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Light sifted in beams through the slits of the blinds, filtering in from outside in cuts of yellow hue that cast themselves out onto white tile floor, a low rumbling moving the glass window with a drumming that echoed in the quiet home. In the background was the sizzling of meat cuts as they simmered on the bottom of the pan, a quick chop chop chop rising up with steady tempo, a medley of sounds combining to form a musical of industry as strong arms, partially covered in rolled up sleeves, worked at the foods scattered throughout the kitchen. Elderly fingers pried at white dough, digging at it, pressing it, like hands on muscles, a masseuse by another name, a worker of pastries instead of sinew. Small, glistening beads of moisture were spread across her forehead as she pushed down into the bowl, the doughy substance giving way as she hauled it from its container and onto the wooden block before her, one hand reaching for a rolling pin while the other spread the substance. Years of training led to this moment, as the dough was separated into individual bits, the wooden roller spreading it out further into thin, round sheets to be placed into the pans.  Aged eyes, stretched and creased with wrinkles, focused from behind a thin set of glasses she had worn for many years now, gray strands of her hair falling down over the lenses but distracting her not one bit as she rolled out the individual pieces of dough. Behind her, younger arms ground into a mortar, hands working inside the bowl with a pestle, a green substance spreading throughout the sides as she worked. Eyes quickly danced to the oven as the pieces of dough were placed into the pans, quickly baking as the heat rose up through black cast iron and into the white substance, dotting its surface with stains of brown and edges of black.

"Tortillas are ready," announced the elder woman as she brought the pan back to the table, setting out the now firm pastries onto the table, folding them. They cracked and snapped as crisped edges broke with the folding, though now fashioned into receivers for hot cuts of meat that were quickly dumped within the mouths of the tortillas, small clouds of smoke rising up into the air as they continued to cook with their own heat, juices running out and saturating the pastries they were encased within. Small pops erupted as they continued to sit, soon quickly covered with colorful slices of bell peppers and onions. Reds, greens and whites formed a rainbow hued painting on the canvas of the tortilla, quickly hiding the meat, which peeked out from behind the curtain of vegetables. This was soon joined by the arrival of the mortar, carried by the younger woman, who scooped out lumps of guacamole and spread it in thin layers against the sides of the tortillas, which were now small bowls for the contents within. A few had been kept aside and filled only with a thick cheese, little better than nachos but created with love, then passed out into the small, grasping fingers of children that hovered at the edge of the dining table. There were perhaps a dozen people there, mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, gathered into a single room into which was stuffed a refrigerator, oven, kitchen sink, dining table as well as cabinets, dish holders and a small desk for cooking books.

It seemed an impossible squeeze, a manipulation of all known laws of physics. Limited space demanded limited occupation, but far more sat there than should have been possible, conjoined voices tying together in knots as they spoke over and through one another in a chorus of language. Through the din and cacophony there arose harmony, and none found it difficult to hear the other. This was family, dinner held over fajita tacos carefully cooked over the last hour. Smiling faces beamed from underneath thick bristles of mustaches, traits of the heavy set uncles that had once taken pride in lean looks carved from military discipline. Their wives, likewise, filled the air with laughter, moppish hair cuts falling down over their eyes in curls, strands of it just now beginning to show the signs of gray that would mark later life. In the confines of that small room, in the midst of summer, they sat in the heat of the sun that turned the kitchen into a different sort of oven. Sweat was impossible to hold at bay, and its salty presence mixed with the air of fajitas and bell peppers in an unusual blend that they were all somehow accustomed to. Years of living without an air condition produced this response, and the result was a distinctly human scent removed from the sterility of homes accustomed to constant cleanliness and temperature adjustments.

Slightly dingy teeth carved their way into the soft tacos, tearing away bits of pastry and meat, dotted by occasional elements of the vegetables, a constant shake heard as hands passed the salt around the table. Young children began to sprint away, cheese tacos in hand, as their wobbly legs propelled them outside at the beck of the house's true owner, "Puddin", a small rapscallion if there ever was. Puddin leapt and led the way on four legs, tail wagging as it led the triumphant march of the kids, the screen door from the kitchen slamming as their merry band burst into the backyard. Aunts momentarily called out warnings for the children to be careful, only to be checked moments later by uncles, who enjoyed the wildish behavior of their energized progeny. As the chorus settled back into familiar patterns, the chattering falling to a low hum as they discussed that day's homily that had elevated them from the natural to the supernatural, the reading of the church father their break from a week defined by schedules, punch cards, work hours and monotony, they each clung to the food before them, cooked by grandmother and daughter. They gave praise, to God and women, for the creation, one of the men raising his slightly into the air, eyes settled upon it in a glance of satisfaction. They were bathed in the light of the noontime sun that now filled the kitchen with its full might, its face smiling down upon the small, three room house that seemed little different from a score of buildings that filled the neighborhood. Still, they were united, by love of family, and love of food. It was another Sunday afternoon in south San Antonio.

Originally posted to DAISHI on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 02:14 PM PST.

Also republished by Headwaters and Community Spotlight.

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