Memories of Bart

The summer I turned 19, I hitchhiked my way to Nogales, Arizona, walked across the border into Mexico and bought a $20 bus ticket to Mazatlan.
As best as I remember, my ride over that shoulder-less, pot holed, desert road took about 18 hours, including stops to load and unload chickens and passengers. I was the only Gringa on the bus, the only person who spoke any English, 18, blonde, and wearing cut-off Levis and a t-shirt. I didn't dare sleep. When I arrived at the bus station I had only $85 cash, a swim suit, those cut-offs, and a scrap of paper on which I'd written the name of a trailer park where, hopefully, my brother was still camped.

Bart had called me from a phone booth about a month before. I could barely make out his voice. The line sounded ancient and crackled with Sonoran dust. "If you want to come meet me, I should be in Mazatlan by around the second week in June," he'd said. I told him I didn't think there was any way I could afford to get there, but we'd see. I had just finished my first year at college, quit my campus job and was moving out of my apartment to no-clue-where. Neither of us would have a phone or a mailbox. If we were going to meet up, luck (Karma, we called it in the 70's) would have to play a big role. I really didn't see it happening. But later, as I thought about the call, I could remember something in his voice. Something inviting. Love. He wanted me to come. I realized that I had to try to find him.

I have no memory of how I got from that dirty bus station to the scrappy trailer park on the beach outside of Mazatlan, but Bart was there, smiling like the sun, and he immediately gathered me up into those wonderful, strong arms. He'd been living there on the beach in his old camper and truck for about 3 weeks by then. I can still see exactly how beautiful he was: 24 years old, golden haired and bronzed from the Mexican sun. We eased into Mexican life. Showered outdoors with the giant cucarachas, body surfed all day, siesta-ed every afternoon in colorful hammocks we bought from the vendors on the beach, laughed til we peed in the evenings along the promenade or the moonwashed beach. We cooked fresh-caught shrimp that cost us about 12 pesos a kilo, laid them alongside thick slices of monster avocados, white crumbly queso and handmade tortillas. Our days melted into weeks. We lost the date and told the time only by the sunrise and sunset. I ran out of money. Bart never said a word.

An old dilapidated row boat showed up on our beach one day. We looked it over for a week or so, first working on stories about where it had come from, then wondering if it might be sea worthy enough to take us out to the little island, Isla Pijaro, we called it, midway off the horizon from our beach. The story telling and wondering took a while. It had to be sandwiched in between surfing, siestas and sunsets--and our tanning competition. We compared shades daily, forearm to forearm. By now, we were both "brown as a couple of berries." We chanted this several times a day, just the way Mom would have said it.

It was about this time that we lost the newly weds. They were a cute little couple, not more than 18 or 19 each, and had shown up at the park on their honeymoon. From Minnesota, I think; fresh faced and as straight-laced as librarians. They spent a couple of days working side by side, setting up the sweetest little camp you ever saw. Perfection just short of a white picket fence. We were all having so much fun watching them nest, it didn't take long to notice that they'd disappeared. 24 hours went by with no sign of them. The campground was buzzing. Theories flew like mosquitoes. Finally, the loner guy from California said he was pretty sure he'd seen somebody out skinny dipping in the ocean a couple nights before. Could it have been them? Did they get eaten by sharks? Turns out it was almost that bad. They'd gotten their bare little butts pulled out of the ocean by the Federali's. They spent the last three nights of their honeymoon in a Mexican jail.

Sometime after this excitement, we discovered a driftwood-looking oar somewhere around the park. It was a sign. We should test the ship. It leaked a tad, but we made it out to Isla Pijaro. The island was rocky and desolate of anything but scrub brush, but it had a pretty little beach with a small shore break, so we goofed around in the waves and watched the terns (Bart called them sea turds) until we got hot and thirsty and realized that we had no shade, and were starting to fry. (Of course we'd brought nothing other than our swim suits and the truck keys.) About half way home, the dingy started filling with water and when we realized that we weren't going to be able to bail fast enough, we both started laughing so hard we capsized and the truck keys sank into the briny deep. Bart didn't even think to get upset, he was too busy laughing at the insanity of it all. It was so like him. Why get angry? Things always work out, don't they?

One morning we woke up and decided it was time to move house. We christened the truck Spiro and the camper, Martha and set out to explore the dusty roads that lay southward. We drove through the magic of my first-ever fireflies and into jungles black in the night, surprising the tlacuaches with our headlights as they hung by their tails from the trees that curved over the narrow dirt road into San Blas. We practiced our Spanish trying to sing Give Said the Little Stream, and Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam in the language, coaxing Spiro over mountain passes, blasting the heater to keep the engine from overheating.
Big cities were disorienting. We found our way to the Orozzco Gallery through the traffic of Guadalajara by following the first blue car we saw. Bart would say, "This guy looks like he knows where he's going, don't you think?" and we'd set into following him. In Mexico City, it was a red truck, I think, that led us to the Zona Rosa. We were never lost. But we never really had much of a destination, for that matter.
In the smaller cities,in the 1970's of Taxco and San Miguel d'Allende and all the others whose names I've forgotten, there was no need for a lead car. One road only, and it always led into to the town square, where again, we'd be the only live blondes most had ever seen. The children would gather round Bart, first curious and shy, but finally giggling and teasing. He enchanted them. He enchanted me. I had never known that kind of love and absolute acceptance. I had never known that kind of joy.

And it was always, exactly that sweet for all of my life with Bart. Always that delicious hug. Always that generosity and complete acceptance. Always that love that never judged, that knew no bounds.

One year ago tonight, on the eve of our mother's birthday, I stood by his bedside and whispered to my brother that it was OK for him to leave. I promised him I'd take good care of Gretchen and told him I expected him to give Gavin a big hug for me. I told him how much I loved him, how grateful I was for the way he had always loved me. For the joy we'd always shared. I called softly to Gretchen, telling her I thought she should probably come in, our vigil was over. We held his hands and stroked his beautiful cheeks, said our good-byes and lovingly eased him on his way.

I sure do miss you, my Bubba. Thank you for a perfect ride.


shelly said...

Oh Annie! What a wonderful life you two had! He really was SUCH a sweet man! I only met him a few times but I can totally recall the tender kindness that he radiated!

shelly said...

P.S. That was me, Heather, not shelly on that first comment...sorry.

Marg said...

What a wonderful story - You had the kind of adventurous spirit I wish that I had had in my younger years! Thank you for sharing!

Gretchen said...

I don't have any words...but LOVE
I love you.

Damaris said...

woah you've really gone through a lot. thanks for sharing your experiences. it helps.

shelly said...

This is the real Shelly. Oh, Annie. You had me hooked with this wonderful story the moment I started reading! What a gift you have. And what a gift of a brother you have in Bart. Thanks SO much for sharing this with us! I can TOTALLY picture you two on your travels in Mexico!

Natalie said...

oh mommy. . .I'm sorry I didn't call. I love you.

Rosanne said...

Hi, you don't know me....and I don't know you. But I just ran into your blog today from Natalie's blog (she doesn't know me either). Yes, I'm an official blog stalker. ;) Now I know where Natalie gets her talents. I LOVE reading her blog. Her words are addictive. So are yours. This story about your brother is beautiful! And I want you to know that I've cried for your grandson...and your son - and I truly appreciate the faith you and your daughter have - and I know both Gavin's are safely tucked away in our Heavenly Father's arms. I don't have much more to say, only THANK YOU, and your daughter, for having really beautiful blogs for a blog stalker like me to read. Beautiful stories make my day. ;)