Do you know that the Dine (the Navajo people) don’t have a phrase in their language for “The other day”? They can say, “Three days ago,” or “Many moons ago,” but they can’t say, “The other day.” Thus, this opening phrase is perplexing. Unfortunately, my penchant for using it to introduce the recounting of past events almost drove one of my Dine colleagues to the point of insanity.
“Which day?” Lena Natoni would demand. Almost always, she’d smack my arm with whatever pile of papers she had in hand. Lena always had a pile of papers in hand. I always got smacked. Nevertheless, during the 10 years we worked together as central office administrators for the Bloomfield School District, Lena never changed my style. She would’ve had to smack the arm of all my t’as, t’os, primos, amigos y conocidos in order to do so and, even then, I’d still be betting on our continued usage. The use of this phrase is so ingrained in our collective vocabulary that we’re not even aware we’re saying it. Even my T’o Andy says, “The other day.”
So, the other day, my brother Sevedeo sent me a text message. “À Cuando acabas y cuando llegas?” he asked. He wanted to know when my job would end for the summer and when I’d arrive in Pagosa Springs.
“El dia ocho es mi ultimo dia de trabajo.” I replied, “Espero llegar el dia nueve.” Mindful of his sensibilities, I didn’t add “Woohoo! Glory Hallelujah! School is finally out for summer!” I find that most non-educators don’t share my joyous appreciation for our summer break. They actually think we’re getting paid during this time.
“À Todavida haces tortillas?” he asked, as if maybe by his asking if I still knew how to make tortillas, a fresh homemade tortilla would magically appear in his hand.
“I made some the other day,” I replied. “They’re gone now. And don’t be askin’ for any when I arrive.”
I know, for certain, that come June 9, I’ll be making tortillas five minutes after I walk in the door. Sevedeo knows it, too. I love to make tortillas in my mother’s house. Somehow, the tortillas have a different texture and taste than the ones I make at home, even though I use the same ingredients and measurements. Maybe the texture of the tortilla is shaped by my mother’s bolillo, or maybe the flavor is enhanced by the platica sabrosa taking place at her kitchen table, or maybe this notion is all in my mind and I’m ready to be carted off to the nearest loony bin. À Pero, sabes qu ? No importa. The reason why doesn’t really matter. Much as my saying “The other day,” to introduce the recounting of an event, knowing the why or it or the when of it isn’t the point. It’s not about why, anyway. It’s about what. Tortillas in my mother’s house simply taste better than they do anywhere else.
But tortillas aren’t the only thing I’ll be cooking while I’m at my mother’s house. This summer, in the predawn quiet of my mother’s living room where I most love to be, I plan to write a good story about the day the Tin Man came to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary. The tale will be a recounting of a bygone time when my brother Lucas purchased a likeness of the Tin Man from my mother’s long-time neighbor — a really, really, long-time neighbor — Dolores Gurule. Always the inventive craftswoman, Dolores made this particular Tin Man from various sized coffee cans. Life got very interesting when my mother hung the Tin Man next to the Blessed Virgin Mary painting she has posted in front of her house. To this day, I don’t know who removed the Tin Man or why, but I do know for certain how I want to start this story.
“The other day,” I’ll begin, “The Tin Man came to talk to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He had a ‘heart problem,’ you see, and he needed a good listener.”
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