Of all the people to whom I am related and that's a whole lot since my father was a middle child of 18, my Uncle Alfonso was always my favorite. He was one of the elder children in the herd and a particularly entertaining and loving man. Never missed an opportunity to pinch my cheek or bite it.
His wife was my Aunt Maria, who we all called Aunt Sallo. That is because there were so many Maria's in the family and she was from a wonderful little hispanic enclave named Sapallo. She was a very religious and spiritual woman. She went to mass every morning of her life until later in life when the priest came to her. She attended the very Catholic Loretto Academy for girls and graduated in 1920. She then came to teach in Maes, New Mexico where she met this adorable chubby man with a sweet face and a wicked sense of humor.
They married in 1925 and went to far away San Diego for their honeymoon. They never had any biological children but did adopt my cousin Bill who came from a South Dakota Native American background. When they brought Billy home he had rickets and was so skinny and sickly. I have a vague memory of that because he was almost 4 when they adopted him.
Uncle Alfonso was 94 when he passed away in 1996, Billie in 1997 and Auntie Sallo passed away in 1999. Now that I have given you the background I will give you the fun and odd stuff as told by this old sweetie pie.
My Uncle worked on his father's ranch for most of his life. Cattlemen are a strange breed. Long hours, hard work, lots of time for yarns. You know, yarns as in stories....tall, short, true, false. Uncle Alfonso was such a wonderful story teller. He always embellished his yarns with extras. I say that because at family gatherings, he would regale us with one story or another about life on the ranch and some of the others would shake their heads and say he was lying or stretching the truth. That was the really fun part of the gathering of the northern New Mexico clan.....the stories.
One of my Uncle Alfonso's best.... Bruja haha's.
Bruja is the spanish word for witch, culandera is healer or herbalist. And like so many cultures, the lines of these two thoughts are blurred by the bruja also being a healer or vice versa.
About 3 miles from the main ranch houses there is an apple orchard where there used to be 2 houses where a family lived who basically worked the land for my grandfather and his brother (and the herd of offspring of both of these men). The family planted the orchard for Pape and worked the cattle and the sheep. The matriache of that family was a healer and people from all over the countryside would come to her for help, medical and for potions and also for readings. I never knew if the reading were from leaves or cards or what but it was enough that not all of the people were thrilled with this "bruja" living nearby, including some of the clan.
Seems when she was younger, she fell in love with my oldest uncle Jose, but he didn't return her affections even if he did take advantage of her. So the clan was a little afraid of her because she had been so angry with uncle Jose. She never married. When she died, much later, she did not leave the house. Her spirit stayed on to be close to uncle Jose or so the story goes.
One evening after midnight, as Jose, Alfonso and a ranch hand Pedro were returning from a dance at another ranch north of theirs, they passed through the apple orchard. Alfonso said he saw a light up in the trees and when Jose passed under the tree the light jumped down on his back and spooked the horse and all of them. They high tailed it for home.
The next morning, Jose asked Alfonso to check the back of his neck because it was painful and there was a bite mark from human teeth. They were all frightened and shared the story with my grandfather who told Jose, it was his own damn fault for being so cruel to this bruja/healer when she was alive.
Even as a child many, many years later I know the adults were still scared to go near the orchard. This was one of several sightings of the apple orchard spirit but those will have to remain for another time.