I’d woken up a little off balance today and had almost fallen a couple of times before heading off to work. I read all the little Post-It notes that my mom and brother Marcus had put on my dash and out of habit I checked to make sure that I’d placed my umbrella under the seat before taking off. I drove carefully, as I always did, keeping an eye and an ear on my Tam-Tam.
Three years ago after my last car incident my oldest brother Beto, instead of berating me, had presented me with a gift. “Here hermana (sister), she’ll take good care of you, I promise.” I was kind of leery wondering what he was trying to pull on me this time (he was known for his practical jokes). The top of the box had a label that said, ‘Hi I’m Tam-Tam, take good care of me and I’ll take good care of you.’ For just a minute I thought he’d given me a trick snake that would jump out at me when I opened the box. I opened the box cautiously and discovered he’d bought me a Tom-Tom. “Why Tam-Tam?” I asked.
“Well it’s like this hermana, I don’t know why they called it a Tom-Tom since guys can’t follow directions and won’t admit to being lost, plus it has a woman’s voice. My Ruthie, is the one that always gets us to where we’re going. I think they should have named this after a woman. So I renamed her for you. She’ll make sure you get to where you have to go, okay?” I looked at him with teary eyes and had to swallow a few times to get past the lump in my throat, before I finally managed to say, “Thank you.” He coughed a few times, “Darn, I think I got cat hair in my eye. I've got to wash my eyes out.” He’d taken off and hidden in the bathroom for a while.
I got to work with an hour to spare so I prepared coffee for everyone to enjoy when they got in and then I got right to work. I worked hard (I really love my job) and made sure that all my outgoing and incoming mail was in the right cubbies. Sometimes even now, I still got turned around so my friends at the office would label everything backwards and forwards for me. They made certain that there was no way I wouldn’t be able to understand what needed doing every day. This job and the wonderful friends I’d made here had been lifesavers. During the course of a typical morning, there was always a helpful hand here and there making sure I got to the right place.
Today I was feeling brave and at lunchtime I decided to take a walk and made sure that I had my lucky charm and my cell phone with me and I was off to enjoy a nice brisk walk. I’d been walking for about fifteen minutes (I’d only stumbled once) and decided this was enough for today and turned to go back the way I’d come. I looked around at my surroundings and realized that once again, I had no idea where I was. I knew better than to take off in any direction, so I just leaned up against the restaurant window behind me, pulled out my cell phone and calmly called my best friend and coworker and let her know where I was. I pulled my lucky charm out of my handbag and opened it up. Rico, the owner of the restaurant came out to keep me company until Chiva showed up. Rico was my big brother Beto’s best friend from childhood and always came out to watch me walk.
“Hey want a caramel, praline or French Vanilla coffee and a roasted tomato and onion wheat bagel with cream cheese while we wait?” he asked.
“That would be great! Thanks to this, now I won’t have time to eat my lunch when I get back,” I said.
“What the heck girl, you did great today! You came further this week than last week,” he said with a huge grin. “I know what, how’s about as a celebration I mix the caramel, praline and French Vanilla together and add tons of whipped cream and lots of chocolate sprinkles?
“Now that's a celebration. Bring it on!!” I laughed quite pleased with myself on realizing that I had done better this week than last. We sat and enjoyed watching people walk, run or jog past and I tried, once again, to pay for my coffee and bagel and once again, he refused. “Fine! Next time I’ll get lost somewhere else.” He just laughed.
Chiva arrived her cheeks red and her eyes sparkling with laughter. “I love that umbrella of yours. No matter where you are I’ll always be able to find you. Hey Rico while I’m here I need to place an order. The boss wants me to buy coffee and bagels for everyone. Sofie, if you ate already you can just take yours home for later, okay? You know Geoff doesn’t take no for an answer!”
We made it back to the office with 20 minutes to spare and the rest of the day passed by in a whirl, with a couple of stumbles from me. By 3:30 p.m. I was more than ready to go home. I was tired, but my mom and my sister had been insisting on coming over tonight to spend time with me and I needed to get home and clean before they arrived. There wasn’t much to do, but I wanted to do it by myself. Knowing my mom and sister, I knew that by the end of the night whatever wasn’t labeled would be. I stopped off at Corkie’s Food Mart and then at Nietzel’s Gas & Auto Shop to fill up before heading wearily home.
I parked my little Volkswagen Beetle coup in the driveway and climbed the stairs to my back porch. I opened up the door and walked into my kitchen and felt like it was welcoming me home. I placed my umbrella on its special hook by my back door and I was ready to clean.
I love my kitchen. The walls are Ralph Lauren’s Wicker Rocker yellow with bright white trim where the walls meet the ceiling and around the doors. Dark and medium wood hues bring richness to what might otherwise have been boring and give the yellow of the walls a flowing elegance. I’ve mixed and matched dark chocolate wood and mahogany, with a slightly lighter oak. Here and there on the walls black metal and wood combine to bring an elemental beauty to picture frames, a letter holder and of course my dark oak clock, that sits happily in its scrolled black metal base. The chairs pulled up to the island match, dark oak with black scrolled metal; a comfortable, homey kitchen that whispers, ‘spend time with me,’ beautiful, peaceful, softly modern. I spend ninety percent of my time in here; cooking, working at my laptop, talking on the phone and entertaining friends and family. Every time I walk in this kitchen I feel at peace and safe, then I get a burst of energy and begin cooking and baking until I’m too tired to do much of anything else. It helps that everything is labeled for me. Yeah, good times, good times!
I’d just finished cleaning when mom called to tell me not to cook anything. She knew me so well! I’d been prepared to cook enough for an army. I’m a Mexican woman, THAT’S WHAT I DO! She asked me to wait another forty minutes or so and I didn’t just want to sit on my hind end and do nothing, so I started baking (hey, she said no cooking, right?). I made a pecan pie for my mom and chocolate praline brownies for my sister Dorie (their favorites) and had just removed the brownies from the oven when the front doorbell rang. Three Blind Mice rang merrily from my little doorbell and I opened the door to a huge frown on my mom’s face.
“What did I tell you about changing that tune? I don’t like it and I don’t think it’s funny!” I ignored what she said, since I was looking at the trail of people behind her. My entire family was here, along with my best friend Chiva, my boss Geoff, Rico and several others.
With “surprise” and “congratulations!!” coming from everybody they all poured in. You would have thought the kids would have been noisier, but some of the adults were being even more so. My brothers, Beto and Marco, were punching each other and their wives were pulling them apart and laughing. Dorie was scolding her husband Teo for throwing rice at me “It’s a surprise party poop head, not a wedding!!”
They’d stopped off at SDC for a bucket of grilled chicken (my favorite) and then by Pizza Paradise for an extra large, crust your way, Anything Goes Pizza (and I mean anything!!). Chiva had made her awesome polvorones (Mexican Melt in Your Mouth Cookies) and my sisters–in–law had made frijoles (beans), tortillas, arroz (rice), guacamole, and pico de gallo. This was a feast and I didn’t even know why! The guys brought in case after case of soft drinks, water and juice. Rico apparently thought the amount of food that had been brought wasn't enough, because he fired up my grill and put some steaks and sausages on. There was so much food that I knew we’d probably still be eating through next month.
“Um mom? This is really nice and all. I mean it’s awesome really, but what are we celebrating?” I asked.
“Sofia today makes one year that you've lived on your own. You’ve done so well and we’re so proud of you,” she said. “We wanted to celebrate with you!”
I made an excuse and went and hid in the bathroom for a little bit (the favorite crying space of the Delgado’s). As I exited the crying room, I could hear big brother Beto making everyone regret that he was there. I could hear laughter, groans of disgust and threats of dismemberment over his dumb jokes. He isn’t as bad as he sounds, I promise! After all he had given me Tam-Tam!
We got to the cake stage and Rico brought out a Tres Leches cake that he’d made (by the way, if you’ve never tried Tres Leches cake you should, it’s awesome!!). He’d made a little sugar house that actually looked like my mine and he’d even made a replica of my little car and put it in the driveway with a ‘1 Year’ candle on the front lawn. Everybody ooh’d and ahh’d.
Dad called for a canto de celebración (celebratory song) and out came the guitar, tambourine and harmonica as they sang ‘Las Mañanitas’ for me; their voices lifting and harmonizing, as they thanked God for His blessing me. I thanked Him as well for my wonderful friends and family.
Teo, Dorie’s husband, turned the TV off then called for silence and asked our brother and pastor, Beto (yep, the obnoxious one), to pray for God’s blessings not just on me, but the entire family. I was so grateful and I had to share, hopefully if even a little, what I felt for His having blessed me and I closed my eyes and began to sing:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
Amazing Grace Verses 1–3: John Newton (1725-1807) • African American communities orally passed down verse 4, which was not written by Newton.
We sang and everyone started thanking God in song. Here and there you’d hear a high contrast or contralto, a masculine bass or tenor just worshiping and I felt a wonderful peace and joy in the midst of all these wonderful people.
Around 8:30 p.m. my brothers decided it was time to play the games they’d brought with them. We played Basta and Bingo for prizes Dorie and Roxy, Marcus’ wife, had been gathering for the last few months. We played Hangman next and at the guys insistence we split up into men versus the women. The women won in spite of the men’s trash talking; their punishment was to grill steaks for us on Sunday. Dorie had brought her favorite Marx Brothers' movie A Night at the Opera and we spent the next hour and a half watching it.
It’s a good thing that the next day was Saturday, because Mom didn’t want the evening to end yet and had brought several photo albums with her; all black and white pictures. She would pass each picture around and comment on what had been happening in each. She got to one of me at eleven and her eyes filled with tears. “You know, when you were a toddler we thought it was cute when you’d walk and you’d fall or run into things. We thought it was normal. Then the older you got, we discovered we couldn’t go to big stores or walk around downtown or where there were lots of people, because all of a sudden we’d hear your terrified screams. Friends told us that you were probably putting on an act for attention and we listened. We’re so, so sorry honey!” Dad hugged her.
She looked at my umbrella sitting in my bag, next to me on the sofa. I’d automatically put it back in the bag to carry with me when everyone had entered the house. “You don’t know how grateful I am for that yellow umbrella, wings and all!” she said with a smile. “Honey, did you ever find out who gave you the umbrella for your twelfth birthday?” she asked.
“No one ever admitted to it. It was on the back porch in a bright yellow bag and all it said was ‘Happy birthday Sofia. From your guardian angel.’ I like to think that God sent it to me to give me courage. I never thought I’d ever have days where I wasn't afraid. Or be able to move out on my own or drive a car or even follow cooking directions. But every time I look at it, I know that if I've at least tried, I've already succeeded. I know it’s not just the umbrella it’s all of you too, but that umbrella came right when I needed courage. I remember closing my eyes night after night and asking God to send me an angel because I was scared. I kept getting lost, I’d fall down and get all shaky and because I couldn't tie my own shoes the kids at school would make fun of me. Two weeks before my birthday I was diagnosed and at the same time the umbrella arrived. Might be a coincidence, but I say ‘There are no coincidences with God.’”
“Sofie,” Dorie asked softly, “do you remember when you turned sixteen and we all went to Crystal Woods Zoo and everyone was upset because you wouldn’t leave that dumb yellow gag umbrella behind? Mom and dad kept telling you it wasn’t going to rain and you insisted on taking it. You said it was better to be safe than sorry and you took it anyway.”
“Yeah, of course I remember, silly.”
“We were getting ready to put the homemade leash on you that mom made and you told her you weren’t a kid anymore and that you most certainly weren’t a dog and refused to put it on. Dad looked at you and sighed and told you to stay close to us. We did pretty well too, for the first 4 hours we were there. It was time for lunch and on the way to the restaurant we passed that little flower stand on the corner of Monkey Lane and Spider Rd. and you saw the yellow daisies and insisted on using your allowance to buy a big armful. You were skipping and humming and for just a minute we forgot.” She gulped, “I was so scared when I turned around and I realized you were gone. I couldn’t find my baby sister and I started crying. Okay, I got hysterical! We all panicked and started looking for you everywhere. We had to report it to the zoo and tell them that you had Dyspraxia. There were so many people there and all we could think was that you had to be really scared. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the sky got dark gray and it started to rain and thunder.”
“What I remember,” continued dad, “was that I was shaking so hard and blaming myself for not having tied you to me. We searched and started to panic even more when all those umbrellas started to open up and we couldn’t see faces. There were so many different colored umbrellas, big and small. My heart was beating fast and hard and your mom was holding my hand and praying. Your brothers and Rico were really mad that we hadn’t forcibly put the leash on you and Chiva was crying. We were passing by the dolphin exhibit and everyone was calling out your name and all of a sudden we saw it; a huge bright yellow umbrella with angel wings and it looked like the sun in the middle of all those other umbrellas. You were still holding the daisies and you were smiling and said, ‘I was wondering how long it would take you to find me.’”
“I have never, ever been so happy to see a bright yellow, gag umbrella in my life,” mom said. “After that no matter where you were going I always made sure you had that umbrella with you. I sent it with you to all your classes and bought you your first huge bag to put it in. I knew you were right about that leash and that, that umbrella was better. It made it easy for us to find you and for some reason once you had it you never panicked again. You’d open it up and sit wherever you were and we always found you.”
“I’ll admit it was hard mom. It took a while for the kids at school to accept my disability, but they did and whenever we had to leave the classroom for any reason, they made sure I had my umbrella. My family, friends and this umbrella gave me the courage to learn how to drive, to get a job and to buy my own house. It’s always going to be hard, but I've learned I can do anything if I set my mind to it," I smiled.
It was twelve thirty and everyone had finally gone home. They’d cleaned everything up and at my insistence had taken the leftovers with them. It was time for bed and because I was exhausted I knew that tonight I’d sleep really well. I reached out to turn off the lights and my hand brushed my umbrella. I smiled and stroked the wooden handle and humming Amazing Grace I turned off the lights and went to bed.
Mexican Melt in Your Mouth Cookies (Polvorones)
½ lb butter (8 oz.), 1 c. granulated sugar,
½ c. confectioners’ sugar, 2 eggs,
4 c. all-purpose flour (sifted), 1 tsp baking powder,
½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. brandy (optional),
4 c. all-purpose flour (sifted), 1 tsp baking powder,
½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. brandy (optional),
For sprinkling: Mix ½ c. sugar, 2 tbsp. cinnamon.
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cream butter with the 2 sugars until very light and creamy.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition.
3. Combine baking powder, salt and flour. Mix thoroughly, and then add to cream mixture in thirds.
4. Finally and only if you want, add the brandy.
5. Roll out on floured board about ¼ inch thick, then cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, until light gold in color. Sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture while still hot. Store in airtight container and give as gifts.
This story posted for Bluebell Books: Short Story Slam Week 18 picture prompt.
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