Growing up on the East Side, the youngest in a family of seven siblings, I remember watching and learning from all the people in my family. My oldest brother and my oldest sister just starting their families. My Vietnam War hero middle brother and how the entire family was so proud. My juvenile delinquent brother and how my parents were so disappointed. My teenaged sisters and how they attracted attention from the boys. My Tios and Tias, one lived across the street and the other next door. So many cousins to play with, so many weekly gatherings, the smell of food, we little ones stacking up empty beer cans into pyramids.
Sometimes Ama would send us to la tiendita, Barron's Grocery store, our neighborhood mom-and-pop shop, for a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs. Sometimes we would take the short cut through the Ledesma's yard, or if we felt more adventurous we would take the long way, through the callejon (the alley) behind the cantinas and meat market. This is where my primos and I would pick up bottle tops and play a game of "Fling the Bottle Top". "El Moanine", "El Fishie", and "El White Bass" - we were inseparable. Playing Loteria for pennies was my favorite game. Often we would play Loteria outside where we could be as loud as we wanted and where we could listen for the raspa man's bell every afternoon. We would watch the raspa man make the best hand-scraped snowcones ("raspas") in the world. Then it just didn't matter how hot August was.
I remember everyone piling in the back of Apa's Chevy pickup to go to Camp Ben McCulloch for a day of swimming. Oh, how I hated those outhouses with so many spider webs! My dad would insert an 8-track tape of "Los Relampagos Del Norte," and he would sing along. On Wednesday nights we would go to La Fiesta Drive-In for the bingo during intermission. I actually got to call the numbers one night and walked out of the concession stand with a great big banana split and just as big a smile on my face.
Los Bailes were always a lot of fun to go to. I loved to listen and dance to "Little Joe y las Familia" and "Ruben Ramos and the Revolution." On the drive home my mother would mock my Tia, saying "A tu tia no le gusta conjunto, a ella le gusta orqesta," and she would put her nose up in the air as if to say her sister thought se was classier then us. On Tuesday nights we would walk to Hillsides at the Pan Am Recreation Center and listen to bands, meet up with friends, and do some people watching. There was always a fight to see.
During football season we would watch the Texas "Lonehorns" and the Cowboys. Everyone I knew said "Lonehorns," not Longhorns. You knew when one of our teams scored because you could hear the whole calle scream and yell and celebrate. Every spring we would go to Lockhart or Creedmore to pick nopales, and you had to look out for snakes while harvesting the cactus. In the fall we would go to the pecan orchards along the Colorado or Onion Creek and harvet pecans and split what we picked with the owner. I remember the ghost stories my mother would tell about apparitions or La Llorna y La Lechusa. On Friday night we would go to Johnny Boys for hamburgers and strawberry malts. Looking back reminds me of the very happy time I had growing up on the East Side.
John Salazar is a 42 year old husband and father of three children. He lives in Austin, Texas and has just begun his writing experience. This story is dedicated to the memory of his childhood, growing up on the East Side (el barrio) of Austin, Texas.