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The Garden of My Mind 8

Posted by Dr. D , 09 September 2012 · 247 views

The house was a ruin when first I saw it.  The adobe walls had long before surrendered to the rotation of seasons, the storms and time itself.  Part of the upper exterior wall had collapsed and one room was without a ceiling.  The last resident to walk its halls was in 1886 and even though the walls were a meter thick, the deterioration was obvious and discouraging.  One hundred years void of life and sound; the house had lost its will to exist.

The archive of the church contains records of the earliest days of the village.  In the 1590s the priest was the mayor, judge and enforcer so it was logical that he also keep the registry of all properties.  When locating my ancient home, there was a tome of information.  The house had been constructed by the Marques de Aguayo in 1597. Once completed, he sent for his wife to come from Spain.  Their relationship was chaotic and troubled and when he was slain on the road to Tampico, it was rumored that Indian slaves had done the deed at her command.  She was the wealthiest of the nobles living here and her lands consumed what are now three states.  After her husband´s death she lived here another 50 years.

It was a labor of idiocy and love to restore the house.  Each phase of the reconstruction was witnessed and monitored by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia.  All records of the past and even the people of today referred to the place as “La Casona,” the grand house.   Everything had to be approved in advance and no modern materials could be used.  In Mexico one can buy a historic home but it also remains as the property of the people, a monument to their heritage.  Adobe blocks had to be made with the same ingredients and measurements as the originals.  A chart was available to show what colors would be permitted inside and outside the home.  Buying rods for the living room drapes was a challenge because the house had been constructed by Indian slave labor and the windows did not all have the same width.

Once completed and acceptable to the eyes of the experts, it became the place I was to call home.  For me it was the fulfillment of a dream but to villagers, dark doubts persisted that anyone could live here.  For generations the tale had passed that Catalina, the Marquesa de Aguayo, still moved within these walls.  Her spirit, it was said, was heard crying in the midst of night by those passing by.  Some claimed that she was laughing and the sound echoed to be heard a block away.  Some had seen her on the balconies of the house, peering down with her aristocratic smile.  Children trembled when telling of seeing her shadow pass by the windows.

I am a minority of one to maintain my doubts but I would be dishonest to claim that no mystery dwells here.  Once, while having visitors for dinner, one of the guests asked, “Who else is in the house?”  I said no one, only us.  “Who then, was that woman in the white dress who walked into that room?”
Work is a scarcity in the village and when men have a job, they treasure it and work hard to please their employer.  Still, one day during the restoration I went to the store to buy paint and when I returned, all the workers were sitting in the plaza.  They had fled the house because a woman had been seen descending the staircase.  They demanded their pay and never returned.

There are times an item has been moved from its place on a table.  Sometimes there are footsteps in the corridor outside the bedroom.  Several times the inside shutters to the tall windows were open in the morning.  Weekend visitors once fled in terror, calling at midnight for a taxi from a distant city to come for them.  But almost always there is a sense of intense peace within the house and I feel no fear or concern.

The Spanish colonial homes have a central patio and the house is constructed as a square around it.  The stairs take one to a outside corridor that permits entrance to any of the upstairs rooms but there are also connecting doors inside.  In the patio, a large metal ring yet hangs from the wall to permit visitors to tie their horse.  The entrance door is high enough for a man riding a horse to enter.  Above the stairs is a large wagon wheel with a chain attached to the wall.  One can release the chain and lower the wheel to light the twelve candles it bears.  There is electricity, of course, but nothing can be altered, nothing can be removed.  It is impressive to think that orchestras played in the patio while couples danced in the massive living room twenty-two years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

The last document in the church archive tells of Catalina as a recluse.  She must have been because she had no servants to tend to her needs.  In May of 1653, women of the area reported to Padre Augustin Cuevas Rios that the “stench of death” was at the home of the Marquesa.  A young boy was called to climb to the roof and lower himself into the patio.  The corpse of Catlina de Aguayo was on the stairway.  She was 82 years old.

If she still claims this as her home, I do not know.  But if she walks here from whatever need, she is welcome.  If we are made different by life and death, we are still united in our love for La Casona.  But when that sharp movement passes the corner of my eye, surely it is a optical problem.  The sound coming from the other room must be a gust of wind.  It is the wind that prime culprit, for how else could I explain the humming in the midst of night?