Pickles, Calletana And The Coyote

'Retrato de Mujer' de Diego Rivera

My uncle had a friend whose name was Calletana.  She was short and dark with medium length hair, black, with a wave right at the spot where it ran into her shoulders, straight, but kind of crazy at the same time.  The rest of her features, just as feminine and she was petite:  big eyes, curvy lips, like a miniature Barbie doll, except shorter and fuller, with lots of personality, and speaking only in Spanish.

Her clothes weren’t as nice as Barbie’s though.  My uncle was a coyote, what you’d call somebody who crossed mexicanos illegally from one side of the border to the other, and Calletana, I assumed, was his business partner, so whenever they showed up at our house they were dressed down more than anything, like they’d just been nervously driving for hours, because they had.  Warm ups and big tee-shirts, her hair pulled back in a nappy pony tail, my uncle in blue jeans or brown poly-cotton pants, with a dark colored polo shirt, almost always.  He must have been at least 10 or 15 years older than her.

I was 10, and I adored her.

As they’d pull into our driveway she’d yank back the sliding door of that vintage gray van, jumping out to greet me with just as much excitement as I’d jump around with before running into her arms.  Something about her just made me feel special.  Like I was the center of the world when Calletana was around.  She never yelled at me for trying to get my little brother in trouble.  She didn’t tell me I was annoying.  And she never, ever ran around our house and yard trying to hide from me.  Instead, Calletana and I would sit on the floor of my uncle’s van with its sliding door open, just talking about nothing, laughing and carrying on like we were family.  We weren’t.

From the smirk on my father’s face when he told us what a coyote was I knew that word meant danger, doing something you weren’t supposed to, doing a bad thing and getting away with it, like when I had grabbed a handful of candy at the Valley Mart and ate it all up before anyone saw me.  I knew it was wrong, but I felt like such a rebel because I didn’t get caught.

Maybe that’s what it was like for Calletana?

She wasn’t bad.  I liked her, and even if she had done a bad thing on purpose and gotten away with it, why should that matter?

I still wanted her to come around and be my friend.

I definitely didn’t want her to get in trouble.

For years they’d come around like that, just showing up unexpectedly at any random moment, and every time my excitement was just as huge.  My mother and everyone else’s not so much;  yeah they were happy to see them, but they weren’t bursting out of the seams  to have another silly conversation at the footsteps of that beat up old truck with Calletana like I was.

Years later all I’d remember would be the pickles.  Small and crunchy, with just the right amount of sour – the kind you could eat one right after the other without ever getting tired of them.  Like we would.

I didn’t know why she always carried pickles, but she did.

11 thoughts on “Pickles, Calletana And The Coyote

  1. That is odd about the pickles but such a vivid memory. I can imagine her so well. I’ve never heard that name before… pretty. I wonder what became of them.

    Reminds me…My uncle had a girlfriend named Melissa. She had hair down to her butt – long, straight, dark and thick. My Mom used to cut my hair real short so I was obsessed with Melissa’s hair. I used to play with it and used to ask if she was going to be my aunt. She’d laugh and shrug her shoulders, looking at my uncle. They eventually broke up. It was an ugly break up but she had gotten attached to my grandparents, so she came around sometimes. She cut her hair super short and got it permed.

    Thanks for sharing, and reminding me of my own memory, Juan.

    1. When my mom was first an attorney, since she couldn’t get into a decent law firm cause she was 1) Mexican and 2) a woman; and she would sign up at the Federal Court in San Diego and would represent not the coyotes but the poor people who paid them to come across. That was her first constant paycheck. Thanks Juan.

  2. I love this! Great memories and word pictures here. As kids, we’re eager to converse with adults who will humor us and listen to us rather than tell us to do do something or to go away. I”m sure the conversations that she had with you also brought her some tranquility and offered some relaxation and decompression time. It allowed her to be a young girl for a few minutes and share those pickles with a kindred spirit.

    I knew a couple people who were coyotes in the 70s. Before it was a bigger business, they were nothing at all like they are today.

    Thanks for sharing the memories and bringing a smile to the afternoon as I hear the wind playing with the wind chimes outside my window.

    1. Tracy y Joe, gracias por el comentario. So glad it could bring back a few memories for you, as well as a couple of smiles. Some experiences are just universal, and yes the act of having an adult treat me like a friend is a cherished experience. Que fue de Calletana, no se? If I asked around I’m sure I might find out, but for the moment I am content with my memories 🙂

    1. Marcela, yes…the coyotes then were a little more humane. It wasn’t just about the money and then some…today when you cross with a coyote you really are betting on the fact you may not live to make it to the other side. It’s sad, but a reality of life.

  3. I love the way you make the world of your yesterday come alive. I didn’t know they were called “coyotes.” Thank you for sharing, Little Brother.

    1. Thank you, March. Looking at memories in hindsight is always so much easier than trying to analyze the things that we are experiencing in the present. As a writer, I enjoy bringing out the best of my memories in my work. The bad times are also always present in their existence, but they just don’t make for such fanciful writing…at least not for me at this particular moment anyway. But I’m getting off subject, thank you again for the kind words 🙂

  4. obvio ya tengo hambre por pickles… but i love ur stories… I have an odd opinion of coyotes… Its weird to some they are lower than la tierra…to others they are like angels sent from god… but never anything in between

  5. What a beautiful post! Por un momento me senti como si estuviera alli sentada en la sala esperando su llegada.

    Now I am left wondering whatever became of Calletana.

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