In the mid-60s, as a girl with my grandparents, every Sunday we rode the Metro bus to attend services at First Faith Cathedral. Once church was over, we hopped on another bus to downtown that took us to the Painted Horse, a favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard. Adults ate for 99 cents and kids for 49 cents. I preferred the hamburger steak with macaroni and cheese, and even though they displayed Jell-O in every color to choose from, my favorite: red.
After lunch, we would head for the Miami Public Library, near Bayfront Park. Grandpa would walk on ahead, while I strolled along with Grandma under her umbrella. We’d stop by a large pond filled with giant goldfish and feed them crackers. The park was next to a waterfront where fancy boats and exquisite yachts sailed by. As I waved to them, I imagined how the rich folk lived.
Once we arrived at the library, I’d take the elevator to the children’s section on the second floor while my grandparents remained reading in the downstairs lobby. I strolled the aisles running my hands across the binders of the books neatly stacked on shelves. I loved the smell of those books, the textures, the colors, and even the different lettering.
My imagination ran wild as I’d choose a fairy tale, sit on a nearby stool, and read about magical and faraway places. In my mind, I turned beautiful and clever all in one.
I pretended to be Cinderella, overjoyed that the glass slipper fit my foot perfectly and that my uncle, the tall Prince Charming, singled me out to dance. I imagined my brother as Hansel and I Gretel, hunting for food, and then eating chunks of candy broken off the cottage with no evil witch in sight. I pictured myself as Little Red Riding Hood who saved Grandma from the Big Bad Wolf. While reading, I became all those characters and more—until Grandpa called for me, saying, “Mary, time to go home.”
My real so-called adventures didn’t take me to faraway lands like those in the books I read. My adventures were riding around town on those city buses. If the bus was crowded, we stood while swaying back and forth. Back and forth. Grandpa held onto the straps. Unable to reach them, I held onto the bars instead.
“Mary, hold on tight now,” Grandma cautioned. Grandpa stood nearby, ready to steady Grandma or me if needed. I don’t think he enjoyed riding on the bus much.
When it was time, I liked to pull the cord to signal the driver to let us off.
“Now, Grandpa?” I asked, not wanting to miss our stop.
“Not yet. Be patient, young lady.”
“How about now?”
“I’ll let you know when it’s time.”
Eventually, the sunny, bright-colored Sable Palms apartment complex came into view.
“Okay, now, young lady,” Grandpa nodded.
I would kneel on the seat and reach for the cord, or sometimes Grandpa hoisted me up. I pulled on the cord fast, once, twice, and sometimes even three times for the bus driver to stop. Then swoosh the rear doors opened, we exited, and then the door swish closed.
Palm tree-lined winding roads landscaped and shaded the path to my grandparents’ home. Often coconuts fell from those towering trees and I’d run to pick one up for us.
I’ll never forget one day when we arrived home, I overheard Grandpa complaining to Grandma about standing too close to so many people.
“¿Tu ves, Ana?” he said, showing her something. “See? They stole my wallet.”
From the hall, I listened.
“Oh, no!” Grandma gasped, staring at his inside-out pocket in disbelief.
“We have to stand so close we are like sardines. Too easy for someone to put his hands in my back pocket; taking my wallet out without me knowing.”
It made me sad to think someone would do something bad to my grandpa, stealing from him as if we were rich. Then again, maybe we were.
(An excerpt from Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace)
© M.A. Pérez 2018, All Rights Reserved
I loved books then. I love books now. I remember the simple things in life as a child, having a vivid imagination to take me to some wonderful faraway places.
We all have them. What are some of your fond memories as a child?