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A Texas farmer, Vietnam veteran, and “C” college graduate who cannot spell, Mike Mercer tells stories with a lot of heart. More about Mike at the end of this section.
I was thinking. Well, maybe not thinking because that would be another lie. So, let’s say it’s a dream and I’ll have to tell it before I forget. Before daylight, sitting a bar stool in the Plum Nelly, when Joe, down the way orders two bullbat eggs, and half order of no toast, with coffee.
Sally hits him upside the head with a heavy-duty pancake flipper, turns back to her griddle without a word.
Joe wipes a little blood of his ear, sits quiet, thinking on his next move. Farmers that fill the joint, take note, then go back to telling lies about the rain last night.
Can’t wait to see to the action, as I see from the side, Sally is grinning, so, she has a plan.
As Sally flips hotcakes, turns bacon, serves up her customers, I see couple of mini-Marshmallows appear on the grill edge basting in Louisiana Sauce. Slice of light bread toasting on the grill, turns brown, then black, smokes up the joint a bit.
Seconds before the burnt toast turned to flame, Sally adds the Marshmallows to the crisp toast and lets it simmer a while.
Sally pours up coffee, places it before Joe. Plates the half order of no toast, with bullbat eggs atop, and ceremoniously sets it next to the simmering coffee.
First light is coming outside, so, farmers pat Joe on the shoulder, wish him luck, as they file out to check their rain gauges. No need for me to splash mud lookin’ for our rain gauges as I already know it’s not enough rain, never is. I wait to see if Joe likes his breakfast.
Joe for some reason sips coffee, picks up the charcoal toast, eats the whole thing in a matter of seconds, not minutes. Tears run down his red face, while he cools the fire treated Marshmallows with hot coffee. I’m thinking, Joe’s thinking that Sally will feel sorry for him, and let him off the hook.
Sally scribbles on her order pad and stuffs it in front of overheated Joe.
Joe still feeling Louisiana Sauce, whispers through clenched teeth, to keep the heat inside his mouth, ‘three dollars and twenty-five cents for that?’
Sally replies, ‘special order special price.’
Joe pays up and heads out the door. I follow, just outside, I have to laugh, Joe turns with a right uppercut, and decks me.
After I get up outta the mud Joe says, "want to go check rain gauges?"
"Sure, and maybe we can find some bullbat eggs along the way. After all we’re Plum Nearly outta town now.”
The Miracle of “Tio Domingo” meaning “Uncle Sunday” just may be one story you need to know. Salvador, owner/operator of Tio Domingo Restaurant has his past and future wrapped in one event four years ago Christmas.
“Amigos welcome to Tio Domingo,” Salvador said in near perfect English, as he held his arms wide, and motioned for us to take any table, as we were the lone set of customers at this the normal siesta hour of 2 O’clock. At first meeting, Salvador seemed a man possessed with inner peace and tranquility that I seldom encountered. His self-confidence rolled on the floor in front of him and put all in its path at ease.
Janet and I surveyed the Mexican café and ordered cervezas as we eyed the menu. “Something is coming down. I could feel something wonderful coming, and it wasn’t food,” I thought. “I’m here at this time for a reason not yet known. My wife invited me to a late lunch today, does she know something I do not.”
Salvador took our order; Janet selected a Mexican dish consisting of Chile relleno, tamale, and salad while I ordered the pork chop Hawaiian-style.
While the food was being prepared, we chatted with Salvador about land prices, as we were new to the area, and were considering buying a home in Ajijic. He explained as we already knew, prices of land and houses had gone up ten-fold in the last twenty years.
Just before the food arrived, we asked how he came to own this café. He said he had purchased the land on a Mexican high-interest loan of three thousand pesos and spent four years after his day-job salary building the surrounding establishment. I observed the substantial walls, high ceilings, with room for twelve tables and a large kitchen off to the side. Six more tables, in the garden, had met us before we entered the café.
He explained the end of the first two years of business found them without money to operate the business any longer. Two bottles of whisky, three dressed chickens, some flour and corn tortillas, beef and pork stock for soup were all they had left. Of course, plenty of salad fixings were available in the garden. Salvador and his wife knew the end of Tio Domingo was near and it was two days before Christmas.
Salvador said he asked his wife, “What should we do now?”
Her answer was swift. “The food we have left will do us no good, so we must invite all the village for a free meal and celebrate Christmas.”
Salvador told the story of going all over the Ajijic, inviting all to come to celebrate with them on Noche Buena Navidad (Christmas Eve). His wife and the children prepared all the food and made a lemon-lime punch, of which half was spiked with the whisky.
On the Eve of Christmas, the tables were set, and the plates polished. The smell of carefully-made soups and Mexican dishes had filled the air. Salvador and his wife hoped all would come and share their last day at Tio Domingo. It was not a sad day, but happy in celebrating the good old times and Navidad before they closed and found other employment.
Salvador had wondered if anyone would come, but just before the appointed hour, the local mariachi band showed up, explaining they wanted to play for their food. Salvador rejoiced to his wife, “at least there will be music to kiss Tio Domingo goodbye.”
The music began as the candles were lit. Slowly the tables filled, to Salvador’s surprise, to overflowing. Salvador’s family served their many guests as all told stories of pleasant times at Tio Domingo. Every tortilla, cup of soup, and whisky-flavored lemonade were served and downed by hungry guests. The music was loud and lasted until the musicians were exhausted.
As the villagers headed home, Salvador said all wished him and his family well and headed into the darkness singing songs of Navidad.
Salvador looked at Janet and me. “On that night, my family and I cleaned the café, washed every dish, and closed the business as we had every day for the preceding two years. I went to the front gate to lock up knowing it would be the last time as proprietor of Tio Domingo. Something was amiss. A bucket held each of the two gates open. Salvador lifted one of the buckets to the moonlight and found it was filled with pesos.
Our meal arrived and tasted somewhat like turkey and dressing and blessings unexpected.
Salvador later told us that since that day, the business has grown and commanded a clientele ranging from the very poor to the wealthy. Every year they will celebrate Christmas with the same meal and invite all to share their wealth.
No wonder Salvador has the gift of giving and receiving written on his soul for all to see. Come see Salvador at Tio Domingo.
A true story.
So, it was late June 1957 in a half-harvested wheat field in the middle of God’s Texas Panhandle. I was just turning 14. The heat fell heavy from the sky and was there to stay. The Dachshund was digging a hole under the pickup.
Gleaner Model A Combine sat idle with “frozen” 12-inch variable speed drive sheaves. The bearing on the shaft was still smoking.
Dad’s 2-pound ball-peen hammer was driving a 12” coal chisel between the sheaves to loosen them on the shaft. Right side of the combine he was working on was in the bright almost-noon sunshine.
Stroke after stroke, the hammer pounded the chisel. After seeming hours of hammer on the steel, from behind the man, I misspoke, “Dad I don’t think we are going to get the sheaves loose.”
Dad missed two strokes with the ball-peen to say without anger, “these sheaves will come off,” and began again swinging at the chisel.
In a while, I heard a strange sound like a spring releasing as the chisel left its place between the sheaves and traveled to dad’s lower lip. Dad turned, took the red rag in my hand, and covered the cut just below his lip. He walked to the driver side mirror. Took a look, and I also saw the cut lip, and the roots of two lower front teeth looking back at us from the mirror. Dad stuck the rag in his mouth enough to slow the bleed.
Dad patted his leg twice, and Herb jumped to the floorboard then to the back of the seat as usual. Dad climbed aboard and we headed to the county road. Instead of turning toward town, we headed west. We drove in silence, but Herb leaned out past dad and barked at all passing vehicles.
In about an hour, we pulled up in front of Dr. Crawford dentist office Plainview Texas. With dog waiting under the truck, we entered the office. Receptionist wanted to know what’s wrong, so dad showed her. In about 2 minutes, Dr. Crawford summoned dad to this chair behind closed doors.
One hour later, dad came out with a bandage on his lower lip and a bottle of pills. Motioned me with a let’s go, and we headed to the truck. We and dog headed back the way we came. Looked like we were headed home. In about 45 minutes, we were about to pass the wheat field on our way home, but dad turned into the field. In five more minutes, dad was swinging the hammer striking the coal chisel. I readied the needed parts, fresh grease, a pan of gasoline to wash the sheaves and clean the parts we could re-use. I added a clean cloth to the assembled parts on the tailgate. I gave Herb a drink of water from the canvas water bag. Then I heard the outside sheave fall to the ground and the hammer was silent.
I saw a little blood on the bandage as dad cleaned, installed new bearings, and reassembled the sheaves on the combine. Lock washer and lock nut tightened; drive belts pried onto the sheaves. Dad smiled with his eyes and climbed the combine ladder and set the machine to harvesting wheat once again. It was almost dark but, I knew he would go till dew fell and stiffened the straw. Me and the dog rested, ready for the trip home. My dad had worn me out.
In a few weeks, the lip and the replanted teeth were looking pretty good. The man taught me another lesson about giving up, NEVER.
Sometimes I think he did all that just for me. Then I remember everything he did was just for me.
Woke up this morning and the world was dark. In fact, it was very dark and not a light anywhere. Our world was gone, and we were in fear for our lives.
We discussed the possibilities before us, giving us unsettled feelings. The wife thought it might be the end of our time. I did not have the answer. Maybe we should call the best man we know as he may know what has happened.
Surprisingly, the best man answered and asked us to look out the window and see if the world was there. It was not. “What are we going to do?” I asked the best man.
“When I get up in a while, I will look and see if the world is still here, and I will call you back.”
He hung up, and I began thinking if the world was here yesterday. I remembered it was here though it was not as bright in the world as usual. I asked the wife, “maybe we have passed away and would no longer see the world?” She said she didn’t think so, as when she blew on the windowpane, it fogged over.
In silence we enjoyed coffee, and toast, and waited, for the phone to ring, and looked for the world that was no longer here.
Wife said, “the coffee in not as bitter today, and this toast in tasty.” I agreed it was above par.
In a while or longer the phone rang. When I answered the man asked, “has the world returned?”
“Well, the world is still here. Should I send Pete over to see you are still there, or the world is gone?”
After a long pause, while I considered if I wanted to know if I was gone, or the world had left us all alone I said, “Ok send Pete and tell him I want to know the truth of it and not to butter it up.”
We waited anxiously to see if Pete knew what had happened. We talked about the kids and wondered if their world had disappeared. Then I said to wife, “you look nice this morning in fact better than in a long time.”
She replied, “thank you, I see you actually combed your hair, was it for me or Pete?”
“No, while I was looking for the world, I saw myself and combed my matted hair.”
A knock on the door, I opened it to Pete. He looked around and saw the world was gone and began looking for reasons. He said, “I see you both are here, so the world has left, and may I look around to see if I can figure out what happened?”
“It is some comfort to know we are here but dismayed as to where the world has gone. Please see what you can find.”
Pete walked around looking for where the world might have gone. Suddenly the last few minutes of Fox News appeared as the world returned.
Wife and I were greatly relieved and thanked Pete for finding the world for us and I asked, “where was the world, Pete?”
“It was in the safety box on the wall. I see the world is dim, so next time the world disappears, you will need the best man to install a new world.”
We rejoiced and thanked Pete one more time as he left.
The world is here As the World Turns appears and the Wheel of Fortune will show up soon.
These are the days of remembrance.
Discounting the loss of memory
There is a lifetime of topics to embrace.
The older I become, the further back
in history my mind retrieves.
Sometimes I think my youth is returning.
Then I recognize the finality that is near.
Drawing on knowledge past is essential
To prevent future immature acts.
The scope of believability is challenged
When younger minds hear me protest.
When their minds are old and feeble
What then will be the score?
I may not win but then again
I bet they forgive themselves and me
For remembering more than we dreamed.
Afternoon Wednesday June 18, 2003
By M. Mercer
“Think the first time I entered The Blue Tequila Cantina was six years ago. Mexican natives call it Cantina Azul. They say a Gringo named Tom opened this bar in 1987 and still lives within even though he passed on in 1996. It must be true as sometimes I get messages from Tom relating to something is going to happen or when someone is coming. Sometimes I know the name of who is coming. Easy says, I spook her when I forecast someone, or something, is coming round the corner. Kinda surprises me too, but then I’ve not had a normal lifetime. Spent more time sitting at this end of the bar than any one place in my sixty- three years. Easy has been here three and a half and we have seen it all, fun, terror, blessing, and wonderful memories.
Some things you need to know: Easy is not the bartenders name, but she is quite easy on the eyes, not sure of her real name, or where she is from. My place at the end of the bar is my long-standing, pin in hand, writing comfort zone. Somedays, I go home and write sober and coherent. Leigh, yes Leigh, the one stable strong good woman in my life I do not deserve, watches over me as the angel she is.
The Blue Tequila Cantina serves as a meeting place for expats from over the world. Some seeking, love, some seeking companionship, some enjoying a cheap lifestyle, oh and some escaping their past. All toll, a good bunch of people, using up the end of life as we know it. Brave people, taking a chance on something different. The locals carry us high, we appreciate all the services they provide. Many frequent the bar and most local closing on property sales are finalized in the Cantina Azul. Oh yes, this is the local NASCAR TV headquarters. All Mexicans drive to fast, when you ask them why, they say we are in training for NASCAR.
And just like that, it happened again today. Normally, folks frequenting the bar don’t ask questions of each other as we all have something we don’t want to talk about. So, we find out about each other by what they say, not by prying.”
Extending his hand, he says, “My name is Sid, may I sit the bar with you?”
“Sure Sid, my name is Jerry, we’ve been expecting you.” I replied.
“How do you know me. I have never been here before?” A surprised, Sid remarks.
“A few days ago, a gust of wind blew a crumpled piece of paper in the door. I knew it was for me, when I spread the paper out it had Sid printed on it.”
“Ah, I don’t believe it for a minute!” Sid said.
“Easy, come, aqui,” I call.
Easy approaches and says, “yo is Sid esta so?”
Not believing what he is experiencing Sid says, “I need a beer!”
“Easy bring Sid a Tecate, make that dos since Sid is buying.
Sid in here ‘yo’ means, hi, you, me, a cheer, an explanation point, and always say ‘yo’ when you answer the phone. Just how it is,” I advised. “What you need Sid maybe we can help?” As Easy fishes deep in the cooler for the Tecate.
“I been walking this streets a couple of months checking out the area. Kinda thinking I might move to Ajajic. I’m too young to retire and though I might try buying this bar.”
“I laughed out loud, Easy chimed in with a beautiful smile. In fact, I laughed so hard and long I broke into a violent coughing spell, ending with sweat and wheezing.”
Meanwhile Sid sipped his beer and waits for things to settle down, “you OK Jerry?”
“Think so, but I think Tom is tellin’ me to warn you off.”
“Who is Tom, and why should I be concerned with Tom?”
“Tom owns the bar Sid, what makes it concerning is he has been dead since 1996. Easy runs the place, opens, and closes the Cantina, and sometime in the night the till is collected, money and directions left to pay various vendors. More than 3 years ago, before Easy, the guy running the bar tried to sell it to a newcomer. Both ended up missing and the police closed the bar.
It was hard on me as this was, as this is, my away from home, home. Couple of months later I dropped by, behold Easy had the door open for business. I ask her what happened she put finger to lips and then waved it at me. I knew to just drop it, and be happy. So be careful about trying to buy the Cantina.”
Sid sips Tecate and orders dos mas for him and the new acquaintance at the bar. Sid worries this guy is a con and decides to play along to see if he can swing a deal. Jerry seems a nice guy, but this is Mexico where tomorrow may mean the next day or even next month. All is not known much less guaranteed.
“Well Jerry if I can’t buy the bar maybe you can direct me to someone selling houses as I am in the market?”
“That I can help with. You want a mansion or a shack? You want to pay cash or easy terms? You plan to look at a lot of houses are a few, Sid?”
“You tellin’ me I have all those choices.”
“Yes, but they narrow quickly, Charley the gringo has been here for years and knows all the locations and has handled many closings here in the Cantina. Ramon digs deep and finds casas that need a quick sale. Anita can find homes with the best kitchens, house keepers, and gardeners. So, there is a lot to choose from and you need to think about it. I am still not privy to just why I knew you were coming, but I will figure it out?”
“Jerry, tell you what, if one of them drops by send them over to the Posada and have them ask for Sid.”
“Sure, thing Sid, one of them will fix you up.”
“So, you think Ajajic is a good place to live and retire? Give me the inside as you evidently have been around a while.”
“Lots of great food, fine music if you like local gringo and Mexican entertainers. You won’t find many unfriendly folks and some maybe too friendly. Friends come easy here and are not pushy. Most of us party often and in the daytime. Nights are not lit well, and trouble is easier to find. Good times in the Mexican sun is a good way to spend your days.”
A Texas farmer, Vietnam veteran, and “C” college graduate who cannot spell, Mike Mercer tells stories with a lot of heart. He relies heavily on the computer age to put his voice to page. Hundreds of stories, poems, and unfinished books have given him peace and become the centerpiece of his retirement. He has two novels available on Amazon
AVAILABLE NOW. This experimental novel blends diary-like entries, poetry, and innovative use of Texas slang. The character's odyssey takes him from the Vietnam War to West Texas to Mexico to an unexpected reunion with a fellow soldier. The author, Mike Mercer, is largely self-taught, and has been writing every day for years. BUY NOW
I tug down a warm Korean beer and listen to the Vietnamese band as the girls in their G-strings bump and grind out another tune. I can see white phosphorus flares in the night a mile out to the North of the perimeter. Some infantry unit engaged in sniper fire while we try to enjoy the U.S.O. show as best we can.
These must be bravest women in the world to come here and do what they do to entertain the troops. They either have tremendous hopes for a career when this is over, or the pay is just good enough. Oh well, they always end up with the Officers anyway. Maybe if I can get enough beer down, I will sleep through anything that might come tonight.
A guy sitting next to me introduces himself. Riley Gilbreath is his name. From back up east somewhere. Nice guy.
On my way back to my hooch, I watch the fire fight. I can see Puff out there spitting down his red fire. I lift the mosquito net and roll into my cot. An M-14 chamber locking makes me instinctively roll to the floor. The first burst rips the roof of the hooch, and I can hear water draining from the shower barrels. One clip, then another. I crawl toward the bunker. The muzzle flashes light the air just enough.
It’s White, my Indian friend from New Mexico, drunk as a skunk and letting off steam! I crawl around on the ground, hoping he’ll go shoot off somewhere else. The N.C.O.'s trying to talk him out of his rifle. I don't know what got caught in his craw. The rest of us are scared, but we’re all laughing because it’s so crazy.
Finally, when the ammunition runs out, I grab him, and the others take his rifle. White begins to cry because he had just received his Dear John letter today. A lot of guys got them.
We hide him from the Officers, who are too scared to come out until the commotion is over. Maybe everything will be alright in the morning. I think we all want to cry, but most of us have forgotten how.
We have trucks to load with crushed rock and 1,500 lbs. of dynamite to detonate in the morning.
A Texas farmer, Vietnam veteran, and “C” college graduate who cannot spell, Mike leaned heavily on the computer age to put his voice to page. Hundreds of stories, poems, and unfinished books have given him peace and become the centerpiece of his retirement.
While listening to the gong calling nurses to patients nearby I drift back an eon to childhood.
The wind shifted twice at first light. I heard the gong of the windmill obeying the shift in direction from the quilted bed in my grandmother’s home on the panhandle’s flat land.
The quail made their morning calls between coveys a few minutes before as I was thinking how uncle Sim had arrived in the late evening yesterday.
I wanted to get out of bed yet resisted as I knew I would have to make a run in the cold to the outhouse.
Uncle Sim stuck his long nose and eagle feathered top hat close to the bed and said, “time to fish son.”
Fastest time to the house out back I’d ever made. Sitting in the smelly house I remembered how Sim use to scare me when he came from Oklahoma. Top hat, long braids, white long John’s, spats, and a black split tailed coat to match.
On my way back I saw he was loading our salt cedar fishing poles. He pitched me a paper bag and said, “load up, breakfast is in the bag.”
We enjoyed biscuits filled with churned butter and molasses while making the short drive to the playa lake. His 48 Chevy had no seats and Sim sat on a number 10 washtub to drive. I remembered grandad telling me Sim used the car to move his hogs to market.
Enough hand size catfish and carp accompanied us back to the tank under the windmill to prepare for feeding the family.
Coal stove and grandma fried fish and taters. Cousin Sue prayed for the old cow that died few days ago. Then we feasted.
I love the gong of windmills and miss them in the modern world.