(Photo by Cast A Line)
“Here he comes! The Black Eagle to the rescue!” young Toribio said as he rode on his noble steed through the house. He spun the cylinder of his six shooter and turned it onto the evil banditos. With deadly accuracy he gunned them all down executing swift justice on those who would harm the innocent.
He probably got smacked upside the head for using his mother’s broom as a horse, especially since he rode right through the home. He wasn’t trying to be bad. He just couldn’t seem to help it.
“I think I was a little ADD when I was a kid,” Dad said as I asked him about growing up in Mexico. “I was a good student. I was getting straight A’s because my two tías were studying to be teachers and they drilled me day after day. For the most part I liked school, but I would sometimes get bored and play hooky. I would go and learn about other cool things that were going on around Magdalena. One time I ditched school because I heard that they were going to start training some horses on a ranch. I just couldn’t miss that. I just had to see it.”
Every day Toribio and his five brothers and sisters were up at around 5 am; sometimes earlier. Emilia would already be up washing dishes and making coffee for everyone, including the kids. My dad was drinking coffee ever since he can remember. They only had so much milk to go around and over a dozen relatives to share it with so they would make it last by adding it to coffee. Luckily, there was no shortage of sugar. So it was sugary coffee and apples, or oranges for breakfast. Every once in a while though, Tata, my dad’s grandfather, would splurge and bring everyone pan dulce.
During the summer months, everything changed. It became so hot that the family slept outside on cots like they were camping. Then they would stay inside the house until the sun started to go down. With some relief from the heat of the sun, Toribio and his brothers and sisters would play until midnight, driving Emilia crazy.
It was during one such summer day that Nabor decided to give his wife a break from the rambunctious Toribio by taking him to work delivering ice. I guess he thought that if he kept my dad away from the house he would be less likely to cause trouble. Nabor was wrong. The day started out fine. Nabor made his deliveries and was back in the truck fast enough to keep Toribio from causing too much destruction.
“Then I remember stopping by some railroad tracks,” Dad says recounting the story to me. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘Stay in the truck.’ So I sat there. And sat there. And sat there. It seemed to take forever so I had to keep myself entertained. So I began rolling the passenger-side window down and then up again. Then I hopped over to the driver’s-side window and did the same. When that got boring, I started turning the steering wheel as far as my little arms could. I even began taking the truck out of gear and then putting it back into gear. Now, I had already gotten into trouble for playing with Dad’s truck so I knew what I could mess with and what I couldn’t mess with.”
That’s the lesson young Toribio learned after getting into trouble. What he could get away with and what he could not; how far he could push it before the wrath of his mother would fall upon him.
After a while, Toribio lost all interest in windows, steering wheels, and shifters. So he moved on to the glove compartment. He opened it up and saw a large revolver sitting inside. In a panic, Toribio shut the glove compartment. This was definitely something that would incur the wrath of Emilia Preciado. He sat back in his chair and tried to forget what he had just discovered. But he couldn’t. Inside that little box was a gun with a wheel. This gun would make him a cowboy, but only if he touched it. Surely, he could escape a smack on the back of the head if all he did was touch the gun? So Toribio gathered his courage, opened the glove compartment, touched the handle of the gun, and immediately shut the box again.
Fear and adrenaline coursed through my young father’s body. He had never touched a gun before in his life. He was now officially a cowboy, just like his movie star hero the Black Eagle. But, wait a minute. The Black Eagle didn’t just touch the handle of his gun. No, sir! He brandished his gun boldly against the forces of evil and injustice. To officially be a cowboy, Toribio knew in his heart that he had to hold the gun. Once again, he gathered all of his courage and stupidity, opened the box, and lifted the heavy gun out with his little hands. He looked at the beautiful, metal wheel gun and saw that it had six chambers. It was a six-shooter, just like a real cowboy gun. He decided to give the cylinder a spin. It spun and spun and exhilarated him with every spin. Then in the distance he heard the sound of birds chirping. In the absence of evil banditos, birds would have to do. Toribio swung the heavy gun outside the passenger-side window and pretended to gun down the wicked bandito-birds, one after another.
“Ka-pow, Ka-pow!” Toribio said. “Boom! Boom! Bang! Bang! The Black Eagle wins again!”
With every passing moment Toribio’s recklessness increased and his enjoyment of pretending decreased. Spinning the cylinder didn’t do it for him anymore. Pretending to blow away birds no longer excited him as much as it did in the beginning. He had to take things to the next level. So he put one hand firmly on the handle and one on the barrel, turned his face away in anticipation of a loud blast, and pulled the trigger.
That was all he heard. No loud bang. Just an empty click from an empty gun. Or was it empty? Toribio just had to know so, of course, he turned the weapon’s barrel toward himself and looked down it to see if there were any bullets that would blow his head off. Disappointed he pointed the gun down at the floor of the truck. Since the gun wasn’t loaded, he decided to pull the trigger a couple of more times as he still held it by the barrel and the handle. This time instead of an empty, “Click,” he heard a loud, “BOOM!” as the gun went off.
The blast tore a hole through the firewall of the truck and burned the hand that Toribio had wrapped around the barrel. Immediately the smell of gun powder filled his nostrils. Despite being completely overwhelmed with terror, Toribio managed to get the gun back into its former hiding place so that he could begin to tend to his hand which felt as if it was on fire. No matter what he did, Toribio could not get his hand to stop burning nor the smell of a gun that had just been fired to go away.
Toribio was terrified; not of the realization that he was only a couple of clicks away from blowing his brains out. He was terrified that Nabor was going to find out especially since he saw him finally returning from his delivery. Unable to control the burning sensation in his hand, Toribio attempted to tuck it away behind his back, hoping against all hope that Nabor wouldn’t notice. He tried to calm himself down.
Everything is fine. Nothing happened. Nothing to see here. Nope nothing at all. Just sitting here patiently like a good little boy.
The drivers-side door opened and Nabor got into the truck. He sat there for a second, took a look at his young son sitting there with one hand behind his back, and said, “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Toribio said.
“Let me see your hands. What did you do?” Nabor said.
“I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” Toribio said as he showed his dad his burnt hand and began sobbing uncontrollably.
To Toribio’s great surprise, his dad was more concerned than angry. Nabor tended to his son’s hand as best as he could and then began an investigation as to the location of the bullet. He found the hole in the firewall and after not seeing it laying around underneath the vehicle, he decided to pop the hood. Within minutes he discovered the metal-slug laying on top of the engine block. He carefully removed the hot lead so that it wouldn’t cause further damage to his ice delivery truck, closed the hood, and got back into the cab.
“Well,” Nabor said to the frightened young lad. “You are going to have to explain this to your mother.”
Ruthless banditos were definitely preferable to facing his mother, but Nabor had passed sentence. They began making their way home. It felt like a trip to the gallows for the failed vigilante especially since they arrived all too quickly.
“Emilia,” Nabor said. “Ven aquí por favor.”
“¿Que quieres?” Emilia said.
Toribio came out of the truck willingly to avoid being dragged out by his father, but he kept his hand behind his back and his head lowered.
“What did you do?” Emilia said.
“Tell her,” Nabor said.
Toribio went mute and became paralyzed all at once.
“Show me your hand,” Emilia said. Hiding it behind his back was not working out as he had hoped.
Nabor had to physically force the boy to show his hand to his mother. As he did, Toribio paused waiting for Emilia to deliver the death blow to his cabeza.
“What did you do!?” Emila said. No death blow came; only tenderness and concern for the child. Emilia scooped her son away and began caring for his injured paw with great tenderness. This was completely unexpected. The longer he waited for punishment to befall him, the more he realized that his parents were just glad that he was okay.
“I think my dad got it the worst,” the now grown, one-time cowboy said to me. He never got in trouble for the incident and he still has no clue what discussions his parents had, but he was sure that they were not pleasant.
And from that point on, young Toribio was never mischievous again…