This is another story told to me by my elderly friend Carolina, whom I first wrote about here: A Wild Story of Love and Betrayal. She was a wealth of information before she passed away. I treasure her still.
Jose was born in the Tamaulipas state of Mexico. His mother died at his birth and his father turned his infant son over to neighbors to raise. Jose's green eyes set him apart from the other children. The family turned him into a little more than an indentured laborer, having him work long, hard days even before he started losing his baby teeth.
How he ended up in South Texas is a story that has been swallowed by time, but he did show up at a large ranch here looking for work. He was unsure of his age, but his scrawny frame and still growing legs must have made him about 15 or 16.
What set Jose apart from the other workers was his cheery disposition and his keen mind. He was never cross, although his days were physically exhausting. He was intensely curious about all the world and even knew how to read and write, something most of the other hands had no knowledge of. The only thing he brought with him, other than the clothes on his back, was a small, gold crucifix that had been his mother's. He kept it close to his heart and never took it off.
The hard work and the steady, hearty meals served from the chuckwagon and the ranch kitchen soon filled him out into a muscular man.
In the evenings, after he'd put away the horses and cleaned up his small area in the bunkhouse, he'd take an old guitar someone had left behind, sit outside on the porch and strum while singing the corridos he remembered from Mexico.
He couldn't help but notice Carlota, a shapely girl of 16 who was usually outside in the early evenings watching her younger siblings as they played near the bunkhouse area. Carlota was small in stature, but feisty in temperament. Her dark eyes simmered with a fire that burned just beneath the surface. He also caught her attention.
Jose had never had anyone to give his heart to, and now he gave it fully to Carlota. She loved him as he'd never had anyone love him before, with all the passion and flames she had inside her.
Soon, Jose and Carlota were betrothed. He dreamed of saving enough to buy land, small pieces at a time, and farming with some of the new, progressive methods he'd read of in the foreman's old Farm Journals. He and Carlota would marry and have many children with sparkling eyes.
In Europe, though, events rumbled that would forever change the destiny of not only Jose and Carlota, but of entire nations. The United States entered into World War I and Jose was one of the first to enlist from the ranch. He explained to Carlota that he wanted the world to be safe for the family they would have after they married.
Carlota's heart felt like it would shred into a million pieces from the agony that gouged her inside, but on the surface, she kept her emotions in check, so as not to worry Jose about her.
The night before he shipped out, they spent one last evening together, and Carlota shed the restraint with which she usually conducted herself. Jose promised her he'd come back, and they'd marry and begin their lives together. He also pressed into her hand his mother's gold crucifix, telling her it would be a part of him she would have until he returned. She refused it, although she desperately wanted to cling to it, because she said it would help to keep him safe. She added to the chain two small gold beads she was saving to make herself some earrings with for their wedding.
Carlota soon realized their night of love before Jose shipped out left her expecting a child. Her family was aghast, but she knew Jose would come home, they would be married, and all would be right again.
He'd only been in Europe a month when a fierce fight against the retreating Germans left many casualties. Mangled and burned bodies marred the battlefield and identification was difficult.
When the messenger came to the ranch that horrible day with the news Jose had been killed in battle, Carlota thought she could never recover. But, she had a baby in her womb to think about who was all that she had left of Jose, and she channeled all her energy into preparing for this baby's birth.
An older man, hunch backed and never married, came to Carlota's father and told him he'd marry Carlota and take the baby as his own. Her father never even consulted Carlota, just hustled her with her packed bag to the county office and to the priest for a quick marriage. Part of Carlota's heart died that day, but a small flame rekindled when her green eyed baby boy was born several months later. Her husband refused to let her name him Jose, so he went by his stepfather's name. More children were born to this couple, but only the oldest son had the striking green eyes that reminded Carlota of Jose every time she looked into them.
One afternoon, after Carlota's oldest son had reached the age of eight, he and his half brothers and sisters played outside near the old bunkhouse where Jose used to strum his corridos.
A stranger came walking near and the children noticed him immediately because of the burn scars on his face and his mangled leg that made walking a laborious and painful endeavor. The little ones were afraid of him, but the green eyed boy stood his ground as the stranger drew closer.
The stranger approached the children and spoke to them. His shoulders slumped. He pressed something into the green eyed boy's hand and made his way back down the road.
Later that evening, when Carlota's oldest son told her of meeting the stranger, Carlota's heart raced as he told her the man had green eyes, just like his, although the man's face was hideously scarred. He told her of how the man asked about who he was, and who his mother was, and about his family situation. Almost as an afterthought, he showed Carlota the little crucifix with two gold beads the stranger had pressed into his hand.
He did not understand why his mother then sank to her knees and wailed, something he'd never seen her do, and which frightened him. He also didn't understand why men on horses rode out that night to try and find the stranger, although they never did.
The green eyed stranger was never heard from again, and when Carlota died of a stroke several years later, whispering the name Jose, people wondered why she would still have someone in her heart who'd been gone for so long.
Her oldest son once again took possession of the small gold crucifix that fell from his mother's hand on her deathbed, and in time, told his own green eyed children and grandchildren the story of love and of battlefields in Europe.