Friday, December 10, 2004

Recollections on fogged windows

At the outset of this holiday season in my new environ, I am compelled to post this remembrance of my maternal grandmother, Fidela Arroyo.

Here is a memoir of an East Los Angeles Christmas from days of yore, which still breathe their warm recollections on fogged windows of the heart.


These houses in East L.A. are all built of corn husks and masa.
The same familiar smell of sopa fideo leads even the most blind into a kitchen where there is always an abuelita in seamed hose and short-heeled black shoes, cauldroned at the stove stirring cantos in the broth that sings just about ready.

As a boy, I hunted for those savory pieces of miracle meat hidden

like jewels crowned in seasoned Mexican angel hair curling in tides of delicate spices steeped first in Gramma’s heart, then in black Chihuahuan cast iron.

It’s Christmas Eve and the couches are cold and covered in clear plastic. The tree is afire with colored light as sainted votives move playful ghosts across communion-white walls in this living room.
The plastic is for me, the brusero, a thin shield against all the food
and dirt a young hellion can devil onto brocade cushions pristine as collection plates.

This is the year Gramma will break her wrist after slipping while carrying the first tray heavy with wrapped red, wrapped sweet, sweating and steamed from the tamale line where the daughters, the cousins, the aunts, shoulder to shoulder, the sisters, the women have midwifed something divine to be adored.

And this is the year Gramma will go to the hospital, have her wrist set and cast, return home and resume wrapping right where she left off: sweet ones, red ones, no fuss, say no more about it. The men will find out about it when their empty beer cans bring them in for more between rounds of patio recountings of infamous fighters: Rudy Navarrone, Julio Reynoso, Hector Braca, Ernesto Morales, and
of course my Uncle George.

The cold weather has kept us kids inside and guessing by weight, shape, and vigorous shaking as to which might be whose. Then,
by accident, we discover instant refried beans as we slide across the couches making farts on the fitted plastic and laugh the candles right out!

This year the tamales are sweeter somehow and Gramma is smiling, Manishevitz wine in her pale hand, glinting ornaments from her glasses. And as we eat I watch her, amazed she has not said a single word about her wrist which surely throbs like a fractured bell in her silent bones, and I see that joy is suffering wrapped in Christmas bandages and corn husks, red and sweet as candy canes, swollen and breathless when the toys at last march out of the tree.

Joseph Gallo
December 1992


Blogger newwavegurly parried...

I love these kinds of stories and find myself drawn to movies and books with a similar feel, especially Hispanic cultures. "Like Water For Chocolate", both the book and the movie, introduced me to such things years ago.

There are some cultures that are steeped in the family tradition of large meals accompanied by joy and laughter. I was lucky enough to have that when I was growing up, and appreciate it in other cultures and families too.

Thanks for sharing, Joseph.

December 11, 2004 10:19 AM  
Blogger newwavegurly parried...

Allan, I've actually seen "Big Night" a couple of times. I love that one too. Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub... two excellent actors.

There's also Soul Food and Tortilla Soup. Not as good as "Big Night" or "Like Water For Chocolate", but still in the same vein where family gatherings over preparation of meals and sitting down at the table together are a main component.

December 11, 2004 9:18 PM  
Blogger Kyle parried...

Yeah. I think I remember when you wrote this. It's still just as sweet. And it makes me want to write about my Grandma.

December 12, 2004 9:06 PM  

Post a Comment

link to post:

Create a Link

<< Home