In the corner of a tiny kitchen is a hole drilled into the wall; a small marble has worked its way in. A four-year old child sits in the corner of that kitchen; slowly, patiently with his index finger he works at that marble that will not be extricated. But it is the mind of that child that is quietly formulating one of life’s troubling concepts. Nearby, mother methodically kneads and wedges the masa for tortillas being freshly heated on a hot skillet.
The child in terror begins to cry, and it is no wonder, for Tata has died. Tata, the name of fellowship Ramon had grown to know as his consciousness grew into cognitive awareness of his life’s first friend. The old man, a neighbor, and the child had their solitude in common; the wonder of life’s beginning adjacent to the mystery of life’s end. But together their brotherhood erased all pain of loneliness until this day.
The child cries out – “Mama! Mama! Mama!” With huge tears running down his face.
“Si, mijo…….que pasa, mi hijo- what is the matter my son!”
The child sorrowfully sobs -
“Yo no quiero morir…..I wish not to die, Mama!”
The child in panic tightly embraced by his mother, is made a promise to console him.
Ramon’s mother is beautifully animated with her loving voice and tight embrace.
“Mijo, no llores mi hijo (do not cry my son) – God promises you a long life with much to do. You will live a long life and grow to be a very old man; and only a long time from now, will you simply close your eyes and sleep in the arms of Almighty God.”
There is no reason for Ramon to disbelieve mother’s words, so the sobbing and the tears slowly abate, it is 1952, and the fourth year of his life.
Three years have passed. Ramon is with his father, Salvador. They have arrived an hour early for Mama to finish her work at San Fernando’s lemon packing-house.
The roof of a tall rustic cement gray building, that is the Sunkist Orange and Lemon Packing House, sequesters beams where hundreds of pigeons make their homes. The curdling coo sounds from each Pigeon Hen and Cock mixed with the clapping wings of their fledglings, fill each afternoon.
Ramon and his Father are waiting for Juanita to finish her work for the day.
Ramon loves to explore the enormous cold building with vaulted ceilings giving way to skylights naturally lighting the many conveyer belts through out the work area.
There are the echoing sounds of flapping wings, and everywhere the aroma of oranges and lemons permeate the air.
Ramon’s Papa turns the corner, and Ramon promptly draws attention to a nest fallen from the rafters.
“Papa! Look, a nest has fallen.”
“Si, Mijo -
Ramon looks with wonder –
”They will now need to be hand fed, Mijo.”
“Papa, how are we going to put them back, way up there?
We are not, my son.
We must now care for them, otherwise they will die.”
“Why Papa, is it because their mama won’t come back?”
“No my son, the mama bird may not find its nest.”
“How will we feed them Papa?”
“I will show you my son.”
Juanita, greeted with the surprise of seven hungry mouths joins Salvador and her young son for the ride home. One look from Mama and Salvador knows there will be a discussion tonight.
They arrive home. Mama immediately prepares dinner. The modest home is permeated with the aroma of Juanita’s cooking of frijoles, chile rellenos, and yes – freshly made tortillas.
Salvador visits his sister across the street.
“Antonia, the boy and I came across a fallen nest of squabs. Do you remember how Papa, you and I would raise pigeons during the Depression?”
“Yes Sal, I remember. But, how are you going to feed them, Sal?”
“Tonight we’ll use some of our bread, moistened for hand feeding.”
Toni opens the door to one of her kitchen cupboards placing her hand in a cookie jar chipped with years of use. She carefully reaches in and pulls out 2 silver dollar coins.
“Here Sal, take this, and go over to Zamora’s feed store. You can pay me back later. It will be good for the boy.
Papa, now has bought a specially prepared ground corn meal. He mixes it with water and proceeds to teach Ramon how to feed the babies.
“Mira Mijo (look my son), this is how it’s done. Papa shows Ramon how to palpate the squab’s gullet.
Dinner completed, the dishes washed, Mama prepares to discuss this matter with her husband while quietly sitting with her knitting. She then gently brakes the silence.
“Salvador, about the hatchlings, you and I work so hard. Every week our paychecks buy groceries for the week, fill the car with gas, save for our house payment and then we pray that we don’t have extra expenses beyond the 50 cents left between us. How in the world are we going to be able to afford to feed these babies, when we can barely feed ourselves?”
“You are right Juanita.
Mama quietly listens.
“There is a field of orange trees being removed for a school being built. I can remove the trees, make fire wood and what I don’t sell can be used for the catering of weddings. Also there is a field of olive trees that need harvesting and………..”
“My husband, it sounds to me we will be caring for more than 7 hatchlings.”
Juanita pauses as she continues with her knitting.
Salvador continues with his justification.
“Well, it would not hurt to have some chickens, fresh eggs you know, and rabbits…..”
“Rabbits! What is this about rabbits!”
“It will be good for the boy, Juanita.”
“Ay, si, si my husband, it will be good for the boy, and yes, I will help with the harvesting of the olives too.”
“God be with us my husband.”
Ray Duarte, RN, a nephrology specialist and researcher, has published in medical journals and lectured at national medical conferences. One of his articles was referenced in the New England Journal of Medicine. After publishing thirty abstracts and nine manuscripts in his field, he has changed his focus from technical to creative writing. His story “Forever Smile” was published in the New York Times best selling series, Chicken Soup for the Soul – Love Stories (February 2008). He is the research expert at www.babyboomertalkradio.com. Enjoy getting to know Ray better by listening to Radio Interview link at http://www.rayduarte.com/ And please consider reading Ray’s contributing story to Arlene Uslander’s and Brenda Warneka’s newly published book “The Mystery of Fate: Common Coincidence or Divine Intervention?” There are 53 great true stories of real people who celebrate LIFE from all around the world! http://www.thefatesite.com/index.htm