Doña Margarita

   Here’s a “Kodak moment” with me and my grandma back in 1948. Her name was Margarita Ledesma. All my life she looked the same. She never changed. I have a picture of her when she was a young lady, looks the same.  As the years rolled by and I grew up, she looked the same.

   She never spoke English. She lived here in California for over 70 years and I only heard her speak one word that was kind of English. She called those cars that were made in Japan, “Coyotas.”  Another thing she would do that made us laugh was, cover the TV with a blanket each night before going to bed.

   “I can see them. They can see me.” She said, (en español).

   Many of the old people in Oxnard addressed her as Doña Margarita.  It is a term of respect. She was never called Señora Ledesma. I asked my mama why when I was old enough to notice that. When Grandma and her family came to the U.S. around the year 1910, a lot of people that worked for them came along also. These were the people I heard calling her Doña Margarita.

   In the picture, Grandma and I are on the porch of her house in Oxnard. She lived there with my two aunts Katherine and Emily. My brother lived there as well. The house was on E Street, and so was our church.

   Grandma walked to morning Mass every day of her life until the years took that away from her, and walking became more difficult. I miss her, now that I am thinking about her.

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El Centro

   Here I am. In the background I can see the front of our house in El Centro, California, in the Imperial Valley. It is just a couple of miles from the Mexico/U.S. border.  It was a small town back then, a crossroad somewhere between Yuma and San Diego, and Mexico and any place north.  It was and still is a little bit more than that as well.

   Imperial Valley is one of the richest agricultural regions in the country.  It is irrigated through a complex system of canals and water ways from the Colorado River, turning what used to be desert lands into farm lands.

   The canal and the Canal District is what brought my father here. He worked many years there and he also worked as a sales rep on both side of the border. The Mexico side of the valley shared the same irrigation system and when I was young cotton was grown successfully on both sides.

   Back to the photo, that is my “Mommie Nellie” carrying me. My mom was in the hospital battling TB.  Uncle Max is next to her. Max and Nellie Chavez were my Godparents. Nellie’s real name was Manuela and I don’t know how the name Manuela got changed to be Nellie. You can also see half a face of my cousin Max.  He was also called Boy, like my brother, because he was one. Or, maybe they were both juniors and juniors were called Boy back then.  However, that does not explain my other cousin called Junie, because he was a junior also.  I digress, then there is my sister Chris who also seems happy to see me.

  

   My oldest sister is named Christina, after my mother. My father called her Xochtle. He said that was Aztec for flower. That name got transformed into Satch most of my life, but now she goes by Chris.  Here she is, taking care of me as usual.  There was a steep cliff right behind us and she was holding me still so I wouldn’t turn around and jump.

   She was twelve years older than me and she took care of me in place of my mother throughout most of my life. My dad took this picture as we drove from El Centro over the mountains to San Diego. 

   Maria Teresa is my other older sister. She is next to me in age, six years older.  She was our father’s favorite child and I could not see why since she was always telling on me. We got along in between those times for the most part. She even let me play with her paper dolls.

   Here we are at Balboa Park in San Diego. I was seven at this time. Teresa and I did a lot of things together like this through the years, including tagging along on some of her first dates.  

It is hard to tell in this next picture, but Teresa and I are at our Grandma’s house in Oxnard. I can tell because we are outside, we are on the grass. Our house in El Centro kind of had grass, but the giant red ants would have been eating us up.

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The Game

 “Joe! Come and eat!”

   The tile floor in the bathroom felt cold against his bare feet.

   “I am coming!” He shouted back angrily. He was drying himself quickly in the steamy bathroom. Everything, even the towel was damp or dripping from the condensation.

   “Joseph Edward!” His mother shouted again. She was not going to let her son leave the house until he had his dinner.

   Joe glanced at his watch, a graduation gift he got after finishing the eighth grade. He had fifteen minutes to spare. Tonight was the first football game of the season, and he was not going to be late.

   “I am coming!” He shouted back again. His voice echoed off the tile walls. He forced his damp legs into his steamy jeans. They clung to his skin; he had to massage them up his legs like casing on a sausage. It was the same problem when he tried to get his shirt on. The sleeves stuck to his arms, so he chose the quick solution, and rolled them up past his elbow.

   “Damn!” He muttered to himself, he found an extra button at the bottom.                                                                                                                                                                                     

   “It’s getting cold!” His mother called back to him. This time her tone of voice carried the threat: be there now for you were not going. Joe knew it was more than a threat. It was a promise, a statement of fact. He ran into the kitchen barefoot and took a seat at the table. His shoes could wait. His dinner could not.

   He found his father and older sister finishing their meal. His plate was ready for him. It was a steamy combination of rice, beans, and beef, his favorite, but then everything was his favorite. He grabbed a tortilla and began to scoop up a piece of meat. Stealing a glance at the clock above the stove, he felt relieved to find he still had fifteen minutes.

   “Use your fork.” His father warned. “The caveman ate with their fingers, but we are civilized.”

   Joe grabbed his fork at once before his father could start his lecture on culture, manners, dignity, and manhood.

   “You comb yourself before you go.” His mother looked scornfully at his still dripping hair. And you be a gentleman out there and don’t get into trouble.” She was at the stove talking to Joe over her shoulder.” You stay away from the pachucos and the marijuanos and those other people.” That really meant, stay away from anyone she did not know.

   “Don’t eat so fast! You sound like a pig!” Joe’s sister scolded.

   “Great!” Joe told himself. He would get in trouble if he said it out loud.

“All that’s left is for the dog to start in on me.”

   “Mom! Can you hear him? He’s making disgusting noises!” Joe was trying to act hungry, but that first mouthful of food stuck in his throat. It felt like chewing on a dry ball of cotton. He shoved another morsel into his mouth and pretended to enjoy every molecule.

   “Patience.” He told himself, glancing from father to mother to sister. He was waiting for that magical moment when his father and sister excused themselves and left table. That left the final obstacle, his mother. He was waiting for her to start opening the refrigerator to put things away. He waited, slowly and deliberately swallowing, forcing each mouthful down his throat. Then the moment happened. He leaned towards the garbage pail and emptied his plate, then dashed out of the kitchen in one quick and graceful move.

   Seven minutes to go. He checked his watch again. He had plenty of time to finish dressing so he combed his fingers through his hair. Good enough, he thought, then walked toward the door.

   “Did you brush your teeth?” The voice of his mother came at him.

   How did she know where I was?

   “You go back and put on your sweater. You don’t want to catch a cold.” Joe remembered the taste of castor oil and his mother’s other cure all treatment, the enema bottle.

   “I’m never going to get out of here.” He muttered as he went back for this sweater. He draped it over his shoulders and tied the arms below his chin. He moved toward the door again, this time more slowly. He reached his arm out. No problem. His hand touched the doorknob. Still no problem. He turned the handle. No problem. He opened the door, ready to leave at last. He breathed in the late summer air.

   “You are not going to kiss your mama goodbye?” She sounded hurt and abandoned.

   Joe finally stepped out into the air and breathed in the sense of freedom. It hit him like a shot of adrenaline. He walked quickly around the corner and walked two more houses down to where Bill lived.

   Bill’s mother opened the door. “Come in, Joseph.” She smiled. Joe tried to smile back but all he could think about was her transparent skin and the purple veins on her forehead that clearly stood out. She was tall and slender and white. She was wearing a white nurse’s uniform, white stockings and shoes. Even her hair was white.

   “Sit down.” She said brightly. Bill’s mother was the only person he knew what spoke to him as a grown-up, but it did not feel right. “Billy will be out in just a moment.”

   Joe sat down politely, locking his knees together and holding his hands in his lap. It was like waiting in a dentist office, he thought. Bill’s mother sat down across from him and looked at him and smiled. Joe heard himself swallowing. It did not seem right for an adult to be smiling at him. Something must be wrong; he was starting to suspect something. Bill can’t go. He listened with interest to the motor of the refrigerator and tried not to make stomach noises.

   What does our refrigerator sound like?

   He could hear Bill in the bathroom brushing his teeth, gargling and spitting. Now the toilet was flushing. It seemed so loud.

   I wonder if the neighbors could hear him taking a dump.

   He heard the bathroom door open and Bill walked casually out and strolled to his room.

   Wow! Bill has a real bathrobe all his own!

   “Bye Mom!” Was all Bill said when he was finally ready. They were out the door and into the street. There was no emotional outburst. He was expecting a dramatic exit like the one he went through.

   “Strange!” Joe observed.

   The air outside the house was warm and motionless. It made the town outside his skin seem quieter than he had expected. He was excited to be finally underway, happy to be doing something with his friend. When his older brother and his sister’s went out, they looked so grown-up.

   It’s my turn.

   “We got to hurry.” Bill said.” Jim is going to meet us behind the P & X Market.”

   “When did this plan start?” He did not like that feeling of being left out. Bill and Jim often did things on their own. It made sense sometimes because Joe had to be home from school by 3:30 each day. It was one of his mother’s rules. One among many rules he did not like. He could go out and play again once he got home, but first he had to check in.

   They walked quickly now and Joe became hypnotized by the steady rhythmic pounding of their heels.

   It’s supposed to be the end of summer.  Yet he saw that the summer leaves still clung to the trees. Only a few of them were turning brown around the edges.

   “Did you see the old beams that were in the old Annex building?” Bill asked.

   Home was starting to feel far behind now. Joe’s mother and sister must be doing the dishes by now. His father was probably in the garden working before the dark forced him inside.

   By now I would have been watching some dumb old TV show.

   “Yeah! It’s a real clear from my science class. They make a lot of noise tearing down that old building.”

   Three blocks later they found that Jim had grown tired of waiting. They found him breaking bottles against the wall behind the liquor store. Jim’s people were from the Philippines. His family was Catholic so it was okay to be friends with him.

   Here enters another of my mama’s rules. She wants me to hang out with my own kind.

   That was always a problem for him. His grandparents were from Mexico. Both his mother and father were born and raised in the US. They were both Spanish-speaking and considered themselves to be Mexican.

   “What am I? I don’t speak Spanish. Who are my kind?”

   It was dark by the time they arrived at school. The closer Joe got, the more excitement he felt. Low riders and customized cars roared loudly down the streets. Grownups and students of all ages were walking hurriedly to the gates.

   I am out with the big guys. Then he realized that he was only with Bill and Jim, freshman like himself.

   They walked into the bright glow of the Stadium. Joe could not see it completely yet, but between the sounds of roaring engines and tires squealing in the street, he could hear and even feel the throbbing drums of the marching band. He felt his stomach twist and he tried to force the others to walk a little faster. The drums were sounding louder as they got closer.

   “We get in free, don’t we?” He asked. “We’re wearing white shirts and our spirit ribbons.” He saw some people paying for their tickets and other walking right through that gate.

   “Come on.” Bill said. He acted embarrassed that a companion of his should ask such a silly question. They walked through the entry gate easily. Joe felt certain someone was going to pull him aside and make him buy a ticket, or worse, send them back home.

   The drums thundered loudly. “Beat Buchser!” The cheerleaders were bouncing and dancing, and urging the fans to chant louder. Joe followed his friends through the milling spectators. Everything seemed to be in sharper focus under the bright stadium lights, sharper than he had ever noticed before.

   Bill led the way past the sections for the seniors, juniors, and sophomores, and found a place to sit in the freshman section.

   “Hey Joe.” Bill said. “We’ll be right back. We’re just going down there.” He pointed to the snack stands to the side of the playing field. He wanted to go down with them, but he felt uninvited. He did begin to feel relieved when he saw another familiar face from school sitting nearby. Most of his friends from middle school went to Buchser High which was located closer to the town of Sunnyvale where the old orchards were being bulldozed to make room for housing.

   It was almost time for the kickoff and the game to begin. Joe looked around the bleachers. He felt a sense of relief when he saw that almost all of the spectators were wearing white shirts and spirit ribbons.

   “One . . . Two . . . three . . . Six.  Give Buchser the eighty-six!”

   That felt like a real dumb thing to say. He told himself. He looked around cautiously. He could see and hear the cheerleaders saying that silly phrase and he could see everyone around them repeating it and loudly. It was fun. He could see that in the faces all around him. It was okay for him to be saying these silly things also.

   “Go Cougars! Go!” The girls were trying to get the crowds to clap along with them. Joe felt less awkward doing that the more he noticed everyone else following the girls lead.

   He moved his attention to the girls and their short skirts and brightly colored uniforms.

   “Their parents let them jump around and show so much leg?” He realized he was asking and irrelevant question.

   “I wish I could be out there.” His eyes drifted to the last of the warm-up routines both teams were going through on the field. Both sides moved together, grunted together. They’re shiny helmets seem to sparkle in the stadium lights.

   “Join the football team?! Are you crazy?” His mother said in complete horror. “Do you want to break your neck? Not in a million years will that happen!”

   They seemed so close.

   “If only.” Joe had to settle for disappointment.

   “Ladies and gentlemen!”  The announcer spoke slowly. His voice echoed. “Let’s give a hearty welcome to last season’s Valley Champion varsity football team! The Santa Clara Cougars of 1961!”

   “Everybody stood up shouting.” Maybe it will be all right if I joined in too. The drums were banging. The Song Girls and Cheer Leaders were bouncing. Everyone was on their feet, clapping as the team ran through the goal posts. Their jerseys were purple and helmets were gold and seemed to sparkle in the bright stadium lights. Fireworks exploded overhead. Both teams then lined themselves and respectfully faced the flag.

   “Please remain standing for our National Anthem.” Joe put his hand over his heart and felt proud to be an American. The spotlight brightened the flag. It hung limply in the warm night air. Smoke from the fireworks wafted over her. The band played solemnly and it ended with the crashing of drums, cymbals, and applause. Both teams then rushed off the field and set up for the kickoff.

   The starting gun went off. It was halftime. Already. Tie score, 12 to 12.

   “Hey Bill did you see Martin . . .” Joe’s question was never finished. It was interrupted by two empty spaces next to him. He looked around. No. By now there were plenty of familiar faces but no Jim and Bill.

   Where could they be? He looked down toward the concession stand. They’re e not there either. They’re in the boys’ room. Good idea. He walked down to the restrooms, took care of himself.  Nope. They’re not in there. Where could they be? Then, he remembered, they never came back. They were gone the whole first half of the game.

   He returned to his place in the bleachers and sat, and stared at the back of Lester Gomez’s head. The marching band was in the middle of its routine. The night air had become cooler. Daniel and Claudia were staring into each other’s eyes and holding hands. He became embarrassed and looked away.

   Everybody laughed at me for weeks when Bill spread the rumour that Mary Jane Becker had a crush on me.

   I didn’t know that George liked Paula.

   The band was returning to the bleachers.

   Bill got caught copying my math test. He told Mr. Silva that he paid me five dollars to let him. I had to do a week of detention for that.

   The Cheerleaders lined up at the goal post to once again welcome the team back for the second half.

   He sent for those dirty magazines and used my name and address. I’m still being punished for that.

   Everyone stood up as the teams came back to the field.

   I’ll take the back way home, down Monroe Street. That way I’ll be sure not to run into those guys.

   Resentment ran down his throat like scalding water and he fought back the tears that were forming in his eyes.

   Joe remained seated. He will did not watch the flight of the ball as the second half kickoff got the game underway. He wanted to enjoy the game, at first, but now he sat passively and waited for it to end.

   Santa Clara won. It looked like a promising year for the defending champions.

   Big deal. He made an imaginary square with his fingers and pretended to deal some cards. He hated himself for feeling abandoned.

   What did I do? He followed the throng and jostled slowly toward the exit. The drums of the marching band were still banging. Cars outside the stadium will were revving their engines, and honking their horns. One sound caught his ear. He looked around.

   What was that?

   “Joe! Down here!”

   The exit is getting closer. He pushed himself through the crowd toward the gate.

   “Hey Joe.” Mike Powell, a friend he knew from junior high, nudged him. “Bill and Jim are calling you. Down on the track.”

   He could not stop himself. He turned and looked. Bill and Jim were waving up at him. They were beckoning him to come down. He looked, and watched them wave at him. He exhaled a long deep breath, then started back down toward the track. They seem to be in a hurry as he bumped his way down the steps.

   “Let’s go!” Bill shouted as soon as he got close to them. The three of them began to run. They dodged through and around the slow walking groups and individuals. They ran across the playing field into the boys’ gym, then out the other side. Then they crossed the street through the shadowy campus buildings. Their crashing feet echoed off the canyon of brick between the two decaying classroom buildings. They ran for three more blocks, until they reached the city library. There they stopped to catch their breath among the shadow of the trees that circled the old library building.

   “What are we running for?” Joe asked between gulps of air.

   “Don’t be a moron.” Bill answered.

   Joe looked at Bill. He tried to understand how he had asked a moronic question. He thought of another question but decided not to ask it. Instead he decided to get up from the cool grass. Just beyond the circle of trees he saw the blue and red glow of the neon sign. He could see it clearly beyond the shadows of the trees. He had never been inside the Santa Clara Bowling Alley before but he knew that there must be a telephone booth and there.

   “I’m going to call my parents to come pick me up.” He said as he started walking away. Bill signalled with his head Jim. They jumped up and caught up with him.

   “Hey come on.” Bill pleaded. “We were just kidding. We just like running.”

   Joe stared at the red and blue sign. He read the smaller sign by the door.  “Telephone inside.” it said. He shut his eyes and breathed out all the air in his lungs.

   “Let’s go.” He said, listening to the sound of the bowling balls rolling down the alleys and the crashing of the pins. He looked back at the swinging doors, and with deep regret started walking again.

   “Hey! Do you remember Sergio?” Bill asked. They reached Main Street, then turned and walked past the darkened store windows.

   “Yeah.” Joe answered without interest. He breathed out again. He just wanted to be home.

   “He was at the game. He’s even bigger now.” Bill related other former classmates they saw last in junior high. Joe listened, or at least he kept quiet. He felt relieved to have now reached the end of the downtown area.

   Next we could cut through Fremont School. Then we would be halfway home. He kept his thoughts to himself, and listened.

   He listened to the sound of their footsteps, to the striking of their heels. He listened to the sound of footsteps approaching from behind.

   “Frank and Joey V. were over there. Remember them? They were always trying to beat the crap out of us.”

   Bill’s sentences were interrupted when he too heard sounds from behind. They turned and saw four silhouettes turn the corner.

   “Run Joe!” Bill was already in a full sprint. Jim was not far behind.

   “Let’s get out of here!” Jim was running as fast as he could.

   “Not me.” Joe said. “I have had enough of your games.”  He turned his head to look back. He saw a flash of light. Then he heard the sound of himself collapsing to the ground. He heard the sound of himself being kicked. He heard the shouts and running feet fade into silence. He felt himself spinning into darkness.

Wet.     Wet.    Fizz.    Water.     Cold.     Dark.

   The lawn sprinkler fizzed gently, sending a mushroom shaped spray to the lawn. Joe slowly became aware of the sound of it. He noticed that his eyes were closed and cautiously opened one. He saw glistening pieces of a Coke bottle scattered inches from his face. He focused his vision beyond that and studied the sprinkler and its pattern of spray.

   “Ah yes.”

   He began to notice that he was getting wet.

   “Wonder what time it is.” He checked his watch. The crystal was shattered. “I guess it really can’t take a licking.” He remembered the television commercial that had a watch like his strapped to a propeller.

   He looked beyond the water spray and saw a porch light. He recognized the house. It was by the post office, a block from downtown.

   “I know where I am. Yellow. Yeah.” The concept of color came back to him. “The house is yellow. I’m on Katherine Street.” He raised his hand to his forehead and upon contact he felt exploding ribbons of pain.

Wet.      Wet.      Fizz.      Spinning.       Twisting.      Twirling.

Rotating.       Nausea.      Bill.       Run.       Home.

   “No!” Joe shouted. He rolled to his stomach and slowly pushed himself up to his knees. He could get no higher. His dizziness gained control, and he flopped back into the drenched lawn.

   “Home.” He lifted his head and felt himself spinning wildly.

   “Home.” This time he tried to move a little slower.

   “Tree.” He guided himself deliberately to an old shade tree across the sidewalk. He crawled to the trunk, careful not to make any sudden moves and stopped when he could smell the bark. It was the smell of wet wood. He inhaled deeply the scent of the tree and realized he was still in the spray of the sprinkler.

   He made himself shift his weight and slowly moved his left hand toward the tree. His face was inches from the trunk but his hand seemed to take forever to get to the bark. Finally, he shifted his weight again and slowly guided his other hand to the tree.

   “Yes.” He felt both hands support him and moved his left hand higher, then his right.

   Now. My leg. If I could move it, I could stand. An urging gathered in his stomach then rose into his chest. It went higher and higher until his dinner exploded from his throat.

Tree.      Home.     Dizzy.     Wet.        Home.     Dizzy.     Wet.

   Tree. He woke up and discovered that he was stretched across the sidewalk.

    I got to climb up again.

   His teeth felt rough. He tried to spit out the acid taste of vomit him in his mouth. Carefully, he climbed up to the trunk until he was in a standing position.

   Hey Lord. Thank you for this tree.

   He leaned against the rough bark and estimated the distance to the next tree.

   Too far. Too far.  He gently pushed himself away from the tree and stood on his own. His first step landed flat footed, he could not control his ankle or his feet.

   Slower.

   The shock of that step stirred up flurries of dizziness and nausea. He tried a second step. This time he was careful not to step so hard.

   “Better.” The next tree seemed such a great distance away. He took a third step, slowly. He moved one cautious step after another, being careful to keep his balance until he reached the next tree. He leaned against it and looked back to the place where he had fallen.

   What happened? It came back to him. Bill and Jim ran away. They should have warned me. They should have told me that some guys were after them.

   He remembered the flash of light and the Coke bottle hitting him above the eye and sound of his body as he was being beaten all over.

   He did not remember when but he noticed that he was seeing out of one eye only. He then noticed the taste of blood in his mouth and that his ribs hurt when he tried to take a breath.

   Go through the orchard. Lots of trees to lean on there.

   His left leg was not moving the way they expected. The monastery.

   I can lean against the monastery wall until I get to Wilson. Wilson was the junior high he attended. Then I can walk along the fence and get to the orchard.

   Now he had a plan and it was time to take another step. Gently, he moved his leg forward and shifted his weight. The next tree seemed impossibly far away.

   I’m never going to be able to go out again after this.

   Joe woke up to find the spinning inside him and slowed considerably. The ringing tone in his ear was almost gone. He felt relieved to no longer see flashing spots of light. He listened to the sounds of his mother doing the housework. He smelled the cleanness of the air outside his window. He wanted to be under the blue sky and fluffy clouds drifting by.

   The next day Joe took the city bus to school. His leg and knee were not ready for a long walk. He sat in the back, embarrassed to show his blackened eye and swollen lower lip. He nodded to his friends and smiled but he was sure all the way to the school bus stop they were sneaking glances at him.

   He stepped off the bus.

   “Hey Joe!” Bill’s voice rang out. He had to turn his body to see Bill standing with a group of friends. “Why didn’t you run? You stupid asshole! We told you to run.”

   Joe stood still and watched their laughter. Bill must have told them the story and failed to tell them the part about him running away and leaving him alone.

   “Why didn’t you help me when you saw me go down?” He tried to say it loudly but he could not draw enough air into his lungs.

   “Are you crazy?” Bill shouted out.” Those guys almost caught up with us. You shouldn’t of been so dumb.” Bill crossed his eyes and pretended to be crashing to the ground.

   He won. Everyone there was laughing, everyone but Joe. He turned slowly and limped up the stairs and into the hallway. He entered his first period classroom and sat in silence until the teacher started the lesson. That image of Bill and Jim, Mike and Tom, and those others remained in his eyes. All of those out there laughing, their chests heaving in hilarity. He saw the flash of the bottle flying toward his head. He saw his friends again. Then he made the connection, and that was the last time he said anything to any of them again.

(San Jose, California 1968)

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Uncle Joe Takes a Hike

I have been stuck at home ever since this madness began. I am a senior citizen now, and a type II diabetic. I broke a toe in January, and I was just starting to get over it when the pandemic began. It is now the middle of June and I feel the need to get out and go for a walk.

I am not ready to leave the house, so I came up with this plan to take my daily walks. You see below a picture I took of my work bench. This is where I’m going to begin my walk. I have my earbuds and an audiobook to keep me company. I have a pedometer to tell me how far I’ve gone. I have a watch that I have set for twenty minutes.

I turned left and I am at my Arbor. I made it out of scraps of metal and I welded it together back on my workbench.

Behind my Arbor, I started growing tomatoes in this raised box. Some years are better than others for growing tomatoes.

Next to my raised box is an avocado tree. This one is about the size of an olive. This variety is called Hass, so I named this tree Jack.

Moving past my avocado tree is a giant bird of paradise. It is over 12 feet high now and I love the wonder of it.

Next to the bird of paradise I have blackberries growing. I have been picking these as they ripen. Those stickers are sharp and painful but worth the effort.

These are raspberries. They are growing right next to the blackberries. Maybe next week they will be ready to pick.

I have a another avocado tree. I believe it is a Zavala variety.

I am looking forward to eating my fill of avocados later this year.

I turned the corner and I’m going to walk down to the opposite corner of my yard.

Along the way I have some apples growing. They will be ready in August.

I have another raised box next to the Apple tree. I have tomatoes growing along with honeydew melons.

A few feet away are these peaches. Right now they are about the size of golf balls.

Strange thing though, on the same tree, these plums are also growing.

I turn left at the pomegranate tree. It has a generous amount of flowers this year.

I turned left at the pomegranate tree. Those are bottle brush on the right and a Meyer lemon on the left.

There are still quite small but they will be ready to pick This autumn.

I take a turn at the lemon tree, walked past the smoker and through the covered patio.

Now I am back where I began. I started out walking for twenty minutes. The pedometer says I have walked a mile and 1/2 in that time. Next week I’ll be walking the circuit for twenty-five minutes. For most of my adult life I have walked for exercise. Sometimes it was for fun. Other times I didn’t have the bus fare.

Now just feels good to be moving around. Maybe I’ll venture outside our house when the number of cases start to decrease. My wife cannot walk and she depends on me. I need to be healthy for the both of us.

I pray you find your own way to deal with this crisis. Restaurants and other businesses are starting to open. Right now it seems to soon for us to go out. Take care all of you. Make sure you survive. It might not seem like it, but the Great One Who Created Us All is watching over us.

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Prologue of the Fairies

   They are here, right now. They are among us, and all about us, the fairies. They hear our thoughts and the beatings of our hearts. And in our deepest sleep they dance inside our dreams and dust our days with a glimpse of hope.  

   Sometimes we can even catch sight of them, from the corner of our eyes. We can spot them dancing off the reflection of a mirror or of something shiny like a store front window, or upon gazing into the quiet waters. And we sometimes we mistake them for a dragonfly as they follow their destinies.  

   We can actually hear them. Sometimes, when we are outside and the wind is rustling the leaves, we think we hear our name being called. It is they, but these callings are not meant for us. They are summoning their fellow beings when we hear the wind whisper, or in the gurgles of the waters of the rivers and streams, or in the splash of an ocean wave.  

   Sometimes, on very special occasions, they can show themselves to us mortals, in a dream or in a half-sleep, in a moment of excitement.  

That rarely happens . . . 

Thus begins the second volume of Nena the Fairy. Coming soon.

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At the Blue Onion

   Everyone was gone, just Cousin Boy and I were in the house.  He was baby sitting me again, although I was starting to think I was getting too old now to need a baby sitter.  I was eight years old now.  In the Third grade. I could take care of myself.  I could even cook me a hot dog if I was hungry.

   The house seemed quiet with everyone gone.  Not even the dog was barking.  I was getting bored  though listening to the old house creak and snap to mysterious wooden pressures. I was stiitng in tje living room, being quiet like I was told.  And I was getting bored listening to the wall clock loudly tick.

   I was getting bored listening to the slow drip of the kitchen faucet.  It made an irritating hollow noise as it dripped directly down the drain and and went “poink” in the gooseneck. I could hear it from all the way in the kitchen, now that everybody was gone.

   I had been staring at the dust dancing in the rays of light streaming through the living room window.  There was nothing to do and no one to play with.  Boy was  all grown up now.  He did not play any more.  He even had a job.  He was a painter at the Port Hueneme Navy Base, Home of the SeeBees.

   “Hey Joe! Let’s go for a ride.  I’ll buy you an ice cream.”  Cousin Boy said.   He smelled funny.  I knew he put something in his hair, and it kind of smelled like flowers.

   Boy said to magic words, “Let’s go.”  And “Ice cream.” I wasn’t going to say no.  And I didn’t.

   Boy’s car was a wonder.  I wanted to get one just like it, a ’51 Ford Coupe. It was a high powered showcase, a mobile record of his many nights of driving home late at night from the Silver Dollar Saloon.  It was only three blocks away, but both front fenders were smashed in.  Boy rolled the car over one time into the creek across the street. It still smelled like dirty creek water.

   Another time Boy rolled the car had rolled over at the beach so the roof was smashed in and then hammered out.  The driver side of the car had gaping gash from front to back, like someone had cut it open with a giant can opener.

   I loved that car thouqh, it had a big engine and it went real fast. The engine roared as boy sped us down the four miles of road into Oxnard.  Cousin Boy never drove slow.  It was a great feeling to feel the wind against my face.  I looked up in admiration as Boy sat low and jammed the gas pedal down with a mischievous grin on his face.

   “I wish I could be like him.” I said to myself, watching the toothpick dangle from his lip.

   The tires squealed as Boy sped into a downtown alley and skidded to a stop at the back of the Blue Onion.  It was a drive-in hamburger joint.  Well, actually it was the only one in town, and it had a wonderful appetizing smell of garbage and burned grease.  A cute girl with short shorts scampered out quickly.

   “Hi.” She said to me in a friendly way as she stuck her face into my window.  She wore bright lipstick and had on lots of make up.  I noticed that because my sisters and cousins were not allowed to do that.  She leaned into the window to talk to me.  I could not stop myself from noticing her blouse and how healthy that pretty young girl was.

   “You must be Joe.”  She said to me sweetly.  She had a wonderful smell of perfume and hamburger grease.

   How did she know my name?  I wondered. Cousin Boy got out of the car and walked with the girl around the side of the building.

   Where are they going?  I wondered, still seated in the car.

   Another pretty girl soon distracted my wondering thoughts by bringing me a huge syrupy cone of soft ice cream dipped in chocolate, my favorite.  I soon forgot about Boy and the girl and the Blue Onion.  I was too busy licking and slurping.

   Without warning, the door slammed open and Boy had jumped back in.  “Got your ice cream hub?”  He noticed me happily licking away.  “I’m getting my desert tonight.”  He said.  That was O.K. with me.  It didn’t much matter when his got his desert, but I never liked to wait for ice cream.

   Boy made the tires squeal as he backed out into the alley.  He sped away so quickly that my face slammed into my ice cream cone.

   Boy looked down at my sticky brown and white face and let out a nasty giggle as he lurched into the street and sped away toward home.

   I had nothing but my shirt tail to clean myself off. Boy let out another irritating giggle as he watched me try to clean myself.

   He timed it just right.  As I readied myself for another lick and slurp he slammed the brakes.  My face again slammed into what was left of the cone.  Boy giggled and laughed.  He changed  gears and slammed the gas pedal down. Once more I slammed the cone into my face.

   We got home.  Boy was giggling all the way back.  My aunt took a long slow look at me.  Ice cream and chocolate were all over my face.  Her eyes looked down to my shirt which was mostly streaked with brown.  My elbows to my hands were a sticky mess.  I looked up to her angry face.  There was no point in telling her that Boy did it. He was not the one eating the ice cream.

   “How can you be such a little pig I”  She pretended to cry.  “You’re too old to be making messes like this!  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?  Now you are going to have to get cleaned up all over again!”

   Boy stood by and giggled but I could not explain how I got ice cream all over me from head to knees.  I had to take another bath, twice in the same day.

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What Thou Fearest the Most

Dear reader: I am working on a story. It is about a boy, a fairy, Columbus, my ancestry. I am trying to work it all out. Take a look.

  “Hello?” She whispered softly. “Is somebody about?”

   “SSSSSSSSS.” The sound came near her. Two black eyes came into view. They were large eyes, eyes as big as her entire body.

   “Who art thou? What art thou?” The voiced whispered. Nena looked now and saw a large set of vicious, needle sharp teeth.  She looked down and saw the entire length of the creature. She now was able to see a huge snakelike body. It was wrapped around the trunk of a huge mahogany tree like a vine. Nena could hear the tree moaning from the weight of it.  A large black forked tongue wiggled in front of her, sensing Nena’s essence.

   “Who sent thee?” The voice was quiet yet cautious, threatening with menace.

   “Ooh!” Nena said. She looked down and saw that the entire body of the snake creature was covered not with scales but with feathers. The feathers sparkled and flashed in the light and reflected all the colors of the rainbow.

   “Ooh!” Nena said. “You are beautiful! Who are you?”  She asked, not at all frightened by the size and menace of the snake beast.

   “I have many names.” He hissed. “I am What Thou Fearest the Most.”

   Nena looked into his eyes and saw only pure complete blackness.

   “Fear me not.” What Thou Fearest the Most said. “Thou art in no peril from me. Thou hast innocence and sweetness, and purity. I will call you Xotchil, Little Flower. Why does thee follow that pestilence below?”

   “Huh?” Nena asked. She looked down at Ledesma and Carlitos walking, stopping, and then moving along. “Pesti . . .?”

   “They are wee ones in size but they bring with them hatred and sorrows, a plague of bitter tears, an infection of miseries, destruction, deep eternal regrets, ruination. They bring an end to the age of the Sun.”

   Nena saw him tighten its grip around the tree until it snapped in two.

   “But, he’s just a wee lad. And the man, he has a kind heart, much like the boy.”

   “They come from the Sea Beyond the Morning Sun. There be the homeland of the Garden of Evil. I have set free the elements and the furies against them. Take heed Little Flower. They will not set foot on my land. They are not welcome. Their blood will flow! Rivers of it! And I will drink of it!”

   The feathered serpent let slip its grip and the huge tree snapped and crashed its way through the forest canopy on its way to the ground. The beast started to disappear in her presence, but the last thing that Nena saw were the eyes looking down at her. The fire of hatred burned in those eyes, and she could still see them long after they disappeared. She heard the flapping of great wings, and then the presence was gone.

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The Land of Nod

      Where is the way?

      Where can I find me rest?

      Where is the sea waters calm?  

      Where be the gentle spring?

      Where be the soothing rays of sun?

      There I will find me rest and I will

      seek no more beyond the garden walls.

       (from the Travels of Kraus Australis)

 

From the Saga of Nena the Fairy

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Sunset

Did you know?

Did you really know?

That the last time

That you saw me

was the last time you saw me?

 

Did you know that

The last thing I saw

was your tail lights

glowing red through the dust cloud

in the shadows of the trees?

 

I can still hear

the gravel crunching

the gravel crunching

as they drove you away.

 

Did you know that

all I wanted was

one single

one single

one single last goodbye?

 

It was in the rainfall

where I looked at you

where I looked at you in the eyes

I saw the sins of the First Ones

I saw the sins of the First Ones

Did you know that?

did you know that

did you know that

the last sunset that you witnessed

would be the last sunset that you witnessed?

 

Did you know that I waited

in the twilight

for that last single goodbye?

Did the night sounds

bring the voices?

Bring the voices of the night sounds?

 

Did the night sounds

sing you into the Sleepy?

did you see me

waiting here while you slept?

Did you call me?

did you say my name in the darkness?

Did you say my name in the dark?

Did you know that I wanted

to see your face glow

in the light of the fire?

in the glow of the moonlight?

Under the canopy of starlight?

Did you know

soon there will be no more weeping?

There will be no night sounds?

There will be no need for sleeping?

There will be no shadows?

Did you know that?

Did you know that?

 

When you held me

the world was a safer place

you let go to soon

I had no anchor

I walked among the scattered

I walked among the children

afraid to say hello

 

I was waiting for my number

for my letter

that never came

I was waiting

it never should have happened

that solemn moment

never should have happened

did you know that?

 

In the dust clouds

and in the dark skies

those fruitless moments

never should have happened

never should have happened

where are you now?

Where were you delivered?

Do you know?

Do you know?

Chris

Christina Najera Spraker 1935 to 2020

 

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Thinking About Judy

Judy was a match made in heaven. She was thirteen years old and I was twenty.

I got a job in the summer of 1968 as a camp counselor for the City of San Jose. It was the first year for the San Jose Family Camp. At the time it seemed like a good idea, and I guess it was because the camp is still active. It is off Highway 120, just past the city Groveland. Further south of there is Yosemite National Park. East of there, and higher up the mountain is Hetch Hetchy Dam. The city of Berkeley had their own family Camp up there.

It was not exactly a rugged adventure to stay there. It offered housekeeping tents. The tents were not on the ground, they were on wooden platforms with a wooden frame to hold the tent up. They had cots to sleep on. Restrooms were nearby, shower included. Meals were provided. There was a wide variety of activities offered such as fishing, evening campfires, arts and crafts. Yosemite Valley was a relatively short drive away and definitely worth the trip.

My job there was to work in the kitchen. I operated the huge dishwashing machine that they used there. Sometimes for no apparent reason I would crawl through that dishwashing machine, I probably did that just because I could. Maybe I was just a show off.

After my duties were finished I would go by the pool and climb up on the lifeguard chair and listen to the music of the water flowing. It was quite relaxing, especially after sundown.

During her stay there Judy used to come up and hang out with me. She must have thought I was a hero but I was nothing of the sort. I was just a shy twenty-year-old college student.

She was small and she looked very much like a thirteen-year-old girl. I could tell she was smitten. I guess I enjoyed them the fact that somebody was attracted to me. Now let’s be clear, it was one of my duties to be sociable, so I was. What I wasn’t was stupid and I had no interest in liking her back the way that she liked me.

When September came around, and even that very week she was there I knew I’d never see her again. I lived in San Jose that was near the hills that rose on the west side of the valley. I used to walk up to a place where I could look down to the valley below. It was a good place to think and maybe write down a poem or two. And that is what I did when I was thinking about Judy.

 

                 Judy

 

I sit upon a Saratoga hill in the perfumed summer night

among the calming melodies of the crickets and the toads.

I sit upon a severed trunk of some old once fruitful tree,

and look upon the grids of streetlamps and porch lights

that stretch across the valley.

 

That must be Judy’s house.

She must be home now.

I should’ve called her.

She wanted me to.

I never will.

I should have.

 

Dear Judy, here’s the truth that has no words.

It is shadowed behind my lip locked tongue.

Here’s the sorrow of my cowardice,

kept hidden in my pride.

Dear Judy, how totally beautiful it would’ve been if what you wanted to do and what I wanted to do,

were

one and the same!

 

Saratoga, California 1969

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