November 28, 2012 at 4:28 PM
A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato
Andrew Lovato, Ph.D., is a communication professor, author and eavesdropper.
The following is the final chapter of a serialized novel and podcast. Start the story of "Elvis Romero and the Cosmic White Corvette" at the beginning, with Chapter One.
Trank was a little concerned when I returned home without his mom. I explained to him that she was resting in the hospital with his sister and we would be driving into town the next day to see them. This cheered him up and we spent the rest of the day cleaning the house from top to bottom. Trank did his best to pick up his toys from the floor and made up his bed as best he could.
The next morning we got dressed and had breakfast before starting out to Santa Fe. Trank was very impatient.
“Are we going yet to see the baby and Mom in the ‘Hostibal’?”
“Hold on Trank, let’s make sure we have everything. Your Mom wanted us to bring her a couple of books and some clothes, oh and let’s not forget to take her toothbrush. Okay, are you ready to hop in the car?”
Trank ran out the door and jumped in the front seat as I looked around to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. I shut the door and soon we were on the way to Santa Fe. It was a glorious, sunny morning as the storm clouds had passed overnight. On the way we listened to an Albuquerque Dukes baseball game on the radio.
I was a little concerned about what Trank’s reaction would be to his sister. I wondered if he would notice that she looked a little different from a normal baby. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the hospital parking lot and walked up to their room. Trank was thrilled with the elevator ride that took us up to the second floor. We finally reached Room 214 and as soon as Trank saw Anita he yanked his hand out of mine and went flying toward her.
“Mama, Mama!” he shouted and he began climbing up the hospital bed to reach her.
“My big boy! Have you been having fun with Dad and Grandpa? Give your Mama a big hug.”
“Hold on Trank,” I said and I lifted him up to Anita so he could throw his arms around her neck. She kissed him and he smiled broadly.
Anita asked, “Do you want to see your new sister, Lillianna? The nurse is going to bring her in a few minutes to drink some Mama’s milk.”
He nodded his head and claimed his rightful spot beside her on the bed. As if on cue, the nurse walked into the room with a little bundle and placed Lillianna in Anita’s arms. Anita sat up slightly and parted the pink blanket to give Trank his first look at his sister. He stared down intently for long time at the sleeping face.
Finally he looked up at Anita and said, “She’s pretty Mama. I like her.”
Anita and I looked at each other and our eyes filled with tears. We had much to learn from our son about unconditional love.
Trank and I kept Anita and Lillianna company during visiting hours for the next two days. They steadily gained strength and Anita became more and more restless until at last the doctor said they were ready to come home. Once we were back in our own house we settled into a comfortable routine. Little Lillianna became the center of everyone’s attention. Our initial worries about Trank becoming jealous of the attention given to his little sister were dispelled immediately as he could think of nothing else but her welfare during his waking hours. Even in his sleep, he would murmur her name and that was when we knew his loyalty was absolute.
Lillianna became more aware of her surroundings with each passing day. She observed everything around her with wonder, her big eyes filled with awe as each face or object passed in front of her. She was a big hit and she had no shortage of devoted admirers. Her grandparents, aunts, cousins, and neighbors all were in constant competition to determine who would get the privilege of holding her next. She was a sweet baby and it was obvious that she loved people. It was almost like she was therapy for everyone who held her. Often we were told that holding her was like a magic elixir that calmed and centered the lucky caregiver. Her purity and joy were infectious. It didn’t take her long to develop a wide, bright smile that melted hearts and endeared her to everyone she came in contact with. Anita and I had truly been blessed with an angel.
Our lives eventually settled into a predictable routine as the months passed by and the seasons changed in rural Peñasco. We worked with an organization for individuals with disabilities in Santa Fe called Corazon to develop an “Individualized Education Plan” or IEP for Lillianna’s development. The doctors encouraged us to work hard on what they referred to as her “motor skills.” Down Syndrome children need help in connecting to their bodies in concrete ways. We encouraged her to sit up, crawl, and exercise as much as possible. As she grew older we turned our attention to teaching her how to walk correctly and maintain a good posture, these were areas that kids like her had special challenges with.
We were told that Down children developed more slowly than normal kids and we should do everything we could to engage her in life physically, mentally, and emotionally. Lillianna’s therapy program became a great source of joy for Trank, Anita, and me. It seemed like our home was always in a great uproar of activity and excitement. Toys were constantly scattered across the floor of every room as they were considered essential for her manipulation skills. Anything she could open and close, pick up and release, stack, or build was fair game. Blocks, buttons, boxes, cups, colored paper, ribbons and many other things too numerous to mention populated our environment. We took turns exploring the wonders of these everyday objects with her and after a while it was hard to tell who was enjoying these activities more.
Lillianna’s care gave us the opportunity to indulge in our own excesses in the name of therapy. We sang together, read books, watched Disney animation films on TV, and constantly played.
Even though it was obvious that Lillianna’s development lagged behind Trank’s progress at her age, she still amazed us with her determination. Maybe she would never be normal whatever that meant, but she definitely was a happy child. She loved her family and her love was unconditional and absolute. Whenever I would walk in the door her eyes widened with an expression of total rapture and she would let out a shriek, stop whatever she was doing, and run toward me with her arms wide open. I had never known this kind of adoration and love. It was a gift that was beyond description.
Eventually with our hard work, Lillianna slowly learned to speak in her third year, progressing from one word expressions to several words strung together. She loved dressing up and combing her long, silky brown hair. I realized that my babies were growing up before my eyes.
Trank was becoming a bright, strong little man and he needed my attention more than ever. Although Lillianna would always be the apple of my eye, it was important for me to spend more quality time with my boy. It was a wonder to see Trank grow and develop into a young man in his own right. He began first grade at Peñasco Elementary and I knew that we had to share him with the bigger world. He would no longer be just our little boy.
Trank entered a universe that was remarkably similar to the one I remembered in my youth. Although the times had changed dramatically, in some ways things remained surprisingly similar. Marbles and baseball still played a large role in boys’ lives as well as risk-taking and male bravado. When Trank began hanging out regularly with his jackrabbit of a friend named Fernando, I thought of Rudy and the years we had roamed the streets of Santa Fe together exploring every corner of our environment. Even though the two amigos I observed were too absorbed in their own existence to have much perspective, I was aware of the great gift of friendship that each of them gave to each other. Someday they would also look back fondly on these times as their golden years.
The experience of raising Trank and watching him develop made me grow in fondness and nostalgia for the memory of my own father. As it seems children are want to do, I never appreciated the innumerable things he did to make my life as carefree and consistent as it had been. My heart swelled with the magnificent order of things; fathers giving their love and labor to raise sons so that they in turn could pass along the same gift when it was their time. This was what it was to be human, truly human without reservation. Although it had taken a long time, I felt like I was discovering what it meant to be a man in the real sense of the word. Everything I gave to my family came back to me a thousand times over.
So many things that I had rebelled against as a young man took on more significance as the years went by. I had come to realize that my Hispano and Indian roots were a powerful influence on who I was, even though I had not been aware of the river that ran underneath the surface of my life. This river was my blood, a part of my unconscious memory. It was what made laying adobes seem so natural to my hands and the surge of life that rose within me in the spring when I saw the tiny bean sprouts reaching out to the sun. It was the smell of piñon burning in the wood stove on an autumn evening as the yellow leaves rustled in the aspen trees. It was the clean water of the acequia running down through the ditch toward the irrigated chile fields. It was the vision of the dancers dressed in their skins, furs, and feathers who shook their rattles and bells as they sang their prayers to the animal spirits. It was the little girls with brown eyes and reverent faces who stood in line waiting for the priest to place a wafer on their tongues after their First Holy Communion. It was shooting the breeze and sharing a six-pack with my vatos as we compared the paint jobs of our rides at the Dairy Queen on Saturday afternoons. It was the smell of green chile enchiladas and posole filling the kitchen during Christmas morning with the long arms of my extended family all around me. It was the lonely, sad cry of the coyote in the hills in the dead of winter as Anita and I lay under our thick blankets praying for Our Lady of Guadalupe to bless our loved ones. It was my Grandfather Eli’s gravesite next to the little, run-down adobe church in Chimayo with a splintered wooden cross that no one would recognize except for me. It was the sleek, blue-bellied lizards that did push-ups on the tops of rocks in the morning sun and the horned toads that waddled by like miniature dinosaurs as they made their way to important business. It was the golden sunsets that sank behind the blue mountains that went on forever in the west and the red mountains in the east that really did look like the Sangre de Cristo or the blood of Christ. It was the purple lilac bushes that shared their sweet perfume after an afternoon shower in August with the sun streaming out after it had stopped raining, revealing a brilliant double rainbow that arched across the entire sky. It was the smell of green chile roasting on the stove top in the autumn afternoon and flocks of birds migrating south before the cold winds came. It was the sound of old-timers playing guitars and violins while dancers faithfully followed the steps of traditional polkas. It was life, nothing more, nothing less. Life in these mountains of northern New Mexico, a simple, clean life where things never got too complicated and people were good-hearted and laughed from their core. Where people worked together to clean the acequias and shared the vegetables from their gardens unselfishly.
Most of all it is now the memory of my mom and dad, smiling with the wind in their hair and my brother and me taking in the magic of a perfect Santa Fe afternoon during our Sunday drives long ago in the cosmic white Corvette that will remain forever suspended in time.
This was the life that had endured for generations and this was the life that would continue on. This was what made it all worthwhile, the struggles, the worries and hardships. We were part of the tierra, the rich, brown earth that was the source of all life, of all things good and pure. Viva la Raza!