs officer. He smiled, said, "What are you bringing back from Mexico?" He heard our negative reply and said, "Have a nice trip."

It is always a relief to be allowed back into your own country.

But we didn't look forward to unloading the van. When we borrowed it from our younger son, the large loading door on the starboard side was locked shut. With that door shut, loading and unloading were an ordeal. My wife had to carry everything around the front seat. Despite her good nature she cursed a lot.

When we were settled in, the phone rang. It was our daughter-in-law.

"You are home?" she asked

"Yes," I said, "we are home."

"How was the trip?"

"It was fine," I said, "except having to load and unload the van with that panel door shut was a pain in the neck."

"You didn't know the trick?"

"What trick?"

"It's easy, Mr. Smith. Somebody gets inside the van and kicks the door while somebody outside opens it. You did not know?"

"There's a trick," I told my wife.

"A trick?" she said.

We went outside. I got inside the van and kicked the door as she was trying to pull it open.

It opened easily.

It's the little things you don't know that hurt you.

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