by Betty Wilson Beamguard
A few years ago, when faced with an empty nest and more unscheduled time than a beef cow, I launched into the study of Spanish. With an ever increasing Mexican population in South Carolina, finding people to practice on hasn't been a problem. I've talked to a truckload of Mexican workers stopped on the roadside near our house, a sign holder on a road crew, and people in Wal-mart checkout lines.
After a year of books and tapes, I decided to improve my "español" by watching Mexican movies. I dropped by the local "tienda," where the dusky young men roaming the store eyed me with side-long glances, probably suspecting me of being an employee of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I slipped into the video nook and hunted through dozens of boxes picturing scantily-clad beauties and men with guns. Finally, I spotted one which showed a boy strolling with his grandpa and dog. I rented it, rushed home, and popped it into the VCR.
While I had successfully avoided pornography, the movie wasn't quite what I'd expected. It consisted of a series of near-death experiences involving prepubescent boys. They ran in gangs, free to swim a dangerous river, square off in the streets to throw rocks at rival groups, and set up race courses for cats with firecrackers tied to their tails.
In summer I'm always on the lookout for ways to get rid of surplus produce, so when I returned the movie, I asked the clerk whether she had a garden. She didn't understand the only Spanish word I knew for garden.
I moved the accent and turned up the volume, but drew a blank stare. I initiated an elaborate pantomime in which I said the word for plants and used my hands to demonstrate vegetation bursting forth in verdant splendor.
No response. I knew the word for seed, so I planted the semilla in the suegro, which means father-in-law. (Suelo was the word I was going for.)
I tried a hoeing motion and said the word for vegetables. Suddenly her face brightened and she named several vegetables. And no, she didn't have a garden. I promised her green beans and tomatoes. I left with a smile and an hasta luego, thrilled at having successfully communicated.
My next rental was the unforgettable "Legend of Love" which opened with a bride and groom at the altar. A Zorro look-alike rode his shiny black steed into the church and called the bride's name. Her father whipped out his pistol, the groom grabbed it and fired, and Zorro shot back. The groom fell dead, and Zorro rode off. Since the groom wasn't up to saying his vows, the men charged out to hunt down the culprit and pump him full of bullets.
Thus began a Hatfield/McCoy relationship between the two families. And wouldn't you know, fifteen years later, the bride's niece fell in love with Zorro's nephew. After many tender love scenes, and heated exchanges between the sweethearts and their kin, the saga concluded with a wrenching scene in which the impeccably clad niece rode into the sunset sidesaddle with the bullet-riddled body of her lover thrown across her lap, his lifeless head cradled in her right arm while she steered the horse with her left.
They just don't make movies like that anymore.
One morning I was standing outside the tienda waiting for it to open when a man pulled up in an old car and asked in English what time the store opened. I answered in Spanish and thus began a fifteen-minute exchange with Pedro who was about ten years my junior and cute as a puppy.
Finally, he suggested we walk over to the pool hall. Tempted though I was, the vision of my husband hearing through the grapevine that I'd been spotted in the White Rose strip mall playing pool with a Mexican man led me to turn down his offer.
Then he asked for my phone number. He said, "To talk. I practice English. You practice Spanish." I did need practice, but prudence led me to refuse. So he gave me his number and I, who sometimes can't recall my own, remembered his long enough to write it on my grocery list when I returned to the car.
Who knows? Someday I may give Pedro a call, just to talk.
Write Betty W. Beamguard at this address.
Betty Wilson Beamguard, a writer of Southern women’s fiction, poetry, and essays, has received numerous awards for her writing, and her work has appeared in Wild Violet, Whim’s Place, Misadventures of Moms, Catfish Stew, Readerville Journal, and more. She has published one novel, the humorous Weej and Johnnie Hit Florida.
Read another of Betty's funny stories at USADS: Finer Cosmetics
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