Retirement isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I spend most of my time sitting on my front porch counting cars and yelling at the newspaper boy. He’s not a bad kid; it’s just that he can’t seem to hit my front porch with the paper. I have, mind you, on more than one occasion spent most of my morning searching around the yard for the paper, only to find it either in my wife’s rose bushes or on the garage roof. I have gone as far as demonstrating the art of paper tossing to the young lad; either he is dumb as a box of rocks or he doesn’t like me. I am of the mind that he just doesn’t like me. Can’t please everyone, I guess.
After thirty-six years of living in the same house, you get to know your neighbors, pretty well almost too well, which can be a problem. I have seen perhaps as many as two dozen families move from this block and move to this block over the course of three and a half generations. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the family that moved in next-door a while back and neither was my wife.
You’d figure after thirty-eight years of being married to the same woman, I ought to know her by now. Even after this long stretch, she still comes up with a surprise or two.
Saturday mornings are pretty uneventful around here, with the exception of a stray dog wandering in the front yard to lay claim to my wife’s rose bushes, marking out his territory in ways that only a dog can. The occasional door-to-door salesman or saleswoman-this being the twenty first century-drops by. Avon lady and Jehovah Witness pretty much rounds off the list of doorknockers these days.
We don’t get the fuller brush man anymore, and the Carnation people stopped delivering milk some twenty years ago. My wife has turned the silver milk box into a planter for her prized Carnations of all things.
I still see the Schwan’s man occasionally driving down the block in his big yellow refrigerated truck. I wave, he waves back and that’s about it. Being my wife and I are both drawing off retirement and social security, which don’t amount to a hill of beans these days. The Schwan’s man is one of those luxuries best reserved for special occasions. Such as births, deaths and when our two children come to visit-which occurs about as often as one of our friends die, since everyone my wife and I have ever known, has pretty much kicked the bucket. Which means Jenny and Artie don’t come around much at all.
They’ll pop in every now and then, to bring the grandchildren by, Jenny’s two boys from her first marriage and Arti’s three girls from his current wife, a mystery woman whose name my wife enjoys pretending that she can’t remember.
Arti shrugs it off every time his wife and he comes over to visit; Betty that’s my wife‘s name. My wife goes through her little acting-more annoying than anything-asking her “ What did you say your name was,” which is the first sign perhaps she doesn’t like Arti’s wife. Can’t please everyone I guess.
Nevertheless, the grandchildren are the apples of Betty’s eyes. It wouldn’t matter if Jenny had married King Kong or Arti the invisible woman, which would be fine by my wife. Children are children for better or worse. Their interest is first and foremost as any grandparent will testify to.
Jenny and Arti don’t come around as often as we would like. Moreover, every time I see the grand children, it seems they have added another foot and twenty years of knowledge.
Happens children grow up, get married, and life goes on. I wonder sometimes if this is what is meant by the legacy of one’s life. If this is not truly the purpose of immortality: to see your children through the eyes of their children. I just wish Arti and Jenny would come around a little bit more. I can’t say I blame them; they both have settled for a plastic world and a thirty-year mortgage.
Then again so did Betty and me. We have just lived long enough to see our paper money made over and our mortgage paid. Now we have each other and a shared happiness. I with my dumb paperboy, and Betty with her thirty something Avon lady.
When you get to be our age, life seems to slow a bit, but you don’t want it to slow too much for fear they’ll be throwing dirt on you while mouthing the words to the Old Rugged Cross. I try not to think about those things I can’t change, but just live each day according to Doris Day. Que Sera Sera. Nevertheless, it is always easier said than done.
I will never forget the day our new neighbors moved in; it was a Saturday like no other Saturday. Our day began just like every other weekend around here. Up at 6:30 sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee watching the world go to hell in a hand basket on channel 7, waiting for the newspaper boy to come peddling by when I heard a vehicle pull up in the driveway next to mine.
I knew the Anderson’s home had been up for sale or rent, whichever came first. Their oldest son really did not give two cents about the place. He was only concerned about somebody else paying the property tax and putting a few dollars in his pocket. I never did care too much for him. The Anderson’s on the other hand where hard working, honest people, shame they had a no account son.
About this Anderson kid, Betty has reminded me that I should not talk bad about people, but when you nothing better to do all day but watch traffic go by, talking bad about people is a given.
Their son is the kind of person that will rent or sell his parents house to anyone as long as they pay cash and do not expect him to do anything more than hand them the keys. This may sound like an assumption and it is, but consider the source for a minute; the house next door had stood empty for about four months before that fateful day.
I don’t rightfully recall the last time I saw anyone looking at the place. The older boy let it go to pieces, and his son was not much help at all after the misses passed away.
Things had been pretty quiet around here those past few months after the old boy passed away, not that the neighborhood was a hotbed of activity before they both left the world of the living.
Actually, we have lived next door to them for nineteen years and they were nice neighbors. Strange how the old boy died not more than two months after his wife did seems to happen that way all the time. One goes, then the other.
The old adage you can’t live with’ um and you can’t live without’ um should be taken literally.
I have entertained the notion of would this be my case. My wife has assured me that when and if either of us goes, it will be a most terrible day. The worst day of all days. Now Betty has never clarified if her going or mine would constitute the worst day of all day. I just assume she will miss me dearly.
Like any good nosey neighbor, I walked out onto my front porch to have a look see at what was going on. See who was either moving in or checking out the place.
Neighborhood watch and all made this my job. My wife her part of shared awareness stood in the doorway reminding me that it was not nice to pry on people. I reminded her it is not prying when they are fifteen feet away from your own front yard. She proceeded to go indoors and pull the front curtain back, pulling up a chair so as not to openly pry. Woman have a different perspective on these matters then men do.
I pulled up my lawn chair and tired to sit back as unnoticed as I could, watching the old Chevy Van and its occupants begin a painful disembarking of the vehicle. When I say painful, that is exactly what I mean.
From the time the first passenger exited the driver’s side door to the last one, I counted no less then twenty-five Mexicans. It was the largest family I had ever seen come out of any kind of vehicle in my life.
Just how they all got in the thing in the first place is a miracle. I never witnessed anything like it. They were pulling people out by the arms legs. Big fat little kids, tall skinny kids, old ladies, old men, and a middle-aged woman and man. Teenagers, girls and boys, it was the most amazing feat I had ever seen. I noticed my wife had abandoned her chair and was staring out the window.
I figured she was waiting for the Mariachi Band to exit, but she looked as though she was in complete shock. I had to fight back the urge to run in the house and grab my camera. Nobody in the world was gonna believe this; it was incredible to say the lest. I am still in shock to this day but not as shocked as my wife was. I looked at her, she looked at me. She was turning a kinda greenish color in the face, just frozen there looking out the curtain.
Then she started teetering back and forth; she was trying to mouth the words Mexicans I think. Then she began frantically pointing at the van, then at me, then at her rose bushes, then at her feet. For a minute there I thought she was going to start doing jumping jacks.
Her eyes where bulging out. Her lips were moving back and forth. Her hair was standing straight on end. I nearly had a heart attack trying to get out my lawn chair, to get to her before she broke out into the Macarena or fell through the pane glass widow.
Then she let out a yell, threw both her hands straight up in the air, and fell flat on her back in the middle of the living room before I could get in the front door. I looked down or was it sideways at her; she was passed out cold with her feet sticking straight up in the air.
First thing I was try and pull her legs down, but every time I did that she sat straight up. Finally, I held her chest down and tried to sit on her legs to keep her from folding up like a card table.
It was a mess. I could see she was breathing so I knew she wasn’t dead. The only reasonable thing I could think of was the sight of so many Mexicans being pulled out of a Chevy Van had somehow caused her brain to malfunction; causing fright-induced rigor mortis to sit in.
Nevertheless, for the life of me, I do not recall anyone turning into a seesaw at the sight of twenty-five Mexicans getting out of a Chevy. If it had been a Volkswagen, then perhaps she might have had a case for turning into a human pretzel, but there was more to this than meets the eye. Albeit twenty-five Mexicans and a Mariachi band getting out of one van is quite the shocker. For those of us not accustomed to having what appeared to be ten families moving into the neighborhood at one time, in one house.
Not that I have anything against Mexicans, or any one for that matter. I do not, but from all appearances, my wife has a strange phobia that I never knew about. She must have seen her life or our neighborhood or her rose bushes flash before her eyes. I had seen many strange things around here over these many years, but this was one for the record books.
Finally I got her head propped up on my lap and her legs straighten out. I started pouring water down her throat. Guess you are not supposed to do that to a person passed out. She nearly drowned, coughing, spitting up water all over herself and me.
I wiped a handful of water out of my own eyes and looked down at her. Her lips were shaking. She was trying to say something. I could barely make out what she was saying. Finally she got the words out. She looked me right in the face and said. “Kill me now please, kill me now.”
After what seemed like a thousand years of marriage, you know whether or not your spouse is joking or serious. My wife was as serious as a heart attack, which, of course, I thought she had at first. I helped her off the floor and over to the sofa. Laid her back and took her house slippers off. The color was starting to come back into her face. I could not figure out what happened to her or why she wanted me to kill her; of course, I was not about to do that.
Finally she regained her strength and sat up and looked at me and griped my hand.
“How many were there?” she said
“How many what?” I said, trying to reassure her that there was a logical reason for her passing out and I wasn’t going to kill her.
I watched her eyes roll back in her head. I was getting ready for round two. I figured she was going to black out again, but she pulled her feet off the sofa, straighten out her bathrobe, and stood in the middle of the room looking at me for what seemed a very long time.
Whatever had caused this sudden attack passed rather quickly. She simply said. “I need to get dressed dear I see we have new neighbors. Isn’t that nice?”
I watched her walk towards the bedroom. It sounded like she was hiccupping and she started dragging her left foot. She quietly shut the door behind her. I wanted to follow her, kind of make sure she was all right. However, I was still in shock myself, not from the new neighbors but from seeing my wife turn into a bowl of Jell-O. now like any curious husband, I wanted to know what caused my wife to pass out and start acting like she had cerebral palsy at the sight of twenty-five Mexicans getting out of a Chevy Van.
I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat down at the dining room table, and waited for her to come out of the bedroom. She did but five hours later. I really started to get worried.
“Are you feeling okay dear?” I said.
“Just fine, I needed a little rest; oh look at the time, it’s nearly noon how the day has just flown by.”
“Betty I think we should have a talk,” I said looking her over real good.
Now a heart to heart talk with my wife is never an easy thing. She has her way of doing things and I tend to do things her way. However now we were treading on uncharted territory.
I realized I had to take it slow and easy with her for fear of what might happen, considering what she had already put herself through, I did not figure a 63-year old woman could take much more by way of emulating a contortionist.
Nevertheless, I was worried about her. I motioned for her to have a seat next to me. She pulled her chair up and smiled at me. I was really starting to worry now.
“I see we have new neighbors dear,” she said.
“It appears that way, dear. So just what in the hell was that all about, Betty, you nearly scared the daylights out of me?” So much for taking it slow. I was watching her fiddle with her hands in her lap. She just looked at me for a minute, then gave me one of her it’s all right smiles and said. “Mexicans I think they’re Mexican dear. Wonder what they like to eat. You know we always bake something nice for our new neighbors and invite them over.”
I wasn’t buying this nice neighbor act, but I didn’t want to get her worked up so I thought about the fact that neither I nor my wife had much experience with Mexican food. I thought about what they might like.
The only thing I could think of was that Mexicans like peppers but I really didn’t want twenty-five Mexicans and a Mariachi band in my living room, eating nothing but peppers.
“I think they like peppers dear,” I said.
“That’s nice. How many did you count?” She said, in her matter of fact way. “Twenty –five I think”. I did not think much about my answer. “Should I call the welcome wagon dear?” I said, holding onto her hand. Finally, she came around; I could see she was returning to her old self.
She pulled her hand away from mine, stood up, and walked over to the phone; she brought it back to me and set it on the table.
“Welcome wagon, yes, and after that. I want you to call the INS and the realtor that sold us this house. It will be a cold day in hell, Stanley Armstrong Young, that I will sit idly by and let twenty-five Mexican’s move into the house next door. Now you march right over there and tell them they’ve got to leave or I will. Do I make myself clear!”
She’s back. My wife had returned from the land of the dead. I was filled with joy, it was so nice to just sit there and listen to her rant and rave about our new neighbors, music to my ears.
“I can’t go storming over there and tell those people to move. Are you nuts?”
“Not as nuts as you Stanley. Peppers they like peppers! Welcome wagon. I’ll show you Welcome wagon.”
“Just calm down dear before you have a stroke or something.”
“I would rather be dead Stanley.”
Now I was really confused; I never knew my wife had this fear or prejudice against Mexicans. She had never said anything about Mexicans or anybody as far as I knew. This was a whole new side of her I never knew before. I had to get her some help. I had to build a privacy fence.
Like an alcoholic or mental patient, you have to be co-dependent-I read that somewhere.
I had to take the first step, maybe I didn’t like Mexicans myself. Maybe I didn’t like my wife. Maybe deep down inside, I wanted to struggle the newspaper boy, maybe I liked the Avon lady more than I should. I was confused and my wife was turning green again.
I looked around for something heavy to set on her chest and legs in case she passed out again.
“What are you looking for Stanley? Call the INS or the Army. This just won’t do.”
“Nothing dear, and the Army won’t get involved. Besides I think you’re prejudiced. I think you hate people of color; you’re a racist. I married a racist who passes out at the sight of Mexicans.”
“I don’t hate colored people.”
“Yes you do and furthermore, only someone who was a racist would use the word colored people would say colored people.”
“You said colored people, not me, Stanley; don’t try and blame me for you not liking colored people.”
“What colored people, are you talking about Betty?”
“See there you go, Stanley, trying to twist everything around.”
“I said people of color, as in Mexican you old hag. Not colored people as in colored people.”
“Don’t use that tone with me Stanley. You said I was a racist. I am not a racist; you’re a racist.”
“I give up Betty. Trying to talk to you is a waste of time and energy.”
“So it’s my fault that half of Mexico just moved in next door, is it?”
“See that’s just what I said, you’re a racist old hag.”
“And you’re a buffoon. I married a buffoon!”
We sat and stared at each other for a few minutes; this was the worst argument we had had in ten years. Actually the last time we had an argument like this was when a Gypsy family moved in down the block. Jonesburgers I think their name was. Now that I think about it, maybe I am a racist. I wouldn’t talk to the people for a month because my wife had convinced me they moved in only because they needed our silverware to serve our souls to the devil with.
Now I knew we both had a problem, but what to do about it? Well that was another question altogether. They say if you comfort your fears, you can understand your fears so I made a suggestion to my wife.
“Betty, dear, since neither of us knows what the hell we’re talking about and since it is obvious from that little demonstration of yours that for some reason Mexicans make you go nuts, I think we should go to Mexico and come to grips with this issue once and for all, and probably bake something nice for the Jonesburgers as well.”
I waited like any good husband for my wife’s answer. She looked at me and said rather rudely. “I think that we should get two get two Sombreros and drive really fast through East LA. It would be cheaper and a hell of a lot safer than going to Mexico, and as far as the Jonesburgers, they moved out ten years ago you Buffoon.”
Yes my wife had a problem; there was only one thing left to do.
“Betty, we are going to go over and meet our new neighbors. You’re going, Betty, don’t look at me like that. As a matter of fact, you’re going to go if I have to drag you kicking and screaming.”
“I’ll go Stanley, on one condition.”
“What’s that dear?”
“When we get back home, you’ll kill yourself first, then me.”
Cute Betty let’s go. I bet they are nice people.”
It was nearly two o’clock in the afternoon before I finally got Betty pried from the living room door.
I used every kitchen utensil we had trying to get her hands off the doorjam. When I had finally succeeded there must have been two dozen bend and twisted spatulas and every spoon and fork we owned piled up on the carpet behind her. Only after I threatened her with the electric carving knife did she let go.
Two large moving vans took up most of the street in front of their house and ours. This was of no help as far as keeping Betty on task. About a dozen men and boys where carrying the last bits of furniture told man who had pulled up an old wooden chair, directing traffic with his cane, telling the others to put this there, that there.
A middle aged woman holding a rather large meat cleaver was standing in the doorway, wearing an apron and wiping her meat cleaver on it as we walked up. I whispered to my wife, asking her how you say hello in Spanish. She looked at me and wanted to know if she looked like the United Nations. Just add an “o” to everything, she said, gripping my hand so tight my fingers started turning purple.
“Hello eo I am your neighbor eo Mr. Young eo and this is my wife eo Betty eo.”
“Cute, Stanley,” my wife said looking at the lady with the meat cleaver.
I offered the meat cleaver lady my hand. She started yelling something at one of the boys carrying a lamp.
“Ten cuidado con eso nino tonto no mas nino, sin cerrbro si no mas tubieras uno,” she said.
Whatever she said, the kid stopped running, set the lamp down, and started holding onto the old man’s leg and staring up at us.
My wife tried to pull away from me. I could tell she didn’t want to have any thing to do with the lady with the meat cleaver; neither did the little kid. The old man must have reassured him, he knocked on the boy’s head like it was door. The smiling youngster looked up at what must have been his grandpa—just a guess on my part.
“Tu mama’ te va a partir la madra y te vendera al primer carbon que mire si se te cai eso,” The old man said still knocking on the kid’s noggin.
Grandpa started winking at the woman or the meat cleaver, I’m not sure, then he started winking at us. Miss meat cleaver looked at me, then Betty, tossing her eyes up in the air. I could feel Betty’s pulse in her hand starting to beat. She was going to explode if I didn’t say something.
“Sorry eo to bother your folks eo, but we just wanted eo to welcome eo you eo to the neighborhood eo.”
Miss meat cleaver looked again at the old man; it sounded like she said “oh brother.”
“Nos quieren dar la bienvenida abuelo que bonito, No te creeas cuanda menos espeses le ban a estar llamando a la migra, no mas mira a esa, les una piruja.” Whatever she said, grandpa got a kick out it so did the little kid.
“I think they like us Betty.” Betty started turning green again.
“They don’t like us at all, you Buffoon, she just called me a witch!” “Betty be nice. I am sorry eo about my wife eo; she’s not feeling eo well eo. Do you people speak English eo?”
“Ellos piensan que somos mensos, papa’ mira a esa es piruja.”
She said, smiling at my wife as she started walking down from her front steps. She offered me her hand, then Betty. Betty was eyeing her. I think she wanted to claw her eyes out; I thing they both wanted to claw each other’s eyes out. We had finally met our new neighbors.
“I speak English, this is my husband,” she said, pointing to the old man. He grinned at us. This here is my sister’s kid, one of her many. As a matter of fact all these kids are my sister’s. Except this one here. Come out and say hi to our neighbors, Maria.”
It was as if a magical curtain was drawn back. the most beautiful browned eyed little girl I had ever seen stared up at me from out of nowhere.
I felt Betty’s knees buckle. She let go of my hand and bent down to get a closer look at the little girl peeking at her from behind her mother’s apron.
“Stanley, is she the dreamiest child you have ever seen?”
“You’ll have to excuse my wife; she’s not feeling too well madam.”
“That is quite all right. Will you stay for dinner? Don’t worry, as soon as I feed everyone, they’ll go home. Just me and my husband and Maria. Please come in; my name is Solace and my husband is Ricardo please come in.”
It was the wildest dinner we had ever been to. There really was a Mariachi band, her cousins or brothers, most of them named Carlos and Jesus began playing guitars and tambourines. They even had an accordion. Betty danced across the lawn, doing a rather ridiculous jig with little Maria.
I sat with Ricardo on one of his lawn chairs, being entertained by six small children running around us, falling down, singing away. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why children think grownups like it when they run around in circles. I looked at Ricardo, he looked at me we both shrugged and sat back and enjoyed the show.
Around eight, everyone packed up their things. The band had had enough, and Betty was still having the time of her life. Strange how a child can change everything. It was getting pretty late by our standards, and Ricardo was dozing off as well. I pulled Betty away from maria and the rest of the children. She had found a friend, Betty and Maria that is. When we finally walked across the driveway to our home, Betty sat at the front window, pulled out her knitting and looked across the way at the dim light in the Guzman’s living room window.
I could see she was content for the first time in so many years, Betty was happy and that made me happy as well.
Monday morning the Welcome wagon showed up at the Guzman’s.
Tuesdays nights has turned into our supper night with the Guzman’s, one week over at their place the next week we host.
It’s been that way now for fifteen years. Over the years, we have grown attached to our neighbors. Christmas and holidays are now a time to see and learn new customs, new ideas and taste different foods, and see children grow into young adults.
I have learned over the years that we search our hearts to understand that legacy that is seen in the eyes of our children’s eyes. Color, culture is but mere window dressing for who we really are, all humans trying to care and give hope for a better world.
Maria grew up moved away last month; it was the worst day of Betty’s life. I got another paperboy to train, and Betty and Solace; they got the thirty something Avon lady. I’ll always remember the day our new neighbors moved in. it taught me and Betty a lot about ourselves and in some way taught the Guzman’s a little something to a long the way.
Maybe deep down my biggest fear was not that they were Mexicans, but they were not like me. Now I know better and so does Betty. We are all just a little afraid of new neighbors; perhaps it takes a new neighbor for us to come to grips with our own fears, to find out we all want the same thing happiness, and to bring a warm smile to a child.