BITS and PIECES # 33

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July 24, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 33

Hello again from Luquillo,
As I promised last week, here is a short, original story for you to consider. Its about an old Spanish land grant, and a tiny, but fascinating community that, like a modern-day Mexican ‘Camelot’, thrived for ‘one brief shining moment’, amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy west Los Angeles urban development…

I hope you find it entertaining…

TALAMANTES

Curiously, the narrow, dusty plot of land lay along one of the most highly-developed lengths of Sepulveda Boulevard, tucked between a thriving Oldsmobile dealership to the north on the corner of Olympic Boulevard, and an ultra-modern, two story poolside apartment complex near Pico Boulevard to the south, in West Los Angeles. Closer scrutiny revealed ‘Talamantes’, a miniscule Mexican café athwart the plot’s forefront, backed-up by a narrow strip reminiscent of a rural Mexican village lane, with timeworn, well-kept houses on either side of a wide footpath occasionally interspersed with tiny plots of vegetables — chili peppers, tomatoes, corn and beans. The strip ran on, unimpeded except for the occasional wandering rooster, a few blocks in an easterly direction until it terminated at Sawtelle Boulevard…

Although quite small, Talamantes’ Mexican café was extremely popular, purveying authentic tamales, enchiladas, chili con carne, huevos rancheros and so on to locals and tourists alike. Gilberto Talamantes managed the family business while his mother Juanita and sundry other family members took care of the cooking. The smell of tamales and enchiladas cooking drifted onto the street, luring transient motorists and passers-by like bees to a beehive…

As a regular Talamantes diner, I soon became friendly with Gilberto (‘Gil’) and his family — conversant enough in fact to enquire about the anachronism their tiny strip of land represented in the otherwise burgeoning development of this area. Gil tossed off my queries with an airy “It’s something to do with an old Spanish land grant – you’ll have to get the details from my grandfather.” I had met Don Adolfo Talamantes a few times — spry, despite his advanced years, he often busied himself around the café waiting on tables and clearing away dishes. Some days later, Gil spoke to his grandfather, who readily agreed to take me to his house, dig-out the original land grant documents and show them to me…

That afternoon, accompanied by my friend Bill Mason, I walked with Don Adolfo down the dusty path to the tiny house where he lived by himself. As he ushered us into his kitchen, he muttered softly to himself “I know I put it somewhere in here, I just need to remember exactly where” — he began randomly opening kitchen cabinet doors, a few of which hung precariously askew on rusty, broken hinges, and began rummaging through them — finally arriving at a cabinet under the sink, crammed with cans of chili con carne, he cried-out triumphantly “Caramba – here it is”. Reaching under some rusting cans, he retrieved a tattered manila envelope, stained liberally with what appeared to be a combination of grime and insect droppings. Shaking the envelope gently to rid it of its transferrable flotsam, he placed it carefully on the worn green oilcloth covering thumbtacked to his dilapidated kitchen table, opening it and carefully spreading-out the contents for us to view…

There were two pages – the first which appeared to consist of a kind of parchment, was yellowed, the edges dog-eared and crumbling with age — the page was covered, with still legible, albeit faded lines of precise hand-written Spanish script — fortunately, Bill was totally fluent in that language. As he slowly and carefully translated the text, line-by-line, It became clear that it was indeed a land grant document, dated ‘Septiembre 23, 1816’, granting Don Alonzo Talamantes and his descendants 100 hectares (about 250 acres) of prime California land in perpetuity, for unspecified services rendered to the Spanish Crown — at its bottom, it bore a cracked and weathered red seal the size of a silver dollar, with the still legible Spanish crown signet impression of Fernando VII, Rey de España…

The second page, carelessly paper-clipped beneath the first, was a brief 1862 re-affirmation of the Spanish grant by the United States government — it was written in formal English and, at the bottom of the page it bore the simple signature ‘A. Lincoln’…

I was flabbergasted! These documents, carelessly stored under Don Adolfo’s kitchen sink were vital Talamantes family records, as well as significant historical documents! I was anxious to question Don Adolfo about what deeds his noble ancestor Don Alfonso had performed to qualify for this gracious gift; what had caused Mr. Lincoln to take precious time-out from the manifold duties and distractions implicit in our country’s terrible civil war to re-affirm the Spanish grant: how the original grant had shrunk from 100 hectares to its present diminutive dimensions, and so on…

Instead, I asked Don Adolfo if he had ever considered storing these important documents in a safe-deposit box at his bank. Somewhat taken aback, he replied “No, why should I do such a thing — they are perfectly safe here in this envelope under my sink, held in place and protected by chili cans — and besides, I am able to retrieve them and view them whenever I wish!” I tried another tack “Don Adolfo, would you consider letting me take them to a printer to have them copied and reproduced for safekeeping?” He thought that over for a while and finally shook his head in refusal, while carefully replacing the documents in the tattered envelope and restoring it to its ‘proper’ location under the sink — turning, he ushered us to the door — our conversation was abruptly over…

Several days later, I appealed my case to Gilberto, but he demurred, saying his grandfather was “a very stubborn Viejo” who seldom changed his mind about anything once he had made it up. I didn’t press the matter further, and a few weeks later, I moved away to the shoreside community of Hermosa Beach, and sadly lost track of my Talamantes amigos…

Oddly, although my close association with the Talamates family, their café and their tiny strip of property, which led me to the subsequent conversation with Don Adolfo about the land-grant documents, happened sixty-some years ago, I still wonder if by any extraordinary chance the dusty, narrow strip of Talamantes’ property still exists in its remembered location between Sepulveda and Sawtelle boulevards in west Los Angeles — and if so, if those two precious documents still slumber peacefully beneath some rusting chili cans under a current Talamantes family member’s kitchen sink — an unlikely fantasy of course — but, wouldn’t it be altogether pleasant if it were so?

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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