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Don Pedrito sighed at the knock. He glanced longingly at his cup of warm tea. The pink pre-dawn was normally the curandero's time of sacred solitude.
His caller was a young mother, tears etched deep into her face. No more than twenty-five, he decided, despite her grief-traced lines. She'd had this daughter when she was yet too young to leave her own mother.
"Por favor, Don Pedrito. Ayudeme con mi'jita, Amilia?"
But leave her mother she had. For a man, no doubt - "Emilio", he suspected - and come North. Then this Emilio left her and their hijita. Before him was the face of a woman alone.
"What's wrong? She looks quite healthy."
Perhaps too healthy. Her eyes had an overly bright sparkle.
"Amilia hasn't been right since her father left," came the answer. "A devil's inside her!"
More questioning and he learned that the child had fits of temper - screamed and smashed objects and wouldn't be quieted, finally fainting from lack of air.
". . . and when we ask her why, she says her father makes her. No se lo que hace!"
As the young mother looked to break down in tears, the curandero saw that the child glared at her mother before staring at the floor.
"Es verdad?" he asked the child.
Amilia made no reply, but her mother looked despairingly at Don Pedrito.
"Ayudenos por favor!"
The healer nodded, concealing his thoughts. He left the two of them sitting inside and walked to his garden, old hands finding the herbs easily.
He returned to the hut with a bundle, giving it to the mother.
"You must drink peppermint every morning. It moves your blood and clears your mind."
"Si, Don Pedrito, pero Amilia?"
"Amilia must drink cold water, the colder the better, before and after meals. Only bathe her in cold water, even in winter."
"The cold will keep out the devil. Put mint in her bathwater. She must pray each night to the Virgin for strength to calm herself."
He watched the mother as she repeated his words to herself and remembered them. He also watched Amilia.
"Finally, when Amilia screams and won't hear reason, you must use this to drive the devil from her." While he spoke, the healer wound red thread around a long, thin quince switch twelve times.
"She should never get fewer than twelve strokes, nor more than twenty-four."
The mother looked at him uncomprehendingly. Don Pedrito seized Amilia by the shoulder and held her across the low bench. Understanding dawning, the mother raised her daughter's skirts and watched while the healer lashed the switch across the child's kicking legs. Amilia's screams made the devil's departure clear as each red, lacy stripe painted her thighs.
Don Pedrito watched as the mother gathered the child to her. Amilia clung to her mother, promising to give only joy from this day forward.
The mother alternated between comforting the child and thanking the healer. She gathered the child, switch and herbs under her shawl and, with many thanks, departed.
Don Pedrito smiled. He was again alone with the reddening dawn.
Notes: This story is very loosely based on the folktales about a real figure, Pedro (Don Pedrito) Jaramillo, a famous South Texas curandero who died on July 3, 1903. For more information on him, visit:
This story uses code switching between English and Spanish. Translations of the Spanish, if they're needed, are below.
Curandero - a traditional folk-healer.
Por favor, Don Pedrito. Ayudeme con mi'jita, Amilia? - Please Don Pedrito. Help me with my daughter Amilia?
No se lo que hace! - I don't know what to do!
Es verdad? - is that true?
Ayudenos por favor! - Please help us!
Si, Don Pedrito, pero Amilia? - Yes Don Pedrito, but Amilia?
Por que? - why?
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