A Very Private Restaurant
“Why did you want to move to Mexico?” people ask me, now that I’m here in Oaxaca.
If it seems like more than just a passing inquiry I explain by telling them about my first trip to Mexico.
In 1961 I’d made a move from New York to Los Angeles with my husband, Bob, and our two little boys, because Warner Brothers Studio had put my young, actor husband under contract for a year. After the year was over they dropped his contract and, while that had a monetary downside, it seemed to me a perfect time to fulfill my desire to visit another country.
“Let’s go south of the border,” I said.
Our friends said, “Go to Mazatlan; you can drive there through Arizona, cross the border at Nogales and it only takes about three days.”
We didn’t speak Spanish, but armed with youthful confidence and a few quickly learned words, we filled our station wagon with a port-a-crib for the one year old, a car seat for the four year old, numerous suitcases, shopping bags, diapers, and toys.
“Mexico, here we come!”
After we left Arizona the map showed a llong stretch of highway with very few towns once we hit the Sonoran desert, but somehow that didn’t mean much – until lunch time.
The June sun was blazing hot and all of us were hungry when we saw a sign directing us to a town off the highway where, we were sure, we could find a restaurant.
It turned out to be an obviously poor town, with no more than a few small houses, but we saw a blue plastic canopy with two tables and some chairs – there was our restaurant.
A cordial Mexican couple came to greet us as we all settled down at one of the tables. They exclaimed words in Spanish about our children, and we could tell by their smiling faces that we were welcome,.We pantomimed eating; they understood, and suggest-ed “pollo.
“That’s ‘chicken’” Bob and I translated for each other, and readily agreed it would be perfect.
She went off to prepare chicken and rice and He brought soft drinks for us and milk for the kids.
It was a delicious lunch, made even more enjoyable by quite a bit of – mostly gesturing and smiling – conversation with our hosts, who’d pulled up chairs and joined us.
They were very curious about where we’d come from, where we were going, how old the babies were, etc. We answered with our hands and our few Spanish words,. Throwing in many “buenos” regarding the lunch.
Bob and I speculated in English between ourselves that, being off the highway, they probably didn’t get many American customers so we were a novelty for them.
After we’d finished lunch Bob got out his wallet to pay them.
“No, no”, they both protested.
We were confused.
“Si, si, for the lunch” we said.
“Oh, no, no” they repeated, followed by more gestures, more Spanish words we didn’t understand.
I can’t recall how, but we finally caught on. They were telling us this was not a restaurant!
We’d driven up to their private house, sat down at their private table and ordered lunch from their private kitchen!
Hideously embarrassed, we slapped our foreheads with our palms, declared we were “stupeedo”, waved our arms around, and apologized profusely, in English, for our mistake.
But they just laughed and shook our hands and hugged the babies and wished us a good trip.
We repeatedly urged them to take our money, they stoutly refused, and we ended up being their uninvited but very welcomed guests.
For a while after returning from Mexico we told this tale to friends – an amusing comment on our own ignorance and on the exceptional hospitality we’d been offered – but in time it slipped into the archives of my memory.
The babies grew up and Bob and I divorced.
After a career as a commercial artist and painter in Los Angles for over twenty years, retirement became a reality for me. A time to paint, to write, and to sample a foreign culture.
When the “where to go?” question came up I recalled this example of the generous, friendly people who were my introduction to Mexico.
It was an easy decision to make. “Who wouldn’t want to live with people like that?,” I asked myself.
They are among the first of my many reasons for moving to Mexico.
Shannon Hogan has learned enough Spanish to determine whether or not she’s in a restaurant.