I called Papá Chepe today* to wish him a happy 88th birthday. He didn’t answer. I left a hasty message in my pocha Spanish.
“Hola Papá Chepe, es Cindy. Estoy llamando para felictarlo hoy en el día de su santo. Feliz cumpleaños. Espero que usted y Mamá Toni esten bien. Ojalá que los veo… soon.”
I’d forgotten the word for soon. I still can’t remember it. Would “un ratito” work? Probably.
Fortunately, he called me back two minutes later.
We talked for a few minutes. He thanked me for calling and told me he and Mamá Toni would be leaving El Cargadero soon to have lunch in el jardín in Jerez. He was looking forward to getting a roaming band to play for him.
“¿Cuándo regresan?” I asked, already missing them after two short weeks.
“Este Domingo,” he reassured me.
“Adios,” I said and asked him to give Mamá Toni a hug and a kiss for me.
When my parents bought their home 30 years ago, the front and back yards were barren. I don’t remember that, because by the time I came around the trees, plants and grass Papá Chepe planted as soon as my parents closed escrow had grown green and lovely.
As a gardener and former farm worker, he was quite experienced when it came to working the land. In the front lawn, he planted grass, several small pine trees which divided our lawn from our neighbor’s property, sávila (aloe), bushes, flowers, maguey and the prized mulberry tree known as La Mora. In the backyard, we had cactus, an almond tree, a lemon tree, a fig tree, an avocado tree, a green apple tree, chile plants, roses, flowers, ferns, grass, several bushes, and small pines that served as an additional barrier to the busy street behind our home. Our yard was a hybrid of the typical suburban lawn with grass and flowers and the immigrant yard full of tasty “organic” fruits and vegetables.
Our garden is much smaller now. In place of the fig and lemon trees, we laid cement and expanded the house to make a private bedroom for the grandparents. The nopales are gone now, so is the almond tree (it caught tree cancer, according to Papá Chepe). The apple tree is gone now too. Que lástima.
I have plenty of memories of helping mom out in the kitchen, but 98% of those times were for some meal. She hardly ever baked. Sure, she’d make the occasional birthday cake or tackle a recipe for banana nut bread, zucchini bread or carrot cake from one of her cook books. To this day, she leaves the baking of sweets to Lori.
But one day, she did bake and Papá Chepe helped (which is rare, you know division of labor and gender roles). Noticing the ripe Granny Smith apples, she told Papá Chepe, “we should make a pie out of those apples.” He started cutting several apples and peeling them with a potato peeler**. He kept on peeling and soon my mom had a bigger pile than she knew what to do with.
I walked in to the kitchen, hungry for a snack and grabbed a few slices before she could scold me.
“Those are for the pies!”
Huh? Pies? Really?! I began to help her mix ingredients and knead the dough. Mom followed the instructions faithfully and a few hours later, the first batch of pies were ready.
As soon as they had cooled down, she sent me over to Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni in the living room where they were watching their novela or evening news.
“Les traigo pie,” I said. “Es de manzana.”
They gladly took the plates from my hand, never the type to deny something sweet. They dug in to the tender crust and gooey apples.
“Ahorita les traigo leche,” I reassured them.
I returned a minute later with a tall glass of milk for them to share.
“Comó les gusta?” I asked.
Mamá Toni just nodded her head. Papá Chepe looked up, gave me a mischievous grin and said, “¡bueno sabori!”***
*Written Tuesday July 29, 8 pm CST en route from Chicago to Los Angeles
**Special thanks to my mom who filled in some of the facts. When I retell stories about my family, I sometimes forget details and just fill them in as I think they happened. While discussing this post with my mom, she told me Papá Chepe helped peel the apples and that she’d baked plenty of pies before this, but not from our tree.
***Since I was a kid, Chepe always would indicate that he found something tasty by saying “Bueno sabori” which literally means “good flavor.” I guess he added the “ee” sound to “sabor” to amuse us kids.