Death, a constant presence

THE OLDER you get, the closer to death you are and the more death you witness in one way or another.

In my years here on this Mexican mountaintop, plenty of people I’ve known have died.

The brother-in-law, of course. He killed himself unintentionally with a small-caliber pistol that he aimed too close to his heart.

Long ago, there was an old fellow named Charlie who drove around town in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug the color of a bluebird. Every time he saw me, he asked: Are you still here?

And I always was.

Once Charlie was having lunch at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant on the main plaza when a car pulled up and thugs got out. They walked by Charlie, went into the restaurant, grabbed a man, tossed him into the car trunk and drove off.

They were rivals from narco gangs. This all happened right next to Charlie who didn’t bat an eye. He later said he thought the guys in the car were cops. But they were not. Charlie is gone now, a natural demise. He’s not here.

But I still am.

There was another fellow. He was quite fond of my child bride, and he often would sit with us Saturday afternoons during the weekly pastry sales that my wife did then and still does now.

He was a nervous man, gay, quite smart, about 50 years old, but very nice. We enjoyed his company. He was a Cárdenas, a descendent of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. One day we heard he died under questionable circumstances.

Then there was the wonderful Al Kinnison. I loved that guy. He was almost like a father to me. When he died here in 2005 at the age of 79, I wrote a tribute to him. And I miss him still. His wife, Jean, preceded him into the unknown a year or two before.

Almost two years ago, a nephew died at age 31 of cancer. We had driven him almost weekly for a year to the state capital for chemo treatments, to no avail. He left a wife named Alma (soul) and two small children.

Last May, a second brother-in-law died. A heart attack in his early 50s. He was a younger sibling of my wife. No one had a clue about his health issue, so his death came out of the blue.

And very recently, two more. One was an old man we knew fairly well. The other was a young boy we knew far less well but who had impressed us mightily the last few years.

Almost every Saturday, before heading downtown for our pastry sale, we eat lunch at a very humble, roasted-chicken eatery on the highway near the Hacienda. The family business started about three years ago in exceedingly low-rent surroundings. A small dark room with a couple of metal tables and chairs.

A father, mother, two children and a granny who made the tortillas by hand.

The father roasted the chickens on wooden stakes stuck vertically into glowing coals which were spread directly on the ground outside. He also cooked chorizo and ribs in the same way. He is a very serious young man whom I’ve seen smile just once.

His wife is far more outgoing, a young, happy woman who looks in her late 30s. The husband is about the same age. The children were a daughter about 7 and a son, 16.

They toil seven days a week.

The food they sell is excellent, and the business grew. Last spring they moved a few doors in the other direction to a larger, less gloomy location, but the roof consists of log beams and a plastic cover. That’s what keeps the rain at bay.

My wife and I always noticed the boy. He was tall, good-looking, clean-cut, polite, attentive to the needs of both customers and his parents. He seemed like a great kid, the sort of son anyone would be proud of, and they were proud of him.

He did home deliveries on a small Honda motorcycle. He was killed on that bike two weeks ago. This is what tragedies are made of. We learned of that last Saturday.

Last week, Michael Warshauer died. He and his wife, Susie, came to our house not long after they moved to the mountaintop in 2005. Mike was a superlative cook, and I had mentioned that I missed Vietnamese pho soup, which I often ate in Houston.

Mike and Susie visited, and Mike made pho. It was good. Not quite what the Vietnamese served in Houston due to the lack of some ingredients hereabouts, but it was a stellar effort. The inimitable Jennifer Rose has written an excellent tribute to Mike, which you can see here.

She did it far better than I could have.

R.I.P., Mike, and to all of the others I mentioned or, as it’s written in Spanish, Q.E.P.D.

Perhaps I won’t be far behind you. Have pho prepared, please. Fixings shouldn’t be an issue up there. And I’ve heard good things about your chocolate eclairs. That too would be appreciated. I adore eclairs.

Thanks in advance.

18 thoughts on “Death, a constant presence

  1. We are all destined to leave this world sometime or other and, Felipe, you are so right that the older we advance the quicker it’s coming … or so it seems.

    I had the pleasure of knowing Michael Warshauer as well. When I first researched Pátzcuaro he was one of a handful who answered many questions I had. He put together a full morning of a planned shopping, preparing and actual cooking of an authentic Mexican luncheon at a host family’s home for us when we asked, “Are there any local cooking schools in Pátzcuaro?” He reveled in taking four of us shopping in the local market, guiding us in the selections of needful ingredients. Onward we marched with arms ladened with sacks of foodstuffs to the host home, nearby the Plaza Grande. We had such fun meeting three lovely ladies assisting us with the meal prep. He was our interpreter as well. He was in all his glory that morning, I believe.

    We continued to stay in touch. Once in a while on our visits we’d see him near the plaza, and he always remembered us. I followed his blog for the longest time. He was my go-to Mexican restaurant food critic throughout Michoacán. R.I. P. Michael Warshauer. May you be head chef of the table you now sit at.


    1. Leisa: To say Mike was obsessed with food and its preparation is to state things very mildly. Lord knows, I hope there’s a kitchen where he is, or he’ll be looking for a way out of there.


    1. Marco: Time will tell. Not sure about 20 years, however. That would have me outlasting my mother who made it to 90, and not in a good way either.

      My father made it only to about 18 months older than I am right now.


  2. I met Mike and Susie during my great Mexican road trip in 2014. He was a great guy, and I’m very sad to see him go. Seems like he wasn’t all that old. I hope Susie is OK on her own.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA


  3. Funerals that need my attendance are getting really frequent. Had one last week for a friend of over 50 years who carried only two more years than I. Had a notice of another a couple of days ago of a friend’s mother who made it to 87 years, not in a good way.

    I like the Mexican view of death as indicated by Los Muertos celebrations.

    Gringos would do well to adopt something similar.


    1. Thanks, Ray, but we were not close. Over the years we communicated almost exclusively online, though we did run into one another now and then. Sometimes here and sometimes in the state capital. They had a fiesta at their rental home out in the sticks about a year ago. We attended. It was fun.


  4. He will be missed in the great debate over whether food is merely fuel to keep the body putting along or whether it is one of God’s great gifts to fallen humanity. My side is now an advocate short.


  5. Sadly, my encyclopedia of culinary items and sources will be greatly diminished. Knowing Michael was indeed a educational experience, whether or not he was dragging you to a new restaurant to experience a special dish or wanting you to check out a new source for the special item for the recipe he was working on. He always enjoyed sharing information, sometimes in his guarded humorous way.


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