A couple of months ago I wrote about Ekphrasic Poetry. There is also such a thing as creating a story from a photograph, or Ekphrasic Prose.
This story is based on a painting housed in our county library. The Ortega Adobe is a California landmark that still stands 160 years after it was built.
House of Dreams
María Conception awakened with a sharp intake of breath. Why did the man in her dream try to grasp her hand? He was a shadow, but his presence familiar.
The sun burned hot through the muslin curtains covering the window. She pulled her damp nightdress away from her chest and rose slowly, allowing her arthritic knees time to acclimate to movement. The clatter of pots, a knife chopping against a heavy board, and the kettle whistling sounded through the room.
Her legs moved slowly, shuffling towards the nightstand and the pitcher of water. After a rinse of cool water on her face, she stroked wet palms over her silver mane, twisted a rope of hair to the nape of her neck.
“Buenas días, Doña María.” Her new daughter-in-law wiped her hands on a faded blue apron before she took an earthenware cup from the cupboard. “The coffee is ready.”
“Maybe today,” Maria Conception said noticing lines of worry across her daughter-in-law’s forehead. She sat heavily on the wood chair, its seat smoothed from years of use.
Both women cast glances towards the kitchen window, searching the sky for answers, wondering if bad weather approached or the bloated clouds were passing through. “I hope they return soon,” her daughter-in-law said.
Woven baskets filled with chiles sat next to the charcoal brazier, ready for roasting. “Canning day,” María Conception said. Soon, the familiar scent of burning coal and the sting of chile vapor rose, filling the home, before escaping through open windows.
María Conception instructed her daughter-in-law on the correct way to make chile sauce and the virtues of canning. She needed to know the Ortega family’s cooking secrets so she could provide for an unstable future when it arose. She began with the telling of the family history.
Their adobe, given to them in a land grant, stood on Chumash land spanning the years between Mexican territory and California statehood. Emigdio, María Conception’s husband, built the house.
She remembered the day he returned with his horse sweaty from pulling the carreta filled with redwood beams he found in an abandoned adobe in Rancho Sespe. Their river rock foundation would now have an equally sturdy roof. “A good home,” she said.
They raised thirteen children who worked their fields, tended the goats and provided for their needs.Their adobe withstood the flood of 1867 and the fire which burned their rafters of giant reed cane tied with rawhide. The odor lingered for months. The rugged beams survived, slightly scorched. “A miracle,” María Conception said.
Minutes passed to hours as the chile roasted, was peeled, and plucked clean of seeds. Unspoken anxiety stretched in the space between the two women. María Conception rocked in the oak chair her husband carved decades before. The rhythm, a comforting pulse, creaked to a stop.
A knock on the door boomed and paused, followed by rapid taps. María Conception looked through the window where Mr. Sanchez stood, his hat in his hand, and she knew what her dream meant.
This story is fictional however some of the characters are based on fact. Emilio Ortega, Emigdio and Maria Conception’s 11th child, established the Ortega Chile Packing Company using his mother’s recipes. The company has a variety of products on the market.