Her house was small but only in size.
One of the children in elementary school once painted a water color of it — a rectangle with two squares inside. Each was drawn on either side of a taller shape. She painted it chalk-white and then carefully brushed the trim on the inner rectangles that left them a pale blue.
She splashed on some fiery red and blended in glistening yellows and forest greens to make flowers around the front porch that her brush had already painted to look like the sky. She brushed in three giant lollipop trees and then lightened her black watercolor to make grey shadows across a summer lawn. She did not leave enough room for the sun but when she was done, you knew it was there.
When they got married, Esposo told Mama he was going to build her a house. But babies came one after another. And there were bills. And there was the war and the army took Esposo to Europe for a few years.
But Mama knew he would keep his word and when the war was over, he came back with a hammer in his hand. A small lot came for sale and Esposo had saved a little from the Army. It was enough to make a down payment and the seller agreed to take monthly payments until the rest could be paid.
The lot was on a corner just up the street a block or two from the river where Esposo took the boys fishing. He said it was the perfect place to build Mama’s house. It was surrounded by varieties of poplar and oak trees and close to the post office, church and the country store. He told Mama she would not have far to go for anything. “Yes, this is the perfect place,” he told her.
Mama was delighted and saw no need to express her private conviction it was really that river running nearby with its promise of big catches that had drawn him to it.
She watched as he labored day after day building her house. He gathered friends whenever he could with promises to exchange their help for a couple of beers at his cantina at the end of the day. Shared experiences — and beer — make for lasting friendships that are the fabric of small communities like that.
Progress was slow when money was tight and especially owing to a drought that tore through one year. Dying crops and livestock sucked the life juice from the economy and business dropped off everywhere. At Esposo’s cantina, the ranchers and laborers still came, but pinched by the wrath of hard times, they could pay for very little.
Mama’s belief in the Lord equipped her with a steadfast faith that lessons had taught would get her through tough times. Patience would be rewarded like always. She knew the day was not long in coming when she would have her house.
Esposo had his imagination and an indomitable determination. He was schooled in hard ways and his instincts were sharpened by struggles. Mama had waited long enough and he resolved that she was not to be disappointed. Not this time.
Materials sometimes were gotten in odd pieces he could find scattered about and there was a story that arrived with each fresh load of lumber. Over beers at the cantina, Esposo and the boys drank to tales of close calls and daring moonlight escapades. One time they said shots were fired and bullets zipped by all too close for comfort. Stories like this gained more favor and were enriched with each new telling down through the years.
“¡Oh, Dios. Estoy muy agradecido por mi casita.”
“O God, I am so thankful for my casita,” she said in the grace at the barbecue celebrating the finish of it. Mama had her home, her casita, she called it. Whenever she said, “Mi casita,” it came out with a feeling that flowed from deep down within her wrapped in a love and a fulfillment that only one who has been through so much could know.
They lived in the house together for only a few years before Esposo died. But she could tell he was still there. She knew it from the smell of his sweat and the pain of his sacrifice lingering there in the ceilings and walls. Her memories were clear. When you possess so little, you hold more tightly to things like that.