they pay to kiss your feet

since there's no one else around, we let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know. then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The things Ceasar has taught me.

When Ceasar was 19, he said goodbye to his brothers and sister and to his mother and friends and he left Mexico with his father. They were headed to New York. I met Ceasar nine years later. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was doing my weekly grocery shopping. I needed chicken tenders and he filled my order. Each week, I learned a little bit more about this man who, by age, is a peer, but by worldly experience is years and years older than I.

When he was in high school, he took a test that every high school student in Mexico takes. It helps to determine what you do after school. The higher the score, the more likely the student is to move on to higher education. Ceasar scored above 90 percent, but his dad thinks he didn’t take the exam. You see, Ceasar wanted to come to America. He didn’t want to stay in Mexico to finish his education. He didn’t want to keep dreaming about what it would be like to be in America — instead, he wanted to go to school here and to grow here and to learn here.

In New York, he and his father worked in fish markets. During that time, Ceasar met his wife and they had a daughter whom they named Jessica. Ceasar never went to school. This year, Ceasar, his wife and his daughter moved to Kansas City and he took a job doing what he knows how to do, which is why I see him every Saturday at Price Chopper wearing his white apron and Price Chopper hat and a smile that I expect to see - even when he’s sad. He was sad for awhile. His father-in-law in New York was diagnosed with Cancer and so, his wife and daughter went to be with him. They were gone for several months. Yet still, Ceasar kept working, long hours, six days a week. And when he got home to his empty house, he felt so lonely that it hurt and so, he’d turn on the television just to feel like someone else was there.

Each week, it seemed like his wife and daughter had been gone for ages and each week, he found out they would be gone a bit longer than expected. But he was used to not seeing his family. He hasn’t seen his family in Mexico since he left nine years ago. Every time he tried to go back home, something didn’t work out. One time, it was his status as a citizen. Another time, it had to do with his papers. He longed for his family. He wanted to see his brothers and sisters and how they’d grown and the children they had and the wives and husbands they married. And he wanted to see his mother.

In October, his wife called him from New York with a surprise. He was to meet her in Dallas on November 7 and they were going to get on a Mexico-bound plane. He was going to get to see his family. When he told me this, he was holding back tears and he was glowing and so excited and he said that when he heard the news, he nearly hit the ceiling he was jumping so high and he was crying and laughing.

Last week, I didn’t see Ceasar. I knew where he was though. And I was swelling inside — almost like I was getting to see my own family after nine years. I couldn’t wait to see him the next week, to ask how it was, to hear stories, see picture and to talk about it over my order of chicken thighs or catfish.

I saw Ceasar Saturday. I actually didn’t need any poultry, but I did need to say hello. And so, from across the store, I waved and smiled and he held up his hand, signaling me to wait. He came out from behind the meat counter. He was holding a plastic bag wrapped around something and he was shorter than I had imagined. I thought the bag contained produce for the lady next to me or the person in front of me, but he walked straight up to my shopping cart and to me and he handed me the parcel. I unwrapped the gift — a statue of Mario Moreno “Cantinflas.” An actor, whom Ceasar said, has been in almost 100 movies and was a very good guy and helped a lot of people.

I did some research. Cantinflas was in 55 movies. And despite the fact that he died a millionaire several times over and was one of the biggest stars ever in Spanish language films, he never forgot where he came from. Much of his money was given to charitable work including high-quality, low-income housing for Mexico City's poor. When he died, he was hailed as a national hero and a protracted period of official mourning followed.

I don’t think Ceasar has forgotten where he comes from either. And even though the Cantinflas statue doesn’t match the décor in my living room, I’ve placed it proudly on a shelf that also displays wedding photos, a photo of my best friend’s baby and a pug candy dish. I’m not sure that a year ago, I would have believed you if you told me that I would be given a plastic statuette of a Mexican actor and that I would actually keep it, let alone display it in my home.

But in the last year, I’ve grown. And I’ve learned. And, I thank Ceasar for helping me to count my blessing and to realize that family is one of the most important things and to stop taking things like a family that lives in the same country for granted and I’ve appreciated my job more and my life more and I don’t complain as much, but I also appreciate the friend that I’ve found behind the meat counter at my grocery store and the way that has taught me that you can find friends in the strangest of places and that keeping your eyes and ears open will allow your heart to be touched deeply.


  • At 1:01 PM, Blogger Joe Miller said…

    Great story! I was in Mexico when Cantinflas died. It was a huge deal. My biggest frustration with learning Spanish was knowing I'd probably never get fluent enough to understand his pun-filled humor. I have a hunch he would have been one of my favorite comic actors.

  • At 10:13 AM, Blogger noapostrophe said…

    Jessi, what a touching story! I thought those kinds of things only happened in movies. It just goes to show that people should really get to know the other people in their community because they could have amazing stories to tell.


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