Compression

Michael Maldonado ‘21

Mexico


My grandma has a room of chucherias. In one corner there is a sewing machine, in the middle

an exercise bike, and a Selena poster on the closet door. Boxes of wax paper, styrofoam, packing

peanuts, yarn, and silverware lined the shelves. A white candle glows in front of the portrait of the

Virgen de Guadalupe, illuminating a picture of her father. She remembers his calloused hands and stern

expression.

When my grandma was a little girl, she lived on a ranch. Her favorite thing to do was to pick corn

cobs, leave them to dry, pick out the ears and drop them into the mill. She would push the stone bar to

grind the ears into cornmeal. Her father would make cornbread over a firepit.

My grandma finds a picture of Mom and Dad at a beach, both holding salt-rimmed glasses.

That’s funny. Mom doesn’t have any pictures of Dad.

On the sewing table is a basket of Easter bunnies. My grandma saved eggshells to make them.

They have packing peanut arms and legs, bowtie, a button-up wax paper shirt. Some of them held

carrots. They regularly sold out every year.

Whenever I made eggs, I saved the eggshells for her. I etched a circle into one side of each egg,

flipped them over, and tapped the knife until it pierced the opposite side. I blew into the small hole and

the egg slid out. Cracking eggs like this makes it easy to catch the yolk before it falls into the bowl.

After every day of school, I would creak open the patio gate and hear the bellow of the stove

fan. I would climb three steps and open the screen door to my grandma’s house. She would wrap me in

her arms, smile, and kiss my cheek. It was something different every day: mole, enchiladas, frijoles

rancheros. But my favorite was papas con fajita.

I watched her cut the potatoes into cubes, pour a thin layer of oil onto a cast iron skillet, and

drop in the potatoes. She sliced the fajitas into little cubes. They sizzled when she tossed them into the

pan. Without looking at the pan she sprinkled salt, a pinch of pepper, cumin and threw in one star anise

and red bell pepper slices.

Dad picked me up from my grandma’s house one time. Usually he buys me a plane ticket or a

bus ticket, so I was surprised he came in person. Turns out he had just finished a golf game at a nearby

resort, so he figured he’d just pick me up since he was already in the area. He asked my grandma about

the papas con fajita. He spent 10 years with my mom, so he had to have had it at least once. My

stepmom Angie never met my grandma, but she told me Dad would rant about my grandma’s papas con

fajita. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t compete.

But my grandma lost her touch. Her food is too salty or doesn’t taste like anything. She cooks

less and less and orders takeout. The spices in her pantry clump together.

I don’t remember when I began to see the holes in my grandma’s memory. I’d tell her it was

normal to forget some things. I forget things all the time. But my grandma insisted I was at family

reunions with relatives I’d never met and that happened before I was born. Her memory was

condensing.

She cried when I was leaving for college. I closed my eyes as she blessed me. I felt a touch on my

temple, over my heart, on my left shoulder, and on my right shoulder. I kissed her thumb and index

finger, one crossed over the other. When I call, she asks me when I’m coming home even though I tell

her each time.

I’m cooking when I get home.



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