(Photo: Some rights reserved by Robert Huffstutter)
In Magdalena, there were acres and acres of open land and horse-filled corrals right outside their front door. In America, they had two truck-trailers right outside their front door. In America everything seemed to be backwards; the water looked like milk because of chlorination and the milk looked like water because of the pasteurization. In Magdalena, Toribio and his brothers and sisters would fight over the milk, especially for the privilege of licking the cap where a sweet cream would form. Magdalena’s crystal clear water was so pure that it eventually immigrated also as Pepsi began bottling it and selling it as Natural Spring Water in America.
To Toribio, everything tasted better in Magdalena and by default, worse in America. Produce wasn’t even close in the States. Even the very walls around Toribio seemed to be made out of a strange, chalky cardboard. Their adobe house in Magdalena seemed much more solid as they were supported with huge beams of timber. The fact that he was sharing a room with his entire family didn’t increase his affections for America any either, but this was home now. No matter how much they missed Magdalena, they were living in America now so Toribio and his siblings decided to try and make the best of it.
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Toribio crawled underneath the flat-bed trailer that was permanently parked in his front yard to see if it was fit for a king. There were far too many spiders and way too much garbage to ever be considered worthy of housing royalty so he decided to clear it out. After much bravery and elbow grease, Toribio made the underside of the trailer spotless. Now it was time for the topside. Toribio found some rope and set up a pulley system to raise and lower the trailer as if it were a drawbridge. It still required quite a bit of imagination, but before long Preciado Castle became a favorite hang-out of Toribio’s siblings and cousins.
Toribio was still restless despite all of the work and playtime that he put into Preciado Castle. As nice as it was, King Toribio was still poor so he decided to go to the grocery store down the street to see if he could do something about that. He confidently walked into “La Esperanza” as the store was called, went straight up to the owner, and asked for a job. The owner was not in a rush to hire a nine year old boy so Toribio launched into an unrequested, undesired job interview.
“Look you need to re-stock these shelves so that your customers can see what they want right away,” Toribio said as the owner stood perplexed.
“You have to bring the milk to the front. I wouldn’t reach all the way back there for milk. I would just leave,” Toribio said, wondering how he could call such a watered-down liquid, milk. “And you can’t do all this because you have to work the register.”
The owner looked at his disorganized shelves and his barren looking refrigerators for what seemed like an eternity to Toribio.
“I’ll pay you three dollars a week…”
Despite this being a substantial amount of money for a 9-year-old immigrant, Toribio still decided to add another source of income to his revenue stream by collecting glass, liter, soda bottles that everyone seemed to be discarding all around his neighborhood. He took his scavenged items to his grocery store boss who would cash them out whenever Toribio felt like he had earned enough or when he wanted to purchase something from the store. With the money from these and other odd-jobs, Toribio was able to buy himself sodas, candy, and comic-books, but after awhile he decided to go after that elusive, remote-control, G.I. Joe tank; the one that was big enough for his brother, Little Nabor to ride.
“Hey, do you think I could buy that tank by giving you a little bit of money from time to time?” Toribio said to his boss who never got used to his audacity.
“I thought that I had invented something new,” present-day Dad told me as he remembered this prized toy of his youth. “I later learned that lay-away was nothing new.”
Audacity paid off in spades. That very Christmas, Toribio and Little Nabor were taking turns destroying their very expensive toy by riding it, crashing it, and shooting it’s giant rubber missiles with glee. The next thing he bought was a $40, talking, Suzie-Q doll for his little sister Eva. Dad remembered how much it cost because $40 was a ridiculous amount of money for anyone back then, let alone an immigrant who didn’t even know that he was poor until a servant of the Holy Roman Catholic Church told him. By then, however, Toribio was beginning to lose the thrill of working at La Esperanza.