Six more months passed before Leonora Mendoza finally consulted with Doctor Hernandez about her inability to conceive. There had two other false alarms during that time. But the seamstress had only informed her husband of one of them. Leonora had felt so sure she was with child, but again, it turned out to be untrue.
It had been this last disappointment that caused Leonora to make an appointment to see the doctor.
"I am surprised to see you here, Señora Mendoza," Hernandez began after they both were seated. She was one of those people who were rarely ill, the kind of person who would put him out of business if everyone had her healthy constitution.
"Well, I am a little surprised myself," Leonora confessed, nervously twisting the handle of her reticule. "I. . . I'm not. . . I'm not sure where to start."
The physician waited patiently while the agitated woman worked up the nerve to speak to him. "Well," she said after a few minutes, "well, Capitan Mendoza and I have been married for over a year now."
"Yes, that's true," agreed Hernandez, having a suspicion where this conversation was heading.
"We've. . . We've been hoping for a baby," Leonora declared, her eyes downcast. "And so far. . ." She shrugged her shoulders then looked up hopefully at the doctor. "Is there something, some way that could help us?"
Doctor Hernandez gazed kindly at the anxious woman sitting before him. "Señora Mendoza, I am assuming you and your husband engage regularly in marital relations."
Leonora blushed a deep shade of red as she nodded. It had been a revelation to find out that such activities could actually be enjoyable. Maybe it made a difference if you loved and respected the person you were doing them with, the seamstress thought with a slight smile.
"The only thing against your conceiving then would be age," surmised Doctor Hernandez. He paused for a moment before speaking again. "As you may know, after a woman reaches a certain age, she no longer can have children. Have your monthly cycles become irregular lately?"
Again Leonora nodded. This definitely was embarrassing. But she remember Jaime' crestfallen face. "I. . . I won't for a month or t-two," she stated hesitantly. "I would believe I was with child, but then. . ." Again she shrugged.
The doctor sighed. "I'm afraid there isn't really anything medically I can advise," he said sympathetically. "You will just have to keep trying."
Seeing her discouraged expression, he decided to make a suggestion. "There is another option to consider."
This perked up the dejected Leonora. Noting he had her full attention, he elaborated. "You and the capitan could adopt a child. There are so many orphans in this world that could use a good home with loving parents."
"I never thought of that," she said. Leonora wondered however, how Jaime would feel about it. He had been one of those orphans, one who had never been adopted.
She got to her feet. "Gracias, Doctor," she said. "You've given me some hope."
Hernandez rose from his chair as well. "De nada, Señora."
Leonora departed, leaving the physician
to wearily sit back down. It seemed more and more people were needing
his services as the pueblo grew. And there were so many conditions
they wanted to know about which he didn't have a clue. He was getting
too old for this, a thought that kept popping into his head over and over
Z Z Z
"Adoption?" echoed Jaime. He and Leonora were sitting in the tiny dining room in the back of the dressmaking shop, eating their supper. His wife had just revealed to him the discussion she had had with the doctor earlier that day.
"You don't think it's a good idea?" asked Leonora cautiously.
"No, no," replied her husband, then he frowned as a thought came to him. "Does this mean we can't have children of our own?"
"No, not really," she said, looking downward. "It's just not very likely we ever will." Leonora had to hold back a sob when she glanced up at Jaime's face. Staring at her plate, she continued, "I am almost forty years old. Neither of us are youngsters anymore. Having children is something we need to do now, not later."
Mendoza had to agree with her reasoning. But adoption? It was true, he could not lie to himself, he had been looking forward to having a son or daughter of his own. A piece of himself that he could love and teach everything he knew.
A glimpse of Leonora's face told him that she was upset. She no doubt felt she was letting him down, he mused. She seemed to think that adopting a child would solve their problem.
Then Jaime recalled the years he spent at the Mission orphanage. He had lived there for nearly thirteen years, from the time he was a year and a half old until he ran away to join the army at age fifteen.
His parents had been peasant farmers who had died during an influenza epidemic that had swept through the territory. Somehow he had been spared and was sent to live with the priests.
An uncle in San Diego had been notified of his parents' deaths and communicated back that he would come to claim the orphaned Jaime. Year after year passed, until the young boy was eight years old, before it was clear that no one was coming to get him.
By then it was too late for him to be adopted. Most people wanted cute, cuddly babies; not homely, plump boys who had a difficult time in school. Jaime wasn't stupid, just a little slower that most children his age. But it was enough to scare off potential parents.
It did not help the situation that the lad loved to daydream. When he was younger, his thoughts would stray to the happy home he would share with his uncle. He imagined living in a grand house, a kindly woman who was his aunt and cousins who would accept him as their brother.
As it became apparent his errant relative was never going to show up, Mendoza's fantasies turned to other fanciful notions. For a time, he wanted to join the circus. One had came to Los Angeles when he was ten; as a special treat all the Mission orphans had been allowed to attend.
It had been two years later, when he received a toy soldier for Christmas, Jaime changed his dream. To be a lancer in His Majesty's royal army was all he could think about day and night.
Maybe adopting a child would be a good thing, Mendoza thought. If he could spare one boy or girl the sterile, lonely upbringing he had endured, it might make not having a child of his own more bearable.
Jaime smiled at Leonora. "I think it's a grand idea. We can get Felipe to help us with all the legalities."
Felipe, despite his pessimistic predictions, had passed his bar examination with high marks and now was full-fledged lawyer. He was slowly gaining clients; people whose desire to consult with an attorney in Los Angeles rather than Santa Paula or Santa Barbara outweighed their qualms about Felipe's youth and relative inexperience.
"We'll go to the orphanage tomorrow," declared
Mendoza. He rose from his chair as did his wife and they embraced.
Z Z Z
They decided to tell no one of their plans until they had selected a child to adopt. It wasn't until the afternoon of the next day before they could visit the orphanage.
Leonora still had a hard time believing that the building that now housed about fifty boys and girls had once belonged to her husband. It wasn't, however, difficult to understand why he had given it up. Jaime was almost too soft-hearted for his own good, she mused.
Mendoza had been volunteering at the orphanage for nearly ten years. At least once a week, he would be there, telling stories, giving piggyback rides, engaging in mock sword fights and generally trying to bring a little cheer to the children's lives. It saddened him that some of the same children were still residing there. Boys and girls he remembered as babies and toddlers were now adolescents that had virtually no chance of ever being adopted.
Since her marriage to the capitan, Leonora accompanied him on his weekly visits. She donated lengths of fabrics which she and some of the older girls, whom she was teaching to sew, turned into clothing for the orphans. There was one girl who was fourteen, nearing the end of her stay at the orphanage, that Leonora was thinking of taking on as an apprentice. Now that Ana Maria was married with an infant son, she did not have as much time as before to help her mother. Leonora had to work twice as hard to keep up with her orders.
The couple went about their usual activities but with a different view than before. They both decided it was not going to be a simple task to chose just one child, they all were deserving of a good home. Jaime especially was having a agonizing time of it. He would have liked to have adopted them all.
Leonora, on the other hand, was approaching this situation with a much more practical attitude. Even though the little girls' sweet smiles tugged at her heart strings, reminding her of Ana Maria when she was a baby; she resolved not to get too sentimental. She knew without asking that her husband would prefer a son, which was fine with her. She had already raised a daughter. What she wasn't sure of though, would he want an infant or perhaps an older boy?
She sighed as she recalled how much work a baby could be. The birth of her grandson Diego brought back the memories of changing diapers, sleepless nights and fussy crying jags that lasted an hour or more. Leonora wasn't sure if she wanted to go through all that again at her age.
It was different with her grandchild. She could hand him over to Ana Maria or Felipe then go home. To be the one responsible every day and night. . . Well, she just didn't know.
Neither of them made any decisions that day. Or indeed as the days turned into weeks, which turned into months. It was just too heartbreaking to pick only one child, leaving all the others behind. Leonora did however, take on Juanita, the budding seamstress, as her apprentice.
It wasn't until five months after their agreement to adopt a child that the decision was virtually made for them. Jaime and Leonora had arrived at the orphanage for another of their weekly visits one May afternoon. They started to engage in their usual activities when Padre Benitez also appeared. With him were two small boys, one about four years old and the other one about two.
"Hola, Padre," greeted Jaime, who was giving a boy of about three a ride on his back. "Who are these little fellows?"
"This is Ricardo," the priest indicated the older lad, "and this is his brother Roberto. They are coming here to live." He put a hand on each child's head. "You can go play now, muchachos."
Ricardo took his younger sibling's hand and they made their way over to a tree. They stood under its branches and watch the games of the other children. The padre shook his head sorrowfully.
"Poor little chicos," he said. He looked at Mendoza. "They just lost their mother."
"Where is their father?" asked the curious Jaime.
"He is dead too," explained Padre Benitez. "Not long after Roberto was born . Their mother had a hard time of it and now she is gone as well."
Jaime's heart bled for the little boys. He really couldn't remember losing his parents but he imagined he must have felt as bad as the two newcomers looked like they were feeling. All at once, he knew what he had to do.
"Padre," Mendoza began, "those lads. They don't have any living relatives? No where else they can go?"
"No," replied the priest. "Not that we know of. Their parents couldn't read or write, there were no letters or a bible or anything to let us know if there were any other family. All we do know is that there aren't any relatives here in Los Angeles."
"So someone would be able to adopt them?" inquired Jaime.
Padre Benitez smiled as he guessed the capitan's intentions. "Si, someone could adopt them," he stated. "Do you know if anyone would be interested?"
"I might," hedged Mendoza. He grinned at the priest. "Excuse me, Padre. I need to speak with my wife."
"Certainly, my son."
The soldier quickly made his way over to where Leonora was sitting, encircled by young girls stitching dresses and shirts. He nearly forgot about the child on his back until the boy laughed happily because of Mendoza's fast pace. Jaime let the youngster slide to the ground before he interrupted his wife's sewing lesson.
Leonora listened intently as her husband explained the young boys' predicament. "It would be perfect," he declared excitedly. "Since they haven't really lived here yet, it won't seem like we favored them over all the others." He was having a hard time containing his eagerness. "What do you think?"
Leonora wasn't sure what to think. Two little boys? It was very sad that the poor lambs had just lost their mother. She also imagined it would take some time for the lads to adjust to a new situation, especially living with complete strangers who would take the place of their real parents.
Then she glanced at Jaime's face and all her doubts flew away. She could not deny him this opportunity. He was right, it was an ideal solution to their problem of choosing just one child from the many orphans. And how hard could it be to take care of two small boys? It would be horrible to split up the young brothers. They just had to take the both of them.
"You're right, Jaime," she finally said. "Let's go talk to the padre."
Mendoza's grin was so big his face was barely
able to contain it as the couple went in search of Padre Benitez.
Z Z Z
"I wan' Mama," whined little Roberto, who then stuck his thumb into his mouth.
"Me too," said his older brother Ricardo. Where was Mama? he thought forlornly. Why had that man in the dress brought them to this place? He watched from under the tree as the other children played. Was this school? Mama had told him that he would be going to school soon.
Ricardo glanced up and saw the man in the dress walking toward them. There was a man dressed as a soldier and a woman with him. They were all smiling. Hope sprang into the little boy's heart. Maybe they were going to take him and Roberto back to their mama.
"Roberto, Ricardo," said Padre Benitez. "These are the Mendozas. They want you both to come live with them."
Ricardo looked at the grinning couple. Why did they want him and his brother to live with them? The little boy frowned. Mama had been awful sick lately. Maybe they would stay with these people until she got better. That would be all right, he thought cheerfully.
"Come on, Roberto," he said as he placed his hand on his brother's shoulder. The younger boy just sucked his thumb harder as he stared up at the strangers. But Roberto didn't resist as the soldier picked him up and carried him to the waiting carriage.
Ricardo's hand was taken by the woman who also led him to the horse-drawn vehicle. The young lad was excited, he had never ridden in anything like this before in his short life. He vaguely remembered riding in an old donkey cart which had been driven by a man. A man Ricardo couldn't recall very well but one who had been around until after Roberto had been born. He did know his mama had been very sad ever since the man went away and never came back.
The rocking of the carriage had lulled Roberto to sleep as he sat next to Jaime. He put his arm around the little muchacho to keep his head from jostling around too much. Then Mendoza glanced over at his wife and the young boy who was sitting beside her. Ricardo was looking all around, his eyes as big as saucers as he took in the passing scenery.
Leonora smiled at her husband.
Jaime knew then that this was the right course for them to take.
No more anxious waiting, no more crushing disappointments. He grinned
broadly. I am a father now, he thought contentedly.
Life was perfect.
Z Z Z
"NOT TO BE" - CHAPTER FIVE