The Ancient Mexica and Me

One of several collections of short stories and novellas I have written is a book Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. I hope the title is not overly disrespectful of Christianity–I am Jewish, but I guess in thinking of Juan the Bear Diego, Isabel Ulysses, and their son Benito in “The Tales of Juan the Bear”; Barbara Sokel and her student Jose in “The Education of Barbara”; Corn Flower and her Chuch (Mother in Quiche) in “Little Corn Flower Comes to America”; an anonymous doctor who grew up listening to the infamous sermons of the Baptist preacher Jeremiah Bogey about his childhood nemesis the Catholic Christopher Higgins in “Feed My Sheep”; this doctor (again in “Feed My Sheep”) would grow up to ease the pain of child separation and search the Catholic Bible for an understanding of man’s inhumanity to man; and finally in the last story “A Thief in the Night”: the characters surrounding Donald Trump in the 1980’s: Jim and Tammy Fay Baker and Jimmy Swaggart. Of all these characters, my favorite was Juan the Bear.

Originally “The Tales of Juan the Bear” and “The Education of Barbara” were one story under the title Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. It was written for a good friend, Larry Davis, who I worked with because he had brain damage as a result of a car accident. However, I never told Larry about the book. Instead, I wrote about two things:

1) I took the few details I knew of Larry’s childhood to form the first part of the book: his being Mexican (in real life he was half white, but in the book he was Mexican and Guatemalan); his mother being married five times; and his father committing suicide and him finding the corpse.

2) Larry’s car wreck and the time I (Barbara) spent at Breakthrough helping Larry and other patients.

Now, as you may have guessed… that did not give me much to work on in the first part. So I got a variety of folktales from Mexico, Guatemala, Latin America, and the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala. Reading through these books I saw two stories that were mentioned in several sources: “Juan Oso” (“Juan the Bear”) and “Horses Hooves and Chicken Feet.” And so my Juan the Bear Diego was born: a man who loved wine, women and song–and his homelands of Guatemala and Mexico. Then there was his wife (or ex-wife, as she would become) Isabel Ulysses, a storyteller in her own right, outwitting Juan at times and watching cartoons at others–and of course, though she married 5 times, no man could be as good or bad as Juan–she spoke at his funeral. And the rest is history.

Yet Juan’s greatest story, was based on the Ancient Mexican myth of Quetzalcoatl and Quetzalpetlal, and how the evening star was born. In it he tells how their incest and double suicide was inspired by pulque (the native brew of liquor) and self-doubt–as well as ill-meaning priests from a cult that practiced human sacrifice. The mirror which the priests gave them distorted their beautiful images into debauched and ugly creatures of little worth. Then they drank pulque, and committed the indecent crime of incest–because the priests inconveniently brought Quetzalpetlal to Quetzalcoatl when they were both drunk. In the morning, seeing what they had done, Quetzalpetlal committed suicide, and seeing what she had done, Quetzalcoatl followed suit. Yet their tragedy became triumphant: the two formed the evening star and rose from the earth. This story was Juan the Bear’s greatest triumph as a story teller–at least, if I did my character and his stories justice.

I have often been convinced that there are people like my character Juan the Bear, who in a better world would be allowed to write their stories and not be forgotten. After all, alcoholic though he was, couldn’t Juan the Bear be a kind of Guatemalan Hemmingway, bearing in mind that Hemmingway was one of the sinners and not one of the saints. Art like religion raises humankind up from the dust… and that is why I named my story larger book in which Juan the Bear rests in his fitful slumbers, waiting to be read: Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. After all, does God care only for the virtuous or the wise? Or does he also care for those who are still on the journey of being human… Whether it be Jewish, or Catholic, or Muslim, or Hindu, or even Buddhist or Confucian.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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