Growing up in rural South Texas, one always had a sense of the country. Farm animals seemed to have a constant presence and importance around the house. There were chores to take care of for everyone, including a 7-year-old boy still trying to figure out who he was and why he lived on a farm, sort of. But, it wasn't a farm. The four-room frame house was but three blocks away from Main Street on the outskirts of town. And, we didn't have pastures or pens for cattle and horses. We had what we called a "paplote" (windmill) for fresh ground water, a hen house and a place where we would fatten the pigs, but we were not living in a true farm. Yet, we didn't live in town, either.
It was in the small four-room frame house with a cement porch facing the garden on the east side of the house that I spent my formative years. While mom and dad worked and lived in the city, I would be taken care of by Nana and José Ángel Flores, the person I would call "abuelo" (grandpa), but later found out he was my great uncle. Nana was his sister and she was my grandmother, but I just called her Nana 'cause she took care of me. Nevertheless, it was clear José Ángel was the head of the household. His wife had died in 1948, about the time of my birth. So, I never knew my "abuela" (grandma), so to say. I only had Nana, who led most of her life guarding a family secret that was not revealed until my father died. My father never knew who his "real" mother was, but such is life and that is another story.
Right now, let's talk about José Ángel Flores. He was a tall, handsome man with deep blue eyes and striking white hair, as I recall. He must have been a very handsome man in his youth. He was light-complected, pero puro (but all) Mexicano, that's for sure. He had worked as a farm laborer all his life, from the fields near Goliad to the those in the South Texas brush country. His hands were calloused because of the hard work. Now in his late 70s, he had settled down, retired and would only do odd jobs to have some spending money. He didn't drink or smoke and seemed the fountain of health. His 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame look sturdy and firm and it looked as if he could still handle himself in whatever situation might arise. José Ángel was a solid person, a caballero (gentlemen), but also somewhat of a prankster, especially with the younger generation of the Flores clan.
He liked to embarrass my cousins and I by using words that had double meanings and often would make rhymes that would embarrass us. This happened to my cousin, Manuel Arredondo. He was my age and as he would be walking up to the our country home, José Ángel , 'buelo (we all called him abuelo) would shout out at the top of his lungs - "Ay viene Manuel Arredondo, fundió hediondo" (suffice it to say that hediondo means smelly and the other word is part of the human anatomy).
At about 5:30 p.m. each day he would urge me to go the hen house and say, "¡Manueito, trae me mis huevos!" (Manuelito, go get my eggs!). Nana would just burst out laughing. The double entendre could well have meant that he had lost his testicles and I had go get them for him. She would stop her laugh mid-way and then sternly rebuke her brother. " José Ángel, no digas cosas así. Vas a mal acostumbra al niño". (Jose Angel, don't phrase things that way. You're going to set a bad example for the boy).
Dutifully, I would go and get the "huevos" (eggs). I would put them in a mid-size pail which I had stuffed with hay to make sure the "huevos" did not crack. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was crack my abuelo's eggs, right?
"Cuidadito con mis huevos, Manuelito. Son my especial, (Be careful with my eggs, Manuelito. They are very special)," he would shout at me as he sat on his rocking chair on the porch enjoying the cool southeasterly breeze stemming from the Gulf of Mexico.
Nana would again rebuke him. "Ay qué hombre tan grosero, (What a rude man)," she would say, before breaking out into a loud laugh and taking a sip of the homemade lemonade which seemed a fitting break from the heat that summer day.
I hardly ever reacted to the taunting. I was used to it. It was a daily occurrence. Somehow, the cackle to the hens was soothing and I didn't mind going from nest to nest gathering the fresh "huevos" so that our family could have something to eat. When I picked up the eggs, they were still warm from the sun rays entering the hen house and, of course, from the hens roosting on them. I wondered, "Are we eating baby chickens tomorrow morning?" I would smile at the thought and continue my chore. Every day I would pick up about a dozen fresh eggs. Nana would sell some of them to our gringo neighbors the next day. She would make about 50 cents from the half-dozen eggs she would sell them. At five days a week, that's $2.50 cents she would make for us. It helped the family income. I heard the rooster crow as the evening gave way to the night and the hens started to dutifully come in to roost for the night. They looked like a little army of drunken birds making their way into the hen house, toddling to and fro as if trying to find their balance. Every now and then, one would stop to scratch the dirt and forage for a late-evening meal. Their cackling was dying down. The rooster made sure they all went in to the hen house as I exited the chicken coop and snapped the door shut behind me.
"Manuelito, ven aquí (Manuelito, come here)!" Nana told me from the rocker on her porch. "Ven a tomarte una limonada con nosotros (Come drink a lemonade with us)."
"Ay voy (I'm on the way)," I answered. "Ya recogí los huevos de mi abuelo (I already picked up my grandpa's eggs)."
Their laughter faded into the evening breeze. I picked up the ice-stopped glass next to Nana's chair on the porch and sipped the ice cold lemonade. . . . . It was a good day to live in the country in South Texas.
Posted by longtimehoggie at 8:10 AM 0 comments
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz
Labels: chicano, growing up, Mexican American
¡Mama, ay viene el negro! (Mom, the Black man is coming)
It's hard to say when a child first solidifies a memory of his or her life. Growing up in rural South Texas, I remember the house we lived in when I was but two or three years old. It was a small wooden frame house with the white paint peeling off and a bright red trim on the window frames and outdoor porch. It was next to El Convento (the convent), better known as Little Flower School. El Convento was a towering three story white stucco structure with a green-tiled roof. On summer evenings, the shade from El Convento would bring welcome shade to our back yard, making it the perfect place for a niño (child)to wander around, dig holes, find worms, throw rocks or just get lost in the wonderment of the outdoors.
I admit, I don't remember much about my childhood at age 2 or 3. But, one memory sticks out. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, about 10 a.m., my mother would ask me to sit by the window and wait for the ice man to come. For some reason, I obeyed and stood still for at least 10 minutes watching out the window. I don't know why I obeyed. Like most two- or three-year-old boys, I usually would run helter-skelter through the house or backyard daring my mom to catch me. When she did, it was only 'cause I let her. Ha!
Still, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I would take my place at the window facing the street and look to the east, where the ice man's usual trek to our house originated from. It was almost like clock work. I didn't have to wait long after my mom asked me to watch for him.
Sure enough, soon enough, the clip-clop, clip-clop of the mule pulling the wagon through the caliche and chapopote (tar) lined streets could be heard. Periodically, the wagon would stop to deliver ice to faithful customers. The man would get off the wagon, get a pair of giant clippers and pin the 25- or 50-pound blocks of ice. With little effort, he would haul them down and take them inside the house. He was a gracious man. I could hear him speaking to the neighbors. He would speak in both English and Spanish. "Si señora, gracias (Yes, ma'am, thanks)" he would say, tipping his hat to the woman. "You can pay me Friday," was his usual way of saying goodbye.
Clip-clop, clip-clop the wagon went until he came within 25 yards of our house. That's when I would yell out at the top of my lungs, "¡Mama, ay viene el negro!" (Mom the Black man is coming!). She would answer back always, "Ay voy! (I'm coming)." Both of us would wait patiently at the front door as the wagon pulled up in front of our house and the hulking man would get down. "Hola Maria, Manuelito, how are you this morning?"
His name was "Ash!" He got the name from the white folks in town because ash is dark black, like the color of his skin. He was the patriarch of the only black family in a town composed of 75 percent Mexicans and about 25 percent white, give or take 3 to 5 percentage points.
"Ash" was a wonderful, caring person. He worked for the ice house on the outskirts of town. Later, I would learn that it was at that same outhouse where the bodies revolutionary Mexicanos of the early 20th century were brought and burned. My abuelita (grandma, Nana, would always make the sign of the cross and look toward the sky when we passed by the ice house. I always wondered why, until I was a college professor and did some research. The rumors were true.
But, "Ash," what a wonderful man. He would get off the wagon, walk to the door, shake my mom's hand and brush my head with his big black hands and ask, "¿Que tanto, hoy? (How much today?). Mom would usually buy a 25-pound block of ice. On the weekends, she would often buy a 50-pound block (Or, so I remember. Mostly they talked in English and I only really new to speak Spanish at the time). "Ash" would bring the block of ice into our house and place it at the top of our refrigerator. It would keep our milk, meat and other products fresh for at least two days before it melted.
His job complete, "Ash" would drive away to his next customer. I would watch each time with fascination as the mule-driven wagon would pull away. Clip-clop, clip-clop the mule's hoofs would sound as they pounded the pavement with a rhythm that seemed to deny time. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop the sound of the hoofs echoed through the streets. And, then, the wagon was gone. If I listened close enough in the still of the morning bothered only by the barking of dogs wandering the streets, I could hear "Ash" greet his customers. He had a deep, strong voice that seemed to carry through the streets. "Yes, ma'am, how much?"
"Ash" was his name. I never knew his real name. I knew that he had kids, some as young as me, I found out later. But, I would never see them in school. Later, I would go to Little Flower School and then to high school in my hometown. I never saw a Black face in my classroom. You see, Blacks were not allowed to go to school (public or private, I presume) in my hometown. They would have to drive more than 30 miles to go to school in another South Texas town. And, if I recall, correctly, "Ash" was the only Black face I saw in town. Much later, my sister, my step father and I would run into him at the ice house. He picked up my sister and she looked at him curiously. She was four years old at the time. Instinctively, she took her right hand and rubbed her index finger on his face and then looked at it to see if anything had rubbed off.
"Ash" just let out a big roaring laugh as both my step-father and I grinned from ear-to-ear. "No child. It don't rub off. That's there permanently on my face," he said as he gave her a big hug while my sister wrapped her arms around his neck and bulky shoulders.
In an instant, my thoughts wandered back to my childhood and how I was so enthralled with the prospects of a Black man visiting our humble home. I could see myself waiting patiently at the window. I would be wearing my cachucha (baseball cap) and hugging my osoito (teddy bear) and looking eastward as the sound of the clip-clop, clip-clop of the mule-driven wagon would get nearer. He would approach our house, stop the wagon,the mule would neigh and and Ash would bring the ice down, come into our house and put it into our "refrigerator." We didn't have electricity yet in our house. It was 1950.
Shortly, the Black man (el negro), whom I only knew as "Ash" all my life, would be gone. It was time for me to go back to being a little boy.