18: Peaches in Winter

18: Peaches in Winter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Peaches in Winter

Home is not where you live but where they understand you.

~Christian Morgenstern

I was fourteen years old and sure the Christmas holidays would make my miserable life even worse. Mother and my little sister Rosa were busy decorating the Christmas tree but I stayed in my room, listening to Los Huasos Quincheros, my country’s most famous singers. “Chile lindo,” they sang and strummed their guitars. I joined in, remembering my beautiful country and thinking about all the things I didn’t like about my life in America. No, I didn’t like it here, not one little bit, and I really hated my mother for taking me away from my family. But my misery didn’t end there, oh no. Things got worse when Mother called me into the kitchen.

“Now that school is out,” she said, “I’m going to teach you how to cook.”

“But Mom,” I said and slumped into a chair. The metal rim around the kitchen table felt cold against my arms. “I don’t want to be the cook.”

Mother didn’t even hear me. She poured water into a pot and went on with her lesson. “All you need to know,” she said, “is how to boil water. Now you can cook rice, spaghetti, hard boiled eggs, everything.” She smiled brightly as if she had given me the secret to eternal happiness.

“I don’t like hard boiled eggs.”

How could she be so mean? Back home, Dominguita was the cook and she served us delicious empanadas and we sat at a long, mahogany table set with china and silverware. Here we ate on paper plates. Everything changed in my life after my father died. First of all, we had to move in with my grandmother. I liked it but Mother grumbled every day that she got bossed around and treated like a child.

“I need a job,” Mother said over and over. Grandmother told her decent women didn’t work outside the home. Mother ran out of the room and slammed the door. I could hear her crying in her room so I went in to see her.

“I have to go to America,” she told me. She held a box of tissues in her hands. “I know I can get a job there. I’ll be independent and you’ll grow up in a country where women make their own destiny.” I didn’t know what she meant. But I knew I didn’t want to leave. Then one day she came home very happy, waving our airline tickets for America in the air. My stomach sank. All too soon, with my nose pressed against the window of the airplane, I waved goodbye to all the people I loved. Tears ran down my cheeks all the way to Washington, D.C.

America, where I spoke with an accent and felt miserable at school. Oh, joy.

“How do you pronounce your name?” the teachers asked. “Is it eczema?”

I wanted to scream. “I’m not a disease!”

“Ximena,” I heard my Mother say, “could you pay attention?”

I glared at her.

“In the spirit of Christmas, could you smile a little and be nice to your sister?”

I stared at The Brat, who sat on the sofa. Mother said The Brat looked like an angel, with her blond hair and short bangs. She didn’t look cute to me.

“Will the spirit of Christmas help me like her?”

“Yes. If you let your heart accept it.”

“I don’t understand.”

Mother turned away from the stove and came over to me. She stroked my hair.

“The spirit of Christmas is really the love of God being born into our world,” she said.

“I thought Christmas was about the birth of Jesus.”

“It is. But remember, Jesus also represents the love of God coming to us.”

I liked that Mom was talking to me like a grown-up.

“You see,” Mom continued, “God needs us. He comes into the world through us.”

“He does?”

“Especially so when we open our hearts to love another person, even if they irritate us.”

That sounded really nice but I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. The Brat really irritated me, not like my ten zillion cousins who kept me from ever, ever getting lonely. Here, lonely was all I knew. Lonely and cold. Why did people want a white Christmas anyway? Snow made my nose red and earmuffs looked silly. In Chile, Christmas marked the start of summer. I loved to spend the summer with my cousins, swimming, horseback riding, and best of all, eating peaches right off the tree. No peaches for me this year. Mother said they were too expensive. I was going to have to be happy with canned ones. This is what I had to look forward to this Christmas: lonely, cold and eating canned peaches.

When the dreaded day arrived, Mother plugged in the red and green lights on the Christmas tree and we began to pass out our presents. I was surprised when The Brat came over to where I sat and snuggled in next to me. She gave me a card made of beige construction paper. Across the top, she had carefully printed my name in pink crayon. I stared at the card. A big yellow sun rose over snow covered mountains and at the bottom of the page, she had drawn a row of peach trees.

“I told the kids at school how to pronounce your name,” she said. “Pretend the ‘X’ is an ‘H’ I told them.”

I felt a funny feeling in my nose and for a weird moment I thought I was going to cry.

“That was really nice, Rosa.” I could hardly believe I said that. The Brat smiled at me and I tried real hard not to smile back.

I opened Mother’s gifts — socks and underwear. Oh, joy. When they handed me a large box, it felt so heavy I guessed it was a pair of shoes, probably something waterproof and ugly. I put it down next to me on the floor. Maybe I could go to my room now.

“Go on, open it,” Mother said and put the box on my lap.

I pried it open and gasped. Inside there were oranges, figs, grapes, and six yellow peaches, all marked “Product of Chile.”

“Maybe now you won’t be so sad,” Mother said. I couldn’t believe it. When she kissed me on the forehead, I reached out and threw my arms around her.

“Gracias, mamacita,” I said, “Gracias.”

Mother hugged me tight. The Brat put her arms around my neck and I was surprised at how nice her soft cheek felt against mine. She gave me a big, sloppy kiss that I had to wipe off my face. She looked at me, her big, brown eyes half hidden under her golden bangs. I had to admit, Mother was right. The Brat did look like an angel. I reached over and kissed her.

“I... I... I love you,” I whispered.

“I love you too,” she said and took off dancing around the room. “Feliz Navidad,” she sang, “Feliz Navidad!”

~Ximena Tagle Ames

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