As the world goes through its throes, as venal politicians come and go, as moons wax and wane and the earth and the seas grow inexorably warmer, some things, thank the gods and Hector Quesadilla who looks on from his own Olympus, stay resolutely the same, or very nearly so.
My annual trip to Saltillo is one of those things. The desert, poets have written of this, are immutable and mum. They hold the secrets of time and space and distance, and a trip through such a full yet barren place is a trip through the present to the deepest recesses of my long-ago past.
I know that emerging from the dust and sun into Saltillo, I will exit route 40 from Monterrey, see the smoke of the Chrysler plan spewing its toxins into the once virgin air, then skirt the old ballpark, Estadio de Beisbol Francesco I. Maduro, and find my way to the squat one-story cement block house that was my home so many summers ago.
That was 1975 and I was a boy, alone in the world, who had, without ever having known love in his life, found it twice that summer. Once with Hector and his wife, Teresa, whom I was living with, and again when I met Karmen Rodriguez, the girl in the white dress, who was a ticket-taker at the aforementioned Estadio, and my inaugural inamorata.
As much as all has changed in the world around me, that feeling of coming home--home to love--was what remained fixed and unchanging. That sense Frost described in "Death of a Hired Hand," when he wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
I had never known home till I met Hector and Teresa and Karmen. Never had a place where they had to take me in.
But my journeys back through the years were a reaffirmation of home, of love, of the resonance and permanence of past, past that can't be erased or altered with the passage of time. And so, my annual sojourn to Saltillo, has become as important to me as breath, and laughter, and love itself.
I had put Bobby Troup on the radio, the original hipster who wrote the greatest driving song ever, "Route 66." As I do so often, and my wife tolerates with good graces that make Mother Teresa seem like a termagant, I had the song repeat ten times or 14. It put me in the mood for the long drive.
We drove and drove, finally pulling up to Teresa's an hour before darkness. She brought us into her home. She served us lemonade. We hugged. We kissed.
Guillermo Sisto, my best friend on the team so many years ago, walked over from his house down the block. He carried his old catcher's mitt and a fielder's glove as well.
Sisto is almost 90 now, but walks with the slow determination of an old mule.
He drank his lemonade.
He handed me his fielder's glove.
"We have catch," he said.
I was home.