That was cutting apricots. We were so young, but already we knew that life wasn’t going to be handed to us. And our grandparents taking us out to do this sealed it. As I have said before, when you are young, you don’t know what poverty is. You only know how to love and how to be loved. And even in those hands, so cut up after a long day that they looked as if they were bleeding, we saw love in them. We saw the will to make it through this valley of tears. And we saw the Cross.
It was an old beat up car, probably a Ford. It was gray, but for some reason it had purple doors. And we were embarrassed to be driven around in it. But that was ‘buelito’s car, and we had no choice. We would climb in, and it exuded the enchanting smell of sweat and dirt, a smell unknown to anyone who has not labored all day under the hot sun. Even if there was a stigma in being seen in such an old clunker, once we were inside it, we felt like we were home. That is the world that we belonged in: not knowing where we would get money for the next month to pay the bills, sharing all that we had, and sleeping five to a room: men, women, and children.
We had rabbits. How we got rabbits, I don’t know. I always thought that ‘buelito really wanted goats or chickens, like he had in Mexico, but we ended up with rabbits. He would make us go in so often and shovel their large cage out. We never really handled them (our rabbits were allergic to people), but we enjoyed looking at them and watching them eat. We would always relish how their puffy little cheeks moved as they chewed on carrots, grass, or old lettuce. And we would give them all funny names, like Galileo, Artemis, and other ones I don’t remember. (We weren’t the typical barrio kids.)
We would walk around Hollister at a young age, and our parents never worried about anything. Hey, Hollister was as quiet as a place got, and walking is good exercise for children. When we felt really naughty, we would throw rocks at cars, and then run if they actually hit one. (It’s a miracle we never got caught.) We may have not had much space at home, but we had a huge backyard of a town to play in.
So from that part of my childhood, I don’t remember sadness. I don’t remember suffering. All I remember is going down with my brother and cousin to look at the San Benito River flow in torrents after it rained. All I remember is walking with my high-school age uncle to the park to play ball. All I remember is the lunch we used to eat under the shade of apricot trees, in an orchard that is no longer there, at a time when we were less well off than we are now. And I remember. And I dream. That happiness will never return, but perhaps another will call out to it, an echo, a reply, like the eyes of the beloved looking at us through a window.
We walked home once from the orchard. Maybe ‘buelita let us leave early that day, just me and my brother and my cousin. We stopped in front of a house where they were shearing a sheep, and we laughed and laughed at the misfortune of that poor animal. The light was beginning to change the color of the hills, and the afternoon wind began to welcome the end of the day, a lone and serene pilgrim from the ocean. And He was there, and we were happy, and I still listen to that moment in my heart, like listening to the waves of the sea in a shell….