Carneseca – Or The Great Mr. Valencia by Eduardo Delgado
When I was about 12 years old my stepfather, who worked on construction gangs laying concrete around the Los Angeles area, began coming home talking about a friend he knew at work, and he always spoke of him with great affection. “Carneseca this, Carneseca that.” One Saturday he took me along to the work site, and for the first time I saw the famous Carneseca.
He was a tall thin man, in his late thirties. The first things I noticed about the man were his eyes, like black pearls and a beautiful smile in them – eyes always smiling.
I then began to see the rest of him: his shoes high top and untied, he had two or three days’ growth of beard, his hair had not been combed that morning, I’m sure. My stepfather walked up to him, “Carneseca, this is my boy, Lalo.”
Carneseca reached out, shook my hand – first time anyone had EVER shook my hand. I felt like an adult, big. “Well, Lalo, I see that we are going to be good friends, ’cause I like a man with a good handshake.” Then he just smiled at me, turned around, and walked away without saying anything. And, the rest of the morning I just spent playing in the dirt, throwing rocks at imaginary enemies. Every now and then, I would look to see where Carneseca was working.
Without realizing that time had flown by, in the background, I could hear someone whistling, calling – – – I stopped and looked around, and finally I saw Carneseca waving his arms. He waved me over and said, “How would you like to be in charge of the Fire Department?” “Sure.” “Go on over there and dig a little hole and gather some firewood.” I did that. Then Carneseca came over and lit the fire. “And keep an eye on it, don’t let it go out.” The idea is to warm the tacos over warm ashes, blackening the tacos. It gives them a great earthy taste. When they’re ready, call us. We hard working men shall have warm tacos, hot salsa and a cold cervesa.” All the Mexican workers gathered around the hot embers, placed their tacos to warm and blacken and waited with a small homemade beer or hot coffee. They joked and laughed as they looked over at the white boys and their cold sandwiches “Que tontos” (how dumb). After the feast, they returned to their work and I to throwing rocks at those imaginary enemies.
After his coming to our house for breakfast, every Sunday, with his uncombed hair, untied shoes, unshaved face which we had gotten to accept as Carneseca, we never expected to see him any other way that was him. Then suddenly he stopped coming on Sundays for breakfast. My mother asked about Carneseca. My stepfather would say, “You know, I haven’t seen him – – for weeks I haven’t seen him – no Carneseca at work, and no Carneseca for breakfast on Sundays.” Then one Saturday morning at ten o’clock, on Main Street in Los Angeles we saw, a block away or so, a man walking towards us in a suit, hat, tie, and shiny shoes. And my stepfather stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and leaned forward and said, “Is THAT Carneseca?” I said, “Noooooooo, I don’t think so.” Finally, of course, we recognized him and couldn’t resist any longer. My stepfather said, “Carneseca, what’s happened? Why are you all dressed up?”
Carneseca looked at me, then at my stepfather, and very quietly, he said, “I have met a woman.” My stepfather didn’t dare laugh, but he was smiling! And he said, “Why don’t you bring her to breakfast Sunday? You’re both invited.”
The following Sunday morning that they came for breakfast was wonderful. . . she was beautiful, that wonderful olive tanned face, clear, soft looking skin, a beautiful smile. I was completely spellbound, her eyes also black as pearls smiling at you, speaking in a language I did not understand. Maybe I would when I became a man. The next thing I heard was a yelp of a dog as I fell over our mongrel “Frijol” (Beans). Carneseca reached down without a word, offered his hand to me, smiled and winked. If someone had asked later in the day what I had for breakfast, I just wouldn’t have known. Carneseca would look at me throughout breakfast: he’d just smile and wink. That morning my stepfather started to say, “Carneseca . . .” Carneseca looked at Concepcion. She said very quietly with one word: “Valencia.” My stepfather got the message: no more Carneseca when SHE was around.
Many Sunday mornings I looked at her smiling dark eyes across the table. She didn’t talk to me directly very often; she talked to my mom and grandmother most of the time. One Sunday morning she was standing under one of grandmother’s peach trees. I walked up behind her as she reached up, picked a peach and gently kissed it and said in Spanish, “Oh little peach, I love you,” and she bit it and turned and offered the peach to me. I was in seventh heaven that morning. Where else would a twelve-year boy be after that? Since then, every now and then, I do the same with a peach, when children are present; they always reward me with smiles and giggles…
One day my stepfather came home from work, told my mother that Concepcion had fainted on the street while shopping with Valencia. Valencia was physically sick about it all day. That evening my mother, grandmother, and I went to see her. I was not allowed into the bedroom, but I could see her from the front room. They would talk very low. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Concepcion looked past my grandmother at me. I had tears in my eyes. Concepcion just smiled. My mother and grandmother very quietly said in Spanish “Come,” and we left.
The next day, Valencia was talking to my stepfather with tears in his eyes, asking him “Why?” My stepfather looked at the floor and said nothing. Several days had passed since the first visit to Concepcion’s. My mother, grandmother and I returned. Again, I had to stay in the living room. After a while, my grandmother came out and said in Spanish, “Come, Concepcion wants to see you.” She took me by the hand and I stood by the bed. Concepcion took my hand and said, “Here, give me your ear.” I bent over close to her lips. She kissed my cheek and said in Spanish, “Oh, little peach, I love you.” She let my hand go. I was crying. The tears in my eyes blurred my vision. She was so beautiful in the eyes of this 12-year-old boy!
The following day she passed away. I was not allowed to attend the wake or funeral, and to this day, she still lives in my memory. Poor Valencia took to drinking, and one evening, sitting in our kitchen, drunk, he said to my grandmother what Concepcion had said to him the day before she died. Crying and sobbing he said, “Concepcion said ‘I am leaving my soul with you, Valencia. Bring it with you so that we may enter heaven together. I promise I will wait for you, Valencia.’ ”
Years later, in 1940, my stepfather and I were at his bedside when he died. He looked at me, and he said “Concepcion has been waiting, little peach.” And he reached out, and he shook my hand for the last time. My stepfather sat there for a loooong time without saying a word. Then he said quietly, “Adios, Valencia, mi amigo.” My stepfather was a full-blooded Aztec Indian hard as steel. That day there were tears on his face. The morning that my stepfather died, he said he had seen Valencia. I also have seen him now and then…