You Can Warm Your Socks in the Oven
—But That Don’t Make’um Biscuits
By Fernando Garcia
My mom was a genius when it came to finding simple solutions for difficult problems. Raised on a meager farm in Mexico one learned to be resourceful. She used to open the oven door to warm her kitchen on cold mornings as well as occasionally dry a piece of freshly washed clothing needed with not enough time to dry on her clothes line.
One afternoon mom needed a few easily obtainable items from the grocery store. She called us into her kitchen, handed my brother a precious five dollar bill and a small grocery list with strict instructions on what to buy.
“Mucho cuidado con el dinero,” she instructed her two boys with the collective attention span of a gnat.
“Okay mom, we’ll be right back” we assured her.
Once outside we didn’t make it out of the driveway before disaster struck. My brother took the bill out of his shirt pocket, already a broken rule, rolled it up and pretended to set it aflame and light an imaginary cigar in his mouth. Laughing I swatted at the five dollar note only to dislodge it from his little fingers, watch it flutter in the light breeze and promptly find a new home in an empty cell in the block wall that separated our yard from the neighbors.
“What did you do that for?” he screeched.
“Why did you take it out of your pocket?” I screeched back.
Only ten years old and we figured the rest of our lives would be measured in minutes.
“You have to tell her,” he informed me.
“She gave you the money,” I responded.
We decided to face the death penalty together, holding back tears. We slogged into the kitchen and divulged what had happened.
“I was putting the money in my pocket when a bee scared me and when I swatted at it the money flew out of my hand and fell into a hole in the wall next to Mr. and Mrs. Cary’s house,” he lied.
Exasperated , Mom said, “Que voy hacer con ustedes dos? What am I going to do with you two?”
“Ensename donde esta el dinero. Show me where the money is!”
With slumped shoulders we showed her. Was dad going to have to disassemble a portion of the wall? And what will he do to us when he finds out what we did?
Mom walked back into the house and came out with her long handled broom, “Oh, no,” I thought, a caning!
She asked me for the chewing gum out of my mouth, stuck it to the end of her broom and quickly retrieved the lost money. We stood in awed relief.
Mom took the five dollars and personally stuck it into my brother’s pants pocket along with an unnecessary threat. We executed the errand with the precision and efficiency of a high military command maneuver.
Many years later, on one of our trips to Hermosillo, Mexico to visit mom’s family, my sister Carolyn’s Ford pick-up with a camper mounted on the back sprung a small radiator leak. Wouldn’t you know it: happened the Sunday morning we were leaving. All the repair shops were closed and we had to be back in San Diego, what the hell were we going to do? Carolyn, myself, my twin and our brother-in-law stood staring under the hood of the truck, the radiator hissing a small steady stream of hot steam.
Mom came out to assess the crisis. She looked at me and calmly said, “Ponle un picadillo. Stick in a toothpick.”
“What?! I asked.”
She repeated what she had just said.
“Mom, we have to drive through part of the Sonoran Desert to Tucson, then through the Imperial Valley Desert, up the San Diego County Mountains, then home to the Pacific!”
Hardly batting an eye, she said, “Ponle un picadillo” and walked back into my uncle’s house. We did. I swear the radiator did not loose a drop of water for the entire twelve hour trip home. The wood of the toothpick had simply swelled from the moisture of the radiator and completely sealed the leak.
We learned over the years that it was that type of ingenuity that allowed my ancestors to survive in the Mexican desert where I swear the devil himself would have despaired. I’m sure Mom would have had a simple solution for him, too.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com