(Picture: Toribio “Toby” Preciado Circa 18 Years of Old)
Henry knew about America. He understood it. Toribio did not. Henry was a year older, taller, and more portly than Toribio. They met one day as Dad was playing in the alley behind his Colonia apartment. Henry jumped the fence from his house into the alley and made quite an impression on Toribio who fancied himself an expert climber. Dad couldn’t figure out how such a chubby kid could scale such heights. As he gawked, Henry approached him.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey! Como te llamas?”
“Toribio,” Dad replied.
This was the typical response to his name which he was forced to repeat several times for Henry and many others in America. In fact, it was Henry who first called dubbed Dad, Toby, a name that he hated because it sounded extremely feminine to him. Dad is known as Toby to this day.
Henry was born in the United States, but his mother only spoke Spanish which was why he did. His family had always been devout Catholics, but they clung to their faith all the more after the untimely death of his father. As a single mother raising six children on her own, Henry’s mother was extremely appreciative of the financial help that the church gave her. Hence, Henry attended mass every evening and Toby decided to join him.
“Wait a minute?” Toby said to Henry in church one day. “I didn’t see you go to confession. Why are you taking communion?”
In Mexico, Toby wouldn’t think about receiving communion without first making his confession. It just wasn’t done.
“You don’t need to go every day,” Henry explained. “Just once a week.”
Henry was a wealth of useful information like this. This little slice of advice made church and God much more accessible to Toby. He loved the church and carried fond memories of it with him from Mexico, but now he didn’t have to kill himself by going through confession every single time he was going to receive communion.
Henry also taught Toby the strange games that Americans seemed to love like basketball and football. Toby didn’t know how to play these games at all and it showed.
“What I lacked in skill,” Dad told me. “I made up for with hustle.”
Henry and the others laughed uncontrollably as the little immigrant attempted to defend all five players of the opposing team at the same time.
“Don’t you know how to play basketball?” Henry and the others teased.
“No! I don’t!” Toby replied.
Henry didn’t just tease Toby for being a cheddar, however. He also taught him the game so that after awhile Toby didn’t look so awkward on the court. He was beginning to learn.
Dad had at least played baseball a few times in Mexico so when Henry suggested that they join a league he was a little more prepared. Unfortunately, they were put on separate teams. Dad and his team did surprisingly well. So well that they were scheduled to face Henry’s team for the championship. Once again, however, something happened that Toby didn’t understand culturally; his team’s two best pitchers were kicked off of his team by the league for being too old. Without their two aces, Henry’s team annihilated them.
“Hah! You guys only won all of those games by cheating!” Henry teased.
Toby was extremely confused by the whole situation. He knew that he hadn’t cheated so why were they being punished? I can only imagine how confusing all of these American rules were to someone who learned English by ordering cheeseburgers for his family.
Toby’s coach desperately kept trying different pitchers to stop the onslaught of the championship game, but to no avail. He even gave Dad a shot. Young Toby stepped-up on the mound and knew exactly what to do; throw strikes as hard as he could.
“Strike!” the umpire yelled. For some reason the catcher still approached Toby unhappily.
“You have to throw a lot harder,” the catcher said and then returned behind home-plate.
So Toby threw as hard as he could again.
Toby was so confused. He was throwing as hard as he could. He looked over at the catcher again and was even more perplexed because he had his mitt far below the strike zone.
“Is he signaling me to throw that low?” Toby wondered.
Wasn’t he supposed to throw strikes as hard as he could? Isn’t that how you got a batter out? Since Toby didn’t know what to do he decided to go with what was working. He wound up and let it fly again right down the pipe and watched the batter destroy it for a homerun. This was the beginning and end of Dad’s pitching career.
Dad did attempt to return the favor by sharing his extensive knowledge of bull-fighting with Henry. It didn’t end well. Apparently, at the end of a bull-fight, just before the matador kills the bull, he grabs a sword, places the tip of it against the fence and bends it.
“You see he does that, Henry,” Toby informed his friend, “so that there is a nice curve to the sword. That way when he sticks the sword in the top of the bull’s neck, the bend in sword makes it easier to hit the heart.”
“Why would a matador want a sword that bent?” Henry asked.
His theory was that the matador was testing the sword to make sure that it was sturdy and wouldn’t break during the kill thrust. Back and forth they argued until Dad finally had enough. Maybe he didn’t know about American sports, but he certainly about Mexican ones.
“What do you know?” Toby said. “I was born in Mexico. You were born here!”
They disagreed so fiercely that they both decided to become matadors. If only! They actually refused to speak to each other for a entire week which might as well be a decade to two best friends. Finally, after the longest seven days of their lives, they decided to go back to playing in the alleyways of Colonia and seeking God together at the evening masses.