Wednesday, March 12, 2008

School Days

Next school year Mom registered me in a very poor school that belonged to a teacher whose last name was Sagaón. My sister, in turn, was registered in a kindergarden that was very near the office where Mom worked.

My school, as I said, was very poor. Fourth and fifth grade groups were in the same room, and instead of benches we had a big drawer with a flat piece of wood and my friend Pancho Figueroa and me sat down each one on each of its extremes. The only problem was that everytime one of us was asked a question, we had to stand up to answer and the other one fell to the floor right away.

A primary school of those days

I left that school, and shortly after Easter vacations Professor Sagaón closed it, since he had a family tragedy (one of his sons accidentally killed his brother). I was left without school then. After some days of a "forced rest", my mother was able to register both my sister and me in a lay school called "Benito Juárez", owned by Proffesor Teodomiro Manzano, renowed teacher who was the author of many books of arithmetic, geography and pedagogy.
I didn't get to know many of his books, but I had the chance to work with the ones he wrote about arithmetics and geography, which I found pretty educational and useful. I studied my fifth and sixth grade in that school, and I learned a lot during them, since grammar was much easier in that time, as well as arithmetic. Therefore, before the end of the school year we already knew all about those subjects, so we were taught notions of algebra.

I remember two interesting events from those times in which I studied my Primary School. My first trip to Mexico City and the attack against Pachuca.

Mexico City in the early 20's

Uncle Jesus, who was Mom's brother, took me to Mexico City. We boarded the train that goes past Ometusco and the pyramids of San Juan Teotihuacán. After an almost three hour trip, we got to Mexico City, to Aunt Maria Luisa's house which was in an area called "La estrella". I had a very nice welcome and that very night I was taken to the theater to see Maria Canesa (also known as "La gatita blanca", or "The white kitty"). The following day we visited Chapultepec Park, where they took me some pictures with my cousin Caritina. Those kind of photographs were printed in a kind of thin metal sheet, and the images wore off after a short time. We went to the National Museum to see the Aztec Calendar and the Aztec Stone of Sacrifices, among other interesting things.

Reforma Avenue in those times

They took me to the main avenues Reforma and Hombres Ilustres Avenue, which is now known as Avenida Hidalgo. The traffic was controlled by men who were just policemen and nothing else. On the crossroads there were some metallic rods which had "Stop" and "Go" signs at the top of them. The policeman spun the signs according to the traffic, which was not heavy at all.

After being in the city for seven days, I went back to Pachuca very happy about having known the Great City, since in that time Pachuca didn't have any paved streets, the street lighting were some arch bulbs hanging from some posts. Bulbs were taken away by the "gendarmes" (policemen) every afternoon, they removed some approximately 15-centimeter cylindrical pieces of carbon from them, and then they turned them on (I don't know how) and put them back along with the lamp. We the children took the removed carbons and played with them. There
were almost no automobiles. Only some carriages that worked as taxis, pulled by horses, and great wagons (pulled by mules) that transported varied merchandise.

Another memory I haven't forgotten was the first time I saw a dead man. We were in the middle of the DelaHuertista Revolution and all the people from Pachuca were on the Revolucionarios side. On January 10th 1924 we woke up at 4 or 5am because of the noise of many gunshots. We lived near San Francisco Church, and near the military barracks having the same name.

Daybreak passed and the gunshots continued. We could hear the bullets whistling above our roof. Every now and then a cannonshot that came from the hill of San Cristóbal whistled above all the houses, mine among them. This shooting lasted all the morning and it ceased during the afternoon.

Around five I escaped Mom and ran along Hidalgo street to see the church tower that had been dynamited at noon. I was not the only curious person who went there, taking the risk of being shot.

What really got my attention was the look of a dead soldier who had been shot with a dumdum bullet in the front of his head, which made a seven-centimeter hole on it! After exploring here and there I went back home to get Mom's fair scolding.
Next day everything was calmed and I went out with Mom to the Barreteros Market, which was four or five blocks from home. On the way, at the Salazar alley, we saw the corpses of two men who had been executed (their arms were still tied).

After that, everything was okay again. DelaHuertista Revolution continued but Pachuca was not attacked again, and it finished, at least in Hidalgo State, with the execution of General Marcial Cabazos, who was highly appreciated in Pachuca and whose corpse was exhibited at the doors of Bartolomé de Medina
Theater, which doesn't exist anymore.

Bartolomé de Medina Theater
After I finished Primary School, the next step was studying at the Literature and Science Institute, which in that time included Secundaria and Preparatoria in five years. After the "baptism" all new students had to go through, and which consisted in a mud bath on your head and sometimes a "pamba" (hitting your head with their hands repeatedly) given by students from superior courses, clases started. It was something new for us that each subject was taught
by a different teacher.

Among all the teachers that I had during Secundaria and Preparatoria, I remember the Engineer Narciso Paz (we called him Chicho Paz). He had a palpebral ptosis, so everytime he wanted to look at us he had to raise his head back.
Because of this, everytime he got into the classroom, we would start whistling a song called "Ojos de Juventud" (Youth eyes) that was on fashion at that time. He would get upset and told us off, putting his temper on the poor one who didn't know the lesson, and speaking to all of us, he used to tell us that we were completely useless.

Another teacher I remember was the one who taught Greek and Latin ethimologies, to whom we called "The Ipsilon". He had a temper and when he got into the class, to make us silent, he gave a big yell as he strongly hit the table with his cane, which made everyone fall silent at once.
Another teacher, who was very demanding, was Doctor Ricardo Garza Isunza, who used to fail almost all the group, so we all used to call him "The Ogre". There are some other ones that I don't remember, but who were good teachers.

One of them was Licenciado César Becerra, who I found years later in Cuautla, very sick, and he died some days after being sent to a hospital in that city.
I had some classmates who became really outstanding later, some of them in politics and some other ones in their professions. Among them are Raúl Lozano, who was Hidalgo State Governor, Carlos Ramírez Guerrero, also a Governor in that State. Some of them who stood out in their professions are Neftalí Vite, a good lawyer and excellent speaker, Armando Ramírez, cardiologist, Ramón Olivera, oftalmologist and some others that I don't recall.

1928. I am the second one at the bottom line, from left to right.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The beginning

I was born on November 11th, 1911 in Pachuca, which is the capital of Hidalgo State, Mexico, in the middle of the Mexican Revolution Age, from which I just have vague memories when I used to hear the shots from the weapons that belonged to the people who got in and out of the city.

Mom would tell me that on May 16th, 1911, when the entrance of Maderistas Revolutionaries (followers of Francisco I Madero) to the city was word of mouth, both soldiers and Government employees left the city, not having enough troops to defend the city, abandoning the city to its fate.
You can learn more about Francisco I Madero in the following link:

Maderistas in 1911

When the inhabitants of the city noticed they had been left alone, they broke into the streets and looted stores and houses that belonged to rich people.
My parents lived in the downtown area, therefore, they were afraid the looters got into our house, even though they were not rich, so they decided to move to a friend's house, who lived in what was known as "La cuesta china" (The Chinese Slope), which was relatively far from the downtown area and from the stores. This decision was made taking into consideration that Mom had been pregnant for 4 months.

Night view of Pachuca and its famous clock

Luckily, things didn't go beyond a fright, since nobody broke into their friend's house and they only heard the yells and noises that the looters made. They were told that next day the "Maderistas" troops arrived in the city, and seeing the looting, they published a message in which they said that they were going to check house by house, and he who was discovered possesing looted objects was going to be executed right away.

The very next day the city streets were full of furniture, clothes and various objects that had been stolen, so at the end they executed only the one who was supposed to be the leader of the lootings, a person known as "El Chato Moedano", who was executed right in front of the big clock, in the middle of the city.

After that, there was a relative calm in the city, with troops getting in and out of the city, sometimes the Government's, sometimes Revolutionary ones. At home, everything seemed to be alright. Dad would wake up early and take me to the Parque Hidalgo (Hidalgo Park) so that I ran a little, despite the cold weather typical from Pachuca.

Dad died when I was 3 and Mom got into a very sad situation, since Dad didn't leave any money and she couldn't work because my sister was only 8 months old, and in that time there were no nursery schools nor did she have any close relatives to take care of her. While she was looking for a convenient job, she made bread and sold it by herself.

Finally, she got a job as a clerk in the graveyard from San Bartolo, which she accepted because there was a house next to the office and she was going to be able to take care of us. I don't know how many years we lived there. I just remember that every weekend we used to go to Pachuca to buy groceries and other things we needed, since the graveyard was 5 kms. from Pachuca, in a deserted area.

And we used to walk along the loose-topsoiled road. While I helped Mom carrying some bags with groceries, she carried my sister in her arms, as well as some other bags. Despite everything, our house in Pachuca wasn't sold, and we used to go there every week.

Mom, my sister Alicia and I

I don't remember how long we lived in the graveyard, but we finally got back to Pachuca, since Mom got a new job in the Registro Civil office (the office in México in which people register their marriages and their new-born babies).
Then, I was sent to what today is known as "the kindergarden", and which in that time was known as "Escuela de Parvulitos" (Toddlers school). My sister was being taken care of by an aunt of mine, who by that time lived in a nearby house.

Some years went by and then it was time for me to get in the Primary school, so I was registered in a school called "Liceo Hidalgo". Due to the fact that we knew the director, and that Mom had been a Primary School teacher before getting married (something unusual for a woman in Mexico at that time), only a small amount was charged to us in that school.

The owner and director was a man called Gayo Suárez, and the school had everything good schools have, since it had been the best in the Porfirio Díaz Era. It had a very nice well-equipped gym, many ammunition riffles for military exercises, which we did once a week.

The teachers who made up the staff were mainly the director's relatives. By the way, one of them, a female teacher called Rosita, was a very old-fashioned young lady, who used to wear very old-fashioned dresses. However, she was a very kind person and a connoisseur of students'
personalities and behaviors. She never scolded us students, but she had us quiet and paying attention to all of her words. She was my teacher in third and fourth grade and I learned a lot of things in her classes.

Me in those years

Professor Gayo Suárez came to be my teacher in fifth grade, and that was the end, since he fell in love with a niece of his, who was much younger than him, and he often left us in order to visit her. To entertain us, he had one of my classmates who had a gift for drawing draw on the board scenes of boys playing soccer, basketball and other sports so that we could copy them while he was out visiting his niece. Mom knew all about it and she took us out of that school right away, before the school year ended, so we stayed home for the rest of that school year, hence losing it.