One day in the September of 1963, Toribio overheard some grown-ups talking about how the owners of a local, Magdalena inn were going to install new lights in their swimming pool. Now, Toribio didn’t need much of a reason to skip school, but what he heard next made playing hooky an almost certainty.
Frogman. Toribio could have sworn that he heard one of the grown-ups use the word frogman. He even remembers going up to one of them and asking for clarification. Apparently, they weren’t just installing lights in this pool, but they were hiring a person to do it while decked out in full diving gear. This way they didn’t have to completely empty and refill the pool. Visions of a deep sea diver, complete with brass helmet and air hose, filled Toribio’s wild imagination.
“The way I figured,” Dad said to me as he retold this story from his childhood. “I could learn more by watching that guy work on the pool than I ever could during a day at school.”
The next day, Toribio began walking the same path he always took to go to school. Once he felt that he was far enough away from home, he quickly turned down a side street. He hoped that his mother, or another one of his relatives/spies, would not see him going off in a different direction. At that particular time there was an extra pair of eyes watching him since his Grandma Epifanía was visiting. He wasn’t too worried though. As long as he came home at lunchtime like he always did, he would probably be okay.
After a while, he made it to the inn where the frogman was or so he thought. After locating the pool, he could see plenty of equipment lying around, but el hombre rana was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, Toribio could hear a strange sound that seemed to be coming from the water itself.
“It ended up being a guy in swimming trunks breathing from a garden hose,” Dad said.
That’s what naughty boys get for ditching. No great educational experience outside of the classroom. No “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” moment. Just a guy breathing out of a garden hose wondering why some kid was watching him work. Disappointed and with lunchtime fast approaching, Toribio decided to head home before his mom began to suspect something.
Just as Toribio was finishing the last part of his journey back to his house his brother Corney pulled up in a cab. This never happened.
“Where have you been?” he said.
“At school,” Toribio answered.
“No you weren’t. I just came from the school. You weren’t there.” Corney said.
Toribio’s heart sank to his toes. He was completely busted.
“We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Corney continued. “You better come home with me. Mom is pissed.”
As Toribio got into the cab with his brother, thoughts of impending doom flooded his frantic mind.
“Dad has been waiting for us,” Corney said. “We need to hurry up so we can meet him in Nogales.”
This was all the explanation that Toribio got, but he could tell from Corney’s tone that the situation was very serious. Finally, they got home to where his mother and grandmother were waiting for him.
“Pues,” Emilia said. “The little prince decided to come home.”
She was beginning to ratchet up as she always did when she was about to lay a solid beat-down on him or one of his siblings. For some reason Grandma Epifanía found the whole ordeal hilarious and began laughing. Undeterred, Emilia started grabbing for a spoon or something with which to hit her son with.
“Where were you? Huh? Do you have any idea how long…”
Just then Toribio’s grandmother put her arm around him, kind of protecting him with her own body.
“Oh no,” Epifanía said. “You aren’t going to hit him while I’m here.”
It couldn’t be. Could he really be spared? His mom was clutching something. He braced himself for it, but the beating didn’t come. At least not that day.
Toribio couldn’t figure out why everyone was so upset? Why in the world did his older brother suddenly care about him ditching school?
Of course, Corney didn’t care about that. He cared about packing everything up because on that particular day their father, Nabor, had come home from America and was waiting for them in Nogales. He was there to take his family through the process of getting their own green cards. Unbeknownst to most of the children, they were leaving for America that very day. Toribio chose the day that his whole world was going to change to be impossible for his family to find.
Toribio was about to enter a world that was completely different from the one that he had known all of his life. Moving to America would give him and his family amazing opportunities that they would never be able to experience in Mexico, but he didn’t know or care about any of that. He was just a nine year old boy who was terrified at what his dad was going to do when he found out that he had been caught red-handed, skipping out on school.