The rent house was in a nice part of Uruapan. The neighbor across from us was a doctor and others were lawyers, professionals, business owners. The land the house was on had a garden and a tall chain link fence. The front gate had a lock on it. There was bougainvillea blooming on the fence and a garden with a small garden pond in the back. It was beautiful and security was good (and very visible). I didn't know it at the time, but I would later return to this general area, after a different home burned down, as a teen.
I didn't know any Spanish and none of the neighborhood kids knew any English but that didn't keep us from playing together. It was just a long process to communicate anything. I slowly started to pick up Spanish words and phrases from the kids that I spent time with. I also learned some Spanish from going to Catholic school. There was one boy in my class who knew some English and the "maestro" seated me next to him and assigned him as my translator. This may have been more of an annoyance to the translator than a benefit to me. The other Spanish teacher was one which emerged from my love, at the time, of reading comic books. With none available in English, I was forced to make do with Mexican "cuentos" as they were called. With illustrations accompanying text, I picked up a lot of printed words by inference. Before very long, I was beginning to translate for my grandparents, often inaccurately at first, but improving steadily
My school was walking distance and I took a path that led through Uruapan's open air mercado. I rushed through it going to school. There wasn't time to dawdle then. On the way home the marketplace was a beehive of activity and this ten year old was fascinated by the sights and sounds, and especially the smells (or at least they are what I recall the most clearly). The school, a "colegio", was run by the Marist monks and was quite different from the public schools that I had attended before.
Two memories from my Catholic school days are etched clearly. We had chapel once a week and it was done in a very traditional Catholic fashion, including Latin Communion and the ornate triple chain censer swinging back and forth leaving a smoky trail between the pews where crowds of pre-pubescent boys fidgeted and tried to sit still. At that time, I was not yet aware of my intolerance for incense or even candle smoke. I caught a fair amount of the incense drift and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in bright sunlight with a crowd of monks and young boys crowding around me with concerned faces. A citrus was being held under my nose to try and revive my unconscious form. I would later learn that I had collapsed, out cold, between the pews and, no doubt, disrupted the ritual.
The second vivid recollection from this time is of an argument between another student and me. The argument hinged on the question of whether humans were animals. To my young mind the answer resulted from simple logic. I had played Twenty Questions. Humans were clearly neither vegetable nor mineral, which meant that they were in the animal category. My fellow student disagreed, strongly. I resolved to settle the dispute by consulting the science teacher (who, of course, was also a Marist monk). Now, I knew I was right. This man of the cloth threw me under the bus. "No, my son," he intoned, "animals are animals and humans are humans". The other kid was triumphantly amused and I was flabbergasted.
But that isn't what I wanted to tell you about, dearly beloved. I wanted to tell you about the goldfish incident. This incident took place at the securely fenced in rent house in the nice neighborhood and involves a chilling crime. My grandmother was a wonderful woman and had a tender heart. So it was that when two dirty faced Mexican kids rang the bell at the front gate of our garden courtyard, she paid them for the goldfish that they offered. The children, smaller than me, had the medium sized goldfish in a plastic bag with water. We didn't need goldfish since the little pond in our yard was well stocked. My grandma took pity and bought them anyway, probably overpaying. Thirty minutes later the urchins reappeared. More fish were proffered and, again, my grandma, feeling sorry for the poor waifs, purchased unwanted fish. I'm not sure how many times this scene was played out. What I do know is that it came to a screeching halt when she caught the young salesmen, with a cane pole poked through the chain link fence, fishing our small garden pond for merchandise to resell.