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By Robert Wolf
Decorah, IA, USA

Background: In 1963, at age 19, I went to stay in Duran, New Mexico, a tiny Mexican-American village in the high plains. I was the only Anglo in town, but soon became good friends with Manuel Chavez, a man perhaps twenty years older than I.

Robert Wolf
Robert Wolf

When I first went to live in Duran, perhaps sixty-five people, mostly old, lived there. The Chavez kids, including Trinky and Jimmy, were the youngest. The only girl in town was Memo's daughter, Anna, who was sweet and fat. There was one young woman, Frank Chavez's wife. All the others were either middle-aged or old, mostly old.

Porky, the postmaster, was middle-aged. His brother Anastasio, was somewhat older and was a janitor in Vaughan. Memo drove the school bus back and forth from Vaughan. He was in his early fifties. Manuel had been the janitor at the Duran school but now that was empty. The rest of the few men in Duran were too old to work or were on disability.

Aside from Manuel, the man I remember in Duran with greatest fondness is Susano Madril. To hear him speak, you would not think he was Mexican-American. Susano was handsome with a wide face and a broad smile with good, white teeth and a lilt in his voice like that of an Anglo rancher. In his looks and smile he reminded me very much of my grandfather's tenant farmer in Ohio. There was nothing Mexican or Hispanic about Susano, except his brown skin.

Susano was a mystery to me. Susano ranched, and in all the years I knew him, he never invited me there. I do not think he invited anyone there.

I never saw him with a woman. I asked Manuel if Susano was married. Yes, Manuel said, to a Mexican woman. Since there was a big difference between Susano and the villagers—he was far more intelligent than they—I thought I knew why he had not chosen a wife from among them or from neighboring villages. But why did we never see his wife with him?

I wondered also why Susano spent his days in Duran. Why wasn't he out with his cattle? Didn't he check the water tanks, windmills or fence?

Sketch of Anastasio by Robert Wolf

Since there was this difference of intelligence and experience between Susano and the villagers, why did he spend his days with the old men at Kasim's store?

Susano was a mystery.

Susano, I was told, had been in the Bataan Death March. That meant nothing to me then, except that clearly the men on the march had suffered greatly. Susano never, that first visit, mentioned it in my hearing. In those days to him I was probably just another kid in town. But years later Susano told me that he hated the Japanese, and that he and the other G.I.s had suffered so much on the march that when American bombers flew over their prison compound, they shouted joyously. They did not care whether they would be killed so long as the Japanese were killed.

While Susano suffered in the Pacific sun, my Santa Fe artist friend, Hal West, worked as a guard in the Japanese internment camp in Santa Fe.



Free River Press
American Mosaic with Robert Wolf


Robert Wolf is an award-winning journalist, writer and publisher.

All opinions expressed by Robert Wolf are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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