From Broken Tiles and Crumbling Walls…
Memorias de Xochimilco y San Antonio
In my quest to understand the life of my great grandfather, Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, people often mention ancestors who were his patients in San Antonio between 1914 and 1960. Urrutia's main offices were just across from the Santa Rosa Hospital, where the Rosa Verde Towers now stand, at the corner of Houston Street and Laredo. His sons, Hector, Carlos and Adolfo (my grandfather) practiced alongside him, offering everything from dentistry to general care and surgery. His eldest son, Aureliano Jr., though he wanted to be a priest, obediently followed his father's desire toward medicine, ministering to his flock at the Robert B. Green Hospital. At least that's my understanding. I want to know more.
Last year, on Día de los Muertos, I ventured over to San Fernando Cemetery to place the beautiful traditional Mexican marigolds, cempasuchitl, at the graves of three Urrutia generations. It was my first such pilgrimage, and I look forward to returning this year. The atmosphere was festive, with music and religious services taking place nearby and many people visiting. Three women, of three generations, sat in lawn chairs under the tree shading several families’ plots. "Are you related?" one asked, and as I nodded and smiled, she explained in Spanish to her Mom, who then became animated and explained that her Mom, the abuela sitting quietly next to her, had worked in her youth nearby to the Clínica Urrutia. The interaction became enlivened with the recollection of the Doctor and this family, in a barrage of chatter about the bustle of the clinic and the Urrutia daughters—Refugio, Alicia, and Dolores—who administered salves and remedies from the next-door Farmacia Urrutia, and how they all helped so many people and never turned anyone away.
We grasped each others hands, and smiled, slowly returning from a dream world where we were of one community, back to our separate realms of present day. I learned then what aficionados of Día de los Muertos already know--that the customs help reconnect with those from another place and time. That's enough to get me coming back every year.
This year, the spirit of Día de los Muertos visited me a bit earlier, initiated by a trip to Xochimilco, Mexico in early October to meet friends face to face for the first time. I was thankful for the Internet that had allowed us to find each other and introduce ourselves virtually over the past months. My friends showed my husband and me remnants from Urrutia’s earlier life in México--his church, his house, his neighborhood, and his hacienda property.The latter, acquired as an adult, eventually returned to the communal hands of farmers who now tend the land.
As we navigated down the jam-packed tiny roads of the overcrowded town, we passed the cempasuchitl growers with their crops of orange flowers mounded at the banks of the roadside canal, ready to begin selling for the holiday. My friends surrounded me at the edge of his land, high on a bridge that he had built and crossed many times, overlooking Aztec waterways and chinampas. Together we brought forward a memory of Urrutia's surroundings left behind more than a century ago.
I hope for the same from the good people of San Antonio who hold the stories of the Doctor's care of their ancestors in San Antonio. I would love to hear your stories, to make sure that they will survive. Perhaps we can come together to share them, to rebuild fading memories into a vibrant history that was a part of our town. Viva los Días de los Muertos!
Photo of Elise by Galdino Diaz Flores. Used with permission. ¡Gracias, Galdino, por las photos!