Last month I wrote about La Casa de No Problemas, the house my parents built in Campo Lopez, Mexico, in 1981. The home has given my family nearly 40 years of rest, relaxation, perpetual projects and memories.
Of course, there has always been some excitement. It started with the building of the house and hasn’t let up since. I mentioned last month that our contractor, Vicente, was brand new to house construction, and that early in the build a concrete-block wall blew down in a stiff wind.
A letter to me from my mother tells it best: “Our wall is now paving the driveway. Vicente never showed up all weekend. Dad went to Rosarito to look for him, but no luck. On Monday, Roberto came by and told us that Vicente feels that he has killed our house and doesn’t have the money to fix it. Dad told him we just want Vicente to get back to work and not to worry about the wall.” He came back—crisis averted.
After the house was finished, the next order of things was building and filling a “pila.” This is a concrete water storage tank that sits on the hill above the house and is a boon when the water goes off for days without any explanation. The tank was built but then needed to be filled. I happened to be there the day the man came with his truck, which he parked on the road above the house. Waaaaay above the house, up a steep, grass-covered incline, now muddy since it had been raining for days.
Negotiations still needed to be made, and my four years of high-school Spanish was called into action as it seemed the water man didn’t speak any English. Three times I clawed my way up and slid down on the seat of my pants to seal the deal. I started with some pleasantries, then asked if he could fill the pila, to which he responded, “Si.” I took this happy news down to my dad, who wanted to know what it would cost. Up I clambered again, grumbling to myself about why I wasn’t told the first time to get that information.
When asked what the cost would be, the water man suddenly had some command of English, and responded vaguely with a shrug of his shoulders, “$10, $20, $30…” Down, up, down again, and the pila was filled for a compromise of $20.
You’d think I’d be remembered by my dad as a hero of the day for all this, but about 10 years ago I learned he’d been telling this story to his friends, with one fact skewed and not in my favor. As he told the story, it was I who asked the water man if he wanted $10, $20 or $30 for the job, which I construed as an insult to my bargaining skills. So here I have the last word on the episode!
Some of our happiest moments in Campo Lopez are from the people we’ve known: The local fishermen who brought buckets filled with live lobster to our door, six grandes for $30; the tamale lady arriving early enough that breakfast was served; the doctor in Primo Tapia who taught us the word for scorpion when my dad was bitten—alacrán!
Many fellow gringos acquired revealing nicknames: Surfer Dave, A-Frame John, Ken and Barbie. There was also Bagpipe Bob and Bartender Bob. Bagpipe was known to strap on his instrument after happy hour to parade up and down the dirt road, squeezing out pained strains of Danny Boy.
Clyde’s house was on the cliff to the right of ours, and he was the only one who could compete with my dad in the fireworks department. Shooting rockets and boomers from the balconies elicited a lot of ooohs and aaaahs, but it was precarious entertainment as these pyrotechnics often exploded before clearing the launch pad. Clyde once lit a rocket and it took off backwards onto his deck. It spun around throwing sparks everywhere, and the evening was brought to a close when his wife came out of the house, grabbed Clyde by the ear, and pulled him inside.