Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What are crops?

It was one of the first days of Summer. School had been out for a few days in La Joya and already it was pretty boring at home. Chano wasn't having any luck keeping busy. The small black and white TV was showing soap operas and it would be a while before the 3 o'clock cartoons started. He was looking forward to another episode of GI Joe and He-Man. He stepped up on the 5 gallon bucket to reach the TV and turn it off. His mom was taking a nap in her bedroom. He looked out the back door to see if maybe Johnny was home. He saw the Valdez station wagon in the driveway, so he put on his shoes to go play with his neighbor.

Chano walked out of the house and headed to Johnny's. He walked into their back yard and went around the front of the house. Johnny was inside playing with his little sister, the sound of her giggles could be heard through the window. Mr. Valdez was outside working on the station wagon. Chano looked down on the floor and picked up some beer bottlecaps. There were always bottlecaps in front of the house where Mr. Valdez would drink beer. The bottlecaps had rebus puzzles on them and were fun to figure out. Mr. Valdez heard Chano approaching and looked up from the station wagon and said, "hey, Shaine, Johnny is in the house. Just knock on the door."

"OK, thanks", Chano replied. He stepped up on the wooden steps and knocked on the door. There was some shuffling and the giggling stopped. After a couple footsteps, Johnny opened the door.

"Hey, Shaine! I was wondering if you were going to come over today." For some reason, Mr. Valdez never allowed Johnny to go to Chano's house. The closest Johnny would go is to the wooden platform that he and Chano built on a mesquite in Chano's back yard.

"Do you want to go play outside?"

"Mom! Can I go play with Shaine out back?"

Mrs. Valdez was Johnny's stepmom and Sara's mother. She told him it would be alright if he put on his shoes. Johnny reached under the bed to grab his shoes and put them on. They ran to the back yard. Mr Valdez had a stack of pallets in the back that he used to make pens for the pigs. The family had come to the Rio Grande Valley from California, so they were hispanic, but did things a little differently. Chano liked playing with Johnny because he only spoke English. The other kids in the subdivision all spoke Spanish.

They grabbed some pallets and made a box out of them, adding a piece of plywood for a roof. One thing that the kids in the neighborhood shared was that they were all poor. Their parents all bought lots in the Valdez (no relation to the neighbors) Subdivision on Old Hwy 83 because they were affordable. All the parents also built their own homes as best they could. So, imagination went a long way when the kids went out to play. Today, they were space explorers orbiting around a new planet making preparations to land. They looked out between the slats on one of the pallets to survey the planet.

Johnny reported on the view from the window while Chano worked on steering the ship. "There's clouds below us, we're still pretty high".

"OK, I'm turning down the rockets a little so we can slow down," Chano replied.

"We got through the clouds and I can see the ground. I think I see something down there. There's big squares."

Chano wondered where Johnny was headed with this so that he could play along and add his two cents to the imaginary mission. He informed Johnny about the reduced rockets.

"I think there is life on this planet. There's people!" Johnny gestured Chano to the window.

Chano got up and looked out the window. It was just dirt outside, so he looked where Johnny was looking to play along. "How do you know there's people?"

"Look over there at those fields, there's crops". Johnny pointed at some weeds.

"Some what?"

"Some crops, over there." He pointed at the weeds for Chano to see.

"What are crops?" Chano had never heard that word before even though his family worked in the fields. He thought that maybe it was a certain kind of plant.

"They're food plants. Like tomatos, onions, and carrots." Johnny looked at Chano quizzically, wondering if Chano was pretending not to know as part of the game.

Just then, Mr. Valdez called Johnny to get ready to leave and get his mother some water. Both of the boys got out of the make-believe spaceship and walked over to the well. They pulled the cover off the well and dropped a bucket down into the hole to get some water. They filled a 5 gallon bucket halfway and then covered the well. They said their good byes for the day.

Chano walked back home. He stopped at the platform up on the mesquite and sat there in the shade a while. In all his 7 years, he had never heard the word "crops" before and he thought of ways to use it. He hopped off the platform and went back inside. It was hot in South Texas, so he decided to lay down and read some revistas in front of the fan until the cartoons started.

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