We were having lunch at a favorite restaurant called “Chalupas y Pollo,” famous for succulent chicken dishes; it was a breezy sunlit Sunday at the Lomas de Chapultepec in MexicoCity. When I was about to pay the bill, Leon took out a small leather pouch bulging with coins he must have been saving all along. He gave it to the waitress, quite ceremoniously, but to his dismay, she refused to accept it. She could have pretended, I thought, just to please a 5-year-old who was trying to be gallant.
Leon’s daughter, my grandchild, laughs uncontrollably every time I tell her about how her father insisted on paying the bill with loose change, I have had to repeat it dozens of times as it is her favorite Pappy story. Every time we meet she insists, “Tell me stories of when Pappy was a little boy.”
Once he came back from school with a swollen hand. Apparently, he and some classmates were all clinging to a swing which collapsed and he twisted his had when a pile of bodies fell on him. A solicitous mother, I drove Leon to the Clinica Florida, the nearest health center, where an x-ray was taken of the injured hand. As it turned out, his right pinky had a hairline fracture so the doctor put a light cast up to the middle of the forearm. He complained about the discomfort all night, but when he came home from school the next day, he was brandishing the cast like a trophy for it was covered with autographs, affectionate messages, and artisticdoodles in wild colors.
Once, when Leon was already in secondary school, I saw him standing at the gate when I came home from work. He had a large brown envelope and as I got off the car, he declared, “It was nothing, Mommy, I am all right, really, I am OK. I went to Clinica Florida and had these taken…” He was waving x-ray plates in the air, as if they were battle standards. It was a biking accident, he had slipped down a treacherous slope, and knowing that I am such a worrywart he did not wait for me to come home and had gone ahead to our favorite health center.
My granddaughter gasped the first time I related that story. She turned to her father and asked in a rather accusatory tone: “Pappy, was that when you were going so fast you hit your head on a branch and your helmet broke?” Sheepishly, Leon said no, he confessed that that was another accident he had never told me about. She was sort of elated that there are Pappy stories she could tell me.
Sometimes, my granddaughter calls me to report that her father was eating with his elbows on the table, or that he was slurping noisily while taking his soup; she’s beginning to sound like me, I’m afraid, so once in a while her father teases her by deliberately displaying bad table manners. Last week, she called to ask if I could give her father permission to read comic books, which he claimed I had forbidden. He is old enough to read comic books now, I said, rescinding an ancient dictum.
The telling and retelling of Pappy stories has become a ritual of bonding and affectionate complicity between my youngest granddaughter and myself. We enjoy those precious moments, which I hope she will remember even after I am long gone. I had the same ineluctable alliance with my own grandmother, but in my case it was Mommy stories.