Autumn 1966 : Kindergarten, Bennet Elementary, Detroit, Michigan.
Asthma and I were best buds since the day I was born. This is not an exaggeration, just a fact. Winter to Spring brought allergies, but left the bitter cold behind. Spring to Summer brought intense heat that hung on my body and pressed, like a weight, on my chest. Summer to Fall was a blessing because the heat let up and the cooler mornings gave me the chance to wear my favorite red sweater with a silver snap over the pocket. But it was the Fall to Winter transition that was always the hardest on me. It was like my lungs were squeezing air out of me rather than into me. Breathing was an exhausting struggle and some days my wheezing was so bad that we’d have to drive to Allen Park and see my pediatrician, Dr. Jones, for a steroid shot that would open my lungs, get that air flowing and wipe me out physically!
It was on these tough Autumn asthma days where Mom would scramble to find a babysitter, so last-minute that it was next-to-impossible . Mom reluctantly picked up the phone and dialed one last number: Grandpa Garcia . From my bottom bunk, I could hear mom in the kitchen explaining the situation:
“Hey Dad . Ruben’s sick again and Rosemary’s not answering her phone .Dora Belle’s on a ride-along with Russell and his rig all this week and Granny Barnes’ bunions are killing her, she can’t walk. Can Ruben sit with you today? He’s quiet. Give him his cough syrup and he’ll probably sleep most of the day. It’s just his asthma.” Mom put the receiver down and began layering me up with a sweater, a hideous yellow dickey that looks like someone knitted a sweater but forgot to make the sleeves and the body, a scarf and a heavy jacket. And it was only late October.
Standing on the porch, holding mom’s right hand, the front door at 4449 Grindley Park swings open and Grandpa Joe’s big, bright smile finds me . I smile too. His arms hold me and I remember feeling his scratchy cheeks, his grey and black stubble gently piercing my face. Grandpa’s house was quiet except for the radio. Grandpa was singing, “Cucurrucucu Paloma” along with Lola Beltran on Detroit’s WJLB radio. It was funny hearing Grandpa sing this song with Lola, a famous Mexican singer. I was use to hearing my Grandma sing it all by herself, usually while she was cooking enchiladas, the smell of onions and mole sauce in the air. This time it was Grandpa mimicking the white dove. “Cucurrucucu,” they called, Lola and Grandpa, his arms motioning up toward the sky and winking at me sitting at the formica table.
Asthma wears you out, man. It takes all your strength to just do the basic in-and-out of daily breaths. I fell asleep on the floral print couch and felt a soft tap on my shoulder. Grandpa whispered, “Ruben, are you hungry?”
I was always hungry as a kid. Everyone in my family knew my love of food , all kinds of food. Flour tortillas with butter. Stuffed cabbage and dill pickle soup. Enchiladas with extra mole. Doughnuts from Mr. Donut , Sanders’ dunkers, and cinnamon rolls from Qwikee Donuts in downtown Detroit. Of course I was hungry!
From my warm spot on the couch, I nodded, “Yes,” to Grandpa’s question and wondered what he had planned for lunch. I heard a bunch of noise from the kitchen: the freezer door opening and the oven door opening, too. And then I saw Grandpa’s eyes go wide when he opened a box and began placing, one by one, little half-moon shaped things on a cookie sheet.
I got up off the couch, rubbed my eyes and walked over to the kitchen.
“Grandpa, what are you making?”
Grandpa Joe looked up at me: “Taquitos, corazon!” ( Little tacos, my love).
Just hearing Grandpa’s voice say: “Taquitos, corazon” felt like a summons, a call to me, just like the paloma cooing, “Cucurrucucu,” in hopes of finding his lost love.
Grandpa and I finished lining up all the taquitos in four long rows of deliciousness.
Grandpa pushed the tray gently into the oven and put the timer on. Helping Grandpa in the kitchen wore me out and Grandpa could tell. He took my hand and walked me over to the couch and tucked me back into my spot with my pillow and blanket.
“Da me un pico, Grandpa,” I said , closing my eyes and waiting. “Give me a kiss, Grandpa,” I said.
Grandpa kissed my cheek and patted my head.
I fell asleep to the smell of little tacos, Taquitos, cooking in the oven with Grandpa nearby, waiting.
I lifted my head without opening my eyes:
“Grandpa, don’t forget to wake me up when the the tacos are done.”
I fell asleep hearing :
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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