Friday, December 23, 2011

Beneath the Dancing Tree

Image Credit: Chance of Sunshine: Cinderella On Her Tea Break

     It was a beautiful summer’s day and for a change it was a wonderful 72 degrees and the humidity was nil. I didn’t usually have time to enjoy summer, but this forced retirement was finally going to give me the chance to relax and enjoy my life and I was planning to relish every minute of this gorgeous day.
     I’d spent most of the day, out in the back pulling the weeds out of my vegetable garden and I was ready for a break. My Saul had built me a beautiful backyard. He’d put in a patio with a waterfall in the corner and a fireplace right in the middle of my patio with nice seating all around. I now had a wonderfully, quiet sanctuary when I wanted to spend time alone or with family. I’d always dreamed of a backyard like the one I had now, with enough room to have a large vegetable and herb garden and grow my pumpkins and my Saul had made my dream come true. He’d also planted a maple tree and when the tree was big enough for the branches to spread over my pumpkin patch, he’d bought dancing shoes and hung them from the lowest branch.

     I had just finished preparing Saul’s lunch; cheddar cheese and steak enchiladas with a nice Spanish rice and frijoles charros, to which I just needed to add chopped cilantro, diced bacon, ½ a medium chopped onion and one diced jalapeño with the seeds intact. I set the beans on simmer, brought in the sun tea and fresh lemonade and removed the big chocolate chip cookie cake from the refrigerator. I looked over my shoulder at the iron clock my mama had given me and thought to myself, “Haha, I made it!”
     I could hear the banging of my mailbox and the cheerful whistling of Esteban Mendoza, our mailman. I walked out onto the porch to collect the mail with an ice-cold glass of lemonade. You could tell he was ready for it; he already had his hand out for the lemonade.
     I couldn't believe it had already been eight years ago today on my 42nd birthday, that Esteban had become our new mailman. It felt like just yesterday that I’d heard a hesitant knocking on my front door and had opened it to a fresh-faced new postal worker who in spite of his training hadn't been quite sure what to do. He’d asked me where he should put the mail and his trainer and father had said with a snort, “Dork, what the heck you think the mail box is for?”
     I’d laughed and then realizing I’d hurt his feelings, I’d invited both of them to sit down and have a nice cold glass of lemonade. You probably couldn’t do that in bigger towns, but in Chula Madre everything was really laid back. I didn’t find out until afterward that I’d had the honor of having been his first mail delivery; after that every year, on that date I’d make cupcakes or a cookie cake and we’d celebrate.

     Esteban laughed when I presented him with a chocolate chip cookie cake. He was a chocolate fanatic so it hit the spot. He called over the kids from across the street, my next-door neighbors Miki and Chitose, and the Penson kids who seemed to live outside. I cut the cookie into 10 pieces and served ice-cold lemonade to everyone. We sat around for a few minutes and remembered his first days as our postal worker and we congratulated him again on being the best postman we’d ever had.
     I stood on the porch for a while after everyone had gone and ignored the letters I’d dropped and just breathed in the scent of flowers hanging from their pots on the porch and listened to the sound of my stereo playing Nicole C. Mullen’s My Redeemer Lives. I was momentarily distracted by the sound of children running past as they laughed and tagged each other, and round and round they ran and jumped. I bent over to pick up the letters and saw how the breeze danced amongst the planters full of flowers and herbs and felt it playfully twirl around the hair at the nape of my neck. As a gift for playing along, my nose was allowed to briefly catch the aroma of the wonderful flowers and the peach pies that my next-door neighbor Miki had set on her windowsill to cool. She was very lucky I wasn’t a thief or her pies would have been long gone.
     I turned as I heard a scream of laughter from little Julian and his brothers. They were so young and full of life and with a deep sigh I remembered that I’d turned 50 today. The birthday calls had started early and my younger brother, Jaime had let himself into my house and made me breakfast and with his beautiful tenor had sung Las Mañanitas outside my bedroom door until my husband Saul had threatened to punch his lights out. He’d laughingly dodged my Saul’s halfhearted punch and said he was only going to sing louder until we came down for breakfast. He’d looked at me, with my hair all over the place, sleep in my eyes and my frumpy old lady nightgown and said, “You know what manita? You look more beautiful the older you get.” Then he grinned and ruined it all by adding, “So what do you want to use to get downstairs? Your walker or the wheelchair?” I thought he was going to split a gut as I started pelting him with anything within reach. As I sat down to breakfast he said he wasn’t supposed to tell me, but they were giving me a surprise party later and because I was so old he thought it best to tell me so that I wouldn’t have a heart attack. I’d tried to hit him, really I had, but I was laughing too hard to do much damage. We had enjoyed a wonderful breakfast together and he’d actually hugged me before he left.

     I turned as Saul drove in honking, the entire car filled with flowers and balloons. He stepped out of the car and came over and got on his knee in front of me and started to sing. His beautiful bass still brought shivers to my body when he sang. He sat down on the porch and sat me on his lap and whispered softly into my ear, “You are the most precious woman in the world and every year, you just get more beautiful my Cinderella.” I sat blushing on his lap and buried my face in his throat. Here I was 50 years old and still acting like a teenager. I looked up into his face and remembered how our love had first begun.

     Chula Madre, population 960, had no theater or drive-in so the town had set up a makeshift theater on the west side of town. The high school sewing class had sewn several white sheets together into one big one and with his permission it had been set on the side of Farmer Brook’s barn. Mr. Johnson, the president of our only bank had generously donated the use of his film projector and Mayor Tiby Danforth had officially made every Friday and Saturday movie nights. Everyone would bring chairs and blankets and picnic baskets as we enjoyed the movie. Every weekend my friends, family and myself would either walk the two miles to the Westside of town or we’d all be crammed into the back of my papa's old Ford pickup truck. We’d be so excited as we wondered what movie we’d be watching that night. While we really enjoyed the movie, we really looked forward to the last weekend of the month. On the last Saturday of every month Farmer Brooks would open up his barn and the town’s 6-piece band would play. For $6.00 we’d get to dance for hours and Molly, the owner of Molly’s Eatery and Bar would supply a mouth-watering assortment of snacks and drinks.

     The first time I properly met Saul, I’d been 14 years old, he’d been 19; he’d been messing with his mama calling her viejíta (old lady), kissing her cheeks or forehead and jumping out of the way when she tried to swat him. I’d rolled my eyes at remembering that this was the same boy whose mama had been calling him bebíto (baby) the weekend before. She’d been distraught, crying and wringing her hands and from her description I had assumed the child she said had gotten lost was between 2 to 4 years old. Much later from across the room I’d turned to see her 19 year old, hulking bebito rush to her side to be hugged and kissed. I didn’t realize this was the bebito she was talking about until my father had introduced me to them the following weekend. She wouldn’t let him out of her sight and after a few minutes I realized he was just spoiled rotten.

     My coming of age party (Quinceañera) was almost on me. I would be considered a full-fledged woman and wondered if I’d be able to find a man like my father. My parents had a wonderful marriage and my friends always commented on that. My papa was such a romantic and used every opportunity, no matter where they were, to compliment or serenade my mama. My papa’s voice was so rich and velvety and every time he sang to her, mama would practically swoon like a teenager in the first throes of love. I’d always dreamed of finding someone like my papa, but I really never thought it would be possible. I mean come on! Could there be another such romantic as my papa?

     The Friday before my Quinceañera, I had gone outside to mama’s pumpkin patch to pick one for the pie she wanted to make and became enchanted with the moon’s glow on the ripe burnt orange fruit. As I moved around the pumpkins, they seemed to change from orange, to dark red, to a royal purple. A glimmer to my right drew my eyes to a puddle of crystalline water that the recent rain had deposited near the pumpkin patch. I bent and stared into the water and saw my face and the moon reflected behind me and started to dance as I imagined myself Cinderella dancing among her pumpkins. I lost myself in the music of God’s creation and danced underneath the maple trees until suddenly my fairytale came to a thudding stop at the snorting laughter of one very amused Saul, who was sitting on the lowest branch underneath Old Gnarly, the oldest maple tree in our garden. He’d apparently taken advantage of the darkness to hide himself among the leaves.
     I turned to pick the pumpkin I’d chosen and decided that ignoring that idiot would be my best bet. I stomped off into the house and ignored him as he called out my name.

     I dressed eagerly for the dance the following Friday. I was so excited because I’d had my Quinceañera on Saturday evening, the week before and this would be my first dance as a woman. Mama had made me a beautiful shimmery royal blue strapless gown and together we had saved enough to buy matching pumps. My black hair (another pain in the butt of my existence, the first were my little eyes), the crazy curls springing everywhere, had been brought into some semblance of order. Mama had piled my hair on top of my head and had used her pearl hair combs to somehow make it look elegant with curls falling down my back. She’d outlined my small black; almond shaped eyes with black pencil and had applied a light blush to my cheeks and a shimmery gloss to my lips. Mama’s finishing touch had been her pearl necklace that she’d placed around my throat. I looked into the large round mirror and for just a minute it looked like I was glowing and I felt like Cinderella.
     For the first time my papa refused to let me ride in the back of his Ford pickup. He said that a proper young lady should sit in front. He was so proud and his eyes filled with tears, “My bebita is all grown up. I wanted you to stay mi princesa chiquita (my little princess) forever.”

     I entered the dancehall on my big brother Ramon’s arm and my friends came forward to admire my grown up appearance. Out of the blue Sali asked me, “Is it true that you’re dating Saul?”
     “What!?!? Where did you hear that? He’s a spoiled mami’s boy and I’d never date anyone like that!”
     “Well that’s what he’s telling everyone!” Sali said excitedly. I tried to ignore Saul all evening, but every time I turned around there he was watching me. I was still angry that he’d seen me dancing in the garden and had laughed at me.
     Several times during the first half of the evening, different boys had come forward and asked my papa’s permission to dance with me, but I’d noticed that after a few twirls on the floor, they would start looking over my shoulder and would suddenly remember that they had something else to do (for a while there I thought my deodorant cream had failed me!). My little brother Jaime came up to me, his mouth full of pie, “Hey manita, my friend Ruy wants to dance with you, but he said Saul told him he’d kick his butt if he got near you.”
     I was seething! My first dance as a grown woman and Saul was ruining the entire evening for me. I thought of storming out the door, but before I could act Saul had grabbed my arm and was dragging me on to the dance floor.
     “If you can dance with pumpkins, you can dance with me,” a red faced Saul said gruffly, “and I wasn’t making fun of you.” He hesitated briefly, “I thought you looked like a princess in the moonlight.” He left after our dance and the look he sent me had my heart racing. No one else asked me to dance that night and my brother Ramon finally told me why. He thought it was quite amusing that Saul had warned off would be suitors and while I was upset, I must admit that I was also kind of flattered.

     I spent the next few weeks pretending I wasn’t looking for him everywhere I went and when he was over at my house, I pretended I was ignoring him. My parents walked around smiling and my hermanos (brothers) really liked him, but I think they were kind of conflicted about this Tyrone Power look-alike following their hermanita (little sister) around.

     Several weeks later, as my friends and I sat waiting for the movie to start, Sali started giggling and elbowed me, hard! Saul came and stood in front of me and offered his hand and without thinking I took it and was led a little bit away from prying eyes. He looked solemnly into my eyes and informed me that he and his parents would be leaving to work the migrant farms in Moorhead, Minnesota and he wasn’t quite sure when they’d be back. He’d tried to get them to leave him behind, but his mother had refused. “Wait for me, okay?” I was speechless, as he pulled me into his arms to hug me gently and kiss my forehead, before walking quickly away. My face felt hot, my throat tight and my face was suddenly wet with tears. I don’t when it happened, but somehow I’d fallen in love with a spoiled brat.
     I hadn’t realized that it was possible to miss someone so badly, but I did. I woke up with him on my mind and went to sleep with him on my mind. At the end of the first week just as I was sure my heart was about to break, I received two letters from him. He’d never been very talkative, but apparently he had no problem on paper. The first one he’d written as they were leaving Chula Madre; the next had been written the day they’d arrived in Moorhead and he’d tried to put in everything that he’d seen and heard up to that point…and everything he was feeling.
     He described the scenery as they drove past fields of cotton and beans, farms, animals and small towns. I began to look forward to his letters and to the personal little note he would add at the end of each one.
     One week became two, two became four and soon six months had passed. The last two weeks I hadn’t received any letters, so I was sure that he’d forgotten all about me. My parents had tried to console me and of my four brothers, the three youngest had even encouraged me to go out with a couple of their friends.
     I’d been moping for two days and I hadn’t felt any interest in going out with my friends or to the movies, because I had been feeling so down and depressed and feeling sorry for myself I had gone to bed early. In the early hours of the morning, I was awakened by singing outside my window. It was a song I loved and the voice singing it was so strong and beautiful and rich like my father’s, but much deeper. I walked to my window a little unsteadily and pulled up the blinds and thought I must have died and gone to heaven. Saul stood outside, under my window dressed like a mariachi in front of a group of five other men playing guitars, a trumpet and a violin, all dressed the same. The words made me cry and although it was cool outside, I just couldn’t close my window. I stood with tears running down my face as I listened to his beautiful voice:

            Parece que fue ayer cuando te vi aquella tarde en primavera.
(It feels like yesterday when I saw you that afternoon in the springtime.)

            Parece que fue ayer cuando las manos te tomé por vez primera
(It feels like yesterday when I held your hands in mine for the first time)

            Soy tan feliz de haber vivido junto a tí por tantos años
(I am so happy to have lived next to you all these years)

            Soy tan feliz de disfrutar algunas veces tus regaños
(I am so happy that I even enjoy the times you scold me)

            Parece que fue ayer eras mi novia y te llevaba de mi brazo
(It feels like yesterday, you were my girlfriend and I walked with you on my arm)

            Parece que fue ayer cuando dormido yo soñaba en tu regazo
(It feels like yesterday that I dreamed as I slept with my head on your lap)

            Soy tan feliz pues sigues siendo de mi vida la fragancia
(You’ve brought me such happiness, you continue being the sweet fragrance of my life)

En nuestro amor nunca ha existido la distancia. Que Dios te guarde por hacerme tan feliz
(Please know our love will never feel a distance. May God keep you for making me so happy) Author ~Armando Manzanero

     I wiped at my face with my gown as the song ended and blushed when I heard my brothers, parents and the next-door neighbors clapping and whooping in the early morning hours.
     Saul’s parents had decided to remain in Moorhead, but Saul had spoken to his father and had asked for his blessing to return to Chula Madre. He’d driven right through the night to surprise me.
     By early afternoon everyone in Chula Madre knew that Saul had come back for me. I guess my blush pretty much gave me away as well, but from that moment on everywhere I went, Saul went and vice versa.
     We married the year I turned 18 and as I walked down the aisle to my Saul, he sang our song to me. I forced myself to walk patiently down the aisle towards him, when I actually wanted to run to him. It had been a tumultuous two and half years; I’d discovered Saul had quite a jealous streak in him and I’d broken off our engagement twice and cancelled the wedding once. On my wedding day my eldest brother Ramon told me that Saul had called him the night of my dance among the pumpkins and had told him that he’d met the woman he was going to marry, underneath the dancing tree.
     Thirty-two years, four children and 6 grandchildren later and every day feels like I’m still on my honeymoon. I‘d wanted a man like my father and God had sent me a man like my husband. He serenades me every chance he gets; he doesn’t care where we are. Just last week we were in JC Penney in the jewelry section when he decided to serenade me. I stood there blushing with my hands over my heart, my heart pounding and then he’d whispered in my ear, “Let’s visit the dancing tree tonight Cinderella.” I cried.
     Yes, I look forward to our dances underneath our dancing tree of maple leaves. It never fails to make me feel fourteen again and Saul as always, is my Prince Charming.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Other Side of the Street

Cintia always loved playing out in the rain and today was no different. As soon as she heard the rain softly hitting her office window she jumped up, put on her shoes and grabbed the multicolored umbrella. She knew she wouldn’t be using it, but she’d probably do her imitation of Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain.’ From the reception desk, Blanca Reynosa’s soft voice reminded her daughter, “Cintia, don’t forget to put on your rain pancho! What’s wrong with you? You want to catch your death of cold?” Cintia’s response as usual was, “Ay mami I’m a big girl now and you know I’ll just take it off once I get outside,” she grinned.
“Bueno, fine! But I’ll make you a nice hot cup of tea for when you’re done playing and you will drink it niña!” She muttered to herself as she walked away, “Mi hija el pato!” (My daughter, the duck).
Blanca Reynosa smiled as she prepared tea for her daughter and remembered the ducks and the rainy summer day fourteen years ago when her daughter had been eleven and her life had changed forever.
The Reynosa family was a rowdy bunch, except for Cintia who at eleven was very small for her age and very seldom spoke, if at all. Anyone attempting to speak to her was treated to a blank stare and then she would quietly move and hide behind her mami or papi. Her parents despaired of her ever coming out of her shell. Mami would say that she was a very quiet caterpillar and that one day she’d turn into a beautiful butterfly.

The Reynosa’s loved their big neighborhood church and every Sunday morning the entire family would walk to church together. They’d leave extra early so that Papi and Mami could use that time to ask each of them how their week had been, what they were grateful for and who had made them angry that week and give them advice on how they should handle it. Every week, as they would walk along the river’s edge towards church, Papi would point out something different in God’s wonderful creation and ask them what they thought God was thinking when He’d created it. The two Reynosa brothers always had deep answers and Tita, the eldest sister, well…let’s just say that poor Papi was always doubled up laughing by the time they got to church. He would look at his four children and with a sigh of pride and satisfaction he’d say, “You’ll do, you’ll do.”
That Sunday they’d left the house as usual and had answered Papi’s questions to his satisfaction and amusement, but just as they were about to enter Iglesia Casa de Oración (House of Prayer Church), Tita suddenly discovered she’d left her Bible at home. Actually, she’d just begun to date and knew that this week, Sunday morning would be the only time she could talk to her boyfriend on the phone. Mami must have realized that, because she decided to send someone else. She knew it was time that her youngest blessing began to grow up and do more for herself and even though her protective instincts told her not to do it, she decided to send Cintia. With an uncertain glance backward, Cintia started home back the way they’d come.
Cintia made it home in record time, grabbed Tita’s Bible and started out the door just as it began to rain. She took the multi-colored umbrella from the stand beside the door and started walking back very slowly. She loved walking in the rain.
She walked along Bay River and watched leaves as they floated down the river like little boats, some sinking when they filled with rain and others twirling madly as if controlled by magic. It took longer than usual to get to the corner of Alcott St. and cross to the other side. It was a very wide street with lots of traffic especially on the weekends. Cintia looked at the watch mami had given her and knew she’d still make it back to church in time. She knew that her mami and papi would be so proud of her. Mr. Landry, the owner of Gary’s Grocers waved to her and she hesitantly lifted her hand to wave back and turned to continue her walk, when she heard angry quacking behind her.
A mama duck with five little ducklings was attempting to cross the street to get to the other side, but the cars refused to stop. She would spread her wings and quack at them furiously, and then she’d turn her neck and quack at her babies, as if warning them not to move. Cintia knew she needed to get to church, but she was so afraid that something would happen to that little family. One of the little ducklings decided not to listen to its mama and started across the street and was hit by a small car and came to rest on its side in the middle of the street. Cintia screamed and would have run into the street, but before she could Mr. Landry had thrown one of the store’s grocery carts into the street causing traffic to come to a screeching halt. Cars on both sides began honking loudly.
Cintia ran to the injured duckling and kneeling on the ground picked it up and cradled it in her arms.
A big man in a blue Ford truck had tired of honking and was now lumbering toward Cintia and the ducks. “Get out of the way you stupid little girl,” he yelled, “they’re just ducks and now you’ve made me late!” He’d expected her to move quickly, but she sat there with her shoulders shaking and tears streaming down her face as she cradled the injured duckling in her arms.
Her parents and siblings, who’d come to look for her when she hadn’t returned to church, were furious! How dare that man scream at their little Cintia. Just as they started across to help her, Cintia took a deep breath, drew her shoulders back and looking straight into the big man’s eyes said, “No, I won’t move! I’m going to help the ducks cross the street.” She was still shaking a little bit, but she knew she had to be strong and just the way God protected her, she had to protect the ducks.
The big man opened his mouth to yell again, but all the anger drained out of him at the look of determination on her little face. She sat right where she was, looked up at him and refused to budge an inch. She was attempting to put the most ferocious scowl on her face possible, the one Papi wore when he was upset with her brothers, but she was failing miserably.
The big man lifted a beefy hand into the air and she tensed expecting a swat, but instead his hand came to rest gently on her head. He let out a great big sigh and got down on one knee to look into her eyes, “I’m sorry; you’re not a stupid little girl and I can always watch that movie another day with my kids. Maybe I can help you?” She looked up at him and her big brown eyes got bigger and all of a sudden she smiled so big, so that in spite of the rain coming down, the big man felt like the sun had come out to shine brightly on everyone.
Blanca Reynosa smiled and watched her little girl climb out of her cocoon. She walked across to her daughter, “Mijita (little daughter), what do you want us to do?”
“Can you stand and look at the cars on that side and put both your arms up to the sides like this,” Cintia put her free arm up to the side demonstrating, “until the ducks are on the other side?”
They split up into two groups one on each side of the duck family, the big man right in the middle of one group keeping the cars at bay; employees of Gary’s Grocers and Mr. Landry himself joined them.
Cintia picked up her umbrella and walked to the mama duck and just looked at her. She wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do next. The mama duck looked around and seemed to realize that everything had stopped for her; she put her head straight up in the air, quacked at the remaining four ducklings and up at Cintia as if to say, ‘follow me,’ and began to waddle across the street. Every once in a while she’d hiss at the backs of her live blockade and would look at Cintia as if to make sure she was still with them. With her open umbrella in one hand and the duckling in the other she followed the little family across the street. 
Safely across the mama duck gathered her ducklings to her and quacked at Cintia, who began to cry again as she got down on her knees and placed the duckling on the ground. “I’m sorry mama duck, I think he went to heaven.” She covered her eyes with fisted hands and began to cry quietly, her heart broken.
Traffic had begun to move slowly and those who’d helped the ducks cross stood around her. Her Papi kept saying, “Ay mijita, lo siento. Daughter, I’m so sorry.” The big man stood there with a helpless look on his face and kept swallowing to try and get past the lump in his throat. Blanca and Tita got down on their knees to hug and console the youngest Reynosa.
A sudden pecking at Blanca’s knee had her looking around, “Mijita mira! Look!” The little duckling had begun to move, a little slowly at first, then more energetically and was pecking at anything in range. The mama duck moved to it, rubbed the back of the feathery head with her bill, then as discipline nipped it’s tail feathers sharply.
Mama duck quacked her approval at Cintia then with a few quacks and hisses lined up all five of her babies and led them into the water. The sun broke through the clouds, just as the last duckling waded into the water and Cintia’s eyes sparkled like chocolate diamonds with the last of her tears. With the biggest smile on her face she told her mami and papi, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!”
“What mija? Swim?” Mami couldn’t stop smiling and papi was amazed that his Chiquita was finally talking.
“No! I want to take care of animals. I want to make them better and help them when they’re in trouble!”
Several months later after the duck incident, as it came to be known, Blanca watched with pride as her littlest blessing came into her own. The family had place of honor as Cintia cut the ribbon attached to the Duck Crossing signs that Mayor Morgan had placed on both sides of Alcott St. thanks to the urging of many citizens.
Cintia had expected to get in trouble for not getting back to church, but instead Mami and Papi proudly told everyone the story of the ducks on that rainy Sunday and how their little Cintia had finally turned into a butterfly.
Cintia looked around her at Reynosa’s Animal Hospital and Kennel; the barking dogs, the newly born kittens and the small lamb and smiled; to think this had all begun one rainy Sunday with a little family of ducks. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She grabbed her rainbow colored umbrella and ran out into the rain. Maybe if she were lucky she’d come across some ducks.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time, Where Art Thou?

As the sands through the hourglass, so these are the days of my life! Yes, my life was a drama or rather a combination drama/comedy.
My sister Bev had called me this morning crying hysterically. It seemed she’d planned a very lavish Thanksgiving soiree (that’s what she called it, anyway), but the kitchen help she’d booked had never shown up. They had the dates mixed up and so had booked another party for the same day.
I’d driven as fast as I could, without getting a ticket, from Oswego to Madison; no easy task let me tell you! I felt like a super heroine running to the rescue…once again. I drove into her long driveway, turned the engine off and hit the pavement running. The front door was locked and no amount of pounding got any results. I ran around to the back door and with dramatic flair flung it open and stopped in shock. It looked like a flour bomb had gone off in the kitchen. It seemed that the flour brigade had known exactly where to set the bombs, because I swear to you there didn’t appear to be a clean spot anywhere and right in the middle of the floor in the fetal position was Bev. Floury tears mixed with mascara made tracks down her face and she looked so pitiful.
Okay, I know it was unforgivable and time was running out, but I laughed until I cried. It took a good 15 minutes or so to get myself under control, so I could ask what the menu was. Finally, between my sister’s sobs and hiccups, I managed to get an idea of what she wanted. I shooed her out of the kitchen and got to work.
I didn’t bother cleaning up first; I didn’t have the time. I pulled the turkey and the ham out of the fridge, washed the turkey and left it covered in a towel to absorb the excess moisture and made a glaze for the ham. I let the glaze sit for a few minutes and made the stuffing for the turkey and quickly chopped walnuts, onions, apples and celery and combined it all. Darned if I didn’t have that turkey stuffed in a flash and in the lower wall oven. I turned and and made my way to the ham, collecting all the ingredients for the pecan and apple pies, the pumpkin flan and the rolls. I brushed the glaze on it and stuffed that porker in the other oven.
After a 5 minute breather I started an assembly line and instead of beating each of the ingredients for each recipe separately, I threw them all in at once and beat them at the same time, except for the pecans of course; that was a real time saver. Of course I kept stopping to look around, shake my head and giggle just a teeny bit. I finally had everything in the ovens and six timers going with sticky notes to indicate what each one was for.
I relaxed for a full 10 minutes, before I started making the dough for the hors d'oeuvres and put the ingredients for the champagne punch in the chiller. I started peeling russet potatoes for the vichyssoise my sister loved (I never could understand why they had to give cold potato soup such a strange name). I put the leeks and onion in butter over low heat and finished dicing the potatoes and assembling the rest of the ingredients, before placing the wine she’d chosen in the wine fridge. I finished assembling the pastries and put them in the refrigerator to wait for an empty oven.
I took a much-needed deep, cleansing breath and thoughts of disposing of my sister and hiding her body flitted through my mind, but I knew I didn’t have the time for that. I turned around and caught sight of my reflection in the microwave door; it was not a pretty sight! There was flour all over my face and I realized that I’d been kicking up flour with every step I took.
I finally had time to clean so I hauled Bev back in the kitchen, stuck the vacuum in her hands and made her vacuum every inch of that huge kitchen. She kept crying and muttering under her breath, “There’s not enough time” but, I pretty much ignored her and rolled my eyes. 
I wiped down the walls, cabinets and counters and by the time that was done, the pies and rolls were done and the flan was ready for it’s 2 hour visit with the fridge and it was time to put the pastries in the oven and baste the turkey and ham.
Finally, I sat my sister down and fixed two sandwiches with fresh sliced roast beef, cucumber, avocado and bacon on a French roll with homemade sauce and served it with fat free potato chips on the side and a big tall glass of Lily style Peach tea.
I looked around and sighed with relief, everything was sparkling clean and I could have eaten off the floor. We started giggling like teenagers and ran into the laundry room, throwing our clothes into the washer and taking turns in the shower. I was done in plenty of time to remove the pastries from the oven and baste the turkey and ham yet again.
I took a leisurely walk into the living room and found floury footprints all the way up the staircase. I quickly took the hand vac and cleaned all that up and started setting the table for the twenty invited guests, as well as the sideboard for the hors d'oeuvres and set out fluted goblets for the punch and wine. Once all that was done, I was back in the kitchen to baste the ham and turkey one last time and got to work on steaming the fresh asparagus and prepared the ingredients for the hollandaise sauce. I took a few minutes and put everything that needed to be kept warm in the warming drawers and proudly surveyed all my hard work. I must admit to being quite proud of myself, but I kept thinking there was something I’d forgotten.
I was done; finally I was done!! I felt like I could stand at the top of a mountain and scream it out at the top of my lungs. Yeah, I was truly hyped. I’d done everything and still had three hours to spare, but wasn’t there something I’d forgotten? I was sure it would come to me before too long.
I hummed one of my favorite songs and finished washing up anything that I’d used. All of a sudden, I had a feeling of impending doom and heard my sister behind me clearing her throat, gulping and clearing her throat again. Slowly I turned step by step (okay that was a Stooges thing); I turned and faced her and saw the grimace on her face. I swallowed and asked, “Now what Bev?”
“Lily? Umm, what day is this?” she asked. For a minute there I thought she’d lost her memory and didn’t know what was going on. This was Bev, anything was possible with her.
“It’s Wednesday, remember?” I asked gently. The grimace got worse, her eyes teared up and she said very quietly, “My party’s tomorrow.”
I thought the fixed smile on my face would split it in two. I grabbed a huge sticky note, wrote down what had to be done to keep most of the food in an edible condition for her party tomorrow and what time to take the ham and turkey out. I looked around until I found the ugliest roll of duct tape I could find, grabbed a huge bit of it, put it on that note, grabbed my purse, shoes and clean clothes and ignored her walking behind me blubbering her head off the entire time. I got to the back door, turned to her (she was still right behind me) and taped that big sticky note with duct tape right on her forehead and walked out the door.
I hit the pavement running, jumped in my car, revved up my engine and I was gone! I still felt like there was something I’d forgotten, but I was way too upset to remember what.
Anyway, I muttered to myself all the way out of Madison and I made myself a promise; I was never going to forgive or help my sister ever again and the next time she came by my house I was going to stick a potato in her tail pipe…the potatoes!!
Well, I’d made myself a promise and I wasn’t about to break it. Okay just one last time I promised myself, as I wearily turned the car into the nearest grocers to pick up more ingredients and cleaning supplies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Blue Sky Does Go On Forever

     I love watching the sky as I drive along Route 98, maybe just a little bit too much. Seems I can’t drive and take pictures at the same time. I have to keep stopping whenever a pretty cloud catches my eye, or drive into one of those darned posts that seem to dot the Texas skyline, a little bit too frequently if you ask me.
     I decided this time last year that I was finally gonna do me some travelin’. My momma and daddy were long gone, my son had his own life and me…well I was just kind of sitting around waiting for life to happen to me. Got up one morning and decided that I was gonna make life happen. So I phoned all the utility companies, shut everything off, had all my mail forwarded to my sister’s house, shut my house up tight and with a few necessities; my Kindle, laptop, 10 sets of clothes, etc., I set off on what I hoped would be an awesome adventure.
     Today I just wasn’t making good time, because there were just too many darned cute clouds in the sky. I stopped at one of those rest areas by the side of the highway, took out a blanket and just lay in the grass looking up at the sky. It was so clear and bright blue and I lay there clicking pictures of the clouds. That one there to the left was shaped like an elephant with one long ear and a very short trunk. That one down at the bottom right looked like a little hand and a big hand just holding each other. They were beautiful, just beautiful. I guess you can tell I’m fascinated by clouds; I always have been. Never did matter where I was, I always found a reason to lay down in the grass and watch the clouds. I always wondered if God sent those pretty shaped clouds just for me. I’d like to think He did. Anyway, I must have spent an hour or so there and by the time I left there were parents laying on blankets pointing out clouds to their little ones.
     It must have been around 5:30 p.m. that evening before my stomach suddenly, and quite loudly, started complaining that it was hungry and I had no idea if there was a place nearby to bed down or to have supper. Seemed kind of like fate when I saw that little sign post up ahead that read, ‘Next Right. Corazon Hermoso 20mi.’ I hoped that town was as beautiful as that signpost said it was. I turned that corner fast and found only gravel, but I enjoyed the sound of it crunching under my tires.
     Didn’t take very long to come on Corazon Hermoso. If I’d blinked I’d of driven right past it, but I have to admit it was quaint. My stomach rumbled again reminding me that it hadn’t eaten all day and I poked it twice and promised it some grub as soon as I found a restaurant. I drove another couple of miles inside of town and came upon Willie’s Roadside Emporium. It looked like one of those old train car restaurants. You know the ones I’m talking about? The ones that are shiny and silver on the outside and you can see it for miles around, but this one looked like it had seen better days. Someone had made a very nice effort and planted colorful, eye-popping flowers all around it. The sidewalk was nice and clean and there were two benches by the front door, one on each side.  The windows were so clean and shiny I could see myself in them. The place looked a bit worn, but welcoming like a favorite Lazy boy chair with an owner that obviously still took pride in it.
     The bell over the door jingled cheerfully as I entered Willie’s and once my eyes had adjusted from being out in the bright sunshine, I found myself looking at one of the most cheerful restaurants on the face of this earth. Here I thought the white and red-checkered table clothes and red leather restaurant seats were long gone, but here they were and looking as new as the day they’d been put in. You could see that they were lovingly cared for. The leather glistened in the sun and I could smell just a little bit of the leather oil as I made my way to the counter.
     The person behind the cash register looked up and smiled brightly, “Welcome. I’m Earl! Take a seat anywhere and the waitress will be right with you.” I smiled back feeling right at home.
     I found myself a table by one of the front windows so I could look at the sky and soak up the character of the place. The waitress skipped up to my table and introduced herself as Shirley (is it my imagination or is there a Shirley at every roadside restaurant?) and gave me the menu, but then more or less told me what I should eat. It seemed Willie was the best cook in town, so I just took her advice and handed her back the menu without ever opening it. A few minutes later the bell over the door jingled again and in walked what I thought had to be a teenage girl. Round brown face (she obviously spent lots of time in the sun), big liquid, hot chocolate brown eyes and lots of brown hair with reddish tinges to attest the time spent in the sun.
     Shirley shouted over her shoulder, “What’ll it be today Mags?” “Same as usual Shirley,” responded Mags.
     Did I tell you I also love to watch people? I do! I sat and watched as a few more people came in and Shirley would call out their names and ask them what they wanted and their response was always the same, “Same as usual Shirley.” There was a camaraderie and affection there that made me long for home. I wasn’t looking at a waitress and her customers I was looking at family.
     I like to think I have a knack for knowin’ what people work at or like to eat, so I started my little game as I watched each person. Darned if I wasn’t right with most of them. That leather skinned man in the corner with the cowboy hat, that he refused to remove, had steak slathered in mushrooms, jalapeños and cheese, a big serving of potatoes and big yeasty rolls and a huge cup of black coffee. The elderly woman in the corner with the two little ones had roast beef, green beans, a baked potato and a long, cold ice tea, while the little ones each had chicken fries, a big serving of Texas potato chips and nice cold glass of lemonade and strawberry ice cream for dessert.
     Mags just sat and drank her water and worked on the laptop she’d plopped on her table. Shirley brought my meal to the table with a huge grin on her face, along with the biggest glass of peach tea I’d ever seen. Someone else was pretty good at guessing what people liked to eat and drink. She set the plate in front of me with a grand gesture and told me to dig in. There on my plate sat a mound of juicy arracheras (skirt steak), red rice with olives and a large helping of the most delicious refried beans. Oh you could smell the lemon, garlic and cilantro on the arracheras and the azafran just wafting up from the rice, and the beans…oh my! I felt like I was back in my momma’s kitchen.
     I lost myself in my meal. Every mouthful was a memory and a sound from my past. I ate until I was stuffed and wondered if I should order dessert or just go out and sit in my car so I wouldn’t explode in Willie’s.
     I know I must have had a big satisfied smile on my face ‘cause when I looked up Shirley was grinning my way.
     “Hey Earl,” Shirley called out over her shoulder, “I’m taking a break. I’m gonna go find me a nice table to relax at.”
     Earl muttered, “Sure, sure, but serve Mags first will ya?”
     I really, really wanted to see this meal that Mags had waited over forty minutes for and thought it must be something that had to be delicately cooked or baked. Imagine my surprise when Shirley presented Mags with a plate of undercooked eggs, underdone potatoes and burnt toast slathered in butter. When I say burnt toast, I don’t mean just crispy, I mean burnt black. Mags picked up a piece of toast, bit down on it, closed her eyes and sighed. I’d never seen such a happy, contented smile on anyone’s face. The look on mine must have been something to behold because Shirley, who’d chosen my table to relax at, was laughing her light blue eyes sparkling with humor.
     “You’re probably wondering why it took so long to get her meal ready when it looks like that, aren’t ya?” she asked. “Willie says it takes skill to ruin a simple breakfast and it always takes forever for him to burn the toast just right and undercook the eggs and potatoes in the way that Mags likes,” she said with a grin. She proceeded to tell me all about Mags and her daddy. And how when first meeting little Mags big, tough Willie had taken one look into the eyes of the lost, hurting eight year old girl and had lost his heart. Half an hour later he’d uncovered the story of their lives and learned that her momma had passed a few months earlier. Miguel Alvarado had found living in the small town of Paraiso impossible without the love of his life and had decided they needed to find a new life for themselves. By luck they’d chanced to pass through Corazon Hermoso and stopped at Willie’s Roadside Emporium and had never left.
     I heard a soft, slightly gruff voice say, “My turn,” and found a big bear of a man carrying an enormous Dallas Cowboys cup making himself comfortable at my table as well. Willie recalled that she wouldn’t eat what her daddy had ordered for her and eventually, with her daddy’s agreement and supervision, he’d taken Mags behind the counter to show him how the toast, eggs and potatoes should be made. That day Willie had learned that it didn’t necessarily take a cordon bleu chef to bring taste buds happiness. 
     Chellie Alvarado hadn’t been much of a cook and her breakfasts had always consisted of burnt toast slathered in butter, undercooked eggs and underdone potatoes with a big glass of cold chocolate milk. She had poured her heart into making this simple meal for her daughter and husband. So now whenever Mags was missing her momma she’d make her way to Willie’s and ask for her usual, her momma’s burnt meal. Taste and smell would come together to bring up some mighty powerful feelings and memories.
     I sat there for an hour just listening to Willie talk about his beloved town and all the people that lived in her. Afterward he introduced me to everyone in the diner, by name. He’d point each of them out, give me their names and then he’d say, “Hey! Say hi to Miss Beth here. She’s a visitor to our town.” I’d never seen anything like it, but everyone would get up from the table, come up and either hug me or shake my hand. I felt like crying. It felt like family.
     The thirty minutes I’d intended to spend in Willie’s Roadside Emporium stretched to three hours and by that time it was way too late to drive and I hadn’t seen a hotel, motel or inn anywhere. Before I had a chance to say anything Mags offered me the hospitality of her home. It felt natural to accept and before I knew it I was following behind her and driving out the other end of town. We drove past a few small farms before finally reaching her little home. It was quite dark out, but you could see all the stars in the sky and an occasional cloud.
     I was tired, having driven most of the day and then talking or rather listening the rest, but when Mags offered coffee I couldn’t refuse. Miguel Alvarado was busy at the sink filling the coffee pot with water when we walked in. He must have been 5’7” or 8” and towered over his daughter. He turned and welcomed both of us, a big smile on his face, his eyes all lit up with laughter. You could see all the laugh lines around his eyes and you could tell that he spent a big part of his life just laughing; Corazon Hermoso had done that for him.
     We sat up another couple of hours and I learned that both Mags and her daddy were the town’s veterinarians. That had been Miguel’s job before moving to Corazon Hermoso and later when fifteen-year-old Mags had decided to follow in her daddy’s footsteps the entire town had come together to help pay for her schooling at the U. of I. College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, Illinois. It had been a long eight years for Miguel who was lonely without his daughter, but his new family had made sure he was never left alone. Miguel said he’d made arrangements, once, to pay them back and they’d emphatically refused and made sure Miguel understood that there were no strings attached. Family was family and family helped family no matter what. By the time I went to bed that night I’d fallen in love with Corazon Hermoso.
     I woke up with the breeze fluttering across my face, the sun warm and bright and for just a minute I couldn’t remember where I was all I knew was that I was happy and content. I made my way downstairs and found that Mags and her daddy were just coming in. Mags had been up most the night with a sick horse and Miguel had been checking leather-faced guy’s parrot. I didn’t ask, I just told them I was making breakfast and started to prepare it as they said thank you with a smile and went upstairs to wash up.
     Mags invited me to go with her as she visited her patients that day, almost as if it was understood that I’d be stayin’ again that night. I breathed in the cool, clean air as we bumped along dirt roads and closing my eyes I could hear the crickets, frogs and the river harmonizing beautifully as the water rolled, skipped and hopped over stones in the riverbed. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed the beauty of this little town the day before. I guess I’d only been looking at what was in front of me and not beyond that. The flat dusty land had given way to all this beauty of green lush grass, crystalline water and bright rich blue skies that seemed to go on forever with its fluffy clouds. I felt like I was in a painting.
     I spent a week there all told. I saw a foal being born, held a little girl’s hand as her mama cat gave birth to 6 kittens. I had coffee with the leather-skinned guy while Mags checked out his parrot and cried with a little boy when his puppy breathed its last. The entire time Mags and her daddy were there soothing and rubbing a muzzle, whispering encouragement to frightened mares and treating each and everyone as if they were just as important as the last. You could tell that the Alvarados’ loved their work, their patients and their Corazon Hermoso family.
     My last day in town was a Sunday and we all went to church together. God’s Beautiful Heart Baptist church was small, but it was large enough to fit in everyone in town. Pastor Mattison’s message was beautiful and once again I felt God tugging at my heart in regards to my own family. When we started to sing, ‘His Eye Is On the Sparrow,’ I felt like crying. I could hear my daddy singing that song with his strong, beautiful voice and when we reached the chorus, I let the song just burst from my heart as tears rolled down my cheeks.

I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free, His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me (He watches me) His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches (I know he watches)(I know he watches me)

     Lunchtime was uproarious; my face and stomach hurt from so much laughing. They’d set up tables all around the church and everyone had brought a dish to pass. Willie was barbecuing burgers; steaks, arracheras and ears of corn and giving out cooking advice as men and women alike wrote down recipes. At one of the table several men gathered round to watch an arm wrestling contest and I laughed as Shirley beat Earl…again. Doc Huston checked everyone’s blood pressures and pulse and gave free medical advice at another and Millie Pressig gave beauty tips at another. The children jumped and ran all over the place and would go up and hug everyone and were hugged in return. I learned this was a regular Sunday occurrence.
     I was content just sitting eating my arracheras, rice and beans with Pastor Mattison and his wife and watching everyone interact. Shirley and Mags joined us, both flushed and laughing and out of the blue Mags asked, “Beth do you miss your family? Isn’t it hard being away from them for so long?” I smiled and replied, “You know I was just thinking it’s time to go home. I miss my family.”
     I spent one more night under the Alvarado’s roof, made breakfast for them the next morning and hugged and kissed everyone who’d come by to see me off. I gave my email and my home address to everyone, but I found it was just so hard to leave. I finally gave one last round of kisses and said goodbye.
     I knew I was grinning as I drove out of Corazon Hermoso. I’d never spent a happier time, other than when I was with my own family. Being here had confirmed the importance of family and how vital it was to spend time with them and to make each moment count. I didn’t look back as I drove away, because I knew I’d be back, but to tell you the truth I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if that little signpost had magically disappeared. It had felt like that kind of town or should I say it had felt like God’s hand at work giving me a little pat and a push homeward. Well He didn’t have to tell me twice; I drove off happily with my arrachera lunch that Willie had packed for me and my camera at the ready, just in case a cute cloud showed up, and pointed the car towards home.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


     I was six years old when I experienced prejudice for the first time. We had moved to Levelland, Texas, and I was still trying to become accustomed to the enclosed spaces and the lack of freedom. It was a stressful time for this six year old and things were about to get worse.

     My daddy was a preacher and had always stressed to us the importance of accepting people no matter what their ethnic background, the color of their skin or their religious differences. He'd sat me on his lap once and told me with tears in his eyes that only truly ignorant people saw color and that I was never to allow myself to become ignorant. I didn't understand at the time what he was talking about. I'd grown up totally color blind. There was no color as far as I was concerned. The only thing I ever remembered daddy say concerning color was that the color of our skin made us all unique and special.

     I remember that we'd finally moved to Levelland and into the house at 279 Avenue F. The town was extremely small and only had Avenues A through Z, and Streets 1-20. It was a cute little town. Although Levelland may have been small in size, it was huge with racism.

     We'd been given a very small, two bedroom house. But my daddy, as usual, was prepared to make the best of it. He said God had led him there to serve and serve he would, no matter what the circumstances. The house faced east and was a dingy gray color. The windows looked like they hadn't been washed in years, and the floors on the inside were extremely filthy. Not even the sunshine could have made that house look welcoming. I remember the look on my momma's face; sad, defeated. She turned to my daddy and told him that those two small bedrooms wouldn't be enough for the seven of us. She was pregnant with my little brother, and just knowing that the house would need major cleaning, painting and fumigating was almost too much for her. 

     Adopting a cheerful attitude, my daddy decided that before we rolled up our sleeves and got to work he would bribe us with some breakfast. He took us to this really nice looking restaurant and when we walked in we met the biggest crowd of ignorant people in the world. We were escorted out and it was explained to us that Mexicans were not allowed in such an establishment. My daddy just thanked them and told us all to get back in the car. I remember as we were pulling away that a blond haired lady put a huge sign on the door that said, "No Mexicans or Blacks Allowed." That was my first taste of ignorant people, and there was still more to come. 

     It took us about three weeks to get the house spic (no pun intended) and span. We'd get up early, and work until the sun went down. We all pitched in. We'd go to bed at night extremely tired, but happy. We were making a home for ourselves, and hopefully one for our little brother once he was born. We thought it was worth all the hard work. 

     We finished the house the week of July 4th, and it looked like a totally different house. The house was white with black trimming all the way around, and you could actually see through the windows. Everything was spotless on the inside. The sink and the faucets sparkled. I could actually see my reflection in them. Momma said the floors were so clean you could have eaten off of them. The outside of the house looked beautiful because of momma's hard work. The weeds had been pulled out and flowers had been planted. Just looking at the house gave us a sense of accomplishment.

     Daddy was so proud of how the house looked that he decided to throw a celebration. We all piled into the car and made our way to Harper's Supermarket. It was a mistake we didn't make again. We learned after that one time not to go back to Harper's Supermarket (it was run by ignorant people).

     We went home a little wiser and a lot sadder, and things only got worse. One of the men at Harper's had told my daddy he wanted to come by and see the house, and my daddy had willingly agreed, after all not only was Mr. Taylor one of the deacons at Calvary Baptist in Levelland, but he was also the owner of our little house. His kindness had provided a house for us, and daddy was so proud of everything we had accomplished, that he wanted to show off our little house.

     Daddy and Momma had invited several members of Iglesia Bautista Calvario to our home that night. He wanted them to get to know us as a family. We were all having a great time when Mr. Taylor arrived. He exclaimed over everything we'd done. He complimented my parents on their taste in color and furniture. I remember my daddy beaming with pride. We celebrated until quite late that Saturday night. We had so much fun that we finally felt like we were beginning to fit in. Then, the clock struck midnight and Mr. Taylor joined the ranks of the truly ignorant. He told my daddy we had to be out of the house by noon on Monday. An Anglo family of three have moved to town and would be serving at Calvary Baptist. He'd decided to give them our house. Now that the house was clean, it was suitable for habitation by a white family. He actually thanked us, and expected us to understand. I didn't really understand what was going on. All I knew was that for the very first time my gentle Momma spoke out in anger. 

     My Daddy just stood there for a minute then bowed his head and sighed. My Momma on the other hand went ballistic. By the time she was finished with Mr. Taylor, he was dark with anger and she white. That incident brought home to our family that racism did exist, and that ignoring it wouldn't make it go away.

     I look back and feel a painful twinge in my heart and ask myself, "Does racism still exist today?" Yes, it most certainly does. There is still much racism, and everyday it appears that someone has found a new way or a new word to belittle someone else. No ethnicity, skin color or language exists that hasn't had racial slurs hurled at it. But I also think that there have been some positive changes. There's more acceptance of skin color and religious differences than there was back then, as is proven by my family. We consist of Blacks, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Mexicans, Costa Ricans, etc. My family has become a melting pot. We're all extremely proud of our heritage, and we ask our children not to ignore skin color, but to get to know the richness of each ethnic background.

     Back then we were constantly reminded by our parents and school teachers not to speak Spanish in public. We were to ignore insults such as "spics" or "tacos." We were expected to calmly accept any racial slur that was thrown our way and not to defend ourselves. It was as though we had something to be ashamed of.

     Now we remind our children how important our language and heritage is, and that we have much to be proud of and much to offer. I, like my father before me, urge color-blindness. Do not see color as a thing to hate and hide, rather, see it as a wonderful gift that can further enrich your life. Be proud of who you are!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Last Texas Summer

     I love Illinois. I love all its seasons, but I love the summer most of all. I like sitting on my front porch or even upstairs at my desk with the window wide open so I can hear all of the living going on outside. I can hear the kids screaming their pleasure as their parents turn the hose on them, and the ice cream man with that song that drives me totally nuts as he screeches around the corner. “La cucaracha, la cucaracha ya no quiere ...” The rest of it fades out as he tears down the street doing 70 in a 30 mile zone. I can hear the neighborhood kids knocking at the front door. They want my 17-year-old son to go out and play the guitar for them. The kids start shouting for a song and I listen with pride and pleasure as Nick’s deep baritone blends in with the children’s voices and drifts upwards to heaven like a prayer. There’s so much energy, so much life going on that I can’t help but remember when I was that age and able to take pleasure in the simplest of things. Oh to be an innocent six year old again, and laying in the tall grass beneath the Texas sun.


     We lived in a little Texas town called Petersburg. My daddy was the only Hispanic pastor in town. Actually he was the only one this town had ever had. So, in appreciation the men of the congregation built us a house right next to the little white church on the dead end of Waco St. It was a little house, but because it was filled with lots of laughter and love we never noticed the size. The house had been built on two acres of grassy land, and in full view of the railroad track. We had so much space to run and play and so many colors to experience. This was the summer I finally came into existence; the summer I finally started to notice the world around me.

     The grass was a rich gentle green, and the bright butter-yellow sun worked right along with the grass to make every day of that summer shine forever in my memory. You could hear the horses and the cows on the other side of the railroad track. And on occasion, you’d hear the far away drone of someone’s tractor.

     Petersburg had a huge population of 625 people. We’d grown so much that they had to add another three rooms to the L-shaped school. I thought it must surely be the biggest school in all the world since it now housed between 200 and 300 kids. Among them, los Arellano. I don’t think Pancho Villa School and Petersburg knew what hit it when the Arellano clan moved in.

     My brothers always made me promise to wait for them after school. But on this particular day of days, I wasn’t in the mood. Not only was this the last day before summer vacation, but I’d also be turning six years old in a few weeks. I’d just gotten through the hardest year of my life and had made it through kindergarten. I rushed home from school without waiting for my brothers and my sisters. They’d probably be looking for my body on the railroad tracks real soon or maybe like me they were off enjoying themselves. It really didn’t matter to me. I was just too excited. School was over for the summer, and I didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to sit in the grass and look up into the sky and just relax. My first year of school had just about done me in. Nobody’d ever told me there would be so much cutting and coloring to do in kindergarten. I figured I was due for a rest.

     The only good thing about going to school had been walking on the railroad tracks every morning and afternoon. It hadn’t much hurt either that my brothers had always stopped at the shearing shed behind the school on the way home every afternoon. I always managed to make my brothers, Steve and Albert, feel guilty. So, they’d let me tag along. Steve was 13 years old, with a head of curly, wild, dark brown hair and even darker eyes. He was the spittin’ image of my daddy. He was full of “piss and vinegar,” so Grandma said, and told the greatest stories. I never had to worry if Momma and Daddy were too tired to tell me a story. I could always count on Steve. We usually snuck into the shearing shed after school and we’d climb up high on the bleachers and he’d sit me on his lap and proceed to make up some of the wildest stories I’d ever heard. I never quite knew whether or not to believe the story about the mean dog on the railroad track with a hat on its head and smoking a cigar, or if he’d even seen la Llorona crying on the railroad tracks three Halloweens ago, covered in the blood of her children. Either way, he always had the knack of telling one mean story.

     My 11-year-old brother, Albert, would sit as far away from the flying fleece and smell as he could get. He didn’t want to get his suit messed up. He considered himself the intellectual of the two and for some reason he thought that meant he had to wear a suit every day. As always, he looked the perfect gentleman with his blue suit and his white dress shirt tucked neatly into his pants. His hair, as usual, was parted on the left and slicked back, though it didn’t usually stay that way for long. He’d probably used lots of Momma’s Dippity Do that morning. He had some big, chocolate brown, innocent eyes that made you think he was such a good kid. You’d never know by looking at him that he’d encouraged my brother Steve to hang from the power cables by the church last week, and to swing until they’d managed to turn off all the lights in town. Boy, that had been some night. Daddy, the deacons, and the rest of the church members had chased them until the boys had found a place to hide. You’d of thought that being PK’s (Preacher’s Kids) would have kept them out of trouble. Nothin’ doin.’ 

     Now my sister Mitzy had turned 15 in February. After her quinceañera, she’d turned boy crazy. She preferred to spend time with her friends discussing clothes and boys. My sister Abbey was 9 and an all out tomboy. She had a favorite pair of jeans, a cowboy hat, and some old play guns that she wore day after day. Her hair was always clean, but it was so curly and out of control that you could barely find her little face underneath all the wild bushy hair. Steve and Albert had nicknamed her Tumbleweed because with all that hair she reminded them of those huge tumbleweeds that blew down the streets during a Texas sandstorm. Momma was lucky if she could get her to sit down long enough to get her hair brushed. Poor Momma despaired of ever getting her to look and act like a lady since Abbey had already asked for boots and guns for her birthday in July. Momma, in desperation, bribed poor Mitzy into dragging Abbey along with her everyday after school when she met her friends at the corner soda shop across from the school.

     On a regular day, we’d all do our thing and kill some time until we knew Momma and Daddy were on the way home from church. Then, my brother Steve would pick me up, throw me over his shoulder and run like nobody’s business. We almost always managed to make it home on time. And on the days we were late, they always blamed me. But that was okay because I never got in trouble. To this day I still don’t know how Steve expected to make it home on time, as the church was right next door to the house.

     Today though, was a different kind of day. I didn’t want to hear Steve tell stories or listen to Mitzy talk about boys. And I certainly didn’t want to play cowboys and Indians with Abbey (She usually killed me three minutes into the game). I just wanted to be by myself and enjoy the sounds and smells that made up our little corner of Texas. There was nothing better than lying in the sweet tall grass and watching the dragonflies with the sun shining rainbows through their wings. The grass smelled so good, and I could hear the bees as they buzzed around me. I watched the grass sway from side to side in the light breeze, and I swayed right along with it losing track of time as I sat making bracelets and headbands out of dandelions and braiding long stalks of grass until Momma finally found me in the grass. Kissing the top of my head, she made me go in for supper.

     It must have been around eight o’clock that night before we were able to get outside to play again. The sky was so clear and beautiful that we didn’t need any streetlights. Then again, we didn’t have any yet because of the Steve and Albert fiasco. We’d been gathering old nails every day after supper for the last week because we knew the train would be passing through town tonight. The Navarro boys had been out pulling nails from walls, and their grandmother’s porch swing. They just hoped nothing would fall apart or they would get grounded again for the third time that month. They’d brought with them a group of about thirteen kids and together we’d all raided grandpa Navarro’s pop supply. Now all we had to do was wait for the train.

     Around 9:30 Abbey came screaming up to the front porch that the train was coming. We could hear it whistling at us, but Abbey was louder as she jumped up and down in excitement. We ran to the railroad tracks and laid our nails down, ran and hid behind the bushes at the foot of the gate. After the train was gone we raced back to the tracks and started picking up the little swords that the train had made out of the nails. We played until it was time to go to bed. Summer had officially started and I planned to enjoy it.

     The summer of my sixth birthday ended quite suddenly when my daddy announced we were being transferred by the Southern Baptist Convention to Levelland, Texas. I remember trying to hide in the grass so they couldn’t take me away, but there was nowhere I could hide. We lived in Levelland for three years before we moved out to Illinois, but summer has never been the same since.


     Momma and Daddy are gone now. My brothers and sisters have all married or moved into their own homes. And when I look around, I’m reminded that the open spaces, colors and smells that I associated with that Texas summer are gone forever. Then all of a sudden I hear the laughter of a child, the smell of freshly mowed grass and the strumming of my son’s guitar. My heart knows that an Illinois summer is just beginning, and I’m not about to miss a bit of it.