Frida Kahlo by Catfish McDaris

Untitled, (blue road)

Untitled, (blue road)

Photo by Laura Kiselevach


‘Frida Kahlo’ by Catfish McDaris


First time I met my great Uncle Woodrow Wilson Vann he was in the hospital getting his left foot amputated at the ankle because of a diabetes infection. My grandmother, his youngest sister and I traveled to the panhandle of Oklahoma from New Mexico to say goodbye. I was ten years old. I’d heard a lot about Uncle Woodrow, he was a scallywag. He was a self taught musical genius, playing guitar, violin, mandolin, banjo, accordion, and piano. Woodrow put food on the table playing at dances, fairs, and in churches. The Vann family was mostly Cherokee and Choctaw. They moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma in a covered wagon. Later they moved south down on the Rio Grande River to Presidio, Texas during Prohibition. Woodrow learned Spanish and would swim across the river and play mariachi and norteno music, and then bring back tequila and mescal. He would tie the liquor bottles up in a sack and put the rope around his neck and swim back north. Uncle Woodrow was on his death bed when we arrived, but was hanging on to life by his fingernails. He wadded and twisted up his sheets into a knot and tried to stuff them into his mouth like chewing tobacco. Woodrow yelled and thrashed about like a captured alligator, scaring me and lots of folks.

My grandmother and I went to Turkey Creek to stay with her oldest sister, Aunt Bertie. Her hillbilly grandsons taught me about using the outhouse and looking out for spiders and snakes, since they had no running water. They took me fishing, taught me how to call a turkey, and how to bark squirrels; shooting a single shot 22 into the tree bark near the squirrel to knock it cold, without damaging the meat for the frying pan. The boys thought I was a real city slicker and took me to the barbershop to get a haircut from a blind barber. I looked like I was ready to enlist in the army; they thought that was real funny.

A few days later we went back to visit Uncle Woodrow and they had amputated his right leg at the hip. He died soon after that and we stayed for the funeral. When the funeral home went to collect Woodrow’s body, it had disappeared. No one had an explanation. It’s been fifty years since I’ve thought about this because I came across some old black and white photos of him wearing his sombrero and the post cabin the Vann’s had built down in Texas. The cedar posts were driven deep vertical rather than horizontal with viga posts laid atop for the roof beams. I plan on scanning and including photos of this true story.

Sometimes I think the ghost of Uncle Woodrow sort of took up residence in my soul. I’ve always loved everything Mexican, I learned Spanish, went to Mexico every chance I got, and have been married to a Mexican beauty for thirty years. My lady and I travel often to Guadalajara, the second biggest city in Mexico. Her family moved there from Mexico City when she was thirteen, she was the youngest of eight children. Her father was an accountant, a land owner, and a liquor store inspector in Mexico City. After they moved her mother started a restaurant called The Bonanza, in Guadalajara, it was frequented by firemen and policemen.

We went to Mexico City often to visit her many relatives that lived there. Her Tio Francisco was a captain in the Mexican police force and ended up in the Mexican equivalent to the F.B.I. He studied under J. Edgar Hoover and once caught a famous French jewel thief. Due to his high government position we were able to visit Los Pinos (The Pines) which is Mexico’s White House and see many government buildings that are off limits to the public. We saw huge murals done by Diego Rivera, where he met Frida Kahlo. He supposedly was high upon some scaffolding, painting and he told some girls to go get him cerveza and tequila and they refused. Frida was among them; Diego took out his pistol and fired at them like they were cucarachas.

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon born: July 6th, 1907 died July 13th, 1954. She had polio at age 6, making one leg thinner than the other. On Sept 17th, 1925 she was on a bus that hit a trolley car, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and uterus. She received a broken spinal column, collar bone, ribs, and pelvis. She became pregnant three times, but was never able to have children. Frida met Diego in 1927 and they married in 1929.

I became enraptured by Frida Kahlo, her sad interesting life and her beautiful curious paintings. One of the things that magnetically and magically drew me to her was her having her leg

amputated due to gangrene not long before she died. I always thought about her and Uncle Woodrow having the same infirmity. We would visit La Casa Azul, the Blue House that she shared with Diego, Her father built the house. Leon Trotsky and his wife lived there for a while to escape, Joseph Stalin. Frida had an affair with Trotsky and he moved nearby to a fortress like house and was assassinated three years later in 1940.  Both of their houses were turned into museums. Diego died three years after Frida and left their house to the government.

In 1938, Andre Breton called Frida, “a ribbon around a bomb.” Frida and Diego got divorced in 1939, after she discovered Diego was having an affair with her younger sister, Christina. They remarried in 1940. Frida was a bisexual; she had affairs with Josephine Baker and Isamu Noguchi. Her painting, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale from 1939, always affected me, I’d seen a lady fall from a tall building and splatter on a sidewalk, and it was almost identical to what she captured on her canvas and bloody frame.

After several visits to The Frida Museum we got to know the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City. There were many ceramic tile and pottery shops filled with ornate tile and pottery of all kinds. The Tolstoy Museum was within walking distance of La Casa Azul. It was a surreal wonderful adventure to explore the entire area.

My lady’s other Uncle was a foreman in a bullet factory and lived next to a huge bullfighting arena. Tio Luis had a daughter named Juanita. She was a soap opera star and drop dead gorgeous. Her breathtaking beauty stopped traffic, men and women’s heads swiveled. She looked like a cross between Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren. Juanita invited us to the nearby volcano mountains, Iztaccihuatl, Mujer Dormida or the sleeping woman and to Popocatepetl, the brave warrior. The mountains resembled what the Nahuatl people had named them for. After the panoramic views and hairpin turn roads in the mountains, Juanita suggested we have dinner at Xochimilco, the Venice of Mexico City complete with gondolas covered in flowers.

Between the canals were many islands with adobe and thatch houses. Joyful people, with chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, turkeys, even horses, and cows lived there. I saw hammocks strung between trees and heard music and singing. It was a happy place, a place of love. My lady and her cousin were in one end of the gondola and I was in the other end with the boatman. Some turkeys were at the edge of water drinking. I let loose with a turkey call I’d learned long ago. The turkeys answered excitedly, lots of them started gobbling. People from the island and boats wanted to see what all the commotion was about. I almost had a turkey riot on my hands, the boatman was laughing so hard he almost fell in the water.

A tall man came out of the shadows and said, “I think you learned that call in Turkey Creek.” He winked at me and hugged his woman close. I looked and it was my Uncle Woodrow Wilson with Frida Kahlo, they were alive, smiling, and had two good legs.


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Catfish In Milwaukee Doing a Pee Wee/Erkle Poetry Monologue
Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. He was in the Louisiana Review, George Mason Univ.Press, and New Coin from Rhodes Univ. in South Africa. He’s recently been translated into French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Esperanto. His 25 years of published material is in the Special Archives Collection at Marquette Univ. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s listed in Wikipedia.

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