Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Poinsettias

Copyright © by René Colato Laínez

“Today you can make a Christmas card,” said Mrs. Allen, my ESL teacher.

“What is Cris-más?" I asked her.

“¡Navidad!” chanted Carlos and Josue behind me.

I turned around. There they were making funny faces at me. They always did that when I asked the teacher a “dumb” question.

“I can do a tarjeta de Navidad,” I said, and got a pencil and piece of white construction paper. I folded the paper in half. “I know what to do,” I said to myself.

I drew a circle and added long pointed petals around it. I colored the flower with my red marker. I drew two other pascuas and a candle on the card. Looking at my pascuas, I remembered my Mamá and I collecting pascuas in San Salvador.

We did not have a garden but Mamá needed the pascuas to take them to la Virgen de Guadalupe the next day, on December 12th. Mamá promised las pascuas to la Virgen. She was coming to the USA the following month and those pascuas were very important for her. La Virgen would help her on her way to the USA, and she would also protect my brothers, Papá and I who had to stay behind in El Salvador. But she would need to find the pascuas and take them to the Basílica de Guadalupe in San Salvador. Where could we find the pascuas? At el mercado for sure, but we did not have money.

“Let’s go to a rich person's house,” Mamá said. “It is December and for sure they will have some pascuas.”

We climbed down the flight of stairs, crossed the broken bridge, passed some cardboard houses and el mercado. Then we took a bus to Colonia Escalón. In an hour, we were in front of a rico's house. We looked through the iron gate and saw pascuas plants.

“This house looks so pipirisnais, very elegant,” Mamá said. “I am afraid to even knock.”

Soon some dogs were barking at us and a lady peeked through a window.

“¿Qué quieren? Go away or I will call the police,” she cried.

“Vámonos,” Mamá said. “I told you.”

I said, “We need some pascuas to take it to la Virgen de Guadalupe. My mom made a promise and wants to take some pascuas tomorrow to la basilica.”

The woman ran to the gate. “If it is for la Virgen, take as many as you want,” she said.

So, the following morning we took las pascuas to la Virgen. My mother prayed at the altar and asked for protection for her and her children.

“René, René!” Mrs. Allen said touching my shoulder. “Pay attention.”

I jumped from my seat and Carlos and Josue giggled. “René is on the moon!” they chanted together.

“Mrs. Allen, look!” I showed her my card.

“You need to write something inside,” she said.

I rubbed my head. “What should I write? Feliz Navidad? But it must be in English.” I knew that feliz was happy, so I wrote “Happy Christmas.”

Carlos and Josue looked at my card and made dumb faces. “That’s wrong! It is not Happy Christmas. It is Merry Christmas.”

“Mary Christmas! You are crazy. It cannot be María Navidad.”

“No es Mary like María. It is Merry Christmas.”

“Marry Christmas! La Navidad no se va a casar. It is not getting married,” I told them, as the bell rang.

“Believe us!” Carlos and Josue told me on the playground.

I shook my head. I had been in trouble before for listening to Carlos and Josue. When I met them on the first day on the school bus, they wanted to teach me how to say, “Me llamo René” in English.

“You have to say ‘Me llamo René,’ many times today. You better practice,” they said.

“Repeat,” they told me. “I am dumb René.”

“Eso está difícil,” I said, and started to repeat after them.

When we arrived at school, they patted me on my back. “You will learn English very fast with us,” they said.

On my first day of school I was the dumb René. Now Carlos and Josue were lairs, and I did not believe anything they said.

But what if Happy Christmas was not right? Well, I had another option. I could write, “Felices fiestas, Happy parties.” But parties did not sound good. It was not a party like a birthday party. It was an important fiesta. Then I had a great idea. I could write, “Felices pascuas.”

Everyone said "Felices pascuas" at midnight on Christmas Eve in El Salvador.

“Felices pascuas,” and then a kiss.

“Felices pascuas,” and a big hug.

“Felices pascuas,” and a gift from el padrino.

Yes, Felices pascuas, while the midnight sky looked so bright with so many fireworks, when the booming sounds did not scare anybody because everyone knew they were cuetes and not bullets from guns or rifles. I ran to my desk to write “Felices pascuas”.

I wrote “Happy” on the card. “How do I write pascuas?” I asked myself.

I looked at Carlos and Josue. For sure not ask them, for they might say pascuas was a pair of stinky chanclas or an old underwear. I looked in my English/Spanish dictionary but pascua was not in there. Should I write “Happy Flowers?” But flowers were flores and not pascuas. I went to my teacher’s desk to ask her for her fat English/ Spanish dictionary.

“Good for you René, you can take it,” she answered.

Soon enough I had a long word in front of me--poinsettia--a long and strange name for pascua. But I was happy because I had found my word!

I wrote with different colors, “Happy Poinsettias for my teacher Mrs. Allen.”

Then I walked to her desk and told her, “It is for you, Teacher.” She opened it and gave me a hug. “This is the way we say 'Feliz Navidad' in El Salvador--Felices pascuas,” I told her.

“René, you have worked so hard today, and you are right: pascuas are poinsettias,” she said and took a big Santa Claus sticker from her treasure box. “This is for you.”

Carlos and Josue stood up and said at once, “Happy poinsettias, Teacher. Happy poinsettias.”

When the school bell rang, Mrs. Allen told me, “Don’t go yet. Do you know who José Feliciano is?”

I nodded. “He is a singer, un cantante.”

“Yes, he is! Have you heard his Christmas song?”

I shook my head.

She smiled and opened a drawer. “Let’s listen to this song.”

Mrs. Allen played the song, and José Feliciano’s voice filled the classroom. I started singing with Mrs. Allen:

“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad,
Prospero Año y Felicidad.
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas,
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
from the bottom of my heart."

“Merry Christmas,” I said to Mrs. Allen.

“Merry Christmas, René,” she said. “You can take the tape home and learn the song. Tomorrow you can teach it to all the students. We will sing it for the Christmas show.”

“Yes, Teacher,” I told her, and ran to catch the school bus.

I waved to the bus driver to stop and sat down behind Carlos and Josue. They started to tease me, but I did not listen. I had extra homework to do, to teach the song to Mamá and Papá and also to my brothers in El Salvador. I would call them and say, “I know a song in English. Listen.”

They would be very proud of me!

Happy Poinsettias to all the La Bloga readers. That’s another way to say Feliz Navidad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great story!