The Day of the Dead festivities at Old Town in San Diego were in full swing. Decorations adorned the historic buildings, as well as the recreated ones, too. The Spanish historic town that was so close to modern San Diego dated back to the mid eighteenth century. No one lived there anymore, but the town was inhabited by salespeople dressed in period clothing, doing their best to sell their food and wares to twenty first century people like my husband, my son, and I.
We were a military family and were stationed in San Diego while my husband finished his final sea tour. I always missed him when he went out to sea, but the wonderful city of San Diego made the separations okay. Sometimes my son and I would go to the beach, at other times we would go to Balboa Park, out for Mexican food, or out to Old Town; the cute, quaint, historic town had such a pull on me.
As I walked the vendor stalls with my husband and son, I smiled at the vendors there.
“Why aren’t they speaking Spanish?” asked my four year old son, Lucas.
I smiled as I looked down at my brown hair and brown eyed boy.
“They speak English because that is what everyone speaks now. But they didn’t use to speak that. Back in the mid-eighteenth century, they spoke in Spanish and in Kumeyaay – the language of the Native American people who lived here,” I said with a bit of fervor and interest.
My husband, Ted, shook his head. “I don’t know why you bother,” he said to me.
Looking down, I saw that our son’s attention had been diverted to a mound of dirt just to the left of us. I released a breath of air that was equal parts exasperation and resignation. I stared up at my slender, tall, spiky-haired husband and frowned.
“You are doing good; you are working on teaching him Spanish and history…but you have to remember that he is just four,” he said to me in his warm, supportive voice.
“I know,” I sighed.
I’d been working hard to teach my half Puerto Rican son (I was Puerto Rican and my husband was not) Spanish, but he wasn’t into learning it.
“I’m sorry, baby. Spanish just can’t compete with trains…or dirt,” he added as he stared down at the ground by our feet.
Our formerly clean son now wore a thin coat of brown on his arms, face and neck.
“How about beer? Can we get a beer?”
Ted beamed at me. After having a couple of bottles of Dos Equis beer (I wanted to keep the Day of the Dead theme going) at the plaza, we continued our walk. We walked an old time livery store and a silversmith’s shop. Ted then looked at me.
“You look tired,” he suggested.
“Do I?” I asked as I reached towards the back of my head and checked my ponytail. Still there.
“Mommy!” Lucas yelled.
“What?” I asked, maybe sounding a bit snappish. Perhaps I really was tired.
I turned to see him playing in a brand new pile of dirt.
“Look, he’s right next to a bench. Why don’t you go ahead and have a seat while I go and get us some water?”
It was the best idea I’d heard all day.
“That sounds great,” I said on a sigh.
I dragged my sneaker clad feet to the bench and sat down, where I watched Lucas play with dirt.
“Why are you playing in the dirt?” I asked of him.
He lifted his face to me then and smiled. Seconds later, he pulled from his button down shirt pocket a pomegranate and a few red flowers.
“For you,” he said as he pressed the items into my hands.
“Oh!” I exclaimed as my eyes filled with tears.
That moment encapsulated what being a mom to a four year old boy was to me – a lot of rough moments with a few beautiful moments in between that made the whole thing worthwhile.
I took the pomegranate (that he’d probably illegally picked from the tree by the parking lot) and flowers from his hands and kissed his dirt covered face.
“I love you,” I said to him.
Lucas allowed me to kiss him before returned to his dirt play next to me. More than a handful of minutes had passed while we sat on the bench.
“He was only supposed to get us some water,” I said to my son’s back. “Do you know where your father is?”
“I know where he’s not,” answered Lucas.
I rolled my eyes at his attitude-laden response. I really had to stop him from watching MTV reality shows. Instead, I agreed with his words.
Five minutes grew into ten minutes and I was tired.
“Alright,” I said as I stood up.
I smacked off the dust that had settled on the legs of my jeans, thanks to my son’s playtime. I looked at my dirty animal of a son and thought of commenting on his state of dishevelment. But then I felt the pomegranate move in the pocket of long sleeved shirt and I smiled. I would let my boy be a boy.
“Let’s go find your pa,” I said to him.
“Daddy,” he said as he stood up.
I reached my large hand to his smaller, grubbier one. Instantly, he grabbed it and walked with me.
We walked down Calhoun Street, which was where we awaited Ted and then hung a right on the small dirt road on the square, where the courthouse sat on one side and the town plaza sat at the other. We then took a left on San Diego Avenue, all the while looking for my husband, and my son’s dad.
“Where’s daddy?” asked Lucas.
I sighed. “I don’t know. But I’m about to call him.”
I reached for my cell phone, which should have been in my pocket, but found the pomegranate and flowers instead.
“It is the Day of the Dead – a time where people honor the people who lived a long time ago. What do you say we leave the fruit and flowers by one of the graves over there?” I asked as I pointed to the graves on situated at a small graveyard on San Diego Avenue, where we’d walked to find Ted (which was actually beginning to really annoy me).
“Are you going to eat it?” he said as he pointed to the pomegranate.
Instantly, I felt guilty. But I didn’t like pomegranates. Thinking quick, I suggested something that appealed to him.
“Actually, I was in the mood of eating some burritos. But if you want to eat pomegranates for lunch instead, we can do that.”
“I want burritos!” he yelled.
I smiled. “Can we put these on a grave?” I asked again.
“Yeah,” he answered.
We then walked hand in hand to the graveyard. I don’t know why I picked the grave I chose; it simply felt right. There was no grand bench or headstone marking the grave; just a flat marker with a name on it that had long been rubbed away by the elements.
“This one,” I said, with much conviction in my voice.
“Why?” asked Lucas.
I looked around at all of the other graves around us.
“See the other graves? They have flowers on them,” I said as I pointed all around us. “But this one right here?” I said as I crouched down next to the grave in question. “This one seems forgotten and that makes me sad. So, I think that we should gift the person in the tomb with these flowers and this pomegranate. Okay?”
“Okay,” Lucas simply said.
With a smile, I set our gifts next to the simple tombstone.
“I want a burrito now,” said Lucas.
I sighed and stood up again. “Fine. Let’s find your long lost father.”
We made our way back to Washington Square Plaza. Largely annoyed, I pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket and made a call.
“Hey baby,” I heard my husband’s voice say.
“Where are you?” I angrily questioned.
“Just buying something. Relax.”
I rolled my eyes. “Relax? We’ve only been looking for you for twenty minutes,” I sarcastically barked on the phone.
I heard him sigh. “It’s for you, okay? I’ll meet you in the plaza in a few minutes, okay?”
Even while annoyed, I warmed up to him just a bit. “Fine. But don’t forget the water.”
“I won’t. I gotta go now.”
I sighed and hung up the phone.
“Where’s daddy?” asked Lucas.
“Shopping for something.”
“I have no idea.”
We made our way to a bench by the plaza, where we sat down to wait. I admired the large oak tree that stood next to the flagpole and wondered how long it had been there. What had it seen? Who had it seen? Did it witness the forced departure of the Kumeyaay people from the land? Did it witness the heartbreak of the Spaniards as their culture and norms gave way for more American ones?
“Not that I’m one to criticize,” I muttered. I’d pushed a lot of my own Hispanic cultural norms for American ones once my parents moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago, Illinois. I then looked down at my son, who’d found a pile of dirt again.
“I really need to teach you Spanish,” I said to him.
“Burrito,” he answered.
I didn’t know if he was trying to say something in Spanish, or if he simply wanted the food item. I lied and told myself that he was speaking Spanish to me.
“We’re getting there,” I said to his back.
A voice to the left of me startled me so much that I almost jumped off of the bench.
“Are you a traveler?” said an older woman’s voice.
Quickly, I whipped my head to the right to see who the voice belonged to. It was an older woman, an older Mexican woman, or maybe a Kumeyaay woman (I couldn’t be sure). She wore a long brown and black dress and had a cart that sat to just the right of her.
“I…I didn’t see you,” I said to her. When had she sat down next to me?
I spared a quick glance to Lucas to see if he was still there, so discomfited was I. Thankfully, he was. I then looked towards the woman again.
“Are you a traveler?” she repeated.
I then caught an accent in her voice. No, it wasn’t an accent; it was more of an odd spacing between her words, like her voice came from somewhere much lower in her throat. Still, I thought no ill of her as I was taught to be very respectful to my elders.
“I…live here, but I am not from here,” I answered.
She nodded. “Yes. You are not from these parts.”
She glanced at Lucas then. Protectively, I put my hand on his shoulder. We weren’t from these parts. I’d met my husband in downtown Chicago while he’d been on leave. I was working at a sunglass kiosk at Navy Pier when the handsome man wearing dress whites grabbed my attention. That was seven years ago; Ted Kripke still held my attention, which was just fine by mine.
The woman’s long black and white hair began to move with the wind, which was odd, as I felt no breeze in the air that warm November day.
“Do you like to travel?” she asked of me.
I stared at her rheumy, dark eyes and considered that. I thought of the balmy, hot warm summers of my childhood in Puerto Rico. I thought of downtown Chicago and its tall buildings. I thought of Virginia and the beautiful mountains I’d seen there, where I’d followed Ted to right after our courthouse marriage. I then thought of California and the beautiful beaches and red mountains there. I thought of the redwoods and sequoia trees that I still hoped we’d see someday before we were due to transfer again.
“I do,” I said to her with a voice full of wonder and excitement.
She smiled at me, and I noticed that a few of her teeth were missing. For some reason, it made her even more interesting. Who was she? Where did she come from?
“I have this mirror here,” she said as she reached for something that was in a canvas bag just to the right of her.
I nodded respectfully towards her. “Okay.”
“Bring your son. Come look in the mirror.”
It was an odd request, I knew. Still, I had time. I also appreciated the adult conversation, even though it was strange.
“Lucas, come here,” I said to him.
Quickly, he stood up and dusted his hands. I put my arm around him and faced the old woman. She looked down at my hands and smiled.
“Such pretty rings,” she said.
I blushed. My engagement ring, wedding band, and anniversary bands were a bit large. The two jeweled rings on my right hand stood out, too.
“My husband…he likes to indulge me,” I apologized.
She nodded. “They will serve you well.”
Our conversation was only getting weirder. Still, I watched as she lifted what looked like a very old mirror. It wasn’t very large; the frame around the old glass was oval in shape and looked to be made of silver. I spied the glass and saw that it looked discolored. I then remembered a Martha Stewart show that I’d seen some years past. She’d made her own mirror with silver leaf, which was how she said old mirrors were made. The one before me didn’t look like any of the mirrors I had at home, or even anything I had in my cosmetics bag. Still, it captivated me.
“Yes…just look in the mirror. Admire the view,” she said.
I did. It was such an interesting mirror.
“Mommy?” asked Lucas.
“Just…look,” I said as I stared at our reflections. Lucas looked bored, but I looked entranced. My brown eyes stared back at me. My brow was slightly furrowed and my mouth was open a bit.
“Mommy?” questioned my son again. I ignored him. I probably got the “what” and “why” questions about a thousand times a day. I’d learned to field them in the past year or so.
I heard him question me a couple more times. I wanted to look at him, but could not tear my eyes away from the mirror. I stared at the imperfections in the glass. Shades of gray and black looked like smears against the otherwise perfect silver reflection. But there was something about the imperfections that looked deliberate. It was almost as if there was a pattern there. I squinted my eyes just a bit, trying to make out the shapes that appeared to almost be moving. Were they eluding me?
“Mommy!” yelled Lucas.
Awakened from my reverie, I turned to face my son.
“What?” I angrily questioned.
My anger evaporated as soon as I saw the fear in his face. I held him more closely to me and put my hand on his face.
“What is it?” I gently asked.
“I want daddy,” he whimpered as he looked around.
Finally, I tore my eyes from his and looked around. Immediately, a feeling of wrongness assailed me, but I could not make out why it was. The buildings were familiar. The tall trees were there. However, the bench I was seated on was gone and was replaced by a log. My eyes widened as I looked for the old woman. She wasn’t on the log. I glanced left and right and didn’t spot her.
“Mommy,” pleaded Lucas.
“I know, baby,” I whispered.
I then noticed the people. There were more people milling about, wearing mid-nineteenth century clothing. What was going on? Was there a re-enactment of sorts going on, I wondered. I then noticed that some of the people were staring at me. I looked down and thought that nothing looked irregular about me or my son. I pulled Lucas closer to me and wondered what was going on.
I then noticed the absence of a particular sound – cars. After that, I caught on to the fact that no one looked like me, or Lucas. Sure, there were men and women about (who were beginning to stop and stare at us even more), but they were dressed…appropriately? The women wore dresses that were large on the bottom; the sleeves were long and they wore hats. The men wore jackets, slacks and hats. No one looked like me.
“Mujer. ¿ Porque estas vestido en vaqueros? said a tall, well-dressed man.
Oh my God. He was talking to me in Spanish. In Spanish! That hadn’t happened to me since I lived in Puerto Rico so many years past. I took a few breaths while I tried to calm the shaking that overcame my body. I then forced my mind to come up with a Spanish answer. I could not.
“Mommy,” whined Lucas, as he pressed his face to my legs.
I tried to translate what he said in my head. He called me woman. He mentioned a dress. He said something about a cowboy. A cowboy?
I looked down at my clothing and saw that I wore blue jeans, as did Lucas. He was talking about my blue jeans. I then looked up at the man in a panic.
“Alberto; quizás esta perdida,” suggested a well dressed woman who stepped next to him.
Perdida – that meant lost. Was I lost? Yes, I was.
“Estoy perdida,” I answered.
The man nodded and then took a breath. He then turned left and yelled.
“¡Armando!” he yelled.
I turned around and turned to face the old police precinct. Only it wasn’t old anymore; it looked brand new. Who was he calling? A cop?
Suddenly, I felt the need to leave. I grabbed Lucas’ hand and stepped away.
“Tengo que encontrar a mi esposo,” I whispered. “Pero gracias,” I said as I took a few steps away.
The kind stranger didn’t like that, though. “¡Detente!” exclaimed the man, as I began to walk away. I could barely make out the hard packed dirt path, as my eyes were filled with tears. I found a thin alley between two buildings and pulled Lucas in my arms.
“Mommy. I wanna go home,” he whimpered.
I tucked his head into my neck, so that I could hide my tears and my sobs. After thirty seconds or so, I cleared my throat and spoke.
“It’s okay, baby. We are just going on a little adventure, okay?”
He said nothing, but burrowed his face in my neck even deeper.
“La mujer,” exclaimed a man’s voice. ¿La viste?”
“Paso por acá, pero no la veo ahora,” answered another man.
Oh no. They were looking for me. But why? What did I do? I began to nervously rock Lucas in my arms.
“Es una extranjera y no la conozco; encuentrala,” ordered a man’s voice.
Panic assailed me. Someone had been ordered to find me. What was going on? Who was in control here? How was I going to get to safety? I then remembered about the parking lot. The truck! I just needed to get to the truck, where I could wait for Ted. Ted! Where was he?! I pulled out my cell phone while shifting Lucas to my hip. Why was it off? I tried turning it on, but found that it was dead.
“What? It was fully charged!” I protested.
The parking lot. I had to head there. Happy to have a plan, I shifted Lucas to my hip and walked that way. It only took me about fifteen steps to realize that the parking lot wasn’t there. It was just a large, dusty lot with a few buildings there. I looked beyond it to the skyline just west of us and found that the Interstate 5 overpass wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, there were no tall buildings either.
Realization hit me like a hot wind, then. I was still in San Diego alright, but I was no longer in my time. I was in a different time altogether.
I found a bench in a shade outside of a small building and sunk on it. I then surrendered myself to the fear and tears inside of me and cried hard.
Sometime later, the door to the building I was seated outside of opened. A large, balding man emerged and stared at me and then at Lucas. Quickly, I dried my tears and stood up.
“¿Me vas a reportar?” I whimpered.
The irony of the situation hit me. I was an American, and I was worried about being deported to…somewhere. The realities of my real time were quite different. The man, dark-eyed and heavy browed stepped closer to me. He was about to open his mouth to say something, but Lucas chose that moment to speak.
“Mommy, I’m scared,” he whined.
I sobbed and kissed his beautiful, sandy face. “I know, baby, but it is going to be okay,” I lied. “I promise.”
“You speak English?” questioned the stranger.
“Yes!” I said. I could have sagged in relief.
He then looked behind me and leaned to the side.
“Who searches for you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m…lost. I don’t know where my husband is and I am lost. So lost,” I said as I cried.
The man sighed and then nodded. “Come. Step inside my store.”
Not knowing what else to do, I followed him in. I watched as he closed the door and his shades as well.
“Don Armando Justo de Leon y Cartagena does not take well to strangers…especially strangers that are dressed as oddly as you are,” he said.
I nodded and shifted Lucas in my arms. “I get that.”
The large man crossed heavily muscled arms across his chest. “Who are you?”
“My name is Sofia…Sanchez Kripke,” I answered.
I’d made my surname my middle name when I married Ted. It felt good to say his name.
“Where is your husband?”
My eyes filled with tears again. “I don’t know.”
“Did you lose him somewhere?”
I didn’t think I could tell him the truth. Heck, I didn’t think that I could face the truth just yet. So, I improvised.
“I…we lost each other on our journey.”
He nodded then. “Is that why you wear men’s clothing?”
I looked down on my jeans and shirt. “Yes. This was all that I had on hand when…I became lost.”
He sighed. “Are you thirsty?”
“Yes,” I confessed.
He went to a pitcher that sat on a cupboard and poured water into a teacup before bringing it to me. I took a couple of sips before bringing it to Lucas’ mouth, who quickly swallowed the whole thing.
The man continued to stare at me. His eyes were dark, much darker than Ted’s green eyes. His skin was lightly tanned and he was very…well formed. Oh my God. I was out of my mind. I was lost and in a different time, and I was checking someone out. I blushed and shook my head.
“Might I know your name?” I politely asked.
He nodded. “My name is Antonio Juarez Miller.”
“It is nice to meet you,” I answered.
He took a breath and leaned on a counter inside of the small building. I then noticed that it was a leather store of sorts.
“Where do you journey from?”
His brow furrowed. “You learned Spanish in Illinois,” he doubtfully said.
I blushed and shook my head. “No,” I said as I quickly did some math. “I learned it in Puerto Rico.”
He nodded slowly. “You come from the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico.”
“Then why is your Spanish so poor?”
My mother would agree with him, I knew. My mother; I thought with a sad thought. She wasn’t even born yet! Where were my people? I forced tears away and nodded.
“I didn’t practice it as much as I should have,” I confessed.
He stared at me for a while, and I blushed.
“When did you part ways with your husband?”
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Ted would never find me. I began to cry again. The man, Antonio, sighed. He then pulled an actual handkerchief from his shirt pocket and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I answered.
“Mommy…I’m hungry,” said Lucas.
I composed myself and swallowed. “We are going to do something about that, baby.”
“When was the last time you ate something?” asked Antonio.
“It’s been a while,” I said to the kind stranger.
Antonio nodded and then looked outside. “I am going to fetch you something to eat. Please don’t leave this store.”
Panicked, I looked out a window. “Will you tell…on us?” I whispered.
He shook his head. “No. I was once a stranger, too.”
I swallowed tears and nodded again. “I…,” I trailed off as I reached for my leather purse. I watched as Antonio’s brow furrowed as he looked at it. I opened it and the closed it quickly, remembering that my money would do me no good just then. I then looked at Antonio and then at my hands. I removed one of my rings – a pink sapphire one that I loved – and handed it to Antonio. His eyes widened and he took a step back.
“That looks like a precious jewel.”
I nodded. “Yes. It is worth…some money. I’ll happily exchange it for some food for my son.”
He took a deep breath and released it. “No. I will not accept your jewelry for payment for food. I will pay for it myself.”
I started crying again.
“Please stop that.”
“Thank you,” I answered.
“It is the Christian thing to do,” he answered.
He then reached for his keys and looked at the door.
“In all seriousness…Señora Sofía, do not leave my store – please. You’ll be safe here.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
With that, he left the store. I heard him lock the door and watched through a window as he walked left, and towards the direction Lucas and I had come from.
“Where did the man go?”
“To get us food, baby.”
Antonio had been gone for a few minutes. I got up and held Lucas close to me, holding him close to me. He was my little anchor; having him meant I could stay sane. I slowly paced Antonio’s store, looking at his wares. He sold belts, saddles, shoes, and other leather goods I did recognize. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a newspaper. Bracing myself for strength, I tried to find a date. I located one.
“September 18th, 1859,” I stammered.
The tears came again, which was how Antonio found me. He sighed and then set the canvas bag he carried on his counter.
“Are you well?”
I took a breath and held it. “I will be. For him,” I said as I looked down at my son, “I will be okay.”
“He needs a strong parent now. You need to be that.”
I swallowed and nodded. Moments later, I was seated as Antonio removed plates from his bag. I followed his lead and said grace with him. After that, we ate lunch together. Poor Lucas devoured the tortillas, beef, tomatoes and avocado. It made me smile.
“He’s okay,” said Antonio as he pointed to him.
I nodded. “Thank God.”
After he cleared the plates and placed them into the bag, he gave me his full attention. It made me nervous.
“I sense that you are a good woman, Señora Sofia.”
I nodded. “I try to be.”
“But you are in a bad spot right now. Are you not?”
I forced my tears to stay in my eyes. “Yes. I…I need to find a way to make it with my son.”
“Do you not have family in Illinois to return to?”
I shook my head. “I do not.”
He then looked at my hands. “I feel like I do not have your entire story.”
I was going to speak, but he stopped me with a hand. “But that is alright. I have not yet earned your trust.”
He had not yet earned my trust? That was crazy. He hid me, advised me and fed me in the past hour that I’d known him. I knew that I couldn’t tell him when I came from, but I could try to seek more of his advice.
“Antonio; my son and I are not from these parts. I don’t know how long we’ll…be here. But I need to learn how to live here and not be in danger. How can I do that?”
Antonio sighed and nodded. “Yes. You stand out, Señora Sofia. That is not something you want to do over here.”
I noticed that Lucas was beginning to look tired. I picked up his large body off the bench where he sat and pulled him into my arms. He then curled his body on me in a way that he had not done in years and fell asleep. I kissed his forehead a few times before turning to face Antonio again.
“You are a good mother.”
I smiled. “I love my son.”
Antonio nodded his handsome head (Handsome?! What was I doing?) and shifted on his seat.
“Can I speak to you in a frank manner?”
“Please do,” I answered.
“You are dressed like a man – like a farmhand. That will not do for a Spanish Señora. Your son must wear better clothing, too.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
“Where have you been sleeping?” he asked.
My eyes widened and I paled. Would he believe that only hours ago, I’d awoken from sleep in my queen sized bed just a few miles down the road? Probably not.
“I…was safe a few hours ago. I am no longer safe,” I answered instead.
He took a breath and released it. “Do you have anywhere to stay?”
Tears filled my eyes as I shook my head.
“What did I tell you about crying? Stop that,” he said.
I nodded and swallowed my tears. After taking a breath, I spoke again. “Where would a proper lady – a single mother, stay?”
“A proper lady would be staying at the home of a proper family. But, you know no one here.”
I knew him, but I understood what he meant.
“You could stay at the Colorado House. It is a simple hotel, but the proprietors are good God-fearing people.”
I nodded. I could do that.
“You must also attend Mass every day. You should meet the priest and come up with a story as to why and how you are here.”
His eyes then raked over my form. “But your clothing is what presents the most obvious problem. You need new clothing.”
I then removed my pink sapphire and diamond ring and showed it to him. “This is worth…a good amount of money. It has diamonds in it, pink sapphires and platinum, too.”
Antonio’s brow furrowed and he opened his hand. “Might I see your ring?”
I nodded and placed it in his large, callused hand. He brought it to his eye and inspected it. After scrutinizing it for a while, he spoke.
“This will not do.”
“But…why? It is worth a lot of money.”
“This,” he said as he held the ring before me, “is not worth the money it would bring you as it presents too many questions. Platinum? No one makes jewelry out of this metal. Pink sapphires? I’ve only seen blue ones.”
He then handed the ring back to me and pointed to my other one. It was a simple silver ring with a large blue sapphire on it.
“Let me see that one.”
I did as requested. He looked at it for a while and then nodded.
“This will do.”
He then stood up and closed the curtains to his store. “I will go and run your errands now, Señora Sofia. Please stay here and do not leave. Not until I return.”
I blinked a few times. “Shouldn’t I go with you?”
“No. You do not need to be seen wearing that clothing. Stay here with your son.”
I couldn’t believe how generous he was being. “Antonio. Why? Why are you helping me?” I asked.
He’d walked to the door, but stopped for a moment. He answered me without looking my way.
“As I said before, it is the Christian thing to do.”
With that, he left. I swallowed as I heard the lock to the shop’s door click locked. For the first half hour or so, I sat on a seat holding Lucas as he slept. He grew to be too heavy, though, and I lay him across the long, wooden bench, belly down. He stretched out, and I felt better. After that, I began to pace Antonio’s shop. I wondered how long he’d been here. I wondered what his first language was – English or Spanish; he spoke both so perfectly. I wondered if he had a family. I wondered where he slept. An hour into his absence, I grabbed a Spanish language newspaper that sat on his counter. My brow furrowed as soon as I read a few long words on there. Still, I knew that I needed the practice. Slowly, I paced the shop floor as I read the sentences in Spanish. I must have been concentrating hard, as I did not hear the door open.
“Amadrugar?” I questioned out loud. The word was familiar, but I couldn’t remember what it was.
“Amadrugar,” said a heavy, masculine voice.
I looked up and saw that Antonio’s arms were heavily laden with packages. Quickly, I helped him place them on the counter.
“Thank you,” he said.
He stared at me for a moment. “Do you remember what amadrugar means?”
I sighed. “I know that it has something to do with working hard.”
He tilted his head. “Not exactly. It means to wake up early in the morning in order to get something done.”
My mouth made an O and I nodded. He was right. As soon as he said the meaning, I remembered my grandparents saying the word. Antonio looked to the right.
I sighed. “Yes. He’s always been good with taking naps.”
I blushed as I held the newspaper. “I hope you don’t mind. I was trying to brush up on my Spanish.”
“I do not mind. It was a smart use of your time.”
I swallowed and nodded. Why was I nervous? It was probably because I’d gone back in time about one hundred and fifty years. Also, I had no idea how I was going to get back home again.
My nervous mouth interrupted Antonio, who was going to say something to me.
“Please, go ahead,” he said.
I blushed and nodded. “I am supposed to address you as Señor Antonio?”
He nodded. “Yes. How do you not know that?”
I didn’t know how to lie to him, so I said nothing. He shook his head. “Never mind. But you should address everyone you meet as Señor or Señora. You want to fit in, after all.”
“How will I be able to identify a Señorita from a Señora? I’d heard that women from this time married early.”
He blinked a few times. “Women from this time?” He repeated.
Crap. Damn my slippery tongue! “No! I’m sorry. I meant…women from this place. Yes.”
“Women from this place what? That they married early or their forms of address?”
Oh no. Señor Antonio was a clever one. Nervously, I began to wring my hands. His eyes went from mine to my hands and then back to my face.
“While it is not clear from where it is you come, it is clear that you are a woman in distress.”
I sighed. “I am.”
“Because of that, I will leave my inquiries aside…for now.”
I blushed and nodded. He then had me sit down next to Lucas. After that, he set in my hands rectangular pieces of paper with a bank name on them. I wanted to ask what they were, but said nothing.
“These are bank notes.”
I looked up at him in surprise.
“Señora Sofia, this is the currency of our town.”
“Oh! Okay,” I said as I flipped them over. There were denomination amounts on each, as well as a few signatures. But how would I figure out what money was worth?
“The hotel. How much will that cost me a night?”
He pointed to the money before speaking. “That should be enough for two weeks room and board.”
Two weeks. Oh my Lord. Would I really be in this time for two whole weeks? My eyes welled up and I bit my lip, trying not to cry as Señor Antonio had asked me not to.
Antonio stood up and walked towards the boxes.
“Come here, please,” he said in his deep voice.
Nervously, I did.
“With some of your money, I’ve purchased a wardrobe for you. It is not much – only three outfits.”
My brow furrowed and I opened the first box I saw. In it was a hat. I pulled it out and gazed at it. It appeared to be a bonnet of sorts that featured a dark green ribbon at its brim and an accompanying green sash to tie it with. Would I have to wear a bun under it? Absentmindedly, I ran my hand down it. All I had was a hair tie! I sighed and returned the hat to its box before inspected the contents of the rest of the boxes. Inside I found what I believed was a corset, a hoop skirt, three skirts and three shirts. I looked at one of the last boxes and found tall, black boots. They made me smile.
“I think these are my size,” I said to Antonio.
When I looked at him, I found that he’d been staring at me with his brow furrowed. My smile fell and I shook my head.
“Thank you. Thank you so much, Señor Antonio.”
He relaxed his face and nodded. In the last few boxes, I found clothes for Lucas. No corset or hoop skirt for him, of course. Lucky kid. I turned to look at my son and saw that he was still sleeping. I then swallowed and looked at Antonio.
“I’ve imposed myself so much on you. I cannot thank you enough,” I sincerely said.
I watched as he blushed and shrugged.
“And I hate to bother you again, but I have one more question.”
Half an hour later, I was fully dressed, as was Lucas. Antonio respectfully vacated his store for ten minutes while I dressed myself, and then Lucas. I was pretty sure that I had my corset on wrong, but it would have to do. Plus, it served as a metaphor for me; I did not fit in this time and I was pretty sure that I was doing things wrong.
I opened the door as Antonio had requested that I do. I smiled as I watched him do a double take of me. That had to be a good sign, I thought. Maybe I didn’t look like a clown.
“You look…appropriate,” he said.
I laughed. “Thank you.”
I looked at the outside sky and saw that it had darkened. My face fell. What was Ted thinking? How was he? I took a shaky breath and then took a step outside. With Lucas’ hand in mine and Señor Antonio at my side carrying all of my things, we headed to the hotel he’d recommended.
The Colorado House was very small from the outside. Once we stepped into the lobby, it seemed even smaller. It was a living room that featured a small desk at the front of it. Señor Antonio rang a small brass bell that stood on it. Moments later, a woman with a bright smile and gorgeous green eyes came to greet us.
“Que Bueno verle, Señor Antonio,” she warmly said.
“El gusto es mio, Señora Martina,” Antonio said with a bow.
Such propriety, I thought to myself.
“Le quiero introducir a Señora Sofia Sanchez de Kripke. Ella, y su niño Lucas necesitaran una recámara por dos semanas…por ahora.”
Antonio had introduced me and explained that Lucas and I would need a room for two weeks. I smiled at nodded at the innkeeper. The woman, Señora Martina, looked at me with a question in her eyes.
“Y su esposo, Señora Sofia, ¿Dónde esta?”
I swallowed and shrugged. “No se,” I answered in a small voice.
She sympathetically nodded at me.
“Señora Sofia perdio a su esposo durante el viaje desde Illinois aqui.”
Lucas tugged at my hand, then. “Mommy. Why is everyone talking in Spanish?”
I blushed and immediately bent down towards Lucas. “I’ll explain later, sweetheart. I promise,” I whispered. I then stood up.
“¿Habla Ingles, Señora Sofia?” asked the innkeeper.
Great. I had to explain how I spoke English. Quickly, I thought to explain that my husband was American.
I blushed and nodded. “Si. Mi esposo era…es Americáno.”
“¿De donde es usted?”
“Originalmente, vengo de Puerto Rico. Me mude a Illinois cuando pequeña.”
Hopefully, explaining about my childhood would get the busybody off my back.
“Señora Sofia esta bien cansad. Quizás le podras hablar durante la cena esta noche,” suggested Antonio.
“Seguro que si,” said Señora Martina with a smile.
Thank God. Antonio had come to my rescue again. Antonio guided me to the bottom of the stairs and stopped right there. Instantly, I became afraid.
“Don’t look so scared,” he whispered.
“I am terrified,” I whispered.
He swallowed and sighed. “You must stay here. I cannot accompany you as it is not proper.”
I blushed and nodded. “Of course. You’ve been more helpful to me than I deserve,” I added.
He looked around and then took another breath. “Come down for dinner in about two hours’ time. There will be a bell to indicate that. After that, Mass will occur. If you’d like, I’ll accompany you and Lucas to that.”
I looked down at Lucas. He looked so tired and nervous at the same time.
“You must come to Mass,” Antonio whispered. “You have to get in the priest’s good graces. If you do that, people will stop asking questions about you.”
I swallowed and nodded. “Okay. Mass. We will attend it with you. Thank you.”
He nodded and then looked down at Lucas.
“Will you be a good boy for your mother?” he asked of him.
Lucas nodded. “Yes.”
“Sí,” Antonio corrected.
“Sí,” Lucas parroted.
Antonio smiled. So did I.
A porter brought our boxes to our room. I thanked him and then sat down on the full-sized bed. It was actually rather nice and canopied. Lucas walked around the small room, opening drawers and a small door to a closet. He then looked out the window and at me.
“I wanna go home,” he whined.
I patted the bed next to me. “I know. I do, too.”
“Let’s go,” he insisted.
I swallowed and then patted the bed again. “Come here. I am going to tell you something.”
He groaned, but still pulled himself up on the bed.
“Lucas, right now we are on a secret adventure.”
“We are on a special trip – just you and me.”
“Where?” he said, his voice full of wonder.
“Old Town,” I answered. “But things are a little different here. We have to dress in funny clothes and we must speak in Spanish all the time.”
“Why isn’t daddy here?”
I took a breath, held it, and then released it.
“Do you know how daddy went on a deployment last year? For seven months.”
“Yeah. I didn’t like that.”
I scooted on the bed a bit, getting into the fictional story I was about to tell.
“Well…we are on a special deployment, too.”
“Yes,” I answered with a smile. “When your daddy goes out to sea on a ship, he has to wear funny clothing too, he has to say a lot of funny words, and he has to hang out with people he doesn’t really know.”
I thought for a moment. “Words like reveille, port, starboard, galley, overhead, and P-Way.”
Lucas laughed. “Does he go pee in the P-Way?”
I laughed out loud. “No, but it would be funny if he did.”
“I miss daddy,” he said.
I nodded. “I do, too. But think of this as a special deployment – just for you and me. We will wear these funny clothes and we’ll work on our Spanish for a while. After that, we’ll find a way to get home.”
Lucas sighed. I did, too.
“Okay, but I want to go home.”
“I do, too, baby,” I said as I kissed his forehead.
He then lay down on the bed. I untied my boots and lay right there next to him.
“Will you nap with me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said with a smile.
I pulled him tightly against me and did just that.
The dinner bell woke me up. Quickly, I washed mine and Lucas’ faces before using the outhouse in the back of the building. Lucas was not a fan. Still, I managed to force a smile over dinner. Señora Martina and Señor Carmelo held polite conversation with me. Frequently, I would bend my head down to Lucas to explain what was being said. He didn’t seem to care, though, and continued to stuff his face with pork and potatoes.
“Ya es tiempo para la misa,” Señor Carmelo said. “¿Le gustaria caminar con nosotros?” he asked.
I smiled, as I was grateful for the invitation to accompany them to mass. Still, I shook my head.
“Señor Antonio viene para acompañarle a mi y a Lucas a la misa.”
I was grateful that my Spanish was starting to return to me more easily. Explaining that Antonio would accompany Lucas and I to mass was easy enough to rattle off. I watched as Señora Martina smiled at her husband. He shrugged.
Outside, I was both happy and nervous to see Señor Antonio. Happy because I could speak English to him and not conceal my awkwardness; nervous because he looked so dapper in his three piece suit.
“How was dinner?” he asked of me with a smile.
“It was good. Señora Martina and Señor Carmelo weren’t overly intrusive, which was nice.”
Antonio laughed out loud at that. “Good. We know that you have secrets to keep.”
That made me pale.
“Your secrets…whatever they are, are safe with me, Señora Sofia.”
I nodded. After that, we headed off to mass. It wasn’t that long a walk, fortunately. Lucas even seemed to be amused by the gas lamps and the kids that were running around the street. That made me relax. Once inside, I saw that the women and children sat on one side, and the men at another. I panicked.
“Do you remember your prayers?” Antonio whispered to me.
“Our Father and Hail Mary? Of course,” I whispered back.
“In English?” he questioned.
“Mass isn’t in English,” he answered.
“Spanish?” I questioned.
“Latin!” he nearly barked.
Latin?! Mass was in Latin? A catholic school lesson from my youth came back to me. Mass was held in Latin all the way into the 1950s. Crap. I was in trouble.
“Just mutter your prayers. Follow what everyone else does.”
“Is it still just an hour?”
Antonio took a breath and held it. He then looked around. He then pointed a finger at me, but then dropped it.
“We have to talk,” he whispered.
I blushed and nodded.
“Go to your side,” he said.
“Okay,” I nodded.
I did as was requested of me. Actually, I did as I was told. Had I really fallen almost 150 years back in time, only to find another man who told me what to do? Not that Ted told me what to do in my own time. Still, should I follow everything that Antonio told me? Yes, my instinct nearly screamed at me. Fine. I would do as he recommended…for now.
Mass in Latin was a lot like mass in Spanish…long and boring. Still, I was able to move my lips in time with everyone else’s. Also, they rung bells at all the right times, so I knew when to stand and kneel. Lucas had been bored at the beginning, but an older woman seated to the next of us began to whisper a story to him in Spanish. For some reason, it entranced him. At the end of mass, I thanked her for being so kind.
“Todos fuimos niños en un tiempo o otro,” she kindly said.
Her patient words were a balm to my soul. In my time, people weren’t so charitable with children. Once I left the church, Antonio was back by my side. I ignored the excitement that lit inside me over his presence. Many of the parishioners came to greet him. He politely introduced me to all of them. Finally, he introduced me to the priest.
“Padre Felix, le quiero introducir a la Señora Sofia. Llego a nuesto pueblo esta tarde.”
Father Felix accepted the introduction and turned to me.
“Y su esposo, donde esta?”
My eyes welled up again over the question of my whereabouts. Was it a sin to lie to a priest? Probably. I went out on a limb and told him as much as I could.
“No se como encontrar a mi esposo. La verdad es que estoy perdida yo misma, y no se como encontrarme,” I confessed on a sob.
It was the absolute truth; I was lost and did not know how to find myself. Father Felix looked at me so tenderly and then spoke.
“Give it time. Do works for God and others, and then the answers will come.”
Tears fells from my eyes as I heard him speak English. Absentmindedly, I accepted a handkerchief from Antonio and dried my face.
“I hear your accent. It is mild, but it is there,” said the Father with a smile. “Come here tomorrow morning with your son; I will find things for you to do with your time, while you wait.”
I looked at Antonio, waiting to see what he would say. He said nothing, but smiled and shrugged.
“Señor Antonio is a good man. He will help you.”
“He has been,” I whispered.
A few minutes later, we walked back to the hotel. I noticed that the sky had gone completely dark. I looked up and admired the beautiful, starry sky for a few moments. I then looked down and saw that Lucas looked tired. I bent down and picked him up. Seconds later, his head was on my shoulder and small snores echoed in my ears. Once we got to the entrance to the hotel, Antonio stopped. I watched as he gently pressed the brim of the hat that he held in his hands.
“Señor Antonio?” I asked.
He sighed and looked up at me. “Would you like to accompany me to mass tomorrow?”
I swallowed and nodded. “Yes.”
He took a breath and released it. “I am afraid that you don’t understand…how things work here.”
“Then tell me. Please?” I whispered.
“When people see me with you, they will think…” he trailed off. Was he blushing?
“What?” I asked.
“They will think that I am courting you,” he added.
I blushed. Then I paled. I nodded.
“Okay what?” he asked, his voice getting a bit louder. “Will you walk with me? Are you okay with people thinking that I am courting you? Do you want to walk with me?”
“Yes,” I simply answered.
“Yes…to what?” he asked.
I looked at the handsome man that I should not be spending time with. But what was I to do? What power did I have over my own destiny? Apparently, none.
“Good night,” I answered instead.
He sighed. “Good night, Señora Sofia.”
Stay tuned for Part 2… coming next week!