Saturday, January 22, 2011

Love in the time of Cheese and Machetes

I like cheese. 

I love cheese. There are two mini rounds of Queso Ranchero in my fridge and I feel almost embarrassed to peel back that wrapper and crumble some onto my beans. I open my fridge and flirt a little with it; give it a wink, giggle, say "hi... cheese." I feel so clumsy reaching for it, trying to decide if I want to unwrap it or not, like an awkward teenage boy fumbling for words to compliment the shiny, shiny hair of the girl who sits in front of him in Geometry class.

"Hello. Uhm. Hello... hi.... pretty. hair."

I want to devour those mini rounds of cheese, but if I do, they lose their beautiful roundness, wholeness... like the full moon. Sigh.

I'm not sure if my love for cheese stems from my memories of my ama and apa coming home from their trip to the motherland. The two happy travelers walking through our front door and opening one of their large suitcases to reveal layers and layers of hard, smelly, waxy rounds of cheese in shades of ivory, yellow and white; that fermented smell finally reassuring us that they were home, safe and sound.

Or, if my admiration of the milky byproduct is just innate, carnal passion that flows through my veins. I am, after all, the scion that arises when machetes and cheese meet in the hills of Santa Monica.

The hills of Santa Monica were lush and fertile in 1959. We are, of course, speaking of Santa Monica, Zacatecas, Mexico ... 1959 AD. The Torres' were well known in and around these hills. It was Don Pedro, Doña Maria and their large and impressive family who owned some land, some farm animals and who's daughter, Guadalupe, made excellent cheese. People would take the small risks to travel to Santa Monica from surrounding communities to buy or barter with Guadalupe for her rich, delicious, home-made cheese. One of these being Doña Mercedes Flores who had some very attractive daughters, according to the local boys.

I imagine that if they were to be described by young men in the language of our society today, they would be described with simple statements like:


perhaps even:


But in 1959, they were beautiful, bronzed, mestiza princess'.

Doña Mercedes and one of her daughters were preparing for a trip to Santa Monica to repay Guadalupe for some rounds of cheese she had so kindly credited to the Flores family. Doña Mercedes, wanting to extinguish opportunity for trouble that might arise, pleaded with her younger daughter, Luisa, to accompany her on the trip.

Luisa was a trouble maker, you see. A young woman who decided to walk out of the third grade because she couldn't be bothered to learn vowels when there were clouds to chase. A dare-devil who marveled at the idea of possibly, just possibly, running under and through large delivery trucks with the speed of light.

No, Luisa could not stay, Doña Mercedes thought. Even though she was already a young woman of 18, who knows what kind of trouble she would get herself into, she had to go.

But Luisa couldn't be bothered. The thought of traveling to Santa Monica bored her, deeply. Doña Mercedes finally convinced her to go on the trip and Luisa reluctantly prepared herself for the trip, thinking to herself that she could possibly catch herself one of them rich ranchers that lived along the way... just for funsies.

Upon arrival, Luisa immediately caught the eye of Doña Maria, who gushed over her beauty like a hybrid of awe-struck fans and big bad wolf:

What big beautiful eyes she has!

What gorgeous dark hair she has!

Mercedes, what a small little waist she has!

Mercedes, what a beautiful daughter you have!

Luisa graciously accepted the compliments and wondered where those rich ranchers were hiding, as she didn't see them along the way.

Somewhere on the other side of Santa Monica, Don Pedro's diligent sons were out in the pisca, the fields, working as hard as their father taught them since the age of five. Andres, one of the youngest, had recently come home from studying in a seminary; a path he was discovering thanks to his much respected uncle Bibiano.

It came time to return home and so Andres led himself and his brother, Jesus, back through the lush hills of Santa Monica. Andres had to swing furiously at the branches and weeds in order to clear a path that would safely guide them home. Taking his arms-length machete, he raised it over his head and swung right, then left, then right again. Jesus, following just behind, and stepped on the fallen branches, like a king would follow rose petals thrown in his path.

Left, right, left, right, left..

Sweat beading on his forehead, neck and arms with every swing and every step.

Oh those conspiring bits of perspiration!

In one heavy, sweaty swing, Andres lost his grip on the heavy machete which went flying behind him and into poor, unsuspecting Jesus' face.

Oh of all the holy's that my father learned in the seminary...

They quickly rushed home, where Doña Mercedes and her daughters were still socializing with Guadalupe and Doña Maria. Amidst all the chaos, Luisa's eyes fell on Andres.

Fine ringlets of hair peacefully resting, creating a deep bronze heaven atop of his head. He was tall, sturdy with big hands and milky-way eyes. While Doña Maria was examining Jesus' now bloody face and nose, Luisa inched closer, and closer, and a little more closer to Andres.

Like a curious Alice standing underneath the giant glass table, trying to determine just how much taller this statue of a man was. Andres, too worried about the damage he had done to his brother's face, paid no attention to the silly girl. Luisa quickly reviewed stealthy plans in her head...

Stomp on his foot. Apologize profusely.
Nudge him in the ribs. Apologize profusely.
Faint. No, fainting was silly.

Before she could devise a plan to get this man to look in her direction, Mercedes announced to her daughters that it was time to head home.

There was not one, long, dreamy, sparkly eye contact made between Luisa and Andres. So a bit sullen and lovelorn, Luisa returned home. She had completely forgotten about those rich ranchers she was supposed to catch. It hadn’t mattered to her anymore, she had preoccupied her mind with conspiring ways in which to gain the attention and admiration of this statuesque man.

Perhaps Doña Mercedes would need to buy more cheese from Guadalupe. A lot more cheese. And perhaps Luisa should go with her on these trips to buy more cheese.

Oh, but just as Luisa was a daring girl, Andres was a clever man.

He had dealt with many a beast before, enough to know that you don't stare the wild ones in the eyes lest you frighten them away. A woman like Luisa would need to be very slyly wrangled.

The next day, Luisa heard a peculiar bird out her window. One with ringlets of deep bronze and milky-way galaxies for eyes. It was sitting on top of a dark horse that neighed and stomped at the ground. Luisa caught on to this bird's song right away; she knew that if she were to return its call directly, it would gallop away on the horse it rode in on. Nor would she run out to him, spinning about and giggling like a wild trompo. These were things that silly love-sick girls did, and being such a silly girl was not her style.  

She instead decided that something on the roof's patio needed tending to. Something very important.

She wasn't exactly sure what, but never was she so eager to tend to chores on that roof that provided an unobstructed view onto the road in front of her house.

The bird acknowledged this action with a hum and a whistle and rode off. Luisa would see this bird a few days later, riding in on his dark horse, while she was in the river with the other women of the town washing sheets and dresses. 'Here he comes,' she'd sigh 'that tall man on his dark horse with his gun strapped to his belt.'

The fact that Andres always carried a gun when he rode was definitely a big sell for my mother in this courting.

For precisely one year, Andres and Luisa would secretly exchange their loving, star-filled glances as this courting needed to be kept hidden from their families; they were young and still had many responsibilities in the home to tend to. As such, many of their encounters were simple “coincidences.” Andres would gallop to the rushing river on the days she happened to be there, knee deep in crisp water scrubbing her skirts against the large stones. They would see each other at local community festivities and celebrations and have smiling conversations under the paper flowers and fireworks. At times they would meet under the cover of  the sweet shade cast by the trees, sharing funny stories and reciting their dreams like poetry.

They were wed on December 28, 1960 in a small church, with a small ceremony with large amounts of love.

My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary approximately one month ago. She now looking very much like a mestiza queen and he with his bronze hair now turned a shining platinum heaven atop his head, still sharing long sparkly glances. He, still finding ways to work with her wild ways and she, still conjuring up plans to rile up his serious ways.

They shared the day with us, a few dozen mis-matched silly boys and girls, lovers of food and wine, the offspring they created in the time of cheese and machetes.


  1. I should add a postmortem note: The rounds of cheese have been eaten, slowly, passionately. I couldn't help myself. I love cheese.

  2. Phenomenal legend of how the Los Angeles Torres family came to be.