La Llorona – the Weeping Woman – Lurks by the River, Looking for her Lost Children

This is the story of La Llorona, a traditional folktale of Mexico and the American West. I have retold the story here especially for Family Field Guide readers, and of course, in celebration of Halloween. My version of the chilling tale takes place in New Mexico. It’s about a vain woman,  her unfeeling husband, and the children who are lost forever. Go ahead, say it like this: La Yourona. It means, Weeping Woman. You will not find this exact version anywhere else, because, as with all stories, one thing leads to the other, and before long, no one can tell truth from fiction.

So, here is La Llorona, the Weeping Woman herself, to tell you the story.

I was once a beautiful señorita. At the age of eighteen, I fell in love with a wealthy landowner. We married, and for several years, lived happily at his hacienda, a sprawling adobe house on the edge of the llano – the vast and windy plain. He was the patron, and like a patron saint, he welcomed travelers from far and wide, offering them food and drink and a place to rest. File:BosqueNM.jpg

But alas, we had no children. Over time, I buried my sorrow by overseeing banquets and festivals at the iglesia, the church in our village. I commissioned the most glorious gowns, and in secret, prided myself on my unspoiled figure. Mi esposo, my husband, buried his sorrow in another way. Still longing for a son after so many years, he fell to drinking at the local cantina.

Then one late October morning I heard a knock at the door.

I got up from my dressing table, where I had been deciding on a necklace to match a pair of turquoise earrings.

A beautiful young woman stood under the portale. Her silken black hair hung to her waist. On her arm she carried a basket of bracelets, woven from the tall grasses found in the bosque, the woodland down by the arroyo – the ravine where rainwater flows. She held up a piece of her handiwork.  ” My children are hungry, señora. Please buy one of my bracelets.”

Enraged, I pushed her hand away. The bracelet fell to the ground. “How dare you come to my home and remind me that I am destined to remain childless with no sons or daughters to care for me in my old age!”

“I am sorry to disturb you,” the young woman said, and covering her head with a tattered scarf, she hurried down the path.

The following morning I was just trying on my new fiesta dress when my maid beckoned me to the door. “It’s her,” Maria said. “She wants to see you.”

The brazen beggar stood there there once again, beneath the portale –  this time with a basket of wild flowers. “Please, señora. I beg of you, buy my flowers so that I may feed my children.”

wild flowers

Déjeme en paz!” I said. Leave me alone.

She turned and walked away, tossing her flowers to the ground. For she must have known that no one in the village could afford such foolish things. Except, of course, mi esposo. His land extended as far as the eye could see.

The very next day, however, she came once more. This time bringing with her a basket of kindling. A dust devil whirled at her feet, rattling the ristras, strings of red chilies that hung from the ceiling, My cotton skirt flapped about my knees.

“The rain is coming,” she said. “But my piñon is dry. If you buy from me, I can feed my children.”

kindling wood

How could the girl be so stupid? Surely she understood my humiliation. ” Why should I feed your children when I grieve my own babies, children who will never be born?”

“You do have babies,” the woman said. “I bore them for you! A gift from the man you call your esposo. But he has ignored them, and now they are starving because you will not feed them.”

My heart pounded. Holy mother of God! I leaned in close, so that my servants could not hear. “Puta, whore!” I whispered. “You stole the babies from my womb, but now, I will have them!”

The young woman seemed to look through me, into my soul. I could see that her face was pura, more pure and beautiful than even the statue of the Holy Mother in our iglesia. I would do anything for a child, so I pulled a silver ring from my finger. “Here, take this, but I must see them. Or how will I know you are not lying?”

She motioned me out the door, but stopped at the gate. She pointed to the sky. Black-bottomed thunderheads towered over the mountains like giant anvils. Lightning streaked the sky.

Keeping my distance, I followed her down the road and into the bosque. Freezing rain battered my bare arms and face. Cottonwoods trembled like old women, scattering dead leaves in the wind.

Just then, two thin cries curled up from the arroyo – the cries of my babies.  “Ayúdame!  Help me find them!” I shouted. “Or I will never sleep in peace.”

The young woman’s face twisted in agony. Her black hair whipped about her head. Without warning, she tossed the ring in my face. “You are too late!” she said, and she disappeared over the ledge.

I watched as she lifted a tiny child and pulled up another – a little boy! She clutched his hand and together they waded into the rising river.

I called out in horror and followed her over the ledge,  into the rain-swollen arroyo.

But further and further she waded, and higher and higher the flood water rose.

I had nearly reached them and was grabbing for the boy when a roar came from upstream. It sounded like a freight train careening down the track.

I turned back just in time.

The raging torrent carried off trees, fences, even a shack. A lone sheep bleated as it floated past.

The rain stopped as quickly as it had begun, which is the way of the high desert. Suddenly, the river grew calm. I rushed out and searched the muddy bottom, my dress a ruined mess. ¿Dondé están mis amores?” I called. “Where are my loves?”

But I found no signs of life. Grief stricken, I staggered home – dripping wet and half frozen. Neighbors stared out their windows, wondering, no doubt, if I had gone mad.

Every night now, I leave my warm fireside. And wrapping myself in a shawl, I hurry to the bosque. I fumble through the tall grass and circle the cottonwoods, listening for my babies’ cries. When I find nothing, I scream into the darkness. My tears fly into the sky and turn to stars.

One day I will find my children, and when I do, I will take them to the cantina – the saloon where my husband sits drinking his cerveza, his beer, and shots of tequila. When I see him gambling, losing his fortune to cheap women and foul-mouthed caballeros from the llano – cowboys from the plain, I will shake him from his drunken stupor, and say, “These are my hijos, the children you stole from my body as I lay sleeping!”

And everyone will see that this is true.

La Llorona (The Crying Woman) by Rigoberto Gonzalez

La Llorona (The Crying Woman) by Rigoberto Gonzalez

I am not a foolish woman. Neither am I particular. So, good people of the village, mind my words: keep your children at home at night, and put them in their beds. For if it should happen that I do not find my own children, perhaps I will find YOURS!

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