Every once and a while on cold and lonely midwestern nights like tonight when it is 20 degrees out and dark by 5PM, I will drive out to Taco Bell for frijoles and memories of the Abuelitos and the food they had for me since I was a small moco growing up in Colorado. Back when the adults called me manito or pocho and back before I could understand why.
Nights like tonight in Springfield where I find myself living alone and find myself needing the comfort of frijoles and tortallitas–the smell of beans and chile–even if it is the from the neon glowing Taco Bell drive-thru and from the pimply faced kid who hands me the bag of mess in a thoughtless manner.
Nights like tonight I only go for memories.
And I’ve read Fast Food Nation and as an adult I know how fast food is unhealthy and unsustaining and empty–the pop culture equivalent of a sitcom or watered down movie of the week. And Axis of Justice explains the crime of corporate farms and how they treat folks of color who pick tomatoes. How they represent capitalism affecting our culture. I get it. Like everything on television so unreal and so phony that it all seems miles from what is holy or real. Something so far from me and the Abuelitos of my youth and home in southern Colorado–from Spruce and Routte Avenues–Stone or Evans Avenues–of my youth.
But those frijoles and corn tortallas–wherever they are made–always make me want to think of the now gone Abuelita and her care in preparation of supper–the care she put into meals and taking care of her family. It makes me think of housecoats and house slippers and aprons frayed at the seams. It makes me think of embroidered dish towels and red lipsticked lips and the pungent smell of second hand smoke–strong perfume and heavy alcohol on lips and breath. The Abuelito would be stand smoking his Marlboro Reds and the Abuelita would be washing the beans–also smoking–and preparing and soaking the beans for the meals to come. Her pot on the stove would steam and whistle as the smell of frijoles filled the kitchen.
The masa was prepared and she always placed a towel over her masa before preparing the tortillas. Always the same sun colored bowl. She methodically ripped the dough and then she spread the flower on the counter and flattened and rounded out the tortillas. With precision and care her ancient hands molding and flapping the masa into tortallitas–flattening and rolling with a wooden pin. And later after lighting the stove with a match she always flipped the cooking dough with her hands–the tips of her fingers never worrying of burns as the tips of her aged hands were tough and had endured a million meals and a million tortillas in her time. Had endured meals for her own mother’s death and meals for her father and husband before WWII and before this Abuelito in her backyard drinking and smoking. Making the skin of the freshly produced tortallita the most beautiful creation I can imagine and the closest act to God I can ever imagine.
Sometimes I sat under a bar stool as she cooked and used the foot rest as a steering wheel, driving an endless amount of 18 wheelers and race cars around the neighborhood as she cooked and placed her modest bowls and plates onto the table. Sometimes I would help her with the silverware and the glasses the best I could. The Abuelito never lifting a finger–sat back and only ate and complained and also oredered the woman around. I wore his white t-shirts and also sat and cringed as his voice rose and as the two would find reason to argue despite the sweet smells and taste of freshly prepared food.
And the rest of the meals were always fried potatoes and hominy–fideo or spanish rice–cream corn or pork and beans along with whatever meat or pork she could afford. Always sizzling and perfect in thier plates over paper towels or cheap napkins to capture the grease. But frijoles were always the center piece. Those large bags of cheap beans her sister or cousin brought her or whatever she could find at So-Lo’s Market or Chet’s or the Safeway across from the Yellow Front. She made so little mean so much. She was my mother and my eyes burned with affection.
But those beans were the staple. And I can only sadly reproduce them at the Taco Bell down the street from the apartment. I can only prepare coffee in my sad french press instead of the stove top percolator the Abuelita used. I can only sadly reproduce those memories in dialogue of nonfiction or in failed short stories. With all I have I can only sadly reproduce those sustaining memories.