Robledo Mountain
Chapter 6

Copyright© 2018 by Kraken

The mule didn’t seem to be laboring with the load, so I figured to make good time going back to the cave. By this time, I didn’t feel threatened between Las Cruces and the cave, but I stopped just out of sight of Las Cruces. I pulled my rifle out of the panier and put it in the seat box with me, just in case. I also made sure I could get to the pistol at my waist easily, before driving on.

The trip was a little longer with the mule pulling the wagon but not overly so. As I drove and watched for threats, I sang songs I hadn’t thought of in a long time. Everything from “Cattle Call” to “The Gambler” to “Unforgettable.” I also threw in “Love Me Tender” and “El Paso”, just because.

I pulled up short of the cave entrance just after four, set the hand brake, and unhitched the mule leaving her standing where she was. I untied the horse from the buckboard and staked him out of the way, then set to work on getting the stove unloaded as I’d described to the Mendozas. A half hour later the stove was off the buck board and on the ground on its two skids.

After cooling down for a few minutes, I unloaded the rest of the buck board, putting the wood and the adobe brick forms next to the stove. I hauled everything else into the cave or RV. I took the harness off the mules and took them and the horse down to the canyon for the night.

A cold Diet Coke and I was ready for a hot shower and then a dinner of sausage with cheese and diced onions. I put one of my favorite movies in the DVD player and watched the Duke in ‘Comancheros’ before going to bed.

The next morning, against Juan’s advice, I decided to gamble a little, and go ahead and make the adobe bricks. If it rained while they were drying I was only out a little time and the experience I gained from making them would help in the future. Pulling out ten large plastic bins, I put them on the buckboard along with a new entrenching tool. A quick trip down to the canyon and I was back with the mules. I harnessed them up to the buckboard and set off to load caliche, sand, and straw for the first batch of adobe. I’d found a caliche bed in one of the arroyos about a mile away so headed there first. An hour later I’d loaded seven of the bins with the red heavy clay. Sand was almost everywhere, and there was an arroyo full of it on the way back to the cave. The sand was lighter to lift into the plastic bins, but I could get less on the shovel head and it took just as long to load three bins of sand as it did the clay bins. My last stop was along the river for dry straw. Most of it was dry enough that I could grab a hand full and break it off at the stem. I filled the empty space in the middle of the buckboard between the plastic bins and took everything back to the cave. I unharnessed the mules and took them back down to the canyon, giving both a good rubdown and some grain as a reward for their hard work before going back to the cave.

After lunch, I filled and carried ten plastic buckets of water out to edge of the plateau in front of the cave. I laid out the forms and set to work making the adobe bricks. Talk about a miserable messy job. By the end of the day I was exhausted. I’d made 25 bricks and was covered from head to toe in clay and sand. A plunge in the cold river followed by a hot shower back in the RV cleaned me up. A quick ham sandwich for dinner and I was in bed asleep.

As Juan had said, I did get better at making the adobe bricks. Over the next eight days I slowly managed to cover the entire plateau with just over a thousand adobe bricks drying in the sun. I’d left space for the wagon getting on and off the plateau but there wasn’t room anywhere else to walk without stepping on adobe bricks.

I decided that while I was waiting for the brick to dry, I would make a run up to Apache Canyon for more gold. After moving the wagon down to the canyon, I brought the mules and the horse back up to the cave, loaded up with supplies, and mounted up. Two and half days later I set my camp back up in the bowl. I ended up with another five hundred pounds of gold in the panniers after seven days of hard work and still hadn’t come anyway near touching the main area of gold.

As before, I carefully loaded up the mules and took my time getting back to the cave, to rest the mules as much as possible. After unloading the panniers on the dolly and caring for the horses I inspected the bricks. My gamble had paid off, as it hadn’t rained since I made the bricks. I did lose more than a few to having too much sand, and some to having too much water, but less than I’d expected to lose. The rest of the bricks were looking good.

I got a late start into Las Cruces that Saturday arriving just after four. I made it a point to stop at Mrs. Amador’s store, so she could help me pick out dress pants, vest, jacket, and a string tie. She let me know that she’d selected a nice wooden brush and comb set for my gift to Anna, and had already wrapped them. I thanked her for her help and thoughtfulness, paid her, and left. I made a quick stop for a haircut before getting a room for two nights at the Drovers Inn.

I slept in late Sunday morning but somehow managed to get to the small Catholic church fifteen minutes before the service started. Although it had been many years since I last attended service, and even more years since my confirmation, I received communion without hesitation. As I walked back to my pew near the back, I saw the Mendozas and received big smiles from both Mrs. Mendoza and Anna as well as an approving nod from Mr. Mendoza.

After the service, I waited outside for them. When they finally came out, I wished Anna a happy birthday and asked her where the quinceanera was, and what time I should be there. As it turned out the party was in the courtyard between the restaurant and their home. It would start as soon as they got back, and they invited me to walk with them. I told them I needed to see to my horse first, and I would join them in a few minutes.

A quick walk back to my room to retrieve Anna’s gift, and then it was back to my favorite restaurant. Rounding the back corner of the restaurant, I stopped in amazement. I’d never noticed just how large the shared courtyard was, nor how nicely it was set up. For today’s party, there were tables and benches with a small clear area for dancing, and a little stage off to one side. Mrs. Mendoza and her daughters were moving back and forth from the restaurant putting out a lunch time feast for the family and close friends, while Anna was holding court with some young ladies on the other side of the courtyard. I joined Mr. Garcia, Mr. Mendoza, and two sons-in-law at one of the tables. Before I could finish greeting everyone and sit down, Mrs. Mendoza was handing me a cup of coffee.

I sipped my coffee while listening to the men talk about the weather, the church service, and other pleasantries. Eventually, Mr. Mendoza asked how my house was progressing.

“The adobe bricks are all made, and are just about dried out. I’ll start the actual building in a couple of days. Hopefully the rain will continue to hold off until I get it built and the stucco on.”

“How did making the bricks go for you?”

“It certainly is hot, messy, tiring work. Just like Juan said it would be,” I replied.

“And that’s why we bought the bricks instead of making them ourselves when we built here,” he replied to laughter and had nods from the rest of the men.

Lunch turned out to be a self-serve buffet. Anna was at the serving table thanking everyone for coming, and I took the opportunity to give her my gift before grabbing a plate of food, and heading back to where I’d been sitting. The Mendozas all joined me with plates of their own, and we ate and talked about the last three weeks. After lunch, we continued sitting at the table talking, and periodically getting more coffee or water. I learned from Mr. Mendoza that Anna’s mother was his third daughter, but that she and her husband had been killed in El Paso by a runaway wagon when Anna was a small child. She’d lived with Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza since then, and considered herself their daughter.

Mrs. Mendoza had taken my gift from Anna and taken it inside to put with the others. Anna had opened them in private after lunch, and was back going from table to table thanking each person for their gift.

When she got to me I stood as she shyly said, “Thank you for the beautiful brush and comb set Pablo. I have saved a dance for you later this evening,” she added as she left for the next table.

I looked over at Mr. Mendoza who had a grin on his face. “I’m in trouble, huh?”

The rest of the table laughed, and Mr. Mendoza just nodded his head.

The quinceanera started in earnest right at sundown and pretty much followed the pattern I was used to in the 21st century. The parade of the new lady and her father was followed by the damas and chamberlains, with the various dances, but no new shoes or last doll ceremonies. The band was a three-piece ensemble of guitars and bass.

Food was available at tables along the back of the courtyard for anyone who wanted it whenever the wanted it. The courtyard was filled to overflowing, as was the dance floor. I remained at the table talking with the Mendozas until the band took their third break of the night. I asked one of the musicians if I could see his guitar for a few minutes as I’d noticed it was a twelve string. Although twelve string guitar was my favorite type of guitar, I didn’t own one and hadn’t played one in a couple of years. He handed it to me, and I sat back down on the bench facing away from the table as I played with it a little.

After a few minutes I was comfortable enough to play my favorite piece on a twelve string, “Malagueña”, that really worked the strings. As I played, I closed my eyes and lost myself in the music. When I finished the last chord I sat listening to the sound fade, just enjoying the feeling.

Suddenly, I remembered where I was and realized there wasn’t a sound coming from the courtyard. Just as I turned around to see what was going on, loud applause broke out. Anna came up beaming me a large smile, and asking me to play something else. Deciding to stick with the fast theme I played my second favorite guitar piece, “Apache.”

By now I was surrounded by younger boys and girls who asked me to sing something for them. I thought for a minute, and asked a little girl of about seven if she knew what a unicorn was. She said of course she did! I launched into “The Unicorn Song.” That was a hit with everyone including the Padre. When I was done with that I asked a young boy if he’d learned about dragons yet, and when he nodded his head I played “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

The mothers started talking about bed time for the youngsters and, being youngsters, they started objecting. I quieted them down, and told them I’d play one more song for them; but they’d have to help me sing it, and after the song was done they’d have to go to bed without arguing. They all agreed to the deal with their mother’s approval.

“You need to pay close attention to me and when I nod my head start singing the phrase ‘A-wee ma-weh’ over and over,” I explained to my rapt audience.

We practiced the beat, timing, and volume; and when they had it down, I told them to stop until I nodded at them. I started playing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I nodded a few bars into the opening, and they started up the “A-wee ma-weh” background. I played it through twice, which was about all my normal tenor/baritone voice could handle in that register. When I finished the song, I thanked the kids for their help, and told them that it was time to do like the lion, and go to sleep.

As the kids were led out, Anna asked me for one more song. Without a thought I started playing “Annie’s Song.” Halfway through the first line, I was asking myself why I hadn’t stopped to give this a little thought before I started. This was definitely going to make things uncomfortable. The only saving grace was that I was singing in English and few, if any, would understand the words.

Looking around near the end of the song, I felt my heart drop. It was apparent that all the Mendozas understood the words, and Anna was teary eyed. Finished, I stood to thank everyone as I motioned to the guitar’s owner to retrieve his instrument, and apologizing for stealing the show. He shrugged it off with a laugh as he returned to the little bandstand to begin the last set of the night. As I was turning to sit down and face the Mendozas, Anna grabbed my hand telling me it was time for our dance, and dragged me out to the dance floor.

The band started up what sounded like a polka. I didn’t recognize it, and I reminded Anna that I didn’t know how to dance. Taking my left hand, she put it on her waist, held out her right hand, and waited for me to take hold of it, before trying to teach me how to dance a polka. We both laughed throughout the dance as I stumbled along, trying not to step on her feet. When the dance ended, I gave her a slight bow and thanked her for the dance. I gently took her hand, led her back to the table, and gave her hand to her grandfather.

I turned to Anna. “Thank you very much for inviting me. If you enjoyed yourself half as much as I have, then your quinceanera was a great success.”

Turning to Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza I said, “I’ve had a great time, but it is time for me to go. I have to leave early in the morning to build my new home.” Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza smiled approvingly, and thanked me for coming. Turning to include Anna, I finished my goodbye with, “I’ll be back to see you when the house is finished.”

Walking back to the Drovers Inn I thought that perhaps I had overdone it today, but just as quickly decided that I was supposed to be fifteen years old. What I’d done tonight was certainly within the bounds of acceptable actions for a young man full of testosterone. Regardless of age, I was also trying to live up the promise I’d made to Laura: getting back in touch with my inner boy, not to mention giving people a chance to get closer to me.

Getting ready for bed, I reviewed everything I knew about Anna. She had been orphaned at a young age, like me; although she’d been taken in by relatives, unlike me. She was pretty, had a killer smile that melted my heart without half trying; and, so far anyway, was pleasant to be around. All in all, that wasn’t much to build a relationship on. At the same time, however, there wasn’t anything there to stop me from learning more. Definitely something to think about.

I rode out of Las Cruces shortly before dawn the next morning humming various songs. As the sun broke over the horizon, I rode along signing “What a Wonderful World.” I was feeling great, looking forward to building the house, and finally protecting the secrets held in the cave.

Reaching the plateau just before noon, I settled the horse with the mules in the canyon and walked back to the RV. I sat down on the couch sipping a glass of iced tea and contemplated taking a shower. While I had no problem missing baths when I was camping out on long trips, I hated the thought of being dirty in the RV. I decided to shower later, and went back to the trailer to start melting the gold I’d let pile up.

I made a good-sized dent in the mound of gold nuggets. At this rate I figured I’d finish it up about the same time I finished the house if I spent a few hours working at it every evening after dark, and before bed. I locked up the trailer and went back inside to make dinner and have a shower.

Afterwards I sipped a scotch and practiced on my guitar, while reflecting that all in all, I was happy in this time. While I missed my kids and grandkids, as well as the trappings of the civilization I’d known, I’d met some great people; and was slowly but surely building both the land and relationships, towards something that I could be proud of.

I started laying the brick walls the next morning just after sunrise. I wanted to set the back wall of adobe flush with the cliff face, and was reasonably successful. There would be small gaps in places between the wall and cliff face, but the right angles where the back wall joined both side walls was flush with the cliff. The plateau sloped down slightly from the cliff face and I planned on using that to my advantage, giving the roof a natural slope from back to front. I’d level the floor of the house with a wood floor, later. While I would initially use it as a house, I planned to eventually build a Hacienda around it, and use it as my office.

With the first row laid I moved the bricks from the front wall area where I wanted the door and dug a short trench, eight inches deep, and leveled it before laying the thick wooden door sill into place. It was level with the top of the first row of bricks so it was perfect as far as I was concerned. I pulled the sill out, lengthened the ditch and reset the sill, adding the door jambs on each side, and brought the door over to check the fit. With everything in position, I moved the door back out of the way, and filled in the sides and ends of the ditch, to hold everything in place. After a quick lunch of ham sandwiches and iced tea, I laid another four layers of adobe before losing the light for the day. I had been careful to offset each row from the one below it, and I liked what I saw. There were a few small gaps between the bricks here and there, but I had expected that. I’d fill those with adobe mixture when I’d finished the rest of the house.

The next two weeks flew by as I laid the adobe. I carefully set the four window frames, with the bottom starting about four and half feet from the ground. Then I set the top door span. Once I got the walls up to five feet high, I used the buckboard as a stand to set the rest of the rows. I lashed together a four-foot ladder to work on the back wall. The back wall in front of the cave entrance was tricky, as I wanted to be able to get in and out of the cave, and yet still hide the entrance when I wasn’t in there. I had some ideas for the longer term but for now I would put up and take down bricks as needed. At the seven-foot mark, I cut two of the thin roof boards to length, and placed them across the top of the back wall. I laid the next layer of bricks as normal until I got to the boards. I carefully took each brick and using a putty scrapper and knife, I notched out the area from the bottom of the brick leaving a false front. The wood provided support for the next row of bricks, while the cutouts provided the illusion of a solid adobe wall.

When the walls reached just over nine feet high I set the vigas (thick roof support poles) from front to back, roughly nine inches apart, cutting notches in the adobe to make the top of each pole lay about a half inch below the top of the adobe block. At this point I realized I needed a ladder and scaffolding, so I could lay the thin roof boards to support the adobe on top of them. I could build a rough ladder by lashing together pieces of cottonwood, but the scaffolding I was going to have to get in Las Cruces.

I spent the rest of the day putting the door on the house, cutting down cottonwood saplings, and lashing a ladder and bed frame together. The next morning, I pulled what I wanted to take with me from the RV and out into the house, before resetting the bricks in the back wall to block the entrance. I harnessed up the mules and drove the buckboard to Las Cruces.

I found Juan checking new adobe bricks in his adobe yard. I told him I was done with the walls, and explained the problem with the roof. He laughed, apologized for the oversight, and offered to lend me scaffolding until I was done. I accepted, and we loaded up the buckboard. I also told him I’d soon be ready for some lime. He agreed to have a wagon full ready for me when I brought the scaffolding back.

I drove over to the stables and arranged for the mules’ and buckboard’s overnight stay, before going around back to the worktable where I found Mr. Mendoza at the seemingly never-ending task of leather repair. He gave a nod in greeting, and we talked about how the house was progressing.

Telling him I’d be back later, I visited the woodwright’s shop to see what he had in the way of shutters. He had what I needed in stock, as well as the hardware to mount and secure them. I paid for them and arranged to pick them up in the morning, on my way out of town.

I decided to visit Mrs. Amador to see what she had available in furniture while I was here. A leisurely stroll through the warehouse with her, and I managed to find everything I wanted. I arranged to pick up everything the next morning.

As I half expected when I rejoined Mr. Mendoza, he invited me to dinner saying, with a grin, that the ladies were anxious to see me again. We were joined later by Mr. Garcia, and we talked about how different city life was to the Apache life for the rest of the evening, before leaving for dinner.

We walked in the back door of the restaurant into the by now familiar dancing kitchen. We stopped to admire it for a few seconds before continuing into the family dining room to await dinner. Anna came in with coffee for all three of us with her now familiar smile. As I was pouring cream into my coffee, I was stunned to realize how much I’d missed her smile.

We’d only been sitting there ten minutes when the ladies all entered carrying dinner. Dinner turned out to be my favorite: stacked enchiladas with tacos and refried beans. As we ate I answered their questions about how the house was progressing, where I had learned to play the guitar, and learned the songs I’d played at Anna’s quinceanera. The answers to the house were easy. The answers to the rest were a little more difficult. I ended up telling them I’d learned guitar from my father and that my mom and dad were always singing songs like that to each other or to me.

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