storytelling Miss Annie

fairytales Janet and Tam Lin

endings LaLlorona

technique The Lute Player

beauty Pretty Maid Ibronka

truth The Condiment Basketball Game

meaning Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or Morgiana the Clever

meaning Chien Nang

La Llorona

As told by Mary Grace Ketner
San Antonio, Texas

 

If you ask a hundred people in south Texas to tell you about La Llorona, the weeping woman, you'll get a hundred different stories. This is one of them.

The old road between San Antonio and Monterrey used to divide and cross the Nueces River in two places, and the people in Dos Puentes say this happened in San Lorenzo, and the people in San Lorenzo say it happened in dos Puentes, so you can see it is a story no one cares to claim.

Now, you know, that is desolate country down there! Nothing grows; all is dusty and dull. No one has the goal of acquiring wealth, building fine houses, nothing like that. The goal is survival.

But there was one girl who knew different. I'm going to call her Marielena. Her mother owned the inn at the crossing there, and she would see the men who traveled through from Monterrey or from San Antonio; men who wore fine clothes and rode magnificent horses. They brought gifts to their wives and their daughters, gifts of ribbons and lace and dresses and furniture.

Once a man called Marielena to him. She was about eight. He took out a dress he had bought for his daughter, about her size, he said. He held it up against her, its bright satiny softness and lace against her little camisole, dull and tattered. "It will look lovely on her!" he said, then took it away and folded it into a box.

And Marielena decided at a very young age that she would marry one of these men and move to San Antonio or Monterrey and be a fine lady and live in a fine house. She would not marry one of the village boys!

One day when Marielena was about sixteen and very beautiful, a man came through, a handsome man riding a magnificent stallion. His name was Don Ramon. He was planning to stay just two nights at the inn to rest, then ride on to San Antonio, but because of Marielena's great beauty, he stayed eight nights, and on the way back, he stayed two weeks.

And the next year when he came through, he held his small son in his arms. He told Marielena that he loved her, he wanted to marry her, but his parents-they had other ideas. They wanted him to marry the daughter of a family in Monterrey, a girl of his own class. He would need time to explain this to them.

And the next year when he came through, he patted his small son on the head; he held his baby daughter in his arms; and he told Marielena once again that he loved her, but she must wait.

Now the people in Dos Puentes say this went on for four years, and the people in San Lorenzo say it went on for seven years, but however long it was, Marielena had three of Don Ramon's children, and she was still living with her mother in the inn.

One day, she was upstairs cleaning, and her children were playing down beside the river. She would go to the window to check on them, and once, when she looked out, she saw a cloud of dust in the distance. As she watched, it became clearly a carriage. It pulled up beside her children at the river and stopped, and a man stepped out. And even at so great a distance, Marielena could tell it was Don Ramon.

"He has come to get me!" she thought. "He has brought a carriage to take us all back to Monterrey! I shall be a fine lady and live in a fine house!"

But then, he turned around and helped a woman out of the carriage, and even at so great a distance, Marielena could tell it was a beautiful woman, a young woman, dressed in the clothes of Don Ramon's class. Her heart sank within her.

But then she thought "It is his sister! He has brought his sister to help me pack, to help with the children!" and just then Don Ramon pointed to a boulder at the edge of the river, and the children turned and ran, and Marielena thought "He is showing his sister how strong our children are!"

But then, Don Ramon took the woman in his arms and kissed her, and Marielena could see that it was not his sister. Again, her heart sank. She stood at the window and watched as Don Ramon and the woman talked with her children, and then the woman picked up the baby-Marielena's baby-and tickled her and she laughed!

Then the woman put the baby down, and Don Ramon called the three children and placed something in each of their outstretched hands and folded their small fingers around it, and then he helped the woman back onto the carriage.

Well, Marielena was not about to let them come up to the inn and see her like she was, her face all red from crying. She went to the mirror and washed her face and combed her hair and took off her apron, and then she walked downstairs to the front door.

But when she opened it to greet them, the carriage had not come up to the inn at all! Instead it had turned around and was headed back the other way!

"Don Ramon," she shouted. "Don Ramon, come back!" She began running along the road. "Come back! It is me; it is me, Marielena, whom you love. The mother of your children! You are going to marry me!"

But if anybody heard, they did not turn back.

Marielena threw herself down on the road by the river there, and began crying, and when her children saw her, they ran over to her. The oldest, to cheer her, said "Mama! Look! Look at what our father has given us!"

Marielena looked, and in each of their small hands was a coin. A tiny coin! It would mean nothing to a man like Don Ramon. With the strength that comes only with rage, she grasped all of their small hands together and then flung them into the river, then she threw herself on the ground and started beating the ground! Beating that woman! Beating Don Ramon! Beating her own vanity that had thought he would come back and marry her!

And the people of Dos Puentes say she was there until sunset, and the people of San Lorenzo say it was midnight, but however long it was, when she stood up, her arms were bruised and bloody from beating the ground, and her hair was matted from sweat and blood. And when she realized what she had Done, she ran to the edge of the river and began calling "Mis hijitos! Mis hijitos! My little children!"

But, of course, it was too late.

"Mis hijitos! Mis hijitos!"

But there was no answer.

She began to walk along the river, calling for her lost children. Some people say she went into the river and drowned, and it is her ghost who walked, calling and calling for her lost children. She walked all the way to the coast, and, it being the nature of water to blend and to flow, she walked along the coast, and up the San Antonio, and down, and up the Guadalupe, and down, and up the Colorado, the Brazos, up and down all the rivers of Texas, calling and calling for her lost children. "Mis hijitos."

Sometimes, they say, she wails: "Aa-ii-eeee!" Some people say it is a mountain lion.

"Mis hijitos! Mis hijitos!" Some people say it is just the sound of the cypress branches, brushing against each other in the wind.

Others say it is la Llorona, the weeping woman, the wailing woman, the crying woman.

"Mis hijitos! Mis hijitos! Aa-ii-eeee!"

Probably it is just a mountain lion. Probably it is just the wind, brushing together the branches of the cypress trees.

But the mothers of Texas tell their children "Don't go down to the river at night. You may see la Llorona. She may see you. They say she is looking for her lost children. They say that, if she does not find her own children, she will take whatever children she finds, take them into her bruised and bloody arms and hold them against her matted hair, and they will never again be seen by their own parents.

This is a story told by mothers to their children, by friends to their amigos, and the last to tell it has just told it to you.

 

I tell this often to adults and children, and almost always, someone--and often several people--will tell me "My grandmother, she used to live down by - - - River/Creek, and one night my uncle (cousin, brother)..." --Mary Grace

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