Nana, Abuelo, Tuchi and Blue

By Fernando

It is “tooo-chee”…

Nana’s husband, nicknamed “Bronce” for his swarthy complexion, one in stark contrast to his closest kin, died as a relatively young man. He left four children, the youngest age two. His widow, “Chonita”, would become Nana to their grandchildren, and until she died in 1964, the link for much of what we learned of their early ranching lives. Her husband became “Abuelo” in the telling of the stories, his privilege of hearing “Tata” or “Abuelo” from their grandchildren ending with his death from typhus in 1915.

Our Abuelo, an active businessman with roots and wide connections in his community of ranchers, mine owners, and civically active kin and friends, reveled in his family role and responsibility. He indulged an affinity for animals and their lives . . . he wondered if dogs could talk, would the closeness of friendships with humans still be possible? As to horses, he indulged his ability to afford blooded stock . . . of course some of that was to show his status, but Nana soon found that he bonded, that word not yet in the common vocabulary, not just with such as “his Blue”, a dapple-grey gelding, but with animals such as the ranch’s tough mustangs, his two dogs, and even the chickens which she, with raised eyebrows, said went serenely into their ocotillo and wire coop at sunset only when he was at home. Only then.

Today he might be considered a whisperer. True, Abuelo’s awareness was special but much less so among other ranchers and country people of that era. Like orchids in the desert, many of Nana’s contemporaries seemed able to extract and apply survival awareness from just air.

She believed that Abuelo’s closeness to horses seemed tied to their being “worth their oats,” which resulted in many “favorites”. But Blue, his blooded, classy, sassy, and no one’s horse but his, was far and away “the one”. Nana, perhaps an orchid, was aware of this, and for both Blue and family this was to prove a good thing.

One day in late 1911, Abuelo was away at one of the mines when a hatless boy of ten arrived at the main ranch at a gallop on a freely sweating horse. He told Nana that armed foragers from some warring faction or the other were headed her way, trail driving and gathering up livestock for their band. The livestock in her corrals were few and not of life-risk value to protect, but Blue was in his shaded paddock. Nana, knowing that the macho bandits would not deign to enter a woman’s area such as her large high-ceilinged kitchen, calmly brought in the sassy Blue through doors barely adequate to his girth and height, and provided him oats and sour dough bread as the foragers ran off with about fifteen head of stock, mostly steers.

It was Mexico, Northern Sonora, around 1912-14, and things were in the turmoil of civil war or revolution, albeit intermittently. Abuelo had months earlier sent Nana and his then three children, north to Arivaca, in the new state of Arizona, to relative safety . . . no pun intended. Included in the move was his pet coatimundi, “Tuchi”, who per family lore had, as a kit to be weaned, cost three 30-30 carbine shells. He grew into a tame, slightly chubby but not cuddly household member. Tuchi was on occasion cat skittish, and always so about his two-foot-long ringed tail.

Our folklore, some of this also from his oldest child, my aunt, also had it that Tuchi was the endearing form of his real name, Metuchi, which means inquisitive, leaning well towards irritatingly inquisitive, nosey. And, that his white-nose-twitching intrusiveness had lead him to learn to appreciate sweet pastry and saguaro jam, but also beer and spirits, offered or licked from glasses and table tops. It was rumored that Tuchi could become really touchy after indulging.

Abuelo (Fernando II) stayed in Sonora to help attend to his family’s (Fernando I and other sons) ranching and commercial interests and would ride northeast from one of their ranches 30-35 miles, cross the border and visit his family when tensions were down.

Given the desert’s severities and the distance, he stopped at ranchitos on the way to gab, gather fodder for future stories, for platica, and to rest, water and pamper Blue. He would also assure the ranchito kids got a hard candy or two. The social networking ride would take hours, depending on urgency, weather, or gossiping. Most trips would be over-night, as accepting a humble ranch families’ late afternoon invitation to remain the night and have early morning coffee, was near obligatory.

On one of the trips to see my Nana (then a young woman) and his three (to later be four) kids, he arrived in Arivaca early one Sunday morning to find Nana with an unusually stern, yet anxious look on her face. She told us she was quick to let him know as he dismounted from Blue, that the kids were fine, before she told him “Tuchi is dead.” His dear pet of several years was dead. Knowing her husband, she had made sure its bloody body was promptly buried and out of sight.

Nana, by now a widow of 40+ years, noted in her retelling, that Tuchi had also learned that every so often the buffalo soldiers stationed nearby would uproariously celebrate as soldiers do, with free-flowing booze. The fact that the most uproarious events coincided with paydays was likely lost on Tuchi, who nonetheless had his timing down. On occasion, coincidentally (?) when Abuelo was not around, Tuchi had gone to celebrate with the soldiers who were freely accommodating of his inquisitiveness and thirst. He would return home none the worse for wear, smelling of his pleasures.

On this arrival, Abuelo was told Tuchi had returned home from this last drinking stint with the soldiers obviously severely beaten, and had quickly died. Explosively enraged on hearing of the innocent Tuchi’s painful and disrespectful treatment, he remounted, reaching for his saddle bag clasp to liberate what we later came to believe was a Colt 41 Caliber revolver, as Nana yanked on Blue’s rein, startling a snort from the gelding, a stranger to sudden bit pain.

Abuelo silently, slowly dismounted and loosened Blue’s cinch, before Nana released the rein, and laid a tender touch on his arm, without even a whisper.

June 2017