Published on Friday, June 8, 2012
Rainy Day Saints
By Gary Every
Saint John's Day, the musicians were traveling from window to window, serenading anyone in the village named Juan or Juanita. Later, there would be picnics and horse racing. Most importantly, June 24th, San Juan's Day was the beginning of the summer rainy season, when the chubasco winds would deliver much needed moisture to the high New Mexico prairies. Juan de Vargas looked to the heavens, where the sun was already climbing in the sky, alone and unaccompanied, with not a cloud in sight.
Juan sighed, the village needed rain in a powerful way. The corn was withering on the stalk. The fruit trees produced only tiny wrinkled peaches that looked more like orange raisins. The grasses were brown and stiff and there were tiny prairie fires on the horizon.
Juan strolled into the kitchen where the smell of baking tortillas filled the air. Juan loved that smell. He took a big sniff of the kitchen smells while walking over to his mother, offering a hug.
Good morning," Juan said, "Did you hear the music this morning?"
"Yes, I heard the music." His mother smiled.
"It was beautiful," Juan gushed. "Do you know what day it is?"
"Yes, I know what day it is."
Juan looked to the stove were an ancient Native American grandmother was busy stirring beans and checking on the squash blossom pie cooking in the oven.
"Good morning Na Na," Juan said.
The little old woman did not answer him. She used her wooden spoon to tap a small wooden statue above her head.
Juan giggled. "I said, GOOD MORNING, NA NA."
She tapped the wooden statue more forcefully, rat-a-tat-tat. The statue was of a meek bald man, wearing a brown robe and holding pots, pans, and a tiny wooden spoon. She grunted and resumed her kitchen duties, loading food into a picnic basket. Juan came over to grab a roasting apple. The little old woman rapped him sharply on the wrist with her wooden spoon.
"Ouch!" Juan cried out.
The little old woman went to tap on the statue a third time but irritated, she did it a little too hard and knocked the statue from the shelf and into the pot of beans. Juan could not help but laugh out loud.
"Juan," his mother scolded, "Where are your manners?'
"Sorry Na Na," Juan replied. "Good morning Pascal."
"Good morning Juan," Na Na beamed as she removed the statue of the little man from the pot of beans and lovingly cleaned him with her towel. "Good morning Pascal,"she said as she kissed the statue of the patron saint of kitchens and placed him back on the shelf.
Juan's father, the man everybody else knew as Governor Vargas, ruler of colonial New Mexico stepped into the kitchen.
"Good morning Dad!" Juan blurted out. "Do you know what day it is?"
"El Dias de San Juan," his father said as he picked up his son, raised him above his head and twirled him around the room. "A special day just for you."
"No," Juan giggled, "A special day for Saint John the Baptist." Still, being serenaded at sunrise made him feel pretty special.
"Well, if it is San Juan's Day," his father said as he strolled towards the window, "Then it is the first day of the rainy season."
There was not a cloud in sight.
Governor Vargas sighed.
The governor put on his hat and marched out the door.
"Where are you going papa?" Juan asked.
"To church." His father replied.
"Church?" Mrs. Vargas was pleasantly surprised.
"If a man can't go to church to conduct business on a saint's day then when is he ever going to have a reason to go to church?"
"Can I go?" Juan asked.
"Keep up." was the terse answer.
Juan bolted for the door but his mother stopped him.
"Young man, put your shoes on."
By the time Juan was out the door his father was already on horseback and moving steadily down the Santa Fe streets holding a shovel.
"Father wait," young Juan called out.
"I have important business, you must keep up."
Juan did a good job of catching and keeping up with his father for a little bit. Then he grew short of breath and started to lag slightly behind. Then a little further behind as the breathing turned to gasps. He was counting on catching his father at the church door where he would be forced to dismount. Except Governor Vargas never dismounted, riding his horse right through the open doors and into the church. By the time Juan gained the entrance, his father and the horse were halfway past the pews to the altar. Governor Vargas did not stop the horse at the altar but continued on past to a row of religious statues. The governor paused and searched while the horse pranced nervously, hooves echoing where the choir usually harmonized. A smile crossed the governor's face, and he snatched one of the statues, carrying it off.
As the conquistador, horse, shovel, and stolen statue exited out the door, the stunned little boy asked, "Father what are you doing?"
"Keep up," was all his father said, slowing the horse down slightly so his son could catch his breath.
The governor, the horse, the shovel and the stolen statue slowly rode out of town with the chattering boy following right behind, asking lots and lots of questions.
"Who is that?" Juan asked.
"Saint Isidore," his father said as he held the wooden statue above his head. "Saint Isidore, the husbandmen."
"What's... h..h. his story?" Juan said between gasps, his footsteps feeling heavy.
"San Isidore herded livestock for a wealthy and powerful lord back in Spain.
His boss was afraid that perhaps Isidore was spending too much time praying and not enough time working. One day, the boss decided to spy on Isidore, and he found the herder praying instead of working. However, while Isidore was on his knees praying, an angel drove a pair of white oxen to plow the fields. It is said that the sacks of grain Isidore used to feed wild birds magically refilled and produced twice as much flour."
"What are you going to do with the statue?"
"You'll see," his father smiled.
The Governor kept riding his horse past all the buildings and right out of town. They rode to the edge of the fields where not much was growing and even less was harvestable. In some places there was row after row of dead corn stalks. It was still quite early in the day and already the sun was beginning to shine fiercely as it hung high in the sky.
Governor Vargas dismounted and carried the statue into the center of the corn field. Governor Vargas held the statue up high and moved it slowly about.
"Saint Isidore, I just wanted you to see with your own eyes the terrible drought, we are being forced to endure. Is there any chance you could help us?"
Governor Vargas finished his speech to the heavens and turned to his son, firmly stating an order. "Hand me the shovel."
Juan scampered back to the horse and retrieved the shovel.
His father dug a hole about two and half feet deep, the shovel flying furiously, clods of dirt leaping into the air as if Juan's father were some sort of demented badger. When the hole was finished, Governor Vargas placed the statue in the bottom of the hole. He buried the statue of Saint Isidore in the middle of the cornfield.
"There," Governor Vargas said as he rubbed dirt from his hands. "I bet that son of a biscuit eater, Isidore, makes it rain now."
Juan enjoyed the lunch which Na Na had prepared for the picnic. Because it was San Juan's Day, it was traditional to hold the picnic beside a running stream of water. The stream made a pleasant soothing sound as it flowed down from the mountain slopes, made of distant chilled melted snows, even in a drought year.
"Do you remember, Juan?"" the Governor said, "Last year I had to carry you across this very stream on my shoulders because we were afraid the current would sweep you away. This summer, this wretched summer, we can wade easily - barely having to roll up our pants legs."
The governor looked up again into the cloudless skies and sighed.
"But Papa," Juan pleaded, "It is San Juan's Day."
"You are right!" Governor Vargas declared, "And there is still enough water for this." The conquistador began a splash fight.
"Got you!" Juan giggled.
Governor Vargas laughed as water dripped from his beard, starting his counter attack."Be careful," Mother admonished, "not to splash all the water out of the stream. If it doesn't rain soon your cattle will be wanting to drink every single drop of that tiny little creek."
Father and son looked at each other and winked. Soon they were both splashing Mrs. Vargas. She squealed as she ran from the stream. Mother was soaking her feet in the stream because running water is said to have curative powers on El Dias de San Juan. Mrs. Vargas always complained that uncomfortable shoes were amongst the worst of the rigors of colonial frontier life in New Mexico. Now barefoot, she giggled as she scampered across the earth.
Na Na placed the picnic food on the blanket. Last, she pulled the tiny wooden statue of Saint Pasqal, patron saint of kitchens, kissed him to bless the food, and called to the Governor and his family.
"Lunch," Na Na said as she lovingly placed the statue back into her basket.
Juan had worked up an appetite. He ran to the blanket and hugged Na Na. He loved the ancient Pueblo woman who worked in their kitchen. She had come to their household shortly after the re-conquest of New Mexico, looking for work. The whole family loved her. Juan reached for a tasty morsel.
"Not until after your father has said grace." Juan's mother said as she slapped his hand, emptying his grasp.
The Governor came up and said a short prayer as the wonderful smells of cilantro, cinnamon, corn, and warm dough rose from the blanket. Everyone ate the food in big mouthfuls.
"Thank you, Na Na," the Governor said. "This lunch is wonderful."
"And good luck in the horse races this afternoon, Don Vargas."
"Thank you," the Governor chuckled, "I am afraid I will need it. Apache raiders stole my favorite stallion,and I am left racing an old nag."
"Na Na," Juan offered the little brown grandmother another hug, "The lunch is terrific. I sure am glad you came to cook for us."
"Yes," Governor Vargas asked, "I have always wondered why you came to work for us?'
"It was because of the Lady in Blue." she stated flatly.
"The Lady in Blue?" Mother asked.
"I was living in Taos pueblo," Na Na explained, "shortly after the Spanish returned to New Mexico. A shaman was speaking in the plaza, declaring that the Spanish were evil, and we must fight them until our very last breath. It was then that the Lady in Blue just materialized in the center of the town square. She pointed a finger at the sorcerer and a thunderbolt struck him dead."
"As the sorcerer's corpse lay there smoldering, the Lady in Blue preached to us. She told everyone in the pueblo about Jesus, Mother Mary, and the Holy Trinity. Then I came to your house and offered to work. I think it is what the Lady in Blue would have wanted."
They ate the wonderful food and drank lots of water. They drank lots of water because Na Na had a fondness for red chilies in all her recipes. Mother went and sat beside the stream, soaking her feet. Governor Vargas wiped the sweat from his brow and stared into the sky, searching for clouds.
"It looks like San Juan will be a little late with the rainy season this year," and then he sighed. "I will probably come in last at the races as well."
Juan's mother cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted to heaven, "Saint Cayetano, Can you hear me? I will bet you eleven cents that any horse besides my husbands will win the San Juan races this afternoon."
Saint Cayetano was the patron saint of gambling and he hated to lose. One way to wish for something is to bet Saint Cayetano some small sum that it won't happen. Since the Saint hates to lose he will use all his mystical powers to ensure this wish happens. If Saint Cayetano makes your wish come true it is bad luck not to pay off your wager.
Na Na placed her hands over head, "Saint Barbara protect me!" she blurted out.
As the echoes from the blast of a Spanish blunderbuss faded away, they were replaced by the distant sounds of giggling children. Another family, further down stream, was also picnicking and celebrating Saint Juan's day. They were shooting for sport. The gun roared again. Na Na whispered another invocation for Saint Barbara.
"Now Na Na," Governor Vargas chuckled, "I am not sure if the patron saint of lightning can protect you from a blunderbuss."
"The Lady in Blue and that Taos lightning bolt," Na Na explained. "It was a clear and cloudless day just like this. I will never forget."
The people mingled in a bustle of excitement and activity. They were gossiping and wagering. Everyone spoke rapidly, excited for the races to begin. "San Cayetano I will wager a chicken on the chestnut mare."
"San Cayetano I will wager a hundred rosaries that the black stallion will not win."
As Juan listened to all the bettors make their wagers with Saint Cayetano, invoking the patron of gambling, Juan realized they were canceling each other out.
At the far end of Santa Fe, the horses began to line up along the starting line. Governor Vargas was among them, his mare pawing the ground, nostrils flaring. A young girl walked out into the middle of the city street holding a red silk scarf.
"Happy el Dias de San Juan," Juan hugged his mother.
His mother hugged him back and looked into the sky, "I just wish that today really was the beginning of the rainy season."
"Saint Cayetano," Juan cried out, "I will bet you eleven cents that it doesn't rain today.
The girl in the middle of the street suddenly waved the red scarf above her head "Santiago!" she cried out and the horses were off. The race had begun.
At the sound of the name of Saint James, all the Native Americans reflexively cowered. Santiago Matamoros or Saint James the Moor Killer was invoked by conquistadors in battle all across the Americas. "Santiago" was the traditional cry to begin a horse race but it had also been the war cry of Coronado's soldiers, those led by Onate, and was even shouted at the battles of the re-conquest led by Vargas. As the horses thundered towards the finish line, the Native Americans got caught up in the excitement and momentarily forgot their dread of Saint James.
"Goodnight nino," Na Na said as she blew out a candle and prepared to close the door.
Somewhere on the high New Mexico desert a wolf howled, the sound carrying across vast distances. With the severity of the drought the wolves were coming down from the mountains, the sound of their howls becoming a more and more frequent occurrence in Santa Fe. As the door closed Juan could hear Na Na whispering a prayer of protection to Saint Peter.
In no time at all Juan fell asleep, exhausted from the all the activities which accompanied El Dias de San Juan Bautista. Desert winds blew, scraping tree branches against the house. The breeze crept through Juan's open window, picked up his brain and took it along on a dream journey.
In Juan's dream he was watching a New Mexico village from five hundred years before, nearly half a millennia. The architecture was incredible, large stone castles dotting the high desert. The village was crowded with a throng of pilgrims celebrating a religious holiday. The crowd was celebrating a feast in honor of Taknokwunu, asking him to change the weather, end the drought, and bring rain. There were races. Juan could see the cloud of dust as the distant competitors charged towards the finish line. As they came closer, Juan could see the Native Americans race on foot, straining to win. After the race there was a great deal of laughing and excitement while wagers and gossip changed hands.
The man who had won the race was from a clan of sorcerers. By practicing sword-swallowing ceremonies, these magic men were able to increase their strength. When this clan of wizards had become so strong that they became giants, they became arrogant. When the clouds came, the giants ate them from the sky to quench their own gluttonous thirst. Without clouds there was no rain, the earth went dry, and the Kingdom of Chaco Canyon was quietly abandoned.
A blast of thunder as loud as a hundred cannons awakened Juan from a sound sleep and his journeys in the dream world.
"Saint Barbara! Saint Barbara! Saint Barbara!" Somewhere in the house Na Na was shrieking.
Juan could hear his mother rushing to comfort her. Na Na was terrified of lightning. As soon as the reverberations of the thunderclap stilled, the night filled with the sound of rain. A sudden cloudburst was dumping buckets of water on the parched and grateful earth. The long hot torment of summer had ended. Juan was so happy, he jumped up out of bed and danced a little jig.
The Governor got up from his slumbers, changed his clothes, put on his hat and jacket, and charged into the storm. Still wearing his nightshirt, Juan forgot about everything else, and followed his father outside. The wind was blowing fiercely; hailstones pelted the young man's flesh. He charged into the teeth of the wind, desperate to catch his father.
"Papa!" Juan cried out, but the wind stole his voice while the rain soaked his clothing.Dripping wet, Juan ran after his father. Governor Vargas adjusted his coat and hat and climbed aboard his horse. Juan ran after him, head down to avoid facing into the storm winds. Hail pelted the top of his head. The horse always stayed just ahead of the little boy. The horse had his head down, and the Governor hid his ears inside his jacket collar. The wind gusted, and the rain began to descend in thick sheets of water. It was like walking through a waterfall. Juan was drenched.
The horse stood at the edge of the cornfields. Juan had almost caught up, reaching out to grab the horse's tail.
Lightning flashed, and for just a moment the world was brightly illuminated. Then the ground shook. Juan was so startled that he tripped, stumbled, and belly flopped into the mud.
Governor Vargas never noticed a thing, concentrating on using the moment of lightning illumination to spy his destination. He dismounted and strolled to the center of the cornfield, hoping this rain would be enough to resurrect the harvest. Lightning flashed again, thunder boomed, and the governor saw the shovel. Governor Vargas walked to the shovel and reopened the hole. Governor Vargas bent over and pulled the statue of Saint Isidore from the ground. The rain never slackened for a moment.
"Father, father," Juan asked as he finally caught up, "What are you doing?"
"Digging up Saint Isidore before he drowns." the Governor replied. "That story I told you yesterday about the boss who discovered Isidore praying while an angel plowed the fields-his name was Vargas. Centuries ago, the miracles of Saint Isidore occurred on our family estates back in Spain. I knew Saint Isidore would not desert us here in this New World. I could not let him drown beneath all this rain. It is bad luck to let your patron saint drown."
Juan looked in wonder while his father cradled the statue. Juan dug into his pocket and tossed eleven cents into the hole.
"What is that for?" his father asked.
"Saint Cayetano," Juan replied.
"We had better get you home and out of this storm before you get sick or your mother will kill me."
Neither the father nor son noticed the small lean to constructed on the edge of the field, against the trunk of the cottonwood tree. The man inside the lean to, a traveling Zuni shaman, could see the father and son. He sat inside the fabric of his temporary dwelling, warm and dry, watching as the Spanish governor dug up a statue in the middle of the rain. He watched the boy throw shiny coins into the hole.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, so close that it shook the earth.
"Saint Barbara guide us home safely," the Governor said.
The Zuni shaman chuckled and placed his hands to his mouth, howling like a wolf.
Frightened, Juan stepped closer to his father as they walked, chanting "Saint Peter, Saint Peter," invoking the patron saint of wolves.
The Zuni shaman shook his head and sighed. These Europeans, they were such a superstitious peoples.
Gary Every is a prolific and diverse writer. A compilation of his award winning journalism stories was released in The Shadow of the OhshaD. OhshaD is an O'odham word for jaguar. This books includes pieces such as The Apache naichee ceremony, stagecoach bandits such as El Tejano and Pearl Hart, and Losing Geronimo's Language. A native Arizonan he has spent a lifetime exploring and researching the southwest. As a poet, Mr. Every has been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and the Rhysling award for the years best science fiction poem. Mr. Every has two science fiction novellas available, Inca Butterflies and The Saint and the Robot, a retelling of a medievla legend concerning Thomas Aquinas.