(Photo: From left to right. You know. Just like how you read. Mom, Dad, and Tino circa 6 years old?)
Back in the sixties grade schools used to have a magical thing called a music program. Through this music program Dad began learning the recorder flute. They started everyone off with the recorder flute in the third grade because it was much cooler than say an electric guitar or a drum kit.
Dad’s teachers were quite impressed after seeing his amazing talents on this most gangster of instruments. Playing and even reading music just seemed to come naturally so the powers that be decided to open the gates of the kingdom to him.
“Toby,” the teacher said as she dropped a few mystical looking forms onto Dad’s desk. “Choose wisely, my son.”
As best as he could decipher from the elfish language that the forms were written in, the school was going to give him any instrument that was listed on these papers for his next year of school. Overwhelmed, Dad selected the saxophone because it looked the coolest, but not quite as cool as the recorder of course.
Sometime after successfully completing the third grade tragedy struck. My Grandma Next Door informed my dad that he was not to return to Ramona for fourth grade. He was to complete his primary education at the local, private Catholic school which did not have the celestial anomaly known as a music program.
“But Mom,” Dad protested. “They are going to give me a saxophone!”
“ꜟTú estás loco!” Grandma said. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish that means You are crazy. You know, like El Pollo Loco. I should be translating Marquez…
Dad attended Our Lady of Guadalupe School for the remainder of his primary education. Tino, his eldest son, is currently one of the best alto sax players in Ventura County. Had Grandma Next Door not pulled Dad out of Ramona Elementary he could have continued learning how to read and play music instead of just jamming out with a few friends in garage bands. He could have gotten a degree in music and formed an orchestra as his namesake, Great Grandpa Toribio, had done in Mexico. He could have been a huge recorder flute sensation and toured with the Beatles and Jethro Tull!
Or he could have ended up strung out on drugs like a lot of his Ramona classmates did. He could have chosen the life of a gangbanger like a lot of his Ramona classmates did. Dad remembers a lot of sad stories of kids that he knew who got caught up in the gang mentality which was so dominant in Colonia. He wonders if the Colonia Boys gave him a few free passes because they remembered him from the one year that he attended school with them.
There was one night in particular that Dad ran into three former Ramona classmates while he was walking home. One of them was named Benjy which always makes me think of the movie about the dog of the same name. Another one of them, the jokester in class, was nicknamed “Froggie” because he was small, barrel-chested, and had a short neck. These guys came up to him and Dad said hello all friendly-like as he always did when he saw kids that he knew. Not one of them responded. They all remained deeply serious. Then Froggie stepped-up closer to him.
“I hear you’ve been saying stuff about me,” Froggie said.
“What?” Toby said. He noticed that Froggie was visibly shaking.
“Go home, Froggie,” Dad said as he turned around and walked home.
Dad still doesn’t know what that was all about. Was Froggie being put through some sort of initiation or something? I don’t know. Why don’t you mind your own business! The point is that they let him go. They didn’t press the issue and Colonia Boys always pressed the issue.
So the CO boys never beat him up, but a few black kids tried to during his first few years in America. The first time Dad ever saw a black person it nearly ended in a fight. The kid was around his age and became upset over… something? Dad was terrified because he had no idea what he was saying because…he didn’t speak English! So what in the world was the kid so upset about? Like I said, mind your own business.
Another time a group of black kids tried to trap him in a public restroom. He thinks that they were trying to mug him, but, once again, English was still very confusing for him. For all he knows they were trying to get him to join their merry band of recorder players.
Somehow Dad managed to get by these guys and out of the bathroom (probably because he was too skinny to get a hold of). They almost caught up to him as he sprinted with all of his might back to his apartment, but somehow he made it and, of course, once you make it to your home you’re safe because that’s base and once you call base that means they can’t beat you up anymore. He didn’t quite escape unscathed, however, as he realized that he had dropped his crayons during the pursuit.
After laying low for a while, Dad finally came out only to see the apartment complex’s landlord, Geronimo (yes, that was his real name), looking down the street in the direction that the kids chasing him came from.
“Hey,” Geronimo said. “Were they chasing you?”
Dad nodded as he tried to see if they were hiding somewhere ready to pounce on him when he got far enough away from base. Apparently, these ruffians had taken their anger out on his crayons as he surveyed a quite colorful scene of their destruction along the sidewalk. O, the humanity!
“The next time they come after you just kick ’em in the chins,” Geronimo advised pointing to his own shin. “They all have weak chins so just kick ’em in the chins and they’ll leave you alone.”
Thanks, Geronimo. That’s solid advice for battling merciless, recorder-playing, crayon-destroyers.