FRESH YARN presents:

"No" Was His Only Answer
By Art Brambila

First thing to know is this: when I was seven years old my father ran over my head with his pickup truck. I was lying sideways in the driveway getting out the little black ants in the cracks with an ice cream stick when my daddy used my head like a speed bump. I don' know why he ran over my head 'cause I always used to think he loved me.

Or thought.

But that was in the summer, way back in 1957. Afterward everyone said I never was the same, the way I think and I talk. My mama, she said I almost half died. And the doctors said it was only for the surgery, that I lived. My head ended up with a cave-in on the right side, and I kinda looked goofy, but the credit goes to the plastic surgery. It's not a big cave-in, mind you, jus' kinda like a dent on a can of Coke when you step on it when walking home from school.

Or running.

I always had to run home from school 'cause the kids didn't like me. Or they made fun. So I ran. We lived in the San Fernando Valley and the kids there used to say they were the rebels with no cause, like the movie, so that's why they used to wear black leather jackets with crossed bones and skeletons painted white in the back. They used to go in their little hot rods to the drive-in and kiss the girls and then they used to listen to KFWB for Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson and Brenda Lee. But I din't like that. I liked Ray Price and Wanda Jackson and Lefty Frizzel better.

That's one more reason they said I was diff'rent.

Anyways, after my head was changed, accident-wise, my mama turned out diff'rent too. But it went double for her 'cause after my daddy ran over my head he never came back. So now I have two empty holes where there used to be just one. The one in my head and the one in my heart.

It was hard for my mama after my father went 'cause she never stopped loving him an' so she cried for at least three years, or maybe two. I never was the type who don't hold no grudge, so, by and by, when I looked in the mirror, I din't care too much no more. Except for headaches. They never went away.

Which is more than I can say for my daddy.

We were the Mexicans an' we used to live happy in the San Fernando Valley with the yellow-haired ranchers and farmers that Daddy used to call the Hueros Rancheros. We were the only ones that talked Spanish an' we were 'llowed to live there 'cause my daddy took care of the horses for the ranchers even tho' they never liked us too much. My father, he made money training the horses in the daytime an' in the night, he used to get drunk and mean with beer an' tequila. Sometimes he would fight with my mama for no reason then go with his mariachi band, Los Reyes de America, to the Tapatio Bar on the Ventura street to sing with his friends.

Our house was a big one near the little airport. I liked it all 'cept for the airplanes, noise-wise, and the no friends that I never had in school. I was like the fish in the wrong water over in the San Fernando Valley. I always din't fit in too good with the kids there, color-wise. My mama used to say it was only 'cause maybe my hair was not yellow like them. But she used to say, "It's OK, Tokie." She always used to call me Tokie, even before I was born, because my daddy, he used to call me Tocayo, which in Spanish means "people that have the same name." In this case we were both Felix Figueroa, only I was the junior. Anyways, Mama used to say, "You look nice, Tokie, 'cause you have your father's black Aztec hair and your mama's Yaqui green eyes." She all the time used to say nice things to me.

There was lots of space in the Valley in those days. The houses were far apart an' the horses used to walk in the streets with the cowboys on the saddles. There was no cement where you're 'spose to walk in those days and there was many corrals made of wood that were always painted white, which sometimes ran all around long flat fields with barns 'n haystacks, some of 'em.

Also, too, there was lots of beautiful trees in the Valley. I used to climb all 'ov 'em. Sometimes I sat on the branches to think for 15 minutes or at least an hour. Trees were my favorite 'cause they were big an' strong, but never got mad, or drunk. I was happy in the San Fernando Valley. I had everything a boy could need when Mama an' my papa were there.

I had a Schwinn bike -- candy-apple red with fat balloon tires and it had a yellow head of Donald Duck in a blue sailor coat on the handlebars. Also, too, I had my own television and a red Hula Hoop and a giant telescope in my bedroom. And I had a guitar my father gave me before I was even born, or one. Mama was young and tiny and pretty like the dolls they drew in the back pages of the magazines. She had black-black hair with a white streak, like lightening, running down it, in the front. An' her green eyes were very much like the color of the avocados down the road in Mr. Fairfield's farm.

We had a big kitchen that always smelled fresh an' delicious an' there was two sinks with only one faucet for hot and cold, and a hole in one sink to dispose the garbage. All those things made my mama smile. But what made her smile most was the tall room near the 'fridge that had lots ov' shelves an' lots ov' stuff. She used to say that it was her major pantry. And there was a monster window near it to spy me when, after my homework, I rode my bike along the lonely strawberry fields.

My father, he was like a giant with all muscles and had a big cowboy hat and a big mustache and boots made of snakeskin. Also, he had a monster chair in the living room that used to go way back and he used to fall asleep in it near the TV. After Daddy left, abandoned-wise, Mama's smile started to go away, too. And she got more sad and even more blue, 'specially when reading letters in my father's old chair. Sometimes I used to sit across an' look at the tears slide down the little face and that's when more headaches would come to me. One night I said, only in Spanish, "Mommy, who writes you so much the letters?" And she told me it was my daddy, "that still loves you, Mijo, but now he's far away," she said, "playing music in a place named San Antonio."

Three years passed, or maybe even two, and Mama an' me got poor. And then poorer. Mama said, only in Spanish, everything's starting to go to a place she called "La Chingada," which I never heard of before. But I guess she knew what she talked, 'cause after that, we got even more poor and some men came to our house to cut off the phone.

Then, pretty soon, the lights.

And then the gas.

Soon Mama collected on the Welfare. Then the Hueros Rancheros walked by our house and pointed and stared and made fun an' said, when it was a man, "Hey, lookie there, Jake," and when a woman, they said "Hey, lookie there, Jodie, those are the poor shabby MezCans."

I din't like it when they said that. But I never cried in front of 'em.

Only in my room.

One day, when the skies turned gray and cold, and when the trees in the orchards were already brown and bare, Mama started to sell everything we used to have. First went the TV from my room. Then the barbecue in the back yard and the trailer, then the microphones and stuff my father forgot in the closet. After a while went my father's big sleeping chair and the big TV. Then the pictures from the wall came tumbling down into cardboard boxes an' all the stuff dis'peared from my mama's kitchen. And then, only in Spanish, she said to me: "We have to make the best of it, Mijo," which means MySon in Spanish, "because from now on, it's only just you and me."

So when most things were sold, we ended up scrappy and hungry and sometimes, at night, sitting on old strawberry boxes on the floor in the empty house. And when the moon was yellow and shined above the Verdugo Hills, and when the wind made noises almost like the coyotes in the dark, Mama and me would snuggle in a blanket and eat Hamburger Helper with the ground-round she bought on credit, and we heard the cowboy music on the little transistor radio she never sold just because of me.

"Tokie, I can't take it no more!" my mama screamed in Spanish in July of 1960. "We wait mucho tiempo for your daddy to come home, pero no viene. We can't wait no more an' we can't live in this house no more. So we gotta move! He's not coming back."

I know this: I hollered loudly, "You mean never?"

"Tokie, who knows about never? Maybe Si, maybe No. These things only Our Lord knows for sure. But we can't live here no more, 'cause I can't pay no more."

"You mean we got to the Chingada?"

Mama's eyes got closer, "Don't talk that way, Tokie, God'll punish you for it!" she charged, and then started more softly, "I said no puedo pagar la renta no more, Mijo. So next week, Saturday, my comadre, Virgie, and her husband Arturo bring the station wagon to move us."

"To move us! To where?"

"To a little house in Los Angeles, you know, where Virgie lives."

"In East Los Angeles! On Clover Street! Near the tracks and the river?" I yelled at my mama for the first time, "I hate Clover Street! There's bad kids there!"

"But Tokie, it's just two doors from Virgie and Arturo, he'll protect you, and God, too." she said.

I hollered again, "He protect me? How he protect me, Mama, you no 'member the time two boys beat me up jus' 'cause I was singing a cowboy song on Arturo's porch!?"

"Tokie, look, una familia just moved out," Mama continued, "and Virgie, thanks to God, she put un deposito for us to the landlord real quick, so we got to move!"

"But we have no furniture!"

"Don't worry, Tokie," she said with her hand at her heart, "Virgie gave us a sofa an' a chair. An' we still have the beds an' everything else we need, Thanks to God."

"Thanks to God!," I screamed angry, "Mama why you always say 'thanks to God,'" when we don' even got a television!"

"Don't worry, Tokie, God will provide," she said, making a cross on her heart. "And besides, I'll work at Virgie's restaurant, you know, across North Main near the Pabst Brewery, and when you go to school, I buy one of those new Philcos on payments at Deardon's. You'll see, they'll give me credit."

I was so very confused. Nothing was no good no more. My own heart always thought my father was coming back and we would be happy again. Whenever I walked to school in the Valley and then ran home, I used to see other Daddies coming home to the yellow-haired kids after work every day. So "Why Not Me?" I used to ask to God.

That night I cried a lot in my bed at least two hours or maybe even a half.
The headaches were killing me, but I got to my knees anyways and by the side of the bed I prayed just like Mama learned me. For a long time I prayed and I begged in English. And even in Spanish, "Why Not Me, God?" I said over an' over cleaning my nose and eyes on the bed sheet.

And I begged Him, and I begged Him: "Why Not Me have a father like everybody else?"

I don't know if God talks in English or in Spanish, all I do know is this:

"No" was His only answer.


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