It has been years it seems, but in reality, it was only one year gone by, so quickly, and yet, seeming like an eternity.
He would sit in his small work area, under the kitchen window. It was a small area with a roof over it and a worktable that he made himself. There were not many tools so to speak, just a glue bottle, pliers, and pecans…many pecans.
His house sat in a small yard, at the corner intersection of two streets. It was a small house converted from a corner store for him and his family. They were a big family for this small house, but live in it they did, and happily, in each other’s company and warmth, four girls, two boys, their mother and him. The little house was their home, their haven in good times, their refuge in times of trouble. The constant aroma of beans, “sopa de aroz”, and tortillas would ascend all day from the house. Passersby would always comment, “Que olor tan rico, de comida y tortillas”!
He would spend his days sitting in his work shop as he called it, making little pig figurines in small corrals and other little animal figurines from the pecans he would gather from the three big pecan trees in his back yard. He had gotten too old to go the few miles it took to go sell the pecans, so now people would come and gather the pecans, take a share and from his share, he would save some for his family when they came to see him, and the rest he would keep to use for his figurines.
On one hot, humid day like most days that time of year, he sat at his station working on his figurines and remembering his youth. He was six or seven years old, he remembered, when he was out in the fields…cotton, melon, peanuts…somewhere, though he could not remember exactly where. He recalled the cotton fields were in a valley, as were the melon fields. Every morning and evening, coming and going from the fields, he would jump on top of a huge water can in back of the large flat bed truck with rickety side banisters, and peek over the banisters to see miles and miles of white sandy beach, and white capped waves rushing back an forth over the sand, he would stand on the water can until only sandy hills n the distance could he see. As they would arrive at the place, they were to stay.
On some Sundays, when his father was not busy fixing the old truck or getting ready for the week, he would take him and his brother to the beach. It was a long way from where they stayed, but his father wanted them to enjoy at least one day, so they would venture the distance together to the beach.
He remembered how he would always ask his brother why some people, some whole families would lay in the sand in the middle of the day and get burned. His brother would say that white people from the North came down here and wanted to get brown, like us, because up north it snowed and was very cold. He would say that these people loved the sun that nourishes the skin as it did here, so they would come to get brown, and then go home, and get white again; “Well then”, he recalled asking his brother, “If we go to the north, will I become white?”
“Well”, his brother would say, “I don’t know, I’ve never been up North”. That question would always stay etched in his mind, and he would think to himself, “Why don’t they just stay here, like us, and be brown all year round”.
Now old and unable to move much, his only desire was to be able one day to go and sit on the white sand, and let the gulf water with its white caps come to him and cool his feet. He longed to feel the freshness of the salt-water spray in the breeze on his face, and to be young again. All his life, he had been a laborer, and proud of it. With a pick and shovel, he had been able to support his family, to educate his children so they could secure jobs to support themselves. He had always been ready with his pick and shovel handy by the door for any job that presented itself, and then when he was hired by a utility company, he could feel more secure, but that was years ago, before he retired.
Now while tinkering with his pecan figurines his elder son came out to speak with him.
“Me voy al servicio, papa”.
“Por que, hijo?”
His response was, “I’m going to serve my country, and they say if I enlist for three years; they will pay for my school when I get out. You know there is no way I can pay for college, and papa, I know you will be very proud of me when I finish El Colegio”.
“But where will they send you hijo mio?”
“I’m not sure, papa, but I may have to go to Vietnam.”
“Que es eso hijo”.
“A place far, far away, papa. But do not worry, when I return and with the money I will earn I can buy a truck and I will take you to the coast and you can walk on the sand along the Gulf waters as you have always wanted and deserve. But first, I must get my service over with and then we’ll be ready”.
“What will you do in the service? Es peligroso, mijo, this Vietnam?”
“No apa, don’t worry, the first few months are marching and studying, and then…and then, will you just keep thinking of the sand under your feet and the soft salty breeze hitting your face, and before you know it, I’ll be there with you in person”.
“Promise me son, you’ll be careful, quidate mucho!”
“Ok, I love you, apa.” And with that, he was gone.
Time passed, and before he knew it, it had been 8 months since his son left. It was a November day, and the blowing wind chilled his body. For some reason that day, as he sat at his table gluing his figurines, he noticed his hands seemed shaky and unsteady. As he tried to steady his trembling hands, he heard a knock at the front door. Through the kitchen window, he could see a uniformed figure standing at the door. The man had a letter in his hands. He heard his wife’s muffled cry as his daughters took the letter the man handed them. His heart sensed this figure in the uniform had brought bad news. He knew in that instant, that his son would not return.
Filled with a sudden pain and emptiness, he slowly got up from his chair and walked toward the chain link fence. His two large and calloused hands gripped the fence fiercely; his face grimaced with the pain he felt inside.
Then, he felt a strong wind against his face, and for a moment his imagination transported him to the white sandy beach, the wind blowing in his hair, the white capped waves brushing up against his ankles as the sand shifted underneath his feet. Then suddenly as the wind came, it subsided, bringing him back to his reality and pain. He slowly sank to his knees, and soon his whole body followed to the ground; in his heart, he felt a heaviness and pain he head never known before. As he lay on the ground, and his eyes slowly closed, he could see in the distance, his son, standing on the white sandy beach, waving and beckoning to him to come and join him.