Friday, December 24, 2010

A True, Very Short Story for Christmas

Recently, a perfect, and true Christmas story came to me, in the form of a letter, written with honesty and simplicity by my dear friend Jeannine Perez, of Loreto, Baja California.
First, I've asked for, and gotten her permission to share it. The only other thing you need to know in advance is that Jeannine and her husband Beto were in a bad car accident (not their fault) recently; they were hit by a young norteamericano in Tijuana, while returning from a visit to San Diego to supply their small but thriving bookstore (El Caballo Blanco) in "downtown" Loreto. Other than that, I see no reason not to include the whole letter, just as she wrote it:

"To all of you that I love so much…..
It is unbelievable that I am this old, and still seem to need keep learning the same lessons over and over and…(so if you are tired of reading about my inability to retain what I learn, just skip to the Christmas greetings at the end)!  But perhaps (and hopefully), this time the lesson will stick.
Last week turned out to be a challenging one.  Our toaster oven, my sewing machine and blender all gave up the ghost, and of course, our car is not doing well at all. I laughed about all of this (at first), and bought a new used blender at last Sunday’s Tianguis to continue making my “surprise smoothies” to go with our “surprise soups”. 
When going anyplace, Beto has to open the door on my side of the car to let me in and out, and that still seems rather fun and chivalrous, and we don’t even mind the bumping up and down without shocks.  We still feel very, very blessed to be where we are, safe and healthy, with plenty to eat, families that love us, and great friends.
Except, I kind of forgot all those good things for a day or so. I can try to blame this current pity party on a number of pesky happenings, and unfortunately, also a little nasty green envy.  A stiff neck that won’t go away, a friend bragging about leaving for a week to celebrate holidays with family and then a month in Peru . We finally got our wills done (makes you feel your mortality), I see no apparent progress in speaking Spanish, and fear that nothing I ever do is really good or needed. Then a strong bout of homesickness, and a pair of jeans that are uncomfortably snug all worked on me. I might still have remained an OK kind of person and risen over these minor setbacks when  the crowning blow came in an email from Lewis and Lewis stating that the kid from California who rammed us and totaled our car didn’t have valid Mexican insurance after all, and because it was more than 24 hours before we called our company, there is nothing they can/will do for us. (We’re currently fighting both insurance companies).  It was all too much and I groused and moaned to anyone who’d listen, about all the money we seem to lose by trusting people, how everyone took advantage of us, etc. etc., and the whole world looked evil and black. 
And then another lesson just whomped me on the head…
Actually it was more like my umpteenth review in humbleness and gratitude.
Beto asked me if I’d make some fresh coffee, and wondered if we had any cookies left from the morning batch, and all the while he was filling a sack with oranges (given to us by Martin), and some canned food from our last visit to the $ store. Sitting in the other chair in our middle room was Eduardo, who stops in to visit every few weeks, always soft-spoken, courtly and courteous, very thin and a little stooped, with silvery hair, a moustache, and crisply pressed white shirt.  I see him often too, walking on the malecon,  particularly in the evenings.
He was wearing Beto’s old leather boots, shined until they glowed, and he got up to shake hands, when I came in with coffee and some cinnamon rolls….2 huge ones, and a piece of aluminum foil so he could take the second roll home with him.  He ate both, really quickly, and then resumed talking (he doesn’t speak any English), to Beto. We found a used Spanish English dictionary and he smiled and put it in his sack. I tried out a little conversation, he answered me, and then clapped because I’d spoken to him in Spanish.  He told me that he walks miles each day because “…es el raton quien corre las calles quien buscar la comida”…it is the rat who roams the street who finds food!  He said that God has been very good to him, and he is a happy and blessed man.
When he left, Beto gave him 100 pesos and told Merry Christmas and that it is good that we all help each other. The old man had a few tears in his eyes, and then a big smile and he said he’d be back soon with a surprise for us.
After he left, Beto told me the rest of Eduardo’s story. He has colon cancer, and is trying to walk his way to health, he has no family in Baja, and he lives alone in a plywood lean-to that is not even really a room. Eduardo told him that his relatives in mainland Mexico send him money when they can, but they are poor and struggling, and he doesn’t want to burden them for the rest of his life.
Beto told him that he’d ordered a goat to share with Martin’s family for Christmas, and asked if he wanted some, and the man said softly …thank you, but no, I don’t have a stove.
 Hearing that, I asked Beto how Eduardo could possibly wash his clothes and stay so clean and dignified looking with no hot water or bathroom, and Beto said that he told him he has an iron, and he always irons his shirts before walking because he doesn’t like to be out on the street in a wrinkled shirt (you should see the condition of some of our clothes in public). I felt so ashamed! How many times do I need to be reminded of how rich we are? I decided that angels do come in all sizes and forms.
Then I went outside to sit in my beautiful garden and cried.
Have the greatest of holidays, and know that love and many good thoughts are winging their way north from Loreto."

Many good thoughts to you and yours from Jenny Redbug and Captain Russel, aboard the good ship "Watchfire", too...
Peace, and hasta pronto!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some more book ideas for holiday giving

No, no, I'm not suggesting War and Peace--so don't worry! Almost no one else wants to read my choice of tomes. Though I was pleased to see that Oprah has bestowed her "selection" magic on two Dickens classics...Read the recent piece on her Dickens-duo of holiday book picks here.
As for me, I prefer to recommend books by living writers--and a good case in point is the recent anthology from City Works Press, a local non-profit press that annually produces a couple of top-flight literary works--many of them anthologies. The newest collection of writing is Mamas and Papas: On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting, edited By Alys Masek and Kelly Mayhew. The list of writers includes Neal Pollack, Wanda Coleman, Sam Apple, and Jim Miller (author of one of my recent faves, Flash: A Novel).
As the editors put it: "While we published valentines to the experience of being a parent, we also included pieces that explore the difficulty, contradictions, and frustrations of raising children as well as work that explores what it means to not have children or to acquire and parent them in other ways."
As someone who is "childfree" but adores her three nieces, I really responded to many of these pieces; it's definitely not a "parents only" book--far from it...It speaks to the human condition, and to the essential emotions: wonder, fear, frustration, anger, and joy. (But yes, it is perfect for a new parent as well as someone contemplating parenthood--and for grandparents, too!)
Check out the whole line-up of books from City Works Press--there's something for everyone on your list...Spread some knowledge--spread some joy--give someone a book.
Hasta pronto!