Monday, March 28, 2011

Who has Rogelio's Ham?

A week ago, on March 21st, we headed south to Mexico. I was looking forward to adding the next stage to my adobe oven, and possibly painting an opossum on our storage shed wall. Among our various food items for the next two weeks was a beautiful spiral cut, hickory smoked 10 pound ham that was to be a gift for Rogelio who had grafted a variety of citrus species onto one the trees in our back yard in Banámichi.

We tootled down I-19 towards Nogales at 75mph. It was a cloudy day with high winds. Dan commented on how he had to work to keep the truck on the road with the crosswind. Still, he took his hands off the wheel at one point, rummaging in his backpack for something. This is something that makes me crazy, so I told him he was scaring me to death. As usual, he shrugged. My words rolled off him like water from a duck's back. Now there was tension in the car and I felt ill at ease.

We passed Chavez Siding Road  and the northbound US Border Patrol checkpoint. As much to break the mood as anything, I asked Dan if he wanted a piece of gum. "Sure," he said, and as I dumped it out of the container he momentarily took one hand off the steering wheel to take it.

Suddenly we were riding with the left tires on the pavement and the right ones on the sloping grass shoulder. With an expletive, Dan turned the wheel so we would go back on the road. The car lurched up the slope, crossed the two freeway lanes and rose up into the air on the left tires. Oddly, I recall this clearly from a position behind the truck. The truck came back down and for an instant it seemed we had recovered. Then we started to roll over into the median. I was slung from side to side in my seat belt as we turned over...side, roof, up, side roof up. I was in witness-consciousness...during all of this I had retreated into a part of myself that was uninvolved in what was happening - just observing it.

Finally we came to rest with my side of the car on the ground. I took quick stock of my body and noticed that everything worked. I thought, "Rats! Now we're not gonna be able to go to Mexico." I said to Dan, "I'm fine. How are you?" Dan didn't respond. I looked up and saw him hanging from his seat belt, unconscious. I  struggled to release my seat belt, and then reached upward and turned off the ignition. I wasn't sure Dan could breathe in the position he was in, so I stood up, wedged my shoulder under him to take some of his weight and sprang his seat belt too. He slumped to my side of the car and regained consciousness.

A group of Mexican men ran up to us and asked us how we were. I was aware that they were speaking Spanish and so responded in Spanish. Some of them may have been illegals. One of them started to kick in the windshield to get us out. Another was urging  "Cuidado! La Senora!" (Careful of the woman!) I backed away from the windshield as much as I could. I turned to Dan and noticed that he was bleeding just a bit from a bump on his head, and that he was covered with yogurt from the up-ended cooler that had been in the back seat. He said "Tell them they don't have to do that!" I ignored him as he had ignored me earlier, and in a moment was invited out by the Mexican man at the window. I kept saying "No tengo zapatos!" ( I have no shoes.) because my sandals had slipped off and I wasn't excited about stepping into a bunch of broken glass. He reached in, took my hand and gentled me out and told me to sit down on the ground.

As they helped Dan out of the truck, I looked around and saw all of the stuff that had been in the truck all over the median. Papers were flying away in the wind. Suitcases had been flung far from the truck. Broken eggs dripped from the door, and yogurt was everywhere. It was what is called a "yard sale" in skiing.

Dripping yogurt, Dan sat next to me and asked, "What happened? Why are we here?" About this time the paramedics and a police officer ran up to us and chased off the Mexican guys. I felt bad for them - they had helped us and now were being asked to leave. One by one they shook my hand, touched my back and wished us luck as I told each one "Muchas gracias!" I was deeply touched by the kindness they had extended to a couple of strangers.

The next few hours were a blur. We were each strapped to boards and taken in our own ambulance to the trauma center at University Medical Center in back in Tucson. After a few tests and some observation, it was clear that apart from some bruises and scrapes I was pretty much OK, so they sent me home. Dan had a broken clavicle, a nasty bump on the head, and various scrapes. He was released about an hour after I was. He still has no memory of what happened.

As soon as we had more or less recovered from the shock, we started to worry about all our stuff that we had last seen strewn all over the median in the gusty winds. Dan called friends John and Harriet who offered to take us to the wrecking yard in Tubac the next day to see what we could retrieve. What a shock to see our poor vehicle again! All the tires were flat -- one wheel had been entirely ripped off the vehicle and was in a nearby flatbed truck. All the windows were broken, the truck was dented and mangled and there was no piece of the camper shell more than about 3'x3' left.
Our poor truckling....


The wheel was ripped right off.

In the back of the flatbed was the stuff the towing company had managed to pick up. To add insult to injury, the bags of organic fertilizer that I was taking for my veggie garden had broken, and much of what was left was sitting in the foul smelling brown stuff along with twisted cans of soda, public library CD's and shards of camper shell. Notably unaccounted for was the ham,  a frozen roasting chicken and much of the food that we had had with us.

We still don't really know what caused the accident. It all happened so fast. It could be that a gust of wind caught us and pushed us off the road. It could be that a tire blew and pulled us off to one side. We will probably never know for sure. A few things that are certain, though...the momentum of a pickup truck at 75 mph is impressive. We are enormously lucky to still be on this planet. And...listen carefully...: SEAT BELTS SAVE LIVES!!! Please, dear ones, WEAR THEM!!

I was still obsessing about the ham. Where was it? On the way back to Tucson with John and Harriet, we slowed down on I-19 where the accident happened and looked into the median. The ham had been wrapped in gold and red foil, and would have been obvious if it had still been there. It was gone with the wind. Gone gone. The mysterious fish came and the ham mysteriously went.

I was finally able to let go thinking about it by imagining that the Mexicans got it. More power to them if they got that ham. I like to fantasize about them sitting in a cement block house somewhere in Sonora and enjoying it with their families. "Buen provecho" brothers! Enjoy your meal.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The mystery of the left fish

One morning last week I stumbled sleepily into the kitchen and began the process of nuking a cup of chai. Dan was already up and pottering around. He said "Did you leave a bag of fish out to thaw last night?"

"Huh?" I grunted. I thought I was still dreaming.

"When I was ready to go to bed last night, there was this big plastic bag of tilapia here on the counter." he said with a question mark in his voice."I didn't remember you saying anything about it, so I put it in the refrigerator."

  Now I was awake. "What fish? We didn't have any tilapia or any other fish in the freezer or anywhere else."

 "Well, it's in the fridge. Take a look at it." he said, annoyed that I didn't believe him.

I open the fridge and found a large white shopping bag. "Ooof!" I grunted as I pulled it out. "It's heavy." It must have weighed 4-5 pounds. It was filled with individually packaged white fish fillets, still mostly frozen.

I was incredulous. "Where the heck did this come from? Maybe it is Dan and Tracy's (our neighbors) or maybe Lynn left it here before she went over to Tracy's for dinner last night."

Suddenly it dawned on me that the stuff was defrosting, and I popped it into the freezer while I struggled with the mystery. Later that morning I asked Dan and Tracy if it was theirs. They said no, their tilapia was in their own freezer. I called Lynn. She said it wasn't hers, that she had never even come in our house that night. She had gone directly to Tracy's house for dinner.

We stopped by to see Darrin and Cherie, the new owners of the Hotel Posada del Rio Sonora, bu they also disavowed any knowledge of the mystery fish. What made this even harder to understand was that the Mexicans we know would not come into another person's house uninvited. They are very polite that way, and to them a home is sort of a sanctuary where for the most part, only family are invited in. No one we know would have entered our house without our permission when we weren't there.

Besides we couldn't imagine who among the Mexicans we know would have the money to casually give away 5 pounds of fish. Nothing about it made sense. They would need it for their own families. I asked Beto and Vicky about it and they seemed as mystified as we were.

Our speculations became wilder and wilder. There is something about an unknown that demands a solution. We couldn't let it rest until we came up with an answer. "Maybe someone was passing by with a bag of fish and came in to rob us and then accidentally left it there." I proposed. Lynn asked "Is anything missing?"  I had to admit that everything was in its place, and that this was an unlikely scenario anyway.

Besides I was pretty sure I had locked the front door. A big wind had come up earlier, and the front door blew open with a loud crash. I hauled myself up from where I sat contentedly knitting and closed and locked the door.

"Maybe someone is trying to poison us." Dan proposed.  I had to cop to also thinking of that one. (How cynical and paranoid we both are!...A product of living in the USA too long?) We joked about giving a piece of the fish to the neighbor's dog before we ate any of it ourselves, but neither of us took the poison idea all that seriously.

Finally we had to admit that we just didn't know, and maybe we never would. Somehow that is innately unsatisfying. The world seems dangerously out of balance when a thing like that hangs out there without an answer. Nevertheless, there you have it. We have no idea where the fish came from.

Admitting that we didn't know where it came from opened the door to eating the stuff. I proposed a fish fry. I carefully defrosted some of the fish. I gently dipped it in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally I lovingly dipped into seasoned bread crumbs. I sauteed it in a shallow pan in some good oil. Served up with a big salad and some of Lynn's home grown squash, it made a dandy feast. It was delectable, and everyone loved it, but the consensus was that it was sea bass, not tilapia. Nevertheless, there was so much of it that there is still more in the freezer.
Me and the fish

The question doesn't weigh so heavily now. Instead, there is gratitude for whoever left us with this generous gift. To quote Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers's Guide to the Galaxy), "So long, and thanks for all the fish!"