We got there early. In the corral behind Eustacio Ortiz’s tarpaper jacal, we stacked gunny sacks of chayote, wild camote, jicama, oranges, limones, peanuts, sugared candies.
It was the last night of Mexico’s posada season. In the 1960s this Catholic evening ritual was considered in the campo (countryside) to be the communal “heart” of Mexico’s Christmas observance – the novena, nine days (beginning December 16), representing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy before the birth of Jesus. Nine evenings of processions during which the Rosary was chanted aloud, and, when the selected house was reached, all those participating sang: “En el nombre del cielo/ pedimos posada/ pues no puede andar/ ya, mi esposa amada.” (‘In the name of heaven, we ask for shelter as my beloved wife cannot go any farther.”)
From inside came the brusque reply, also in song: “Aqui no es meson/ siga adelante./ No puedo abrir/ no sea algun tunante.” (“This is not an inn, go on your way. I cannot open, don’t be an idler here.”)
The mayordoma of these evening events for the small pueblo of El Salitre, beyond the western swing of Lake Chapala, was Clara Ramos. She had chosen December 24 for her gringo friends to “cater” the season’s final posada; it had been a punishingly poor rainy season, and this posada would provide the only presents many children would be getting.