Early in the first chapter of Rudolfo Anayo’s coming-of-age novel Bless Me, Ultima, the story’s narrator, six-year-old (“I was almost seven”) Antonio describes the arrival into his family’s home of his grandmother and, it will be revealed, his spiritual advisor, or curandero, Ultima. From the beginning, Antonio discusses Ultima with a reverence normally reserved for a deity. Ultima, though, has been living alone on the vast grassy plain common to those of her heritage. While Antonio’s father, Gabriel, was a cattle driver (vaquero), his mother viewed herself as a more cosmopolitan person for whom life on the plains, or llano, was associated with primitive farming. It is Antonio’s mother, despite the father’s legacy and culture, who suggests the family move to Guadalupe from the New Mexican plains on which the family had settled:
“After I was born in Las Pasturas, she persuaded my father to leave the llano and bring her family to the town of Guadalupe where she said there would be opportunity and school for us. The move lowered my father in the esteem of his compadres, the other vaqueros of the llano who clung tenaciously to their way of life and freedom.”
The move, Antonio explains, caused his father considerable emotional stress, as he had been forced to sell of his animals, including the horse he loved, which he gave to a friend who, in turn, allowed the animal to roam freely as a spirit “that walked the earth.” Leaving the llano will prove deleterious for the family, as the spirits remained there, distant from the town to which Antonio, his parents, and his two sisters had moved.