Magdalena or Bust

(Photo: Some rights reserved by Gerry Balding)

He kept up with the box-car as best as he could, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to much longer as the train continued to gain speed. He looked around the boxcar for something that he could grab a hold of, but there was nothing. Just when he thought the train was going to get away from him, a small window on the boxcar swung open and a man’s hand stuck out of it. Nabor caught up and looked inside.

“You’re going to have to jump,” Porter 32 said through the window.

Nabor had no time to assess whether he could actually fit through the small window. He leapt toward the man’s hand and grabbed on to it as tightly as he could. His legs dangled dangerously close to the rails that would surely cut him in half should he fall while his head and torso refused to go through the small opening in the train. Nabor fell with a great thud when his shoulders finally squeezed. He was now with his family on the train.

*                     *                      *                      *

“Thank you,” Nabor said later to Porter 32. “So, uh, how much do I owe you?” Nabor said secretly hoping that he wouldn’t ask for another 32 pesos.

“Cinco pesos,” Porter 32 said much to the relief of the new father. Grandpa Next Door suspects that the man cut him a break because of the young baby that he had with him.

There were no chairs on this train; no booths; no sleeper cars; no wi-fi. All of the passengers sat on hard wooden benches that had no back support unless you were lucky enough to get a bench against a wall. A couple of lovely passengers were kind enough to give up their prized wall seats for the young family. Probably because of the baby once again. Geez, my Tío Corney must have been one cute kid…what happened?

From left to right Cornelio, Emilia, and Nabor Preciado-1981
From left to right Cornelio, Emilia, and Nabor Preciado-1981

“We rode the train for seven days…” Grandpa Next Door said.

“And seven nights.” Tía Anjélica said finishing his sentence. She’s the youngest of my Dad’s siblings. “He’s telling the story about the trip to Sonora again, huh, Josiah?”

So Grandpa’s kids have heard his stories a million times, but this is all news to me, his favorite grandson. Nay! Favorite grandchild!

“Seven days and seven nights.” Grandpa Next Door said. “And the train ran on coal so there was a lot of black smoke. We had to go through seven tunnels on the way and every time the smoke would get trapped in with us and would choke us until we came through the other side.”

It wasn’t a pleasant ride, but seven days, seven nights, and seven tunnels later they arrived in Magdalena. Nabor knew of only two hotels in this strange city. An expensive one and a cheap one. Looking at the few pesos that they had left, he hailed a taxi and said, “Hotel Ramirez, por favor.”

Nabor got his young family into a room and was about to enjoy his first bed in weeks when a woman who worked at the hotel stopped him.

“Hey, are you from Mixtlan?” she said.

“Yes,” Nabor said.

“What’s your name?”

“Nabor Preciado.”

“Preciado…Preciado,” she said. “Are you Toribio’s son?”


“I know your father. I know you and your whole family. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for work.”

“Who’s this,” the woman said pointing to Emilia and the baby.

“This is my family.”

“And you’re looking for work?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Hang on a minute let me get my boss. He might be able to help you,” she said turning away.

The woman returned with a man that Nabor recognized from Mixtlan. These people knew Great Grandpa Toribio because he was a locally-famous musician. While the rest of Mexico was listening to banda, Great Grandpa was playing “real music” as he called it; Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. You know… those guys.

The woman’s boss was short and tarado. There’s no perfect translation for this word, but basically he was a little spacey. He spoke in a very unusual manner like he was half asleep.

After reminiscing about how they used to play marbles with each other in the past, the hotel manager finally got to the present.

“So what are you doing here anyway?” the manager said.

“Well, you know how it is in Mixtlan,” Nabor said. “When you lose your harvest, you have to figure out what you are going to do.”

“What about Toribio?” the manager said. “Isn’t he wealthy?”

“Well he might be wealthy, but I’m not. I’m just starting my life.”

“So what are you looking for?… Work?” the manager said.

“Of course,” Nabor said thrown off by the manager’s strange phrasing. “Well, yes.”

“Look. Tomorrow, get ready. I work in a place that, perhaps… I might have a job for you.”

The manager gave Nabor much more than a job. He also let the young family stay in the room at the hotel free of charge. Every time Nabor asked about the bill, the manager kept telling him not to worry about it. Finally, after asking him about how much the room cost, for the one-hundredth time, the manager made it crystal clear.

“Don’t worry about the room. You just concentrate on getting yourself situated. Calmly go and find a place where you are going to stay and the room isn’t going to cost you anything.”

“He sounded stupid,” Grandpa Next Door said to me and Dad. “But there was nothing tarado about him.”

The manager got Nabor a job loading a train with scrap metal for 40 pesos a week which was pretty good back then. Grandpa Next Door still remembers exactly what he was paid over 60 years later. You remember when you are so desperate; when you don’t know how you are going to take care of your family.


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