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By Chuck Redman
My dear Mother and my sweet babies,
I am speaking these words to my friend who knows how to read and write. Please ask Tomas to write down your words and send to me so I will know you are well. I will send money next month. I want to tell you about my new job. I am living in a very big house in Los Angeles and working for the family of that house.
It happened that this week was an important feast in their religion. But I do not know the meaning of that feast. It was very strange. First, a big cleaning. Missus and I, we cleaned the whole house for two days. You cannot believe, we washed all the dishes and put away, and took out other clean dishes which we then washed. I went with Missus for a big shopping, in which many ladies were crowding for the same food. We cooked special foods I have not seen before. Mister, when he comes home, he watches, he does not help with the cleaning, just looks at us with the same look as old Mister Hernandez when we worked picking coffee beans on his land.
So what was this feast, do you think, Mama? I do not think this was something for the holy Easter because I don’t see any Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies from 99-cent store. They have no crosses in their house, Mama, no pictures of the Virgin Mary or her son Jesus. My friend who used to clean for them sometimes, she said they are Hebrew people. I don’t know, because I never saw any Hebrew people before, we didn’t have any in Guatemala so I don’t know what they look like.
They speak only a tiny sprinkle of Spanish words, and they do not speak at all our Qanjobal language. The Spanish words they know are No, OK, Salsa, Tortilla, Dinero, Dollars, Mucho, Telefono but they say it funny, and Andele. I cannot understand any of their native tongue. We communicate somehow with our hands and our eyes. They understand my pay is 50 dollars for each day, and they pay me promptly every Sunday.
But we worked so hard this week. And I wanted to sleep early but they made me to sit at the dinnertable with them for the special meal, which lasted til a very late hour. When we are still preparing the dinner and setting the table – for eleven people – the whole family comes to the house. The Daughter brings the Grandpa and Grandma. I think they are the mama and papa of Missus, because she always looks very happy and more relaxed to see them, and her eyes and mouth are like theirs. Grandpa is old – he cannot walk well. He pushes a small chair with wheels that is for old people. Grandma is helping Grandpa, and she has a big yellow cake that looks sweet like our Guatemalan cakes. Grandpa and Grandma, they have seen me twice, but they do not recognize me.
The Daughter has seen me, and always greets me by my name. She is near my age, I think, but she is much taller. This day she had her boyfriend with her. I could say husband, but I think boyfriend is right because he stood very stiff like a wooden fence. Also, he is not in the big family picture that is on the wall. Also, he is black. Missus doesn’t kiss him, just greets him with words. Mister shakes his hand very friendly. But then pretty soon I saw Mister go to the little toilet and wash his hands.
Dinner is ready and table is all set when the Son arrives, with his wife and babies. The Son has seen me before but he does not notice me like the Daughter. The babies are a girl, maybe five years, and a little boy, maybe two years. They are very sweet, with golden hair. I wave a little wave at them. But they are very shy.
We sat down for the dinner. Mama, I was surprised at their behavior in many things. A funny thing is that the men each put on a small round cap, like a small tortilla. The Son even put one on his little boy, but the little boy took it off in one minute and threw it down. They passed little books around. Even to me. I did not know what to do with it. The books had regular writing, like American or Spanish, and also some writing that was different, sharp and funny-looking.
Suddenly the Grandpa knocked on the table loud to make everyone to be more quiet. He wanted to read out loud from his little book, and he started but it seems like his eyes are not good and he was making many mistakes, because Mister and Son were laughing behind their books. Missus looked like she wanted to cry. Grandpa got upset and started coughing, a very bad-sounding cough, and I think they should have taken him to hospital. But they gave him water and made him breathe from his little bottle of breathing medicine. He did not try to read any more. He hardly touched his food all night.
So Mister started reading, and gave a few turns to Son as well. I think Daughter wanted a turn to read – maybe to show her boyfriend – but Mister did not call upon Daughter to read, and you could see a small hurt feeling in her green eyes when they looked at her father.
Everyone got wine or juice. They did not ask me which I preferred. Somehow they knew I preferred juice. The special foods were interesting, but I do not know the meaning. They had to be dipped a certain way, held and eaten just so, with a blessing. One special plate had an animal bone, which made me wonder what animal was it and what was special about that bone.
There was even singing – it was the best part – we all laughed. They do not know I sing very well. I caught their tunes and hummed softly to myself.
The Daughter was the only one who looked at me like I’m a person. When she showed her black boyfriend how to hold and eat the special foods, she always made sure to show me at the same time. She made sure I had each special food on my plate. She smiled often at me, to make me feel more relaxed and not feel like a peasant or an outcast.
Mister drank his wine very fast and poured more for himself often. He became too friendly, in one way, Mama, and I don’t like to say this, but: every time when he got up and passed my way, he placed his hand on my shoulder. I pulled my shoulder in and felt ashamed and angry. Missus finally spoke sharply at him, then he sat down and frowned like a scolded puppy for the rest of the night.
I was glad when we finished the special foods and blessings. I helped the other women to bring the dinner to the table. We sat down and ate. The family began talking in a regular family way. Oh, and the Son went and brought a small plate of jalapenos which he placed near himself. You know how I love jalapenos, Mama, and how they make me perspire. I was too shy to ask Son to pass them to me. I felt perspired, but this time it was not a good perspire.
Pretty soon, I don’t know what happened, the Son and Daughter began to raise their voices at each other, and everyone became stiff, especially the black boyfriend. He looked almost ill, very shaky. Mister was very quiet. Missus tried to make them be relaxed and quiet, but suddenly Daughter got up with her face very red, took her boyfriend’s hand and they left. We all stared in silence. Except that the Son said a few words to his wife, there was no more talking.
After dinner I helped Missus with the dishes. Everyone left – Son took the Grandpa and Grandma home and then returned for his wife and babies. Pretty soon Missus went upstairs to bed, and I remained in the kitchen with a few pots and pans to wash and put away. I decided to vacuum in the morning.
I did not know what to do with the animal bone on a plate. Do they wish to keep it, or should it be thrown away? Finally, I decided to throw it in the garbage. It was just an old bone.
Mama, all these things make me so homesick you cannot believe. Please kiss my babies ten times every day for me. You can’t imagine how I ache for them – their sweet innocent faces that I miss so badly. Tell them Mommy will come for them as soon as she can, as soon as she fixes her papers and has a better home for them.
Your loving child,
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For more articles on Passover, see our Passover Archives
For more articles on Humorous Jewish Stories, see our Humorous Stories Archives
from the July 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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