Monday, September 12, 2016

Kelley Haynie

I fell in love for the first time in the fourth grade. The girl was named Kelley Haynie and she was blonde, beautiful and funny. She liked me too. I gave her a ring from the curtain rod in our living room to let her know how much I liked her. 

I was not too smart with women but I knew if you liked them you gave them a ring. Unfortunately, when you are in the fourth grade the selection of rings available to you is limited. My mother never missed that ring that held up the curtain in our front room in the house on Saticoy Street.

We had that child love that never went past the giggling and running after each other stage. I had never liked any girls before this as I did not know what to do about them. I just remember running after her and laughing. We were both Munchkins in the high school play in 1969.

Our days were filled with the joy of that first love and the wonder of just being children. No kissing, not much touching, just lots of running, pulling hair and laughing mixed with an innocence and wonder. I have only felt this way once or twice since then.

Then one day it just ended.

I came into school that day and she was gone. Miss Hoover told us that Kelley would not be returning and that was it. Her desk was cleaned out; empty. They did not call her name in the roll call. My ring was gone and no one seemed to know what had happened. I was heartbroken. I finally heard about what had happened but I did not really understand it until I became an adult.

Kelly’s father was a deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. He and others were attempting to serve a search warrant on a drug dealer’s residence in Fillmore. The place where they tried to serve the warrant was the home of the suspect’s father. He was 78 years old and he thought that the police were robbers trying to break into his place. He fired one shot and killed Deputy Haynie instantly. 

He died on Friday, June 5th, 1970 at the age of 30.

I heard about Deputy Haynie from people who talked about the killing and how horrible it was. There were whispers and rumors that went from mouth to mouth with usually very little truth in between. What was distinct was the wave of anger and animosity directed toward the local Mexican community when it became known that Deputy Haynie’s killer was a Mexican man. 

This was the way it was passed down to me in school. I remember two teachers whispering about the killing and how awful it was. I don’t remember too much about the particulars of their conversation but I do remember that it ended with the teachers saying “and you know it had to be a Mexican who killed him.” They looked at me and moved away, concerned that I had heard too much. I always heard too much it seemed and my mind remembers pretty well sometimes.

I did not know why they said this and I didn’t even remember it until I was an adult. I remember that the town and county residents got really upset when the district attorney decided not to file charges against the father because he was old, infirm, and had no criminal record to speak of, and was basically defending himself against unknown and unidentified intruders. There was talk that the police had not properly identified themselves and this error in procedure was what triggered the shooting.

Normally this lack of identification would not have been a problem if the suspect had actually been at the residence. The police had a policy in those days of breaking down the door first and asking questions later. If the dealer in question had been at his father’s he would have ended up dead or arrested and Miranda rights be dammed. 

Unfortunately, it was an old, scared Mexican man who killed, and when it was discovered that he couldn’t defend himself from a wet dog if he had to, this twisted the situation from excessive to indefensible.
Me, all I wondered was where my ring ended up and if my blonde beauty was OK. When my father died two years later I finally understood that she was not OK and would never be OK again as long as her father was gone. 

I cried that day for me, my father, Kelley, and her father. I cried years later for the system that allowed it to be OK to just blame it on Mexicans because people were hurt and angry. I’ve seen this scene replay itself again and again in the justice system since then and I know what it means.

I know that I wince now when I hear some atrocity has been committed. My first reaction is the hope that the person who committed the crime was not Mexican. I know that this is not a normal reaction but it’s unavoidable sometimes. 

I know that there are distinct classes of Mexicans in the United States, and other places, and the one thing I know is that we all identify with each other on some level. That is to say that we all have some commonality in our lives and because of this we are deeply affected by those things that occur to our people, and all people, as a whole. 

Maybe I’m wrong but at least that’s how it seems sometimes. When I see the mentions of Deputy Haynie and his sacrifice, I wonder what became of that blonde, green eyed goddess. Did she ever find happiness? I have to believe that she did because I think that if I did not have the hope that she did find happiness then all the dreams that I have had or will have in the future will just fade to black.

Every year they have a service and memorial at the government center to pay tribute to Deputy Haynie and all the others who have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep us safe and free. I have often thought about going there to find my golden goddess but I know that time has passed and what could I say anyway?

I was sorry but only for myself. I was sorry I lost Kelly and I was sorry that my father died when he was 39 and I was 12. It is only as an adult when I think of the circumstances that I get angry and wonder why it all happened and why my elephant’s memory heart needed to remember it all. 

It reminds me that Robbie Robertson was right; the greatest love is the one that dies untold. These are the incidents that remind me I was always supposed to put all these letters and words in an order that made some sense in order to make everything make sense.

So I will keep on writing and wondering and maybe it will all come out good in the end.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Two Kinds of Milk


This shit all got started because of two gallons of milk.

I was standing in the dairy section of the Alpha Beta in Santa Paula, California. This was before Alpha Beta got run out of town and they decided to put the Mexican supermarket there. This was 1975 and I was uncertain about milk and her close friend chocolate milk. I was torn and distracted when he first approached me.

The thing is that even though I was only 17 years old I already had the ulcer of the serious drinker. Milk, my favorite friend from my childhood was fast turning into my enemy. Every time I drank it, something went sideways in my stomach. I was standing there that day pondering the difference in regular milk and chocolate milk and the damage each would do after I drank it. I was occupied when he spoke.

Perdon nino, puedes a decir mi que es la differencia con estos dos leches?” (Excuse me son, can you please tell me what the difference is between these two milk’s?)

His voice was so quiet it nearly made me jump. When I finally focused on him I began to worry. It was not because he was Mexican or because he was scary, it was because he was speaking Spanish and I was basically a pretender at speaking the language of my father.

Hola senor. La differencia? Si es………what could I tell this guy? That I was born in Ventura, California, in the county hospital, where all my brothers and sisters were born? That my parents were both born in California. 

That my primary and only language at that time was English and that everything that I did, spoke, wore, ate and thought at that time was influenced by the white commercial culture that was all around me-Is that what I could tell him?

Should I tell him that I like Springsteen as much as I did corridos or that old Mexican music my mother would hum while she was making tortillas on the kitchen table? Would he understand that a hamburger was as good as a burrito or that Mary and Maria were the same as far as I was concerned? What could I tell him?

Shit, my Spanish was so bad at that time I could not even figure out how to tell him the difference between the two milks which was his original question. If he had spoken English I would have been able to tell him that the one with the red top is whole milk and the one with the purple top was 2% or low fat or whatever you call that crap water that’s slightly colored white. The problem is that I did not know how to begin to explain this subtle difference. I sounded like a Mexican tourettes victim.

La differencia es, I began. The difference is that this red stuff is whole milk. Leche en toto, Wait a minute is toto a Spanish word? La otra leche is without fat. Wait, I went from English to Spanish in that sentence. La leche es sin acete. No wait acete is oil from the car like motor oil. That’s not right. La leche no es gordo. No wait gordo isn’t right either gordo is for people. Fat people. Que es la differencia” I half said to myself.

During this time the man who asked me for this information just stared at me with his eyes wide open. I could tell he was getting worried. All he wanted to do was get the milk and get out of there. He had finished his day and was heading home. The pickers bag over his shoulder let me know he had come straight from the fields and did not want to be running this errand for his wife but here he stood.

I know he was regretting asking me but I could understand why he asked. I certainly looked the part even if I was dressed in clothing that was distinctly American. I am an Indian brown from the fields I had never worked in, except for one day one summer at my Aunt Mary’s. 

I look Mexican from the get-go. Black hair, skin the color of nuts no matter the time of year, some latent Mayan or Aztec features with a little Native American thrown in for confusion, it all added up to Mexican.

Years later when I was in the US Army and stationed in Germany I traveled on leave to Switzerland to visit the Alps and got into a conversation with some woman who wanted to know what the weather was like on the French Rivera. “It must be well,” she said as she smiled through her faintly French accented English. 
I told her I didn’t have the slightest idea of what the weather in the French Rivera was and I wondered why she asked me. “You have the most wonderful tan and wonderful accent”, she said as she drifted away to some chateau to wonder about the weather in the South of France.

And there you go. That is part of the problem. Everyone wants you to be them, to reflect them, and to have something in common with them. It was this same search for commonality that allowed me to drink blood red tea with Turkish salt miners in a German train station at 3 A.M. 

One of them thought I was a friend of his brother who lived next door to him. When they found out I was American and Mexican the cups came out and we laughed until the sun came up. Unfortunately, language and the need to actually exchange information gets in the way of these sorts of scenes.

My problem was this; I have always thought in English not Spanish. When someone says something to me in Spanish the process goes something like this:

What did they just say? How do you say it in English? What’s the answer in English? How do you say that it in Spanish? When you have so many steps to get through for even one sentence it makes even simple dialog difficult. 

And when you have been raised on Leave it to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, cartoons and the Beatles and everything else that electric box in the corner is sending, your Spanish speaking skills are lacking. 

Mine were anyway.

So I am trying, really trying to get this all into something he could understand when the question came. It was a question I had gotten all my life. I knew when it was coming and I probably deserved being asked it, but it still never sat very well with me. He was steeling up his courage and then he said it.

Tu eres Mexicano que no?” he asked. You are Mexican, aren’t you? He asked. I have been asked that question before but now as I was starting to get a little older it stuck in my craw a little more. He stared at me with that look that someone gets when they realize they may have an advantage over someone else. 

What he did not know was that I had been given my voice by my father many years before and that this gave me an advantage even if my stranger friend did not see it that way.

What I had received from my father was an edict: No speaking Spanish in the house!! That was it. We spoke English everyday and sometimes got slapped or punished for speaking our mother tongue. 

My father had come up in a time when he spoke only Spanish and he realized it had hindered his ability for upward movement in the society. This is why he insisted on all of his children speaking English even though he preferred Spanish in his day-to-day life.

This ability to speak and read English from an early age confused and confounded many people I encountered. My kindergarten teacher was astounded that I could read Dick and Jane from cover to cover on the first day of school. 

She asked who had taught me to read and seemed doubly shocked when I told her my father and mother. She could just not believe it, just the way the guy in front of me could not believe that I was Mexican.

I have tired of giving the same old explanations to people regarding these subjects and so I decided to write them down so that maybe I could understand them better and so could others. 

I also was tired of the man in front of me questioning my background and everything I hold close because I did not fit some idea he had in his head of what I should be.

Our encounter ended when I told him that it was true that the language of my father was not my primary language and that I did not really know how to speak it very well at all. I

 did let him know that I did know the difference between the two different kinds of milk. He was still wondering what the difference was when I left him standing by the cottage cheese on that hot summer day 40 years ago.