My friend Margaret Ann Porter wrote this tribute to her friend and gardener, Valentin Paredes, and has generously allowed me to share it with you. Other than just being a heartfelt and beautiful piece, I think it is important that people in the U.S. get a true view of what one Mexican man is like rather than depending on the stereotype portrayed by some of our “leaders.” People are people, no matter where they live. One reason I so strongly support travel at a young age is to make young people see that we are part of a world community made up of all sorts of people–good and bad–sprinkled pretty evenly over the globe. Here are two of the lovely ones… both the portrayed and the portrayer. Margaret and I both live on Lake Chapala in Mexico. It is the largest lake in Mexico surrounded by a number of little towns and villages. (Because she doesn’t have a blog, I am including the entire text and photos of her tribute here.)
My gardener Valentin Paredes died today from cancer. He was only 50. There are people who come along in your life who change you for having known them. Valentin was one of those for me. He was a simple man from a tiny lake village called Mezcala, born in a mud house and sent to work in Chapala when he was only 14. He learned gardening on a hotel crew and found joy in the work, and was so proud to be included in the gardener culture here at Lakeside. He taught me that those guys walking down the street with machetes and rakes and water hoses in their hands all know each other, and they know what’s going on in this town.
Valentin became our gardener 12 years ago when we bought our house. He’d already been working here for four years for a Mexican lady before we Americanos showed up and at first, he was timid with us. Later I learned it was because, in the hotel business in Mexico, Americanos don’t always send their best people, often they send their mean and rude people. After a few weeks, though, we understood each other and he became a terrific employee. He just couldn’t do enough for us, and even acted as handyman whenever we needed it. Sometimes after his shift, he’d leave me a flower arrangement for my table.
Vale had a tender heart about living things. He rescued baby birds and possums, and even took pity on the leaf-cutter ants, showing me how if we let them strip the rose bushes, they’d come back beautifully and without rust. (It works!) He was pals with our dogs and cats, and he’d even prune plants and I’d find the clippings taking root in a series of pots that he’d planted on the back patio. “But … they have life in them, Señora,” he’d explain when I complained about the crowds.
Most of all, he enjoyed new ideas, and whenever I’d give him one, he’d embrace it fully and, if it was actually bad idea, which it often was, he’d come around with a different plan, always approaching me in full deference. “Señora, I understand your plan, but what if we did this instead?” I’d heartily agree — relieved, really, because I am not a natural gardener — and then he’d create something wild and beautiful. I often felt uncomfortable with the whole “Señora” thing, but early on I learned that in his culture, a friendly distance from the ‘patrones’ was good policy.
How I will miss hearing the gate slam at 8 a.m., knowing that Valentin is arriving to do his work. It was one of the most comforting sounds I know because, for 12 years, that man was a dependable, committed and generous part of our life. His very presence taught me what those words really meant.
I will miss you, Valentin, and I’ll never forget you. I’m so sorry you lost your life too soon. You were a better man than most.