Category Archives: Short Stories

My Uncle Spock

By Estela (Probably Part Vulcan) Caballero

Even though the show always said Spock was Vulcan, I was sure he had some Mexican in him.  Side by side pictures of Spock and my dad beg the question, “Might they even be brothers?”  Don’t go nuts Trekkies, I know his mom was human and his dad was Vulcan.  Spock was a weekly visitor into our home.  Sure, it was just a show but we only had three channels, maybe four if we made my little brothers take turns holding the square shaped antennae just right.  The good shows were something we looked forward to.  It’s hard to explain to someone who can’t remember a time when you couldn’t pull up your shows, anything really, at any time.3665471071_0f59d3e248_b

Before I could tell time, I used tv shows as a reference. An old broken watch rested among my most treasured belongings in the corner of the closet.  As my mom would hurry out the door after making us food to eat while she was at work, she would ask me to recite the schedule of what she needed to make sure I did while she was at work.  I would quickly retrieve my watch from the closet and tell my mom not to worry, I knew what time everything needed to happen and show her I had my watch. If the potato processing plant she was working at needed extra people to cover the next shift, they would give employees little or no notice, often waiting until the last hour to tell them it was their turn for mandatory overtime.  There were no cell phones to call and check up on us during her breaks.  We didn’t always have a working land line.  “When________ ends, make sure you check you’re brother to see if he needs to be changed” or “Make sure you brothers and sister go to bed after ________.”  The only time I saw my mom sit still was when she was driving–  that didn’t seem to count since she was driving.  Aside from that, she was on the move always preparing and readying.  She rarely spoke of her own childhood and would quickly change the subject when I asked her how she learned to tell time or what her favorite shows were when she was my age.  I came to understand that I should stop asking.

Star Trek was a marker and it’s possible the reason those old shows occupy a special place in my memories was because they were sometimes the only constant in rough waters.  Spock helped my dad learn English and he inspired me to think in a new way.  He gave my mother comfort. She knew his visit to our home would ensure her youngest got a fresh diaper if her oldest forgot.  I was the keeper of time and in charge during those hours but I was still a child, a relentless day dreamer and my mother knew that better than anyone else.  Spock helped a little Mexican girl watch over her brothers and sister.  A mental map would activate at the first sound of the theme music reminding us all of our pre show duties.  One brother would go grab a bottle for Buddy, the baby.  My sister would drag a large heavy blanket from the room and we’d all climb on after it was stretched close to the rickety table holding the tv.  Certain shows warranted a temporary peace between us and this was one of them.  In order for peace to be real, all of us had to like the show.

The baby  was named Buddy by my father.  Just before my mother went into labor, we were watching a Jerry Lewis movie with a suave character named Buddy Love.   Buddy was number five and by then both my mom and dad had several chances to draw a line in the sand over who would chose the name.  They already had two boys and two girls and Buddy didn’t sound too bad.  She worked all the way up to the day Buddy was born and her maternity leave would last little more than most people took off over the holidays.  She was tired and had only enough energy to firmly convey Buddy was fine but my dad was pushing his luck if he told the nurse Buddy’s middle name was Love one more time.  I was happy his name was Buddy.  When people asked why we called my chubby littlest brother Buddy or “Booodgie” as my dad’s family pronounced it, the story would bring laughter even if they had heard the story many times before.  My mother and father would laugh.  As things went from bad to worse, as they too often do, I would try to retell the story and break the harshness permeating everything from the air to their looks at each other.  Even the silence sought refuge from the heartbreak of a family breaking apart for good.

I learned to tell time that year.  Spock and I grew apart for a time.  The possibilities learned in those days as the keeper of time never left me, even as I eventually joined the masses at the factory myself. I found little comfort in the cell phone tucked in my lunch bag. It was night and my tiny daughter should be sleeping.  At lunch time, I didn’t eat.  I was certain I could work 20 years and still not feel right eating my lunch at 2 am.  Instead I sat there and remembered sitting in front of the small screen, a tattered blanket became a magical carpet.  I got to travel through space and go where no man has gone before.  A rapt audience sat quietly on the floor in front of the tv and couldn’t wait to see what strange new worlds were waiting.  Anything was possible, that’s for sure.

As you can see, Spock is probably at least half Mexican and/or my dad is half Vulcan.  Don’t go all Mendel’s cross pollination on me.  The way it happened or percentages don’t matter–  look at those eyebrows.  I couldn’t photoshop it that close even if I wanted to. Live long and prosper–  and dream.  Dream big, then do it.

Spock Nacho and Spock Buddy

 

 

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Another brother– Jaime Spock with my dad.

 

 

 

You & Eye

By Estela Caballero


I had a love/hate relationship with La Llorona. It was real, not like Chupacabra. She was the most beautiful woman in the rancho.  No one could believe she had drowned her children but it was true so now she haunts the river and lakes, cursed for what she did.  Wailing and wandering, searching for something she lost that night. All for a man.  My mom said that there was no forgiveness for the act and that she should have taken the maldito instead of those poor innocent kids. The Llorona wore a wedding dress as she floated around just a few inches above the ground.  I knew at least five people who said they saw her.  One was this cry baby boy I hated that rode the bus with us.  He was a liar so he was probably lying about that too. There were no liars in my family.  The real people that saw her, the ones I knew, they said unsuspecting drivers who pulled over to offer the damsel in distress a ride couldn’t see her feet.  Her dirty dress had lost all the sparkles and pearly beads.  The crinolina dirty grey from the eternity of wandering–  it was the perfect cover for her floating.  The once pure white starchy mesh covered her bare feet. By the time they realized it was her, it was too late for most.

One of my uncles said he barely escaped her.  My other tio laughed and said, “You need to move faster hermano, she gets stronger every weekend. Look, she grabbed you by the neck again.  You’re lucky you made it out alive.”

“Tio, why didn’t you stop at the store and call the police?  Look at that big bruise she left you.  I got hit on my knee one time at school and my abuelita put salt, vaporu and a hot towel over it so the bump would go down.”  Everyone had stopped laughing except my aunt.  She was standing with her back towards the table where we sat, all I could see were her shoulders shaking and head slightly bobbing forward.  “No, mija,” she said, “I’m not crying.  I’m laughing so loud it only sounds like crying.  I’m just imagining the Llorona doing push ups everyday so she is strong enough to fight with men so they will stop escaping.  I’m just worried for your tio.”

He was driving home from the bar when he caught a glimpse of white in the rear view mirror.  It was a winding road that seemed to sink deeper into the rich mud of the mountain with each rainfall.  My aunt still let him have it after she found lipstick on his collar.  “Que Llorona que nada,” she said as she served him coffee in the morning.  She packed his lunch but refused his goodbye kiss.  He laughed and gave her a playful spank as he walked by her. “Mija, tell your tia she shouldn’t be mad because she had the good fortune of marrying such a gentleman,” he said.  I had spent the night.  They had a color tv and got more than three channels.  Plus, they didn’t have kids yet so my aunt still had enough patience to not make me feel like I was bothering her.  I asked my tio why she wore the wedding dress.  “That’s what she was wearing when they found her.  She went crazy after her husband left her.  She wore it for a whole year before the night she became the Llorona.”  My aunt told him to stop lying.  I heard her tell him to see if that you know what was going to make his lunch from now on–  if not, she said she should at least do his laundry, starting with his stained shirt.  A few coins and bits of paper dropped out of the shirt pockets before it hit the door, just missing my uncle.  She would forgive him by the time he came home from work.   The paper scrutinized for clues and the shirt washed, ironed and hanging with his other dress clothes ready for the next weekend rescue.

If you were going to make it babysitting six kids, you needed something reliable like fear.  I found that I could stretch the effect of the Llorona story twice as long if they heard the grown ups talking about it first.  I felt sad about what the Llorona did to her kids but always wondered why they didn’t run or yell for help.  I know you are not supposed to hit your mom unless you want your hand to be hit by a lightning bolt and immediately turn to human bacon.  You would also go to hell. After we got a VCR I figured if someone ever tried to do that to me or my brothers and sister I could have God rewind the video of my life and see that I should not only be spared from bacon hand but also from hell.  I would be a hero.

All the family was crowded in the two small spaces that made up the living room and kitchen of the tiny house we lived in.  They talked of finding a faster way to get to California so you didn’t have to go all the way back up through Yakima- it saved at least 2 hours.  The map folded away after the men drank beer and finished shaving the bristly hair from the skin of the pig hanging outside from a strong limb of the Animal Tree.

The house was becoming filled with flies from kids going in and out. When my mom told me to take all the kids to the small bedroom my whole family shared, I was ready.  I began building on the story now that we were no longer under the watchful eyes and ears of the ladies.  The flat bruises on my uncles neck were the first bit of proof the Llorona was real.  If the grown ups started telling you about the Llorona it was only for two reasons…they wanted you to scram and play outside or you better be in bed and be quiet when the storyteller got to the part about that time when my uncle was driving back from the cantina and saw the Llorona.  A rite of passage in my family happened on that special day a grown up looked at you and said, “Go tell those kids if they don’t go to sleep, the Llorona is going to get you.”

Crying was a regular occurrence.  The morning my uncle awoke with the scars of battle from the Llorona, my aunt cried for a few minutes after he left for work.  She had never once turned to away from the stove after she heard about how close he came to death.  She turned around and smiled before going to the bathroom.  She pulled little cold wet tissues from a small packet.  She patted gently around her eyes and stretched her free hand towards the mirror.  The corner piece was missing and each time the bathroom door opened and shut too quickly, the crack got bigger and bigger.  “Be careful tia,” I said.  She smiled and asked me to go get her the matches off the table.  I stared at the little wet squares, “Can I do that too tia?”  She shook her head and said to hurry with the matches.  I thought wet squares were for wiping the counter and used the whole pack last time I was there.  There was no need to wet a garra and then wash it and hang out to dry–  if you skipped then hanging out to dry step, it would smell horrible and I would be called lazy.  I asked a lot of questions.  I wanted to know all the stories of all the people and all the places.  Maybe there were kids like me in other places.  Kids that had to be happy and funny so their brothers and sister would feel less afraid.  I hated the night and cries from my mom as they would fight over things I wished I could make disappear.  The best I could do was keep the babies from waking and comfort the ones crying themselves.  I got it in my head that my house had been cursed.  Jealousy was poisonous and I was sure this was why this particular curse was so hard to get rid of.  Once the curse was broken, I was sure my dad would not drink anymore or get mad.  He would love my mom and they would be happy again.

My mom, she would tell me that some people just can’t help it– they had the eye but couldn’t control it.  Everyone needed to know about the evil eye and how to cure it if you fell under the spell.  It was a mother’s duty to tell her children about these things early.  The evil eye wasn’t the only thing mothers needed to prepare their children for.  The boys were at risk of being netted by more tactics than I can remember.  All traced back to a woman– one of those bad women.  Mothers would start the conversation with them as soon as they noticed the boys beginning to gaze longer at the girls they once tormented and chased away.  It wasn’t really a conversation–  it was a lesson.  Any questions would be met with a warning that the information was critical to their survival and a reminder that she would be dead soon and they would be sorry if they didn’t take her words seriously.  A mother could be in her 20s and healthy as a horse and still throw out the reminder she could drop dead any minute–  it was for effect.  It was usually followed by a slap on the head or flying chancla if she picked up even the slightest of salsa picante in your voice. You’d better look sad and make the cross at least one time if she mentioned something unmentionable like an early death.  If you could cry without it coming across as anything less than genuine, you should do it.

These things were told so they knew about the dangers that a beautiful woman with bad intent could mean.  All the women seemed to know of an instance where one of the wicked women back home had given a man “calzon hervido” or boiled underwear.  The man would never know if he had been given the feared potion made when a woman boils a pair of her underwear in water and makes food using that water.  The underwear are long gone at the point the man will be sitting down waiting to be served his favorite meal.  After all, she has to be sure he is going to eat it if it’s going to take effect.  The food most often used with the calzon hervido water is white rice with meat in salsa piled on top, otherwise known as moriscetta.  They all say that everyone else can tell when a man has eaten food made with “calzon hervido” except the man himself.  At that point, he is bewitched and not even a mother can break that spell.

The girls needed to know they should never make food with “calzon hervido” because those tricks were only for women who were so bad and ugly inside that only God could save them.  The women who used these shameful bewitching tactics were not always ugly on the outside.  The women would say that the beauty may be the result of an almost unspeakable pact with the devil..almost unspeakable.  They could go on for more than an hour picking apart the person and her family commenting on how some never seem to age and questioning how this could be.  Sometimes in addition to being beautiful, the group would add that “a veces las que parecen mosquita muerte son las peores”– the one’s that look like a little dead fly are the worst.  I think they meant because a dead fly doesn’t seem like it can do any harm, it’s dead right?  Wrong.  Dead flies can ruin a whole pot of food or a cup of your last soda with in it.

Teach me to cook,” I pleaded. “You love him don’t you?” “Yes, I do.” “Then you know how to cook.” Obviously she didn’t remember hot dog and egg experiment.  Maybe she had fed it to the cat under the table. She was kind and would have eaten failed experiments every day.  Her beautiful face could convince the worst cook in the world she was a culinary genius.  The flavors secondary.  To be a good cook you must always do it with love in your heart.  The flavors would catch up to the expression she believed cooking for a loved one was.  A meal was a message.  It needn’t be expensive or complicated.  In fact, simple food let the main ingredient shine.  Whenever she emerged into the room to announce the food was ready, her children saw her as nothing short of a magical being that could make a small feast from a bare cupboard.  The call to dinner was unnecessary.  Wafts of vaporized love, the love of  mother, had found their way to us long before the call.  On those days, the call was lost on me because I never left the kitchen.  That’s where all the women were and that’s where the stories where.  News of who was a bad husband, a bad wife, and possibly not the biological child of this one or that one.  I sat quietly and it was the only time I would help in the kitchen without being told to.  I usually made myself scarce because I hated cooking.  I’d pick up the babies and keep them quiet so the ladies could keep talking without interruption.  My mother’s silence was her approval of me staying.  She knew I usually ran the other way when it was time to start cooking on regular days.  She knew where I would hide.  She just pretended not to.  Her silence was her approval of me being a child longer than she was able to.

She had heard the stories from her mother and she told them to her children and that’s how it went with everything.  She would caution against eating anything from certain people.  Every time she would tell me this I would ask how I would know which people.  There was not a clear answer and I didn’t like that.  Sometimes things like children become fussy around a certain person or houseplants dying after that person visited your home was a good sign you should be polite and accept the food, just don’t eat it.  The person may not be intentionally causing these things to happen but some people just had the “mirada pesada” or a heavy look—  the evil eye could exist within them even if unwelcome or uninvited. Then there were the one’s who had the “mirada pesada” or even “sangre pesado”, heavy blood and heavy look but they knew it.  They might have even pursued it, invitation and all.  I looked around my home.  I had always had a way with plants and people often admired them when they came over.  A little red thread, almost invisible, was tied to a stem low on the plant.  This was how she saved the plants since she couldn’t just come right out and tell the person with the heavy look to not “chulear” my plants.  It was ok to tell them to touch the plant– it is believed to be a way to minimize the negative impact of ojo.

The evil eye wasn’t something we read about–  it would come up in regular conversation.  It wasn’t a question of whether you believed in it or not.  It just was.  One of the ways we would be cured of ojo was with a raw egg.  My mother and most of the older women in our family know how it goes.  They say prayers while rubbing a raw egg over different parts of you, they make little crosses on you with the egg.  My sister in law also gets a clean white cloth and does something that feels like she is dusting you.  My mother in law has her own twists to that involve holy water mixed with lavender that she mists you with.  Then they crack the egg and depending on how it looks, they tell you just how bad you were.

When I was very sick with different things brought on by lupus, many of my family thought it was brujeria and ojo.  They held conversations to try and figure out how to stop bad spirits from entering the house and I would frequently wake up because I thought the roof was leaking.  Family would mist me with holy water as I slept or they would perform cleanings of the house.  They knew I went to the doctors and had a cabinet full of medicine prescribed by specialists.  That was all good and fine.  Hard science and medicine was necessary, almost as necessary as the work they were doing to keep me safe.  It wasn’t a question of whether you believed it or not, it just was.

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Fotos Y Recuerdos

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All photos by I. Garay

Words by Me ❤

The Day I Gave My Dad A Camera

He is a man of few words.  As the years go by, it becomes clear he has something to tell me.  Isn’t that just the way it is with everyone.  Each morning begins with new resolve, today will be the day I say, “I love you.”

He’s been on a mission I wish he would have began so many years ago.  I’ve lost the child in me that would ask questions and miss the signs it made him uncomfortable.  I’m a polite daughter, a caring daughter– all the things a good daughter should be.

A new voice with words I’ve yet to learn, pierces my heart even though the meaning escapes me.  His eyes rest on shots I would overthink.  He sees something he needs to tell me in each image we look at together each time we meet.  I can’t ask what I want to.  Like so much with my father, directness must be set aside.  Instead I ask what he likes about the picture.  I see such emotion.  I hear the words I now understand were there the entirety of my life.

Kingdom of Chaos by Estela Caballero

They say if you have enough information about what is happening now, you can predict the future.  They’re called algorithms and even though you might not believe it, you have used them.  The Weather Channel–it’s one of the main reasons we got to algorithms.  When I first heard that I thought it meant something else.  I’ll save you from making the same mistake–  this is not about Al Gore Rhythms, like Al Gore dancing.  Not that kind of rhythms.

There are two kinds of physics, the big and the small.  We are taught that one rules all things big and the other describes the small.  Nothing rules the smalls.  Nothing we understand yet, anyways.

In the land of these laws, I meet the definition of big.  My problem is there are millions of smalls and their smalls floating around in me, I am a kingdom of chaos.  Memory and time have robbed us of the knowledge that might lead to that one last thing we need.  It will be the last thing until it’s not.  Maybe it’s better this way.  Among us today walk a few keepers of the ancient language. They share it freely and we nod, hurry by and smile.  We’re in a hurry, searching for that thing.  So she paints.  So he plays.  I know, who has the luxury of time for things like that– music and art.

What’s the difference between sound, music and noise?  I went to the wisest man I know.  “It depends on who you ask,” he said, like that was an answer.  I began to consider I may need to expand the circle of people I know.  Me, personally, I don’t like a lot of noise.  Now my heart, riddled with armies of smalls and their armies of tinies– they dance to a tune we won’t understand for years.  It sounds a little like noise to me.  They like it and I don’t tell them to turn it down– haven’t you ever heard the saying, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

What do you see when you shut your eyes?  The wise man was gone and in his place a boy.  The wise man was off his game and this boy didn’t inspire much confidence.  He appeared to put much effort into what would have naturally occurred about 18 times in a second.  In fact, he kept his eyes shut for two seconds and basically erased 40 blinks from the universe.  All to give me an answer.  Maybe the wise man told him about me and my impatience.  As I closed the door to his room, I tried it.  Damn it, he’s right.  I had it all wrong.  Chaos and order seem at opposite ends.

That was the last time I looked for an answer from wise people or those filling in for them.  A few days after my walk I heard the most ridiculous thing.  Rainbows are completely round.  I would settle this quick, fast and in a hurry.  The source was a pesky know it all that took great pleasure in throwing completely random information at me when I was making a good faith effort to do important things.  He worked me like a remote control.  It’s true.  How would the Double Rainbow guy from YouTube take this?  He could dress up a cat and have him play piano and mourn the double rainbow that never was.  What about all those leprechauns?  We’ve all seen what happens when they lose their pot of gold.  I don’t think Hollywood has enough pixie dust to capture the wrath of the entire population of leprechauns.  If the know it all knew and Google knew, why had this important information never reached my ear or inbox?  I am checking the settings on my spam filter.  There could be emails from Steven Hawking accepting my invite to guest blog.

If you ever doubt the magnitude of everything and whether we are in the big or small, stop looking and chase a rainbow.  We’ve built kingdoms around the assumption that we live in a place where math and art are opposites.  Reminders of a time when knowledge hadn’t been broken apart in an attempt to keep it that way are everywhere.  Music, math and art are one and the same.  You don’t have to choose, only accept the possibilities that there is greatness in you.

 

 

You don’t have to choose weak or strong.  Beautiful or intelligent.  Brave or afraid.  It’s still a world with rainbows and this is the wise man’s gift.  Order and chaos depends upon where you sit.  From some places, rainbows are round.  True story.

 

The Evolution of Things by Estela Caballero

Spy Hunter was one of the best video games ever.  I never owned it–  it owned me and my milk money.  Quarters that were supposed to be used to buy a carton of milk at lunch time never made it out of the Short Stop gas station I would race to each morning.  The little bell on the door would announce my arrival and the smell of the pizza pockets in the glass case would test my loyalty to Spy Hunter.  I could save three days of milk money and be able to buy a pizza pocket if I really wanted to.  A few times a year I’d have a dollar but it was too unpredictable to count on so I just made up my mind that I only liked the smell of pizza pockets not the taste.  This allowed me to suck in all the greasy pizza pocket aroma I wanted without feeling like I should have saved my money for the pizza pocket.  If I happened to glance at someone who did buy a pizza pocket and sat down at the little deli table near Spy Hunter, I would quickly break the gaze and remind myself that even though the cheesy strands that stretched unbelievable lengths before bending to gravity looked just like the cheese on real pizza, it was scalding hot from being trapped in the toasty dough pocket.

The summer before I had $1.25 that I was going to use to get into the city pool.  They wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t have bathing suits, only cut off shorts.  As we walked back to the trailer park, I could see the spirits of my sister, neighborhood best friend and two of my little brothers were low.  I collected their pool money from them and told them we could still have fun at the gas station and even had enough to get three pizza pockets and split them.  I wolfed my half down so fast I scalded my whole mouth with the hot pizza sauce and cheese.  It wasn’t like the sauce and cheese from pizza, it was better.  I took a drink from the root beer we were sharing and it burned even more.  I made myself forget the cheese and sauce were from heaven during the rest of the year.  When my sister or brother would look at the glass case I would remind them of the bad burns I had for a week and they would nod.  They remembered we hated pizza pockets on that particular day.

I usually got a dollar when my grandma from California visited.  She always had dollars and would give each of us one after she gave us our hugs and commented on how much we had grown.  As soon as we got the dollar she would start in on how we better listen to my mom and not fight with each other.  We didn’t have a phone at our house but my mom would save her quarters and call my grandma from the payphone outside the grocery store.  Sometimes we would go to town just to use the phone.  If my mom was really tired she would park in front of the phone booth but wait in the car with my sister and brothers.  I would take the change and run into the phone booth and pick up the heavy and important feeling phone.  I’d start dropping the change into the slot and after each coin disappeared I’d poke my finger at the little trap door where some of the coins might return. Once the coins had been accepted I would begin dialing the number I had memorized.  You always had to dial a 1 first because it was to a different state.  Then the area code.  All my mom’s family lived in the 208 area code.  It was always sunny and beautiful in 208.  It had to be– that’s where oranges, grapes and lemons grew.  It was sunny enough to wear shorts the whole year around unless you actually lived in 208.  If you lived in 208, you would think it was too cold for shorts in December and probably even wear a jacket when I thought it was warm enough for shorts.  I had to pretend I was cold one winter when we went after my cousin told me it was weird I thought it was hot.  One of her friends asked me if we were poor and that’s why I didn’t wear a jacket in the morning even though it was really cold.  She said her mom told her she should be nice to poor people and not make fun of them.  I told her she was dumb and we were not poor.  We had plenty of jackets but only wore them if it was snowing.

No one in 208 had ever heard of Spy Hunter or pizza pockets.  They didn’t go to gas stations, they had little trucks parked along the sidewalk that sold laundry soap, chips, snow cones and real tacos.  We told them not to feel bad that they lived
somewhere without cool video games to spend their milk money on the way to school.  We told them how pizza pockets were even better than real pizza because the cheese stayed extra hot–  the crust was like a little bread oven that kept everything steamy.  My littlest brother started crying.  We all tried to get him to shut up–  my mom could hear him cry down the street even if there were a million other little cry babies around.  I made the 208 girl with the winter jacket on give my brother her chips to quiet him down convincing her that if my mom came out there, she would set off a chain of mom’s interrupting a scheduled game of shark and freeze tag.  It would be her loss.  Our mom would go back inside once she saw my brother was happy but her mom looked especially grouchy and she might not get to play the game and this was no ordinary shark freeze tag game…..I would be showing them how to use the secret oil slick trick to avoid being tagged.  She gave him her soda too.

After my parents divorced, we moved to a bigger town and had a phone in our house.  My grandma would call right to the house and I don’t remember ever knowing her phone number by heart again.  My mom would keep a little notebook with all the phone numbers in there.  We would have long distance when we first connected the phone but after a month or two we would get it disconnected from talking to much to the 208 and not paying the phone bill.  My mom would just call from a friends house or my grandma would call in to the house if we still had a working line–  you could have a working line to get incoming calls but no long distance calls out.  My brothers were all in school now, even the little one.  He never played Spy Hunter but loved to play Nintendo.  Him and the rest of the former cry babies were so good at Mario Brothers they knew how to cheat the game.
They would trap a turtle and kick the shell repeatedly against a pipe in the game and it would give them extra points and lives.  I never knew if the people who made the game meant for people to be able to do that or not.  It didn’t seem right to cheat the game.  I tried to play Mario Brothers but didn’t like the controller.  I was used to the
controllers being fixed to this massive box I would lean against.  They would make fun of how I moved the controllers like I was driving a car–  they held the controllers a special way and mostly just used their fingers to move the tiny buttons in all different directions at the same time.  When I got to the place where you could cheat, I would hand the controller over to one of my brothers so they could rack up points for me.  It wouldn’t matter, I never lasted long.  These games seemed like they could go on forever.  There wasn’t any season to take a break from them like Spy Hunter free summers.  The day we didn’t make it into the swimming pool was the only summer day I played the game.  I only got milk money during school time.  It was no fun watching someone else play the game and eat pizza pockets so I stayed out of the Short Stop during summer.

Mario Brothers lived in our living room.  He was always on as long as no one reset the game, used up all the ill gotten turtle shell extra lives or turned the game off.  We owned the game and it owned us.  Newer systems came out with wireless controllers and new adventures for old characters.  New worlds are layered over and connections have little in common with joysticks or controllers- access has nothing and everything to do with being connected today.  I am always connected and it’s never just a game.  It’s evolved.  I can eat pizza pockets anytime now and can even find a table at the Short Stop if I want to.  I drove thru the little town the other day when I went to see my dad.  I grabbed a handful of napkins and slid into the empty bench at the table.  The other seats were taken.  I couldn’t say for sure but I think I went to school with one of the guys sitting there–  it looked like he was with his son.  They all had their heads down, eyes fixed on their phones. Connected and entertained–  from games to gaming.

 

Beauty & Me by Estela Caballero

How is it possible for two people to look at the same thing at the same time and when asked to describe what they are seeing, you might think they must be on opposite sides of the world?  It happens–  judges see it all the time with cases relying on multiple eye witnesses to the same crime.

It happened to me.  My sister and I have many shared memories.  We are only a year and a few weeks apart and growing up we were always together.  She was born with a small birthmark on her neck.  It was there since she was born so I didn’t think of it as different.  As we got older it took on a puffiness and became increasingly red.  It looked like a little strawberry.  One day at my great grandmother’s house, we were running around and around the little place.  We were nowhere near school age and it’s one of the few clear memories from a time few people can even recall anything.  My dear sister swears I pushed her and she fell forward on her stomach, breaking her fall with her little hands.  Somehow the little strawberry got pressed against something too hard and burst.  The little patch of skin healed and lost it’s color.  You can hardly notice it was anything other than perfectly beautiful skin.  My sister is perfectly beautiful– she was then and age has only refined her beauty.  I remember crying at the blood and thinking she was hurt.  I remember running but not the push–  the push she would tell anyone about who would listen for years and years.  She is beautiful but perhaps this experience exposed her flaw—  she was a liar.  I needed her to have a flaw.  I was toasty brown and freckled.  I had just started getting freckles at the time of the great strawberry popping.  I would rub my little hands over those dirty spots to try to make them go away.  My teeth were coming in with a space in between the front two.  I never really noticed it or the spots until people would compare me and the beauty.  I liked her strawberry.  It was normal to me but the same freckle spotters would call out the “weird thing on her neck”.

People would ask my mom if there had been and eclipse when she was pregnant with the beauty.  The gossipy neighbor would tell us the same story about how her mom looked at the moon during an eclipse and her brother was born with a nasty birthmark like the strawberry beauty had.  I sat up and thought maybe beauty had a curse like the fairy tales.  Maybe she would get spots on her face too.  Maybe my mom had looked at the moon during an eclipse when she was pregnant with me too.  To this day she swears I pushed her.  To this day I swear I didn’t.  I liked her having the strawberry curse.  The neighbor lady came over a few days later.  She asked me if I was still sad.  I told her I was.  She said don’t worry, even if there is an eclipse you and your sister are safe.  Kids only get it if they are still in their mom’s stomach and their mom looks at the moon.  I had asked her if she thought the strawberry might grow back on beauty every time I saw her after the fall.  I was sad for many days that beauty was weird free.

animal tree

Soy India Pata Rajada

By Estela Caballero, Chief Star Gazer and Executive Dreamer

Here’s what I know.  Soy India y orgullosa de serlo.  Soy India pata rajada y orgullosa de lo que soy.  I had heard bad words growing up and could hurl insults right back sharp as a whip.  When a toad of a girl and her fat brother called me and my sister pochas, I didn’t know the meaning but I could tell it was bad by the way they reveled in satisfaction.  To go tell my parents, that would go against the code.  During the daylight hours there were only a few things you better be doing in the house if you weren’t in school.  I didn’t like any of the choices–  cleaning, cooking, taking care of babies or more cleaning.

My sister and the rest of the Indios Pata Rajada clan.
My sister and the rest of the Indios Pata Rajada clan.

The worst of the options if you really wanted to be inside when the grown ups were in there cooking or talking was to sit silently.  If I was desperate to hear the gossip I would pledge that I would be quiet before I could even be let past the screen door.  Well, it wasn’t really a door, just the aluminum frame and we climbed though the bottom square.  The top part still had glass but with each pass, it came closer to the same fate it’s screened panel met.  Before it fell off and I rescued it, the screen rectangle served a noble but unprofitable purpose. The screen door kept flies and kids out.  We still used the screen but it’s second career included important things like panning for gold.  I had learned about the gold miners in Mrs. King’s class the previous year and told my dad that people could find gold in the dirt.  It was just laying there waiting to be discovered.  I’m sure he was trying to play down his excitement at the possibility that could change our lives.  I took his silence and nodding smile as approval to move forward with my new mission.  I enlisted my brothers and sister along with cousins that were camping out around our house for the next month while their parents worked.

By night we would sit with the rest of our immediate and extended family outside around the big tv my dad and uncle would haul out.  Blankets would be rolled out on the grass and we could always tell which of the men were still in trouble from coming home late on the weekend.  They would proudly wrap their arm around their wife and announce to everyone that he was married to a fierra.  The long orange extension cord was used for other things like energizing a lamp in the bathroom since the power didn’t work on one side of the trailer. But at night in the weeks leading up to and throughout the apple harvest, we’d connect the VCR player you could rent from the video store to the tv and watch movies outside.  My mom would tell us about when we used to live in California and how we went to the drive in movies before we came here.  I had never known you could do that, sit in a car and watch a movie on a big screen, like a big movie theater in a parking lot.  Once a month she would buy us these little aluminum pans filled with unpopped popcorn.  As the aluminum pan grew hotter, the top of the covered pan would expand and look like a shiny dome– like something I imagined topped a building on some alien planet.  As each little dome was finished popping it would be poured into one of many tupperware bowls.  Most days my mom used those to hold the harina she would make into fresh tortillas, she did this every morning before going to work and every night she came home.  On the days the tv was in the yard, the bowls were filled to the top with the rare treat of popcorn and each family camping outside our house got their bowl.  Some stayed in little tents others in the garage.  They would come in to shower and use the bathroom. The kitchen produced the most wonderful smells beginning long before the sun jumped out of her bed sheets.

I needed as many of the kids looking for gold as possible so the payback for calling us pochas would have to wait.  I also wanted to know what is was first so I could decide how long I had to torture them.  That was the way.  You took it and you threw it back—harder if possible.  Enemies and alliances were fragile unless you were related.  Even if they were the cousin that bullied you the most, they would jump to your defense if too many were jumping on you at one time.  Then it became their fight too.   I once had a babysitter that used to put boxing gloves on us so we could learn to fight.  By the time the great gold hunt was abandoned I had another insult I needed to figure out how to investigate–India pata rajada.  I could always just ask the toad girl and her warty brother but then they would say we were dumb too.

After convincing my Tio Raul to tell us what it meant, I didn’t understand.  My Tio Raul was always nice to us and he was my uncle and not related at all to the toads.  I didn’t have any reason to doubt him but the two things shouldn’t even go together.  Pocha meant I was not Mexican enough and India pata rajada was a reminder to me that I was tied to the land of my father even though I didn’t speak the language.  I could understand Spanish but stopped trying to speak it when the toads and the bug eyed rooster kids made fun of me.  India pata rajada-– that meant I was an Indian with cut feet from not wearing shoes—it implied I was a savage.  This Indio was not the Native American I learned about in school. The proud people that fished and hunted in the same lands I walked on.  These were the Indians that still inhabit parts of Mexico and speak dialects that sound like the songs of birds long lost.  Perhaps I earned this name because I was the toastiest of my family and actually did run wild a lot outside without shoes.  I didn’t care.  I asked my dad what it meant and he said not to ask him that question again.  I thought if it was important, he would have told me.

My mother’s family is from Mexico too.  It’s different than my father’s family.  The connection to Mexico for her family is many generations past.  She might have clobbered the person who called me names so I didn’t dare mention it to her.  She was dynamite in a tiny package and her temper well known from Washington to the rancho in Mexico. I had never been to Mexico.  Even though I didn’t speak Spanish in front of others, I was fluent.  It was in my best interest if I wanted to hear

My abuelita Ignacia and my tio Ignasio.
My abuelita Ignacia and my tio Ignasio.

the newest gossip from our family when they arrived.  The cycle of the seasons was my timer.  The apples brought my family back to us.  I could say some words in Spanish just fine but gave up trying because the effort was sure to set off ripples of laughter.  I gave up and would beg my cousins, who spoke both English and Spanish, to tell me of their travels.  They knew of places I had never been to like Wyoming and Mexico.  They worked along side their parents all year long and I wished I could too. If I had a job that paid money I could stop the gold digging mission that had failed to produce any gold in the last two years.

I am fluent in Spanish now and since I am Mexican American, some are surprised that I didn’t speak it as a child.  My father wanted to learn English so he must have figured he would be forced to learn if his children couldn’t speak his native tongue.  It worked.

To make money in the apples you had to get there early to make sure you wouldn’t be left without a ladder.  No ladder meant someone in the family would have to climb the tree and steady themselves between the branches while carrying a bag that weighed almost 60 pounds when full.  The orchard owners would let an entire family pick under one persons name.  It was piece work.  A good picker could fill up 8 to 12 bins a day.  My mom and dad were no average pickers.  My mother could out pick men much taller than she was, including my dad sometimes.  The bragging started early in the orchard. The ladies would talk directly to other women.  If the man was married and his wife was working with him, he would limit direct conversation to other men and his family.  If the wife happened to be missing that day, there might be a lot of singing. That’s how the men would send a message to someone picking that they liked them or thought they were pretty. He would sign a song that described her, like, “Ay hermosa chaparrita, me muero por tus besos.  Tu carita linda y ojos muy hermosos.”  The words were general enough that if someone other than the primary target thought they might be directed at her and she was interested, he could play it off like, “Of course I like you.  Didn’t you hear me singing songs to you hoping you would notice me?”  There were always a few unmarried women who enjoyed getting the other ladies mad by joking around with the men singing.  If she had sharp wit as well as beauty, the ladies would quickly begin referring to her as a sin verguenza– without shame.

Bins of apples with names like Golden, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Fuji were tallied up on a card that bore the name of the head of the family.  It was hard enough to do with a ladder and everyone knew of someone who had taken their chances picking without a ladder.  They could get in trouble with the owner because all of the apples had to be removed from the tree.  It was also dangerous and if the picker fell, there would be no accident report much less information that they could be seen by a doctor because it was a work injury.  Deals were struck to share ladders among the groups or small cars driven between the rows of trees served to get pickers high enough to reach the fruit at the top.  If no deal could be made, a fight could erupt.  They were all depending on this money for living expenses due to the uncertainty of when they might find work once the apple season ended.  Even though many would sleep in cars, sometimes even on the orchard with the owner’s permission, the money would only last a few months at best.

Some of the orchards had thousands of trees.  The ones our family worked for in the beginning belonged to a tree nursery where those who didn’t migrate worked the rest of the year.  Children slept in vans parked under the shaded trees and parents would join the children too small to work on the soft grass outside the vehicle at break time.  Roadside Help Wanted signs became increasingly common as the years went by especially as the migra became more aggressive in their tactics.  My people are humble and hard workers.  They take pride in their work.  They are grateful and I saw them swallow the injustices hurled upon them because they knew the consequences of speaking up.  Soft spoken and respectful men and women boiled from the daily reminders that they were a necessary evil.  “Let’s see who from here will do the work we do?  They fly the planes right over us and spray us with their poison. Will they tolerate money being stolen from them when the boss says they bruised too many apples?”

The workers, all of us, were just one of the line items on a financial report that determined how much the owner would make that year for each of the 1,000 pound bins filled 60 pounds at a time. The nature of migrant work usually prevents the personal connection between employee and employer year round worker’s experience. This might be why it’s become easier to demonize the undocumented workers.  It’s kind of like the differences we see in face to face communication versus email. People can type up things they would never say to a person in front of them and with the click of the mouse, it’s off.  The fiber optic cable takes the unfiltered and depersonalized message to the recipient.  The sender is free of having to see how the words impacted the person reading it.  If challenged, they can fall back on the overused defense that it’s hard to convey emotion through email and chalk up another hit on their passive aggressive tally.

Last year, in 2014, the impact of the lack of migrant workers in Washington state was reflected in those Help Wanted signs. Orchard owners up and down Royal Slope, Wenatchee and Okanagon competed with each other upping the pay per bin.  Even when the signs read $28 and even $30 per bin, help did not come.  In 2011, Washington state governor held an emergency meeting with apple growers to find a solution to the shortage of workers.  Growers gave first hand accounts of groups of 150 people showing up at his orchard that were referred by the unemployment office–  the next day only 3 showed back up.  Someone at the meeting that worked for the Department of Corrections suggested they try prison labor.  It’s a story that seems unbelievable with reports in the news about how undocumented workers are taking away jobs they have no rights to.  Growers saw hundreds of thousands of dollars rotting on the trees and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.  The people referred to them by the unemployment office never showed up or lasted a few hours.  The unemployment claim forms the orchard owners received from the state when the non immigrant workers filed for unemployment left them angry.  The quitters cited working conditions to be unbearable.  They questioned if the piece work pay was even legal– how could they be expected to carry 60 pound bags strapped around their necks and back all day– not to mention the safety hazards of doing this several times an hour while climbing up and down a ladder.  They claimed their employer did not give them the proper equipment to be safe– one example referred to the shortage of ladders.  He reasoned that he was eligible for unemployment benefits even though he only worked 4 hours because it was unsafe and had not received any training at all.

Things continued to change.  Every year my mom would get calls to go and pick up one of our aunts, cousins or uncles from a store or even clinic they were trapped in. The immigration vans didn’t attempt to conceal their presence. Towards the end of the season the migra would park outside the grocery stores and community health clinics stopping those who they suspected might be undocumented.  On the night they took my uncle I heard the grown ups trying to console his wife and children.  They spoke of rumors they heard that two orchard owners in particular had called the migra on their own workers as the season was winding down so they didn’t have to pay them. I had never been afraid of going to the store.  I couldn’t understand why my aunt no longer went to church or why only her oldest daughter could go buy groceries.  I saw the vans parked outside the church, grocery store and the park by the river we used to go and swim at on the weekends. They were just vans to me.

My dad tried to ease the heavy hearts of our family by telling us a story about an American man of Chinese descent who worked with him the first year he started at the orchard. The migra came and the boss shouted to the people to run.  They knew it would only be a matter of time before the vans would make a move at the orchard.  The priest had warned everyone that the surrounding little towns had already been hit. My father ran into the shop where the mechanics worked on the forklift.  Others knew they would be caught but they could not leave their children so they ran to their cars hoping to get away.  If any that had come with them weren’t in the car, they prayed and waited for the raid to pass.  There were already others in the shop and once it was safe, they began to move away from their hiding spot.  My dad noticed Sam, the Chinese American.  He asked Sam what he was doing there.  Sam told him he saw everyone running and where he is from, that means you should run too.

At the end of the apples, the pisca, my Tios and cousins would tell me to go with them to Mexico so I could meet my grandmother and the large part of my family I still have not met in person.  My dad would always jokingly say yes but we aaaayellowhousewere not even allowed to spend the night at friends houses so I knew there wasn’t a chance I could really go.  Last year was the first time I saw the double doors that lead to the center of my grandmother’s house in Mexico. It was with my father.  We used the street view on Google Maps.  He showed me the streets he walked as a child and told me how his mother took him breakfast each morning from the house he built just down the street.  He was in awe that there it was, on the screen.  The streets he walked as a child.  The place where they held the velorio for my grandfather when he died.  The small rancho he hailed from, important enough for the internet.

Soy India.  Si, tambien pata rajada.  Nopalera.  Todo eso y mas.

New York: A Page From The Diary Of A Stubborn Girl by Estela

rocksSome people think it’s ugly here.  I used to agree.  I would go on and on about how I would never live here by choice and how I would move away as soon as I got the chance.  I did.  I had already moved out of my mom’s house when I decided to go from a small town in the dry lands of a state that was supposed to be the Evergreen state to Long Island, New York.  I enrolled myself in William Floyd High School and found a part time job at Fashion Explosion, a clothing store.  I had a small son to support.

Flying into La Guardia was like something from a movie.  I was certain the plane was going to land right in the water. I couldn’t swim but I figured I would just float around on my back with Donavon, my little son, floating on my stomach while we waited to be rescued.  Before the trip, I had never been on a plane or train.  The extent of my world travels was limited to the passenger seat of a car and the Greyhound bus with my mom once.  Long Island is more than an hour away from the actual city–  that’s what New Yorkers would call NYC.  It was just “the city” to them.  I would ask the kids at school if they went to the city and was surprised at how many had never ventured more than a few miles outside of their hometown.  How could they live within a short distance from such an electric place and not ever been there?  I wouldn’t be one of them.flying-into-laguardia

I would call home and tell everyone about riding the subway without care of getting lost.  I was too naive to be afraid.  Most people kept their eyes fixed straight ahead, a few slept or chatted with someone they were travelling with.  It was obvious I wasn’t from New York.  I was fascinated with the views outside the subway windows that the other riders had long become tired of. I would walk to a bus stop, take the Long Island train to the subway and hop on with little more than just fare to get me somewhere and back.  I never figured out the schedules and didn’t even try planning trips.  With my poor sense of direction, it would have been pointless.  There was no rhyme or reason to how I spent the days travelling about.  I would listen to other passengers talk about where they were going or see something interesting up ahead and that’s where I would go.  I ended up in Coney Island once, me and my little son.  The only thing I knew about Coney Island is that they had rides there, a boardwalk and the hotdogs were supposed to be good.

El amor de un hijo
Estela with the wide grin. My son with the wide eyes– Coney Island

I followed the sights, sounds and smells.  Maps were of no use to me. This hasn’t improved with age.  My brain learns a different way–  I have to do something, really experience it and then I’ll never forget it.  I would eventually memorize the path to many places I would visit every chance I got.  One of those places was a huge swap meet in Jamaica, Queens.  It was an underground market that you could enter from several different streets that sloped into another world.  I was lost in youth and suffered from the immunity of jamaica-queensreason.  I love touching things.  Jamaica was a place people didn’t mind you touching things.  I would make a mental list of all the things I would come back and buy one day.  A lady selling small plastic child sized chairs would personalize them and had a poster showing all of her unique flourishes you could choose from.  I told her I’d be back for a yellow one, maybe a blue one too.  Before my return trip home I returned and bought one of my brothers a black baseball cap with a metal strip on the front personalized with “Garay”.  I made sure not to crush it in the weeks leading up to my flight back.   I had never bought my brother anything big before.  This was big.  It had our last name on it.  Garay is not a common last name, it was a big deal to get something personalized.  Plus, he could tell people that it came all the way from New York city.  It wasn’t a happen find like those key chains with “Mike” or “Johnson” on them.  It was made especially for him.  He was nearing his teen years and I think he felt proud to have it.  He wore it in one of the few family pictures we ever took.  He wore it to school but was quickly told that it was gang related and suspended when he refused to leave it in the principal’s office.  No luck with an answer from the school explaining what specifically they believed made it gang related.

There are some places I thought I would visit but to this day have not.  I never made it to the Statue of Liberty and was conflicted about Ellis Island.  How could a place that welcomed generations of immigrants be a celebrated and honored place here?  Even the names so precious that glass cases protected the books the names were recorded on.  My place, the place that marked my father’s crossing was dark and anonymous–  the story only celebrated among close family.  I was only beginning to explore how I felt about the great differences and still unaware of how much those unexamined feelings were shaping who I was becoming.  No, I did not want to see Ellis Island and my jealousy would not allow me to visit Lady Liberty.

A tug on my hand was demanding some of the sandwich I had packed for us to eat. As we finished the dry peanut butter sandwich, we looked around for a water fountain to wash

the meal down.  There wasn’t enough money for soda and I didn’t have any dishes with caps on them to pack a drink for myself.  Donavon still drank his bottle and I was tempted to take the top off to speed the move of the peanut butter mash lodged midway down my throat.  I was in Times Square and on a crisp fall afternoon, I made my way to the Museum of Natural History.  The story of the world before man spread out before us and I quickly forgot about my thirst.  My son pressed his nose against the glass, I did too until a man from the museum told us to stop it.  Images from that day are some of the clearest of all the days I have lived so far.  We hopped up the massive concrete stairs on the way up to the entrance like rabbits.  When it was time to leave the rabbits hopped a little slower.  It was starting to get dark and time to start remembering which way the stairs leading down to the subway were.

With dinosaurs still fresh in our minds, we found our way to a huge set of rocks in Central Park.  We climbed around and I chased him.  I don’t remember much about the people we saw, just that there were so many.  There was this one man, an old man that sat so still I thought he was dead for a second.  I was 16 and anyone near 30 seemed old to me.  Imagine my horror when I crossed into old age several years ago on my own 30th birthday. The

central-park-view

older I get, the younger the next ten years sounds.  The man told me I had a beautiful family.  He said to enjoy it and then turned his head and went back to thinking.  He wasn’t really looking at me, more looking past me at something he was trying to remember or forget.  His face told me he probably sat there often and on this day, he looked to be regretting all the rushing for all the wrong reasons.  Only now able to accept the rushing had killed many a rabbit hopping day in his time as he no doubt tugged the fun out of more moments he cared to really reflect on.  There he remains seared in my memories along with the dinosaurs and smudged glass.  His words were simple but carried a weight I couldn’t understand at the time.  I was caught between two worlds and the rabbit hopping was a much needed reprieve.  I hopped longer than another girl my age would have and pretended it was to keep my son happy.

large-rocks-central-park
Central Park in New York

I came back.  I’ve left other times over the years but I always come back.  When I would hear my daughter say she was getting as far away from this dry land as soon as she could,  my heart would fall–

Question by Estela Caballero

Organized Chaos by Estela
Organized Chaos.  Art by Estela inspired by a young, stubborn girl’s travels in New York City.

only for a minute.  Then I remembered she has to.  She has to take the test and see if this place is really for her.  I want her to travel and go to places she can speak all the languages she learned.  I want all of my children to go farther and higher than I ever dared to dream.

My children know my story.  It belongs to them as well. It shaped their lives and although only one has walked the streets of New York, they each have their own rabbit hopping story with their momma.  Each year on their birthdays, as they entered their teen years, I would think how different their lives are from mine when I was that age.  At 15 I was a mother. When Vanessa turned 17 my son asked me if it was true I had two children when I was her age. I told him yes, I had two kids at the time and I also had two jobs.  These are facts.  It is neither good or bad, it is the truth.  My truth and my story.

Something pulled me back here.  The same things that propelled me away, called me to return.  This is my place.  They will find their own in time.  People that know me from those early days say I am a fighter.  I don’t dispute that.  I will fight.  The difference now is that I stopped fighting for the wrong things.

Dream big grasshoppers. Dream big, then do it.

Moon City by Estela Caballero
Moon City by Estela Caballero

Artwork by me inspired by the travels of a young and stubborn girl.