1940s Archive

Mexican Mornings

Originally Published July 1948

I haven’t seen Lord Freddy for almost a week now, but I presume he is well and happy, or I’d have heard about it.


It all happened like this. We were having breakfast as usual on the kitchen terrace; the coffee was excellent as usual and the garden never lovelier, with roses, dahlias, jasmine, forget-me-nots, and the blood-stained lilies called the Knees of Christ. Maria de Jesús had served us piping hot muffins made from the leftover elotes, steamed corn on the cob, we’d had for dinner the night before. But before I go on, I’ll give you the recipe, which is Freddy’s:

Mexican Corn Muffins

Mix together thoroughly 1 fresh egg, well beaten, 1 1/4 cups cold sweet milk, 3 tablespoons melted shortening, and 1 cup whole corn (canned will do). Sift 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 scant teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1 cup yellow corn meal. Sift all this again into the first mixture and stir just enough to moisten the flour. Fill some buttered muffin tins 2/3 full and bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for 25 minutes, or until the muffins are brown and crunchy. As well as being good breakfast muffins, these are excellent served with roast pork. We ate ours with wild honey an Indian brought us from the hills.

Our discussion that morning concerned the immediate future. We had been in Mexico nearly a year—our visas had been extended in Mexico City, but now the extension had nearly expired. The ley mejicana said one had to return to the United States and procure a new visa in order to stay on. From Zacualtipán that meant at least three long, hard days’ traveling by bus to the nearest border town, Laredo, Texas. Business matters had come up that made it desirable for me, since we had to go that far, to go on to New York. The upshot of it seemed to be that we’d better give up the house in Zacualtipán and store everything with Doña Rutila so we could come back … sometime. Lord Freddy was all for taking Napoleon and Maria de Jesús with us to the States, but as I pointed out, conditions there were uncertain, and the matter of American visas for Mexicans was something that God himself would probably have had trouble arranging. But Doña Rutila would give them both a home at her ranch. After all the arrangements were made and there was nothing to do but pack our personal things, Lord Freddy was disconsolate.

“I don’t want to go to New York City,” he said. “What would I do there?”

“Then why,” I asked, “don't you go on to New Mexico? It advertises itself as the land of enchantment, and certainly many writers and artists love it. Perhaps I could join you there later.”

As I’ve said before, it is one thing to make a decision in Mexico and another to carry it out. Late that same afternoon, rain fell so heavily that Angelita could not go home to her family.

In the morning we discovered that the hurricane had washed away many houses by the river; all day long news of disaster came trickling in—crops were ruined—the road to Pachuca was almost nonexistent because of landslides—the bridges were all destroyed. For a solid month we haunted the plaza, asking for news of road repair and transportation so we could leave.

Of the nine-day journey, which normally should have taken three, to the border town of Laredo, Texas, the least remembered the better. We crossed rivers in swinglike contraptions on cables, wherever bridges had been washed out. We slept in Indian huts; we ate whatever we could wherever we could in peon restaurants.

Freddy saw me off for New York late one afternoon in Laredo. His plans were uncertain—he really didn’t know where in New Mexico he’d eventually end up. My plans were uncertain, too, except for the fact that I would go back to my apartment in New York and take care of business matters. I leaned from the window to wave and felt a sudden and unexpected lump in my throat. Lord Freddy, hatless, with his fine blond hair rumpled, looking not at all correct with his prancing black mongrel puppy, seemed very much alone and not a little lost. Old Mexico, I began to feel, was a closed chapter, and I wondered if I should ever go to New Mexico or see Freddy again.

As matters turned out, it was less than six months before I found myself buying a ticket to Santa Fe, whence I would proceed to join Lord Freddy in Taos. He had written that New Mexico was truly a land of enchantment; he stayed for a time in Santa Fe, but decided on the art colony of Taos because, he explained, there were Indians. It came as something of a shock when he wrote that he had studied anthropology at Cambridge and had always been particularly interested in American Indians, who he felt were closely related to Asiatics. He said he hoped to make a comparative study of the Taos language and certain Chinese dialects. My British cousin seemed to have never-ending facets to his astonishing personality. He ended his letter by saying that he’d bought a car and would meet me at Hotel La Fonda in Santa Fe.

My taxi drew up to the entrance just behind a very quaint equipage—a Ford roadster of how ancient a vintage I could not guess, from which the top had disappeared but had been replaced by a homemade canvas cover held on by string and safety pins. From it emerged Lord Freddy dressed in blue cotton jeans, cowboy boots, a violent plaid shirt, and a fringed leather jacket.

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