We are a family that tells stories..
We’ve always told stories….
Sometimes, we forget the stories we’ve told. Sometimes, we forget our history. It’s why I liked to scrapbook when the kids were little–because the days would twist and turn together and I was afraid I would forget. The other night, we found a scrapbook. It was an old one from the time we lived in El Paso, Texas after my son was born, and then again when my daughter was born. Don’t get me started. Apparently El Paso is where we go to spawn….
Back in those days, when my son was nearly three and my daughter was someone I carried around inside, I was an archaeological resources curator. That’s a fancy way of saying that: archaeologists dig it up, I preserve it forever. That wasn’t to say I wasn’t an archaeologist–I was. It’s just that, well, sometimes field archaeologists need someone even a little more (I hate to say this) anal retentive than they are to keep records and artifacts straight. That was my job….
But in my job, I got to meet a lot of local archaeologists who were working on a myriad of projects in and around El Paso…
One such project was the San Elizario Mission Restoration. The mission had been gutted. The archaeologists were working around in the builder’s trenches. I have pictures of my three-year-old son in a hard hat working alongside the archaeologists around the trenches. I remember the daughter of another of the workers. She was six at the time. She and my son ran off together around the interior of the mission. When they came back, smiling, laughing, pointing into the rafters and ducking around the nave, the lead archaeologist had to ask…
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t you see it?” piped up my three-year-old, his eyes bright and his finger pointed up into the rafters of the church.
“See….what?” I could hear the tentativeness in her voice.
“It’s up there!” Squealed the little girl. “See it? There it goes! C’m on! Let’s chase it!”
And off they ran.
I watched the lead archaeologist shift on her feet. “Kids,” I laughed.
She shook her head and followed them. “Hey!” she called, fairly running to keep up. “Hey!”
I followed. More slowly, because my daughter, then at 7 months inside, wasn’t fond of fast movement and would let me know….
“What’s up there?” the lead archaeologist asked when she reached the children.
“The monkey!” Laughed my son.
“Yeah!” The girl agreed. “A monkey! In the rafters! Don’t you see it?”
I watched the lead archaeologist pale and take a shaking step back. “Up there?” her voice was nearly breathless, and I noticed she didn’t look up.
“There it goes!” my son laughed, “follow it!”
She didn’t move as the kids ran off. It was only then that I noticed she was trembling.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, trying to keep my voice light.
I watched her forced smile falter. “A monkey,” she repeated, “in the rafters.” She took a breath like she’d forgotten to breath and tried to re-paste the smile on her lips. “There’s a legend,” she continued, “from the early days of the mission. From the early days of this building… that one of the priests confronted the Devil here.”
“Freaky…,” I muttered, still trying to smile.
“And the Devil took the form of a monkey and played up in the rafters…” She kept her eyes trained on the floor. “..and it didn’t leave for nearly six months… the Devil…”
I watched my son and his friend chase up and down the nave–after the imaginary monkey in the rafters.
“Did you know that story?” she shot at me, “before you came to volunteer…had you heard it?”
“No,” I replied …
But it went into the scrapbook alongside pictures of my son and his friend and the interior of the mission and the builders trench where the workers pulled bits and pieces of old San Elizario …
And I’ll never forget it again….