Authors: Pam Muñoz Ryan
TO THE MEMORY OF
ESPERANZA ORTEGA MUÃOZ HERNANDEZ ELGART,
BASKETS OF GRAPES TO MY EDITOR,
TRACY MACK, FOR PATIENTLY WAITING
FOR FRUIT TO FALL.
ROSES TO OZELLA BELL, JESS MARQUEZ,
DON BELL, AND HOPE MUÃOZ BELL
FOR SHARING THEIR STORIES.
SMOOTH STONES AND YARN DOLLS TO
ISABEL SCHON, PH.D., LETICIA GUADARRAMA,
TERESA MLAWER, AND MACARENA SALAS
FOR THEIR EXPERTISE AND ASSISTANCE.
Aquel que hoy se cae, se levantarÃ¡ maÃ±ana
He who falls today may rise tomorrow.
Es mÃ¡s rico el rico cuando empobrece que
el pobre cuando enriquece
The rich person is richer when he
becomes poor, than the poor person
when he becomes rich.
â MEXICAN PROVERBS
ur land is alive, Esperanza,” said Papa, taking her small hand as they walked through the gentle slopes of the vineyard. Leafy green vines draped the arbors and the grapes were ready to drop. Esperanza was six years old and loved to walk with her papa through the winding rows, gazing up at him and watching his eyes dance with love for the land.
“This whole valley breathes and lives,” he said, sweeping his arm toward the distant mountains that guarded them. “It gives us the grapes and then they welcome us.” He gently touched a wild tendril that reached into the row, as if it had been waiting to shake his hand. He picked up a handful of earth and studied it. “Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating?”
“Papi, I want to feel it,” she said.
“Come.” They walked to the end of the row, where the incline of the land formed a grassy swell.
Papa lay down on his stomach and looked up at her, patting the ground next to him.
Esperanza smoothed her dress and knelt down. Then, like a caterpillar, she slowly inched flat next to him, their faces looking at each other. The warm sun pressed on one of Esperanza's cheeks and the warm earth on the other.
“Shhh,” he said. “You can only feel the earth's heartbeat when you are still and quiet.”
She swallowed her laughter and after a moment said, “I can't hear it, Papi.”
“AguÃ¡ntate tantito y la fruta caerÃ¡ en tu mano,”
he said. “Wait a little while and the fruit will fall into your hand. You must be patient, Esperanza.”
She waited and lay silent, watching Papa's eyes.
And then she felt it. Softly at first. A gentle thumping. Then stronger. A resounding thud, thud, thud against her body.
She could hear it, too. The beat rushing in her ears.
Shoomp, shoomp, shoomp
She stared at Papa, not wanting to say a word. Not wanting to lose the sound. Not wanting to forget the feel of the heart of the valley.
She pressed closer to the ground, until her body was breathing with the earth's. And with Papa's. The three hearts beating together.
She smiled at Papa, not needing to talk, her eyes saying everything.
And his smile answered hers. Telling her that he knew she had felt it.
apa handed Esperanza the knife. The short blade was curved like a scythe, its fat wooden handle fitting snugly in her palm. This job was usually reserved for the eldest son of a wealthy rancher, but since Esperanza was an only child and Papa's pride and glory, she was always given the honor. Last night she had watched Papa sharpen the knife back and forth across a stone, so she knew the tool was edged like a razor.
“CuÃdate los dedos,”
said Papa. “Watch your fingers.”
The August sun promised a dry afternoon in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Everyone who lived and worked on El Rancho de las Rosas was gathered at the edge of the field: Esperanza's family, the house servants in their long white aprons, the
already sitting on their horses ready to ride out to the cattle, and fifty or sixty
straw hats in their hands, holding their own knives ready. They were covered top to bottom, in long-sleeved shirts, baggy pants tied at the ankles with string, and bandanas wrapped around their foreheads and necks to protect them from the sun, dust, and spiders. Esperanza, on the other hand, wore a light silk dress that stopped above her summer boots, and no hat. On top of her head a wide satin ribbon was tied in a big bow, the tails trailing in her long black hair.
The clusters were heavy on the vine and ready to deliver. Esperanza's parents, Ramona and Sixto Ortega, stood nearby, Mama, tall and elegant, her hair in the usual braided wreath that crowned her head, and Papa, barely taller than Mama, his graying mustache twisted up at the sides. He swept his hand toward the grapevines, signaling Esperanza. When she walked toward the arbors and glanced back at her parents, they both smiled and nodded, encouraging her forward. When she reached the vines, she separated the leaves and carefully grasped a thick stem. She put the knife to it, and with a quick swipe, the heavy cluster of grapes dropped into her waiting hand. Esperanza walked back to Papa and handed him the fruit. Papa kissed it and held it up for all to see.
said Papa. “Harvest!”
A cheer echoed around them.
the field-workers, spread out over the land and began the task of reaping the fields. Esperanza stood between Mama and Papa, with her arms linked to theirs, and admired the activity of the workers.
“Papi, this is my favorite time of year,” she said, watching the brightly colored shirts of the workers slowly moving among the arbors. Wagons rattled back and forth from the fields to the big barns where the grapes would be stored until they went to the winery.
“Is the reason because when the picking is done, it will be someone's birthday and time for a big
?” Papa asked.
Esperanza smiled. When the grapes delivered their harvest, she always turned another year. This year, she would be thirteen. The picking would take three weeks and then, like every other year, Mama and Papa would host a
for the harvest. And for her birthday.
Marisol RodrÃguez, her best friend, would come with her family to celebrate. Her father was a fruit rancher and they lived on the neighboring property. Even though their houses were acres apart, they met every Saturday beneath the holm oak on a rise between the two ranches. Her other friends, Chita and Bertina, would be at the party, too, but they lived farther away and Esperanza didn't see them as often. Their classes at St. Francis didn't start again until after the harvest and she couldn't wait to see them. When they were all together, they talked about one thing: their
the presentation parties they would have when they turned fifteen. They still had two more years to wait, but so much to discuss â the beautiful white gowns they would wear, the big celebrations where they would be presented, and the sons of the richest families who would dance with them. After their
they would be old enough to be courted, marry, and become
the heads of their households, rising to the positions of their mothers before them. Esperanza preferred to think, though, that she and her someday-husband would live with Mama and Papa forever. Because she couldn't imagine living anywhere other than El Rancho de las Rosas. Or with any fewer servants. Or without being surrounded by the people who adored her.