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by Tumbleweed Smith

Junior year. Baylor University. Spring quarter. I am in my second year of French. My roommate, Dick Kendall, was taking Spanish. One day his Spanish teacher, Mrs. Creasey, told her class about summer school at Monterrey Tec in Monterrey, Mexico. We decided to go.

The first six weeks of summer I spent in a Spanish class at TCU in my hometown of Fort Worth. The French background helped me immensely in learning Spanish.

We traveled in my Studebaker Starlight coupe, arriving in Monterrey on a Sunday night. We checked into the Ancira hotel, just across from the Plaza Saragosa. We took part in the Sunday night ritual and joined young people on the plaza. Boys walked around the plaza in one direction, facing the girls who walked in the opposite direction.

I saw a familiar face. It was a girl in my Spanish class at TCU. She lived in Monterrey. We visited for a while and then she invited us to her house to meet her family. We followed her there and the rest of the evening we spoke nothing but Spanish. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted but proud. We had a glorious night and had used our Spanish.

The next morning, we asked around and found out where students could rent a room with meals. Although there were groups of students from the same colleges or universities staying in dorms, we didn't want to be identified with a group. We wanted to stay off campus with a family and learn Spanish.

We found a room in a house at 514 Hidalgo Street, just a block away from La Purisima, a Catholic Church with modern architecture. When we went to the college to enroll, we gave the address on Hidalgo Street as our home address and saved a hefty percent of the tuition.

The Rodriguez family had rented rooms to students for years. Along with Dick and me, there were other boarders: Carlos, Jesus and an ex-sailor named Bill. Also in the house were Bertha, Rosa, Alba Nellie and Cheli, daughters and nieces of the mamacita, whose husband had passed on.

We had a party every night on the patio. The first few nights were spent learning words. Carlos and Jesus would point to the wall, the floor, the ceiling, the light bulb, the fan, the bushes and tell us the names in Spanish.

We became conversational quickly. Living in a house with a family is the best way to learn a language and a culture. Although we traveled throughout Mexico every weekend, we learned the most about the country on the patio, sitting and talking. And dancing. Rosa taught ballet, but she loved Cha Cha Cha and the male students in the house were willing partners.

We hardly spoke English. Almost every utterance was in Spanish. If we wanted a shirt washed, we had to use Spanish. If we wanted something different for breakfast, our request had to be in Spanish.

When Dick and I arrived at Nuevo Laredo on the way back home, we went into a store and the guy behind the counter spoke to us in English. We exchanged looks of disappointment. Our summer of fun was over.

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