Across a chain-link fence, separating the yard of Erasmo Vargas from his neighbor, two pit bulls paced like silent assassins.
Inside, Erasmo’s house was untidy, but not filthy, no more so than that of any group of young men living together, not unlike a fraternity house.
In the evening the seven young housemates, all Mexican men and none of whom spoke English, trickled in.
The first turned on a box fan, then tossed aside his tool belt and collapsed on mattress in the living room floor.
The second stripped off his soaked shirt then started mixing powdered grape Kool-Aid with ice and tap water in a plastic pitcher.
Erasmo, stepping over sheets in his steel-toed boots, reached into a drawer and took out a picture of his older brother, Lorenzo, who was killed Memorial Day weekend when a car hydroplaned into him.
Erasmo sat down with his back to the paint-flecked wall.
“He was driving to Mantachie to see his girlfriend’s family,” he said, resting the picture on the knee of his oil-stained jeans.
“He didn’t drink, didn’t like to party,” said Erasmo. “He just worked all day. He liked to make jokes.”
Lorenzo crossed into the U.S. illegally three years ago and started sending money home to his family in Veracruz. Six months ago Erasmo followed him.
“The money helped get better food, better clothes,” said Erasmo, but the family of eight kept its simple lifestyle and to this day doesn’t have electricity.
“Velas,” said Erasmo, smiling. A roommate, stretched out on the floor, laughed. “Si, velas,” he said. “Candles.”
Erasmo didn’t have enough money to send his brother’s body home. A local church and several Hispanic restaurants and stores started a collection. Within two weeks Lorezno was laid to rest in Mexico.
Shortly after Lorezno’s death, Genero Martinez came to Erasmo’s house.
Genero and Lorenzo didn’t know each other well, but Erasmo said they shared a bond.
They were two single men, illegals in a foreign land, away from their families. For the most part, they were alone.
“He took money out of his wallet, all he had, and gave us a jar of coins he’d been saving,” said Erasmo.
“This is for your brother, to go home,” Genero told him. He didn’t stay long.
Less than two weeks later, Genero’s body was found in Tulip Creek. He’s now been cremated, but the same churches, restaurants and stores are collecting money to send his remains home and lay them to rest. Erasmo, like many others in the Hispanic community, intends to contribute.
Hispanic families have a more intimate connection with the dead. It isn’t like the antiseptic ways of the Anglos and being deprived of the body is a great, prolonged hardship.
“The body may stay in the home for three days, with people coming and going and praying all the time,” said another man.
In Hispanic countries, when one of the poor dies, the community helps lay them to rest.
Erasmo said his brother spoke often of going home, but having been here for so long, he’d grown accustomed to loneliness.
Erasmo’s wife in Mexico is expecting their first child and he said soon he’ll return home and take his new family to his brother’s grave.
As he spoke, his roommates sipped Kool-Aid and the pitiful air-conditioner strained against the sweltering evening heat.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal