Years and years and years ago, my mom taught me how to sew.
Now that I’m thinking about this, I think it was in the year after the death of my Papa Je. I remember needles and yarn and threads in the house of my Tía Licha, where my grandparents lived. I’m not sure how my mom got to teach me sewing, but she did.
I liked it. She taught me how to thread a needle, how to set a sewing machine. She taught me how to crochet, which I remember liking a lot and even making a scarf. I even remember doing a sampler.
And just as soon as I learned, I stopped.
I don’t remember why, because I really enjoyed doing it. Maybe I got more too into MAD Magazine. It definitely wasn’t a macho thing, because I would’ve remembered THAT.
I do remember I never went back to sewing or any of the textile arts.
Who needed to? My mom, in addition to her trillion jobs, was a master sewer. She sewed patches on my jeans whenever I inevitably tripped and ripped a hole on my knees. She raised or lowered the hems on the pants she bought me depending on what special she came across.
Years after I moved home, I would always bring her my shirts whenever a button would get loose, because she insisted on fixing them. All of that ended when she passed away.
That was around the time a button came loose on my favorite guayabera.
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I’ve had the guayabera for years, and it’s faded out – but really, how faded out can turquoise ever get? It’s a brilliant shirt — literally.
But when the button right in the middle of it – the one that covers up my panza — came loose, I stopped wearing it.
I’m pretty shameless, but not enough to let the world continuously get a peek of my gut.
(Quick aside: one of the few nicknames my mom ever made up for me? “Lagartijo” — lizard. Because I had skinny limbs and a panza even when I was small.)
And so I didn’t wear the guayabera for two years. Who could possibly fix it for me? Taking it to a store would just make me feel sad that it wasn’t my mami doing it, and I didn’t wanna go through that.
Then summer 2021 came.
A couple of weekends ago, I promised myself I would finally sew on the button. First, I needed to find a needle — we had none at home. I also needed thread — nope. So I had to figure out where to buy some … um, Northgate?
My mom used to get her threads at a place off Lincoln in Anacrime that she called la tienda de las…well, my pocho ass always remembered it as almendras (almonds), but that couldn’t be it. Going to it was forever a field trip to me as a kid, but I stopped once I became a teen (it’s now a dentist’s office).
Where can I find another tienda de las almendras, I thought? I still don’t know, because I ended up going to the 99-cent store.
I came back home, and looked at the guayabera, the button, the needles and threads. I remember how my mom without question would finish whatever she was doing and so whatever I needed — matronly love without match.
I stared, and I couldn’t do it.
But then I remembered the joy I had in sewing with my mami so long ago — how she was so happy that I took such interest in something so utilitarian. That I took interest in something she did, as opposed to gobbling up whatever she gave us.
Years later, I would tell her we should sew together again, and she would smile, but it obviously never happened.
So I had to sew that button on the guayabera.
It took me about 20 minutes to be able to thread the needle — but dammit, I did it. I remembered to do a little knot at the end of the thread, to crosshatch my threads, to wrap it around the bottom.
Once I got into the task, it was easy. I wore the guayabera that day.
That wasn’t a test that needed to get passed though. That would be about a week later, when I put the shirt in the laundry. Would the button remain?
María de la Luz Arellano Miranda taught her children well.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
I loved your article about Christianitos at Camp Pendleton. I have driven by that marker on the freeway for years. I just drove by it yesterday. My friend and I talked about it and noticed an off ramp for Las Pulgas. We confirmed on google that pulgas meant fleas. So what’s up with that? Naming a street the fleas? Do you know that history?
Just like the many places named in OC after Trabuco, Las Pulgas marks the memory of Spanish troops clowning on each other. The area around what’s now Las Pulgas Road in Camp Pendleton once hosted conquistadors that set up camp there and apparently got infested with fleas. But given how dirty they were, morally and physically, they shouldn’t have commemorated the area with the memory of their filth, you know?
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Amazing book by Sam Quinones, which I talk about in my semi-columna this week — buy a copy or five!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Whenever I try to feel that I am an honest and self-assured supporter of the American Dream, Roosevelt Wilson perches on my shoulder, laughs sardonically, and reminds me that I am just another lousy compromiser; that once, when I had my chance to strike a blow in defense of the Great Dream, I turned aside with the Pontius Pilates and whimpered: ‘What the hell can I do?’”
–William Bradford Huie, referring to a wrongfully executed black man whom he could’ve done more to help
LISTENING:“New Panhandle Shuffle,” Billy Briggs & XIT Boys. I love Western swing, and songs that praise regions — and to combine them to hail one of the most windswept, lonely terrains in the United States? Sign me up. PS, Shamrock ain’t no Vega.
READING: “Fighting for the Frontier: History and Activism in America’s Most Rural and Remote Places”: The rare article that’s analytical, historical, literary, depressing, yet hopeful — and OF COURSE it’s about New Mexico.
SHOUTOUT TO: Travis, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! His plug: “Yourself because, You are the man!” Well, hell…
Gustavo in the News
“Response to Stacy Keszei’s June 29 Statement”: People are now debating what I supposedly said down in Coronado haha.
“Coronavirus Today: Hoops or hospitals?”: One LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs a columna of mine.
“LA Times Podcast about Gascón Recall Interviews Critics, Supporters, Gascón”: My podcast from a couple of weeks ago gets discussed.
“Latinx Files: ‘Forget the Alamo’ and the difficulties in talking about this country’s complicated history”: Another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs the podcast.
“My Internet: Ben Smith”: The New York Times’ media columnist kindly shouts me out as influencer that he wants to see post forever — HWUT.
Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!
“Kate Winslet on ‘Mare of Easttown,’ ‘Avatar 2’ and Wawa”: My colleague Yvonne Villaseñor talks to the legendary actress (although I didn’t care for the series’ conclusion).
“Sen. Alex Padilla on how California can help the U.S.”: I spend the entire half our talking to a guy who knows how to make history yet is soft-spoken.
“Bill Cosby, sex-assault survivors and justice”: Just like the title says.
“The end of a small town’s prison economy”: I interview my LA Times colleague Hailey Branson-Potts about her story on Susanville, California.
“Danny Trejo on his life and times”: I turn the mic over to my awesome colleague Daniel Hernandez, who talks to Machete himself!
“Grítale a Guti, Ep. 56!”: The latest installment of my Tuesday-night IG Live free-for-all
“Baja Wine Club Summer Shipment, Part 2”: I make a cameo in my wife’s monthly #michetalks IG live chats from Puppy Strong Farm.
“America’s 4th of July fireworks celebrate regained freedoms”: I appear on an Australian radio show to talk COVID during Independence Day, complete with fireworks in the background!
“Column: Independence looks different this July 4, thanks to the hell year that was 2020”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks to 10 individuals about what freedom means to them right now. KEY QUOTE: “All appreciate the freedom they have in this country but understand its tenuousness as the pandemic continues and Americans strive for the racial justice that still eludes them a century and a half after Douglass’ speech.”
“Essential California: 20 years of ‘True Tales From Another Mexico’”: My latest cameo writing the LA Times’ daily newsletter focuses on the first book of Sam Quinones, the best writer EVER on Mexican migration and its effects on the U.S. and Mexico. KEY QUOTE: “Since Mexico is so intertwined with Los Angeles, there are many L.A. ties in his chapters, making “True Tales From Another Mexico” one of the best books to ever capture Mexican life in Los Angeles.”
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