Rosie said as how Laurel and her feller was on the way and that Phillip's young uns was both coming too. Law, what a time you'll have!
Me? I'll be at Dor'thy's tomorrow, like always. And this year they'll be a crowd. Calven, of course, and his girlfriend and her family, all nine of them.
Oh, yes, Calven's got a girlfriend. This time I believe it's right serious. He met her at that school where he teaches--he brought her over last week and I wish you could have seen him, just as proud as a peacock when he brung her in. She's a beauty with them big dark eyes and long black hair. And just the nicest somebody. We made friends right off and when Calven told her I'd be at Dor'thy's for Christmas Day, her face just lit up.
"Then you must come to the tamalada at my family's house tomorrow," she says and when I ask her what that is, she says it's when everybody gets together to make something called tomollys for Christmas dinner.
"Dorothy's coming," says she, "and I'd love for you to meet my grandmother. I think you two would like each other."
Well, she kept on at me and then Dor'thy called and said she'd come pick me up the next day and carry me to the Cruz's house-- they live just off 213, it turns out. "It's a kind of a working, Birdie," she says. "Like when a bunch of us would get together to make apple butter or some such. I haven't met Mariposa's folks yet, but the way things are going, I believe they're going to be family before long. Calven is plumb foolish over that girl."
So the next day, Dor'thy come by early and off we went. The Cruz's house was down a little road off the highway and you could see where they'd had a nice garden. There was four or five vehicles parked out front and a passel of young uns running around the yard. Dor'thy and I set there a minute, kindly shy of getting out but then the front door opens and out skips Calven's girl with the biggest smile on her face. She runs up to the truck and before you know it, we're in the house where several long tables is set up and music is playing and five or six women is all jabbering away--in Spanish, like your Julio.
"Honey," I say to Mariposa. "You'll have to tell me what to do."
She laughs and calls out to the women to hush. Then she tells them who we are and they all gather round and make us welcome. They explain that they are making tomollys to freeze for Christmas dinners.
They most all of them speak English pretty good and I feel a lot better. Dolores, Inma, Maria, and Clarita are some of the names I catch, and then Mariposa finds me a seat at the long table between her grandmother Clarita and a little old woman all in black. I believe she was even older than me, but she was going at them tomollys like one thing.
What the folks was doing was spreading something like cornmeal mush, only thicker, on dried corn shucks that had been soaked in water. Then they put some spicy good-smelling meat that looked like pork barbecue on top of the mush and wrapped the shuck all around the filling and tied it up like a neat little package. Clarita told me that the tomollys would be steamed afore we et them but that most of them would be put in the freezer to wait for Christmas Day.
I tried to watch close to see what was the way of it. Clarita got me started, showing me how to spread out the mush on the smooth side of the shuck and how to put the meat in the middle. I got the hang of folding up the package after the first two or three. My old fingers had trouble with the last part -- tying a little strip of corn shuck around the rolled up tomolly. It put me in mind of how we used to tie off a hand of baccer with a leaf--I had the knack of it back then but with the old arthuritis, my fingers ain't so nimble.
So I would spread and dab and roll and then hand my tomolly to Clarita to tie off. We went along right good, talking about Calven and Mariposa mostly. The little woman to my other side didn't say nothing and I figgered she must be deaf for whenever I looked her way she would nod and grin at me and go right on rolling up them tomollys and tying them off too.
Dor'thy was at the other table setting between Mariposa and her mother, and she looked to be getting along just fine. I turned to say something to Clarita about that and saw that she'd gotten up and was talking to another woman who had just come in.
I finished the tomolly I was working on and waited, but now Clarita and the other woman was heading out the door. Well, thought I, what shall I do, and I began to try again to tie that little strip.
Just then a crooked little brown hand reached over and took that tomolly and quick as quick, tied it up with a fancy little loop --prettier than what Clarita had been doing.
"I thank you kindly," I said to the little old woman in black but she just grinned and shook her head--either to say she couldn't hear me or that she didn't speak English or both.
So I grinned back and said right loud, pointing to myself, "BIRDIE." And she nodded and patted her skinny chest and kindly whispered what sounded like Yo-landa, then motioned at me to get on with my tomolly making.
Which I did, passing them off to Yolanda to tie, and us grinning and nodding at one another like a pair of monkeys.
By the time Clarita come back, I had a right smart pile of tomollys in front of me, all tied off as neat as could be. "Miss Birdie," says she. "How did you manage-" and then she picked up one and looked close at it.
"That's the way Mama used to tie hers," she said. "Too much trouble for me. How in the world. . ."
I turn to point to Yolanda but she ain't there. Nor is her chair nor the pile of finished tomollys she was working on. Matter of fact, there ain't room for none of that for I am sitting at the end of the table and it butted up against the wall.
There ain't no way I can explain this to Clarita. So I just ask her what is her mama's name and I ain't a bit surprised when she says her mama's been gone these twenty-some years and that her name was Yolanda.
Oh, honey, at my time of life I see a lot of folks what's gone on ahead. It don't bother me at all. But they ain't many of em as helpful as Yolanda. She was a good-natured somebody. I think we could be friends.
They made me take home several messes of tomollys for the freezer. I steamed up one yesterday and et it for dinner and it was right good. Let me send some home with you -- I reckon your crowd would enjoy them too.
And tell them all Merry Christmas--from Birdie and Yolanda.