Is what we looked forward to eating for dinner, if lucky, with a glass of milk. I’d keep excited vigilance standing on the freeway overpass for my uncle’s arrival with the gallon of milk. Like a child who awaits the melodic tune of the ice-cream truck. Sassafrass street would be his exit. Tita always scrambled enough change for a loaf of white bread. She kept the jelly in the fridge – so clean and spacious like the refrigerators on display at one of those electronic stores. So much room we could-of fit 100 jars of jelly!
On the days we had milk, our next-door neighbor would lend us six cups – plastic. We’d sit around the kitchen floor – jelly sandwiches in our left hands and cup of milk to the right – imitating some kind of place-setting structure. The sound through the window of cars heading to some unknown destination and the sound of the airplanes arriving from some unknown destination made me feel joyous and excited. These sounds implicated possibilities; unexplored realities.
I hated predictability like I hated jelly sandwiches. Sometimes our neighbor got lucky and had leftovers that she shared with us. Those days felt like the sounds of the cars and the airplanes. Her home smelled of beans, corn tortillas, meat, chiles, and cilantro. Her kitchen was filled with cooking artifacts: pots, a blender, utensils, spices, cookie jars, and food. I imagined my grandmother in her kitchen. At night I’d peek through a crack in the neighbor’s blinds and gaze at the soft pink velvety Louis XVI sofas with doilies placed on the back rest; curtains, heavy and plush with golden fringes, draped behind; pictures detailing important achievements and mile stones; and plastic runners to shield the soft suede-like carpet. For a moment I’d pretend I was staring into my home. I thought if I believed it enough, the emptiness of my house would disappear.
We’d always look forward to the weekends. We’d put on our best clothes and walk to Seaport Village, pretending to be tourists. I’d imagine we’d just disembarked from one of the spectacular cruise ships and were here to explore San Diego for the very first time. My brothers would skip along or do some risky thing like walk on the edge of the sea wall taunting the seagulls and the boats that patiently waited for their own adventure. I’d stop and read the menus that flirted with the passer-by’s palette, and enticed mouth-watering enthusiasm for the specials of the day: coconut-crusted tilapia, Teriyaki mesquite grilled shrimp with creamy pineapple dip, and pacific mahi-mahi charbroiled over hot mesquite coals served with a side of herb yogurt with a hint of sweet and spicy chipotle.
Once I’d made the careful selection, I’d pretend to call the restaurant and make reservations for six, calculating precisely how long it would take us to make our way through Seaport Village. The chatter and laughter made me feel happy. I felt normal. The cruise ship, like the airplanes and the cars on the freeway had a mystical destination, another adventurous stop where someone like me awaited. At the end of that summer, we were evicted from our house. A full size mattress, a stack of blankets and a few bags of clothes served as reminders of how little we owned. The weekend walks and my grandmother’s love served as a reminder of how much I had.