Babcia Chicken Dinner

January 10, 2008
Besides my own house, there is a place in my heart that is more closely “homey” than any other place. That place is my uncle’s house. I can still smell the Babcia Chicken Dinner (Bub’-cha) frying on the pan. Babcia is my beloved grandmother, from whom we stole the recipe. I can still feel the cool sting of pool water on my skin. I can still hear my seven-year old cousin quoting Chicken Run in his cute seven-year old Scottish accent. “I don’ want to be a pie. I don’ like grrravy.” I can still close my eyes and feel the warmth that this place allowed me to feel. I think of this place when people tell me “You are so good with kids.” I fell in love with my uncle’s house. I fell in love with the time spent with my uncle, with my aunt, and with my silly cousin.

Cameron is actually quite good at impersonations for a seven-year old. He told us that he wanted to be a comedian when he “growed” up. My brother and sister are quite impressed with him as well. Matthew in particular, who is a whole two years older than Cameron, cried when we had to leave. To him, it was as if we lived millions of miles away. It was if we would never see him again. Katie, on the other hand, played it cool. Foxy Katie. Oh, she’s a trickster all right. One time, she “eated” a piece of chicken before dinner was served. When this was realized, she blamed it on Matthew, and stuck with her story right to the very end, until the truth came out itself. In the end, she “sorried” us, and we fell victim to the Cute Syndrome that followed. How can you be angry at a seven-year old girl? (As I’m writing this, she’s probably giggling to herself about how clever she was.)
We were staying the whole week at Cam’s house. This was this first time my siblings and I would do this all together, and for a whole week. It became a tradition as such things do when done again and again. The hour-long ride made me feel like a victim of rheumatism and I strongly believed that I would not be able to sit ever again. Finally, we pulled up to the pale yellow house, the most beautiful one on the street. It was in a subdivision, a quiet, peaceful place to raise your children if you were a fresh parent. We pulled up the driveway, now able to see the left portion of the backyard. If ever I was impatient in my life, it was this moment. This always was a tease for me, because I’d have to get out of the car, and walk to the edge of the driveway, just where the grass started, to see the rest of the yard. My uncle was in the middle of the yard, the sun reflected off of his tanned back. He was preparing the pool. “Hey guy-os,” he said when he realized we had arrived. My uncle always loved the Spanish language, and he felt it necessary to add Spanish suffixes to English words. His style was spicy, yet he never spoke too fast. He was a true Spanglard, if ever there was one. He was the king of Spangland, and all of us were subjected to his Spanglish.
My brother spotted Cam and ran for it. They embraced midair in a huge collision of love. Then we swam. The swimming was always very unique, in that the pool itself wasn’t very big. It was maybe nine feet across. Yet I have always enjoyed the “swim”. For me, it was enough to see that it brought so much joy to Matthew, Katie, and Cameron. They probably thought it was 20 feet across. We’d spend hours splashing around, playing shark, just tanning. Cam is so funny. After every swim, he’s say, “Chris I’m cold. Can you put me out?” Then he’d go lie out on the pavement in the driveway on his belly, his arms resting by his side. He was “sunbathing” he would say. But he knew the pavement, heated all day by the summer sun, would warm him up. Then we’d go inside.

It was about five o’ clock and we were tired and hungry. The heat and “swimming” was a deadly combination. (This was probably most true for the kids though, because they were actually able to swim.) It was at this time during the day that my uncle would turn on our favorite movie, Chicken Run, and we would watch until dinner was ready. It was ironic that we watched a movie about chickens saving themselves, when we were about to eat Babcia Chicken Dinner. My uncle was wearing a bright yellow Life is Good shirt and a fiery red cooking apron adorned with the Tasmanian Devil. He was visible from the living room, where we were watching animated clay chickens plan against becoming chicken pies. Sitting on a wonderful couch I watched, while spices from the kitchen played around with my sense of smell, teasing me. My stomach grumbled; an appropriate response. Finally, dinner was ready. The kids must have been hungry, only they had just realized this on the way to the table. They were previously lost to the television screen. My cousin said, “Chris! I am so starving, I think I’m gonna die!” Then we ate.

My uncle is so funny. Each “bugger” (which is what he called the kids) received an equal portion of food: three heaping table spoons of potatoes, mashed in so that nothing was even slightly sticking outside the perimeter of the spoon, four pieces of Babcia Chicken, and not a handful, but eight cherry tomatoes. My uncle and I got twice the “bugger portion.” I’m sure that if he had graduated cylinders, he would use them as cups, measuring out the amount of juice each person got. The only thing he didn’t measure exactly or count was the amount of salt he used on his dinner. The juice was drank was addicting. Drinking this, I wanted nothing to do with soda. It was a concoction of roughly thirty percent apple juice and seventy percent water. It was apple water. My uncle would say that anyone who watered down a juice was actually “juicing up” the water in comparison. Believe it or not though, you can actually taste the apple juice, and it is so good, you can keep drinking it. Regular apple juice is way too sweet for me.

For some reason, my uncle has a strange fascination with the word pig. “Guy-os! You are such scum-bunnies¬ from running around with your bare ¬pigs.” One day, my uncle asked me how to say pig in Spanish. From that day forward, he would call his son porquito. “That means you too, porquito,” he said as a tired Cameron was falling asleep at the dinner table. “But Dada (Duh’-Duh), I’m not stinky. You’re stinky.” All of the sudden, Matthew and Katie had a fit of laughter, but especially Matthew, who let it all out. Katie regained her composure after only several giggles. The Comedian knew no rest.

Up in the kiddies’ bedroom, Katie would say, “Goodnight, Chris!” with a huge smile. Cam would already be snoring. Matthew, being the sensitive, kind-hearted nine-year-old he was, would tearfully respond, “Chris, I miss Mama.” There in the dark I sat, explaining to my younger brother that Mama missed him too, and that we would see her soon. I reminded him that he would miss Cam once we left his house. That did not seem to do the trick. After all, Cam was fast asleep, and his mother was just in the other room. Mama was an hour away! I gave him a big hug. Satisfied, my brother’s big head plopped down on the pillow and he quickly fell into a deep sleep. Every night that week, we went through this. This is what meant the most to me throughout the entire trip. At home there was no reason to comfort him; he slept fine with Mama in the other room. It gave me a great feeling of comfort and home.

Sunday morning. The week was up and it was time for us to go. I could smell breakfast from downstairs, and shaving cream from the upstairs bathroom. I would have to leave my warm bed, my comfortable bed, for breakfast. At least it was scrambled eggs. The hour-long drive back home only felt like fifteen minutes. No rheumatism ensued. We pulled up the driveway, but I was not impatient. The driveway was not made of pavement. When I got out of the car, I didn’t rush out to the backyard, because it was not the same backyard. All these memories were missing from the picture. But that was what they were. Memories. If ever I needed a place to stay, I would follow my heart to the place where the memories came from. My grandfather was standing in my backyard, the sun reflected off of his tanned back. He was preparing the pool.

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