14 Jul, 2010 | Posted by: photosource

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My Story

# 26

The Padre’s house was next to a thick adobe wall that surrounded an old Dominican Church in the center of the village. The little kid ran up to the wrought iron entrance gate and started ringing a small bell that hung from a post. “Hey, that’s enough!” I told the kid, but he kept on, enjoying the license to ring a church bell.

Out of a side door of the church an elderly woman in a shawl and dangling some long prayer beads came up to us on the inside of the gate., “Yes?” she said.

We said we needed to talk to the Padre. With an expression that said, ‘Doesn’t everybody’?, she asked what our purpose was.

Rudi clapped his hands together (in prayer fashion) , raised them to his face and closed his eyes to show that we were looking for a place to sleep. She understood that part of his Spanish and got over to us that the Padre was teaching a class of catechism and wouldn’t be available for another hour or so.

“Should we wait?” we asked ourselves, thinking maybe there was another place in the village where we could find a bed before it got dark.

In time like these, when it came to finding a place to stay for the night, we never flipped a coin; we always relied on Rudi’s instinct. He claimed to have an intuition that could predict the nature of our luck before we set upon a venture. It was really not much more than guessing but I would humor Rudi with letting him have a go at it. Someone had to do the job. When he made a wrong guess, we’d forget about it. It made his percentage of correct answers look better.
“My gut feeling tells me we’ll have luck,” He answered, taking a seat on a wooden bench by the gate. Notice he didn’t say if it was going to be good luck or bad luck.
“I sure hope you’re right this time!” I said, “I’m so hungry I cold eat a horse.”
“Just hold on a little longer, and you’ll reach that middle stage of hunger where you’re not hungry for a while!”
I sat down on the bench by the gate with him and bent into a position that made my stomach smaller. “Ah! There I feel much better,” I groaned.
Rudi laughed, “You Americans just can’t take it!” He said. “You shield yourselves from real things until you’re like machines.”
Well, if he wanted an argument at this time, I was ready for him. “And why not?” I snapped back. “Why be uncomfortable when you already have the means to be comfortable?” I felt some new pains shoot through my abdomen as my stomach shrank smaller.

Rudi was ready to shoot back. “Because when you’re faced with a situation like you’re faced with right now, you cringe and become cowards. You look for some pill to solve the problem. Just like in the war; without all your money and supplies, you would’ve never been able to stand up against us, the Germans, or the Russians for that matter.”

I think Rudi was getting hungry too and wanted to take it out on somebody. He seldom brought up the war.
“What’d you expect us to use? Bows and arrows?” I said. “Who gives a damn how you win a war, just so you win it?”
And then I thought how we won the war against Japan. And then
I felt like shutting up.
“If you’re going to do a thing, do it right.” Rudi said.
“What’s that got do with war? Life isn’t a war!” I returned.
“It isn’t?” he asked.
And then a small middle-aged man in a long black cassock came walking up from the church side door.
We both stood up as he greeted us, “Good evening Padre,” I said. “My friend and I are touring the world on our motor scooter and we’re interested in meeting with a Spanish Padre and thought we’d stop in to see you. I hope you will excuse us if we’ve interrupted your catechism class.”
He understood my primitive Spanish.
“No, that’s quite all right, boys, I have one of my better students taking over the lesson. Won’t you come in for a while?”
We passed through a barren courtyard that looked like it could’ve used some flowers or grass or something. Come to realize it, all of Spain looked like that so far. It was so different from France and the other countries where you had flowers growing everywhere, and hedges and things.

We followed him to a one-story room in the corner of the walled courtyard. “Sit down, please,” he said, pointing to a small wooden table in the center of what appeared to be a dining room. My stomach made a revealing growling noise just as I sat down. I don’t think he heard it, what with the shuffling chairs and all.
“Do you like Spanish wine?” he brought out a large quart jug of church wine from a closet.
“Gracias,” we answered as he poured us each a half a glass of red wine. That was all I needed - - an appetizer!
He spoke some French, a little German, and naturally Spanish, and with that combination supplemented with scribbling pictures, we were able to talk with each other.
The customary poster of Franco was on one of the walls. On other walls were Jesus-pictures and bishop-looking people. And there was a depiction of Mary-mother-of Jesus on the front wall. We sat and talked about our trip; he was interested in learning how other people were living in other places. He was puzzled at first at the idea of an American and a German traveling the world together on a motor scooter. Often we had met people who had never seen nor talked with an American or a German before, but had formed opinions of them through hearsay. Generally these opinions were uncomplimentary, but once we had talked with people they saw for themselves that we had neither horns nor long red forked tails. We didn’t pose as ambassadors or anything like that, but we always left the family or village with a much better impression of Americans and Germans, usually, in most cases, I think.
He told us he had been born in Riaza, a small town to the north of Madrid, and had attended the seminary in Madrid for twelve years. He had come to the little village of Cogolludo and its eight hundred parishioners six years ago, and planned to remain there, the bishop willing, for the rest of his life. I guess he was about 50 years old. His mother, and also his sister and her husband and one daughter lived there with him also at the church in the rooms that bordered the wall of the courtyard. He called them out to meet us.

That was strange, but I guess it was the custom in that part of Spain, bringing your family along with you to live with you at the church. I can see why mothers would encourage a son to become a priest. She would always have the security of knowing she would have a place to live when she got old. She looked about 70. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any homeless women or men lying around the streets in any of the big cities in Spain. I guess Franco had a building somewhere for them or just ‘eliminated’ them like he did his political opponents.
“You play songs on those guitars?” The Padre asked.
“Sure, wanna hear a song?” Rudi asked.
While we were tuning our guitars, a long file of young children passed the front gate, and we figured the catechism class was over. He invited them to listen in.
When we finished the three Spanish folksongs we knew, he had the children sing one of their school songs. It’s always fun to hear little children, boy and girls, sing a song together. It’s like listening to the fresh sound of a mountain stream flowing over some rocks through the woods. It doesn’t matter the language.
Rudi and I clapped and they smiled at our approval. He dismissed them; his mother and the family slipped away in the adjoining doors of the courtyard and we were left alone to talk with the Padre.
“Call me, Padre Juan,” he said, and I’ll call you Rohn and Rudi.
There was no post office in the village, and twice we were interrupted during our conversation while the Padre gave out mail to parishioners. He was the post office. Also, at one point he was called upon to administer first aid to a small child who had taken a fall in the street. The child’s mother had come to the Padre with her boy with a bruised and bleeding elbow. The nearest doctor was twenty-five miles away, and the villagers always turned to the Padre for medical help like this. I wonder what she would’ve done during the civil war going on twenty years ago. Even though times were tough for this village today, under Franco it must’ve really been miserable twenty years ago during the fighting. We often saw decaying wooden homemade crosses sticking in the ground along the highway commemorating somebody who lost their life at that spot.

The local community aided the Padre, too, by giving him a percentage of their grain crop each harvest, which he in turn sold to the merchants of the village or gave to the poor.
Anything that he mentioned that sounded like food made my mouth water. I was distraught with curiosity to know if he was going to invite us to stay for dinner. I tried to make our conversations as interesting as possible. This way he wouldn’t excuse himself to go to dinner. I was desperate for a meal. I think Rudi was too. I had never before seen Rudi make himself so charming. If the Padre wasn’t going to ask us for dinner, I had a plan. I was simply going to tell him we were poor, and ask him if he please would give us some of the grain that he gave away to the poor of his parish. I would eat it raw. Then I thought how silly that would be. It was only one day that I hadn’t had a meal. I had heard of people who had gone two weeks without eating and they lived. Certainly I could last longer than a day. Besides, I didn’t want to show Rudi I was a weakling.
I heard the rustling of pots and pans from somewhere. But I also heard gurgling from my stomach. I’ve got an unusually boisterous stomach when it comes to needing some attention. When I sensed its complaints coming on, I managed to clear my throat or cough a little.

“You have an allergy?” The Padre asked me.

“No, I don’t think so. It’s just that we’ve been sleeping in hay lofts at night time.” I answered. It didn’t hurt anything to give him a hint that we needed a place to sleep for the night.

Wonderful aromas from the kitchen seeped into the courtyard like a lovely woman. It gave me new vigor. I cranked up my conversation with Padre Juan, even more captivating and descriptive about our travels. The aroma from the other room was like receiving a second wind. I imagined the wonderful taste of chicken drumsticks cooked in olive oil and garlic; chopped up onions sprinkled with salt and a little white Spanish wine poured in and a touch of diced green peppers.

I couldn’t speak. I let Rudi do the talking. I sat back and in my head ran a flick of the best Spanish meal we had back when we left Barcelona on our way to Zaragoza and the mayor of the little village had invited us for lunch when we inquired for the road west at his house just before siesta time as his wife was about to put the main meal of the day on the table. He called it ‘arroz con pollo’. The senora served it on top of long grain rice and some diced tomatoes with chopped fresh parsley. We each had a wedge of lemon and were told to squeeze a little on top. “We don’t eat those,” the mayor said as I landed with a bay leaf under my tongue and tried to get it out. I set it on the plate. Rudi somehow found that hilarious.
Then at the tinkling sound of a little bell, the Padre stood up and said, “Won’t you boys join me in a meal?”
Rudi, in his most blasé manner, I mean really, really blasé manner uttered a quiet “Thank you.” It sounded like he almost didn’t want the meal. Like a starving cat that seems to retain its dignity all the way ‘till death, all he said was that “Thank you.”

I could see the Padre wasn’t sure what Rudi meant by his “Thank you.”

Padre Juan even made a gesture that I interpreted momentarily in a panic, to mean, “Well If you don’t want to eat - - wait here; I’ll be back in a half-hour.”
The Padre’s gesture might have been “Fine. Let’s all wash our hands before dinner.” I didn’t know for sure, but I didn’t want him to misinterpret Rudi at such a desperate time. I felt like I was at a poker table. This was no time for reading wrong intentions.
I interrupted him in a loud voice that surprised me, “Oh! Thank you, Padre Juan! That would be wonderful!”

Rudi gave me a wincing stare. I guess I shouldn’t have shown the Padre how much I really wanted something to eat. It was undignified, at least in Rudi’s way of thinking. He was a stickler sometimes, for that sort of decorum things. Once in France I had wanted to change my stained shirt for a clean one. We were in a town square, and he almost flew into a rage when I changed it out on the main street. He wanted me to hide behind a tree or go behind a building or somewhere.

But Rudi’s expression changed quickly. The knowledge of food on the table makes an irritable man human again. We followed Padre Juan to a white-washed kitchen, where his housekeeper, a woman named Silvia, the one who had come out to greet our bell ringing the first time, had prepared a setting for three on an oil-cloth-covered table.

Well, it wasn’t chicken but it was even better! She served huge portions of beef in a broth that had chickpeas, leeks, carrots and bubbles of olive oil floating around the top. It was scalding hot but I dipped chunks of the hard crusted bread into it and it cooled right down. I thought I heard my stomach say, “Thank you! Thank you!” When she offered me another helping, I held up my bowl without trying to look eager and let it linger as long as possible under her big ladle spoon. This strategy turned out to be not necessary at all, because after the stew, there came another course! She brought out a big pot and served us chicken and boiled potatoes covered with a steamy tomato sauce. The Padre poured us each a glass of white wine, and after two helpings of her “cocido,” announced the meal was over by offering us peasant cheese and fruit. Jeeze, was I full!. The skin over my belly was really stretched! I guess I was having a natural reaction. My body was telling me “Go ahead, eat a lot. You might not have another meal in weeks.”
I had never eaten so much in my life. I felt bloated. We sat and talked about our trip and our future plans. It was getting dark, and the Padre found our conversation interesting and lit an oil lamp. “Did you find the people of France much different than the people of Spain?” He asked.

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