I passed San Lorenzo on my way home yesterday. I grew up right behind the adobe church in Clint. Passing the church, I was reminded of the May flower offerings to the Virgin Mary when I was growing up. This we did every May and every May I offered flowers, but I wasn’t always happy about it.
See, I was a tomboy as a kid. I was outside all day long every day playing in the irrigation ditches of Clint, climbing in and out of the cars in my grandfather’s junkyard, scaling houses, sheds, and rock walls, riding my bicycle, recruiting bugs for my bug armies, and challenging the neighborhood kids to roller skating races.
I was also busy breaking bones as a kid. I thought I was Evil Knievel for a time and ended up breaking my collarbone. Playing in the junkyard also proved dangerous as well as I ended up breaking the fingers in my left hand. That didn’t matter though, I loved playing outside. I rarely came inside for anything, not even to drink water or eat.
There was no Xbox, no Playstation, no IPad. Heck, there wasn’t even Atari yet. My entertainment was outside.
If I was hungry, I’d run to my grandmother’s fig tree and swipe a fig. When I was thirsty I’d do what all the other kids did; I’d grab the manguera (Spanish for garden hose) to quench my thirst. It didn’t matter whose manguera we used.
Now, before I go any further, I need to explain how the manguera is used.
There is a certain way to drink water from a manguera and I feel I should point this out because it’s important. First, we’d never let the manguera touch our lips because we didn’t know where it had been. We’d turn the water on just enough so it wouldn’t run straight down.
We’d spread our legs slightly, and with our heads leaning forward we’d then drink. Now, we’d have to make sure trusted friends manned the spigot otherwise they’d turn the water on full force and we’d splash our faces.
There were no water bottles, no Dasani, no Evian, no Sam’s Choice. Nope, we got our water from the manguera.
However, my outdoor good times were cut short in May.
In May my mom would call me in early because as a young girl of a certain age belonging to the San Lorenzo parish, I had to make my daily offerings of flowers to the Virgin Mary along with the other little girls from the community. For me it was an ordeal though.
See, I hated wearing dresses. I couldn’t play outside in a dress. I couldn’t get on the roof of a shed in a dress. There was no way to explore the acequia in a dress. Certainly riding my bike in a dress would prove difficult. I mean Evil Knievel didn’t wear dresses! Dresses were inconvenient! Any self-respecting tomboy knew this and opposed them. I certainly did.
But, as a dutiful little Catholic girl that duty trumped everything and I acquiesced to my mother’s demands and donned the ruffles and lace so I could answer the call of the church bells summoning me and all the other little angels to make offerings to the Virgin Mary. It was our duty.
Plus, we did it out of fear. See, I grew up in the era of fearing the chancla (Spanish for sandal). For many of us if you didn’t do what your mother told you to do she’d throw a chancla at your head. In my house I also grew up with the fear of “making Baby Jesus cry.”
Yep, Abbie Franco never hesitated to pour on the Catholic guilt to get us to do things or to make us feel remorseful and rather miserable after we did something bad. She wasn’t opposed to reminding us that if we didn’t behave we were going to “make Baby Jesus cry.” I certainly didn’t want to do that so I obeyed.
Who am I kidding? I wasn’t always obedient. You’d think the fear of a chancla or making Baby Jesus cry would have kept me in line but if you ask my sister, I was quite the obstinate child, always doing exactly the opposite of what I was told.
If my mom said “don’t touch that,” I would look right at her and touch it, probably with a grin on my face. I guess I should apologize to the Baby Jesus for making him cry so much, should I ever make his acquaintance.
I wonder if apologizing to the Plaster of Paris infant Baby Jesus in a Nativity scene would suffice and absolve me of my childhood sins.
Anyway, back to the May flower offerings, I would run inside the house, and my mom would throw a dress on me. I’d be all sweaty and she’d barely wipe me down and get the frilly frock on me with just enough time for me to join my fellow innocent virgins at San Lorenzo.
Don Regino would still be ringing the church bells as we’d find our places in line and Ninfa would hand us our flowers. Ninfa was the San Lorenzo church lady. She was in charge of everything that had to do with the church. She taught catechism classes, supervised the choir, organized the offerings during mass, and to my recollection was more powerful than the priest and may have told off a bishop or two.
Looking back, I think she could have run the Vatican given the chance. Nobody ever messed with Ninfa. If we missed catechism, she’d drive around in her brown van, hunt us down, pick us up, and return us to catechism. Nope, we didn’t mess with her.
Oh my goodness, though, did this lady know how to make some mean gorditas.
But I digress. Now the flowers we offered weren’t real flowers. Nope, in typical, or stereotypical Mexican fashion, Ninfa would hand us plastic flowers to offer the Virgin Mary. We’d walk up to the altar single file and put our flowers in the vase at the feet of the Virgin de Guadalupe statue.
Little old Catholic ladies with lace doilies on their heads and rosary beads hanging from their hands would sing traditional hymns honoring the Virgin.
I just remember hoping this daily offering would end soon so I could dash outside.
Maybe if time allowed I’d make a quick stop at Don Poli’s store for some stale, old candy that I had to dust off before eating. I’d then run home and get out of my lace imprisonment in the hopes of catching more daylight and good times in the ditches, on the streets, or in my grandfather’s junkyard in my beloved dusty border town.
Author: Christina Franco
Voices from the Valley is a continuing series of stories, videos and live events from our Mission Valley, stretching from Ysleta to Tornillo.