Memory: My Bisa Tias and East Los

Thursday, December 17, 2020

 It was a cool afternoon in Southern California, which means it was in the upper 70's and the sun was shining brightly. Fluffy white clouds were lazily lounging in the sky, as the cool breeze rattled the backyard tchotchkes. Succulents dangled from the late-blooming jacaranda tree as I sat recalling all of the moments.

My first memories of this place, the elders sat in the fold out chairs, gathered around long 6-foot outdoor tables. They were made of metal in the 80s and my familia covered the tops of those tables with floral contact paper, then a vinyl tablecloth, adorned with doilies that presented various manteca and butter containers with varying degrees of salsa and other spicy relishes. Each of the tias would show up with large platters of their specialty comida: jalapeno poppers adorned with pickled carrots, chiles rellenos, tamales, or puffy tacos---prominently diaplayed with their own aluminum or mesh tent to ward off the moscas. And you can't forget about the fresh warm and crisp tortillas, masterfully singed around the edges, resting inside of a hand embroidered tortilla warmer, essentially a dish towel with a brightly colored blanket stitch along the border. Inside on the stove was a pot of bubbling frijoles and an even bigger pot of arroz. Earlier in the day, my two youngest bisa-tias went through each grain of rice, checking for color and inconsistencies. If it passed inspection, then it was put into the mug. If not, then it was placed in the discard bowl.

In that brightly lit kitchen, they sat across from one another at the avocado green formica table, each wearing a floral delantal with a dainty lace pocket in the shape of a heart on the right side of that cloth apron. The quiet tia carried around a golf pencil and a small notebook in that pocket. The boisterous bisa-tia talked endlessly about her novelas, her work, her marido, anything really, while the quiet bisa-tia would occasionally issue a delicate vocable and nod. Both focused in her own way at the task at hand. And once their mugs were full, they would rinse the rice, lightly saute it with oil, then add it to the already seared onion, garlic, and tomato. On low heat, it would cook until it was time to be served.

La gente would arrive and dar saludos a todos, then settle in at their respective chairs in the backyard patio under the blue shaded tarp. All of the adults had their favorite seats around the gathering table. A mish mash of both metal and folding chairs, some of the chairs at least half a century old. 

The expansive yard housed many types of trees and other vegetation. A visual and olfactory playground for a curious child. Strawberries, Lemon trees, tomatoes, as well as a variety of hierbas like laureles, tomillo, and sabia. These herbs were difficult to find as an adult because I didn't know the English words and it took some time for me to locate a Mexican market to fill my pantry. 

These things would become part of the sacred language that only emerged from others who I'd known from that time. The vocabulary dormant until I was physically placed in that area. Words I spoke as an adult, understanding the mis-pronunciation because the last time the phrases were uttered I was a small child, nestled next to the hip of my bisa-tias. I was a quiet child, conservative with my trust, but when I felt a connection, it was often difficult to wrestle me away. God Bless my tias for their patience with me and for teaching me so many things that I would later learn served to strengthen the foundation for the rest of my life. 

Oberon's Perch

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

When the pandemic first began, I was unaware of the deep connections I would make with my family. Leading up to March 2020, I was overwhelmed with our busy lives. Each day was a balancing act of work and home---volleyball, basketball, and softball, commuting to and fro for it all AND trying to remain hydrated, exercise, and be a good friend. Oberon, silently observed all of it, but his favorite is to observe the outside world. 

In March, I'd just returned from a 5-day whirlwind business trip that had me visiting Manhattan, Jersey City, and Houston before we embarked on our Spring Break road trip to Colorado. MariJul had an out of state volleyball tournament and we elected to remain a few days afterward to ski--a dream of Don's since before we were married, to ski with his children on the same mountains he enjoyed in his younger days. Because of the early days of the pandemic, we were allowed ignorance of what would come. Rigorous handwashing, aside, face masks and social distancing were not yet the norm. We completed the tournament on a high, eager to conquer the slopes and enjoy our time as a family. Unfortunately, within hours of arriving to our rented home, I fell ill: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste and smell, tummy troubles...sound familiar? During the days that would ensue, I remained in our rented home while my family went skiing. Oberon remained by my side during those blurred hours, occasionally taking a break to glance out the windows to the mountains and the big horn sheep. It was all a haze of soup, blankets, and comfort...I braved the slopes for a couple of hours, insisting that the fresh air and sun would help me, and they did! Upon returning, dutiful Oberon, curled up with me while I continued my regimen of essential oils, chicken soup, ibuprofen, breathing treatments (kiddo and I have asthma and we had the machine with us) Tylenol, and Mucinex. Tests at that time were not readily available, so we returned home and quarantined for 14 days just in case. 


Not long into working from home, I made the decision to move into my favorite room: the dining room. Every element in this room was chosen intentionally, the light is bright, not to mention the incredible memories made in this room: family dinners, birthday parties, holiday meals, tamaladas, and even a rehearsal dinner. Oberon claimed his typical position, firmly planted at my feet, especially because I have a standing desk. 

As the family fell into routine, so too, did Oberon. The girls' enjoy a mid-day break to swing or decorate the sidewalk with their art, their joyful noise background to the many meetings I take each day. My meetings begin while the home slumbers and will last until the chopping of vegetables begins for dinner. In those days when I worked in the dining room, I caught Obi staring out the window and as such, moved his bed to make him more comfortable. Since then, each day, when I commute from my bedroom to the dining room, he will do an early morning stretch in his egg (a bean bag that he's claimed as his own) and move to his perch by the front window. He checks in for his work day, supporting me from his position, carefully watching over our girls during their break and protecting the home from menacing squirrels. 

While these past nine months have been challenging in many negative ways, it has also introduced the idea of new challenges to the system that I'd been so comfortable: too harried and busy to enjoy simple moments. I've learned that my eldest daughter is not a morning person. Even in utero to her now 12.5 years of life, mornings are a struggle. But when she awakes, I marvel at the way her ideas manifest onto the screen or paper, her growing curiosity to know more about my life and the work I do. My youngest very much determined to complete all of the things, organized and insistent that her classmates focus, as well. We share stories. We online shop. They hear the power in my vulnerability at work. They witness transformational shifts, and moments of regression. They both are secure in the ability to begin again. They understand and hold steadfast to my motto: Make it Better. 

Oberon, a witness to it all, an extension of me in all of the best observer of the world.

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