There were places like The Hitching Post in Kansas, bars with steak and potatoes for breakfast and beer and brawls for dinner with honkytonk music as background music. The bar was at the east side of town on Route 66.
“Boys,” he said, “Maybe Albuquerque won’t be so bad. This reminds me of home.”
After being drafted he worried where he’d get stationed. When they told him New Mexico, he was surprised.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he told the sergeant, “I didn’t know we were at war with Mexico.”
He was embarrassed later about that, and his wife would always make fun of him about it.
“My husband fought in the war against Poncho Villa,” she’d say and then laugh. Then she’d always squeeze him or pull his ear.
As his friends piled up around the bar, he’d see that woman for the first time in his life across the smoky dance floor of the Hitching Post.
A band, a group called The Sandia Mountain Boys was playing and couples were dancing. Around the edges of the dance floor were tables.
She sat with three other women. Her hair was her black, her skin was olive, and she was petite. She was wearing a white embroidered blouse and a green skirt with a red design along the bottom edge of the skirt that looked like flames.
What caught his attention was the way she laughed and pushed the girl next to her, obviously making fun of her while the other girls laughed.
“Hello!” he exclaimed. He was standing next to a local he’d befriended with his army buddies. “I want to meet her.”
“It’s not gonna happen,” he said laughing. “Ella es un manita. They don’t dance with white boys, especially white boys from Kansas.”
“Oh cmon,” he said. “I gotta try. She’s gorgeous.”
“She doesn’t speak English!” his friend said. “Besides she probably belongs to some pachuco. Don’t fuck with those guys, tan loco.”
“Well, get me a beer, I’ll grab a seat, and you’re gonna teach me some Spanish,” he said eyeing a table.
They sat down and he began his lesson.
“Say this slowly after me,” his friend said. “A couple of the other guys figured out what he was doing and snickered.
“Soy un grande pendejo,” his friend said slowly.
“Soy. Ooon. Granday. Penda hay yo,” he said slowly.
“No ‘pen da hay yo,’” he said. “Pen de ho.”
“Got it,” he said and repeated, “Pen de ho.”
“This next part is easy,” his friend said, “De Kansas.”
“Yeah,” he said “What am I saying?”
“I am a gentleman from Kansas.”
The other guys were stifling their laughter, but the young man from Kansas was determined to meet the manita with the fire on her skirt.
“Bailar con migo,” his teacher said slowly. “Por favor.”
“Bi lar con mee go pour favor,” he said, pronouncing ‘favor’ with its English sound.
“Bueno, muchacho,” he said to his buddy. “Tu estas listo por amor. Vamonos!”
He had managed to find a cowboy hat since he arrived in the state, and he pushed it back on his head and started the walk across the dance floor toward her. The table of men he left behind were laughing by now and full of expectation for what was about to come.
When he got to the table the women all gave him a wide-eyed look, but he looked right at what he wanted. She looked him up and down. Her lips were red, and she smiled warily. Her green eyes locked into his blue eyes and they seemed to stay that way for a long time. His mind went blank for what seemed like an eternity as he stared into her eyes.
“Hoh la,” he started. “Soy oon granday pendayho de Kansas.”
He stopped for a moment and the other women were now laughing hysterically. Across the room, the young men watched their reaction, and they began to laugh hard as well.
He continued, focused only on her and concentrating on his delivery.
“Bi lar con mee go,” he said with some satisfaction. “Por favor?”
She unfurled an incandescent smile and he felt as though his gambit had succeed. She stood up, and grabbed his jean jacket with her hands. She couldn’t have been taller than 5 feet, and she looked up at him earnestly.
“Yo hablo ingles,” she said. “I speak English. And yes, I’d love to dance with you.”
“Oh, wow,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t know, they said, well, he said, you would only speak Spanish.”
“Your Spanish is lovely,” she said. “Where did you learn it?”
“Oh, my buddy over there,” he said pointing to the young man who was now standing up and looking at them with a wide smile.
“Oh, and he told you that I would only speak Spanish?” she asked.
“Well, yeah,” he said.
“I’ll be right back,” she said and walked toward the tall young man smiling. The young man’s smile began to wan a bit as she got closer. By the time she got close his face had become quizzical.
She punched him in the stomach. He doubled over. And she leaned down and whispered into his ear.
“Quien es el grande pendeho?”
Now the other guys were beside themselves laughing. The young man walked backward toward the table and watched her saunter back over to their friend from Kansas.
“Now why in the hell did you do that?” he asked.
“Oh,” she said. “He will tell you all about it later. Let’s dance.”
The band leader was back at the microphone.
“Hey all, let’s keep it going with one that was big one for Stonewall Jackson last year, it’s a bit slower, so find a lady and let’s get on the floor. This is called, ‘Life to Go.”
They started dancing.
I’ve got a sad, sad story friend that I don’t like to tell
I had a home and fam’ly when they locked me in this cell
I’ve been in here eighteen years a long, long time I know
But time don’t mean a thing to me ‘cause I’ve got life to go
“Where are my manners?” he said and introduced himself as they moved on the dance floor.
“Me llamo Florencia,” she said. “But if the Spanish is too hard, you can just call me Florence,” she said, and laughed.
Well I went one night where the lights were bright just to see what I could see
I met up with the old friend who just thought the world of me
Well he brought me drinks and he took me to every honkytonk in town
Then words were said and now he’s dead I just had to bring him down
Well it’s been a long, long time now since I’ve heard from my wife
I know I’d be there with her yet if I hadn’t used the knife
Well I’ll bet that little girl of mine don’t realize or know
Her daddy’s been here eighteen years and still got life to go
When they finished, they found their friends had all gathered around the table. His Spanish teacher shook his hand.
“Congratulations on passing your first Spanish test here in New Mexico, Amigo,” he said. “Looks like you got the girl.”
When he found out how his friend double crossed him with his Spanish lesson, he laughed so hard he cried. They all did. They drank more and more beer.
“The town is called Lebanon,” he told her when she asked where he was from.
“Like in the Bible?” she asked.
“Yes, just like that.”
“Maybe one day I’ll visit.”
“And maybe you’ll take me up to Chee my,” he struggled.
“Chimayo,” she said. “Chee my oh. Yes, you can meet my mom if you’re that brave.”
The piano player started to play Floyd Cramer’s Last Date.
“I love this one,” she said. “Another slow dance with me sweetie?”
“I’m not sayin’ ‘no’ to you, honey.”
They all danced and drank more beer and she made them all laugh over and over. She held his hand. He wondered if he was moving too fast. He wondered who she was. When he looked at her, he didn’t miss home as much as he had before.
They stayed until closing time and the others kept their distance as the two of them tried to say goodbye.
“Hey,” he said. “I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
She looked up into his eyes and put her arms on his shoulders.
“This is the part where you’re supposed to kiss me,” she said.
So, he did. Their friends were nearby in the parking lot and started making noise as they kissed. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand.
“You’ve got quite the set of eyes,” he said. “I’ve never seen eyes like that anywhere.”
“You’ll be seeing more of them,” she said, and kissed him again. “And they will be seeing you.”