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Seeing my Mexico surroundings

Jenny McGill

There's a tale that has floated through my family for many years. It seems that my great-aunt Tillie was having some vision problems. We didn't know about macular degeneration in Aunt Tillie's day, but that's what it was.

Back then they just said, "Aunt Tillie's blind as a bat." "Why, she can't even see the nose on her own face."

Aunt Tillie denied the fact she had failing eyesight. You see, we had denial in those days too. We also probably had depression, but we didn't say, "She's in denial." We hadn't heard that phrase yet. For Aunt Tillie, the truth was the truth, and the truth was she could still see. To prove her point, one day she was sitting on the front porch in her rocking chair, and she said to one of the kids playing nearby, "Jimmy-son, run down to the mailbox, and fetch me that needle sticking in the post out there."

Aunt Tillie's house had a big front yard and sat back from the road a fair distance. The mailbox was nailed to a post out on the side of the road. Jimmy-son guffawed, but under his breath. He knew better than to laugh at her, but he said, "Aw, Aunt Tillie, there's no needle sticking in the mailbox post. You can't see that far."

She kept on with her rocking and repeated, "Go get me that needle, sonny-boy." So Jimmy went down to the mailbox, and sure enough, found a needle sticking in the post. He dutifully brought it back to Aunt Tillie with some chagrin. She thanked him, got up from her rocking chair, walked into the house, down the hall to the kitchen, and slapped a pitcher of fresh milk off the table as she yelled, "Scat, cat!"

Many years later in Mexico, I'm reminded of this bit of family folklore as I sit dabbing my bloody chin with a piece of alcohol-soaked cotton. My eyebrow tweezers look exactly like my cuticle scissors. I was fortunate that I was trying to pluck one of those old-lady chin whiskers and not a stray eyebrow. Today I'm tying a red ribbon to my cuticle scissors.

We might as well laugh at the comical things, and pass over the sad ones until the Good Guy Doctors come up with a remedy. There is hope out there on the horizon. Great strides are being made in treating and correcting macular degeneration, wet or dry. My physician in Guadalajara believes he can cure it or stop it in its tracks. I hope he's right.

In the meantime, let us think of the ways we can improve our lives.

I no longer drive, either in the big city or at home in Talpa de Allende. But then, I always envisioned myself sitting in my limo, being chauffeured to the beauty salon, and then to some posh restaurant to meet my lady friends for lunch.

My limo is an old Nissan Pathfinder; my chauffer is a handsome man I've been riding with for nigh on to fifty years. The beauty salon is in a back room of the house where my stylist lives along with her mother, father, and big brother. My girl friends and I do get together for luncheons, frequently in one of our homes.

It's important to make good friends with your hair stylist. He or she has a vested interest in the way you look in public. No hair stylist wants to hear this conversation: "Did you see Lisa at the party last night? What a frump! Her hair looked like kittens had been sucking on it. And the color! Blue may be for baby boys and young punks, but not for her hair! Never! I hear that Mario is her hairdresser."

It's best to opt for a simple style. Who wants to sit in front of a mirror trying to tease, crimp, back-comb or otherwise mutilate hair, which has been doused with mouse, gel or stiffly sprayed with gelatin water to look presentable when you can't even see it yourself? Trust your stylist to steer you correctly, and if he doesn't, look for someone who will.

A good manicure shows you care about yourself. Gone are the days when we flashed our long, pointed, perfectly polished, bright red Twinkies about. Perhaps you can still see the red color, but can you tell if it is chipped off your fingernail or not?

Pedicures are a must. You know your toes are down there somewhere because you can still wiggle them, and you can still appreciate that wonderful sensation of walking barefoot in the sand or wet grass, or even across a cold tile floor. Exercise may have kept you agile enough to bend down to your toes or bring them up around your neck as in the more advanced positions of yoga, but try aiming your clippers at one of your tootsies, to say nothing of attempting to cover them with polish.

When the pedicurist asks, "What color would you like today?" Just casually toss your head and reply, "Oh, whatever you think looks pretty on my feet. I can't see that far, but other people can."

Matching colors in your wardrobe is another trick. Enlist the help of a good friend, one who is not blind as a bat, to help arrange your closet so that you don't wear the purple dress with the orange scarf.

Lipstick colors are another trial. Remember how we used to play "dress up" when we were little girls? My friend, the one with young eyes, and I played with make-up one day. We laid all my tubes out on the table. I kept a basket of different colored yarns nearby. She chose a tube of lipstick, and holding it up to different colors; clipped bits of yarn and wrapped them around the tube. Wear a yellow dress? Pick the yellow yarn.

I've been an avid reader all my life. I've read spell-binding thrillers, poetry, history, fact and fiction. I've even read boring, uninteresting books. I cannot remember ever releasing a book until I had read it from cover to cover. Nowadays, Mr. Raj, up Washington, D.C., and I have become good friends. I send him greetings from sunny Mexico and he sends me Talking Books from the Library of Congress. This ARMD beast really comes to full life in the kitchen. Some of you may be fortunate to have that special Maria or Juan who turns out delectable epicurean delights for you, and you never have to worry if you're using flour or sugar in your coffee.

It is helpful if all your kitchen spices and staples containers are labeled in big print. Go to your friendly computer or have a friend make you labels. Arrange everything in alphabetical order to make finding easier.

The need for this first came to my attention the day I decided to make my roommate his favorite dessert; lemon icebox pie. All went well until it came time to beat the egg whites. Kitchen Spirit Guides were with me and stopped me just short of adding meat tenderizer to the egg whites instead of cream of tartar.

My pet peeves are peeling onions, garlic cloves or white hardboiled eggs. The best thing is to rely on your fingers more than your eyes. The same goes for washing dishes. If you use plenty of soap and hot water, more than likely your dishes will be germ free, but who wants to be served food on a germ-free plate encrusted with yesterday's germ-free egg yolk? Run your fingers all over the dishes to make sure they don't embarrass you tomorrow.

Beans are staple food here but sorting them is a challenge. Pour them, a few at a time, into a white plate. This makes finding those little lethal molar-shattering rocks easier to spot. Give up eating black beans. They're more difficult to deal with.

If you can't entice Maria or Juana into sorting through the juicy delicious blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and figs, again rely upon your fingers. If it's mushy soft to the touch, toss it. Our tropical fruits are easier to cope with. There is no sorting to be done, and as long as you can eliminate the bruised spots, it is alright to eat a bit of the mango or papaya peel.

I won't even begin to try to tell you how many fingernails I broke this spring trying to scratch the yellow center from blue flowered hand-made kitchen tile in a house we rented.

However, I was granted the gift of being able to see well enough to appreciate the Easter-basket beauty of the many different spring blossoms around Lake Chapala. With a clear, clean, robin-egg-blue sky as a background, the constantly changing tones of the mountains completed the mural of purple jacaranda, yellow primavera, magenta bougainvillea and the white and pink amapas trees.

An unexpected beauty to this beast is that your friends grow more handsome as the days go by. Gone are the wrinkles and sagging skin. Like magic, all those marks of the years have been taken away.

Listen to the birds sing, smell the fresh cut grass, taste the rain drops on your tongue, and feel the wind brush your skin. Each of these senses takes on a greater importance of its own.

Remember: Help is on its way.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2007 by Jenny McGill © 2007
Contact Jenny McGill

Longtime Mexico resident Jenny McGill and her husband moved to Puerto Vallarta in 1973, where she served as the U.S. Consular agent for 14 years. Her book, Drama and Diplomacy in Sultry Puerto Vallarta, is a poignant, riotous read describing the town, its people and her own resourcefulness when people needed her help. It is a portrait of a simple Mexican beach town and a quieter time, gone forever.

The McGill's gracious home in the cool mountain town of Talpa — Casa Jeni — is for sale. With commanding views of town and sierra, the four bedroom house is fully furnished and beatifully decorated, ready to move right in. It could be used as a bed-and-breakfast. You can view it here.

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