I leaned back into the wrought iron bench and took a deep breath. I could feel the tenseness leave and relaxation flow into me. The huge magnolia tree made a thick canopy over my head, sheltering me from the hot, noonday sun. Closing my eyes, I listened to the birds chirping songs unfamiliar to me as they moved from branch to branch. I could now rest easy and enjoy the rest of my day.
My dentist in Oregon had given me a list of what needed to be done to my teeth and the final estimate was a whopping three-thousand five hundred dollars. Here, sitting outside my friend’s favorite dentist in Mexico, I’d just had the work done and paid a mere sixty dollars. The dentist had assured me that the molar that holds my partial plate in place was not cracked. It only had a small cavity which did not even require Novocain to fix and a crown to strengthen the tooth was not necessary. My friends, who summer in Dillard, have been going to him for years and think he’s the best dentist ever. Once in the chair, I sensed his integrity and believed his assessment of my teeth. My mouth and my pocketbook were thankful.
I opened my eyes as a shower of leaves hit me. As the birds moved, yellow leaves that had been caught in the thick tangle of branches broke free and twirled downward, some landing on my head. It was a quiet, restful place, but at the end of the ally, I could see the jumble of open market stands and venders as they approached tourists wandering through the streets.
“Lady, beautiful Lady, you need a purse. See. Leather. Deer hide. Almost free.” It was hard to resist their tactics. After all, how many times do I get called beautiful in American stores? Jewelry, yard art, blankets and hats filled the kiosks and flowed onto the sidewalk, leaving only a single person pathway.
The buildings lining the streets were dentist offices, eye clinics and pharmacies—all painted purple. We had followed a crowd of people over the border, most of whom had come in loaded busses to see the dentist or get eye glasses. It was a gorgeous day and the streets were packed with people. “Here, come here and see the dentist.” “Take my card and give it to the pharmacist.” “You like this? Only twenty dollars.”
It was easy to resist the sellers, for when my husband returns from his mission trip we intend to vacation on our way home. I’d rather spend money enjoying time with him than filling my home with more stuff when I am trying desperately to simplify my life. What was hard was turning away from the old women sitting on the side of the street holding baskets, begging for money. Their faces were etched with lines drawn by a hard life and much sadness. I would have loved to have taken one of them to the open air restaurant where we ate and heard her story, but the language barrier was great and it was impossible to know how to make such a request acceptable.
We ate lunch in a huge courtyard where an old, gnarled tree spread its branches over the whole area. The courtyard was surrounded by brick archways decorated with bright turquoise, red and orange painted designs. From that bright and cheery place I could see the stands and stores and crowds of shoppers all around me. It reminded me once again that it is not material things that make me happy.
I could fill my home and my yard with the beautiful things offered in the stalls, but then I would be like the man in a painting hanging in the art gallery at the University of Illinois. When I took my preschool class for an outing to the gallery, a docent pointed to a painting of a smiling man dressed in a silk shirt with huge ruffles, wearing gold chains around his neck and huge rings with gems on his fingers and asked “Is the man happy or sad?” Four-year-old Danny replied, “He is sad. He has so much stuff that there is no room for him.”
I always want there to be room for me and those I love.
(written in February of 2014)