Humanity and Me
When I was young my family moved around quite a bit. My father was a salesman and getting transferred was part of the package. Of course, the excitement of new places was offset by the loneliness of being a shy, fat, uncoordinated boy whose only real athletic ability was snacking.
We moved to a small town in the Midwest. And I met some children who were different from me in so many ways. But, they were exactly the same as me in so many others. Their parents had come from Mexico, trying to find a better life. It seemed like they had a hundred kids. All ages, shapes, sizes. Their house was noisy, mostly happy, crowded. A small house with a huge heart.
The father worked long hours at the local sugar refinery plant, it was hard work and didn’t pay very well. But, he never complained.
He never complained when this chubby, awkward white kid was hanging around his house, either. He never minded when I had more than my share of the homemade tortillas his wife made almost every week. They were still warm with the butter melting and mixing with the honey or grape jelly. Mother and father both laughed at my absolute delight in the warm soft flour ambrosia. In fact, none of them complained. They were all too busy being a noisy, raucous family. Aside from being at home or the library, it was one of the only places I didn’t feel like an outsider.
Eventually, we moved from there. I drifted in and out of responsibility, dropped out of school. I got a job working as a construction laborer. It was hard work, and it was dirty, and it didn’t pay very well. But, it was a job. I ended up working with a lot of Mexicans. Today, some people look at that as an insult, but it wasn’t. They were proud of their heritage, and they were proud to be in the US and working for a living. More than anybody I ever met they were living the American Dream. They worked like robots, carrying, digging, whatever was asked of them, they never complained.
And they shared whatever they had. For my part I shared cigarettes and sometimes after work I would buy some beer. But, it wasn’t expected, it was just welcome.
They never looked at me as different, and I never saw them as anything but friends. Friends who could speak in two languages, and fix an unbelievable meal in a half hour lunch from a cooler of mayonnaise jars filled with leftovers and a gas torch. Slapping the dust off their clothes, in a matter of minutes they had warmed tortillas filled with chicken mole, or hamburger and beans. Sizzling, melting and heavenly, I can still taste the aroma coming from the small, hot fire and the popping grease in the cast iron pan. It was amazing the way they used sand and water to clean everything.
Even when we had our differences they were like family. Family is always a little aggravating I guess.
I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider. It was no different with them, but they didn’t care. They didn’t ask for anything except to be treated as an equal, even when they were working so much harder than almost everybody. And, I guess that was all I wanted too, to be considered a part of something. It didn’t happen very often.
Now, I live in a city, work in a small warehouse, and I don’t know anybody, and nobody knows me, not really, not like my extended families from so long ago. Nobody accepts me, not like they did. I look at the world, I look at the US. And I think of the people I used to know and I think of how small we have become and it breaks my heart.
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