A picture worth a biography (or four)

cabello-kids-being-themselvesI found this photo the other day of my brothers and me, plus a couple of our cousins, during one of our visits to South Texas from the Midwest. Vintage 1975 in every way.

We were in my grandma’s kitchen, where pretty much where all socializing took place.

Times haven’t really changed much, have they?

Only a handful of years later, we would move there, and I would spend a lot more time in that kitchen watching Chespirito, Sábado Gigante or whatever telenovela was blaring from Grandma’s TV.

The funny thing is, this snapshot perfectly captures our personalities.

My oldest brother, Noe (Spanish for “Noah”) is in back, holding our younger cousin. Noe has always been the quiet, loving caregiver and nurturer, taking his love for babies and kids from our dad.

In front, from left to right: My brother Edgar, looking sly (as usual), is eyeing whatever Eddy is about to bite into.

And me, in my Ernie-and-Bert shirt, well, I’m posing for – I don’t know, another camera? My only explanation I have is that one of my aunts used to call me “Miss America,” and I was probably working hard to live up to her prediction. (The closest I ever got was Barbie-doll boot camp at Pan Am. We know how that went.)

Behind me is our other little cousin, about 2 years younger than her brother Noe is carrying. I suspect she’s standing on the oversized, bell-bottomed pants Noe is undoubtedly wearing. Which can only mean one thing: platform shoes.

On the blessings of tomatillos

Little green, stony fruit with a soft underbelly…but only after a little fire.

I can’t put my finger on it, but tomatillos have always scared the heck out of me in the culinary sense. Last summer, we got a garden full of them, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Imagine that – a Mexican who didn’t know what do with tomatillos. Embarrassing but true.

That was before spending a week with my mom. She makes cooking good food look so easy.

For that visit, I took about a dozen tomatillos with me so she could use them to make enchiladas, salsa or whatever.

With only a couple of days left in my visit, while we ate dinner one evening, she left them on a griddle to soften and brown. I kept one eye on my dinner plate while watching them suspiciously with the other.

I mean, how the heck could something that came out of the ground nearly as hard as a rock produce that beautiful, tangy flavor I loved so much?

And then they came off the grill. Hot, kind of smoky and now translucent and soft – definitely transformed.

“Dump those in here, mija.” In they went to the blender — those and a few little red tomatoes.

Ok, we’d already eaten dinner, so no one was hungry enough to taste this stuff, right? Wrong. I could taste salsa verde any time of day or night and never be too full to perform the taste test.

So I did. OHMYGAWD.

Basically, nature and garlic salt had performed a miracle. And it’s just like French cooking – the simplest ingredients make the most delicious food, or at least they make most food delicious.

roasting tomatillos on a skillet

Miracles happen to these little green suckers when they’re placed under intense heat.

Lesson learned
But those stinking tomatillos taught me a lesson I don’t think I really was ready for: That I’d been so hardened lately in my heart from recent hurts and failures, that nothing short of a hot fire could soften me. Nothing short of a season of deep personal challenge had the ability to show me what really is, let alone what could be.

I was so far gone – kind of wasted, really, emotionally and spiritually speaking.

I’ve been taught since I was little to cast my cares on God, because he cares for me. The last few months, I honestly lost sight of that. To the point, at times, of not believing it anymore.

But a few things – I’ll call them gifts – that have been instruments in winning me over: my husband, my mom and brothers and extended family. And tomatillos.

No kidding. Who knew a little green fruit with a soft, squishy underbelly could point me to my True North?

What’s on your bucket list?

whats-on-your-bucket-listSo I’m curious: What’s on your bucket list?

A couple of years ago, I decided I’d make up for lost time and rekindle my love for music. I played piano and violin growing up and, conveniently for me, when we moved to South Texas from the Midwest, I “forgot” to enroll in orchestra classes.

Amidst the confusion and transition of the move, my mom probably forgot about it. And then she didn’t. But by then it was a year or two too late, and I only played on occasion at church or for other gatherings.

Ever since I started playing violin in the 4th grade, all I really wanted was to play the cello. Trouble was, it was a lot bigger than I was, and I had a mile to walk to school, each way. So there went that.

I’ve grown a couple of inches taller since then, and I’m feeling pretty good about returning to playing a stringed instrument again. Only this time, it’s going to be a lot bigger.

Grandmas & girl power

Wasn’t planning on writing about this today but I do want to be intentional about sharing the “big things” I learn through researching my family’s history. I mean, if we don’t learn about our future by remembering our past, then why spend all this time looking at dead people?

One thing that has jumped out in the last few days is the suffrage and increased liberation of women during the period of time I’ve been researching – late 19th to early 20th centuries.

From my paternal grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, her ability to capitalize on new technology to create a business and her marriage choice (as well as my maternal grandmother’s), I’m learning that both of my grandmas took the opportunity to express important life choices under great pressure.

It turns out both of them had been committed to men for marriage before they actually married my grandfathers. Same story, different family: both ended up marrying for love – and eloping.

Love this one: One of my grandmas was given the choice between a piano – you know, something big to win over her heart – if she chose not to marry my grandfather, an illiterate ranch hand (whose father had been shot while playing music in a nightclub) for whom she had immense compassion and, eventually, love.

Last I heard, my grandfather wasn’t made up of a big, wooden box and 88 black and white keys.

Dots

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 9.33.48 PM

From the game Two Dots, Level 42, where I continue to suck.

Ever played Two Dots? I’ve never seen two dots that could mess me up so good.

So here I am, at Level 42 (pun definitely intended), where I plan to hang out awhile. Mostly because I can’t connect enough dots to get any farther. I think this is where my usual ability to think and plan ahead comes to a grinding halt.

For years, that’s just how I have felt about connecting my family’s “dots,” too. Until this weekend. 

For 20+ years – all I knew was that my great-grandfather’s birth family wasn’t his birth family at all.

In the last week, I’ve found the dots he connected to originally and then those he connected to later, leaving me to investigate when and why he changed families. I have theories, of course. But I’d rather have dots – the connected kind.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of talking with my aunt, my dad’s youngest sister. She set me straight on who said what and the origins of my blog’s name.

She also put me in a better position to locate records about their father – not that far back in our ancestry, of course. But between that and my other recent findings, I can actually start connecting dots that have sat unattached for far too long. Much better than Level 42.

What Poor Mexican Gone really means

Weekends are for fact-checking. In fact, I’m thinking of using them to write more about my family’s history, since I have more time on weekends to do research.

I’m more fascinated every day by how the world, as it evolved, was a macro image of things happening in my own family and in the fast-changing Mexican and Mexican-American cultures.

For now, I got one fact wrong – an important one. And I love the correction!

Today I learned that the “poor mexican gone” saying didn’t come from my my mom’s mom, although she was known for making up some pretty funny ones.

It turns out this phrasing came from my paternal grandfather – my dad’s dad.

So what started as this:

Cuando hitty con un cartucho
No come back
Cuando de repente pún
Poor Mexican gone

Actually meant this:

When you pull the trigger [on the gun],
The bullet doesn’t come back
When it hits the Mexican,
He doesn’t come back [either]

I love that, as facts come together with more clarity, the surprises keep coming, rearranging the pieces of this puzzle.

As with many things in life, sometimes it’s just not as important to see what it all looks like in the end, when the journey alone has so much to teach us. I’m grateful for the rich lessons along the way.

(A) Weed by any other name…

I’ve noticed our cat, Fritz, getting into more fights lately.

We thought at first it was because we’d rebuilt a fence backing up to our alley, which he doesn’t climb well but neighbors’ cats can get over with relative ease. Maybe that makes him a little cranky and he kicks into protector mode.

kitty-weed

Witness the happy side of kitty weed, and the pudgy underbelly of my cat, Fritz.

We often forget, however, the volume of wild (?) catnip growing in and around our yard – even in the winter. We call it kitty weed. I think the feline guests know that’s what it is, too.

Maybe the last homeowners planted it to get some four-legged traffic in the yard.

But what they may not have intended was causing trouble in the neighborhood.

After the latest bout between Fritzy and an uninvited guest this evening and a little snooping into where that noisy, howling battle took place, it occurred to me his visitors may be coming for companionship, but more likely for the kitty weed.

True story: This is now the second cat we have that has gotten hooked on weed. We accidentally detoxed our last cat – a story for another post, perhaps.