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Gary Borders: Jaìme makes a surprise call

Gary Borders

The voice on my cellphone was familiar and welcomed, in heavily accented Spanish. “Hallo, Meester Gary. It’s Jaìme. How are you?” I haven’t heard from my compadrè since my birthday in 2010, when he called to remind me I was turning 55. “Muy Viejo,” he joked at the time. Very old.

Jaìme and I became acquainted 15 years ago in Nacogdoches, when I was looking for someone to help out on weekends doing yard work. Day laborers gather each morning at a park just south of downtown. When one drives up, usually a dozen or so men run over. Jaìme beat the crowd to my Jeep, climbed in, and immediately began speaking rapid-fire Spanish. Despite four years of high school Spanish and a couple of night non-credit courses, my Spanish skills are abysmal. I know lots of nouns and verbs, but conjugation has always remained a mystery.

“Habla despacio, por favor,” I said. Speak slowly, please. The torrent did recede, but Jaìme is a talker. He believes, apparently, that if he speaks Spanish long enough the person to whom he is talking will learn it by osmosis. And actually, I did learn a lot more Spanish in the years we worked together, and I worked on teaching him English as well. We became friends, who worked together on painting rent houses, fixing fences during my ill-fated foray into raising cattle, once rebuilt a bridge over a creek, and planed lumber when I built furniture.

Jaìme sports a thick, black moustache and equally dense hair, a modest paunch and a ready smile. He was the hardest, most efficient worker I have known. I have hired many people, both in the workplace and to help around the house. Jaìme gets more done in less time while making it look easy. He would tackle any project with an unflappable cheerfulness and a Rain Man ability to recall dates of past events. Often he would remark, “Mr. Gary, four years ago today, I started repainting that first house you bought in Longview.”

Like many Mexican men, he came here to earn money for his family back home, in the village of Paso del Correo in the state of Veracruz. The money sent home allowed him to remotely direct the remodeling of his home. He eagerly awaited photos of the progress from his wife, and snapshots of his son and daughter.

In late 2009, Jaìme returned to Mexico for good. His daughter was about to hold her quinceañera, to mark her turning 15, the transition in that culture from childhood to becoming a young woman. His son was growing up as well, and he was missing out on their lives, not to mention living apart from his wife for years. It was time to return to his small ranch, where he raises a few cows and chickens, and a vegetable garden

Jaìme told me he had lost my cellphone number but finally got it from someone else he used to work for in Nacogdoches. He said he and his family are doing well. As always, he was speaking 90-to-nothing and I had to ask him to slow down. Both of his children are attending university, and he is in good health.

I told him I still wanted to come visit sometime, to visit the nearby pyramids of El Tajin, a Mesoamerican city that flourished from the early 9th to the early 13th century. Jaìme lives about 30 miles south of the ruins.

I think he replied that would be great, and he would call again. At least that is what I thought I heard. Between Jaìme’s rapid patter and our language barrier, I can’t be sure.

Gary Borders has been an East Texas journalist and editor for more than 40 years. He works now as a freelance writer, editor and photographer. You can see his work at garyborders.com. He has written for World Wildlife magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer and Airstream Life.