Gauchos, Ashwood Elementary School and me

English: Contemporary Gaucho in Argentina. Pam...

English: Contemporary Gaucho in Argentina. Pampas Cowboy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I want to be a gaucho and live in the Pampas”.

I was in the fifth grade and each of us had to give a report on one country in the western hemisphere. I chose Argentina. It was the gauchos that got my attention.

The idea of living life in the open, roaming around, seeing what there is to see, sleeping under the stars. That was the life for me.

Raymond Pauley, Principal of Ashwood Elememtary School was our teacher. The old brick school that sat on a hill beside Highway 200 in Bath County, Virginia was imposing to a ten year old.

With a rusty, metal, two-story corkscrew slide for a fire escape and bare wooden flloors that had the finish worn off by thousands of pairs of black and white Keds that could make you run faster and jump higher.

My seat in the classroom was in the last row. To my left was Janet Cardwell and to my right was the coat closet and next to that was the heavy, wooden door that led to the entrance of the rusty, metal, two-story corkscrew slide.

With a fifteen minute recess in the morning, a half hour recess in the afternoon and a whole glorious hour during lunch, I lived for those moments that I could be free from my cell called a desk and wander, run, jump and play on the cinder covered parking lot on one side of the building, the beat up and rusty swings and teeter totters on the other side or the rock covered hill in the back.

Occasionally I would even be picked to play in a pickup softball game on one of the two dirt and rock areas that we called baseball firelds in front of the building.

Picked or not, it didn’t matter. I was free to be outside, roaming, exploring. The bare metal monkey bars which yesterday was a lookout for me as I was a sentry guarding the left flank of a cavalry unit and tomorrow would be the bridge of a schooner as we sailed the Atlantic.

When the bell rang we all headed back inside. Some were eager to get back to ‘readin, ‘writin’ and ‘rithmetic’. I wasn’t. I’d linger as long as I could. I wanted to be in the fresh air, outside, wandering, imagining.

One day in the spring of 1965, Raymond Pauley gave us an assignment. Pick a country in the western hemisphere and write a one-page paper about it and be prepared to read it in class. My life just came to a crashing and inglorious end.

A report? More reading. More work. I want to play. It was Friday. Only two more hours and I’d be free to roam the woods around Hot Springs for two whole days. I didn’t want to have to do any report.

My mind went racing. Maybe earth would be hit by an asteroid. I had two matches hidden away; maybe I could sneak back to the school that night and burn it down. Maybe Raymond Pauley would catch some disease that would wipe his mind blank and he couldn’t remember the assignment.

Saturday was a bright spring day. A great day to run, play and explore. I wasn’t in the mood for it. I had been given a death sentence in the form of a one page report and all I wanted was for the world to end quickly. The total obliteration of all mankind had to be a sweeter end than having to write a report.

Turning on the old black and white Zenith television I flopped down in my father’s chair to watch whatever grainy, flickering images might be coming out of Roanoke on WDBJ.

The movie came on. The credits rolled and my destiny came onto the screen in four words: “Way of a Gaucho”.

Rory Calhoun played a young gaucho who deserted the army in 1875 Argentina. He becomes a bandit leader in the Pampas, meets a girl and eventually takes her to a church to be married before surrendering himself back to the army.

Except for the kissing part — to a fifth grade boy, that can be mighty disgusting — it was a great movie and one that would set me on my travels even though I didn’t know it at the time.

15,000 miles away at that moment was a cute little blond haired Argentina girl named Alejandra. That same Saturday she was probably playing with her cats and maybe reading some book about the United States.

I know one thing she was not doing. She wasn’t dreaming about some long-haired, American hippie marrying her and coming to South America.

But that’s what happned. There’s been three times in my life that I’ve really felt content. When I watched Rory Calhoun ride across the Pampas, when I first held my daughter and anytime Alejandra Gianetti Nelson smiles at me.

In a little less than two weeks is Ale’s birthday. This is her first birthday as a married woman. I hope you’ll join with me in telling her Feliz Cumpleaños.

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 Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist from America.  His latest book of photography, Suenitos tells the story of the only daycare inside the dangerous Hidden City.  Now based in Argentina, he continues to turn his lens on social justice issues around the globe.  Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today.  Have a story that needs to reach national media?  Email him today.

In addition to being photo editor for the Internet’s largest collection of Travel Articles, Outbounding, he is also the lead photographer for BuenosTours, the specialists in private walking tours of Buenos Aires

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2 thoughts on “Gauchos, Ashwood Elementary School and me

  1. This story took me back to those carefree days. Thanks so much for including my name in this awesome piece of our history. Blessing to you and a Happy Birthday to Ale!

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