The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles
by Jack Caldwell
The Man from Morelia and other stories
Hello, everyone—Jack Caldwell here. My dear wife, Barbara, is a member of the local Rotary Club. Rotary International, as you may know, is a service club in cities and towns across the world responsible for improving communities. Among their many worthwhile programs is participating in foreign exchange.
The most well-known form of foreign exchange is local families hosting young people between sixteen and eighteen for an entire high school year. There is another, lesser-known program that places young men and women who have finished their university studies into intern positions in the United States for about one month. Like the other program, a local family acts as host.
For the past month, my wife and I had the very great pleasure of hosting a young man from Mexico, Edgar Hernández. Edgar, twenty-five, is from Morelia, the capital of the Mexican state of Michoacán in central Mexico. His father is a retired banker, and the rest of his family are in education—his mother is a retired teacher, and his brother and sister are teachers. Edgar has studied business and is a budding entrepreneur—he has his own firm that conducts direct sales of perfume and he has several people working for him. He also is fluent in English and has been offered a position to teach English part-time in his home town.
This was not Edgar’s first trip to the United States, or even Minnesota. He has family in California, and he has been to Las Vegas and Florida. Seven years ago, Edgar stayed with a family near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul for a month in another exchange program.
Edgar served an internship at Faribault’s District One Hospital in the business office. He also interviewed several local businesspeople during his stay, learning about many different facets of owning and running a business.
We really enjoyed seeing Minnesota through Edgar’s eyes. During his stay, we:
- Went to the King Tut exhibit in Minneapolis.
- Cheered on the Faribault Falcons at a local high school football game. It was the first time Edgar had ever gone to an American Football game. Good thing the Falcons won.
- Attended the Defeat of Jessie James Days in nearby Northfield. The big attraction is a re-enactment of the 1876 attempted hold-up of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang and the residents’ defense of their town, which resulted in the destruction of the gang.
- The Minnesota Renaissance Fair, the second largest such event in the nation.
- Enjoyed an authentic Scottish dinner, which we won in an auction. We found out two things. One—that Edgar was amazed that Americans feel comfortable going into a stranger’s house, eat their food, and make friends with them, all without any formal introduction. Apparently, that’s not the way things are done in Mexico. Two—that haggis isn’t bad at all!
- The Minnesota State Fair, the third largest in the US. We ate many things on a stick.
- Introduced Edgar to many different foods. We started with those staples of the Midwest, the bratwurst and cheese curds. Since we went to the State Fair, he had to have a corn dog, which he liked. He also tried a chocolate-covered jalapeno (not so tasty). He liked frozen custard much better. Since I’m a Cajun, Edgar got to enjoy some home-cooked jambalaya. But his favorite food was fried chicken. Who knew?
Edgar was a delightful guest. An outstanding young man, he is intelligent, hard-working, engaging, funny, and a delight to be around. He was always ready to help around the house, which was a good thing, because we are still moving into our house. The poor guy helped me move furniture and boxes into our basement, all without one word of complaint.
We also had many discussions about the similarities and differences between Mexico and the US. Edgar told us that while the violence south of the border is real and troubling, the vast majority of it is in the north of the country and is confined to battles between rival drug gangs.
Barbara and I enjoyed his company so much we were reluctant to send him back to his family in Mexico. But we have a standing invitation from his parents to visit Morelia and stay at their house. And we plan to take them up on it!
We now understand how host families become attached to their guests. Edgar truly became part of our family. We will miss him, but we plan to stay in touch and look forward to seeing him in the future.
As you may be aware, I have a second novel coming out. The Three Colonels is a joint sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, set during the Hundred Days Crisis, which led to the epic Battle of Waterloo. All your favorite Austen characters will be there, including the Darcys, but taking center stage will be Colonel Fitzwilliam, Caroline Bingley, and Anne de Bourgh from P&P, Colonel and Marianne Brandon from S&S, and an original creation of mine, the dark and dashing Colonel Sir John Buford.
Well, Sourcebooks has announced that The Three Colonels will be released in March of 2012. So mark your calendars. And to the left is the proposed cover. I think they did a great job, don’t you?
Meanwhile, my first novel, Pemberley Ranch is available. I’m offering free signed bookplates for your copies. Just mosey on over to my web site, Ramblings of a Cajun in Exile, for the instructions on how to get your bookplate.
(I apologize to my international readers. I would love to ship your bookplate to you free, but I can’t afford it. If you would, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to the address on my website and I will get your bookplate to you as fast as I can.)
Until next time, this has been the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.