Monday, April 18, 2005

A Hole in the Ranch House Door

Tombstone got most of the datelines when the Minutemen hit Arizona on April Fool's Day to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants, but the border's well south of there. Tombstone had the proper cowboy mythos to resonate with geography-challenged Americans, but the real action is down by Douglas, which straddles the border with Agua Prieta.

Right about where the Quarter-Circle-L ranch used to be.

My grandparents' ranch was 40 bone-jarring miles east of Douglas, over a road you'd give up on unless you truly knew where you were going. They ran cattle on land that was as dry, barren and godforsaken as any in the country. Just the kind of acreage a man who'd always run other people's spreads could afford.

This was simply not a place where you expected to run into strangers.

In the '50s when my family made the pilgrimage from Colorado, Douglas was not yet the gateway to the Maquiladoras and the ranch was exotic as, well, parts of Mexico. Outhouse, kerosene lamps and water from a windmill-driven pump that was so full of carbonates it had to be set aside for a few days to let the three inches of sediment settle out. You bathed in cold water straight out of the ground, in a burlap-bag shower enclosure wrapped inside the legs of the windmill. Or in a little stock tank warmed with water boiled on the stove.

The screen door off the back of the small adobe house had a finger-tip-sized hole, about the height of a man's belly. We were told that's where granny shot "the wetback," a more concise, derogatory term for illegal alien.

You might reasonably think this was a story the big kids told the little kids, to make them afraid to walk to the outhouse after dark. But you would have to know my granny. You would have to take the long ride out there and see no mark of civilization in any direction outside the corral. You would have to see how meat came to the table. How a man would no sooner leave the house without his gun than people today would leave their cellphone behind. And it was another time of border hysteria.

You could bury a man out there, and not take much trouble, knowing no one would likely come by to look.

I'm not saying it happened, but I'm saying I understand how it could have happened. And I know that electricity and running water and other creature comforts don't change people's hearts. Better highways and cell phone towers and satellite TV may seem to bring us closer together, but not really to our opinions and our ideals and our refined, educated urban sensibilities.

Some of the Minutemen may be clowns and lunatics, but society has ways of keeping tabs on those boys. Others are trained in law enforcement, and though they may be too right wing for my taste, I don't expect them to be shooting people in the desert. It's the secret hearts I'm worried about, because I kissed my granny's cheek and smelled her perfume, and for the life of me, I still don't know for sure how that hole got in her screen door.


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

After I wrote this, I read Orincus' extended piece, Minutemen and the Mainstream.

"It should be clear by now, I hope, that one of the chief achievements, as it were, of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is that the infiltration of the extremist agenda in mainstream conservatism has become rampant in the past months since the 2004 election, embodied by the Schiavo mess.

"Even more noteworthy, perhaps, has been the mainstream embrace of the far-right extremists operating the Minuteman Project, and the extent to which they are being portrayed both by media and officialdom as jes' plain folks...."

9:48 PM  

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