Editor's note: Although a Mexican family comes to the United States to work so that their children have opportunities, the parents still consider Mexico their home.
On the fourth evening we come to La Perla. Nora has stopped asking, and we don't know till Mama tells us.
Our car bumps along the street, which is decorated for Christmas with paper cutouts strung together - red and pink and yellow and blue. There is a scattering of houses, a general store, a big water tank, a church with a tinsel star on top. It is like a lot of the villages we have come through.
Papa honks the horn, and that brings people to their doors. He rolls down his window. "It is Jose and Consuelo and their family, home for Christmas," he shouts.
Children crowd around us, and then I hear Mama say in a choked voice: "There is your Grandfather! And Aunt Ana!"
An old man comes out of one of the houses and behind him a tall, skinny woman with wide black hair.
There is a wooden plow outside Grandfather's house. I remember when Mama and Papa saved the money for it. Later they also sent money for two oxen. I wonder where the oxen are and if we will be friends.
Grandfather and Aunt Ana hug us. They don't feel like strangers.
That night, everyone in La Perla comes to Grandfather's house. The walls bulge with talk and rememberings. I have never seen Mama and Papa so lively.
"You were wise to take them and go. Our school is good, too. But where are the opportunities for our children after?"
I blink. There is that word again.
"We were wise," Mama says. "But it was hard. It is still hard." She sounds so sad that it scares me. But soon she is laughing again.
I am beginning to understand something.
It is late when everyone leaves. Mama and Papa sleep on the floor in Grandfather's house, and we sleep in the car. It is not
dark, because there is a Christmas-coming moon, and a few of the houses still have friendly lights in their windows.
"La Perla is pretty," I say. "But I thought it would be more special. I thought that was why they like it."
"I don't think that's why," Dolores begins, and I wait for more, because Dolores knows a lot. But instead she says, "Sh! Be asleep!"
Someone is coming out of Grandfather's house. It is Mama in her new white nightgown, and Papa in his striped pajamas.
And then ... then, it's so weird. She and Papa start to dance. There is no music, but they dance barefoot in the street. Dogs unwind themselves to come sniff at their legs.
Dolores and I stretch our necks to watch.
"Mama looks so young and beautiful," Dolores whispers. "And Papa ... so handsome."
"She has forgotten about her sore shoulders," I say.
"And he's forgotten about his bad knees," Dolores adds.
They dance and dance. Papa's cheek is against Mama's hair. I see that he is whispering to her.
After a while we hear Grandfather's door close, and we can tell they've gone inside.
There is a terrible ache in my chest. They love it here because it's home. They left home for us.
"Carlos?" Dolores says. "Do you know Mama and Papa are saving money? They plan to come back someday and live in Grandfather's house and work his land."
"Good," I say, and I think, It will be after our opportunities.
I picture them back here, dancing in the streets of La Perla, and I lie there, watching the moon shine on the Christmas star till I fall asleep.
Text copyright 1996 by Edward D. Bunting and Anne E. Bunting, Trustees of the Edward D. Bunting and Anne E. Bunting Family Trust. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
Pub Date: 12/13/98