Skip to content

“Tell them I said something”

Feature for You can Quote Me

by Andre Cormier

I didn’t start drinking tea until I was almost thirty years old. My tea of choice was chai tea, my gateway tea, as I was preparing for my day or trying to barrel my way through. As the tea would steep, I would impatiently wait for it to cool enough to drink and read the little quotes of wisdom that were attached to the tea bag. I liked to ponder the little dangling meditative suggestions. One day, my tea tag read:

“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” ~ Pancho Villa

My eyes scan again. Most tea tag quotes were about nature or positivity. This quote scours something in me raw. I picture the disgruntled tea company employee driven mad by the deluge of rainbows and sunshine inscriptions, slipping this gem into the rotation.

The quote seemed improbable. It sparked some synapses. Electrical. Chemical. Confusion. I could feel my brain feeling around in the vault. Don’t I know who Pancho Villa is? Somewhere between echoes of a Townes Van Zandt song and Three Amigos movie caricatures, I found a feeling where I thought I’d stored a fact.

“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” ~ Pancho Villa

Turns out, I didn’t really know anything about Pancho Villa. But, I did know this tea tag quotation seemed bogus. So, I began researching. José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, known as Pancho Villa, was a Mexican revolutionary. He was assassinated by seven gunmen who riddled his car with forty rounds as he drove into town to run some errands. Nine bullets hit him in the head and upper chest. He was likely killed instantly. If you’ve seen the movie The Godfather, think Sonny Corleone at the toll booth. The ‘quote’ is often attributed to the one bodyguard that survived the barrage of bullets and claimed these were Pancho’s dying words.

Actual attributed quotations to Pancho Villa emphasize that he spoke of himself as a man of the people, fighting to free the poor, a man of conflict, and not of formal education or oration. Brutal. Feared. Revered. Justified. Guilty. Complex. I haven’t the space or the knowledge to fully explain Pancho Villa. I encourage you to learn more if you are interested.

What this experience stirred in me? More questions than answers. Why do we have so much vested in someone’s final words? Does it speak to our desire to go out on a high note, a night cap of quixotic cleverness? Perhaps. However, you could be the most profound speaker and thinker that ever lived and your last word(s) might be ‘rosebud’ or ‘poop bucket.’ (That’s what Citizen Kane was all about, right?) Or perhaps we are so culturally afraid of death that we choose not to think of what the reality of most deaths look like and instead romanticize it into a scene where your soon to be corpse is surrounded by loved ones awaiting the words you will whisper before you quietly drift into the ether. I wonder if Pancho ever thought about what his dying words might be.  

These alleged dying words of Pancho Villa also remind me how quotes are used to represent the truth of history. To scratch the itch of distilling a life into a sentence or two. To be given these words on a tea tag without any context is a different experience than knowing this is a man whom the United States tried to capture by sending John J. Pershing and 5,000 army soldiers into Mexico for almost a year. They failed to catch him. Was the purpose of the quote to make Villa seem a fool and a fraud? Or maybe, the words reflect a man who prided himself on being a man of the people. To have his final words be something profound might not have been as relatable as the image of his life ending in an assassination, an elusive man dying with just the right words eluding him.  

I keep the tea tag with the Villa ‘quote’ on my bulletin board, among ticket stubs, family photos, and other tea tags. And once in a while, while sipping tea, my eyes come across it. It prompts me to wonder how many gaps in our minds might be filled in with these types of inaccuracies. How many colors are in my mind that could be more vibrant, more true, if I am willing to explore and question? And I am reminded I had better start deciding on what I want my last words to be. May I be lucky enough to say something. Perhaps even something tea tag worthy.  

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: