Maggie Van Ostrand
I Photographed Josefina's Family
|I first met my housekeeper,
Josefina, when I moved to Ajijic Mexico in 1995. Since then, we've developed a
history together and I regard her family as my own, once removed. Her husband,
Enriquez Grande, is the gardener; for about a year, I tutored her youngest son,
Fernando; and I always hired the musical group of another son, Enriquez Chico,
to play at the many fiestas held at my place.|
Last August, I decided
to take photographs of Josefina's family back to California with me on the theory
that when I got lonely for Mexico, a look at the pictures would hold me until
I returned to Ajijic. In addition to the pictures, however, I took back a lesson.
Here's the story:
MAGGIE: Josefina, I'd like to take pictures of you
and your family. What would be a good time?
JOSEFINA: Oh, Señora, Enriquez
Grande, he is busy gardening at two houses, Fernando is at school in Chapala and
does not return until 2 pm, and Enriquez Chico, he is working with his father.
MAGGIE: When do you expect everyone to be together?
JOSEFINA (mentally juggling
schedules): Sunday morning at 10.
MAGGIE: Not until Sunday? That's six days
JOSEFINA: Si, Señora. Six days away. We will be together then.
I thought it strange to make an appointment for picture taking, let alone
a week in advance. Wouldn't they all be together every night for dinner? Curiosity
piqued, I waited anxiously for the six days to elapse.
Promptly at 10
Sunday morning, I arrived at their house, Polaroid in hand. I was surprised to
find Josefina dressed in her best red blouse, black skirt, and open-toed, worn
black pumps. With a voice full of excitement, she blurted, "Buenos Dias Señora.
The boys are almost ready. And Enriquez Grande will be down in a moment."
"Uh, okay," I responded. Why was she so animated? How come the rest of the
family wasn't ready yet? After all, taking pictures is no big deal.
about 10 minutes, Enriquez Grande appeared. You could have read "Don Quixote"
by the glow cast when the sun bounced off the grease on his hair. He wore a tan
shirt with scissor-sharp creases, embroidered with lasso-twirling vaqueros on
horseback. An ornate silver belt buckle (whose gleam competed with that of his
oft-ironed black trousers), polished boots, a tan sombrero, and a menacing mustache,
completed his unusually formal appearance.
Both teenage sons then came
shyly outside, Fernando trying to press down a stubborn cowlick with both hands,
Enriquez Chico resplendent in a crisp white shirt, black trousers and a tie. They
tried hard to emulate their father's somber expression but youthful grins overrode
their attempts, and excitement danced in their eyes. Usually father and sons wore
jeans and T-shirts with "Dallas Cowboys," "Nike," or "Viva Futbol" on the front.
In seven years, never had I seen them so dressed up.
The level of excitement
remained high with the entire family as I posed them this way and that: mother
and father, both boys, each person alone, the whole family together. Enriquez
Grande invariably returned to his severe expression each time the shutter clicked.
A Mexican guy thing, I guessed.
Later, I told my friend, Tomás, how moved
Josefina was when I gave her some of the pictures to forward to their eldest son
who has lived in Oregon for many years. Tomás explained that to a traditional
Mexican family like theirs, photographs are commonly taken only at weddings and
again upon one's death. Now their absent son could see how his brothers had grown
and if his parents looked the same. That's why, he said, they wanted to be in
their best clothes and needed much time to prepare for this exceptional event.
It was indeed, to them, a very big deal.
The lesson I took with me was
that although some people require many material possessions, it's possible in
this world to be just as happy, maybe more so, with just a memory, and the pictures
to prove it.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" 2000 Column
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