In 2006, when I lived in Austin I used to take Cap Metro’s 935 Express into town to work. I usually tired to find and empty pair of seats so as not to have to interact with anyone while I wrote a novel I was working on. One day there was no place to seat where I could write so I sat next to an African American woman and we struck up a conversation. As it turned out she had been writing a book on the bus as well. Mada Plummer was her name and she published her book “Closure” later that year.
This long introduction to a story that will have only an indirect connection to this blog is important because it provides a direct connection to the rest of my story. Her story is based in New Orleans, and while I have never been to New Orleans, I found an immediate connection to the story. You see, the lives of poor folk, whether black, white, or brown often are very much alike. I could relate to Mada’s experiences even though I had only known her briefly on the bus. Her childhood adventures were very similar to my own.
Which brings me to my real intent for this blog. I recently read a book by Arnoldo X. Cuellar, “Coronado’s Garage: Coming of Age Stories of Bygone Days in Rural South Texas.” Cuellar was
born and raised in Benavides–a place unlike New Orleans–where I have visited many times. His story, which many Benavides natives will find entertaining and will make a quick connection, provided me–a San Diego native–with the same sense of “this is my story, this is my town.”
Cuellar had to return “home” to empty out his mother’s house. She had recently passed away and he had sold the house in which he had grown up. The visit brought back a rush of memories to Cuellar. Early on he writes, “As we approached that oh-so-recognizable hill that offered a panoramic view of the city, I was overcome by feelings that I had experienced before, but in a very different sense. It was as if a thick fog had lifted, revealing to me that my hometown, a place that I had always expected to be there, patiently waiting to welcome me with open arms like a faithful old friend, had all but disappeared.” He goes on, “It involved the loss of my youthful innocence that was embodied by my hometown. Sure, most of the old buildings were still there and still fostered fond memories; nonetheless, I was beginning to realize that my real connection to Benavides had been through the love and vitality of the relationships I had forged with my friends and family. Sadly, most of these people were no longer around. A lot of my friends had relocated to other communities in search of employment, and many of my relatives had either moved or passed away.”
That struck a note with me. I can totally relate to this scene and feeling. I no longer have any living relatives and only a handful of friends in San Diego. But, that was not the only chord that Coronado struck in me. He mentions enjoying a “concoction” of “Coca Cola and a bag of peanuts.” I still have that concoction every time I travel. He recalls his weekly visits to the Rita movie theater as I do of the Rialto in San Diego. He recalls bicycle trips to La Mota Creek. My adventures were to the San Diego Creek where we explored the “Rocky Mountains” and the “Grand Canyon.” He recalls crashing his bicycle; my experience was with a friend’s motorcycle that I took without his permission.
And the memories continued to flow while I read the book. They were sometimes the same as his, sometimes slightly different, but the joy of remembering no doubt was the same. You do not have to be from Benavides to enjoy Cuellar’s book; I am not from Benavides but I could instantly and easily relate to his stories. More importantly they brought out a rush of memories from my childhood in San Diego.