In 1985, there were four Americans living in Talpa. Guy Lawlor and Bill Worth had almost finished their ranch house, or so I thought. Twenty-three years have passed and it is still almost finished. Bill never allows his measuring tape or draftsman’s pencil to lie idle for long. The great open hall upstairs, with four bedrooms and baths off to one side, was converted into a dining room for their restaurant for two different periods. When they decided to close the restaurant and operate as a Bed & Breakfast, they figured a lap pool was needed. Winters get cold up in the mountains, so it seemed like a hot tub would be a nice addition. Recently, the great open hall was enclosed, but they left huge windows in order to look across the expanse of the valley. Now it is called The Great Room, and it is.
The American population has now grown to ten plus many new Mexican-Americans, and the growth has not stopped. But back in 1985, Guy and Bill invited a small group living in Puerto Vallarta to share a weekend with them in Talpa. There were three women and four men in the group who flew from the coast in an old DC-3, and the tale was told at the time that it had once belonged to General/President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Joel Sanchez was our pilot, and over the years we flew many hours with Joel. We learned to love and trust him, even in a bouncy rain storm, as we followed the river through the canyon with the wing tips gliding a mere two feet from the canyon walls, or so it seemed. The plane had no radar and radio communication with the tower in Puerto Vallarta was limited to direct sight. Once behind a mountain, we were on our own with God. I’m no stranger to the skies. Maude Frickhart, Olga Fernandez and I flew the airstreams with American Airlines back in the 1950s, but our planes were better equipped and most of our pilots were experienced ex-military aviators.
Joel eventually graduated to a used and renovated Cessna. He used to tell me, “I can pack more luggage into a Cessna than you can pack in a pickup truck.” I often wondered what we might be packing, but “trafficking” was fairly well controlled in those days. We were checked out of the Puerto Vallarta airport by the Mexican Navy and checked into the Talpa airport by the Mexican army. We could carry pocket knives, fingernail polish remover, cuticle scissors, toe nail clippers, flashlights, hair sprays, and tuna sandwiches on board then.
The flight usually was about eighteen minutes long, but when folks used to ask me about the flying time, my answer was, “Long enough to say ten Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Marys, if you pray fast.” I soon learned to always carry a book or newspaper with me. The last time I ever looked out the window was when I could count the flies on the cows’ backs down below.
Our friend, Ed Muhich, is an ex-U.S. Navy pilot, and sometimes we would fly to Talpa in his plane. He always told us, “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.”
I don’t know how many taxis were operating in Talpa back then, but there were not enough to take seven people and their luggage to Hacienda Jacarandas. Perhaps this was just for color and extra entertainment, but Guy hired a stake-bed pickup truck to meet the plane that day. We all tumbled into the back along with our weekend luggage. We dressed for a rugged weekend in the country.
I believe our hosts had spent most of the week baking and preparing for our feast. Pies, cakes, sweet rolls and crusty loaves of bread were stored in the pantry. Neighbors had brought in chunks and rounds of homemade cheeses; icy cold margaritas rested in the freezer alongside a gallon of hand-cranked ice cream. The delicious smell of a venison roast wafted from the oven. Guy had made his own mint jelly, but this was not even the day of the feast. This food would tide us over until a country breakfast the next morning.
Nighttime fell early in the mountains. Some of the group joined Bill, the ACBL master, at the bridge table. Others tracked the stars in their glorious movement across the clear skies, and mused about city lights blocking out the natural wonder of night found in the country. One by one, we said our “Good Night and God Bless You” and wandered off to our private quarters.
Beds were covered with cozy, attractive hand-loomed Indian blankets. We sank into the deep goose feather pillows and even deeper into a sound sleep. I don’t think I moved until about 6 o’clock the following morning when I was awakened by a sound I couldn’t identify. It wasn’t a motor or engine, but I couldn’t decide if it was a strange mountain animal on the prowl for an early breakfast or perhaps even human.
Our breakfast started with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from the orchard out back, and hot coffee, which was locally grown and roasted. Rashers of thick bacon were piled high on a platter on the back of the stove. Guy was busy stirring up his famous sourdough waffles to be served with guava syrup he made back in the summer.
As our group sleepily greeted the day and inquired about the others peaceful night, I asked, “Did anybody hear that strange noise about 6 o’clock this morning? I haven’t a clue what it was.”
Bill asked, “Did you hear little bells tinkling?”
“No, I don’t think so. It sounded as if an animal or somebody might be choking. It was somewhere between a growl and a grunt and ended in what could have been a yelp.”
Guy laughed, “That must have been our neighbor Raul herding his milk cows back to pasture after he’s finished the morning’s milking.”
There wasn’t much left to prepare for the evening’s party except stuff and bake the turkey, but each of us had been assigned a chore for the day. I think the men expected to play bridge all day, but the women were in charge of table décor gathered from the woods and the open fields around us.
There were a few wild flowers left, but we used the dried corn husks and ears of corn stacked in the feed barn for the base of our table decorating. The conversation came around to what we would be wearing for this evening’s entertainment. It seemed that all three of us had the same idea. We were in the country on a ranch; it would be at night and probably cold. We would dress for comfort and warmth. We didn’t have a choice because none of us had thought about what a dressy occasion this might be until the other women guests started arriving. No dungarees, sweat pants or tennis shoes for these ladies. Stiletto heels, long perfectly manicured and polished finger nails, latest hair styles and the most beautiful hand-knit sweaters you can imagine were part of the ranch wives dress code. City bumpkins visited the country elite.
We began friendships that night that have lasted these many years. Some have passed on to another plane, others have come and gone, but those of us left behind have a great respect for joining hands at this bountiful and joyful time of the year.
May your holidays be so warm and wonderful that you’ll cherish them in the years to come.