I’VE NEVER SEEN him in town. I’ve never seen him anywhere except walking to or from the fields. Either that or working in his yard. He never stops working. He always has something in his hands or over his shoulder: a bushel of kale, a wheelbarrow loaded with carrots, a hose, a water pump, a shovel, a roll of bailing wire, a machete, a stack of fenceboards.
Even New Years, standing with his sons drinking beer by the fire, it was like he was just waiting to fix something, to tie up the dogs if they kept chasing firecrackers, to twist one more loop of wire around a broken table leg.
Since we’ve moved here¹ eight months ago the fields have been divided up for future neighborhoods. Two roads have been cut. A windbreak of 100 foot-tall poplars was chainsawed. (When they first started falling, everyone came out of their houses to watch, then later it just became part of the noise and activity in the barrio). Somebody from Buenos Aires started building the first apartment complex. Six of Abuelo’s grandkids and two of his kids moved out of the house, and so he portioned off that side, gave it its own entrance, and started renting it out to a woman who sweeps her concrete stoop wearing sweatpants and has taken in a stray dog with three pups that keep escaping through the bottom of the fence and crying for food at our door.
Today I saw him walking back from town. I saw him from a long ways off. I recognize his walk. He’s super thin, super small, but seems very strong and walks with this super straight back. He had on hemmed bluejeans. He wasn’t wearing his mud boots. He had on a light coat that I’d never seen before. He had his hand in his coat as if warming it. As we got closer though I thought I saw a bit of white bandage around the hand that was in his coat. I thought: “He’s just come back from the hospital. That’s the only time he goes into town. Damn, what happened to his hand?”
But as if I needed to cover up what I was thinking, I just said “Que tal?” and then quickly added, “Pretty cold isn’t it?”
“Pretty cold,” he said. “Bastante frio.”
But it wasn’t that cold really. It had actually warmed up and seemed like it was going to start raining again.
I never really know what to say to Abuelo Colque.
But I use “usted” when I talk to him.
¹ El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina
For more narrative travel writing, check out Notes from the Road.
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