Domitila By Jewell Coburn Once upon a time, in Hidalgo, Mexico, there lived a farmer. He had a wife, and a daughter, and both were as lovely in heart as they were in face. The girl's name was Domítíla . While her father worked the fields, her mother made sandals and belts of leather, working exquisite designs into the surface. One season, the family worked hard together to build a new room for their home from adobe bricks. The mother taught her little daughter as her own mother had taught her: to do "every task with care and always add a generous dash of love." The adobe bricks were made of mud and straw, and, once the sun had baked them hard, would make a fine house. Alas, the sun did not get the chance to bake the bricks before the rains came. They melted into mud, and the house was damp and chilly because of it. And now Domítíla's mother took sick. Her cough worsened, and she shivered in the damp room while she worked on a pair of sandals. Domítíla knew that she must help her family earn money, or soon there would be no food in the house. She went to her Papà and asked how she could help. And that is how she found herself working in the kitchen at the mansion of the Governor of Hidalgo. The good wages she earned there would provide well for the girl and her family. Soon, her fine cooking skills were noted, and one night she was asked to make a special dish. The Governor's mother was coming for Sunday dinner, and the cook asked Domítíla to "make something to please old Abuela and her grandson." So the girl fixed one of her mother's favorite recipes. When it was served, the Governor's oldest son scowled and said, " I have never seen anything like this before. Call in the cook!" So she was brought upstairs. Now the young man shouted at her," What is on this platter?" When Domítíla told him the name of the dish, nopales, he raged. " Nopales? You call nopales a prized food? They are nothing but prickly, dusty desert weeds!" But the young man's grandmother scolded him for his bad manners, and insisted that he try a bite. Timoteo, for that was his name, took up a bit of the cactus on his fork, just to keep the peace. ¡That's when he tasted their delicious flavor! Now he said, " This weed has been turned
into a delicacy. What is your secret?" And the young cook answered, " I do not have a secret, Señor. I cook the way my mother taught me." Domítíla went to bed happy that night, but her happiness was not to last. She was woken in the dark of night by a servant, with a message that she must return home as quickly as she could. Her Mamá was not better, but worse. Though she ran as fast as she could, all the way home, she saw her father's sorrow written on his face from afar. Her beloved Mamá was dead. Now she went into her mother's empty room and sat down to pray. "Through her grief, Domítíla felt a warm presence. Looking up, she blinked her eyes, then blinked again. There before her appeared her mother's spirit. 'I will always be with you, my child, and remember what my mother told me, and her mother told her. Do every task with care, and always add a generous dash of love." The spirit spoke these words to her, and then faded from sight. Back at the mansion, Timoteo was looking forward to a delicious breakfast. But when he took the first bite, he nearly choked. ¡This food had not been prepared by the same hands as the wonderful nopales! He called for the cook and when she came, he did not know if she was the one from the night before or not. So many cooks worked at the mansion, and he had never before bothered to try and keep track of their names. This one said she was Third Cook, and that Second Cook, who had prepared his supper, had left during the night. In such a hurry too, said she, that she lost a strap of her sandal. She drew it forth and Timoteo looked on it awe. " Its surface was finely carved and the design was a chorus of flowing strokes. 'Can this be the work of that girl?' he murmured." Now Timoteo demanded to know where this amazing girl lived. Third Cook could only say, " I do not know, Señor. All she mentioned was a ranch, somewhere in Hidalgo far away from here." He called for his horse to be saddled, and went to tell his father that he was leaving to seek the woman. Now Abuela came forward again, and handed him "a delicately embroidered silk shawl from her shoulders. 'This mantón has been in our family for generations. If you must go, take it, and know that my love goes with you." He thanked his abuelita and rode away.
He chose to go west. Unfortunately, Domítíla had gone to the east. As he rode across the country, he asked as he passed each farm if the people knew of a girl who cooked nopales and worked leather very skillfully. Many people had heard of her, but no one knew which direction her home laid. At last a woman offered to help. She gave Timoteo very clear directions — that were guaranteed to get him lost and take him as far from Domítíla's home as could be. This woman, was a beggar, with nothing of her own. Her name was Malvina, and she had the idea that her own daughter could marry this Governor's son. She called her lazy girl now, and made her get up from napping under a tree. Her girl was a good-‐for-‐nothing, just like her mother. Now wicked Malvina told the girl that she had a plan. The two of them would go into town, and the daughter would cry at people's front doors, asking for food. While this kept the family busy, Malvina would go around the back and steal crops from their garden, or perhaps even a chicken and some eggs. So this was just what they did. And when they had gathered their supplies, those two thieves went in search of Domítíla's house. They knew that they would find her father there, lonely, and perhaps, willing to take them on as wife and daughter. Poor Papá! He was lonely, and hungry too. When he and Domítíla came home from the fields and found a meal upon the table, he fell instantly in love with she who had provided it. And now Domítíla's life became truly miserable. That woman and her daughter ordered her about in her own home, and gobbled up most of what little food came from the farm. All summer and into the fall Timoteo wandered in his search for the cook. One day, when he was especially discouraged, he heard music. And then he smelled something, a scent he had thought never to smell again! It was nopales, and he followed their delicious fragrance. Malvina had not anticipated this turn of events. The man came to a village square where a celebration was in place. In answer to his queries, the folks told him that the nopales were cooked by a young leather worker, by the name of Domítíla. The girl was not at the celebration, they said, as she was visiting her mother's grave. They pointed the way to the cemetery, and Timoteo went there straight away. And there he saw a beautiful young girl, wearing a pair of sandals whose design matched the strap he had saved. He spoke gently to her, and explained why he had come. Realizing that he must be hungry, she "untied her scarf and took out a tortilla filled with her delicious nopales." As he ate, Timoteo came to realize that the
special ingredient in the food was love itself: the love that the girl's mother had shown for her child was a part of everything this young woman now did. He asked her to become his wife, and she agreed. They were married, and before long, he became Governor of Hidalgo. " The kind ways his wife had taught him brought prosperity and good will to all the citizens of the land. The wicked Malvina" and her lazy daughter fled in shame, but Domítíla's good father moved into the mansion and lived with them in peace and comfort. And when Timoteo's house was filled with children, he bounced them and played with them, and his loving wife taught them to "do every task with care, and never, ever forget to add a generous dash of love."