Saturday, November 12, 2016

Memories of Friendship

When I was a little girl I remember playing outside till dark with my neighborhood friends.  Our days were filled with imagination and jumping fences to play in each other’s backyards.  The small house next door was called home by three generations of one Laotian family. I am not sure what brought them to Kansas City but I am glad they moved in next door because that's how I met Ana.  She was younger than I, but was smart and mature for her age, so I enjoyed her company.  Ana often had to translate english to the older generations.  She showed her parents and grandmother unconditional respect.  Their household always seemed to be in order and she knew her place in her home.  

Our homes were like two different worlds only separated by a chainlink fence and a language barrier.  My parents did their best to provide for us in very humble circumstances.  Both of them worked outside of the home and sometimes there was no parental supervision on long summer days.  My older brother would babysit, but under his care orderly would not describe us.  The lack of order overflowed into our backyard.  Our backyard was a place of free play and Ana’s a place of work and resource.

Ana’s petite grandmother was always working long days in the garden.  She didn’t speak a word of English but I knew she expected order from the pale freckled face girl from the strange world next door.  I remember Ana had a gentle and graceful way of translating her grandmother’s stern reprimands to me, when we would sneak strawberries from their garden.  Those strawberries were tiny, but delicious on those hot summer days.

Ana’s family garden was full of small plants with colorful peppers and vegetables.  I will never forget the day I was tempted to try one of those colorful peppers.  They were so tiny and I couldn’t help think they would be as refreshing as the tiny strawberries.  I would have never guessed they carried a powerful kick of heat that would set my mouth on fire. Nor did I realize that as I bit into it that the oils would run down my hands and become a catalyst for an overwhelming wildfire on my face.   I had wiped the tears from my eyes as we ran into their home for some milk and I was confronted with a new burning sensation that only intensified by my second wave of tears.  There was no rebuke from her grandmother that day, but I definitely felt punished.

 Ana’s backyard was a rural oasis in the midst of urban calamity.  Sometimes there would be live chickens pecking in there backyard.  It didn’t dawn on me that they weren’t pets until the day Ana’s grandmother chopped one of there heads off and let it run around till it fell lifeless to the ground.  At first I was terrified until I realized the feathered friend wasn’t a playful pet; it was family dinner.  Though lifeless the fowl still provided entertainment to a group of dirty faced neighborhood kids, as we explored the science of the chicken talon.  I remember her brother pulling the tendon causing the claw to open and close.  For me the grass seemed greener on my side of the fence that day; I was thankful our chicken came frozen from the grocery store. 

There was always a since of mystery on Ana’s side of the fence and I was often introduced to new food experiences.  I guess that is why food is often linked to my memories of Ana, and it is a food that reminds me of her sweet friendship.  I had moved away when I was in sixth grade and I don’t recall interacting with Ana ever again.  I have never forgotten her or her strict grandmother, because I am reminded of them when I eat on of my favorite foods.  Ana introduced me to pomegranates.  She and her siblings would snack on the vibrantly colored seeds.  One day they offered me a handful; I was hesitant to try them after my pepper experience, but am so glad I did. Not only do they taste good, they will always remind me of the quiet girl from another world who happened to lived next door to my childhood home.  

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