A humorous discovery or how I came to like Judith Ortiz Cofer's writing after reading two of her autobiographic works that didn't impress me much. A less good writer of memoirs than a storyteller, Judith Ortiz Cofer surprised me in The Line of the Sun as having a great sense of humour and a gift for storytelling:
Small towns are vindictive, and when it became known that El Padrecito Cesar had been sent away to a mountain retreat for his health, a rumor began to circulate that the young priest had been caught "in flagrante" by the housekeeper, Leonarda, who had then aroused Don Gonzalo from a deep sleep. For days Leonarda was sought after by the townswomen for afternoon coffee, and even invited into the wealthier homes in town, where the old woman had never crossed the threshold except to wash floors. They interrogated her endlessly about the scandal up at the rectory, but she played the coy maiden and would only say that the little priest had too many wild friends visiting him in his room; that he would stay up till all hours reading poetry with one of them in particular; that it didn't seem natural to her for young men to spend so much time together, reading love poems to each other. And who was his special friends? They all wanted to know. One or two names would be sufficient. No names, no names, insisted Leonarda holding a porcelain coffee cup, little finger extended up to her toothless mouth. Some of her hostesses would later mark the same cup with an X and use it only when beggars are pilgrims asked for a drink at their back doors. Leonarda was soon forgotten but it wasn't long before another name was brought up for speculation.
It was just dawn, and in El Polvorín the houses were coming alive with the sounds of women setting pots of water to boil for coffee and getting their brooms and sprinkling cans ready. While their children were getting ready for school and their husbands for work, they would sweep clean their dirty yards, taming the pervasive dust with water so that it would not get into their houses and on the laundry they would be hanging on the lines strung from tree to tree.
Life was lived at a high pitch in El Building. The adults conducted their lives in two worlds in blithe acceptance of cultural schizophrenia, going to work or on errands in the English-speaking segment, which they endured either with the bravura of the Roman gladiator or with the down-cast-eyed humility that passed for weakness on the streets – a timidity that mothers inculcated into their children but that earned us not a few insults and even beatings from the black kids, who knew better.