Broken in half during the first Sierra winter, what remains of the sign still stands at that first curve off the interstate. Warped by the weight of too much snow and disappointment, beat down by too many punches from the fists of Calle boys, the DE LAS FLORES have scattered to the winds. All that's left to speak for the neighborhood that grew up around it is the word CALLE, its two Spanish L's asking why on a desert-bleached sign.
Mama says my brothers were the only reason she'd not followed Grandma to the Calle years before, so when the boys left home to free fish from the ocean with their delinquent dad, we left Santa Cruz and the man who was my father in the rearview. Mama had come to Reno the first time years before that, when she was getting divorced from my brothers' daddy. She'd had to stay here for six weeks to make it legal, and even in that short time was able to find a job, so she knew she could find work here again, running keno or making change, and Grandma Shirley agreed. Grandma used to live in California too but she moved here before I was born, moved for good after living here temporarily to finally escape marriage to Grandpa John, Mama's dad. She found she could escape his memory easier here too. Not only that, the pay was higher and the rents were lower, so Grandma gave up the wet and wild nature of Santa Cruz for the death and dirt of Reno's high desert in order to make a fresh start, and four years later so did we. By then, Grandma had put in her time, marking tickets behind one keno counter after another from Boomtown to the Strip before she eventually got a job tending bar at the Truck Stop right at the end of the Calle. The desert sand of the Calle couldn't be more different from the sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, but the cement and glass and ringing slots of Reno's downtown still felt more like home than anywhere else because this was the first place that ever delivered what both Hendrix women wanted - freedom from their husbands. The Biggest Little City in the World took them in and set them free, and after Mama had paid her own casino dues, she spent months of long nights picking up shifts for the bartenders that came and went at Grandma's side until she finally got called down to the Truck Stop to talk about working a regular shift.
Mama parks next to the Four Humors Ice-Cream Truck, and inside the Truck Stop, the Ice Cream Man himself is parked on a barstool. Mama says that the Ice Cream Man spends a lot of time at her bar but it's the first time I've seen him here, and as we walk past him all I can think about is all that ice cream sitting out in the sun while he sits in here in the dark. Mama sits me at a table by the jukebox and turns my head away from the bar, points me toward the toys she's put on the table. "Stop staring now, R.D.," she says, "and keep your fingers crossed."
My favorite toys are ones Grandma made, crocheted and stuffed: a polar bear with green scarf and hat, a family of mice, the littlest one holding a red lace heart with Grandma's careful "I love Rory D." stitched across its front, a yellow chick inside a cracked egg bright with spring flowers. Every day I bring a different one to show-and-tell, and today Mama had Grandma Mouse and Mama Mouse in the car with her when she picked Baby Mouse and me up from first grade. At first we four just sit facing each other and pretend not to be nervous for Mama over at the bar, but then I start looking through the labels on the front of the jukebox and forget I was nervous at all. There's "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" and "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" and Mama always has quarters for "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and I like "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" and I like that I can watch the people at the bar reflected in the jukebox's glass case. There are two regulars I know, the Ice Cream Man and Dennis, but Mama is talking with a dark-haired woman I don't know and can barely see, she is so short and tucked away on the other side of the bar.
Excerpted from Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman. Copyright © 2012 by Tupelo Hassman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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