Pliar, eleven, and Dalia, seven, don’t remember life before their adopted grandfather started spoiling them to death. The two little girls have become as close to my heart as any pair of blood-related grand kids could ever be. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Grandfather, open the door!” followed closely by “Grandfather we’re hungry!” is a routine part of summer vacation and weekends.
Brenda and Jesús are mom and dad. A few years ago, Jesús’ sister Andrea departed from her “normal” luridly risque joking to pull me me aside. She declared, “David, you know that you now just can’t up and leave those two little girls. You have become their grandfather”. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, the girls have no blood relative grandfather to coddle them, spoil them to death, encourage them, and offer a sanctuary to escape to when mom and dad lower the boom for one reason or another.
Carl wrote about children unlocking the hearts of Méxicans, and in my opinion it’s an understatement. The girls each take my hand when we shop in a mega supermarket, and men and women alike offer the warmest smiles you can imagine at the sight of a pair of obviously different heritage little girls leading an older person around the aisles. When we shop at the tianguis, the outdoor Sunday market in the town of La Mira, the girls insist on doing the bartering and selecting the produce. They guard the wad of pesos I give them for the purchases like a lioness with cubs.
The first Saturday of the month is clothes purchasing day. The Bam! Bam! Bam! on my front door changes to WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! The girls are here for breakfast. I am still shocked that Dalia at age four learned somehow to like “café con leche” although she dilutes it with and a knee-sagging quantity of sugar. I abhor the thought of those girls eating “Zucaritas (Sugar Frosted Flakes)” for breakfast too and insist they start the day with a good and hearty meal. Neither care for heavily spiced food (which is normal for kids of any type), and they have learned to love poached eggs on toast, and creamy overcooked oatmeal topped with butter, cream, piloncillo (super dark brown sugar) and a peach half dredged out of heavy syrup. When I taught Dalia how to crack an egg properly at age five, she crawled up on a chair, stood up and hugged and kissed me. Breakfast with the kids means utter chaos and upheaval in la cocina (kitchen) and gourmet treats like shrimp and avocado omelets and a flood of fresh squeezed orange juice.
Sabado Para Ropa (is “clothes Saturday”) and I have to strategize the entire day. The girls are totally infused with the universal feminine gene for shopping, and when a clothes shopping trip is in the offing, they bounce off the walls. The city is an hour’s drive and by the time we do the dishes, wash faces, and pack the car with coolers, we arrive with two little tummies utterly famished again. They love “Pollo Feliz” a chain chicken joint with air conditioning, clean restrooms (Dalia is priggish about that), and especially, the adjacent play area, with plastic tunnels and ladders and slides. We order chicken barbecued over leña (hardwood coals) and it is delicious. The girls get so wrapped up maneuvering their way through the play contraptions that they show up a little late after the plates have been set on the table. Doesn’t matter – they consume food voraciously and always finish a few minutes ahead of me.
Grocery shopping is “Learning Time” especially about mathematics. Nothing is loaded into the basket arbitrarily. Which size fresh milk is the better buy – two liters for twenty-four pesos or four liters for fort- two pesos? The girls have command of the shopping kitty. They have become shrewd shoppers and, miracles of miracles, their teachers said their grades in mathematics have shot up.
After grocery shopping the level of emotion inside the car skyrockets. The air conditioner barely can keep up with the calories being burned in the excitement of going to “Coppell” a mildly high-end department store with an escalator. Children’s clothing is on the second floor and the kids fairly drag me up the ascending steel steps. I have learned the hard way to bring along a cushion and drinking water. Shopping for clothes with two little girls means a full on test of endurance. First “I am placed in a chair in a strategically centered location” of the department. Then the two girls attack the clothes racks. A normal excursion has them parading at least thirty outfits by me for the first phase of the selection. After that the chair, cushion and water bottle is hauled a few hundred feet to just outside the fitting rooms. By this time all of the lady clerks have passed by me and given forth winks and “Buenases”. They know what’s going on. The older of the two likes to taunt me by popping out of the cublicle in a skimpy child’s bikini. “¡Ni Modo Niña!” (No Way! Child) I will utter loudly as the sales ladies behind me giggle. “Those jeans are way too tight! You’ll outgrow them in a month and then Dalia will have to wear them!” Pilar eyes Dalia suspiciously as she returns to the booth. Four hours later I wobble back to the car, with two chortling heavily laden chatterboxes. I know what’s coming next. “Abuelito! We’re Hungry!”
One summer day, the plan was to head for Zihuatanejo, about a three hour drive. Brenda and Jesús couldn’t leave until ten. Brenda said “dah-VEED why don’t you take the girls and leave early? You’re going to stop as always for used paperback novels, and we can meet up with you for comida at our usual restaurant in Ixtapa around one o’clock.” A shrewd thinker, Brenda.
As usual there was a very large and thorough “Puesto de Control” on the highway to “Zihua”. I waited in line and Pilar and Dalia woke up from a long nap. When I got to the point where the soldier directs traffic to pull over onto the shoulder and stop, I had rolled down all the electric windows, hot and muggy air flowed in.
I popped the lever for the trunk and the soldier standing by my window was at the point where he was going to ask me to step out for a moment so he could check under the seat for guns and drugs. Then he spotted the plastic Disabled Parking placard laying on the dashboard and wove his hands back and forth. “No es necesario señor” he explained. Then he spotted Pilar and Dalia in the back seat.
“Are those your children?” he inquired in a moderately suspicious tone.
Suddenly I found a pair of little arms around my neck and Pilar jumped into the front seat and did her best to hug me. Dalia was leaning past the headrest and planting kisses on my cheek.
“You leave our grandpa alone!” came the shouts.
The soldier stepped back in surprise. Then he broke out in laughter which got louder and louder. He bent over and grabbed his knees wracked by deep guffaws. The other soldiers yelled questions at him what was it that he was so broken up about. He couldn’t answer in one long string of words. It took four or five tries as he wiped the tears from his cheeks. Suddenly a half dozen soldiers were laughing their fool head off, and the folks in the car ahead of me were standing there with ear-to-ear grins.
I must have had a sudden allergy attack because I had to reach for a Kleenex.