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My husband, who learned a different set of children's stories, told me this story. I present it here with commentaries on the lessons and values a child might be supposed to learn from listening and interacting with this story. Make no mistake, when told correctly, this tale demands contribution from the listener.

Once upon a time, there was an Ant, whom everyone called Hormiga Mandinga. One day, she was sweeping and found a nickel.

Now, in the original Spanish, the Hormiga finds a "cinco", a coin worth five of whatever currency is typical for the country. But translating more deeply, it's a coin one could easily miss, but if one is careful and orderly about the house, it can purchase something of value.

The Hormiga Mandinga thought to herself, what can I buy with this coin?

I could buy an orange, but then I'd eat it and then I'd have nothing.

I could buy an apple, but then I'd eat it and then I'd have nothing.

I could buy candies, but then I'd eat them and then I'd have nothing.

The Hormiga seems to have a lot in common with Aesop's Ant, who is prudent and cares more to keep and save than to fritter away. She might buy sweet things in bright colors to entertain her for a time, but then she looks ahead and realizes that such things don't last, and therefore don't satisfy the soul. Even though this is found money, and it tempts her to do something frivolous, this Hormiga decides to turn the lucky accident into an opportunity.

The Hormiga Mandinga took the nickel to the market in town and went to a little shop, and bought herself a ribbon. Then she went home, washed herself carefully, put on the ribbon and sat in her window, looking out at the people who went by.

When my husband told me this story, he told me that the Hormiga bought herself some makeup, and went home to make herself pretty. I didn't think that a nickel's worth of makeup would do much good for a critter who has pinchy mandibles for a face. Then I read the story to my nephew, and in that book the Hormiga buys herself a ribbon. This seemed to be more in keeping with the story since makeup will eventually be used up, whereas one can keep a ribbon for years if one is careful.

A Bull who knew the Hormiga Mandinga came by and said, "Hormiga, you look so pretty. Why don't you come marry me?"

The Hormiga asked him, "What will you say to me in the night when we go to sleep?"

The Bull said, with all his voice behind it, "Muuuuuh, Muuuuh."

"Oh, no," said the Hormiga, "that would frighten me. I couldn't be married to you.

This seems to me to be an interesting analysis of courtship and marriage. This Hormiga has already proven herself to be prudent and thoughtful. Now she realizes that despite the strength of the Bull, his loud sounds won't make her happy. Not only is he likely to frighten her when he goes "Muuuuh, Muuuuh," (and when any bovine makes that distinctive noise, it does sound like a train going by. Gallons and gallons of air backed up by a half-ton of pot roast doesn't exactly sound like whispers of sweet nothings) but also he is likely to be one of those demanding, bullying sorts of husbands. A delicate ant wouldn't last too long in such a marriage.

Later, a Dog who knew the Hormiga Mandinga came by, and told her "Hormiga Mandinga, how pretty you are. Wouldn't you like to come and be married to me?"

The Hormiga asked the Dog, "What would you say to me in the night when we go to sleep?"

"Guauu, guauu, uuu, guau," said the dog in his growliest voice.

The Hormiga said, "Oh, no, that would frighten me. I wouldn't like to be married to you."

The way Spanish speakers articulate the onomatopoeia of a dog's bark seems to capture much better the gutteral aggressivness of the dog's vocalizations. Again, the Hormiga shows a prudence and respect for herself. She doesn't want to be married to a husband who is going to be loud, territorial, and dominant.

Later still, a Cat who knew the Hormiga Mandinga came by and said, "Hormiga Mandinga, how lovely you are. Let's go and get married."

The Hormiga asked the Cat, "What would you say to me in the night when we go to sleep?"

The Cat cried out in his loudest voice, "Miau, Miau."

"Oh, no," said the Hormiga Mandinga, "that would frighten me. Let's not get married."

My nephew loves this part best. He puts a great deal of gusto into making loud "Miau, miau" sounds. This is not the gentle kittenish mew of you typical house cat. This is the yowl of the horny feral beast who hunts. Obviously, this kind of creature doesn't appeal to the prudent Hormiga, who probably suspects this type of husband would be unfaithful.

Later, a Mouse, whom everyone called Raton Perez, walked by the Hormiga's window. He called out to the Hormiga "Hormiga Mandinga, you look even prettier than usual today. What do you say we get married, eh?"

The Hormiga asked him, "Raton Perez, what would you say to me in the night when we go to sleep?"

The Raton Perez said to her in his soft voice, "Iiii, iii."

"That will do nicely," said the Hormiga Mandinga, "and what would you do if I spent too much at the market?"

"I would poke you with my soft little tail," said the Raton Perez.

"That will be all right," said the Hormiga, "I will marry you next Thursday. Meet me at the church."

And here we see the perfect husband in action. He speaks softly to his wife to say good night, and doesn't use his fiercest weapon -- his teeth -- when she is imprudent, but rather chides her gently. The Hormiga then puts things into action. It seems like her ribbon has done what she hoped it would.

On the day of the wedding, the Hormiga Mandinga made a big pot of rice pudding to share with the guests. She asked Raton Perez to help her stir the pot.

"Only stir this with a long spoon. Never stir a pot with a short spoon, Raton Perez, but only with the long spoon."

But Raton Perez wasn't listening, and he took a short spoon to stir the rice pudding and fell into the pot. There he drowned.

Obviously, a simple commentary on the need to "Love, honor and obey." Had Raton Perez simply done what his Hormiga asked him to do, he'd have lived a long and happy life. As it was, he died a tragic death on the day of his wedding and made his wife a widow before he'd even gotten to say "iii, iii" to her once.

So the Hormiga Mandinga wept and wept. A Bird passing by asked her, "Why do you weep on your wedding day, Hormiga Mandinga?"

She told her, "I weep because I have lost my Raton Perez.

"How horrible!" said the Bird, "I will pull out my tail feathers, I'm so sad for you!" And she did.

A Tree asked the Bird, "Why have you pulled out your tail feathers?"

The Bird said, "The Raton Perez has died!"

The Tree said, "How horrible! I will cast off all my leaves, I'm so sad for you!"

A young girl fetching water from a stream by the tree said, "Oh, Tree, what are you casting off your leaves for?"

The Tree said, "The Raton Perez has died!"

The young girl said, "How horrible! I will smash my bucket, I'm so sad for you!" And she did.

That Raton Perez must have been a popular guy for all those creatures to have been so sad to see him go. This seems to dictate that one person's loss is a shared loss. And indeed, a person who shares a loss learns that loss isn't unusual, but an inevitable fact of life.

And that is the tale of the Hormiga Mandinga, and there is no more.

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