Antelope Valley Press - AV Living (Antelope Valley)

Beneath the mango tree

- WRITTEN BY Esther Hamil | Valley Press Reader

It was the middle of January 1983, I was 19 years old and had just returned to my apartment on campus and was talking to my roommates, after visiting my father in the hospital. My dad had a heart attack and had undergone triple bypass surgery; thankfully my mom, a registered nurse, was with him and recognized his symptoms.

My dad was going to be OK and would be leaving the hospital within the next couple of days. I kicked off my shoes, started to relax thinking about getting ready for my shift at work and thankful classes didn’t start for another two weeks. As I eased into a chair and began to relax with my roommates, the phone rang. My roommate Blanca answered the phone and handed it to me, “It’s your mom, E.” My heart sank ... just when I thought dad was on the mend.

I had a lump in my throat as I said “Hi mo.” I could tell she was upset and said “Your dad is OK. It’s grandpa. Your uncle just called me.” There was some silence for a minute and mom said, “He passed away. It was peaceful.” I was in shock, I know he was he in 80s, but I was so focused on my dad, this came out of the blue.

My grandpa lived near my uncle, out-of-state. Grandpa was from Mexico and his final wishes were to be buried in Mexico with his departed wife my grandmothe­r. I never met my grandmothe­r, as she died in a car accident many years before I was born and there weren’t very many pictures of her. My Mom quickly explained that Uncle Valentin was making the arrangemen­ts and since my mom was caring for my dad, I needed to accompany my uncle and represent her at the funeral mass and burial.

After a flurry of arrangemen­ts, I found myself on a plane headed to the state of Sinaloa. My godmother was at the airport to greet me. I was whisked away to her home and met my Uncle Valentin, Aunt Tina and cousin Chris there. We spent a couple of days making arrangemen­ts; my grandfathe­r’s body arrived and was taken to the funeral home. The funeral was scheduled for the next day and the rosary was to begin at 6, that night. We went as a family and after the rosary, it is customary for a family member to stay with the deceased until morning. I volunteere­d for the midnight to 3 a.m. shift, given my uncle had a young child with him and he looked so very tired.

I stayed with my grandpa and prayed, reflected on the little time I spent with him growing up because we lived in different states and mostly lamented that I never had the chance to meet my grandmothe­r. Well, I thought, they are now together forever. I wonder what she would have thought of me. Would she have loved me? Taught me more Spanish? No time to think about what could have been ... my thoughts turned to grandpa and the time he took me to Disneyland ... what fun we had and how quickly those E tickets were used up!

It was 3 a.m. and my cousin Manny arrived. We had just met a couple of days before and I was finding that I had lots of relatives here that I had not met before. We chatted for a few minutes and I realized that at that hour, there were no taxis running. I should have thought of that before I volunteere­d for the midnight shift.

Manny gave me directions to walk back to my godmother’s house and it was only six blocks away — piece of cake. I walked out into the night and there was a full moon, I felt a chill in the air, grateful that I brought a shawl with me.

As I walked, I noticed the beauty of the night around me, made a right turn, walked another block and didn’t see the empty lot with an old tree — I must have taken a wrong turn. I was lost and cell phones were not invented yet, so I had to rely on my wits and what I remembered from riding in a taxi over here.

The landmarks were not looking familiar and I noticed a beautiful lush mango tree with a house behind it. As I approached the tree, I saw a woman come walking toward me and she stopped. She waited for me to approach and said that I looked lost. I sighed relief and said yes, I’m looking for Margot Hernandez’s house, she’s my godmother. The kind lady looked at me and smiled. She told me that Margot was her granddaugh­ter’s godmother also and she knew exactly where she lived — they were good friends. She would walk with me a ways to make sure I was close enough to where I needed to be.

We walked and talked and I told her my name and why I was in Mexico. She said she knew my mom and grandpa and would be at the burial tomorrow. She also told me her family name was Lopez. She asked me about my life in California, the University I was attending

The downtown Lancaster Women’s Independen­ce/Independen­t Club Hall (above) where many early Halloween parties took place. Llewellyn Bond Jr.’s death certificat­e (right).

and my parents. She was a very sweet and kind lady. She stopped, pointed to the third house down the block as Margot’s house and said this is where we would part ways. She would see me at the burial tomorrow. I hugged her, thanked her and began to walk away. I was weary and emotionall­y drained. I stopped to turn around because I realized I didn’t get her first name, but when I turned, she had already left. I thought, “Oh well, I will see her at the funeral and thank her again.”

On the way to the funeral the next day, I relayed to Margot how I got home last night and asked if she knew who the lady was. Margot said the Lopez family is large and she is godmother to many children in that family; she said we’ll see her at the Mass. The Mass was beautiful and afterward, we walked behind the hearse to the cemetery, for the burial. I was focused on getting through the next hour.

As I approached the gravesite, I noticed a casket already in the ground. Uncle Valentin explained to me that was my grandmothe­r’s coffin and grandpa’s coffin was to be placed on top of hers. As I was processing this, a woman approached and she looked vaguely familiar, though I could not place her. She called out to my uncle and they embraced. He introduced her as his sister. I was shocked because I knew nothing about her — apparently my grandmothe­r had been married before and Aunt Maria was a half-sister.

Then, the most horrifying experience of my life happened — she demanded my grandmothe­r’s coffin be opened so she could see her one last time. I was mortified! The unthinkabl­e happened next — my uncle consented. Before I could even form the word “no,” the casket was opened and Aunt Maria screamed and cried. Thankfully, I could not see into the casket from my vantage point. I chastised my uncle and new “aunt” for such drama and could we please stop these antics and peacefully bury grandpa.

I was still so horrified by the whole scene that I changed my flight and left for the states that night. On my way to the airport, I recognized the path I had taken to Margot’s house the night before and noticed an ugly, dead tree on a lot behind a chainlink fence. That was the tree I was supposed to look for to find my way. My thoughts turned back to the events of the day and I couldn’t wait to get home.

Once I landed, I immediatel­y went to my parents’ house and straight to my mom. I relayed the events to her and let her know that she was spared the family drama at the gravesite and that was really eating away at me.

After a while I calmed down, visited with my dad and then told her my tale of getting lost. My mom turned pale when I told her the lady said her family name was Lopez. Mom asked me to describe the lady and I realized my memory was turning foggy. I was finding it hard to describe her ... she pulled out an old black-and-white photo and asked if I recognized the person in the photo. I said, “Yes, she kind of looks like your half-sister Maria.” My mom then went and pulled out another photo with three ladies in the photo. I recognized my mom, Maria and another lady who was the spitting image of Maria, but much older. That was my grandmothe­r Marcella Eulalia Lopez Gonzalez.

It was then, that sudden realizatio­n set in. I had met my grandmothe­r from beyond the grave, beneath the mango tree where I learned her house once stood behind it.

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

• Peel the apples if desired. Cut them into 1/4 to1/8 inch thin slices. The thicker the slice, the (slightly) longer the slices should be cooked in the next step, depending on the gooeyness desired.

• Optional: In a large pot on medium-high heat, add the water, the apples, the tablespoon of white sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix, cover and allow to cook until the apples begin tosoften. Once the water begins to boil or simmer, reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the desired texture. The longer the cook time, the gooeyer the filling. Once done cooking, add the raspberrie­s.

• While the apples cook, melt the butter. In a medium-large bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar and flour. Mix in the oats.

• Push enough of the crumble mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 pan to cover the bottom, with a little creeping up the sides. Lightly pat it down to make the crust. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

• Pour the mildly-to-majorly cooked or uncooked apples and raspberrie­s on top of the hot crust. The apples will hiss a little bit. Cover the apples with the rest of the crumble mixture and lightly pat down.

• Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Pioneer outhouse (Rosamond).

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