El Cuento de La Mano Pachona – The Tale of the Fuzzy Hand

It is unbelievable the things one believes when one is a child. Santa Claus, the Three Kings, and other tales we hear in elementary school and childhood friends. But what it amazes me the most is the amount of faith we place in believing those things. One January 6th, I woke up to find nothing in my sock. I ran crying to my mom’s room, how could the Three Kings forget about me? My mom came out of her room with a big smile and a big box of chocolates. As she explained, they didn’t forget about me.  The Three Kings thought my mom’s room was my room—when in fact my mom fell asleep and didn’t place the chocolates in my sock.

I believed her the whole thing. Never in my young mind I would never question my mom’s words; the Three Kings left my chocolates in the wrong room, period. The same principle applied to all what I heard in elementary school. There was one tale in particular we all knew we all wished we never heard at all: “El Cuento de La Mano Pachona”. This translates to “The Tale of the Fuzzy Hand.” In elementary school you always wanted to be good. Not even in your wildest dreams you wanted to be face to face with the Fuzzy Hand.

“Érase una vez, un niño que desafió a sus papás y se salió solo a la calle y sin permiso. La Mano Pachona, una mano gigante, fea, diabólica y peluda, lo agarró y se lo llevó, y nunca nadie volvió a saber nada de ese niño.” When you are 6, 7, or eight years old and you hear the tale of a kid who disobeyed his parents by leaving his house by himself to play on the street, and suddenly a giant, ugly, evil and hairy hand found him, kidnapped him, and the little boy was never ever found ever again; when you hear this at that age, you totally freak out and you never dare to cross the door to the outside by yourself.

Our parents, grandparents, and older siblings, taking advantage of all this nonsense fear, would use such story as an effective deterrent: “Niño, si te sales a la calle solo, se te aparecerá la Mano Pachona y te llevará”. “Kid, if you leave the house all by yourself, the Fuzzy Hand will appear and will kidnap you.” It took me a while to understand this was no true, but it took me to be a mother to realize that, whoever invented the story and as cruel as it might sound, it serves its purpose of protecting young children from the real Fuzzy Hands out there.  Sometimes the end justifies the means.

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I Wish I Could Know What It Is

blodMy father was a doctor, a very knowledgeable and very respected one.  It wasn’t uncommon that walking with him on the street people would stop him to thank him for helping them feel better, for curing them, even some for saving their lives. Growing up I always thought, I wanted to be just like my Dad, I wanted to be a doctor just like him. I was his pride since none of my older sister wanted to deal with blood and guts.  So a precocious younger of four seemed like the best candidate to take after him.

Indeed I wanted to be either a doctor or a vet because I loved animals as well. I was fearless. Anything that moved I had to grab it and bring it home no matter how big, slimy, or gross it looked. Many times my poor mom was on the verge of a heart attack with all the “pet-friends” I would bring with me. So for sure we all thought—that one day I would fulfill one of those dreams. Thinks started to look different when I was about thirteen years old. It was the early 80’s, Hello Kitty was the fashion and the song Funkytown was the major hit.

One day, some heartless person ran over our sweet dog “Motita”, leaving her on the street all bloody and unable to move.  My sister and I rushed her to a Vet only to find out that she needed stitches in one of her legs. “Hold the leg”, the Vet told me. I did as he said and with my sister holding the other leg, the Vet began sewing.  The last thing I remember I woke up from something and I am on the floor, the Vet holding me, my sister looking at me like I have three heads, and the whole floor all wet.

“What happened”, I asked. According to the Vet I fainted.  That was weird I thought, I didn’t feel sick that morning at all. My sister was so embarrassed not because of the fainting spell, but for the wet floor.  What, that was me?? Apparently unconsciously I went.  Doubled embarrassed the three of us went home.

According to my father, the fainting episode was due to the high emotions I lived through that day. Not to worry he said. “All you have to do is get used to the blood. This is normal the first few times.” I tried several times getting “used” to blood as he said. Nope, nothing, nada. Every time I tried the same story repeated itself: waking up in the middle of the floor with a cold profusely sweat, pale color, and somebody next to me mopping the floor.

As sad as it was back then, I had to resign to all my medical dreams. As much as I loved science and medicine, this condition known as Hemophobia changed the course of my live. This condition never got better, I still faint at the minimal sight of blood; but I learned how to live with it.  When going to visit someone at the hospital, I make sure I use the bathroom first, and if I need to have a blood test, I must be completely laying down, not looking and constantly smelling alcohol.

Some say that this is the result of a traumatic experience during childhood but I just don’t remember one; others say is a genetic thing.  I want to believe the second one. Later I found out that the same sister who was with me at the Vet that day she developed the same condition over the years. Maybe that was the traumatic day that started it all.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been had I not have this condition.  I still love anything related to medicine and science but because of this, my life took an opposite turn.  It took me a while to figure out to choose another major when I went to college and to find something I was passionate about. And now whenever my eight year old brings “pet friends” to the house, I am now at the verge of a heart attack just like my mom was back then. Above all, I wish I could know exactly what it is. Why me and why blood.  Why do we have to change?

Roller Skates

My son just received a Birthday party invitation to “United Skates of America”, a place I always thought was only for inline skating, something I tried in my earlier 20’s with the attempt of bringing back my late childhood and early teens passion: roller skating. It never worked out. I never understood why roller-skating had to fade out only to have these new weird inline roller blades that made something that was so natural to me now so difficult. I tried couple times and for whatever reason, I gave up.

This party invitation brought me back to when I was about eight years old, waking up on a Christmas Day and rushing up along with my sisters to see what Santa had brought us. I have no recollection what I got, but I do remember what my sister got: a pair of metal roller skates. They were so shinny, so beautiful, so cool. Why I didn’t get that, why? My mom explained I was too young for that and besides, I didn’t know how to roller skate ans she did; maybe in the next year or so, if I was good, Santa may bring me a pair of those too.

In a year or so? Could it be now? Could I borrow my sisters’ in the time being? “No, you cannot” my sister said, “not even on your best day.” So I had to conform myself watching her on the street rolling and rolling back and for with the biggest grin.  Can I borrow them? “No.” Please? “No.” I’ll clean your room… No. I’ll give you my allowance for the whole month… “No.” I’ll do anything, please! “NO, NO, and NO!”

Sigh and more sigh… I felt what peas feel without the carrots, like a cake without the frosting, like popcorn without the butter. A child wanting something so bad, and there was no one around to advocate for her noble cause?? As days went by, I realized I had to do something. This situation could no longer be. I had to try those metal roller skates no matter what. Then, my plan, my master plan called for patience.  My mom always said patience gets you everywhere, right? And so I waited.

School break was over and we were going back the next day. That night I hardly slept going over my plan. My sister attended middle school from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm. I started school from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm; the morning was long and the world was my oyster. All I had to do was wait. I waited this long, I patiently waited a little more.

And then, she was gone. Gone for good part of the day. I grabbed the metal skates and a broomstick; tip toed all the way to the door and to the street. And that was it. I had them on and they were mine, mine, mine. As I felt taller, I fell. Aided with the broomstick I did stand up and fell again, and again, and again. But for every time I fell, I got up and started skating again helped with the broomstick. And suddenly, I felt the air in my face; it felt so good. That was the Zen moment, the a-ha moment that I got it. I was roller-skating and this time for good.

For the next eight years, I roller-skated almost every single day for at least five hours. I felt free as I went through the streets at high speed; bending, jumping, going backwards, in circles; I always thought, this is what birds must feel when they fly. It was absolute power. I wasn’t just roller-skating, I WAS FLYING. I even won couple races and some trophies. I was a true Roller-Skater.

As cruel as life is, time went by, I started college and I moved on to other things. I tried roller-skating few times again in my twenties only to be frustrated with the inline skating. That’s why when my husband told me that in this place also you can roller skate, my eyes lit up, responded with a big YES without even asking my son. Roller-skating? I’m in. I’ll be rolling skating with a bunch of eight year olds but who cares; for once I will be one of them too and hey, I may start it all over again.

Image source: http://www.etsy.com/listing/41701599/jet-set-vintage-metal-roller-skates

Sin Comino Por Favor…

Grinding cummin using a molcajeteComino is the Spanish word for cumin, a spice with a smoky flavor that is widely used in Mexican cooking. It also has this very distinctive aroma that, the way it smells, is exactly the way it tastes. Growing up I wasn’t to fond of this spicy, especially the way my parents prepared it.

When I went to elementary school, I had the afternoon schedule; meaning, I would go to school from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm, so I would stay all morning with my mom. I didn’t have to wake up to the sound of an alarm, but I did wake up every morning to the smell of comino. The smell was so strong that it would wake me up as my mother grinded the comino in the molcajete. A molcajete is the Mexican version of mortar and pestle made of volcanic stone and is used to grind spices, make salsas, and guacamole, among other uses.

It wasn’t the smell of it that bothered me that much but it was its consistency.  My father insisted that by using whole comino seeds instead of pre-grinded, the food would taste much better. So they would grind the comino seeds with the molcajete. And the food did taste good, I give him credit for that.  What I really hated was that when you were eating the soup, you would encounter whole pieces of cumin, and that to me, was absolutely gross and disgusting.

Many times I asked, I begged them, to please omit the comino once, only once! My pleas were in vain because all my childhood I ate my food with comino seeds swimming in it. Time passed by, I grew up, moved to the US and for a while I forgot about the deal with the comino seeds.

It wasn’t until I started living by myself, working at restaurants and eating the same food every day that I began to miss my mom’s cooking, even the comino seeds. Now, whenever I cook something, I made sure I have comino seeds in stock. And when I grind them in the molcajete, I made sure I leave them a little big so they can float in my soup and the smell spreads all over my kitchen so I can feel like I am home again.

Photo source: http://www.taringa.net/posts/recetas-y-cocina/16629746/Entras-al-post-y-salis-siendo-Mexicano.html?dr