In 1965 we moved to the outskirts of town to the Upper Valley. After living in the projects for five years, it was a bit weird for me to get used to this unincorporated area in west El Paso.
It looked like a barren countryside for miles as we traveled West Paisano Drive (CanAm Highway), from downtown, then connected to Doniphan to get to Montoya. Whenever we went to Juarez my dad always took this route.
A long stretch of lonely road that started from ASARCO’s Smeltertown and extended to the New Mexico border near the town of Anthony – roughly fifteen miles as the crow flies.
The street lamps at night became so few and far between that from my POV in the backseat of the car, some lights seemed to cast ghostly shadows on the road and the brush.
I guess I watched too many scary movies.
So it was another one of those Saturdays when we all piled into the car and traveled across the border to visit relatives and buy groceries.
On this day my older brother Vince drove, papa rode shotgun and mom and I were in the back. Since dad was relaxed in having a designated driver, I’m sure he had visions of his favorite fire-water beverages dancing in his head.
We stopped at a peluqueria and got our haircuts at a nice barber shop across the street from the Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas. And mom always shopped at the Mercado for produce, pan dulce and other snacks.
I’d buy a goofy looking puppet and maybe a spinning top.
Somewhere else along the way papa would get a wooden crate of 24 sixteen-ounce soda bottles.
He also bought his two cartons of red Marlboros and would gas up the car with Pemex fuel.
Next, we’d go see our abuelos. My Tio Fito and Tia Ema lived alongside so we also visited with them and stayed a while. Out of sheer convenience, papa would go to the corner bar and have a few.
And after that he’d have a few more.
Next on the list was a birthday celebration at our Tia Quica’s house, papa’s favorite sister. They lived past La Plaza de Toros Monumental, over by El Seminario . We spent the entire day there, enjoying good food, cake, sodas, games and music.
At the end of a long afternoon of fun and games, it all came to a close. We hugged our tios and said our long goodbyes, waving adios as we drove away.
Tio Rogelio and Tia Quica were always wonderful to all of us – I liked going to their house a lot.
While we waited in line at the bridge over by the Chamizal, we slowly approached the customs agent booth.
Still feeling the inebriated buzz from his day’s intake, papa gave me some border-crossing advice: “Waldo…cuando te pregunta el señor en donde naciste, dile que eres nalgas prietas”. Mom giggled, Vince laughed and I didn’t get it.
Why I would want to tell a customs agent that my butt was brown?
We greeted the agent, crossed over and no, I didn’t take my dad’s advice.
The sun had set and it was still another warm night as we drove into town, heading home on the same route along Paisano. Tired from a long day of visiting and partying it was quiet inside the car as we passed up the last of the fading city lights.
The evening got pitch black except for the dashboard’s glow and the high beams shining on the road a couple hundred feet ahead. I don’t recall much traffic at all, it was just another quiet night.
Doniphan Drive had no shoulder; just dirt that led to the many bushes and brush that paralleled the road about fifty feet from the asphalt. We were about ten miles from home when Papa broke the silence. “Para el carro, tengo que hacer”. Vince pulled over on command, slowed to a stop and our extra-extra large father figure got out. I whispered, “What did he say?”, Mom replied, “Tiene que hacer chi”. “Oh, he’s gotta pee,” I said.
He walked about thirty feet from the car close to the bushes with lots of room to spell his name on the ground if he wanted. In the quiet of night, with zero traffic around we all waited. Then we hear him say aloud: “Necesito papel”. We looked at one another. “What?” I said in amazement, “He needs paper? He pooped outdoors? Really?”
Like magic, mom grabs a roll I didn’t know we had in the back seat and hands it to Vince, volunteering him. “Toño, llevaselo”. Vince grabs the roll, looks at me … and says, “Here, take this to him”. Oh no…I got handed the hot potato…do I give it back to mom? … I thought about it for half a second. Meanwhile papa is waiting.
I sighed out loud and as I opened the door a car suddenly drove by on our side of the road. I froze. Their high beams lit everything up in its path: all of us, papa and the entire scene around him, including the evidence.
That moment was like a scene in a movie – when a UFO lights up the entire countryside at night. The brightness illuminated all of us like a big round prison spotlight.
Busted, and what timing. Obviously the people in the passing car witnessed a full moon that night – and so much more. My door was still open and as I sat there momentarily, I could not believe this turn of events. I reluctantly got out of the car and walked sideways towards a very unconcerned father.
Trying not to look in his direction, I edged myself closer to where my peripheral vision sees an outstretched hand. He grabs the roll and I want to run, but I walk back humiliated and get back in the car.
As we wait in the car I turn to see him buckling his belt, standing over the object of his creation. And as if it were a pet he looks down and gestures at it with a pointing finger saying loudly, “Ahí te voy a dejar, y mañana vengo a recojerte”.
“I’m leaving you there, and I will pick you up tomorrow”.
Mom giggled out loud, Vince laughed like I have never heard before, and I shook my head in disbelief.
Papa got in the car and without a word we all continued home in silence as if nothing had happened – oblivious to the moonrise coming out from behind Mount Franklin.