THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE
The Rio Grande Valley
Houston Institute for Culture
A Short Story by Loida Casares Ruiz
Doña Imelda Saldivar was mean. From her gray hair on her head, down to her fat feet in her chanklas. She was a mean woman and every kid in town knew it. She had once dragged her husband out of the corner cantina in front of all the men and she didn't even care what they thought of her or what they would tell her husband later when he returned.
"If you're not man enough to stand up to them and you care what they say about you that's not my problem," she told her husband.
But she also had a good heart. She was known to help those in need. Since she ran her own business and owned land and cattle she always had money in a time when money was tight so she helped families to make ends meet.
During the Great Depression she had a restaurant in Alamo, Texas that was in full swing and making money. She would often send needy families baskets of food when the restaurant closed for the day. She was a fine businesswoman and no one took advantage of her easily.
It was said that once when she was in town she ran a red light and a policeman stopped her and she told him in her brassy way of talking, "In me ranch me no gotta stop." The cop laughed so hard he let her go.
Most Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas didn't speak much English in those days and Doña Imelda Saldivar was one of them. But that didn't stop her. She moved ahead in life and in business.
Doña Imelda lived on a dirt road in Donna in a big wooden house that, according to her, her grand-father built when Texas was still Mexico. Her house sat on two acres of land and on it she also had a chicken coup, a horse, a wagon, a garage with an old Ford, and a cow.
During grapefruit season, Doña Imelda would trade with her neighbor for some old grapefruit. She wanted them for her cow so the neighbor would have one of his workers back up his truck into her front yard and he would dump a small pile of grapefruit for her. Dona Imelda would then tie her cow to a tree so she could eat.
Ramon would walk down the road that ran in front of Doña Imelda's house. Whenever he saw those grapefruit his mouth would water. If there was something that Ramon really loved it was grapefruit.
One day he was walking by Doña Imelda Saldivar's house when he saw she had put some new grapefruit out for her cow. His eyes sparkled in anticipation as he looked across the street. He waited until the old woman went into her house and shut the door then he darted across the hot dirt in his bare feet.
He looked around to see if anyone was watching, then he squeezed between the wires of the fence. There they were before him. A mound of grapefruit. Big ones, little ones, different shades of orange and deep shades of yellow. All waiting for him.
The cow was tied to the tree by an old rope and she looked harmless as she sniffed the grapefruit that had been set before her. He took an armful, as many as his little arms could hold, and then he let himself out through the wires again. He scurried down the dirt road and cut across an empty field until he found himself behind an old abandoned shack and there he let himself indulge in his juicy treasure. He ate them excitedly and hurriedly making a hole in the top and sucking all the juice out first. Then he would peel the skin back and eat only a few bites of the pulpy center before casting them aside.
When he finished, he sat back content and looking around for the first time. His eyes rested on an old bucket and as he stared at it he got an idea in his head. He jumped up and took the old bucket and headed back to Doña Imelda Saldivar's house to fill it up with more grapefruit.
As he let himself back through the wires he was startled by a sound. He had one leg in already and he looked up. There stood Doña Imelda waiting for him with a brick in each hand.
"Guerco desgraciado!" she screamed and he quickly pulled his leg out from between the wires and disregarded how many scratches he got. He retracted and ran across the street and darted behind a telephone pole.
"You thief!" she continued to scream, "Let's see if you come back here and steal from me again!"
She started to scream more obscenities and Ramon's anger began to flare. He had a terrible temper, especially when he was being told what he couldn't do. Forget that he was in the wrong. That didn't count!
He peeked out from behind the pole at the woman screaming at him and he decided to taunt her. He began cussing back at her, finding bigger and far worse obscenities. Then he stuck his butt out and he wiggled it at her. He stuck his thumbs in his ears while sticking out his tongue and making raspberry sounds with his mouth.
"Vieja pansona!" he screamed at her, "Big fat old woman," but it sounded much better in Spanish.
The more he did this the angrier she got. He could almost see her hair standing on end as she screamed back at him. Then she started throwing the bricks at him. Each time she threw a brick he would dodge back behind the pole and would pop out again a second later and would mimic her more and would stick out his tongue again. He was having great fun making her angrier and angrier. Her face was so red he thought she was going to pass out as she huffed and puffed angrily and when he felt he had gotten the best of her he felt better, so he stopped and ran home.
After that incident he avoided her house from then on. If he had to walk by her house he would rather take the long road around. He avoided any further encounter. One Saturday he decided to get brave. He saw her from far off talking to two men, so he thought that she would be distracted.
As he got closer to her house he realized who the two men were. One was her son, and the other one was his father!
"Was she telling on him?" he wondered to himself. He decided he would just slip by very quickly while his father's back was turned. But as he passed her house he saw her turn and look at him and he thought he was going to die. He could tell by the movement of her head that she was talking about him. Then his father and her son turned around and looked at him! He was a dead man for sure! He started thinking of all kinds of excuses in his head of what he would tell his father.
He knew he couldn't go home now. His father would take the big thick horse whip and he'd use it on him. He dreaded the very thought. He could almost hear the slap of the whip as it hit his skin and the stinging it would cause.
He decided that he would stay out as long as possible and would sneak in around dinner time. Hopefully his father would have forgotten by then or maybe they wouldn't even miss him if he went straight to bed. There were ten children at home and sometimes it was easy to hide.
He took the long route to the canal on the edge of town, visited some of his school friends who lived near there and finally when the sun was setting, he started back toward his home.
When he got to his house he could hear his father's loud voice in the kitchen. He thought he would just sneak by and head to the room he and his brothers slept in. It didn't work out quite that way. As he went by his brother Raul caught a glimpse of him and he yelled out, "There he goes now!"
"Ramon Carlos, come here," his father's voice boomed. He knew he was in trouble! He knew his father didn't just use his full name, unless he meant business.
"Yes?" he asked softly as he dragged his feet slowly.
"What did you do to Doña Imelda that she would hate you so much?" his father demanded.
"Speak up! I canąt hear you," his father said roughly.
"I guess I took some of her cow's grapefruit."
"RAMON!" his mother began.
"No, no, let me handle this," his father waived his mother away, "Did you tell her you were sorry?"
"You had a fight with her didn't you? You disrespected her even though she's a grown lady?" his father asked knowing his son very well.
"I guess so." Suddenly the kitchen seemed really hot and he could see the steam rising from the stove. Funny he'd never noticed this before.
"Haven't we taught you to respect your elders? Next time you go shine shoes on a Saturday I want for you to buy Doña Imelda a sack full of grapefruit and I want you to take it to her," his father ordered, "Do you understand?"
"Now go to your room without dinner."
Ramon scurried out of the kitchen quickly, but not before stepping hard on Raul's foot. Raul jumped when he did this and they gave each other a fighting look. They would settle scores later in their room.
When he was out of the kitchen he leaned against the wall and let out a long silent sigh of relief. At least he'd avoided the horse whip! Going to bed hungry was nothing new to him.
As he stood there he heard his father laugh loudly. The sound of his father's laughter caught his attention and he strained to hear what he was saying.
"Ese guerco loco. Do you know what Doña Imelda told me?" he was saying to his wife.
We were standing there, me and my compadre, talking to her when she saw this little rascal walking by. She said, "See that little hoodlum walking there? Ese guerco es un guerco bien desgraciado."
My compadre looked and me and I know he recognized Ramon and he was very embarrassed. "Mama," he said, "That little boy belongs to my compadre."
Doña Imelda cocked her head at me and looked at me in disbelief. "Don't tell me!" Doña Imelda said thoughtfully. Then she laughed, "Well anyway, that little boy es bien sana madre."
Ramon giggled to himself. He could tell by his father's loud laughter that he wasn't too mad and even his mother laughed at the story.
He walked to his room. It was okay. He knew one of his brothers would sneak him a bite to eat and next week he'd take Doña Imelda a sack of grapefruit... and some bricks.
Copyright © by Loida Casares Ruiz.
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