The Sweetness of Summer

Warm rays of sun embrace the teasing shore

Sand sifts against the curves my heart adores

Waves tease and tumble playing in the breeze

Deep Skies adorn the sea of tinsel green

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Photo by Maria Cristina Malo

Ice cream dissolves amid the Sunkist rays

Sweet mango slices paint the gloom away

Sandia smiles seduce parched tongues astray

My lips I bite into its luscious day

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The citrus wind whispers sweet melodies

Hips sway like fanning palm trees sensually

Clouds rest their pink amid the sun at dusk

Dark Chocolate night drizzles the mint light crust

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Photo by Maria Cristina Malo

Bikes race among the thrills of hide-and-seek

Spontaneous trees taunt children to go peek

Sail ships racing with dolphins taunting seals

Kites twirl and glide like dancers high with zeal

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Photo by Maria Cristina Malo

Gold-lit Star rays beseech the rain be still

So blades of grass the warmth of light will feel

The song of life blooms in each fragrant rose

Inspiring souls to dance in rhythmic prose

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Photo by Maria Cristina Malo

It’s time to do your heart-felt true desires

Let vibrancy and joy explode like fire

For summer is a time to dream and fly

To dance away the nights beneath the sky

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In The Mood

I was about 5 years old the day I jumped into my great uncle Miguel’s white Nissan truck on a brief road trip from the city of Puebla to the quintessential town of Tlaxcala – stems from the Nahuatl word “Tlaxcallan” which means place of corn or maize tortillas.  As we traversed through the temperate forests of pine, fir, evergreen oak and junipers, the breeze of the mountain highlands dominated my senses.  The peppermint freshness softly stung my cheeks and my nose, while the warmth of the sun soothingly kissed my forehead.  Notes of my uncle’s Old Spice and cigarette smoke interrupted the antiseptic, pungent scent of the forest, evoking a feeling of comfort and refuge.  I distinctly remember being mesmerized by my uncle’s interaction with the gear-shift as we glided along the winding road, up and down emerald hills.

Glen Miller’s, “In the Mood” suddenly began to play and the road enticed that white Nissan truck into a rhythmic ballroom dance with each camber feeling like a twirl and each hill like a swing.  The shape of the road magically synchronized with the beat of the trumpets, piano and saxophone as if that song had been especially composed for that road trip.  The music impressed deeply into my feet and I became part of the dance.

I turned to my uncle and said, “I really like this song.”  He nodded his head and responded, “me too,” while he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, joining me in the dance.

One of my fondest childhood memories.  On this day I felt like the most special girl in the world.  Whenever I doubted my potential or my ability to do something great in life, I would often recall this moment.  Thank you Tio Miguel.

(Spanish translation)

Tenia alrededor de 5 anos el dia que me subí en la camioneta Nissan blanca de mi Tío Miguel en un breve viaje de la ciudad de Puebla hacia la pintoresca ciudad de Tlaxcala – de la lengua Náhuatle “Tlaxcallan” que significa lugar de tortillas de maíz.  Mientras atravesábamos por el templado paisaje forestal lleno de pinos, robles,  y juníperos, la brisa de las montanas y tierras altas dominaba mis sentidos.  La frescura del aire sabor a menta suavemente picaba mis mejillas y nariz, mientras que el calor del sol dulcemente besaba mi frente.  Rastros del olor de Old Spice y el humo del cigarro de mi tío interrumpían el olor antiséptico  del bosque, evocando un sentir de refugio y confort en mi.  Recuerdo distinguidamente sentirme fascinada con la interacción entre mi tío y la palanca de velocidades mientras nos deslizábamos  por la carretera y sus curvas, subiendo y bajando entre las cumbres de esmeraldas.

De repente la canción “In the Mood” de la gran orquesta de Glen Miller empezó a tocar en la radio, y la carretera atrajo aquella camioneta blanca a un baile rítmico en el cual las curvas se sentían como piruetas y las colinas como swing.  La configuración de la carretera mágicamente se sincronizaba con el compás de las trompetas, el piano, y el saxofon como si esa canción hubiese sido compuesta para ese viaje.   La música se grabo en lo mas profundo de mis pies y me convertí en parte de la música.

Voltee hacia mi tío y le dije, “Me gusta mucho esta canción.”  Meneo su cabeza en acuerdo y me respondió, “a mi también,” mientras  pulsaba sus dedos en el volante acompañándome en el baile.

Tío, este es un recuerdo que guardo con mucho cariño.  En este dia me sentí la niña mas especial del mundo.  Cuando dudaba de mi potencial o de mi habilidad de hacer algo con mi vida, a menudo se me venia este recuerdo a la mente.  Gracias.

Driving Was To Her What Flying Is To A Hummingbird

In one of her journal entries, Carmen wondered why our Tita had always been obsessed with getting her a car.  She describes that Grandma would always say to her, “Te voy a dar dinerito para que te compres un carro,” and then she’d wink and smile with that mischievous smile she’d often give.

Tita Carmen, or Abue, never drove.  When she was young she attempted to learn how to drive with a Jeep, but crashed under the anxiety that her second husband’s stern and rigid coaching caused her.  He had no patience for the process or for life.  She never picked up the keys to a car again.  She spent the rest of her life waiting for transportation – whether it was the trolley, the bus, or a ride.

She was such a free spirit, an explorer and adventurer at heart.  Her spirit was too wild to be contained, and that was evident in her decisions to leave both of her husbands, even when she didn’t have a penny to her name.

Tita Carmen never saw her lack of driving as an obstacle, however.  She knew every bus line, every trolley stop, and every transfer point.  We didn’t always have money to spend, but growing up, my grandmother and I would get on public transportation and discover places we had never seen before.  Sometimes going somewhere would take hours, but we’d both peer out the window the whole time – I imagine that seeing new things was as exciting for her as it was for me. It was also a way to daydream and escape some of the more difficult and painful experiences in our lives.

When we lived in San Ysidro, we would take the trolley to Seaport Village every Sunday.  We would pack a lunch and spend the whole day there.  Seaport Village always hosted a band at the Kiosk located at the Eastern side of the village.  There were always the regulars, mostly older folks swing’n and groov’n to the quintessential and nostalgic Americana music.  My grandmother having had a long and drawn out challenge with chronic hip pain and deterioration of movement watched with joy as the couples showcased their jitter-bugs, square dances, and two-steps across the floor.  She’d sometimes reminisce about her dancing adventures with Rumba, Cha-Cha-Cha, and Danzon.  She’d describe her sequenced Casablanca evening gowns, her wedged platform shoes with rhinestone ankle straps, her black fur stole held together with a crystal brooch, and her pin-up hair.   This era of her life would be a far cry from the 14 years of back-breaking work she endured in the agricultural fields of California.

She had her first hip replacement in 1984.   Summer was in full swing, and there was going to be a free Latin music festival at the Embarcadero, not too far from Seaport Village.  We had little money, but we were always looking for new opportunities for excitement and a slice of happiness in our lives.  No matter how adverse the circumstances were around us, I always saw in my Tita an incredible desire to take in life at its best.  She loved celebrations and the opportunity for a new experience.  She wore a leg brace that span her whole leg, but that did not stop her.  The day of the festival she took the 13-mile trek on the trolley to the Embarcadero, and had, what at that moment felt like, the best time of her life.

She loved Vegas, and though she didn’t drive, she always found a tour bus to travel with.  She had spent her entire life caring for others, including helping to raise my four brothers and I.  Once I graduated from high school, she found the space and freedom to be able to explore life a little more on her own.  Before I’d know it, she was packing her clothes announcing she’d be leaving to Las Vegas the next morning, and would leave us instructions on what time to pick her up from the bus depot.  Somehow she managed to never be confined.  The last few years of her life she couldn’t do spare-of-the-moment trips to Vegas anymore, but she still managed to take the trolley and  shuttle buses to Viejas, Barona, or Rincon Casino.  After she passed, I found 7 different player’s cards for the nearby casinos in several of her purses.

Though public transportation never inhibited my grandmother and I from traveling adventures, once I was able to drive, there was no stopping us.  My daughter Carmen, Tita, and I were always on the go – from road trips to camping, to local adventures.  I remember Driving to Vegas several times a years.  My daughter says most of her childhood theme park memories all trace back to Las Vegas, though I did take her to Disneyland once or twice, I’m sure of it.  My grandmother’s sister and mother, my great-grandmother Tita-Chocolate, would often visit from Puebla, Mexico, and the road trips to Las Vegas became more adventurous.  Ay Dios Mio, did my Tita Carmen and Tia Mary love to gamble.  They always had their little superstitious rituals.  Tita Carmen always carried a small golden Buddha with a plump belly in her purse.  She would explain that if you rubbed its belly, it would bring you good fortune in your finances.  And of course she hated for anyone to talk to her when she was at the verge of a winning streak on a slot machine; she and Tia Mary believed their good fortune would be chased away.  They also believed that when one’s hand itched, it was a good omen for coming into money.

On one specific occasion I remember driving to Las Vegas with Tita Chocolate, Tita Carmen, and Carmen.  Ha!  That was a torturous adventure.  A-hundred-and-ten-degree weather, two stubborn viejitas who thought they could walk the strip, and a four-year-old who wanted to get on every ride she saw.

I specifically remember driving home from Vegas.  My stereo wasn’t working, and they slept most of the way back.  Aside from my grandmother’s snoring, you could hear a pin drop.  Sunburned, dehydrated, and a little hung-over from cafecito, sugar, and slot machines, they all slept dreaming of the neon signs and flashing lights we had left behind.

At some point life slowed our adventures down.  I started to share my time with David, my teaching career, and personal interests.  For a while Carmen became my grandmother’s partner in crime on the bus and trolley.  The bus drivers loved Tita Carmen.  She always carried chocolates in her purse, even though she was diabetic.  She said they were for her friends, the bus drivers.  She’d always have a little treat for them, and was always so grateful, especially because they would take the time to help her up the stairs with her walker. Sometimes when she’d be in the car with me, she’d wave at them while they were en route, and with genuine smiles, they waved back at her.

At some point though, my grandmother got older, so traveling on public transportation was more difficult for her.  She became more dependent on others for rides.   I imagine this sense of dependency is what fueled her obsession to get Carmen a car.

Jelly Sandwiches

Is what we looked forward to eating for dinner, if lucky, with a glass of milk.  I’d keep excited vigilance standing on the freeway overpass for my uncle’s arrival with the gallon of milk. Like a child who awaits the melodic tune of the ice-cream truck.  Sassafrass street would be his exit. Tita always scrambled enough change for a loaf of white bread.  She kept the jelly in the fridge – so clean and spacious like the refrigerators on display at one of those electronic stores.  So much room we could-of fit 100 jars of jelly!

On the days we had milk, our next-door neighbor would lend us six cups – plastic.  We’d sit around the kitchen floor – jelly sandwiches in our left hands and cup of milk to the right – imitating some kind of place-setting structure.  The sound through the window of cars heading to some unknown destination and the sound of the airplanes arriving from some unknown destination made me feel joyous and excited.  These sounds implicated possibilities; unexplored realities.

I hated predictability like I hated jelly sandwiches.  Sometimes our neighbor got lucky and had leftovers that she shared with us. Those days felt like the sounds of the cars and the airplanes.  Her home smelled of beans, corn tortillas, meat, chiles, and cilantro.  Her kitchen was filled with cooking artifacts: pots, a blender, utensils, spices, cookie jars, and food.  I imagined my grandmother in her kitchen.  At night I’d peek through a crack in the neighbor’s blinds and gaze at the soft pink velvety Louis XVI sofas with doilies placed on the back rest; curtains, heavy and plush with golden fringes, draped behind; pictures detailing important achievements and mile stones; and plastic runners to shield the soft suede-like carpet.  For a moment I’d pretend I was staring into my home.  I thought if I believed it enough, the emptiness of my house would disappear.

We’d always look forward to the weekends.  We’d put on our best clothes and walk to Seaport Village, pretending to be tourists.  I’d imagine we’d just disembarked from one of the spectacular cruise ships and were here to explore San Diego for the very first time.  My brothers would skip along or do some risky thing like walk on the edge of the sea wall taunting the seagulls and the boats that patiently waited for their own adventure.  I’d stop and read the menus that flirted with the passer-by’s palette, and enticed mouth-watering enthusiasm for the specials of the day: coconut-crusted tilapia, Teriyaki mesquite grilled shrimp with creamy pineapple dip, and pacific mahi-mahi charbroiled over hot mesquite coals served with a side of herb yogurt with a hint of sweet and spicy chipotle.

Once I’d made the careful selection, I’d pretend to call the restaurant and make reservations for six, calculating precisely how long it would take us to make our way through Seaport Village.  The chatter and laughter made me feel happy.  I felt normal.  The cruise ship, like the airplanes and the cars on the freeway had a mystical destination, another adventurous stop where someone like me awaited.  At the end of that summer, we were evicted from our house.  A full size mattress, a stack of blankets and a few bags of clothes served as reminders of how little we owned.  The weekend walks and my grandmother’s love served as a reminder of how much I had.