Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa
The next morning, I started by familiarizing myself with my office, including a detailed inspection of my exam rooms. I had two of them. I was very pleased to find that they were completely stocked and immaculately clean. I originally thought that this might have been due to Dr. Blanchard but was informed by Corporal Wheaton that he was responsible. He was very nervous that I might object to his organizational skills or any missing equipment. I assured him that it seemed to be not only adequate but quite superior to some facilities I had the misfortune to operate out of.
“Please let me know if you think of something you need, or we could use. I’m sure that I can requisition anything you want.”
“Don’t worry, Corporal. I think we both will be learning what is needed as we go.”
It was while I was headed back to my quarters at the noon hour that I faintly heard music in the background. I asked Corporal Wheaton about it. “Well, Ma’am, I was going to bring this up when we got back to your quarters. Over on the non-combatant side of the hacienda, the NCOs and enlisted men their families and the other non-combatants are having a fiesta. They were hoping that you would join them. Some are quite curious about women Doctors. You might be overwhelmed by enthusiasm? that they have for you.”
“Why Corporal, that’s a grand idea. Is there any duty requirement for me in the hospital? what does my schedule look like.?”
“Ma’am, you are free and clear for the rest of the day. Tomorrow has already been scheduled as a free day. But I’ll warn you Doc after that you’ll be busy.”
“I’ll worry about that when I get there. In the meantime, let’s see what this ‘fiesta’ is all about.”
Walking through the command area gate to the civilian area was shocking in the transition from a parklike paradise to a bustling riot of colors, voices, music smells, and activity. We stepped out into a large plaza. Easily 50 yards on a side. In the middle, a large fountain dominated the area. The water flowing from the top trickled and fell in a hundred miniature waterfalls. The water collected in a large open cistern at the base.
Surrounding the plaza was a variety of storefronts. There were bakeries butchers potters leatherworkers. Every possible retail function of a city was at that plaza. Multicolored streamers were trailing from the fountain to the second story balconies. The riot of colors was startling to the eyes.
Then there were the people. It was staggering how many were packed into the area. It seemed that all of them were speaking, singing, and enjoying the gaiety of the day. To one side, a group of children not more than six were taking turns being blindfolded and swinging a club at a crudely made caricature of the devil. As I watched a youngster connected solidly with the devil. It exploded into a shower of candies and small toys. This prompted a mad scramble from the young audience.
While I had been watching this, Corporal Wheaton and I were joined by Miko. She had a shy smile on her face and gently tugged on my sleeve. “Missy, please, you come, please.” I looked to Wheaton, who nodded slightly. I allowed Miko to take my wrist and draw me off to the side of the plaza.
When we got to Miko’s destination, she became very solemn. Bowing her head and taking small steps, she approached a small pavilion tent set in front of a laundry. Bowing deeply, she spoke to the occupants of that tent. I couldn’t understand the language she used. It sounded singsong and wasn’t unpleasant to the ear. I had heard Russian and German while at college. They seemed to be guttural and angry languages. While I couldn’t understand a word spoken, I knew that Miko was introducing me to someone of importance.
Following her example, I stepped up to the opening and bowed deeply. When I raised up, I saw an ancient woman reclining in a thickly padded chair. She was indeed ancient. The seams and creases in her face seemed to sink clear to the bone. Her hair, what little there was, seemed wispy and thin. Overall, the image was of a person soon to cross over. But the most striking feature was her eyes. They were bright and active. This ancient was not at death’s door. She radiated authority.
Miko spoke up. “Missy, this is my grandmother. She desired to meet the physician that the round eyes are celebrating.”
The old woman continued to stare at me. I told Miko. “Tell your grandmother that she honors me with her audience. Ask if there is something I can do for her? a service or favor that someone such as herself needs.”
Miko spoke in the singsong speech from before. It was several minutes before the old lady responded. In a shaky and thin voice tired from years and pain, she replied.
Miko looked at me and asked, “Grandmother wishes to know if you will aid our people? will you accept them or deny them?”
I was shocked, taken aback. “Miko assure the ancient one that I will give your people the same care and concern that I give all others that come to my door. I am not a shallow or angry caricature of a human. I am a Doctor, all in pain are welcome.”
Miko sat for a moment regarding me. Then she spoke to the old woman. Grandmother sat for a moment and then waved a dismissal to Miko. Miko took my elbow and started backing out of the pavilion.
I wasn’t quite sure why I did it. After all, that old lady’s opinion meant nothing to me. But I had a nagging feeling that I needed to conclude this situation differently.
Shaking Miko’s hand off my elbow, I raised my voice. “No, I won’t be dismissed in such a manner. Honored one, you are named such from your age, not your knowledge. Foolishness in the old is just old foolishness. You asked if I would treat your people with the dignity and respect that you demand. And I assured you that I would. Then you wave me off like a thief stealing an apple. I have not, will not, refuse any person, man, woman, or child that comes to me for aid or comfort. And that includes you.”
I then spun around and stomped out of the tent.
Within seconds I was stopped by Miko. “Missy, please. Grandmother meant no offense. Please come back.”
I thought for a moment. “Miko, if your grandmother wishes to speak to me, I will be in my office tomorrow. If she comes to the hospital tomorrow, I will see her there not before.”
I could tell that this shocked Miko. Maybe even terrorized her. But I had a feeling that I needed to establish some authority over the situation. If Miko disappeared or her grandmother didn’t show up at my office, then I would have lost their respect. But based on the old lady’s attitude, I didn’t have it in the first place. Looking over her shoulder at me, Miko disappeared into the crowd headed back towards the pavilion tent.
I could tell that Corporal Wheaton was shocked and maybe a little afraid. “Ma’am, I don’t know what happened in there, but you need to be aware. That old lady is the leader of the local Asians. The Colonel allowed her to visit today because she wanted to make your acquaintance. But you need to be careful. She can be dangerous if provoked.”
“Corporal Wheaton, I have dealt with gangs and bullies before. The key to them is respect. They demand it for themselves and only recognize it in others when forced to. If that old lady shows up in my office tomorrow, then and only then will we be able to come to an agreement.”
While we were talking, a commotion started up on the other side of the plaza. Voices were raised, and greetings shouted. As I watched the crowd parted, and an elderly Mexican woman flanked by two others and followed by an obvious guard came towards us.
Under his breath, I heard Wheaton mutter, “Lord, it seems to be the day for it.”
When the group was about a yard away, the crowd grew silent. Corporal Wheaton spoke up. “Doctor Barrow, may I introduce Abula Escobar.” then, in Spanish, he introduced me to the old lady. There was a moment where we regarded each other. Then she smiled and extended her arms. I was enfolded in her surprisingly strong arms.
In heavily accented English, she said. “Doctor Louise, welcome to the Hacienda Del Ruiz. This small tribute,” she waved her arms to encompass the crowd. “Is in your honor. We hope that your stay here is long and fruitful. Long have our women prayed for an understanding Doctor. Someone who understands our needs.”
“Thank you, Abula. I will do my best for anyone seeking my aid. Man, woman, or child.”
The old lady stepped back and began to clap her hands. The crowd soon copied her. This also seemed to be a signal for the celebration to resume. I watched as Madam Escobar was escorted to a shaded pavilion on the side of the plaza.
As if that was a cue, Sergeant Major Young appeared from the crowd. With him was a sturdy woman near his age. Her high cheekbones and copper-hued skin marked her as a native. As he drew near, he said. “I see that Corporal Wheaton finally brought you to the party, Ma’am. May I introduce my wife, Running Fawn. She is a Choctaw Indian that we rescued from a band of Comanches while we were on the way here. For some strange reason, she took a liking to me. Course it didn’t take long for me to return her affections. You’ll have to forgive her. She hasn’t learned a lot of English yet. But we’re working on it.”
The Sergeant Major, the very image of a strong macho man, looked at the young woman with a mixture of affection and awe. It was obvious that he was smitten with her. On Running Fawn’s part, she returned his gaze with an equal amount of compassion.
“Sergeant Major, it’s my pleasure to meet your bride. I know you will let her know that any service I can give her all she needs do is ask. The same goes for you, sir.”
We exchanged pleasantries for another few minutes when Running Fawn tugged on the Sergeant Majors sleeve. When he looked where she was pointing, a low curse was muttered. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you alone now. I apologize for this, but Running Fawn refuses to deal with the group approaching.”
Turning to Corporal Wheaton, “Wheaton, I want a full report on what happens. And you know why.” the Sergeant Major then took his wife’s arm and walked away.
From behind me, a strident voice spoke up. “Louise there you are, child. I have been searching for you all afternoon.”
I turned and was confronted with five women. They were dressed in what I assumed they thought was the height of fashion. But I recognized as designs that were out of date when I started my journey west.
This was Martha Olsen, the leader of the women’s auxiliary. She was flanked by four others that had been stamped from the same mold. I recognized her from the officer’s reception.
Louise darling. You really must allow me to take you from this mob. I know that, for appearance’s sake, you had to show yourself, shake a few hands, kiss a few babies just like any good politician. But I know that you have satisfied that requirement. My girls and I have prepared a more appropriate repast in our quarters. Someplace away from this rabble.”
I had to pause for a moment. I was surprised at the attitude of this ‘lady.’ she stood there, a false smile on her face. She was waiting for me to follow her meekly.
“Mrs. Olsen, I want to thank you for your invitation, but I find that I have promised my time to others. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
I turned to Corporal Wheaton, “Don, I have a craving for those delicious tacos from the other day. Maybe we could include some other items. I find that the food is extremely satisfying.”