What Do We Keep?
Most people would have thrown it out because it was almost useless. It wasn’t even pretty. It was just a plain, old bowl with a big crack in it. Mrs. Jaramillo took it out and patted it before she placed it on the table. She gathered flour, salt, lard and a rolling pin. She was preparing to teach my mom how to make tortillas, and mom was ready to learn; she was already knocking at the door, calling, “Hello! Anyone home?”
“Ven. Ven. Come in.”
She was friendly the way the ladies at church are friendly after Mass, smiling and pursing her lips a little. But she warmed up quickly to mom and was soon sloshing coffee over to the table. She was laughing at mom’s story about the grasshopper that waved to us when we were gathering left-over peanuts from some farmer’s field.
“I’m telling you the truth! It waved at us! We got down in the dirt and stared real close and it waved one little arm at us when we said ‘Hello’ to it.”
“Mrs. Jaramillo laughed; her toothless mouth was shiny and pink. “Ai, Joyce, you are one crazy lady, I tell you what.”
Her laughter gradually softened and fell quiet like a leaf, falling easy till it rested silently in her lap. She shook her head, still smiling at the thought of mom, with the four of us kids, lying in the middle of a field, talking to a bug.“OK now, Joyce. Let’s make tortillas. Go over to the sink and wash your hands.”
Mom did as she was told and came back to the table.
“You get your flour and fill it to here, where this crack is.” Mrs. Jaramillo poured flour into the bowl, up to the crack. Mom said, “But what if I don’t have a bowl with a crack in it?” She was still feeling playful and assumed Mrs. Jaramillo was too. But Mrs. Jaramillo stood up straight and looked tall even though she was barely five feet. She picked up her bowl and put it away. “Well, then you will never learn to make tortillas!”
Mom thought she must be joking, but she was dead serious and after several very uncomfortable moments, she said, “Well, I guess I’ll go home.”
The screen door creaked shut and mom walked back to our house. She never did learn how to make tortillas.
Mom and I love to talk about that story, mainly because we can’t figure it out. What was it that upset this friendly old lady so much that she refused to teach what she’d been happy to teach only minutes before?
We treasure that story because it makes us laugh because we don’t know what to do with it. We hold onto it because it reminds us of a time when grasshoppers enchanted us while we gleaned the fields. We hold on and we talk about it every chance we get, baffled and full of wonder too.
I hold my favorite bowl like I’m holding a baby. Not the way a new mother holds a baby, but in that relaxed way that women develop when they realize the baby won’t break the way fragile china or porcelain breaks.I get out the flour, salt, and olive oil and stand over the empty bowl, looking for that line of cobalt that runs right through the clay like a river running through the mountains. There is one spot where it looks like it’s splashing over its banks. I pour the flour up to there.