"How old are you?"
He seemed a lively guy, friendly, we’d gone just about half a mile, he was teasing the radio operator. Of course I’d only seen the back of his head. He was driving the taxi. We were going from the beach hotel (Fiesta Americana) to the old center of the city in Veracruz, Mexico. Yesterday.
"I just turned 60," I answered.
He answered quickly, with the simple, matter-of-fact pride you might expect, not out of place, much more friendly than anything else:
"My oldest son is older than you. 61."
Now, my 88-year-old father is doing very well, golf and tennis daily, but this guy was driving a taxi, and happy about it.
"Veracruz has the prettiest women in the world," he said. That’s a hard comment to answer; but no worry, he went on quickly enough that no answer was required.
"That’s why I’m in Veracruz. My wife is from here."
Here’s the story he told, more or less in his words:
I was driving a trailer truck from Rosario (northwestern Mexico) to Veracruz (Eastern Mexico, on the gulf) when the prettiest girl I’d ever seen walked across the street, in a little town outside of here.
I stopped. I asked her where I could get lunch. She told me she could do me the best lunch in town, and she showed me where she lived, in a pretty blue house, unassuming, but well kept. So I gave her 100 pesos.
Lunch was delicious. I asked her how much I owed her, she said nothing; that I had already given her 100 pesos. I said no, that was for the food, I needed to pay her for the effort too. So I gave her another 100 peso bill and said if she wouldn’t charge me, then I would have to give her that. Fair’s fair.
Then I told her I wanted to take her out, and then marry her. So she took me to her mother, who said she’s too young: she was 14 years old.
I said she’s all grown up and she knows what she wants, and she agreed, so that was that. Except that it wasn’t, because I do things right. So where is your father, I asked.
"He’s the mayor (presidente municipal)," she answered.
So I went to the mayor, walked right up to him in front of 13 of his men, and told him I wanted to marry his daughter. I told him straight and tall.
"Shall I run him out of here?" one of the other man asked the mayor.
"No, this kid’s got guts, he’s standing up straight and speaking his mind," the Mayor answered.
But I’m not a kid, I said. I showed him my truck, and I showed him 1,500 pesos in bills, and I told him I was a man, I knew what I wanted, and his daughter did too.
That was 52 years ago, in 1956. They are still married. They have 23 kids, 10 daughters and 13 sons. "I can’t even tell you how many places my children and grandchildren live in," he said, "but they come back all together every year for the new year, and there are 80 of us now, including great-great grandchildren."
He said he’s never smoked, never drank, never ate seafood, fish, or red meat, and never strayed from his wife.
And that was the end of the story. We’d arrived at Cafe La Parroquia, in the old section of Veracruz. He jumped out of the driver’s seat and took my wife’s hand to help her out of the taxi, then he shook my hand, took his fare, and off he went. As we walked into the cafe, I said "damn! I didn’t even get his name. And I should have taken a picture."