Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Manuelito, bring me my eggs! (Manuelito, trae me mis huevos!)

Growing up in rural South Texas, one always had a sense of the country. Farm animals seemed to have a constant presence and importance around the house. There were chores to take care of for everyone, including a 7-year-old boy still trying to figure out who he was and why he lived on a farm, sort of. But, it wasn't a farm. The four-room frame house was but three blocks away from Main Street on the outskirts of town. And, we didn't have pastures or pens for cattle and horses. We had what we called a "paplote" (windmill) for fresh ground water, a hen house and a place where we would fatten the pigs, but we were not living in a true farm. Yet, we didn't live in town, either.

It was in the small four-room frame house with a cement porch facing the garden on the east side of the house that I spent my formative years. While mom and dad worked and lived in the city, I would be taken care of by Nana and José Ángel Flores, the person I would call "abuelo" (grandpa), but later found out he was my great uncle. Nana was his sister and she was my grandmother, but I just called her Nana 'cause she took care of me. Nevertheless, it was clear José Ángel was the head of the household. His wife had died in 1948, about the time of my birth. So, I never knew my "abuela" (grandma), so to say. I only had Nana, who led most of her life guarding a family secret that was not revealed until my father died. My father never knew who his "real" mother was, but such is life and that is another story.

Right now, let's talk about José Ángel Flores. He was a tall, handsome man with deep blue eyes and striking white hair, as I recall. He must have been a very handsome man in his youth. He was light-complected, pero puro (but all) Mexicano, that's for sure. He had worked as a farm laborer all his life, from the fields near Goliad to the those in the South Texas brush country. His hands were calloused because of the hard work. Now in his late 70s, he had settled down, retired and would only do odd jobs to have some spending money. He didn't drink or smoke and seemed the fountain of health. His 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame look sturdy and firm and it looked as if he could still handle himself in whatever situation might arise. José Ángel was a solid person, a caballero (gentlemen), but also somewhat of a prankster, especially with the younger generation of the Flores clan.

He liked to embarrass my cousins and I by using words that had double meanings and often would make rhymes that would embarrass us. This happened to my cousin, Manuel Arredondo. He was my age and as he would be walking up to the our country home, José Ángel , 'buelo (we all called him abuelo) would shout out at the top of his lungs - "Ay viene Manuel Arredondo, fundió hediondo" (suffice it to say that hediondo means smelly and the other word is part of the human anatomy).

At about 5:30 p.m. each day he would urge me to go the hen house and say, "¡Manueito, trae me mis huevos!" (Manuelito, go get my eggs!). Nana would just burst out laughing. The double entendre could well have meant that he had lost his testicles and I had go get them for him. She would stop her laugh mid-way and then sternly rebuke her brother. " José Ángel, no digas cosas así. Vas a mal acostumbra al niño". (Jose Angel, don't phrase things that way. You're going to set a bad example for the boy).

Dutifully, I would go and get the "huevos" (eggs). I would put them in a mid-size pail which I had stuffed with hay to make sure the "huevos" did not crack. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was crack my abuelo's eggs, right?

"Cuidadito con mis huevos, Manuelito. Son my especial, (Be careful with my eggs, Manuelito. They are very special)," he would shout at me as he sat on his rocking chair on the porch enjoying the cool southeasterly breeze stemming from the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana would again rebuke him. "Ay qué hombre tan grosero, (What a rude man)," she would say, before breaking out into a loud laugh and taking a sip of the homemade lemonade which seemed a fitting break from the heat that summer day.

I hardly ever reacted to the taunting. I was used to it. It was a daily occurrence. Somehow, the cackle to the hens was soothing and I didn't mind going from nest to nest gathering the fresh "huevos" so that our family could have something to eat. When I picked up the eggs, they were still warm from the sun rays entering the hen house and, of course, from the hens roosting on them. I wondered, "Are we eating baby chickens tomorrow morning?" I would smile at the thought and continue my chore. Every day I would pick up about a dozen fresh eggs. Nana would sell some of them to our gringo neighbors the next day. She would make about 50 cents from the half-dozen eggs she would sell them. At five days a week, that's $2.50 cents she would make for us. It helped the family income. I heard the rooster crow as the evening gave way to the night and the hens started to dutifully come in to roost for the night. They looked like a little army of drunken birds making their way into the hen house, toddling to and fro as if trying to find their balance. Every now and then, one would stop to scratch the dirt and forage for a late-evening meal. Their cackling was dying down. The rooster made sure they all went in to the hen house as I exited the chicken coop and snapped the door shut behind me.

"Manuelito, ven aquí (Manuelito, come here)!" Nana told me from the rocker on her porch. "Ven a tomarte una limonada con nosotros (Come drink a lemonade with us)."

"Ay voy (I'm on the way)," I answered. "Ya recogí los huevos de mi abuelo (I already picked up my grandpa's eggs)."

Their laughter faded into the evening breeze. I picked up the ice-topped glass next to Nana's chair on the porch and sipped the ice cold lemonade. . . . . It was a good day to live in the country in South Texas.


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