From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Cleaning Crackers

A group of women have been unfolding their lawn chairs every afternoon for about fifteen years to powwow on my grandma’s stoop. Dominoes in their carrying cases on the ground, agua de limón in my grandmother’s hand, iced tea in the grips of her native English-speaking friends who flaunt sundresses and hats to match. This daily congregation of women does what most people do when they get together: They talk about other people. Husbands, neighbors, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, pizza boys, grocery checkers, pool cleaners or pretty much anyone who has anything going on in their lives could become the topic of conversation.

My grandmother was raised in Latin America and moved to the United States on her fifteenth birthday. Sometimes she confuses people with her use of English. It’s most hilarious when she translates a Spanish saying into English verbatim. Apparently, she thinks colloquialisms can be universally translated.

One afternoon, I walk outside and, acting like a brat, tell my grandmother that I am going to run away from home if she doesn’t let me go to the dance at the community center. She erupts with anger because I am challenging her authority in front of her friends (something you don’t do in my family . . . not if you want to live, anyway). My grandmother looks at me with rage in her eyes and yells:

“I will enter you to clean crackers!”

It sounds like a line from The Exorcist, and my grandmother’s friends look frightened. Eyes dart around the circle of lawn chairs, trying to see if anybody else understands what exactly is going down. They probably think it’s some peculiar way that Latinos punish their children. My grandmother is still foaming at the mouth, and I’m standing frozen on the porch. I’m scared to go inside, scared to go outside, and scared to get too close to my grandmother, who is trying to regain her composure. Now, you’d think that her friends would know she has a knack for screwing up the translation of Spanish sayings, but my grandmother is a wild card. She has been known to say some pretty crazy things that she meant to say; that’s why her friends never know when she’s speaking literally or when she’s mixing up a Spanish saying. I’m paralyzed, my grandmother is trying to suck the saliva back into her mouth, and her friends are caught in the middle of a Latino standoff.

My grandmother has told me many times that she was going to “enter me to clean crackers,” and I know all too well what it means. However, her friends obviously don’t. She finally calms down, and I lean over, as I always do, and tell them what my grandmother meant was, “I’m going to slap you,” or te voy a entrar a galletas limpias. Simultaneously, the women give a loud “ohhhhhhhhh” and go back to playing dominoes without a care in the world for my safety. As long as my grandmother isn’t going to literally enter me to clean crackers, they don’t care whether she hits me or not. As a matter of fact, I was such a travieso as a child, I’m sure at that point they all wanted to enter me to clean crackers, too.

Well, I bid you farewell, or as my grandmother always says, “It already was” (ya estuvo) or translated figuratively, “That’s all she wrote.”

Colin Mortensen-Sánchez

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