Sunday, February 21, 2010


This is another story from Tom Miranda, my dad's dad.


After a good many years they were married,
my grandmother and this man. And the old man

went into business making medicine. They said
he was good. Every kind of weed, root,

whatever he got – he cooked it some way,
put it together. He was known as Dr. Tarango.

Oh I guess he’s been dead years and years.
Everybody said, something go wrong?

let’s go see Tarango. I was up there
when the pumpkins came in bloom one time.

But Faustino Garcia, that was my Grandfather.
Him and my Grandmother, I guess they separated.

The old man, he had a nice place way back
up there the other side of the Mission. On the other side

of the river. I think he spent all his life there.
He had a little place about ten acres. And he used to

dry salmon, when they speared salmon.
He got some pieces of wood and he used to dry ‘em,

then cut the skin off the fish. Salmon this big,
you know? He put it up in this tray-like,

and he charged money too. He said
it cost him money to buy salt. I remember him well.

Old Tarango, he was ornery, he didn’t want nobody!
I stayed with my Grandfather up there two or three different times.

I was very small but I remember –
he used to treat me nice.

This story is like the rolling waves of the Pacific – just the surface of what is really going on.

Beneath Tom’s wistful words about his grandfather Faustino, I hear the voice of a small boy whose experience with tenderness, with gentle adults, with a respectful and loving relationship to the land, is brief but potent. He must have feasted his eyes on those rich yellow pumpkin blossoms, to remember them so well in his old age. I hear Faustino’s quiet efforts to live out his life close to what remained of the mission where he’d spent his life, going back to the survival skills that had served his ancestors well. I hear a longing in Tom’s voice, a longing for the warm welcome of his grandfather, for a place to belong.

Also beneath the surface of this story: Tarango, the “doctor” who married Tom’s grandmother. In fact, Isabel Meadows told ethnologist J.P. Harrington that the priest finally "made" Guadalupe Cuevas and Luis Tarango get married; I find it hard to believe that anyone could order around that wiley old medicine man, so perhaps it was just more convenient for Tarango to go along. Tarango’s name turns up in some of Harrington’s other field notes, as does his daughter, Dolores (probably from a previous marriage); he did indeed have a reputation as a someone who knew his way around cures, curses, and supernatural matters. This would have been around 1913; quite late for such indigenous knowledge to be practiced among these particular California tribes – according to ethnologists and anthropologists. Tarango was one of many whose work went on in the background, where few whites would notice, where only the indigenous people could see.

And hidden, except for this story: Faustino Garcia's tender care of a young boy whose family probably couldn't afford to feed him; a gentleness that both oral tradition and my own experience document as rare among the men in our family of survivors; the retention of indigenous fishing and preservation practices; and the loss of that land my grandfather speaks of with a homesickness his descendants still feel.

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