Frijoles

When I was six years old and my familia was living in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania on Thomas Boulevard, my madre got very ill, and my hermano and I went to Douglas Arizona, to live with my grandparents and a house full of tios and tias until my madre healed. My mother was the oldest of nine siblings so the house was still full. A house of bilingual banter. Spanish ballads at night when my grandfather returned from work at the rail yard and Credence Clearwater or Los Rolling Stones, spinning on the turntable until then.

Another detail that is distilled in my memory are the frijoles. The purchasing in bulk, washing, cleaning, sorting, cooking and reheating of the holy frijoles. Every single meal included the pot of frijoles, placed in the center of the table. My grandmother once asked me what I wanted for dinner, and I replied spaghetti. I did not know my grandfather did not care much for pasta, and his face that night at the table was one of obvious displeasure, even though he did not say a word. But the pot of frijoles, maybe with some extra queso, con hot tortillas appeased his anxiety.

First I learned to wash the frijoles in a big cauldron, just letting the sacred water wash and wash and wash them. After the frijoles were clean like little eggs or precious stones, came the sorting. The bad looking beans were exiled, but more crucial was the searching for small rocks, because allowing anyone to bight down on a small stone was a mortal sin. A sin burdened on the shoulders of those who prepared the frijoles.

The frijoles cooked long and slow time. On special days, extra lard was added. Or perhaps a bit of milk to give the frijoles a bit of body. And of course when the frijoles might have been the only food on the table with the tortillas, then some yellow queso was added. Frijoles and queso con tortillas was a complete meal. My grandfather and tios would add some little red balls of fire and then devour their massive frijole burros.

In that house on 15th street a pot of frijoles was always on the stove ready to be fired up. In the months my brother and I spent there, I do not remember anyone ever cemando los frijoles. My grandmother had elevated the frijole ritual to art. She was the Picasso of frijole creativity and quality. The pot of frijoles was more than a divine calling at mealtime, indeed the frijoles were as naturally prestine as the sunrise or as sure as the sunset.

The frijoles were there for the familia’s celebration. The frijoles were ready when tio Tonio returned from Vietnam. Hitchhiking from San Diego with his duffle bag and walking into the house on a warm fall afternoon. My grandmother running into his arms while wearing her red apron and carrying a big serving spoon. And the frijoles were simmering when my cousins were born up the road in Bisbee or when great-tio Luis arrived from San Pedro. The only time I ever recall seeing him.  

My grandfather died several years ago. He was 99 years of experience and wisdom. And I still
remember the lunchbox my grandmother packed for him when he went to work in the rail yard. A thermos of cold, cold milk, pieces of fruit (he especially enjoyed apricots and peaches), a large frijole burro on homemade tortillas, and of course a jar of his own crafted salsa. That was the food that gave him the strength and faith to raise a family of nine children in a small border town run by a copper mining company in a house with one bathroom.


Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith is a retired English teacher living in Tucson Arizona. Right now I am living the dream. Almost each morning I walk my lovely wife (Kelly) to her car, because she is still working. I carry her lunch and kiss her good-bye, then the day comes easy. Maybe a morning bike ride or walk. Upon return, I do the day’s chores, shopping, listening to community radio while reading. I am in the middle of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. After lunch I write. I try to sign up for writing classes in the community. I also volunteer at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and BICAS, which is a local bicycle collective. And other days I volunteer as a tutor at I am a retired English teacher living in Tucson Arizona. Right now I am living the dream. Almost each morning I walk my lovely wife (Kelly) to her car, because she is still working. I carry her lunch and kiss her good-bye, then the day comes easy. Maybe a morning bike ride or walk. Upon return, I do the day’s chores, shopping, listening to community radio while reading. I am in the middle of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. After lunch I write. I try to sign up for writing classes in the community. I also volunteer at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and BICAS, which is a local bicycle collective. And other days I volunteer as a tutor at El Grupo. A bicycle riding organization that focuses on empowering youth through bicycle related activities. I was born in Merida Yucatan in 1962 and am a product of a dynamic biracial couple. They were both educators too. I taught high school English for 28 years, at Tucson High Magnet School. A large (3000 students) very diverse school. It is located in downtown Tucson Arizona. I was fortunate to have such a wonderful career. El Grupo. A bicycle riding organization that focuses on empowering youth through bicycle related activities. I was born in Merida Yucatan in 1962 and am a product of a dynamic biracial couple. They were both educators too. I taught high school English for 28 years, at Tucson High Magnet School. A large (3000 students) very diverse school. It is located in downtown Tucson Arizona. I was fortunate to have such a wonderful career.