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Perfectly Whole

By Jenny

You, corazón, are made of freshwater lakes and mar salado,

bald eagles and massive condors,

fast-twisting feet and salsa-dancing hips,

flags flying red, white, blue and yellow, blue, red.

 

You, precious one, are made of four seasons and an eternal spring,

towering sunflowers and delicate orchids,

vast northern cornfields and árboles de aguacate.

You are made of love and amor.

 

But sometimes when people meet our family,

they may see you as two halves.

Sometimes you may feel that way too.

 

Recuérdalo...

You are perfectly whole,

like a flawless milhojas con dulce de leche y crema—

each layer a part of your languages, traditions, and cultures.

 

Your feet—strong roots planted firmly in this world,

Your arms—a mighty bridge between two cultures.

Your smile—a magnet pulling dos familias juntas.

 

But if ever you feel torn between

here or there,

English or Spanish,

one culture or another,

recuérdalo...

You can choose not to choose.

Diles con orgullo—It’s AND, not OR.

 

Because . . .

On New Year’s Eve, you toast with sparkling apple juice and toss rainbow

confetti into the air.

When the clock nears midnight, you cheer as you watch the giant ball fall from the sky.

Other years, you eat twelve grapes for buena suerte and run around the block

with an empty suitcase and hopes of future travel.

Abuelita serves dinner at midnight, and you drift in and out of sleep as the adults

dance into the new year.

 

Because . . .

When you lose a tooth, double the visitors arrive.

The tooth fairy and El Ratoncito Pérez tiptoe to your pillow,

perhaps a tiny hand holding a tiny paw,

each leaving a dollar in exchange for your shiny tooth.

 

Because . . .

A birthday with your grandparents means chocolate cupcakes, green bills tucked in cards, and off-key renditions of “Happy birthday to you!”

A cumpleaños with your abuelos means pastel de tres leches, cousins gathered around the table, and chants of “¡Que muerda el pastel!”

 

Because . . .

In an overloaded minivan, you journey to the Grand Canyon,

stopping only for peculiar museums and double-scoop ice cream cones.

Other times you wind through the bumpy Andes roads to reach la costa.

Skittering crabs and refreshing batidos de coco quickly become favorite memories.

 

Because . . .

At the packed football stadium, you wear your green and gold.

You nibble nachos and cheer wildly when your team scores a touchdown.

In front of the television, you proudly wear your yellow jersey.

You pop handfuls of chifles into your mouth and await the announcer’s bellowing “Goooooooooal!” when your favorite fútbol team takes the lead.

 

Because . . .

On Halloween, you laugh behind your mask and sprint from house to house,

your pillowcase bursting with chocolates and candy.

El Día de los Difuntos, you quietly sip your mug of colada morada as Papi tells you about tía Sofí, who died before you were born.

 

Because . . .

on a frigid December night, you place a shoe at your bedroom door,

hopeful St. Nicholas will leave mouth-watering goodies in the dark, silent hours.

On that very same night, 3000 miles south,

your family calls as they dance in the street, fireworks illuminating their sonrisas.

Together you cheer “¡Que viva Quito!”

 

So if someone should ask

What are you?

Who are you?

Even if that someone is you,

what will you say?

 

I am not either-or,

this or that,

two halves of a whole.

No.

I am both, double, complete.

 

Recuérdalo.

I am the best of two different but connected worlds—

dos mundos that are fully mine.

Because . . .

I am perfectly whole.

 

 

Glossary

  • Abuelita — Grandma
  • Abuelos — grandparents
  • Amor — love
  • Arboles de aguacate — avocado trees
  • Batidos de coco — coconut milkshakes
  • Buena suerte — good luck
  • Chifles — fried plantain chips
  • Colada morada — a traditional Ecuadorian drink made from fruit, spices and purple corn flour
  • Corazón — heart (term of endearment)
  • La costa — the coast
  • Cumpleaños — birthday
  • El Día de los Difuntos — Day of the Dead, a holiday to honor loved ones who have died
  • Diles con orgullo — Tell them proudly
  • Dos mundos — two worlds
  • Dos familias — juntas two families together
  • Fútbol — soccer
  • Mar salado — salty sea
  • Mi amor — my love
  • Milhojas con dulce de leche y crema — a dessert with layers of puff pastry, caramel, and whipped cream
  • Pastel de tres leches — a cake made with three types of milk
  • ¡Que muerda el pastel! — Take a bite of cake!
  • ¡Que viva Quito! — Long live Quito!
  • El Ratoncito Pérez — a legendary mouse that leaves coins in exchange for children’s lost teeth
  • Recuérdalo — Remember
  • Sonrisas — smiles
  • Tía — aunt

Slivers of Light

By R. Dana Barlow

Through the open window and past the rhythmic chirping of the crickets, Frederick heard the staccato thump and squeak of the rocking chair moving back and forth on the front porch.

He pushed open the screen door and shuffled outside, letting the door recoil and slam with so loud a cracking that the crickets muted themselves but for a moment. Frederick’s great-grandpa Abram, however, didn’t seem phased by the aural interruption to his night-time solitude. The dim front porch light cast a warm glow on Abram’s dark skin as he rocked, sipping tea and staring off into the night sky, the faint glow of the city in the distance.

Frederick saw his great-grandpa’s lips moving, but no sound coming out of his mouth as if he were reciting something from memory.

“Hey Pop-Pop, whatcha doin’?”

Frederick called his great-grandpa “Pop-Pop” since as long as he could remember. A couple of years ago, he heard Pop-Pop tell part of a story during his time in the Union Army during the Civil War. Frederick didn’t understand most of what he was saying to his family while seated in the living room of their small ranch house on Borders Street in Jefferson, but he heard the word

“infantry,” and his great-grandpa making the sound of gun shots. It frightened him to see Pop-Pop so animated with this crazed look in his eyes as he recounted tales of his military service to the nation.

Pop-Pop was proud to serve in the United States Colored Troops (USCT), due in part to sharing a version of the same name as the President of the United States, but also as a freedman who appreciated what Mr. Lincoln professed to believe in. Pop-Pop seemed to revel in politics … at least before the sickness came. Frederick, in fact, was named after Pop-Pop’s hero Frederick Douglass who knew President Roosevelt some years ago.

Thinking Pop-Pop might not have heard him the first time, Frederick repeated himself.

“Hey Pop-Pop, whatcha doin’?”

Pop-Pop glanced over at him, furrowing his brow and squinting, yearning to remember the boy’s name even if he did recognize the boy’s face. The sickness was advancing more quickly than he wanted. Abram turned away.

“Thinking,” Pop-Pop replied.

“Whatcha thinkin’ ’bout?”

Pop-Pop looked at the boy again as Frederick gripped his bright red Sturditoy wrecker. At some point a lifetime ago, Abram knew his wife, Frederick’s great-grandmother, ordered it from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. She had saved up enough house-cleaning money for several years to give it to him for his seventh birthday. But she couldn’t contain the surprise. She was so proud that she could do this for her great-grandson. Now he had something to show the other kids at school. She had handed Frederick the catalog page with a black-and-white drawing of the toy tow truck, too. But Abram struggled mightily to recall Betsy’s name. They had married shortly after the war ended. Betsy had Isaac, Frederick’s grandpa, and his grandparents would have Jacob, their only son and Frederick’s papa.

Frederick asked again. “Whatcha thinkin’ ’bout, Pop-Pop?”

“Oh, the war.”

“You gonna tell me the story?”

Abram gazed off into the distance, mentally working up the drama of his delivery as best he could.

“It was about 8 in the mornin’,” he said in a raspy voice. “I was in the 35th U.S. Colored Troops. We were helping the 54th Massachusetts. There were four infantries, in fact. We were planning to take Fort Wagner from the rebels in Charleston. Ships were shelling the fort from the east side.

Col. Shaw thought it was the best time to attack. We got about 200 yards from the fort, and the Colonel waved his sword and yelled at us, ‘Forward, 54th!’”

Frederick sat transfixed. “And then what happened Pop-Pop?”

“All we could hear was the pop-pop-pop of gunfire,” Pop-Pop continued. “Col. Shaw was hit three times and fell headfirst into the sand. Dead. We had several regiments try to surround the fort, but we just couldn’t take the hill. They were shooting their howitzers at us. Those shells would tear you apart. They’d hit the sand and poosh!”

“What’s a howisser, Pop-Pop?”

“It’s a cannon on wheels, boy. Shoots a mean shell. Took out about a third of our boys.”

“Didja win, Pop-Pop?” Frederick looked up at him, not recognizing the shades of awareness, the shards of endearment, the slivers of light within the enveloping darkness that billowed like cumulonimbus clouds in his mind.

“Nope. Not that time. We needed help but help never came. We retreated at about 10 that night. Several of my friends didn’t come with me. They stayed on that hill.”

“Do you miss your friends from the war, Pop-Pop?”

“Some of them, yes,” he answered. “Yes, I do.”

“Do you ever wish you could see them again, Pop-Pop?”

“Yes. And sometimes I do.”

“Really? How?”

“Oh, every now and then, one of them will come walking up on this porch,” he said. “They’ll say to me, ‘we’re comin’ to get you very soon, Abram. Don’t you worry none. We’re waitin’ for you.’”

Frederick smiled. “Must be nice having friends like that, huh, Pop-Pop?”

Pop-Pop sipped his tea, cracked a faint smile and started rocking slowly. He pondered for a moment and let the uneasy silence punctuate the air. He placed his right hand over his mouth and stroked his clean-shaven cheeks.

Frederick looked up at Pop-Pop while holding his toy wrecker close.

“Pop-Pop?” he asked. “What happens if you can’t remember your story next time even though you work real hard to keep memorizing it so you don’t forget?”

Abram looked down at him at first with a poker face. He furrowed his brow again and then sipped his tea. In a fleeting moment of lucidity, he relaxed a bit with a twinkle in his eyes. He turned to Frederick and answered with a smile.

“I reckon I may have to tell a different story.”