DESSERT FIRST

The day was freezing cold in the high Andes. Wet, sleety rain sheeted down from the highlands, nearly soaking through the little girl’s woven wool cap. Icy wind chapped her little cheeks and nose, and despite the thickness of the blanket-like wool poncho, she shivered beneath the heavy, wet weight of it. Her threadbare socks barely kept her feet covered, much less warm, in the too-big rubber boots, as she clomped behind her mother down the muddy road.

It was a daily affair: taking milk and eggs into the village. Only today, she would have liked to have stayed home. It was at least a bit warmer inside the thick, dirt walls, under the thatched roof. It wasn’t windy inside. She sniffled, wiping her nose with her sweatered arm.

“¡Ándale mi hija!” Come on, my daughter!] her mother said, looking back at her, “Basta de ser perezosa!” [Stop being a lazybones!

She sniffled again, hiding her arm under the warmer poncho, lifting the basket of eggs a little higher, and running a few paces to catch up with her mother – almost tripping in the process.

“Cuidado que no dañas los huevos!” Careful that you don’t damage the eggs! her mother admonished.

She slowed down a bit and put the basket of eggs under the poncho in front of her to warm her other hand.

She could see the village now, down in the valley below. It wasn’t so far to go yet.

The walk wasn’t so bad when the sun was shining. There were always hidden flowers to discover, bees to watch, and paramo grass to play on. Some days her mother would let her go fishing at the edge of the lake – or on a really special occasion, she could go out in the rowboat with her brother to catch some fresh trout for supper instead of walking to the village.

After taking the milk and eggs to the store in town, she knew they’d be stopping at the hot springs on the way home, and she could plunge her freezing cold feet and hands into the steaming water. She daydreamed how good that would feel.

“¡Ten cuidado!” Be careful! her mother reminded her as she stumbled on a crack in the road.

Finally, wet and bedraggled, they arrived in the village and entered the store.

“¡Qué bueno es, estar fuera de la lluvia!” How nice it is, to be out of the rain! the little girl thought as she put the basket up on the counter top and rubbed her hands together and put them on her nose and cheeks to warm up. Her eyes wandered over the chocolates and bubblegum in the display case as she breathed into her cupped hands and felt her breath warm her face.

Her mother exchanged the eggs and milk for some groceries, and the store owner reached into the display case, taking a strawberry-flavored blow-pop out and handing it to the little girl. “¡Qué linda la niñita!” What a cute little girl!. She dutifully looked to get an approval from her mother before shyly accepting the blow-pop and hiding it under her poncho. She would save it for when she got home.

She looked outside. It was still sleeting. Her mother put the groceries into a shawl and tied the ends together, slinging it over her back and bracing it on her forehead to carry it home. Her black felt hat sat over top of the shawl on her head.

“¡Dile gracias, mi hija!” Tell him thank you, my daughter! she said, and the little girl whispered, “Gracias” and smiled shyly. The store owner smiled a big gape-toothed smile and waved as she went out the door.

She didn’t have to carry anything home, so her hands stayed under her poncho, holding onto the blow-pop and inspecting it thoroughly as she walked behind her mother, back up the mountain. The blow-pop was tightly wrapped and she wondered if she could unwrap it without tearing the wrapper. If she managed not to tear the wrapper, she could put it up on the wall like a picture by her mat.

She daydreamed as they walked home, but made sure she moved well off the road when cars or buses or trucks drove by. They would splash muddy water from the potholes in the road as they roared and shifted gears, driving up the mountainside.

Almost home, they stopped at the hot springs. She put the blow-pop in the pocket of her dress so she could have both hands free. Carefully, avoiding sitting down and getting her dress muddy or wetter than it already was, she took off her boots and socks, feeling the flat ground cover under her bare feet at the edge of the spring. The rain had soaked the ground completely and cold water seeped through the ground cover and around her toes. She quickly stepped into the steaming springs.

“¡Aaahhh! ¡Mami, qué bello!” Aaahh! Mommy how beautiful! she smiled and laughed and stomped a little in the warm water, with the cold rain still falling on her face.

Her mother was removing her boots and socks and stepping in herself. She smiled at her little girl. “Cierto que sí, mi hija… ¡Qué bello!” Very true, my daughter… How beautiful!

The little girl leaned over, pulling her skirt and poncho up to keep them out of the spring. Clamping a hold on them with her elbows, she plunged her little hands into the stream and warmed them before bringing them up to her face – all warm against her cold cheeks and nose. “Aaaahh!!” she said, watching her mother do much the same.

Once they warmed up a bit, they stepped out of the spring, putting on their socks and boots, and heading the rest of the way home, with a little extra energy in their step.

Every day involved milking the cow, collecting the eggs and walking to the village and back. Every day the little girl carried the eggs and her mother carried the milk, and every day the little girl wondered what little surprise the store owner would find for her. Some days it was a pancito bread bun_], or a sweet empanada turnover_]. Other days it was just an abrazo [hug or a smile.

When she got home, she carefully unwrapped the blow-pop without tearing the wrapper. She wetted the back of the wrapper, sticking it to the wall beside her mat, and she shared the blow-pop with her brother who had been fishing at the lake all morning.

“¡Te traje unas truchas bien grandes, mami!” I brought you some really big trout, mom!] her brother exclaimed. “Será una buena merienda esta noche.” [It’ll be a good supper tonight!

Their mother nodded and congratulated him on his fishing success. She scaled and gutted the trout, and began to dry-fry the peanuts for a peanut sauce to go with the llapingachos cheese-filled mashed potato patties she would serve with them.

The rain had stopped, but fog was rolling up the mountainside. Their father tramped in with a load of wood strapped to his back. He added a log to the fire, stoked it up a bit, gave his wife a beso kiss, his children a hearty abrazo, and they all sat down around the table for supper.

The trout and llapingachos were delicious, the little girl thought. But supper was especially good tonight, because they got to have her blow-pop for dessert first.

She looked over at the wrapper on the wall, and smiled.

~~~

© drc 08/05/03

DESSERT FIRST

Donna R. Carter

Beloit, United States

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