Family Recipes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fan Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Family Recipes

By:  Mario A. Alvarez


“Honey, where are the keys to the truck?” loudly asks one son to his wife.

“Hey, Joe!  Let’s go!  Who’s riding with me, come on!” says son number two.  Sister, leaning into the widow’s right ear, gives a hug from behind.

“Mom.  You can ride with me and Marisol, ok?”  The Mom, smiling, nods approvingly. 

“Please, guys!  Let’s go.  We’re going to be late and dad’s just going to lay there until –. “Sentence is dropped off.  Nobody dare finish it.  Everyone starts scurrying towards the door with coats, umbrellas and screams.  The door slams shut.

The hustling around of a large family trying to get somewhere – on time, is bad enough but, this day there are wives, children, and extended family.  The chore becomes nearly impossible when you add a funeral.  This is exactly what happened with the Vargas family one cold, wet autumn day.  As grandkids and their mothers are noisily moving from room to room with coats and umbrellas and the adult children of the deceased are packing diaper bags, juice boxes, and straightening up their ties after putting on the coat, the widow sits in the dining room, in her chair, quietly.  This is her chair, the one on the right side of the head of the table where her husband sat just a few days ago.  The same chair she’s sat in for 38 years.  She’s got her coat on and her hat. Her cane is at her side.  Her purse is across her arm.  She looks over at the empty chair and smile as she says “They won’t start without me.”

The sound of the door opening is heard and the oldest sister, filled with guilt and shame comes in.

“Oh, mommy!”  She starts by digressing to her childhood of calling mom, mommy.  “I’m so sorry; I thought Angel was bringing you out to the car.  I’m so sorry.  Are you ready?”  Mom gets up slowly and they both walk towards the door.  Mom shuts off the light.

As a large Mexican family, the Vargas’s relied on their Catholic faith.The funeral had packed the St. Mary’s Catholic Church pews.  As Dad’s body lay in the elegant box between the Alter and the pews, the priest begins his ceremony with traditional Catholic prayers and his Eulogy is a mixture of Spanglish and light-hearted wishes. 

“Buenos Dias.  Fidel was a great man in the community and a proud father to his nine children.  I knew him when he came to our town in the fall of 1969.  His and Maria’s children were only this tall and so young and full of questions and mischief.  But, Fidel showed them the power of his faith in God and respect for the community and its laws.  He would always say how proud he was of all his boys and how far they had gotten in their careers, their own families and staying committed to the church.  And, his daughters!  No one shined more than Fidel when he spoke of Connie and Gloria.  He would always get choked up when he spoke of them.” 

As the priest carried on, the adult children start looking around and getting impatient: looking at their watches, shifting in their seats, looking around at the crowd behind them.  One whispers to the one next to him, “Who are all these people?  I don’t think I know but a few of them.”  And the other, just as impatient replies, “I don’t know.  You know Mexicans, mention ‘free food’ and everyone knows everyone.” They both smile at each other.

“Shhh…”Gloria scolds.  The oldest son, Juan, is asked to come up to deliver some words. Juan moves slowly to the front of the Alter.  He is familiar with this Alter.  He had been an Alter boy many years ago and was responsible for putting the communion wafers and the wine away after the mass.  He cleared his throat, stared at the podium and softly began to speak.  He looked at those in attendance with friendly eyes.  His soft voice was always a calming bass that his younger siblings were used to and had missed these last years.  Juan was usually the one that delivered Dad’s message to us but with reason, calmness and clarity.  Juan’s glance was met with smiles and recognition from those around him.

“I was 9 years old when we moved here from Juarez.  None of us knew anything about our new home.  We were frightened.  But, mom and dad made our trip an exciting journey.  The long hours from Juarez to this town were broken up with singing, sightseeing, and listening to dad tell us all about the wonderful things we would witness!  Even today, I have to smile at the memory of the miraculous trip where we all made it here without dad killing ANY of us!”  (Congregation laughs aloud).

Then, the quiet moments of the eldest son’s words capture the restlessness and mood of everyone attending.  “We could not have imagined the fun, the friends, the love and the growth.  But, we were sometimes blind to the struggles Mom and Dad faced day to day as we were children.Dad worked two jobs to feed, clothe and shelter eleven souls.  Mom created a world of love and laughter for us all as we witnessed miracle after miracle of how far a tiny chicken, some beans and rice can last one family and taste better the last day than the first, always leaving each of us full and satisfied.  Dad showed us all what he was made of:  determination, spirit, strength, and devotion.  As we were growing up, Dad would be up late at night.  We heard the buzz of the TV and he was asleep in his recliner with a book and a notebook scattered on the floor in front of him.  Those of us older boys remember that he started his job as a janitor and a factory worker.  Mom would wake up at 2 in the morning to make fresh tortillas and frijoles for his lunch.  He’d walk 4 miles one way on the railroad tracks to make it to work by 7 and walk back home around 7 at night.  Mom would get his coffee and plate for his dinner.  Once he had his coffee and his plate, every one of us would take turns sitting on his lap and telling him of our day.

 “Dad was not a small man.  Yes, short  but, he was HEALTHY! (Juan motions with his hands stretched out around his waist:  people smiled knowingly).None of us knew this man or why he would sit in front of the TV with notebooks and hardcover school books and pens and pencils.  Dad loved us so much that he wanted us to move from this one-bedroom rented servants’ cottage, with no running water, only a well and an outhouse, to a house of our own with indoor plumbing and 2 bedrooms.  I think we even celebrated with a cake and some Musica Ranchera when dad received his high school diploma.  He and mom drank some cervezas and tequila and stayed up way past our bedtime, dancing, talking and singing to the music being played.  This was the first of many milestones Dad would reach with hardly any “thank you’s” from any of us.  Some of his other accomplishments included upgrading his Military Discharge, He attended college and received his degree, he went from a janitor, cleaning hallways in the county courthouse to working in the justice system as an Intensive Parole Officer.  He moved us from the poor side of town to a beautiful suburban home where Mom still lives.  How did we repay him?  We were selfish.  We were learning to be American teenagers: fighting, cussing, smoking pot and having girlfriends.

“We grew up and left town as soon as we could.  We married, had children, had divorces, great jobs and seldom came around – we were just too busy. Some of us would bring the grandkids around and when we did, we were surprised to see Dad acting as if he was a child again:  running, playing and laughing with his grandkids.  They all loved grandpa Fidel! 

“A few years ago, Dad was losing weight, had digestive troubles and went to see some doctors and specialists.  He told Mom not to tell us.  He wanted to go on living as long as he could.  His past alcohol use had caught up with him and shut down his internal organs – lungs, liver, anything that filtered the body was killing him.  Today, we lay him to rest.  A rest he richly deserved.  He provided so much for his family and his community.  He has earned this peaceful rest with our LORD.  And, Dad, since we never said it while you were still alive and unselfishly giving of yourself for your family’s good, we say ‘Thank you’.  Thank you for bringing us to America.  Thank you for working so hard and believing the American Dream for all of us and a special “Thank You”, Dad, for being my dad.”

As the congregation stands, in tears and hugs, six of the sons walk up to the casket and stand beside it as the funeral director closes the casket.  The priest scatters the casket with burning incense as the organ and choir sing a haunting selection.  Grieving wailing and crying start, toddlers cry seeing their parents cry.  Mom is wiping her eyes and is led by oldest daughter behind the casket to the waiting Hearst.The rain falls gently on the procession and the mourners pull for their umbrellas.

In the cemetery, there are a lot of formal procedures – according to the Catholic faith.  The priest proceeds to lead all the family, friends and guests in prayer and procession.  The event takes place under a large tarp with chairs for the immediate family and flowers surrounding the casket.  There would have been no tarp big enough to hold everyone safely from the rain.  The countless of those paying their respect were in raincoats and hats and sharing umbrellas. 

As the service came to a close, Angel, the second oldest raised his voice to be heard over the rain and the crowd moving towards their cars.

“We want to welcome everyone to the house on 6th street for a cup of coffee, a snack and to thank you all personally for coming to say good bye to Dad.  Please, join us for a couple minutes if you can.”  And, then, like soldiers, everyone filed in an orderly fashion back into their vehicles and out of the rain. 

As the family was heading back towards the house, the windshield wipers started to squeal.  The rain had stopped to a sprinkle and then the clouds parted to bring in the bright mid-day sun.

“Thanks, Grampa!” Marisol said as she stared at the sky through the back window.

“What, honey?” asked her mom as she continued to drive. 

 “I was thanking Grampa for shutting off the rain and turning on the sun.  I prayed to him when Father Tony was telling us to take a moment of silence to pray – I asked Grampa to make the rain stop and please, make it nice and sunny!” Marisol told her mother with an excited and convinced look that Grampa had heard her prayer. 

“Soly.  As soon as we get to Gramma and Grampas – I’m sorry.” She catches herself, “As soon as we get to Grammas house, take this key and go unlock the door, baby.  I’ll park and help Gramma out of the car but, everyone’s going to be waiting with their hands full and we need to let them in.”

“Ok, mom.”  Marisol agreed.

If you have been fortunate to grow up with or live next to a Mexican family, you know that “mi casa es su casa”.  My house is your house.  The Vargas house was no exception, especially with nine children.  Any given day, one could find a neighbor, a child, a football game or a barbeque going on at this beautiful house.  Mr. Vargas had moved his family from the west side single room shack to a Victorian-era, six bedroom, 3 bath empire.  Because the kids were all stair-step in ages, the house usually was occupied by friends of those kids from every age group.  The older three got to share the basement as a bedroom.

The basement was the level of the house in which every kid wanted to live.  That was where the music played late into the night and the laughter could be heard throughout.  That was the part of the house that always smelled like something was burning and had a padlock on one of the rooms.  The basement was the room where dad would find a stray female once in a while and a roar from the king would be enough to send everyone – stray or otherwise, into the other direction.  In the basement, the posters, the graffiti and the mood was just a little more soothing than the hustle going on upstairs.  Every once in a while, in the middle of the afternoon, throughout the middle of the week, even a middle child could feel safe enough to venture below the main level to seek advice from an elder concerning a school matter, a girlfriend crisis or questions about a job interview. The three older Vargas boys were somewhat intimidating to strangers but, the middle children and even the babies knew they were just loud, obnoxious, soft pussycats.  But, they not dare say this to their faces. 

This house is the Vargas house.  A century ago, an affluent Western European Colonel of the Army had built this house for his family.  The Military Fort was stationed right along the Mighty River and this house overlooked that river and that fort.  This house was sitting on the hillside in which it’s sunroom windows had a firsthand look at the bustling young town with the movement of the soldiers and the capture of native savages.  This house had pillars, capstones, statues and arches with ornate dentil work with moulding that was the envy of the era. This house once served as the place where the brown people were enslaved to perform menial tasks of gardening, housekeeping and cooking for the elite.  Today, this house belongs to ancestors of those proud brown people that enjoy passionately performing those menial tasks of gardening, housekeeping and cooking for themselves. 


“Hi, Maria.  That was a beautiful service” says a Caucasian couple entering the home with a covered dish. “I know that all your kids are here so, I brought you all something to eat.  You don’t want to spend today in the kitchen!”  Mom just smiles, nods her head and thanks them.  The noise in the kitchen of dishes and cups clanking together can be heard In a distance.  A tall middle-aged woman wearing an apron over her black, long dress enters the dining room and asks who wants coffee, tea?

 “A snack, Maria?  Jonie brought a beautiful peach pie.  Can I get you a piece?”  she begs Mom.  Mom, quietly shakes her head no and gives her a big smile.  “Ok.  Well, let me know if you do, I’ll be happy to get you a plate or something.  Do you want a plate?”  she insists.  Mom just smiles back and shakes her head again.

  She goes back to the kitchen.  The adult kids are passing through the dining room, talk and chatter in other rooms, some joking and some asking about how are things in Phoenix.  Coats piled up on the china hutch by the dining room table.  The stack is so big that it starts to fall as one more is placed on top.

 “Joey.  Don’t bring any more.  If you need to, take some upstairs.” An older brother tells the youngest. 

“All your kids are up there.  Tell them to take them up.” Joey remarks. 

Some brothers bring their cups of coffee into the dining room and start small talk with one another.  As the younger sister presenting her current boyfriend to Mom and others at the table,  Mom shakes his hand and smiles.  A middle brother stands up – confrontationally, into the new beau’s personal space and starts to harass the guest.

 “Back off, Marco.” Says Connie..  Everyone laughs and Marco shakes the guest’s hand.  Relieved, he smiles.  Others being introduced barely acknowledge the visitor.

 “Let’s go.  I’ll show you my nieces and nephews.  Hey, Lance?  Are Manny and Emilio here?”.  They leave and go upstairs.  Mom sips her coffee, quietly looks over her boys at the table.  Gloria comes into the room with her coat and a bag of pastries from the Mexican bakery.

  “Here, Mommy.  I got you some esponjas and pan dulce.”  Smiling, she sets the bag down on the table and Mom, smiles gently at her and pats her hand.  The brothers sitting at the table grab and argue about the piece of pastry that has been abandoned by Mom and Sister. 

  “Gloria.” One brother hollers.  “What are you driving?  Where’s your truck?”  Another brother interrupts her answer with his remark.

 “Don’t go there, Lance!  Don’t get her started on the idiot that ran the stop light and – oh!  Sorry, Gloria!”  Everyone laughs, Gloria lifts the eyebrow.  The famous eyebrow!  Angel points it out immediately.

 “Hey, Sis.  You do that eyebrow thing just like Mom used to.”  Everyone laughs.  Gloria hugs Mom’s arm.  Mom shakes her head as she shows signs of busting out in laughter.  Mom is familiar with her boys busting her daughters’ chops.  Guests come into the dining room and laugh a second and one by one they announce that they must be getting home to this and to that and it was a beautiful service and thank you and if you ever need anything……

Coats and umbrellas are assigned; last shout outs about the rain and the miraculous stoppage of it and safe driving all the way to Texas.  Elderly lady gives Mom her hand and gently kisses her cheek and Mom gives her a sincere hug only reserved for family.  Her comadre.  The elderly son accompanying her takes her by the arm as she maneuvers her walker out the room.  “Do you need help, Lupe?”  Younger brother asks.  “No, thank you, I’ve got it.  Thank you.  Good night.”  Door slams shut and house is quiet.  Grandkids are upstairs playing Nintendo, some are watching TV and some have taken a nap on the carpet on pillows or the couches.  Two are asleep on Dad’s recliner.  The wives of the brothers are in the sunroom chatting and having their wine/coffee.  Juan is sitting at the head of the table.  Mom pats his arm.  Everyone is silent.  A lone sniffle and heads bow to the chest.  A brother begins to quietly sob.  No sound but, shoulders shaking up and down.  Another brother puts his arm around him.  More eyes get wiped and more noses are blown.  A crash from the kitchen brings everyone back into the moment. 

The brother nearest the kitchen goes to inspect.  From the doorway, he announces that some of the covered dishes were placed on top of one another because there was no more room.  He enters the kitchen as he shouts into the dining room.

 “There are a lot of sweet potatoes, Corn, there’s something with noodles and wait.”  He pauses; everyone in the dining room is waiting for his continued play-by-play.  “What the heck is this?” everyone looks at one another with smiles and shoulders raised.  “Tuna?” he reports.  “Tuna Casserole! Everyone laughs.  “Who brings tuna casserole to a house full of Mexicans?”  Everyone loses it and starts to laugh uncontrollably.  Mom even catches her coffee in her mouth from spitting all over the table. 

 “Dad would have said, “We have corn, potatoes and fishing bait!”  Everyone laughingly agrees.  Mom just nods her head at the sight of her children – now, all grown up and all still sitting at the table they once shared together.

  “Marco!” yells, Lance.  “Is there any tacos, enchiladas or frijoles?”  “No.” is reported back.

  “I’m hungry but, I don’t want that – I want some of Mom’s home cooked carne!” comments Rene.

Everyone smiles coyly and turns towards Mom.  Mom smiles back at them and replies, “Well.  Mijo.  I wish there was somebody here that knew how to cook the tortillas and the frijoles and carnitas like I cook them.  Maybe, I should have taught one of you to fix tacos, enchiladas and Mole instead of having to get up every time somebody snapped their fingers.  Your father was good at that.  We’d be sitting here just relaxing and he’d get up and start playing some of his records out in the sunroom and something about that Musica Ranchera that made that man want some taquitos, chile rellenos and frijoles!”  She revealed to her brood.  As her words trailed off, she searched their eyes and when she found one looking back at her, she would wink, they would immediately drop their heads as if having played a part of a shameful secret. 

“Heck!  I’ll go in and start some enchiladas.”  Gloria announces.  And, almost in unison, all the brothers heckle back, “NOOOOO!”  Shocked, Gloria looks at them like they’re crazy and she looks back at Mom.

 “Gloria.  You’re as bad as Carrie.  You can’t even fix water without burning it!” yells a brother.

“I heard that Marco!” Screams his wife from the other room.

 Juan volunteers to cook.  Heck, he tells himself, I’ve been cooking for all of us since we were all babies.  Then, Angel reminds everyone about Dad’s favorite dish: Chile Rellenos, and asks Juan if he can make those. 

“I can.”  Speaks, Lance.  Everyone now is looking at one another – then, a look towards Mom.  Now, feeling guilty and needing to share a family secret, Mom tells them all to come back into the dining room, sit down and shut up.  She begins her tale of love and family that has been with her for over 30 years.

“You all started growing up so fast. And, as you grew, our meals were created, served and enjoyed.  It seemed that no matter what was going on, the meal brought everyone out of their miserable day and laughter, and love was always served with tortillas and frijoles. Let me tell you – each of you, about the foods you and all your friends have been enjoying over the years.” Maria sat quietly as her children, grown and with family of their own sat patiently with wanton eyes staring at the one person whom they all trusted since the beginning of time.  You see, in a Mexican household, the Lion is the king of his castle but, the Lioness is Queen of the kitchen.  This Matriarch was respected and revered by her grown children, the wives, the grandkids and the rest of the community of women outside her home.  She seldom spoke but when she did, everyone dare not move, interrupt or sneeze!  She begins her story of her lineage.

“I am the oldest daughter of my mother.  My mother had 16 kids.  3 women and 13 boys.  I have older brothers but, as the oldest daughter, my job was to learn as much as I could to help her care for my brothers and sisters.  I learned to sew, grow vegetables in the hard ground, ride the pony to the fields and cook with nothing but a few beans, some flour and some corn.  Your grandmother would teach me everything she could.  My mother was the eldest daughter of her mother.  She had 12 brothers and sisters and was instructed to do likewise.  Once in a while, a village elder would have a special party for his wife, daughter or a young couple getting married.  During these events, special ingredients were brought to my gramma’s house.  She and my mother would find the best tomatoes, the ripest avocados and the juiciest limes to create and follow family recipes that had been passed from generation to generation.  I remember sitting and listening to these stories as my mom was teaching me to cook, knowing that one day, I would pass these recipes on to my child.  But, when we all moved to America, everything seemed to change.  Every one of you wanted to forget your roots and become something else.  Your father insisted that you speak Spanish here at home and speak whatever you want to speak outside that door.”  She pointed towards the front door.

“When you were all little, it used to bring your father and me such joy to watch you play outside.  We were poor and didn’t have money for the latest toy or newest game.  You created your own toys.  You all had such wild imaginations and would go by the river and bring back shiny rocks, pieces of wood and you were all so excited.  As you all started to grow up and spend more time with friends and less time with each other, your attitudes changed.  Now, everyone was getting mad at everyone.  Nobody was playing in the back yard anymore.  Then, part time jobs after school, football, track, plays, band and everything else was on schedule.  No more time was made for your brothers and sisters and your parents.” 

“Your father and I sat and talked about how nasty you were all getting.  It seemed like everything was upsetting to everyone.  But, your father pointed out that he knew of one specific time that everyone was talking, helping each other and laughing like the old days:  Supper time.  Even when you brought a friend or two from school, I would have to feed them supper.  So, we decided one by one as each of you got older to teach one or two family recipes to each one of you.  No one was the wiser.  One of you got a recipe for Carnitas and pan dulce.  One got the recipe for tacos and tortillas.  One got the recipe for enchiladas, one for Chile Verde and so on and so on.  Your dad said that we wouldn’t be around forever and this way, if anyone wanted to have a big family gathering with all the full menu, you would have to call each of your brothers and sisters because you can’t prepare Chile Rellenos without Sopa de Fideo and frijoles and Guacamole.  And each of you has one recipe but not the full menu.” 

“When your dad found out that he was dying, he called you all to try to come to the house for a 4th of July Family Reunion.  None of you could come – everyone was busy.  We missed you all.  Dad read about a corner tavern that had a kitchen that was for sale and he talked me into sinking all our money into it.  He said that this way, we all would be part owners and all share in the responsibility of making it a success.  All my kids would finally come to see me and bring the grand kids and it would be like old time.  But, even then, one wouldn’t show if the other one was here and if the one showed up unannounced while THIS one was here, they would leave.  You all acted like you never knew each other.  And you all drank from the same cup and ate from the same bowl as kids.  What happened to you all?” Mom stopped talking as everyone hung their heads down in shame and cried softly in anguish and guilt.  Mom finished her talk,

 “So, each of you has a page from our family recipes.  Nothing can be exactly the same without one another.  Above all else, remember:  You are family.  Nothing is more important than God and family.  Put aside all your petty arguments – forgive each other.  Just as Jesus forgives us for nailing Him to the cross and Father Tony today said the “Our Father”:  “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  You need one another.  Brother should be able to call brother.  Sister should be able to call sister.  I’m getting old.  My cooking days are over. “

She adjusts herself on her chair. The dining room is quiet.  Maria is used to this big beautiful house with the sounds of life.  Her message of love and forgiveness have been heard and understood.  Her children – the same ones that cried when they scraped their knees falling off the bike, the same ones that laughed when administered raspberries on their tummies.  Her children, all nine of them, now, sitting here at this table that they’ve all sat in since before they could touch the floor when told to sit up straight.  She feels her proud husband’s presence.  She smiles at the memory of how he would lighten this moment. 

 “So, I’m hungry.  I want some tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, frijoles and arroz.  Someone get me an Iced Tea with lots of sugar, like dad made it, and I’ll sit right here waiting for it!”

Everyone smiled, laughed and hugged one another.  Then, one by one, everyone hugged mom, kissed her cheek, told her they loved her and went into the kitchen.  The noise from the kitchen was of a busy, lively, grand event occurrence of pots and pans clanking and banging against one another – again.  One brother goes into Dad’s stereo and selects a favorite  Norteña album and everyone sings along. And Mom, sitting alone at the dining room table – in her chair, the one she’d sat in for over 30 years, looks over at the empty chair at the head of the table and smiles, “Well, Viejo.  All your kids are here.  Thank you for all of them.  I’m going to enjoy their company – and this meal!”




Submitted: January 31, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Macaroni Mario. All rights reserved.

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