You may remember in a former post that one of our scarecrows is named Don Francisco. This is the story of one particular Mexican craftsman for whom I named our memorable fall figure.
We don’t have pictures of him but the tales continue about Don Francisco. He was the gardener when my parents lived in Mexico City. Gardener? That’s my mother’s memory of him…and oh yes, he built the book shelves in the back bedroom, a furniture casing for my parents’ hi fi, the doll bed, my doll house, some unforgettable blocks, “el burro” and the “mueble”, Big Bertha. During earthquakes because Mexico does suffer more than the occasional tremor he taught my mother to stand in the doorway, where he explained it was most “seguro”, safe. So as my dad built the General Electric factory in Mexico City on the road to Querétaro, Don Francisco engineered and fashioned many comforts in our home.
The book shelves in my mother’s back bedroom still house Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Golden Books galore. Remember good Golden books like Ukelele, the story of a Hawaiian Girl and the sailor who befriended her? Anyway, those treasured books can be immediately found there in the shelves Don Francisco crafted. No nails. Each slat and board expertly doved-tailed together.
In the furniture department, my three or four year old self was definitely not overlooked. He made me a doll bed. It was large enough to tuck several dolls to bed and it traveled from Mexico, to PA to New Jersey, to TX to AL to FL back to TX again during the years of my dad’s company transfers. I tucked my dolls to sleep in it as did my daughters. The sloping curved side boards, side rails, head board and slats, were expertly dove-tailed together. No nails.
For me his masterpiece was a doll house complete with staircase. The staircase had a tiny wrought iron bannister. I remember the walls were green and the metal bannister was painted yellow. When it was time to leave Mexico, we gave it away. It couldn’t make the move to the States my parents explained. I’m sure I cried and pitched a fit at the thought of leaving it behind. And, I remember thinking “How lucky its new owner would be…and, how unfair we couldn’t take it” I remember that doll house furnished with living room and bedroom furniture and kitchen fixtures all fashioned of wood and metal pieces better than the house we lived in back then. I guess I “lived” in that doll house.
Working with GE my dad got the workings of a hi fi. Don Francisco fashioned a furniture casing to house the LP’s and turn table/playing mechanism. Although the doll house didn’t make the move to the States, the hi-fi did. I remember dancing to the LP’s my parents brought home to our living room in Essex County, NJ after a night in NYC to attend broadway shows: Mr. Wonderful, Happy Hunting, Gigi, My Fair Lady, South Pacific. We lived there during the heyday of the American broadway musical and the door that opened to the turntable, the door that don Francisco hinged, stayed open on the weekends.
For my brother and me Don Francisco fashioned rectangular blocks…over a hundred of them. We counted them, stacked them and built towers with them. My brother and I used to stand on a chair to place the last remaining block on the tower taller than us. He and I proceeded to reverse the process by dropping one block at a time into its center. When the sides could hold no more, we squealed and shouted “timber” upon watching its inevitable collapse.
“El burro” was another handcrafted piece. It was not a donkey. It was an ironing board my mother insisted on having. The usual Mexican tradition was to pad a table with towels and an old sheet and iron on a table. My American mother described to Don Francisco what she wanted and he built it. Ingenious. She had it and then when my husband and I had our own home, I begged to take it when I needed one.
The “mueble” a large piece of furniture had a flat surface for changing babies. “El mueble” withstood many moves with all the pieces expertly dovetailed together. Now, “el mueble” did have nails. There were two side pieces nailed to the frame. Over the years, my dad carved my siblings’ heights on the side of them on each of our birthdays. When daughter #1 was born and #2 came along, I begged to have it, too. My husband upgraded it laying an ivory colored piece of plastic for the changing area and repainting it from green to yellow. I kept sheets and blankets in the two large drawers below the changing area. Two smaller drawers kept the baby clothes and a small door opened to where the toys and stuffed animals were housed. Then we changed “el mueble’s” name to Big Bertha. She was my organizational solution during the baby years.
Don Francisco’s furniture pieces linked my Mexican past to my American future. I don’t remember what Don Francisco looked like, but have loved the memory of my parents speaking of him with respect for his craftsmanship. The book shelves are in my mother’s back bedroom now. The hi-fi has long ago been discarded and replaced. The blocks are in the bottom drawer of a kitchen sideboard at my mother’s for easy access for the grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. The doll bed, “El burro” and “Big Bertha” are gone. They were taken at one of many garage sales as we downsize.
This is the story of a gardener and craftsman who left his mark on our family. I am categorizing this post under Art and Architecture for his craftsmanship. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures, but I do have memories. Vicente Huidobro from Chile writes about “la voz de las cosas”, the voice of things. Don Francisco’s “things” spoke to and still remain with me.