Many folks I share my memories with are astounded at how far back I can remem- ber events in my life. But I can. I remember the Sunday drives to El Rancho where ‘Buelito, ‘Buelita and my tia Cha Cha lived, across from Tio Romeo y Tia Es- peranza and my cousins, Jr., AB, Beatrice, Celeste, Ester y Sulema, who lived near Chavela in one direction and Cuca y Rafaelito in the other direction, and down the road were the Esparzas . . . El Rancho was really El Calaboz, Texas, a small little rural community that, to this day, still sits between La Paloma and El Ranchito, that sit between San Benito and Brownsville along Military Highway that runs adjacent to the Rio Grande River and “El Bordo”. This was where my Mom was born and raised. On many Sundays she would load my brother and me up to make the 12 mile drive out for a family visit. I actually remember those drives even before my broth- er was born which puts me under 3 years of age. Mom drove an old, metallic blue Chevy Impala and would put me in a car seat in the back seat. From there I could see the houses we passed along the way, the fields filled with south Texas crops like “Bombo” or okra, sorghum and corn.
I could smell cab- bage and the putrid odor of pesticides dropping from the low flying crop dusters mixed with the whiffs of manure-based fertilizer. I remember looking toward El Bordo and catching glimpses of Border Patrol agents, driv- ing their trucks, on patrol as we drove by them. Once at ‘Buelitas, the visit could consist of eating some frijoles y tortillas de masa off the hot comal, playing in ‘Buelitos garage, listening to Cha Cha blaze in and out of the house as she com- plained about the backbreak- ing farmwork she often took up to make a few dollars here and there, playing with my primos and hanging out on ‘Buelitos porch or hammock while he sang La Cucaracha to me. As I grew older, my Mom would like to remind me of those drives back to Browns- ville from the Rancho. She liked to tell me that after we spent an afternoon visiting, she would place me back in the car seat for the short drive home. She tells of a short period during which I got a little “unruly” and what that consisted off. She described how she would always try and dress me nice and pre- sentable. This included al- ways making sure I had a nice pair of shoes on. Well, apparently, I had no appre- ciation for her efforts. She says she knew this because the drives home started to include a newly created ritual by me. As she drove back home, I would, from the back seat of the Impala, start to get fidgety which led to me unbuckling my shoes, taking my shoes off, then throwing the shoes out the back win- dow, as my Mom was driv- ing the car.
This little antic became a Sunday ritual for me. Once she saw me throw the shoes out, she would pull off the side of the road, then get out of the car and walk back to where I had thrown my shoes out the window, pick up my shoes and walk back to the car, only to find me laughing uncontrollably as I watched her return with my shoes in hand. Mom got wise to me after about the 3rd Sunday in a row I pulled this shoe-throwing stunt. The next Sunday Mom walked through the regular routine of dressing me before our drive and visit to El Rancho. And, as sure as the sun was shin- ing, on our drive back home, I proceeded to take my shoes off and throw them out the back window of the car. My Mom says she remembers looking at me through the rear-view mirror and watch- ing my expressions and she just kept driving, not stop- ping, just driving, and telling me, “Te crees muy viva!” See what I didn’t know was that when she dressed me that Sunday, she put my oldest, rattiest pair of shoes on my chubby toddler feet, a pair she would not miss and I could do without . . . a pair she did not feel compelled to stop for and pick up off the side of the road. She took great joy in out smart- ing me and teaching me that lesson: never take my shoes off again and toss them out the window. That afternoon my expressions went from a much anticipated laugh expecting the usual routine of Mom stopping to go back and get my shoes, to bewil- derment and then to all out crying with “coraje” because Mom just kept on driving without ever looking back to get my ratty old shoes. It was an early lesson learned, a lesson that there is always someone out there smarter than me, a lesson that there is always someone out there that could leave me without any shoes on my feet.