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The following personalities are profiled on this page, and in this order:

Inez Zavala (of Lloyd's)                     By Sylvia Berek Rosenthal
Stirling Dickinson (of San Miguel)        By Mary Elmendorf  

4/13/04                   INEZ ZAVALA                     By Sylvia Berek Rosenthal

Look in the Juarde.  You'll find 15 listings for Zavala.  More than any other family name.  And those are only the Zavalas that have dealings with gringos.  Look in the yellow pages put out by Telefonos de Mexico and you'll find that one fourth of the lawyers in San Miguel are named Zavala.  Look in the white pages put out by Telefonos de Mexico and you'll find more than three times as many Zavalas as there are in the Juarde.  And the name is not like Smith in the USA.  Most of these Zavalas are related at a close enough level to be able to explain the relationships.  And many of them figure strongly in the history of San Miguel throughout the whole of the twentieth century.

The most visible of the Zavalas is Inez.  She works at Lloyds.  Walk through the big portals at San Francisco 33.  Take a right.  Almost immediately another right.  You'll find yourself in a small, elegant room, Inez' office.  She will tell you, "I now work in the room in which I was born in 1942.

In 1968 Inez was working in the office of the Instituto.  Executives from Lloyds home office in Guadalajara came up to San Miguel looking for someone to start a branch of their brokerage house here.  They chose Inez and her husband who were ready for a career change and willing to spend time Guadalajara in training for their new positions.  They opened the first SMA Lloyd's office almost as a cottage industry.  The office was right next to their bedroom in the living room of their apartment at Diez de Sollano 7.  Each week directors would fly up to San Miguel to supervise the new managers and help them as needed.  Obviously they did well because less than four years later, they were tapped to start the first branch office in Mexico City.  They left the San Miguel office in the charge of Manuel, a Zavala , of course.  The office in Mexico City was not in any one's living room.  It occupied a stately old building at Isabella Catolique 24.

Once that office was well established, Inez and her husband were called to work in the home office in Guadalajara.  Life became complex.  The couple broke up and Inez went for education and training in rehabilitation and education of substance abusers.  She worked for the government rehabilitation bureau for about two years but found that unrewarding because of the very few successes in rehabilitation. 
Inez returned to the Lloyd's fold.  She worked out of the Guadalajara office for a few more years.  She filled in at Lloyd's offices around the country whenever there was a need to expand, to train new personnel, or to substitute for a key figure on leave.

Of course, such a position occasionally brought her back to San Miguel. Whenever she returned to Guadalajara after a time here she was homesick.  How could she not be.  She was born here.  She grew up feeling that this was truly her town.  All around her were uncles aunts and cousins. 

She was the youngest of seventeen children and the older siblings that survived told her all about the days when Grandpa Zavala lived next door at SF 23  and the uncles would tie the aunts up in harnesses and haul them up to the balcony forty feet above .  And Grandpa thought it was fun.

Grandpa Zavala was  aware that real estate meant real wealth and as sons and daughters grew up he settled them on choice pieces of San Miguel real estate while acquiring even more to use in various enterprises.  Inez' parents, Martin Zavala Camerena and Clementina Rocha were given San Francisco 33 right next door to Grandpa Zavala.  This was most convenient because the elder purchased a number of businesses and Martin worked right along with him in these enterprises.

They ran a "meson"  This was a combination stable and dormitory.  Here a campesino could bring up to five mules to be stabled.  He would receive a petate to sleep on in a long dormitory like room.  All of this for the equivalent of about five cents.  Sorry no pillow provided.  The campesino would use whatever covered his mules' backs as his pillow.

They also owned the trolley system.  They bought it lock stock and barrel from the original two owners who had built it.  What they bought were the tracks, the trolley cars and the mules to pull the cars.  The trolley ran from the market down to the railroad station.  Mules pulled the cars uphill and on level ground.  When a trolley came to a steep downgrade, the mules were taken away and down the car went propelled by gravity.  The only controls were pressure on hand held brakes and a steady drip of sand on the tracks to slow things down some.  They were absolutely unable to come to a complete stop on a downgrade.  Yes, there were serious accidents when people could not get out of the way fast enough.

Come 1939 the trolley company disintegrated.  By then the senior Zavala had died and Martin Zavala, Inez' father, had inherited both the business and its management. Preparations for World War II had begun and it was impossible to obtain steel track replacements.  They tried to replace the steel with tracks made of mesquite.  But that simply did not work.  The service stopped and the trolleys  and tracks were sold to Celaya and San Luis Potosi.  I don't know what became of the mules. The car barns were converted into garages and a trucking service was begun to haul manta (unbleached muslin) from the factory down to the railroad station.  The service gradually expanded to include all kinds of haulage to and from a variety of destinations.

This service functioned for a long time.  Inez recalls being jarred awake  as a small child by three loud knocks on the door.  When the door was answered, there was a huge driver with a pock marked face and very light eyes. "Esta el amo aqui"  -Is the master here- he asked in a deep and frightening voice.  Obviously he had just arrived with a loaded truck and needed the boss to tell him what to do with it.  No matter what time it was and no matter that he terrified el amo's little daughter.

This little daughter grew up in a town where her father, aware of his civic responsibilities organized the  Sociedad de Los Amigos de San Miguel along with the Governor of Guanajuato, Mojica, and others.  This group was responsible for putting down the first adoquin or paving stones in San Miguel.  They were so proud of themselves they said citizens could now walk in stockinged feet because the roads were so smooth.  In 1953 Inez' father became elected mayor.

As she grew older she went to the first"secondario" or high school in San Miguel.  It was started on San Francisco on Zavala property of course, by her own uncle Leobino who was a lawyer and a writer as well as an educator.  He was principal of the school and taught literature and Spanish classes.  He was a strict taskmaster, especially to the Zavala children who were in his classes.  After all he really expected a great deal of them and he also wanted to make sure that no other students felt relatives got special treatment.

Inez remembers that once she yawned in class.  Maybe she was tired, bored or sleepy.  Whatever the reason Don Leovino reprimanded her and made her stand in the courtyard in front of the open door where her shame could be seen right into the courtyard of her own house and also by each and every person who walked past.

Well el amo's little daughter was all grown up now and she wanted to come home.  When an executive opening occurred in San Miguel, Inez was able to come back after twelve long years away.  It was not such an easy return.  She left as a married woman and came back as a divorcee.  She left a Lloyds office where she was manager and came back as an executive not a director.  She left an office that functioned out of her living room and came back to much larger offices, albeit still housed on Zavala property at Posada de San Francisco.

San Miguel grew and so did Lloyds.  By 1996 Lloyds was cramped and had no place to expand at Posada de San Francisco.  Once again the Zavala family came to Lloyds rescue.  San Francisco 33 was now the home of Francisca Zavala, One of Inez' sisters. She offered to divide the house and rent Lloyds one half and most of the courtyard.  A deal was struck.  The property was divided.

Lloyds hired the architect, Antonio Marin, Inez' husband, to redesign the area into spaces that were both functional and beautiful.  He created an imposing bank like structure out of half of this Zavala homestead. In San Miguel Lloyds is and has always been located on Zavala property.

The offices opened with much fanfare on October 3rd, 1993.  Inez laid claim to her birthright as an office, the room in which she was born.  She has been heard to say, "I haven't come very far, have I?"

March 29, 2004        Stirling Dickinson and San Miguel de Allende - My Bridge to Understanding the People and Cultures of Mexico       By Mary Elmendorf

In the summer of 1941, my husband, the late John Elmendorf, and I arrived in San Miguel de Allende with the first group of summer students from the Putney School in Vermont .  World War II was already making travel to Europe dangerous for students, so Carmelita Hinton, the founding director of the Putney School, had arranged her first summer work-study program in Latin America with Stirling Dickinson in San Miguel de Allende.  Mrs. Hinton, who had been a college classmate of Stirling's mother, explained to us that Stirling Dickinson was Associate Director of a new bilingual art school, the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes directed by Felipe Cossio del Pomar, a Peruvian art historian.  Stirling had assured her that rustic accommodations could be available for students at the ranch house of Pepe Ortiz, the famous retired Mexican bullfighter, in what is now the Hotel Atascadero, which Don Felipe had purchased along with the ranch which he called Rancho de Bellas Artes.  Students would be able to study Spanish, take art classes at Bellas Artes and Stirling offered to help us work out internships with local craftsmen.  Twelve students had already signed up, but when the leader for the group became pregnant and her doctor wouldn't let her travel, John and I agreed to go instead at the last minute.[1] 

In fact, we had to give up our jobs; his as French teacher at the traditional Hopkins Grammar School, a preparatory for Yale, and mine as a social worker for the WPA (Works Progress Administration), to accept the challenge of his learning Spanish (and I pottery making) to return as teachers at Putney, living in a small apartment in the boys’ dorm.  Even though we would be earning much less money, John was intrigued by this new educational approach and I was excited about the new adventures.  We accepted the challenge.  It changed our lives.

Three weeks later, we left for San Miguel from New York City by train, coach class, with only two students, George Heller and Alan Hawkridge, the others had dropped out along with the original directors.  The trip took three-and-a-half days during which all of us studied Spanish with John urging us on.  We arrived exhausted in San Miguel about 2:00 a.m.   As we got off on the dark platform we were frightened when a man with his face half-covered with a bandana approached us.  He handed us a note from Stirling saying, "I waited for over three hours to pick you up personally.  Instead, I have paid this taxi driver to take you to La Posada Las Monjas, where they're saving two rooms for you.  I'll see you at breakfast in the dining room at the Escuela de Bellas Artes ( School of Fine Arts ), which is just around the corner."  When we entered the hotel we were greeted by a sleepy concierge who took us upstairs to adjoining rooms, both smelling of damp plaster; one had bedsprings in it, the other a mattress!  The boys offered us the mattress and slept on the floor in their sleeping bags.  Obviously, San Miguel was not quite ready for visitors!

The next morning, as we entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes through the beautiful patio, a young deer approached John who was having his morning cigarette, snatched it from his mouth and ran off.  This deer was addicted to nicotine so smokers had to be careful!

After a late breakfast in the beautiful dining room of the lovely old Convento de la Concepción and a tour around the classrooms, Stirling suggested we go back to our hotel, have a siesta and come up to his house, Los Pocitos, at 40 Santo Domingo.  He explained that we could take a cab to the Santo Domingo Church , but we would have to walk up the steps the rest of the way with our sleeping bags and luggage.  As we walked up the hill I could hardly carry my sleeping bag, but I made it to Stirling 's.  As we chatted, Stirling suddenly suggested that the four of us stay with him instead of going up to the ranch de Bellas Artes as planned.  "John, you and Mary come see my guest room.  It's yours for the summer, and the boys can have my studio up above which has plenty of space for their sleeping bags.  You can share the bath."  By the way, the bathroom was decorated with bawdy frescos by Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Carlos Merida, etc as well as students from the art school.  I was delighted, of course, but said, " Stirling , we brought our sleeping bags.  Should we use them?"  Stirling laughingly replied, “The beds are made, but if you can't sleep except in your sleeping bag, you can put it on top.”  A bit embarrassed, I admitted I had never slept in a sleeping bag.  We had a wonderful summer. 

Stirling’s home, Los Pocitos, was a delightful place with large patios on several levels, separating his 13' x 13' bedroom, bath and kitchen from his living room and guest quarters.  The upper patio had a waterfall from the springs on the hillside which supplied water to his house splashing in a pool beside a stone wall bench which overflowed into a fish pond on the lower level where the entrance to the guest quarters was.  Behind Stirling ’s quarters was a service area and after that a kitchen, bedroom, bath, etc. for the Oviedos, his caretakers.  In fact, Isaac Oviedo was a picturesque addition to Stirling ’s home in his Zapata-type hat which he never removed while he swept the patios and kept everything neat and clean.  He was painted and photographed by many students.  Although his family presumably lived in the servants’ quarters, I never saw any of the women, even though the beds were changed regularly and clean linen appeared magically.  From the bridge across the arroyo one could see Stirling ’s vegetable garden and the apple tree he proudly showed off.  A major addition was “Junior,” a black Great Dane whom Stirling had taught to pretend to be a bull, with Stirling the bullfighter.  Junior slept in Stirling ’s room and was a regular customer at the butcher shop where he went alone to get his daily portion of meat and bones which Stirling paid for by the month.  He was probably not as accomplished as Chorrito, the small dog Stirling had owned in the late thirties, whom he described so beautifully in an early article in Atencion reprinted in August, 2003.  Chorrito not only picked up his meat daily at the butcher shop, but attended every movie delighting the audience when he raced down the aisle to challenge every dog or large animals who appeared on the screen.  However, his most accomplished appearance was when Stirling had left him locked up at home while he went to the grand opening of the restored Teatro Angela Peralta where José Mojica , the well know opera singer who had first suggested to Stirling  that he visit San Miguel,  was giving a special performance.  When the curtain opened, instead of Mojica, Chorrito appeared, stood in the middle of the stage looking out over the audience and seemed to bow as everyone applauded. 

Stirling ’s dogs were always special members of his family and one of them became equally special to us.  In early 1954, soon after we had moved to our new home on the Mexico City College campus at Kilometer 16 on the Toluca highway, Lindsay and Susie were exploring the caves on the lower road with their friends, the Stephens children.  Lindsay’s constant companion, Gitano, the black and white son of Penelope the second, our cocker spaniel who had ridden in our new Plymouth station wagon with John from North Carolina down to Mexico, followed the children.  He dashed ahead deep into the caves and came out violently ill and died soon after we arrived at the vet’s.  The diagnosis was that he had eaten rat poison.  Lindsay, in fact all of us, including the Stephens who had Gitano’s sister, Paloma, were devastated.  A few days later, the bell rang and there were three young men in baseball caps from San Miguel, one carrying a basket with a tiny Airedale puppy and a note from Stirling to Lindsay saying, “This puppy is for you, Lindsay.  He’s just the right dog for a boy like you.”  Chispas soon became an Elmendorf. He came from Mexico to Providence with us in 1961 when John accepted the vice-presidency of Brown University .  Four years later he drove down with us to Sarasota where John became president of New College . Chipas spent his last five years waiting on the sea wall to swim with the dolphins in Sarasota . The loud splash as Chispas jumped into the bay to swim out to meet his friends alerted us to watch for the arriving dolphins.  His closeness to Lindsay is beautifully described in a short story, “A Picaresque Novel,” written by Lindsay while at Amherst and the only thing he got an A+ on.  In fact, Stirling often came to Sarasota to visit us, his sister Alice, and Chispas, who lived 18 full, happy, human years.  By then Stirling was into woolly sheep dogs.

Back to San Miguel.  Soon after we first arrived in San Miguel Stirling told us that he and Heath Bowman had bought the old tannery at Calle Santo Domingo 40 in 1937 for US$45.00 each.  It was a large piece of property with ruins on both sides of a barranca with a flowing stream at the bottom.  In 1934, after graduating from Princeton , they had an exciting journey driving south to Mexico in an old Ford called “Daisy.”  They describe this adventure in their engagingly written and beautifully illustrated book, Mexican Odyssey, an introduction for many--including us--to San Miguel.  They recount how they had met Jose Mojica, the opera singer who invited them to visit him in San Miguel and get to know the town.  In fact, Mojica wrote the foreword to Mexican Odyssey, published in 1935, but it wasn’t until 1936 that Stirling came back to Mexico by train to visit San Miguel.  After a few years, Stirling, who had fallen in love with San Miguel, bought Heath’s share when Heath decided to leave San Miguel and join the U.S. Foreign Service where he was assigned to the Latin American Division in the State Department.

During that first summer in San Miguel with the Putney students in 1941 John apprenticed himself to a weaver and concentrated on the Spanish classes at Bellas Artes.  One of the Putney students took art classes and apprenticed himself to a shoe maker, who taught him to make sandals while he practised his Spanish.  The other student apprenticed himself to a silversmith and learned to make jewelry.  I apprenticed myself to Maestro Felipe Vazquez, a master potter from Dolores Hidalgo, and spent long mornings in a dark musty room learning to throw pots on a kick wheel and to make basic shapes.  I emerged at lunch hungry, tired and dirty.  In the afternoon, on my way back from Spanish class with Stirling , I usually peeked into the studio where Rufino Tamayo was teaching painting to about ten white haired women art teachers on their summer semester sitting at their easels.  He was a full-time teacher at Bellas Artes on summer vacation from the Dalton School in New York City .  He and his wife, Olga Costa, and a few Dalton students seemed to enjoy San Miguel as much as we did.  Finally, Rufino, whom I had thoroughly enjoyed on our school picnics, said, “Mary, why don’t you join the class?”  I told him I didn't have any paints or brushes and knew nothing about painting.  “Great,” he said, “Come in.  Here are some brushes, paints and a canvas.  I’ll teach you.”  From then on my afternoons were special. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to capture the Mexican faces in portraits both in oil and watercolour with help from Rufino Tamayo, a world-renowned painter.

Felipe Cossio del Pomar and his delightful Cuban wife, Estrella Sanchez, constantly entertained students, faculty and staff.  We went on picnics by horseback to Taboada.  I’ll never forget how wonderful cold boiled potatoes tasted when they were unwrapped from large hand-woven napkins, which we tied onto our wooden saddles.  We cooked corn and heated tamales on a charcoal grill by the wonderful round hot pool (the one still there today in the fancy Hotel Taboada).  After a swim and a soak, we went in to the dressing rooms and had hot baths in the sunken tubs and scrubbed each other with zacate.  Back in San Miguel there was an ice-cold pool on the side of the Baranca just below the ranch house in the Atascadero , but only the hardy Vermonters could take it.  The ruins are still visible just above the Hotel La Puertacita on the right-hand side.  Stirling and the two Putney School students who were with us played vigorous fronton complete with baskets.  Now the old fronton court houses the solar-heated pool of the Hotel Atascadero.        Stirling also set up hikes for faculty and students in the nearby mountains.  On one hike, the seeds of the ripe avocados, which I had carried on my back in a string bag, were the only thing left when we sat down to eat!  Stirling never let me forget that.

One of our most unforgettable trips was an overnight visit to Guanajuato in an old pickup truck with planks for seats and canvas on the sides to roll down in case of rain.  There was no road, so we had to drive down the riverbed hoping we'd arrive in Guanajuato before the rains came and the riverbed filled.  It did rain just before we arrived sore and soaked.  We stayed overnight in Guanajuato and arrived back in San Miguel safely, but once again sore and soaked.

One of the most charming and talented teachers was Simon Ybarra, who had just returned from the Chicago Institute of Fine Art.  Stirling had been so impressed with his freelance carving that he helped him get a scholarship and on his return he taught sculpture along with Sra. Archipenko, but kept his carpentry shop.[2]

After our six weeks in San Miguel we made a tour of Mexico via second class bus, sleeping in inexpensive Mexican hotels or casas de huespedes and visiting market days in the towns along the way.  Stirling went with us and others to Patzcuaro and Lake Janitzio .  Later, he helped us plan the rest of the trip to Morelia , Mexico City and as far as Oaxaca around market days or fiestas, so we could learn as much as possible of the arts and crafts of Mexico , practicing our Spanish as we travelled. 

On our way back, we made a side trip to Acapulco and, with an introductory note from Stirling , stayed at Todd’s Place in Pie de la Cuesta.  We swam in the curling breakers, which John and the boys could ride in, but I was usually tossed ashore.  We could see the sharks at sunset swimming through the waves.  Swimming there is now forbidden and tourists give money to young Mexicans who dare to swim! No one tossed centavos to us, but then there were no other tourists there.

When we returned to the USA and on to the Putney School , we, along with the students, gave our trip reports, complete with photos, paintings and exhibits of our newly learned crafts.  Stirling made an unexpected trip to visit us and gave a slide show to the student body about San Miguel.  He seemed delighted to be sleeping in our tiny house trailer, which we had parked behind the barn on the lower farm, which we used during the school year as a getaway from our apartment in the boys’ dorm and during vacations to head for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to continue our graduate studies.

 Before the end of the month, thirty students had signed up for the following year, but we felt we must limit it to twelve.  Much to our surprise and dismay, the draft board refused to give John permission to leave the country, since he, as a Quaker, was registered as a pacifist.  There was nothing we could do to get his exit permit. As a 24-year-old, I knew that it would be impossible for me to handle the group alone, but did agree, after Mrs. Hinton insisted, on taking the group, setting up the trips and the internships, if she would send an older woman from the Putney staff to be in charge of evening activities for the nine teenage girls--two redheads, six blondes and a dark-haired French refugee, and three boys, who had already signed up and had parental permission. Mrs. Hinton agreed to send Heliotrope Jones, as the groups’ chaperone. She was a great help that second summer, and her daughter came along with that group of 12.Among the others were Peter Strong, Billy Wasserman, Bikou de Lanux, Mary McDougald, Anne Stevens and /or her sister, Sally Symington and /or her sister...  but other names have faded. In later years we say Peter and Sally-- Sally even came down to Sarasota several years ago, and once I saw Anne briefly in San Miguel, but I don’t think any of the others have ever gone back ... at least, if they have our paths haven’t crossed. It was very hard for me to leave John behind, but he spent the summer as a volunteer at a Quaker hostel for German refugees run by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack, N.Y., as did our closest friends, David and Mary McClelland.

Our second Putney School summer in San Miguel de Allende went smoothly with the basic program practically identical to the one the previous summer, but the excitement caused in the town by these striking young girls in their jeans was unbelievable.  This was at a time when there were practically no Americans in San Miguel and only Stirling and one other American were living here year round.  We continued the field trips to Mexico City and Acapulco where we also created scenes.  When we attended the bullfight on the sunny side, where tourists rarely sat, nearly every one in the section stood and applauded as the young women walked down to take their seats at the front.  It was only with Heliotrope’s help as coordinator of evening activities living in the ranch house with the students that I was able to cope with all the planning and negotiations.   At Stirling ’s invitation, I stayed again in his guest room, resting and recovering after busy days supervising students and continuing my work in pottery and painting. Nearly forty years later, I had an unexpected note from Bikou de Lanux, apologizing for all the problems she and the others must have caused me on that trip, saying that now that she had had teen age children she knew what worries they must have caused.

Just a few years ago I had a strange encounter with a Putney alumna, when I went out to the mushroom factory with a friend to collect the fertile earth for our flower gardens. We were to meet my friend’s friend there, who was writing the gardening column for ATENCION, the weekly newspaper. When we were introduced I asked Fen Taylor if she were German, since I detected a slight accent. “Yes”, she replied. “Your name is Elmendorf. Did you happen to know a John Elmendorf?”  “For 43 years I was married to a John Elmendorf” I said.  “Could it be the same wonderful man I met when I was a 12 year old German refugee at the Putney school  in Vermont ?” She asked. “That was my late husband, John”, I replied.  “I’ll never forget that first square dance I went to,” she continued. “ I was scared. We were told to pick our partner’s name from a basket. I got the name John Elmendorf. Then a tall handsome man came and he treated me like a princess. I’ve never forgotten that night and I always wonder what happened to him after he left Putney.”  Obviously she didn’t remember me, but we agreed to get together but so far have just seen each other casually, never with time to really talk.  I had hoped to reach her this year, and know that she is actively involved with Audubon. Next year, sin falta.

At last, with Stirling’s help and urging that summer of 42, I found an abandoned house hidden by three large pepper trees just above Los Arcos, which held the entry gates to the ranch of the famous bullfighter, Pepe Ortiz, where he had raised fighting bulls before it was purchased in 1938 by Felipe Cossio del Pomar who called it El Rancho de Bellas Artes.  Don Felipe, as everyone called him, housed many important visiting guests, including Pablo Neruda, Alfonso Reyes, Daniel Cosi Villigas, Jesus Silva Herzog and many others, as well as students at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in the country house of Pepe Ortiz, now renovated as the Hotel Rancho Atascadero .  Los Arcos had been the main gate to the ranch. There was a small clear stream running just inside the entrance with crisp watercress growing under the willow trees.  I climbed up the hillside to look at the stone building next to the old aqueduct which still channelled fresh water from the springs above in a clay pipe to the church of Santo Domingo and in an open channel to the various fountains down the hill.  As I looked at the building, which consisted of one large oblong structure with four-foot thick walls and a smaller structure attached, I saw a bubbling spring just beside them.  In the building there were only two wooden doors, one to each building and a shuttered window in the large one.  Down below by the arches, was another small building, which was occupied by a caretaker who explained to me that no one lived in the house above.  The place where he was living had been used previously as the office for the gatekeepers who used to take turns opening the gates and sleeping in the house above when Pepe Ortiz was rasing brave bulls on the  ranch.  I was so intrigued that I asked Stirling if he thought Don Felipe would let me see the inside of the closed buildings and maybe even sell them to me.  When I looked in the next day with Stirling , we opened the shutters and saw a lovely dark room with 14-foot ceilings held up by beams.  The little building was the kitchen--with three charcoal burners under the window and a cement shelf on the side.  The small building was attached to the large building on the northern side providing a lovely sunny patio between the two.  It seemed a perfect refuge from the impending war, which was threatening to disrupt our lives and everyone else’s.  I thought that John and I could live here happily and escape the confusion of the outside world.  Stirling and I saw Don Felipe that evening at dinner and broached the subject.  Obviously he was surprised but said that he had just sold a similar small piece just above this one to Gutierre Tibon, a linguist from Mexico City .  That seemed to make it an even more perfect place, as John was also a linguist.  Don Felipe agreed to let me have this little piece of his property from the aqueduct to the edge of the hillside by the spring and out to the alley leading up the hill where his property ended.  This tiny piece of land of 278.85 square meters was called “El Paraiso” on the original deed from Pepe Ortiz to Felipe Cossio del Pomar.  In 1942 we legalized our agreement and I made my agreed payment of $50.00 US, all of my savings!

The night we Putneyites left San Miguel, the Cosios del Pomar gave us a farewell party in their beautiful home before we were to catch the 11:00 p.m. train.  After talking with the students during our summer we decided we would splurge the money we had saved by going pullman from San Miguel to the border and then day coach home.  I suggested that everyone wear what they wanted to arrive home in to the party, packing their jeans and travel needs in their backpacks or with their sleeping bags.  The rest of our luggage was packed in 33 boxes and baskets.  Stirling and several others helped us get to the railroad station with our entire luggage about 10:30 when we were told that the train was delayed until 12:30 .  “Let’s go back to the party,” someone suggested, so we did.  When we came back to the station we were told the train would arrive in about an hour.  We waited about two hours, then boarded the train exhausted, only to be told that we had no reservations.  “This is today’s train, not yesterday’s train,” said the conductor.  I replied, “You were supposed to arrive at 11:00 p.m. and didn’t get here until 2:30 a.m. , so this is yesterday’s train, not today’s train.”  Stirling was still there and tried to help me get things straightened out, but we were told that the pullman had not come, so we had go to the only available seats which were in the third class section.  Stirling called out to me as we left, “Call me at the first stop.  I will try to get a Pullman car hooked on to the train at the first available stop.  Keep in touch.”  It wasn’t until we arrived in Monterey that a Pullman was added and it had no air conditioning, but we had it to ourselves and everyone spread out, opened the windows and tried to sleep.  Soon I noticed some of the students writing their initials on their sooty faces, but it was better than sleeping in the aisles or sitting on the benches in the third class coach we had been in.  In Laredo , we changed to coach and arrived not as fresh or clean as I had hoped, but everyone safe and sound and happy.  Somehow the misfortune only added to the adventure. 

Back at the Putney School in the fall of 1942, after a miscarriage and the loss of my beloved black cocker, Penelope, I became so depressed -- probably postpartum syndrome -- that John urged me to go back for the winter term at Bellas Artes while he continued teaching at the Putney School and waiting for news from the draft board about his status.  There was so much rationing that no oil was available to heat the barn where we had our pottery workshop, so my classes had been suspended.  A little apprehensive, I left for San Miguel day coach on the train from New York City just after Christmas and stayed until March when I received a telegram from John, “Hurry home, I’m being drafted.”

On this trip to San Miguel I hadn’t been able to stay in Stirling ’s guest room because his parents were visiting, so I stayed in one of the upstairs rooms at Bellas Artes, which were used for students or faculty. I had breakfast and lunch at Bellas Artes, but we all got together for dinner, often cooking it at Stirling ’s on his charcoal stove, or buying a roasted chicken from the plaza to share.  I busied myself during part of my day renovating my hillside retreat.  The first thing I did was to have a section of the west wall looking out toward San Miguel knocked out. José Grimaldi, master mason and the husband of Cayetana Oveido, now Stirling’s housekeeper, used the stones to install a terrace with seats and small steps leading down from the corner to the alley below. . José also added a picture window, which faced the pirul trees and the gatehouse below, just like the one he had built in Stirling ’s living room years earlier. Simon Ybarra agreed to make French doors to fit the space.  My renovations used up the hundred-and-twenty-five dollars I had saved.

While supervising the workers, I busied myself making a woodblock of the Jardin, which I had sketched from the steeple of the Paroquia.  On Saturday afternoons after paying the crew Stirling joined us and we all went to the movies together.  Before leaving I invited Stirling and his parents for a housewarming on my new terrace from which we could see the Paroquia and the mountains and Stirling ’s house and orchid garden. Took The two wonderful pictures Stirling’s father took of the bare hillsides of what is now the Atascadero and Los Balcones, are hanging in my living room still, where I can look out through the trees and see the many houses stacked one on top of the other. 

From March of 1943 until Thanksgiving 1950, we didn’t get back to San Miguel.  During and after World War II, I was working as a volunteer for the Quakers in France , first in the prisons of Drancy and Fresnes, and later as Director of the Spanish Refugee Program.  My husband John spent four years in the Army as a non-combatant, first in the medics and then two of these years in military intelligence in the Third Army including the Battle of the Bulge.  Soon after VE Day, he was able to take his discharge in Europe and joined me in Paris to also work as a Quaker volunteer.  His first assignment was to go back into Germany as part of the first team, including Herta Kraus and Gilbert White, to help design a relief and reconstruction program.

In the fall of 1946 we returned to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to continue our graduate studies and start our family.  When Stirling heard I was pregnant he urged me to come down and have my first child in San Miguel.  He said in his letter, “the wife of one of our first students has just had a beautiful baby girl.  Things in San Miguel are different now.”  Had I been able to have a natural childbirth, as I had hoped, I probably would have taken his advice, but on my first visit to the gynecologist, he told me that I had a borderline pelvis and would probably have to have a caesarean.  San Miguel would have to wait.

Just as predicted, my delivery was difficult, but in October, 1947 Lindsay, a strong, healthy 8-pound boy, was delivered by extra peritoneal section after a long, useless labor.  Alert and active from birth, he was walking and talking before he was a year old.  By 1949 John was just finishing his course work for his PhD in romance linguistics.  I was happily pregnant with my second child, but had just had an automobile accident - a rear-end collision - on the way to Duke Hospital for my monthly checkup with my gynecologist.  Lindsay was a very active, happy, curious, delightful, demanding 18-month old.  We were very comfortably settled in our tiny Victory Village home at the end of Daniels Road in Chapel Hill .  After the accident, I decided to discontinue my graduate studies in anthropology so that I could concentrate my energy on enjoying Lindsay, our many friends and preparing for our second child.  John had a teaching fellowship, a full load of work and study, with his thesis topic chosen, but of course not yet written.  He was president of our Victory Village co-op. 

In June, just before the summer break; we decided to drive to the Carolina coast to have a holiday together at the beach before returning for summer school and fall semester.  We stayed at Alma ’s Place, a wonderful bed and breakfast with great food just up from the broad sloping Holden’s beach.  The first few days were perfect with Lindsay absolutely overwhelmed by the water, the sea shells, etc.  I, on the other hand, noticed a sudden weight gain and then haemorrhaging.  The doctor warned me of a threatened miscarriage, so we cut short our holiday and went back home to Chapel Hill and over to Duke Hospital to see my gynecologist.  The diagnosis was possible multiple births or cancer of the placenta (hydotidaform mole), (see Elmendorf, “Memories of Midwife Training in Mexico : 1952-2000" footnote on Caesareans). 

For my next medical checkup I drove over alone expecting to come back in the afternoon, but my doctor suggested that we call in the chief of gynecology, Dr. Carter, who said that I should have immediate surgery to remove the possible malignant cancer.  Before I knew it I was admitted to the hospital and assigned a room in the maternity ward.  Then suddenly I was told that I was being moved to the cancer ward.  At this point I broke into tears, wanted to call John, but couldn’t knowing he was having an important conference with his PhD Committee that evening.  When the doctors came on their rounds, I demanded a second consultation with Dr. Carter, who finally arrived about midnight .  When I learned that the surgery would only give me a few more months of life if the diagnosis were correct, that I would lose the baby or babies I was carrying, as well as no long be able to have children, I decided to take a chance and not have the surgery.  I had left a message earlier with a neighbor for John saying I was having surgery the next morning.  When he arrived I was packed and ready to go home.  My doctor put me on a new drug, DES (diethylstilbestrol), which was supposed to help prevent miscarriages, but he said, “Mary, keep a car filled with gas in the driveway and come back to the hospital quickly if you start haemorrhaging.”  The last months of the pregnancy were miserable, with a never-ending headache.  

Suddenly, out of the blue, there comes a startling letter from the State Department offering John the position of Director of the Instituto Mexicano Noeteamericano de Relaciones Culturales (Mexican American Cultural Institute) in Mexico City with a glowing recommendation from Heath Bowman, the close friend of Stirling with whom he had written Mexican Odyssey.  John and I had  met Heath and his wife Jeff  during the mid-1940's when we visited Stirling in Washington   while he was working for OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  The Mexican American Cultural Institute, which was part of the US Embassy’s Cultural Affairs section, was located in a rented building on Calle Yucatan in Colonia Roma.  After careful consideration, John, who was completing his last semester of course work for his PhD at Chapel Hill, accepted the appointment for two years with the understanding from his committee that he could write his dissertation, “An Etymological Dictionary of Dalmatian,” in Mexico and defend it the following year during our home leave from Mexico.  As he said, “This will give me not only administrative experience, but I can perfect my Spanish and get to know another culture in depth.”  I felt torn about leaving the U.S. with our two-year-old and a new baby, maybe triplets or more, due December 1st, 1949 after a complicated pregnancy.  However, I was nearly as excited as John about this particular assignment since I would have an opportunity to get to know Mexico in depth, see old friends and visit my little refuge in San Miguel de Allende, which John had never seen.

After much thought and great concern on the part of both of our mothers, especially mine, who were worried about my leaving the U.S. for Mexico with her first grandchild and one or more small babies, John accepted the assignment starting in December at the end of the fall term.  

On December 1st, 1949 at 8:00 a.m. by appointment, Susan was delivered by Caesarian section.  A beautiful baby, perfect except for a diagnosis of slightly clubbed feet which were put into casts at three days and removed at the hospital when she was six weeks old.  We had left our home at Daniels Road with John packing for his transfer to Mexico City after a six-week orientation in Washington, DC, and I preparing to go to my mother’s home in Greensboro, North Carolina when discharged from the hospital to stay for a few weeks until I could join John in Mexico.  In early January, John drove to Mexico in our new Plymouth station wagon overflowing with cribs, favorite toys, baby equipment and our beloved dog, Penelope the second.

I was scheduled to fly to Mexico with the children as soon as Susie had the casts removed. As I watched them saw though the casts as Susie screamed, I asked for a letter of introduction to an orthopedist in Mexico City . The orthopedist at Duke said, “How lucky can you be, Mary?  The doctor in Mexico just won the international award for pediatric orthopedics.”  He turned out to be delightful to work with.  On seeing Susan with the scars from the cast on her chubby legs, he said immediately, “What a crime.  I have just the thing that will work for her.  Pick it up later this week.”  I went back and he gave me two small metal braces for her feet with an elastic band hooked to a simple device, which fit just below her knees.  “Put these on Susie every night and keep her off her feet as much as possible.  Let her crawl and when she starts walking, I know the perfect shoes for her.  Just put them on the wrong foot.  You don’t have to have orthopedic shoes.”  Susie never had to wear braces again.  This year at age 54, now the mother of seven, she ran in the Boston marathon finishing the 56 kilometer run in three hours and 23 minutes, 8th in the world for her age group. 

The night after we arrived in Mexico City , John announced that there was a reception in our honor at the Instituto.  “You’ll have to go alone,” I said, but he immediately replied, “You’ll have to come.”  I asked, “What do I do with the children?”  Susie was nursing every two hours and Lindsay, a very verbal two-year old, was in a complete state of shock at this new language, new sounds, sights, added to the already disturbing move from Chapel Hill and the appearance of a baby sister.  The hotel John had booked us in, the Monte Carlo, the one Stirling had used in the 1940s, was not convenient to the Instituto, had no babysitting service, even though we couldn’t have left used it.  So we decided to take them both with us, Lindsay in his grey flannel suit, stood in the receiving line with us while Susie slept in her basket on top of the piano, much to the amusement of the Mexicans.  Somehow, this was a perfect introduction to Mexico , because from that time on not only John but I and the children were accepted as family into many Mexican homes.   The Margains were especially hospitable.  In fact, Maria Luisa Margain, wife of Dr. Sandoval Vallarta, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mexican American Institute, agreed to start a Spanish class at the Institute to complement the already popular English classes.  This was a part of John’s successful program to build closer Mexican American relations.  As activities and programs increased, the Institute was moved to larger more adequate quarters on Calle Hamburgo.  

It wasn’t until November, 1950, nearly eight years after my last trip to San Miguel in March, 1943, that John and I could finally come back with our two small children, excited about having a Thanksgiving celebration with Stirling Dickinson , who had invited us to take over his guest quarters again.  Lindsay was an exuberant three year old, and Susan, eleven months, was still happy to sleep in her “boogie buggy.”  When we arrived, Cayetana, Isaac Oveido’s daughter, now 19, was absolutely intrigued with this chubby blonde baby and would use every excuse to come check on her.  She even later named one of her own children after Susie. 

We had driven up from Mexico City in our Plymouth station wagon with Ray and Lysia Brossard and their two small children, Erica and Tom.  We stopped on the way to have a quiet picnic in a field of cactus while Lindsay and Erica explored the surroundings.  The Brossards were happy to be returning to San Miguel for the weekend and had been invited to stay with Leonard and Reva Brooks, the godparents of their children, who had rented the Chavez Morado house just up the hill from Stirling’s.  Ray, after being discharged from the Army, had studied art at the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes for a few years before moving to Mexico City .  Three years later, Lysia Brossard became my trusted administrative assistant as the CARE de Mexico pilot program, which I had designed and negotiated with the Mexican government in 1952, expanded.  

On this Thanksgiving holiday as Stirling’s guests, one of the first things we did after our delicious dinner, complete with a small roasted pig holding a red apple in its mouth, was to walk up Santo Domingo past the springs on the right, through Los Arcos, which still had three gates to keep animals in as well as the iron rods covering the ditch.  The gatekeeper’s office had a lock on the front door and looked occupied, but we walked past it and scrambled up the hillside to our little house above the pirul (pepper) trees.  To our horror, all the doors had been removed, as well as the beams which had held up the roof.  The three-foot thick walls were still there in the large room and in the little kitchen, but every improvement I had added in 1943 had disappeared, except for the terrace on the west with its steps down to the alley.  Needless to say I almost broke into tears, but Stirling said, “Don’t worry, I can help you fix it up so that it’s even better than it was before.”  We had hoped to get started soon, but that didn’t happen.  Not only were there personal and political problems in San Miguel, but our lives in Mexico City were so busy that during our ten years there our visits to San Miguel were few and far between, but always high points for us and our children.  On one of these visits in 1952 I brought a special gift for Stirling , who had already started collecting orchids and constructing spaces in the old tannery for his rapidly growing collection.  I had just returned from visiting Macchu Picchu following a CARE conference in Lima , Peru .  As I visited the amazing site, I saw a large clump of ground orchids in full bloom, so I carefully dug up a small plant, put it in my camera case and brought it back to Stirling .  

On our first return visit to San Miguel in 1950 there was great excitement because of the influx of WWII veterans using their GI rights for continuing education to study at the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes (the University or School of Fine Arts), which at the invitation of President Lazaro Cardenas, Felipe Cossio de Pomar ad director had set up in Las Monjas, the old Convento de la Concepción in the 1930s.  In 1938 Stirling Dickinson became sub-director, professor and secretary, as he developed contacts with institutions and people in the United States .  

By the mid-1950s, according to Carmen Masip de Hawkins, the population of San Miguel was less than 10,000 inhabitants, so in the 1940s it was probably less or about the same.  As she noted, “At this particular time, San Miguel has a glorious past and a pauper’s present.  Between the war for independence from Spain and the Mexican Revolution, the town has lost its most illustrious children or those who might have been, because of immigration to the capital.  Its palaces, orchards, monasteries and convents were completely abandoned.” (Carmen Masip de Hawkins, “Historia Tejida de Artes (1930-1995)” Artes de Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Numero 33, 1996, p. 73).  As far as I know, my house was the second bought by an American following Stirling Dickinson ’s purchase in 1937, but many Mexicans were buying property such as Gutierre Tibon, who, as I said earlier, had purchased a small piece from Don Felipe.  Rufino and Olga Tamayo had constructed a house, as well as Chavez Morado and his Olga who built their house just above Stirling ’s across Calle Santo Domingo .  For 50 years my house was the only home on the right side of the road from just above the school and a few homes behind the Church of Santo Domingo on the way up to what is now the Hotel Atascadero.  

Just after WWII when studies abroad were recognized by the U.S. as part of veterans compensation, known as the GI Bill, Carmen Masip de Hawkins, who recently retired as Director of the School of Fine Arts, now known as the Nigromante Cultural Center, noted, “Some two hundred former combatants get off the train at once anxious to paint and absorb a new culture.  In a town where the shortage of men and excess of single women is proverbial, not an unmarried woman is left and a new society is created out of racially mixed marriages.” (ibid, p. 73)  In fact, the 1948 Life magazine article called San Miguel “a paradise: a town of artists, surrounded by mountains, with a marvellous climate, where someone with very little money could rent a house, hire models, and drink a delicious liquid called tequila.” (ibid, p. 73) changed the scene.  Families with their children arrived, bought property, put their children in school and stayed in San Miguel.  Somehow, in spite of the onslaught of northern culture and tensions from time to time, San Miguel remained a Mexican town.  I think it still does in spite of the fact that its population now in 2003, according to the office of the U.S. Consul, is estimated at over 123,000 with approximately ten percent foreigners.  There are new tensions today as wealthy people, seemingly to me interested only in investments, are building and selling property without concern for or interest in the local people and culture.  

At that Thanksgiving dinner in 1950, Leonard and Reva Brooks were there, as well as Jim and Ruska Pinto, godparents of our children, the Maxwells and other artists.  During much of the 1950s there was friction between Sr. Campanella, “a strange character” (ibid, 73), the new owner of the Rancho de Bellas Artes and the Art School , and the students as well as faculty.  Sr. Campanella had purchased both the school and the ranch from Don Felipe when he was suddenly and unexpectedly invited to return to Peru .  Soon after David Alfaro Siqueiros, a faculty member hired by Sr. Campanella, started his mural with the help of Canadian and U.S. students at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, “the parish priest alerts his congregation to the dangers of communism, creating uneasiness in the once peaceful village.” (ibid, 73)   In fact, anger and concern developed among the faculty who were upset because their salaries had been withheld for several months.  Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Stirling Dickinson and most of the foreign teachers, including the Pintos and the Brooks, were picked up without warning, put in a boxcar and deported to the U.S.   The school was shut down.  This was during the Joe McCarthy witch-hunt days, so very few people in the American Embassy were able to be of much help, but the Canadian Embassy and Siqueiros himself helped get permits for the deportees to return.  After several very confusing months, the Instituto Allende was created with its first classrooms near the marketplace and later, with the help of the Governor of the State of Guanajuato, Sr. Martinez Fernandez, in the beautiful hacienda on Ancha de San Antonio.  Accreditation was soon acquired so that the GIs could continue receiving their allotments to resume their studies and the Instituto Allende flourished, but unfortunately the School of Fine Arts didn’t reopen until 1973, as part of the National Fine Arts Institute. 

Soon afterwards, Time Magazine accused Stirling of being a communist and homosexual.  His family lawyer sued Time Magazine and won.  Time printed a simple retraction, “Time erred.”  Many of the faculty who had suffered from loss of jobs and/or reputations by the various accusations were sorry that compensation had not been requested or offered.

Meanwhile, at the Instituto de Relaciones Culturales Mexicano Norteamericano in Mexico City, John Elmendorf, as Director, was delighted to be able to have exhibitions of the outstanding work by various artists in San Miguel, including Leonard Brooks, Jim Pinto and others.  However, both he and Dorsey Fisher, Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy, were accused of communism and blacklisted by Joe McCarthy.  Fisher who had just been appointed as Public Affairs Officer in Madrid invited John Elmendorf to join him in Spain as Cultural Attaché because of his outstanding performance as Director of the  Instituto in Mexico City.  In spite of rumors, most of which were false, and all the confusion, there was great excitement.  The Board, staff and faculty asked if they could have a farewell party for Fisher in the garden of our rambling ranch house at 24 La Otra Banda in San Angel.  It was a wonderful fiesta with music, dancing and a special song, No te vaya de Mexico , Dorsey, written to the tune of Adelita, which everyone sang lustily. Several San Miguelenses came to the celebration/despedida, including Stirling .

Soon after Dorsey Fisher left Mexico for Washington , we heard that his appointment to Madrid had been cancelled.  After a few months in the States, he was reassigned to Saudi Arabia which he considered untenable.  He refused to go and died shortly after of a broken heart, or was it a heart attack?   

On the other hand, John was not allowed to complete his two-year assignment as Director of the Instituto and for over a year continued trying to clear his name without success.  He even drove to Washington with our son, Lindsay, then five, giving him his amoeba pills at the appointed times.  John hoped to be able to speak personally to Dulles, but nothing seemed to work.  Some of the accusations were based on our association with Mexican artists such as Rivera, Orosco, Siquieros, or writers, many of whom professed to be communist.  Such associations were clearly a part of his job assignment, as Director of the Mexican American Cultural Institute.  Many other questions were related partially to my work for the Quakers in Europe as Director of the Spanish Refugee Program in 1945-46. For some strange reason, all the wonderful activities of Mary Elmes, a devoted Irish Quaker volunteer during the Spanish Civil War, both in Spain and later in Perpignon, were attributed to me even though she was working in Spain while at that time I was still in my teens at Chapel Hill.  Physically we fit the same description, tall, slim, black hair, blue eyes.  We did work together in my years in France , but I have never been able to delete her contributions from my old security files.  John was asked in Washington if he knew I had gotten permission to go behind the Iron Curtain into Rumania .  John asked if they knew why.  They said, “No.”  John said, “She got permission to visit her brother’s grave in Rumania where he had been buried in a village after the B24 he was piloting was shot down over the Polesti oil field.  But she never went because she was unable to get a re-entry permit.”  We were both willing to explain any of our actions, never tried to hide them and were not ashamed of them, but we, like many others, were never given the opportunity.  (See M. Elmendorf, “The McCarthy Years,” 2003)  

Fortunately, I had taken the assignment as Director of CARE in Mexico, so was able to support the family until he was invited to return to his academic roles, first as a professor, then as Dean and later Vice-President of Mexico City College (now University of the Americas), where he helped them finally get accreditation ,partly by showing how the curriculum was enhanced by the large number of part time faculty from Mexico’s top intellectuals, none of whom could have taken full time appointments.  He stayed on until 1960 when he was appointed Vice-President of Brown University .  At that time I was finishing my 8th year as Director of the CARE Mission in Mexico , having thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of demonstrating the possibilities of an agency based on self-help and community development closely tied to ongoing projects within the country.  The very successful CARE/AFSC well-drilling project in the State of Mexico had just been used as a case study by John Kennedy to help get approval and funding for the Peace Corps.  A documentary, World Our Hands Can Build, depicting this project won an award at the 1960 Venice Film Festival.  The project still serves as a model for CARE, World Bank and many NGOs (see Archives Smithsonian Institution and University of Florida Special Collection ).

In 1960 just before leaving Mexico City , we had received a Permiso de Relaciones Exteriores to legalize my original 1942 purchase of our little refuge in San Miguel.  However, over the years on my visits to San Miguel it was impossible to do anything--make improvements or purchase additional land--while Sr. Campanella still owned Rancho de Bellas Artes.  During 1972-73, while I was in Mexico as a Ford Foundation Fellow, I was able to start negotiations with the fourth owners of the ranch, the Maycottes, who had set up the Hotel Atascadero in Pepe Ortiz’ old home where the Putney School students had planned to stay in 1941 and did so the summer of 1942.   Much to my surprise, Ivan Illich asked if CIDOC (Centro Intercultural de Documentation) could publish my PhD thesis  as Mayan Women and Change as a  case study for their seminar on “Quality of Life.”  Soon afterwards, I was busy checking with one of Mexico’s greatest anthropologists, Gilberto Aguirre Beltran, who had just had my book translated into La Mujer Maya y el Cambio, and published it as part of the Ministry of Education’s SEP 70 Series.   

But back to San Miguel.  Thanks to the Maycottes, at last in 1975 we were able to purchase enough land to give us the gatehouse, an entrance at Calle Santo Domingo 48 and frontage on the Callejon del Rancho.  Combined with the original 1942 purchase from Don Felipe, this gave us a total of 1,078 square meters.[3]   When these negotiations were finally completed with the help of Lic. Roberto Zavala we legalized the purchase and put it in the name of Alicia Ybarra Berry, the daughter of our good friend, Simon Ybarra, since at that time we couldn’t put it in our own names.  Within a few months Simon’s son, Rodolfo (Teto) Ybarra, a young architect, whom Stirling had sponsored through college, had drawn up the plans for the renovation and restoration of our little house on the hill, as well as gotten all the permits for building. 

José Grimaldi, the husband of Stirling’s housekeeper, Cayetana Oveido, agreed to be the master mason under the direction of our unbelievably helpful friend Stirling who doubled as contractor-supervisor.  Alicia Ybarra kept the accounts and construction started.  We had added Stirling to our household account so he could write checks for us when needed, but when we gave out of funds, he added them to our account or sometimes wrote checks on ours for his expenses, but somehow Alicia figured it all out to everyone’s satisfaction.

From 1975 to 1979, I made as many visits to San Miguel as possible, bringing papers to write and checking on things as I finished my various assignments in Mexico , knowing that Stirling ’s guestroom was always available.  One of the most difficult things was a long legal struggle with the help of the Maycottes and Lic. Zavala to get the illegal occupant of the gatehouse we had purchased to leave.  Finally we were successful and made immediate renovations, adding a bathroom and kitchen.  In 1976, while working as a consulting anthropologist at the World Bank, I was in Mexico as a part of an appraisal mission for their first Maternal/Child Health/Family Planning Program, so slipped up to San Miguel with a foot locker full of small appliances for the house to put in the small locked bodega we had designed to go next to the downstairs bathroom which had been the original charcoal burning kitchen.

 During the period 1976-78, while doing research on “Fertility Determinants Among the Maya in Yucatan” for RISM (Research Institute for the Study of Man), after meeting with my Mexico City colleagues, the great Mayanist Alfonso Villa Rojas of CONACYT (Mexican equivalent of American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS), and Fernando Camara Barbachano of INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia), I always found time to come to San Miguel to rest and check on the progress of Santo Domingo 48, my Mexican home.  

By the summer of 1979 John and I were finally able to spend two wonderful months in San Miguel together.  The Escuela de Bellas Artes had just started its Summer Music Festival which we enjoyed.  We were particularly delighted that our house was finally nearing completion.  Stirling had installed the big yellow bathtub I had requested, but unfortunately forgot that I wanted a sloping back so I could read in the tub--one of my favorite nighttime activities.  He had remembered to have the light installed above and, with José’s help, we inserted two sliding mirrors with shelves behind above the wash basins set in yellow and blue Dolores Hidalgo tiles with birds.  However, there was no furniture, so, as usual, we stayed in Stirling ’s guestroom while we measured and purchased appliances.  Also, with Stirling , we made a trip to the nearby village, Adjuntos del Rio , where everyone makes mesquite furniture.  We ordered tables, chairs, beds, chests of drawers, mirrors and sideboards, which we had hoped they would arrive before we left, but of course they didn’t.

Among José’s construction crew finishing the construction was his second son, Francisco (Paco), who had just married Dolores (Lola) Ramirez.  After a long legal struggle with the help of the Maycottes and my lawyer, Roberto Zavala we were able to get the illegal occupant of the gate house to leave and start renovations.  John and I, at Stirling’s recommendation, invited the new couple, Lola and Paco, to live in it with the understanding that they “had the right to occupy the gate house with all of its amenities (hot water, electricity, bath and kitchen, etc., etc.).  In exchange, there was a responsibility for looking after the property, including the plants, flowers, etc.   In our letter to the Grimaldis, which was written on the 10th of August, 1979 , just six months before John Elmendorf’s death on February 10th, 1980 , we explained “that until the termination of construction fixing up of the tree house and the gardens there would be full-time work for Paco.”  We also said that once this work was terminated and the house was empty there would be little to do and we expected “Paco to look for other employment during the days spending his afternoons or weekends for the little bit of work needed in the house and garden ... On the other hand, if the house is occupied there are various jobs that he might be able to fulfill if he had spare time.”  In ending this letter we noted “in our opinion we feel that this is a relationship in which you can feel secure in the fact that you have a pleasant and clean place in which to live and enough work during the coming months.”

After John Elmendorf’s sudden death from a heart attack on Febuary 10, 1980, just as he was finishing the details on his retirement from the Academy for Educational Development, I found it very difficult to return to San Miguel and the house we had spent so much time and effort, not to mention money, getting ready to retire in.

  A touching memorial service was held at the Florida Avenue Quaker Meeting House in Washington with family and friends from everywhere-- Mexico , New England , the South, the West.  There were students and faculty from Putney , Mexico City College, Brown and New College .  Florencio Acosta, the Chargé d’Affaire, represented Hugo Margain, the Ambassador, who was in Mexico on home leave.  Elizabeth Stephens (Gilmore) from Taos , New Mexico , and her sister Lollie, who had just arrived on the red eye from Los Angeles , somehow communicated and sang a touching rendition of Dos Arbolitos.  John Landgraf spoke for the Washington Anthropological Society, saying, “We have enjoyed very much having John and Mary Elmendorf as members.  We will miss John very much, but we still have Mary.”  I couldn’t see the person nor identify the voice, but felt it was inappropriate to mention me at this time.  Afterwards, we gathered at the  home of Anne and Ben Stephansky for a reception.  In Sarasota , at the same time, a small group of Friends and others met at College Hall on the New College campus. (See Mary Elmendorf “Mosaic I: 1935-1980”)

In a trance, with the help of my son, Lindsay, and wonderful friends like Sydney Adler in Sarasota , I filed all the required legal documents.  I also kept two speaking engagements; one at a USAID conference on the “Impact of Water and Sanitation on Women and Women’s Impact on Water and Sanitation,” the other at the Population Council in New York on the “Changing Roles of Mayan Mothers and Daughters.”  Even though in deep shock and grief, probably looking for reincarnation, I started accepting assignments in Asia--first Sri Lanka, then Thailand, but I did find time to return to spend a few weekends and to get the house ready for occupancy until I could decide what to do. 

Meanwhile, one of the first renters at Santo Domingo 48 was Karen Clements, who had temporarily separated from her husband and wanted a place to live with her two sons for several months.  At the end of this time she invited Lola to go to the States with her and Lola agreed, leaving her daughter, Marisol, with her husband, Paco, and his family who lived just two doors down Santo Domingo at Stirling’s place.  When Lola returned she quickly assumed major responsibilities for the care of the property while Paco left Mexico temporarily.  When he came back he returned to his old job as a bartender, continued making jewelry--his hobby, which he wishes was his profession.  From time to time, he agreed to do some gardening when the regular gardener failed to appear.

Little did we expect that by 2003 the Grimaldis would have four charming daughters, one a model and salesperson, another an art student at the Instituto Allende, one in preparatorio, and the fourth in 6th grade, and that they would still be care taking our property while both worked part time for the Clements in their big house and apartment on the hill above Stirling’s orchid garden.  Over the years we have added a second story with balcony to the gatehouse, as well as a covered laundry and large bodega with toilet.  Lola is always available for extra work when the house is occupied and Paco continues to make interesting sculptures while working as a bartender and part-time gardener.  Over the years we have prepared annual legal documents giving them permission to live on our property with the understanding that if and when we needed it back we would give them at least a six months notice.[4]

Much to my surprise, in 1981, I fell in love with John Landgraf (the person who had spoken at John Elmendorf’s memorial service), an anthropologist specializing in Southeast Asia, whom I had first been introduced to in 1977 by John Elmendorf, who had accompanied me to a full-day meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science (AAAS) Committee on Fertility at the Conference Center on the Potomac where spouses were invited to come and join us for lunch.  “Mary, I want you to meet John Landgraf, the anthropologist in charge of salads.  I have just visited his vegetable garden.”  I was amused but confused, and later learned from Priscilla Reining, the conference coordinator, that John Landgraf had just retired from directing the Fullbright Commission and was taking care of his dying wife, who had weekly transfusions.  He had previously been Dean at NYU and with Margaret Mead’s help had started the Anthropology Department there.  That day he had met Margaret Mead at the airport and brought her to the conference, where she was chairing our committee. 

As I started my work in Asia , I often saw John at the monthly meetings of the Anthropological Society of Washington where I pumped him for information about Asia .  Little did I suspect that I would ever remarry, but in November, 1981 we were married in Sarasota and for our honeymoon picked up my 1971 VW bug which  my friend Joann Andrews at the Middle American Research Institute  in Merida let me leave with her after my fieldwork with the Maya. Several friends used it briefly including Brigette Jordan, who had worked with me on the research on Fertility Determinants among the Maya and even Joan’s son, Tony, who for a number of years has been teaching anthropology at New College in Sarasota.. Small world! 

After getting the car cleaned up and new seat covers, John Landgraf and I visited  various archaeological sites, Dzibilchaltun, Uxmal, and then on  to Chichen Itza with a side trip to Chan Kom where from 1968 to 1972 I had done my  research for my PhD, and had continued to return on later research projects.  My Mayan friends were a bit disappointed that I had remarried, because they had already chosen a charming Mayan widower, who still wore the traditional wrapped skirt, as the perfect mate for me!  

Then we headed for Palenque and on to San Cristobal de las Casas before starting for Oaxaca and onto Cholula-Puebla, where the University of the Americas had moved in 1960.  There, on Christmas Eve, I explained that we must make a stop to visit Alvaro Osornio and his wife, Berta, who had been our faithful caretakers during most of the ten years we lived in Mexico City .  In 1953 Alvaro was working as a car washer when he fell in love with Berta, who had lived with us since 1951, primarily helping  me with the children.  They married.  We built a house for them in our garden at Kilometer 16, next to the campus of Mexico City College and their first child was born there.  We urged them both to continue their education, but in spite of our encouragement Berta only learned to read and write.  However, Alvaro passed the sixth grade level, got his driver’s licence, became my chauffeur and assistant, when I found, after a severe case of hepatitis, I could no longer drive in Mexico City and have enough energy left to work.  Alvaro learned to take photographs, many of which were published in the newspaper.  When we left Mexico , he was offered a job as manager of buildings and grounds at Mexico City College , now the University of the Americas .  On this Christmas Eve when we arrived just at dusk, he told us he had just retired with his pension, and was planning to retire on a ranch near San Juan del Rio where he had grown up.   With great pride they immediately told me that their two older sons had graduated from law school at UNAM (National University of Mexico) and that their younger son, who was still in high school, had been so successful with his chicken project that he had a chain of booths in markets across Mexico and had bought several trucks.  One of the older brothers had stopped practising law to run this business. “Remember Lindsay’s chickens at Kilometer 16?” Alvaro said, “and those 4H Clubs we visited where agronomists taught members to give shots to their chickens?  We taught our son.” Both Alvaro and Berta thanked me for encouraging them to continue their education. Look what they had done with their children!  

They were delighted to see me, but a bit surprised to meet John Landgraf.  With great ceremony, they asked us to have a seat in the living room of their very nice small house and brought out a bottle of brandy with small glasses.  At this time a terrible thunderstorm started and the lights went out.  Candles were brought in and Alvaro said, “May we have a moment of silence before we toast the greatest man I’ve ever met, John Elmendorf.”  It was very difficult for John Landgraf, who didn’t understand Spanish and wondered why we were taking so long when we were due in Mexico City that evening, but obviously I couldn’t hurry such a ceremony.  Finally, after about an hour-and-a-half, we started on our way, but found that we could not even fill up with gas because there was no electricity for the pumps.  So with a tank half full of gas, we headed in pouring rain to Mexico City, which was so filled with Christmas lights and drunken merrymakers that I had a very difficult time finding our way to Susan Glusker’s house where she had left the key hidden beside the mailbox for us.  Early the next morning we started for San Miguel, but stopped on the way at the very nice restaurant just before Queretaro so that we wouldn’t arrive at Stirling ’s starving.  When we got to Los Pocitos, Stirling greeted us with “Where have you been?  We waited until three o’clock to eat Christmas dinner, which we had prepared in your honor!”  I was chagrined.  I had never expected such a thing, but he made us welcome and soon John Landgraf was busy fixing the final touches to 48 Santo Domingo, making sure that electric plugs, telephone wires and all the details were perfect.  We moved up there and had a few weeks before we had to hurry back to entertain his daughter, Leslie and her husband as house guests in Sarasota .  The trip, which I had planned for our honeymoon, should have taken several months instead of six weeks, but John agreed it was a great introduction to Mexico .   

The little 1972 VW bug is still in the covered parking space we added during that short visit.  On our visits later between 1983 and 2002, John took great pleasure in driving the bug, but now in 2003 at 89 when he no longer likes to travel and I am in San Miguel alone, I find it difficult to shift the gears and turn the steering wheel on this ancient little car and am absolutely afraid to try to drive it up Santo Domingo.  I do, however, drive it up to Gigante and down to my wonderful dentist, Dr. Jorge Vargas, on the highway to Dolores Hidalgo.  In fact, I even drove my granddaughter, Mary Roberts, and Karen Grimaldi to the hot springs at Taboada recently, much to their amusement and perhaps a bit of fear.  My granddaughter Lucy and her husband Thomas Henry, who just spent a week with me here, thoroughly enjoyed using the VW bug, in fact we decided to christen her “Daisy” after Stirling ’s Daisy.  We filled her up with gas, checked everything carefully, and Thomas drove us to Dolores Hidalgo where we arrived just at noon as the bells were tolling in the church where Father Hidalgo called his congregation together to start the revolution of 1810.  The decorations were already covering the balconies and public buildings in preparation for the celebration of the grito on the night of the 15th of September when every president during his term gives it at least once in Dolores Hidalgo.  We visited the museums before heading for the Talavera pottery factories, starting with that of the Vasquez family, grandsons of the maestro I had studied with in 1941.

Back in 1983 John Landgraf and I designed and had a curved cobblestone driveway built up to the entrance level of my “tree house” on the hilltop.  He and my son Lindsay both drive the VW up to the top and a few taxi drivers have taken me up, but most refuse.  I am afraid to try, so I still walk up the 77 steps of what we call “The Stirling Dickinson Stairs.”  In 2000 I had handrails added after first Woody Bryne and then I both fell down, so now it’s easier for all.

But back to the house.  It wasn’t until 1983 that I was finally able to put the property in a family trust (Fideocomiso) with Bancomer.  With the liberalization a few years later of Mexican laws restricting ownership of land by foreigners, there ceased being any good reason to keep the title in the Bancomer trust.  By that time I was 65 years old, and although in good health I thought it made more sense to title our family home in Mexico in the name of my children. My son, Lindsay Elmendorf, and daughter, Susan Elmendorf Roberts, gladly received the title of the house and in return granted me lifetime use and enjoyment of the property as a family partnership for as long as I wanted it.  They have executed general powers of attorney giving me all necessary authorities to manage and use the property in this manner and I have continued to maintain and improve the property at my expense.  They have written Mexican Wills leaving the property jointly to their children.

In 1999, after Juan Lenz had completed the condominium complex at Santo Domingo 55 and taken away most of my view toward town, we raised the wall, covered it with vines and added a third floor with a tile roof and windows on three sides opening onto a patio with a 360 degree view of San Miguel and the mountains surrounding.  Even though we haven’t finished this, it has been used by various guests as a studio and by all of us as a wonderful place to watch sunsets, sunrises and the birds flying back and forth from the lake to the fields.  

As I finish this rambling memoir of the San Miguel years, I estimate that I have spent more than 19 years of the last 62 in Mexico with nearly seven of those in San Miguel.  In the 1950s, the first two years we were on a Diplomatic Passport, then for the rest of the 50s as Director of CARE, I had a special passport.  Most of the numerous trips I have made have been with a tourist visa, but from time to time I have spent six to nine months in Mexico with our home at Santo Domingo 48 as home base.  It has also been a home away from home for my children and grandchildren who have visited me and come on their own.  One of the most memorable times was when all of us--my daughter Susie, her husband Jeff Roberts, and their six children, as well as Lindsay and his family--gathered here in July, 1993 and had a wonderful candlelight luncheon on the lawn during the full eclipse of the sun.  Another time Stirling Elmendorf came down from boarding school in Virginia to meet his father Lindsay and the rest of the family who came up from Ecuador to celebrate the remission of Lindsay’s brain tumor.  Both Stirling and his younger brother Byron learned to drive the VW bug on the cobblestone roads near Taboada.

Since 1980, from time to time, we have shared the house with friends who have offered us hospitality in their homes and have given time in it as a donation to various charities, including CASA and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida .  Our first guest from the Sarasota Planned Parenthood was Barbara Zdravecky, who came down in the early 1900s with her daughter, many gifts for CASA and a letter of introduction to Nadine Goodman, its founding director.

 It was Stirling who had first called my attention to Nadine knowing how interested I was in human rights, especially women’s rights.  “You should go visit CASA and see what Nadine is doing.  She is so modest, but accomplishes so much,” he said.  “She just asked me if she really needed to go to the luncheon where she was being honored for her contributions to San Miguel and I told her it was important that she go.”  Barbara was as impressed as I was with the wonderful participatory work that CASA was doing, especially the peer counseling in the rural areas as well as general sex education, including prevention of AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. In fact during the early 1990’s while I was working as a consultant for CEDPA,(Center for Education, Population and Development), we held an all day workshop of CEDPA leaders from their network in Mexico at Santo Domingo 48.  Over the years various board members, staff and supporters from Sarasota have come to San Miguel, many of them adding CASA to their list of causes.  Just two years ago, thanks to a grant from International Planned Parenthood, an exchange program was funded for the Teen Theater Groups from Sarasota and San Miguel to visit each other.  When the Mexican group came to Sarasota , they came to my house for lunch and afterwards a long hike on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico , some even taking a cool dip.  The San Miguel team visited several migrant labor camps in Florida and to the pleasure of the Mexicans gave performances on AIDS and teen pregnancy.  On their trip to San Miguel, the Source Theater from Sarasota stayed at Santo Domingo 48 with their director, K.T.Curran.  The short skit, which they presented at our annual Planned Parenthood luncheon meeting after their return in Sarasota , was extremely well received.  Now thanks to another grant and they are preparing videos and sharing them around the world.

Another high point in San Miguel was the first International Conference on Professional Midwives and Self Regulation, which was sponsored by CASA and funded by USAID in 2002.  Two of the midwives stayed with me at Santo Domingo 48. One of them, Elizabeth Stephens Gilmore, was a keynote speaker and I participated in the conference in the session on the history of midwifery in Mexico , 1952-2002.(See draft “Memories of Midwife Training in Mexico: 1952-2002.”)

Over the years, we have also rented our vacation home occasionally, usually for no longer than four months, always keeping the June to September , holiday times for our family visits. Many of our guests have been artists such as Sally Moor, the Friedmans and the Brynes, the latter couples each eventually bought houses here.  Also, even though we have handled most of the management ourselves we have had various people help us so that we pay all our bills on time, especially the impuestos prediales.

Over the years not only have we Elmendorfs visited San Miguel whenever we could, Stirling has visited us in many places, often with his sister Dorothy in our home in Sarasota, where his other sister, Alice, lived.  Stirling planned annual trips to make with his sister Dorothy as long as she was physically able to travel.  Also, once a year he spent a month at the Dickinson estate in Charlevoix , Michigan , where, even though often invited, I was never able to go.  Just last year my son Lindsay visited his friend, Joan Chodak, who lives there, and together they spent a day exploring the informal Stirling Dickinson museum there, which has carefully preserved artifacts and journals from his early years.  These are tenderly cared for by one of his nephews, Stephen Little.

Stirling was killed alone in a dreadful automobile accident in October of 1998 when his car plunged backwards down a precipice when he was turning around after attending a board meeting for one of the many charitable organizations he was working for.  

When an e-mail entitled, “Sad News,” reached me, I immediately wrote Louise Hazell , “So sad that Stirling is no more, but so happy that he was such a vital part of my life, and of the lives of so many people in San Miguel.  If I can get myself together to write something will you take it to Atencion before the Tuesday deadline?”  I did and she did, so the following “Note to Friends of Stirling Dickinson ” was published in early November.

Note to Friends of Stirling Dickinson (or Letter to the Editor)

What a tragedy, but also what a blessing to have such a vital, vigorous person as Stirling Dickinson escape long bedridden days.  I'm very sad that I can't be there in San Miguel this week to share with all of you, whose lives he has touched in so many ways as he did mine and all my family, our memories of this great man.  It was Stirling who introduced us to the many worlds of Mexico : the world of arts and crafts, the excitement of travel by second class bus, train, and even in pickup trucks.  But most of all, he introduced us to the Mexican people whom he loved and respected - for their creativity, their humor, their caring ways.  He showed us the beauty in the off-the-road places - hidden ravines and brooks.  Just last month, I went on my last picnic with Stirling and the Grimaldi family, who have shared so many trips with him.  Afterwards, he came up the 77 steps to my little hideaway.  "My last walk up this hill," he said.  "We'll have to get a ski lift or an inclinator.  I'll check into it for you," he added.  During a light supper, while we watched the beginning of "The Cold War" CNN series, we decided to start a joint journal of shared memories of the 40's and 50's.  In fact, in case anyone is interested, following are a few bits of remembrances of pre-World War II San Miguel, when Stirling was still cooking on his charcoal stove - and there was no road above the church of Santo Domingo - when the little house I bought in 1941 at 48 Santo Domingo, just above Stirling's, was the only one on the right side of the hill, and the only building on the left above Los Arcos was what is now the Hotel Atascadero.  Stirling's love of San Miguel was so contagious that I caught that bug, that love, and with my late husband, John Elmendorf, returned to Mexico in 1950, he, as director of the Mexican-American Cultural Institute and later Vice President and Dean of the University of the Americas - then Mexico City College - and I, as Director of the CARE Mission in Mexico - and returned in the late 60's to complete my PhD, doing my major research in Yucatan - but following up in the 80's on the interrelationship of population, development and the environment, in Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Jalisco, Mexico, and most of all San Miguel de Allende, which was home base and where we had our final planning seminar.

After my son, Lindsay, on home leave from his State Department post in India, and I had lunch with Stirling at the delightful little restaurant at the Biblioteca and a tour of the Latin American collection in the room in his honor, I promised to send him a new book - not yet available in Mexico - as a gift for the library.  The book, about a mutual friend, "Anita Brenner: A Mind of her Own," written by her daughter, Susannah Glusker, arrived last week, hopefully in time for Stirling to enjoy some of the references to those early days in Mexico.  There wasn't time to check to see if the copies of the three books I donated to the library, "Mayan Women and Change," "La Mujer Maya y el Cambio," and "Nine Mayan Women: A Village Faces Change," based on the research I did on Mayan women in the late 60's and 70's was still there.  But seeing the collection, I want to get copies of the videos made by the Smithsonian from the amateurish ethnographic film of daily life and ceremonies I recorded then for the library's Mayan collection.

If we had not met Stirling, our lives would have been very different, much less full of adventures and experiences in Latin America, and a continuing return to San Miguel to recharge our batteries, to touch base with Stirling again, to have him meet our grandchildren, one of whom is named Stirling, to whom I gave my autographed copy of Stirling's "Mexican Odyssey?" with its wonderful woodcuts - and great descriptions.

So, 58 years ago it was Stirling who turned all of us Elmendorfs into Latin Americanists at heart, and aficionados of San Miguel de Allende.  There is no way to thank him enough for helping San Miguel continue to be the Wonderful community it is in spite of the enormous influx of outsiders - both from the USA and Canada, but also from other parts of Mexico.  Let's remember how he lived his life, so filled with the joy of sharing.

                                                                                                                                   Mary Elmendorf

As soon as I received the sad news, I forwarded the note to all my family.  One of the first to reply was my grandson, Stirling Elmendorf, named after Stirling, who had first met “big Stirling” when he was three on his way to live in Honduras where his father, my son Lindsay, was assigned to work on a housing project, wrote the following note, which was also published in Atencion:

Stirling Dickinson .  What can I say about the man?  He, as my namesake, was always a little bit mysterious to me.  I did enjoy his gentle company, his always warm handshake and slightly twisty smile.  His small dark eyes always conveyed a sense of charity and knowledge.  I didn't have the opportunity to spend as much time with him as I would have liked to, but the times I did spend with him and his friends and my family were wonderful, unforgettable times.  The wonderful picnics by the rivers and the nice meals in San Miguel.  The explanation of the growth cycle of a particularly rare orchid was ever a fascination to me when HE explained it.  His carp, and even earlier, his big wonderful dogs; they are all happy thoughts of mine.  I miss the pink walls, the blue walls and the shaky cobbled walks in San Miguel over to his house to ask for a lime for some tasty dinner being prepared over at the "house up on top of the hill."  The ringing of the bell always brought someone different at Stirling 's house.  I never knew all of their names, but they all shared his warmth.  I know this may sound strange, considering the circumstances, but he always appeared as a ghost to me... calmly emerging from the library to greet me or from the garden.  To my memory, he was never agitated and he certainly echoed the inner calm of all those marvellous plants.  I recall on one occasion the two of us kidding around about our name and that the only other man with an "i" in his " Sterling " was the racecar driver, Stirling Moss!!  Stirling has undoubtedly left a mellow, thoughtful legacy in those hills and they and I won't soon forget that.  In my voyages through this life, I hope to achieve a lot, but I sincerely hope to live up to this (if I may say so) great name!  He was a wonderful man and will always be close to me, even though we were always so far apart.  Cheers Stirling !

                                                                                                                               Stirling Elmendorf

 When Stirling died, he left the patio and guest quarters to Jesus and the rest to Cayetana, the granddaughter of his original caretakers down to the middle of the barranca. The other side, which Stirling Dickinson had, with great confidence, already donated to CANTE, the ecolological NGO, founded by Cesar Arias de la Canal and Sr. Gama , contained his beloved treasure, his orchid collection. This was to kept up and maintained in the same way he had , using the same helper he had trained over the years. . He requested that it be called “El Orchidario Stirling Dickinson ” and be kept open for the public, as he had. Now however there was to be a separate entrance built with a sign displayed a little north of his property across the barranca where a bridge had already been built

Just as it was hard for me to come back to San Miguel after John Elmendorf died, it has been nearly as difficult after Stirling’s death, but somehow San Miguel has become an integral part of me, not just the beauty of the place, the wonderful climate, but also the creativity and pride of its Mexican citizens.

Now in 2003, as I try to finish the “Memoirs” that Stirling and I started five years ago, it makes me very sad every time I pass Santo Domingo 40 and think of what has happened to that beautiful, valuable collection which was left to CANTE as a gift to San Miguel. (See Elmendorf, “Stirling Dickinson and his Orchids, 1937-2003.”)  On my vacation here last year, I spent most of my time trying to find out what had happened and why and if there was any way to save what remained of the collection.  Several local citizens, as well as Stirling’s nieces and nephews joined me in this struggle, but we finally decided together that it had to be done by Mexicans, preferably the residents of San Miguel, who have named a street for him and, of course, the baseball diamond, and had been given the Ochidario Stirling Dickinson, which was a treasure, but now appears so neglected.  

In July 2003 when I arrived the sculptured metal emblem, “Los Pocitos,” had been removed.  I soon learned that Cayetana Oveido de Grimaldi, who replaced her father, Isaac, as Stirling ’s house keeper, and her son, Jesus, who became Stirling ’s chauffeur and confidante, had recently sold the property which Stirling left to them.  When I visited Cayetana in her new home, which she has bought east of Gigante in a small colonia, she looked very thin and tired.  She explained that it was costing so much to maintain the property and to pay the taxes that she had decided to sell so that she would have money to take of her husband José who is partially paralysed and to pay their other expenses. She also proudly showed me the bust of Stirling , which he had kept for years in his office /dining room over the years. “See this is the way he kept his baseball cap on it ‘, she said. “It’s the best of the three and he told me I could have it.”  The bust has a place of honor in her new unfinished living room.

 Jesus explained how he had sold at the same time for the same reason, but primarily so that they could educate their sons the way Stirling would have wanted them to. “He would understand why”, he said.  

Even though it is difficult for me to watch the buildings being destroyed and “Los Pocitos” gone, I’m sure it is even more difficult for them since they were all born there and had lived all their lives there.  Stirling had educated not only Jesus but his older brother Benjamin, both of whom had become school teachers.  When Jesus married another school teacher, Chela, Stirling was at first disappointed and then invited them to move into the guest quarters, which he later enlarged as their family increased from two boys to four children with the addition of twin girls.  Previously, they had always gone on regular orchid hunting trips during school holidays to Chiapas , Oaxaca , Nayarit and Yucatan .  Chela assured Stirling the appearance of the girls would not interrupt their travels, and sure enough, when they were three months old, they made a successful overnight excursion.  Later, on the near fatal trip to Bonapak, where Stirling got lost in the forest, stuck in the mud and dehydrated, Chela and Jesus found him exhausted and dehydrated, revived him with Coca Cola and brought him back to the camp site where the four children were calmly waiting.   

Just last week, I invited Chela and Jesus up to my house to meet with John Virtue, who is writing a biography of Stirling .  The four of us sat for three hours of taped conversation full of reminiscences, tears, songs and laughter.  As John Virtue said when he left, “This was the best interview I’ve ever had.  I think I have the beginning and the end of a wonderful story.”

            As I finish this rambling memoir covering parts of the last sixty-one years I realize that I learned as much or more from Stirling and our friends in San Miguel about listening to, learning from and trying to understand other cultures than I did from any university course I ever took.


1.John, who was teaching at the Hopkins Grammar School, an elite day school in New Haven, Connecticut, was extremely interested in the innovative experimental teaching methods at the Putney School, located on a working farm in Vermont.  We had visited Putney on the recommendation of Kate Stonington, then on the board of Bennington . After visiting the farm and several classes, we stopped by Carmelita Hinton's office to say how impressed we had been and to ask if she kept a file of people who would be interested in teaching when and if she had an opening.  She explained there was no vacancy at the time, but that there was a rapid turnover, so she would like to find out a little bit about us and have us send our resumes.  John explained that he taught French and Latin and was completing his PhD in romance languages.  I was continuing my graduate studies and social work and had a job as a case worker with the WPA (Work Projects Administration).  Carmelita suggested that we go down to the town hall meeting, which was just starting in the dining room.  Students, faculty and staff all aired their complaints and made suggestions in a very democratic way.

As we were admiring the openness and enthusiasm of the group, I said to John, "Maybe that man with white hair teaches French and he'll retire, and we can come next year."  At that moment, a student slipped a note from Mrs. Hinton to John, asking us to come up to her office as soon as the town meeting was over.  To our surprise, she asked if we would like to take the first trip to Mexico .  She asked John if he could teach Spanish and me if I could teach pottery and work with the school psychologist.  John explained he had never studied or taught Spanish.  I said I would be delighted to work with the school psychologist, but I knew nothing about pottery except for some simple coil bowls I had made.  Carmelita said, "No, no.  You two would be perfect for our first trip to Latin America .  You can learn Spanish in San Miguel and on the train from New York to San Miguel and back, and Mary, you can learn pottery while you're there."  We were shocked.  She continued, "Also, I'd like you to join our faculty next year and live in the chicken house, which has been changed to the dorm for the 12-year old boys."  We explained that we had already made plans for this summer and the following winter.  We loved the school, but were thinking of the future.  Mrs. Hinton's immediate reply was, "I'll have to find someone right now."  We asked if we could have until Monday to think about it and see if we could cancel our contracts, which we did.  John's salary was much lower, but he was intrigued with the teaching techniques and the work study aspects of the school.  I of course had to give up my job, but would be able to use my training in psychology and we would be a part of a community which excited us. 

[2].   Simon married Irene Serrano and two of their twelve children have made great contributions to our tree house at 48 Santo Domingo .  His son, Rodolfo (Teto), drew up the plans and got approval for the construction of the additions to the original building.  His sister, Alicia (Licha), handled all the finances, paying the construction crew and keeping the books, while Stirling supervised the whole operation and put in his money to keep our checks from bouncing!  We always repaid him, but not as quickly as I would have liked.  In fact, at the time of John’s death in February, 1980, we had an outstanding loan of $1,400.00 U.S. , but our little refuge was ready for occupancy.  In the summer of 2002, Licha Ybarra, who had married Robert Berry, a history professor at the one of the community colleges in Texas , came to visit me with her two charming daughters.  Ana Lucia, the older, had just completed her first year at MIT, where she has a full scholarship for her four years of study in mathematics.  Even as a small child, her mathematical skills were obvious.    

[3]. (see correspondence with Lic. Roberto Zavala, also Escrituras for the various transactions).

4. (see Grimaldi file with details of Acuerdos and contracts, etc. from 1979 until present).

Objectives of this page:  

1- In a town of 2,000 or so "characters", a written profile of any of them would be quite interesting.  If so inclined, a person may profile themselves but the author and the profile should be so noted.

2 - this section will contain all "profiles of local personalities" that meet the criteria described in Instructions .   All profiles will be published in the date order of receipt, with the latest ones on top (the oldest nearer the bottom). 



“Underpromise and Overdeliver”

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