The Rose Of Ocros
I had heard stories about the infamous “Mama Rosa”, the grandmother who would come for extended visits to my Peruvian host home. They were tales of almost legendary repute, forming the portrait of an almost legendary woman- a woman whose name was “Rose”.
These tales revealed her to be a woman of great strength, both in body and in will. It was of no consequence to her when, in her eighties, she fell from her donkey only to stand up, insult the animal and mount it again.
She lived alone on her farmhouse in the mountain region of Ocros. There she raised vegetables, made cheese (an awful poison by my preference), and managed her estate.
Our initial encounters were limited to occasional lunches or minor social events that were hosted at the house. We would gather around the table and her questions were always direct. “Why are don’t you like my cheese, stupid gringo?”
At first I attempted to ignore or avoid her, but our differences were so definite that the inevitable clash would occur. She was from the Quechua culture- the descendants of the mighty Inca empire. I was from the Denver culture- the descendants of western coal miners. While we coexisted in proximity, we lived quite distantly in thought. She was a Catholic, I a Protestant.
As we prayed before meals, she would make no end of intentional distraction. At one occasion, she took advantage of my closed eyes and folded hands by tossing a crumpled napkin at my face. When I finished my prayer, I took the same napkin and lobbed it back at her, direct to the face. The table became silent as we stared across at the other. I had played by her rules, now what would be the consequences? Another long moment passed, sound of a stray fly provided the only ambient noise. Then, her lips began to lift at the corners. It was slow at first, but soon had become a full, wide grin. We began to laugh, and the rest of the family, confused at first, joined in.
So a new relationship had begun. As was her nature, she would selectively punch me if I walked to near, or shout at me for being a “stupid gringo”, but I would just smile and so would she. It was a strange friendship, but one that had a lasting impact on my stay in Peru.
During the day she would either cook or sit in the kitchen, either bored or contemplative; I never discovered which. When I would come home from teaching, she would be seated at the kitchen table, staring out at some otherwise invisible place. So, after having a bite to eat, I would bring out the classical guitar or ukulele and sit across from her. My tunes were simple and original- mostly tales about the “Beautiful Rosa from Ocrus”. She would clap along with me and my gladness was made by hers.
I would ride across the mountains and encounter a beautiful woman. Her name was Rosa, the Rose from Ocros. I would take her on my horse with me along the sandy beaches. Then we’d ride away throughout the night deep in the mountain forests.
One day, when the strings of my guitar were broken, I brought out a deck of playing cards instead.
“Do you play?” I asked.
“If you teach me, gringo.”
So I taught her the simple rules of an easy game. We would play for a time, and she would break the rules as it became convenient. I would just laugh and let her win. And so the days passed.
She never liked my “gringo” way of life, but somehow she came to overlook it (mostly). But while she was able to ignore my “faults”, she continued to try to teach me hers. She taught me various phrases in Quechua, her culture’s speech, and I would employ them at various times in my songs. We learned to get along, but I never learned to like her cheese.
I have been back in the United States for almost eight months now, and today I received an unexpected email:
LAMENTO INFORMARTE QUE LA MAMA ROSA HA FALLECIDO..ESTAMOS MUY TRISTES. NO LO PODEMOS ENTENDER, ESTABA TAN BIEN Y DERREPENTE…BUENO, SOLO QUERIA QUE LO SUPIERAS, TU TAMBIEN LA QUERIAS. SE FUE LA ROSITA DE OCROS
I REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT MAMA ROSA HAS PASSED AWAY… WE ARE VERY SAD. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, SHE WAS JUST FINE AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN… WELL, I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, YOU LOVED HER AS WELL. THE LITTLE ROSE FROM OCROS HAS GONE.
And so, the Rose has fallen and with her, her song.