TO A TWENTY FIVE YEAR OLD, Adolfo seemed ancient. Perhaps he was 70, perhaps more. He enjoyed making jokes at his own expense. “Llamo Gallegos, pero soy un poco
Indio,” he admitted, then added, “Todos somos un poco .” Indio
He was lanky and looselimbed. His forehead was tall and narrow, and sloped down to a large brown nose, perched on which were heavy framed glasses with thick lenses. “Estoy un poco ciegos,” he apologized, when he didn’t recognize me.
“Que es ‘ciegos,’ senor?” I asked.
Adolfo lifted his glasses and blinked. He staggered forward, groping at me. Then he replied, in perfect English, “It means I’m blind as a bat, my friend.”
I got to know him early in the year, at ditch cleaning time. Land owners with irrigation rights had to provide manpower to clean the ancient hand dug acequias—probably dating to Spanish colonial times—or pay a fee to the ditch association for hiring laborers. The individual requirement was proportional to the acreage under irrigation. The work took place before the sluice gate was opened for the new growing season.
As a renter, I was not obligated to participate. But I still volunteered, and on the appointed morning, Adolfo and I—shovels in hand—arrived at the head of the ditch. There, we were logged in and assigned a number. We took our places at the edge of the ditch, along with three or four dozen other men—mostly younger even than I was. Adolfo was by far the eldest.
Then, the majordomo jumped down into the ditch. He took two paces down its course, and thrusting his shovel into the ditchbed, he called out UNO! Without breaking stride, he continued—two more paces, chop, DOS!—and on, until he had called off a number for each man. When the last number was called, we all leapt into the ditch and shoveled furiously, dirt sailing, birds and critters skittering and flittering out of the willows and Russian olive along the bank.
All of us, except for Adolfo. Instead of leaping, Old Adolfo pushed his shovel into the ditchbed, and gripping the end of the handle close to his chest, he gently swung himself over the edge. He landed like a cat. Then he began to dig in an easy, rhythmic motion, scraping and lobbing in one graceful arc. Somehow, he kept up with the rest—some, one quarter of his age.
As soon as we completed our six foot segments, majordomo marked off the next set. We advanced almost without pause. By the end of the day, my ruptured blisters were bleeding through my gloves. My lower back was screaming.
Adolfo was tired, too, but he looked like he could go another round or two. That’s a good thing, because it would take several more days to complete the work.
But that was it for me.