Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
Leaving El Paso, we pushed the teams hard and pulled into Mr. Mendoza’s Livery Stable just before dark, two days later. We were dusty, tired, and hungry. Checking the table out back of the stable, we found it empty, so we walked over to the back door and into the family dining room. Seeing us walk in, Anna and Yolanda sprouted huge smiles and had a race to see which one could get to her man faster. I think Anna won but I was too busy getting and giving a hug and kiss to tell for sure!
Both Tom and I overslept the next morning. Slightly disgruntled at having missed our morning exercises, I was still basking in my Anna smiles from last night when Tom and I walked into the restaurant for breakfast. My good morning Anna smile just added to my joy.
At the ladies’ request, instead of a morning ride, Tom and I spent a pleasant hour getting a bath to rid ourselves of the sweat and dirt as well as the smell of horses and mules.
As we walked into the restaurant, Juan caught up with us and said that the additional pipe I had ordered had come in and was being delivered to the ranch as I’d asked. As he was leaving he mentioned that he’d see us at three, in the restaurant, for the meeting.
“What meeting?” I asked perplexed.
“The meeting we’re having at three o’clock,” he replied, laughing. “You aren’t the only one who can have surprises you know. Mr. Mendoza and Anna already know about it. See you then,” he added before rushing off.
I looked over at Tom with a bemused look and he held up his hands. “Don’t ask me, Paul. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Anna and Yolanda met us in the door with a smile, hug, and kiss.
“What’s this about a meeting this afternoon?” I asked as Anna led us all to our table, Yolanda following with our coffee.
“It’s a surprise, Paul. If we told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it?” she responded with a smile in her voice as I pulled out her chair.
“Hoist, with my own petard,” I replied with a laugh.
We talked about what we’d done during our three weeks apart, while we relaxed and drank our coffee. I suddenly remembered the rings, pulled the box out of my pocket, and handed it to Anna. Removing the lid, Anna gasped when she saw what was inside.
The wedding rings were her obvious focus but after a few moments her eyes switched to the signet ring. Reaching over, I took it out, and put it on her right ring finger, telling her to hold on to the box with the other two rings until the wedding. She nodded, still switching her stare back and forth between the wedding rings and the signet ring. Anna handed the box to Yolanda, so she could see them, and asked me why she was wearing the signet ring now.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are already a family, my love. The wedding just makes it official,” I replied.
Yes! Huge Super Megawatt Anna Smile! A huge hug and kiss! Life was definitely good!
After lunch, Anna disappeared for a few minutes to put the rings in her room. She returned with more coffee and my guitar.
“Play for us, Mi Amor.”
What could I do? I played and sang. After “Anna’s Song” and “What A Wonderful World” Tom said he wanted to hear some fun songs. I played a string of five fun songs just for him. I sang “16 Tons”, “Fever”, “Kawliga”, “Battle of New Orleans”, and “Mi Vida Loca.”
Yolanda asked for more sweet songs so she got “Unforgettable”, “You Had Me From Hello”, and “Forever Is As Far As I’ll Go.”
All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend a morning and early afternoon. Eventually though, Yolanda nudged Anna and the two ladies left us to go prepare for the meeting.
I took the opportunity to ask Tom, “Now that you have the rings, when are you going to have ‘the talk’ with Yolanda’s father?”
Tom gave an exasperated sigh. “I tried talking to him the last time we were here, but I couldn’t get him alone for more than a few seconds before someone else came up and joined the conversation. I’m hoping I can get him alone for a few minutes on this visit.”
I smiled. “The first thing you need to do is talk to Mr. Mendoza, and ask him for his help. If Mr. Mendoza thinks it’s a good match then he will make sure that Yolanda’s father is available for the talk; and, more importantly, just his telling Yolanda’s father to make some time available to you will signal his approval.”
With a grunt Tom replied, “I’ll try that route this afternoon, if this meeting doesn’t last too long. Otherwise I’ll try it tomorrow after we get back from riding.”
A few minutes later Yolanda came out telling both Tom and I that it was almost time for the meeting. Walking in we found a very different family dining room. Coffee urns, cups, and plates of bizcochitos were ready on the sideboards while nine seats at the table had been prepared with paper and pencils.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the bizcochitos. The cinnamon and anise flavored cookies, my favorite, were made even more special, by the fact that they were usually only made around the Christmas holidays. After a small moment of hesitation, I headed for the sideboard, intent on getting some of those delicious bizcochitos. Anna walked into the room and stepped in front of me.
“No you don’t, mi Pablo!” Anna said firmly. “You can have some when everyone else gets here. And, yes, before you ask, you have to share.”
Making a pig out of myself over the bizcochitos during past holidays was coming back to haunt me. With a hound dog look at the plate on the sideboard, I got a cup of coffee and sat down where Anna pointed. Tom and Yolanda were laughing at Anna’s words and the look on my face, as the room began filling up with people.
Besides the four of us, the meeting was attended by Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza, Jorge, Juan, and Giuseppe. Surprisingly, Jorge led the meeting, but not until after I’d gotten some of those bizcochitos!
“Paul, on your last visit during the holidays you said you were trying to come up with a plan to greet and organize the farmers when they arrived. Have you come up with one yet?” Jorge asked.
I had to swallow a mouthful of bizcochitos and take a quick drink before I could respond. “Not really, Jorge. I have a vague outline of what I’d like to do. My biggest problem in coming up with a good plan, is how many people we expect to show up. Once I know that, I can begin to lay things out and get them organized. I want to let them and us get to know each other a little, start to raise their excitement about living and working on the Estancia, and make sure everyone is prepared for the reality of what they’re facing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I want to give them a sense of belonging to a community, of belonging to something greater than just their family, and the confidence in the future that we all need.”
“With everything you’ve got going on at your place, we’re all surprised you’ve even had time to think about it,” Jorge said with a small smile. “We’ve all been thinking about what you said though and we’re in complete agreement with you. We all want you to succeed. All of the people who will be coming to work on the Estancia are members of our extended families, or close family friends. We’ve been working on this for the last couple of weeks. I think we’ve come up with a plan that will work, and we want to explain it to you. There’s still some holes in it that we have to work out and we’re sure that you’ll want to make some changes, so please think of this as a ‘first draft.’”
“That’s wonderful news, Jorge,” I enthused as I looked all around the table. “I can’t wait to hear what you’ve come up with.”
“Anna will take it from here,” Jorge said with a gesture towards Anna.
Yolanda got up and handed everyone three pieces of paper.
Beaming me a huge smile, Anna rose from her chair. “Jorge was the one who got this going, by getting everyone together for the initial meeting. Yolanda and I volunteered to organize all the separate parts, and try to identify any holes in the plan. Yolanda is handing out the current version of the plan.”
When everyone had a chance to review the material Yolanda had handed out, Anna took us through the plan as it currently stood. The front of the first sheet of paper provided the names of each confirmed, and possible families we were expecting in the first batch. The total number of sixty-three confirmed and ten possible families startled me a little, as I’d been expecting a smaller number.
The rest of the papers, front and back, proved to be a detailed outline of the plan from arrival of the families, to their departure for the Estancia. Anna led us through the camping arrangements behind the stables, food, supplies, family check-in, orientation, and departure all the while discussing the issues that still needed to be addressed. Most of those issues were the result of unknowns ... like how many of their extended family was each family bringing; how many babies; how many grandparents, brothers, sisters, and their families; how many would be bringing wagons, or carts; how many draft animals, milk cows, hogs, chickens, or other food animals.
When we were done, and everyone was gone, I sat absently sipping coffee as I thought about the last two hours. If I’d been impressed with my first look at the plan, I was doubly so after two hours of discussion. Yes, there were holes in the plan, but we could fill in those holes within the time we had, and I didn’t see anything insurmountable. Anna, Yolanda, Tom, and I agreed to continue working on the plan every afternoon until it was completed, and coordinate with the others as needed.
Dinner that night was a normal family environment that both Tom and I enjoyed. Normal that was, up until someone noticed Anna’s new signet ring. When she explained what it was, everyone had to see, so we both took them off and passed them around. They were all amazed at the artistry in the rings, but the symbolism escaped them.
Maria asked what it all meant, and Anna explained it quite well. Maria asked me how I came up with it all. Anna, exasperated by this point, told them it was because of the song. They all looked confused, and Anna had finally had enough. She handed me my guitar, and told me to sing it so they would understand. As I sang “The Impossible Dream” you could see the light bulbs start to go off.
Later, when I got my goodnight Anna smile, hug, and kiss; I gently reminded her to go easy on her family. They weren’t living the dream like we were. She started to argue, then thought for a moment, and nodded.
Our ride the next morning was a real pleasure. We were all happy to be in each other’s company and Anna riding beside me just felt right. When we stopped for shooting practice, it was readily apparent that both ladies had been practicing, as I’d asked. Anna was getting really good with the rifle, and Yolanda was starting to hit more than she missed with the pistol. For the first time I could remember, we actually spent more time riding than shooting.
Tom and I spent the time between lunch and dance practice running various errands, the most important of which was his talking to Mr. Mendoza. I was talking to Martin out front of the stables when Tom came out from talking with Mr. Mendoza with a big smile on his face.
I raised my eyebrow in question and he quickly answered. “I’m meeting Yolanda’s father at five-thirty, here at the stables.”
We finished our errands and enjoyed practice while making sure we ended for the day at five. Back at the table behind the stables, I finally gave in to curiosity.
“Sir, where are all the harnesses and tack you’re always repairing come from?”
“Well, forty freight wagons with four to eight mules each, need a lot of harness and tack,” was his quick response.
Now that was a surprise. Neither Tom nor I had any idea that he had that many freight wagons on the road.
At five-thirty on the nose, Mr. Ramirez, Yolanda’s father, came striding in through the stables like a man on a mission. Catching him coming out of the corner of his eye, Mr. Mendoza stood up.
“Pablo, let’s go check the shoes on that horse you told me about, before dinner,” he said, leading me into the stall area.
“Is Mr. Ramirez going to give Tom a hard time?” I asked as Mr. Mendoza checked the first shoe.
“No, it’s not in his nature. He’s a no-nonsense man, and the conversation will be very short, with a straight up ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” he replied. Then with a grin, added, “I’m sure it will be a ‘yes,’ but it might be uncomfortable for Tom for a few seconds.”
True to Mr. Mendoza’s prediction Mr. Ramirez came striding out through the stables a few minutes later, passing us with a nod. The two of us walked back out to the table where Tom was sitting with a stunned look on his smiling face. I gave him a big clap on the back and told Mr. Mendoza that it looked like Mr. Ramirez had said ‘yes.’ Tom vigorously nodded his head.
“When are you going to ask her?” I asked.
Still with a stunned look on his face he whispered. “Tonight, after dinner.”
Tom had recovered his composure by the time we walked over for dinner. He got a few looks from the older adults, but otherwise nothing was said during dinner. After dinner, everyone made excuses to leave early. I picked up the guitar, grabbed Anna’s hand, and asked her to join me in the restaurant dining room for coffee. She started to pull back, but stopped when I gave her a serious look and a brief shake of my head.
We had just settled down at a table when we heard a shriek from the family dining room. Clearly alarmed, Anna started to get up.
“Sit, my love. Let it be, for now,” I told her, gently hanging on to her hand to stop her from rushing into the family dining room.
Looking at me like I’d lost my ever-loving mind she asked, “Why, Pablo? What’s going on?”
“It’s just another Mendoza granddaughter, who finally caught the man who’s been chasing her,” I said with a smile.