Ernesto is born in an adobe in a small Mexican village that is hidden away in a mountainous region. It is so small that the town has only one street, no police, no fire department, and no mayor. The village belongs to everyone.
Ernesto’s parents are divorced, so Ernesto lives with his mother, Henriqueta, as part of the property settlement. He also is reared by his Uncle Gustavo, his aunt Esther, and his Uncle José. Part of his daily chores is to watch over his pets: Coronel, his rooster; Nerón, his watchdog; and Relámpago, a burro who really does not belong to anyone.
Ernesto does not attend school so he does not know how to read or write well. Having a career is not as important as being able to prove his manhood through hard manual labor. Beginning at age seven, Ernesto learns that being a man means working day and night without pay.
One summer day, a great hurricane showers the village. The street is flooded, and everyone works together to save what is left of houses and corrals. Before the stories of the flood can be talked about, the rurales, special government police, enter the town looking for young men to be drafted in the army for the revolution. They do not allow anyone to leave. Fearing the worst, Henriqueta decides the family must escape. The night before the family slips away north, Halley’s comet appears in the sky. According to Don Cleofas, the oldest person in the village, this is an omen of something serious.
After a day and a half traveling on horseback, Ernesto and his family arrive in Tepic and settle in their new home. Life is different. Uncle Gustavo and José now work for pay, and the marketplace becomes an adventure for Ernesto. He even begins to be educated at home. The problems of the revolution his mother thought she left behind at the old village (which people called Jalco) follow them to Tepic. Good news, however, arrives in the form of jobs on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The family again travels north to Acaponeta. Living there, close to the railroad station, means that revolutionaries often come to the family’s door. With every grace,...
(The entire section is 871 words.)