“Aya los espero en el tren!.” That’s what ‘Buelita would say to us when she started to get tired in downtown Brownsville while we watched the Charro Days parade. The train she spoke about was the black train those of us who are from Brownsville remember . . . the train that greeted everyone heading into Brownsville from “El Puente”, the bridge joining us to Matamoros across el Rio Grande . . . the train that sat near Jacob Brown Auditorium and a couple of blocks from the Friendship Gardens . . . the train that was painted red, white and blue when America celebrated it’s Bicentennial . . . the train all of us climbed up into and pretended to engineer to places near and far . . . it was the train that signaled every parade float, every marching band, every Mason Shriner on his mini motorcycle dressed up like clowns, every Charro, every ROTC squad that the parade had come ended and arrived at it’s final destination . . . it was the train where my ‘Buelita sat and rested, and where she waited for me . . . it was the train I ran to searching for my grandmother for a hug and a kiss. Meeting up with her there signaled our walk over to the Friendship Gardens. The Friendship Gardens was the place where the Charro Days carnival would set up way before it was moved to the fields south of Amigoland Mall, when there was a mall there and before that carnival was moved somewhere else. It was a beautiful, round “center” or hall for dances, balls, galas, Boy Scout Jamborees and many other events in need of a large space for people to congregate and spend time together. Friendship Gardens was THE place for my high school’s Presentation Ball that took place in February, it was a formal event and an event where high school “personalities” were introduced to attendees, followed by a dance where we danced to live music played by bands with the names like “SHOTGUN” and we danced to AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd or Led Zeppelin in tuxedoes and gowns . . . but the magic of the Friendship Gardens happened at night during Charro Days. To walk the grounds of the carnival along the resacas next to the Friendship Gardens was to walk in bright lights reflecting on the water, while the towering Ferris wheel moved slowly over the pony rides, the Matterhorn ride, the freak side shows, and roller coasters, as the scents of cotton candy, corn dogs, pony poop and popcorn filled the air. The sounds of carnival barkers, loud music, children screaming, parents yelling, young people laughing are as loud in my memory today as the days I walked the carnival with ‘Buelita, my tia Chacha and ‘Buelito so many years ago.
Today, all these memories come back like a flood in a chubasco . . . con fuerza.
Today, calendars are being cleared and arrangements being made for a trek south to Brownsville for the Annual Charro Days and Sombrero Festival, plans are being made to visit my hometown, the town full of memories, of childhood friends, the town that draws sweet emotions still tied trains, carnivals, parades, gardens, the Rio Grande and ‘Buelita.