This morning I was reminded of a trip to Tijuana we took when I was a kid. My Dad's mother had come to visit us. I never really had a chance to get to know her, and looking back on that I find it to be a real shame. She was the one involved in the Kidnap story. By that point there was such a wall between us that I wonder if it ever struck her what she had done that day. She visited so seldom and we visited her even less often than that. I think there was a sort of wall between my father and his family. In that respect, I'm more like him than I realize. Anyway, Grandma Iva was the Grandma we didn't talk about since we didn't know her.
I have one fond memory of her though... and I'd like to share that.
Uncle Roger, this one's for you.
Grandma Iva came to visit when I was about 10 or so. We were living in Victorville California at the time and it had been countless years since we had seen her. For one of the days that summer, we decided to take a trip down to Tijuana Mexico for a mini-adventure. I'll never forget when we neared the border. The aroma in the air changed significantly. It altered to a blended smell somewhere between laundry detergent, bodily filth and rotten fruit. It was an odd mixture with that hint of lemony freshness thrown in there somewhere.
People everywhere were selling things. Kids sat along the sidewalks peddling little trinkets and dolls. Women would sit on colorful blankets surrounded by paper mache roses they sold for one American dollar. A man walked past in the busy streets with brown sandals hanging from a tall stick he carried. Pinatas were hanging from every store window and the world of Tijuana was full of color in so many forms.
My mother never learned any foreign languages, but when I was a kid and we lived in Maryland our neighbor tried to teach her a little Spanish. The only thing she ever remembered was how to say "I want a beer" in Spanish, which is incredibly ironic, since she didn't even like beer. Still, eager to try out her one phrase, she went to a Cantina and used her one line. When they asked her which kind of beer she wanted in Spanish, she sputtered and spat, not having the slightest idea of what they had just said to her. Finally, in plain English, the Cantina man asked her "What kind" and pointed to the taps. She opted for a Bud Light.
Dad and his mother wandered through the vendors, admiring the wares. Everywhere smelled like barbeque beef. Copper pots and pans hung from the frames of the tents. Fresh breads and fruits filled every corner of old wooden tables under the tarp roofs. Street performers played guitar and sang. T-shirt vendors offered to sell the shirts off of their back. Women tried to sell beaded necklaces that they draped over their arms. Kids sold candies and kites and stuffed dogs on strings. Flowers abounded, prostitutes wandered past freely. Drunks stumbled in the streets, wandering from one bar to the next. Other than the modern clothing, we were in the Wild, Wild West.
A few of the tents had clothing. That seemed to be what my Grandmother was interested in above all else. I tagged along as my Dad and Grandma got lost in conversation among the tents. From somewhere behind my brother shouted to us that he had just seen the bad guy from Crocodile Dundee. Mom turned to look - sure enough, it really was him.
We found one tent that specialized in leather goods. Grandma fell in love with a beautiful red leather jacket with fringe down the sleeves and a rose detail. The price tag on the jacket said $100, but my Dad advised her to strike a bargain with the vendor.
"Down here you have to haggle on the price," he explained. "You can get some pretty amazing stuff for really cheap that way. They're always willing to make a deal."
He was sure she had the concept, but just to get her going, he told her where to start.
"I'll give you $35" she said under my Dad's instruction.
"Oh no," he said in a thick accent. "I take $75 American."
Grandma looked over at Dad who urged her on. "Counter with somewhere in the middle."
"I have $50 cash I'll give you right now," she said with confidence, finally getting the hang of the whole thing. His face looked pained.
Confused, she jumped forward and pulled out $25 from her purse. She handed him the cash, snatched the jacket from him and walked away hurriedly before he changed his mind. Dad howled with laughter.
"Mom," he explained, "He thought you said FIFTEEN!!!"