Hombre A Hombre

(Scroll down for CHAMPURRADO recipe.)

"¿Qué haces aquí—what are you doing here?" asked Francisco's father.
"Mama said you'd be here. Papá,what I said to you last night, nomás era una broma—it was just a joke. Why can't you have a sense of humor?—"
Don José averted his gaze and looked out across the strawberry fields to the emerald-hued hills. For a moment, his thoughts lingered on a certain point. Lately, a condescending note had crept into his son Francisco's voice. He was high-handed toward his hermanos y hermanas, even to his mother. He even started speaking to him as if he were un viejo simplón—a simpleminded old fool. But last night! What he said to him last night was el colmo—the last straw. Now ese hijo malagradecido—that ungrateful son of his was showing up to explain himself. It was time to speak to Francisco hombre a hombre.

"You came all this way to tell me that? Sabes, Francisco, first you show me some respeto-respect. If you really feel bad about what you said to me last night, you'll help me pull out these weeds and dead plants." He waited to see what Francisco would do, but Francisco's face registered nothing but disgust.

"In case you don't remember," he retorted, "but I've already done that. I can't believe you want me to leave everything I've learned and worked hard for only to come back here to work like a burro in this lodo." He pointed to the ground and stamped his foot, splattering mud all over. His superciliousness usually worked wonders on frightened underlings, but it had absolutely no effect on Don José. He only looked at him with a curious mixture of resentment, a touch of amusement and what can only be described as lástima—pity for a son whose greatest accomplishment at this moment was the painful realization that he was behaving like a whiny self-important twit.

Don José's let the insight sink in, then his voice grew gentle. "Did I say I wanted you to come back and work in the fields? No, mi'jo. But I taught you never to be afraid of hard work and aguante. Aguante y paciencia—endurance and patience. Sabe dónde—who knows where you learned to make fun of your father—pero de nosotros no—but you didn't learn it from us." He started laughing at the absurd situation he found himself in. After years of hard work and sacrifice for the sake of his children, his only "reward" was having a son who appreciated none of it. "Mira nomás—just look at yourself." Don José pointed to his son's muddy boots.

Francisco's face was white, then turned as red as a strawberry. He was embarrassed—no, mortified, but machismo and pride made him reply, "I'm tired of your reproaches and con—se—ji—tos—your little pieces of advice. I don't have anything more to learn from you."

"¿Deveras? You're just angry that you didn't get off easy. You thought you could pat on me on the head como tu perrito—like your little dog and be gone. Tell me, Francisco," asked Don José, whose eyes never left Francisco's face, "¿nos quebramos el lomo—did your mamá and me break our backs working in the fields to put food in your mouth so that you could insult us?"

Francisco was silent. There was a feeling of rupture in the air. The only sound was the early morning breeze as it filtered its way through eucalyptus trees at the edge of the field.
At last Don José spoke in a tone as quiet as Francisco had ever heard him speak. "Ahora con su permiso—with your permission, but this burro has work to do." He dropped to his knees and started yanking weeds and dead strawberry plants. His father had never before addressed him in the formal usted. Their conversation had come to an end.

Francisco made his way across the field. More people started arriving. Some remembered him and tried saying hola, but he ignored them. His trousers and boots were caked in mud. He tried to scrape some off before getting in his car, but they ruined. He slammed the car door and drove off.
Don José's heart felt heavy and sick, but work had made him forget Francisco as it had all his other troubles over the years. The winter sun started to peek from behind the hills, but with it, a wind from el norte started kicking up. Cold penetrated his jacket and made his bones and body ache.

"Last night he called me una papa enterrada [a buried potato], as if I don't have brains in la cabeza, as if I didn't have a corazón. Perhaps he is right. ¿Qué pasó—what happened? When he was just a muchachito he looked up to me. Now he looks down on his pobre viejo."

What was it with Francisco? Was it this country with its language and customs, the education he received, the people he hung out with, were all these turning his son into un estraño he no longer knew? Then there was la Heidi, the German girl Francisco met overseas and took as a bride. She was nice—she always smiled at him even if they couldn't understand each other. And she worked hard. There wasn't a dirty cup she didn't wash, a floor she wouldn't mop, cleaning, always cleaning, never sitting down to chat with the rest of the la familia until she left the kitchen spotless. Still, she turned red as a chile if she ate one little jalapeño. She insisted that German beer was better than Mexican, and thought nothing of joining in the conversation of men. Perhaps this was all Heidi's fault. Why couldn't Francisco have married a girl de su raza, a Mexican girl who spoke Spanish?

Later that day, when Don José felt a tap on his shoulder he was surprised to see it was Francisco. He was holding a large thermos in his hand. There were rubber boots on his feet and a sad look of self-reproach on his face.

"Papá, tiene frío—you're cold, would you like something to drink?"
Don José barely acknowledged him. "No quiero nada—I don't want any." Francisco poured some champurrado into a cup and thrust it into his father's hands. Don José looked at it reproachfully but found himself drinking all of it. It was fragrant of clavos y canela—of cloves and of sweet cinnamon spice. There was the taste of bittersweet chocolate and piloncillo—raw Mexican sugar. It coated his throat and warmed his whole body.

"¿No vas a tomar—aren't you having some?" he asked.

"Heidi made this for you. She told me to come back and apologize to you for being such a dummkopf—that's German for idiota, Papá." And, with a sheepish smile he added, "Mamá taught her how to make it."

"Vaya—did she now?" His surprise couldn't be more complete. He took another sip of the champurrado and said, "I've always like that güerita you married. Te tiene de la
cola—she has you by the tail."

Francisco allowed himself to laugh. That was not quite true, or so the thought, but he let it pass.

"Now I'm going to tell you what I should have said this morning. Lo siento, Papá—I'm sorry.
Perdóname—forgive me—."

"For what, mi'jo?" Don José shrugged his shoulders and with a dismissive wave of his hand indicated that all was forgotten. Now that Francisco offered a real apology, his father extended a real, if slightly offhanded kind of forgiveness that left both of their dignities intact.

Francisco started working another row of plants. Not another word passed between father and son. When it got too cold, each took his turn drinking the champurrado Heidi had made.
The field resembled an immense canvas striped brown and green. They and the others gathered all of the foliage into large plastic bags and left them on the side of the road that divided the field. Later, a truck would come by to haul them away.

Twilight. Soon darkness and soft rainfall. It was time to go home.

Many thanks to Barbara Hansen, former "Borderline" columnist for the LA Times, for allowing me to adapt her champurrado recipe. You can find Barbara at her delicious and informative
Table Conversation blog. Thank you, Barbara, for loving Mexican food and for preserving precious recipes. You taught many of us how to cook.

4 cups water
1 large cinnamon stick
1 or 2 cloves
1¼ cups water
1 cup instant masa
½ to 1 whole circular spiced Mexican chocolate such as Ibarra or Abuelita; or, 1- ½ oz. semisweet chocolate plus 1 tablespoon sugar, pinch of cinnamon and 3 or 4 drops vanilla extract
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar; or one medium sized cone of pilloncillo (Mexican raw sugar)
1 (13-oz.) can evaporated milk

Combine 4 cups water, cinnamon stick an cloves in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Cover and let it stand for at least one hour. The water should be a deep cinnamon color. Remove the cinnamon stick and the cloves.

Gradually blend the instant masa into the 1¼ cup water until it is smooth. Strain the masa through a wire mesh sieve into the cinnamon water, or use a wire wisk to make sure that there are no lumps. Add the brown sugar or the pilloncillo, the chocolate tablet or the chocolate flavorings. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture has thickened, add the evaporated milk. Cook and stir until hot. Add water or milk to thin it down if you like.

Serves 6 to 8 people.


Gloria said...

Well....now you know I am going to make some champurrado today at some point in time. As I was reading this story, I felt I was actually standing there watching them, looking at the fields and felt their words oh so deep. Wonderful post all followed by a nice hot cup of champurrado. Have a great weekend.

Gloria said...

Oh, and a very Happy New Year to you and yours!

Clementina said...

Gracias, Gloria. These hard working people have nothing but my deep respect.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Clementina. The champurrado sounds sooo good. Maybe a little peppermint schnapps in it as well?


Clementina said...

Porque no?
Take care, MichaelG!

Tera said...

Happy New Year!!!!!!! I love that you posted this recipe.

Anonymous said...

oh, i'm so glad for this recipe. i love, love champurrado. i tried making it once with a recipe, but it didn't come out well.
now that i am no longer in so cal and just recently moved to TN i miss a lot of my fav mexican foods.
i will try this recipe and hope i can do it justice. it's cold here right now and a hot cup of champurrado would be so nice.

Cooking in Mexico said...

I made champurrado once,using masa from the tortilleria and Ibarra chocolate. It was so good and comforting. I should make it again before the chill of winter ends.


Clementina said...

I hope you will enjoy the recipe. It is thick, rich and has a beautiful glossy look.

Sher from Tx said...

O my gosh! This was something (champurrada) that's been buried and long forgotten from memory...thank you for bringing it to mind...I can remember exactly how it smells and tastes!
...and I'm glad you're back...I missed your posts.

Anonymous said...

As always, I enjoyed this post. Not so much for the recipe, since I can't cook to save my life, but for the wonderful story. Many of us who came over and grew up here have "been there, done that."

Clementina said...

Glad yiu liked the story. Gracias!

kobico said...

I've never noticed whether the masa I get is instant or not... I'll have to look!

Oh Clementina, I'm ashamed to admit I've been in Francisco's boots in my younger days. Sometimes I had a difficult time relating to my grandfather and really understanding everything he did and sacrificed so his son and grandchildren could have a better life than he did.

Clementina said...

Hi Kobico,
"All writing is autobiography." Only the passage of time and a strong dose of humility teaches us that we don't know as much as we thought.
Nice hearing from you, Kobico!

Catfish Tales said...

Lovely story, reminding me of other shorts, such as 'Workers', by Richard Rodriguez. I'm enjoying your blog and the yummy food and their recipes as well. Cheers

Clementina said...

Gracias, my fellow former Angelena!