Abe Observes

abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Dean of Student Success at Cochise College. He enjoys writing about people, pastimes, and the small things in life. 

By Abe Villarreal

In Deming, New Mexico, a small town surrounded by a large open desert on one side and an interstate on the other, there is a tradition that most people might think is a little hard to believe. It happens each year in late summer, and it's called the Great American Duck Race.

If you are there to see it with your own eyes, you would agree that it is great, uniquely American, and well, something to quack about. Like any other traditional festivals, the Duck Race has food vendors, family games, and a parade. The highlight is watching ducks racing down lanes of water, flapping and splashing, and trying to make it to the finish line first.

There are other events that for generations feel like can't-miss great American traditions. In Hatch, New Mexico, an even smaller town in an even more isolated location, a Chile Queen is crowned each year and paraded across the village-sized streets. She waves to parade watchers and is proud to be known as the most royal representative to a town billed as the Chile Capital of the World.

By Abe Villarreal

I really like those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that claim to have "world famous" food items. They are usually located in tiny towns, somewhere in the middle of nowhere USA. When you get there, you drive down Main Street and you turn right at the light. If you go past the old First Baptist Church you went too far.

A little ways down where the road gets a little bumpy and the only other business you see is a general store-looking kind of place is where you will find an eatery with a world famous food item.

They are often named after people with one or two-syllable names like Rudy's Diner or Jim's BBQ. If you're lucky, on your visit you'll get to meet Rudy or Jim.

Near the entrance are clips of old newspapers that are turning yellow. They include pictures of the original owners standing outside their restaurants wearing long white aprons and big smiles. The captions tell you that they have been calling their hamburgers and their fried chicken world famous since almost opening day.

By Abe Villarreal

In the 2003 movie Big Fish, a busy corporate business type is the son of a dying man. They meet up as the father, stricken with cancer, is experiencing his last days. The two have grown distant. The son feels that he doesn't know his true dad.

True to his character, Edward Sr., on his death bed recounts stories of his past, unbelievable tall tales of big fish, a walking giant, twin sister performers, charismatic circus personalities, and a witch who can tell the future. Edward Jr. has heard these stories over and over, and as he hears them again, he feels like he just doesn't get who is real dad.

We all have those dads or grandpas in our life. Over a cup of coffee, or just sitting on your front porch, quiet moments turn into conversations you feel you already had. One of my favorite high school teachers, whenever I catch up with him, begins a talk by saying "Do you remember the time…"

Most of us are probably too nice to say that we remember, or that we heard the story last week. We listen and hope that time passes by quickly. We chuckle and nod at the same point in the story like we did the last time we heard it. Meanwhile, someone is happily telling us something that is important to them.

By Abe Villarreal

I have a friend named Jean. She doesn't have a smart phone. She's never purchased anything online for herself. If she needs something, she drives down to the grocery store. If she misses a call, she calls back when she's ready. When she pays for something she uses cash.

She lives on her time and does things her way. When the world is moving too fast. Jean sits and waits. She knows that things will eventually make their way around to her corner of the world. She doesn't mind waiting.

I like Jean's way of life even though I don't see myself living like she does. When I get a text or call I answer right away. I don't want to keep people waiting. I know they don't like it. If I need new shoes or a home gadget that I can't find at the local store, I get online using my smartphone and purchase it in seconds.

It's nice to have everything you need in the palm of your hand. Jean doesn't see it that way even though she believes she has everything she needs. Jean is from a time and place that doesn't exist anymore and the more I learn about it, the more I see the value in that time gone by.

By Abe Villarreal

Every morning I see the same man pass by my house. I live across the street from a gas station/convenience store. He walks in the same direction, moving slowly, not because he can't walk quickly but probably because he knows where he is going. He knows where he will end up for the day.

He has a cup in hand and he sips. His hair is standing up in all different directions. He's tall and lean. He wears the same outfit almost daily. I'm describing him because I don't know his name.

Sometimes, on my morning walk, we cross paths. He never looks me in the eye or initiates conversation. When I'm brave enough, I share a "hello" or "good morning." Only when I'm brave enough.

I always tell myself that I'm going to stop and ask his name. Maybe shake his hand. He must be a neighbor. After all, he's usually somewhere around the corner. He doesn't seem to bother anyone, and he's never seen with anyone else.

It's always just him. A man with a cup, walking away from the gas station and towards the downtown center. I don't know his name or where he lives because I'm like most other people, afraid to get to know someone that is not like me.

By Abe Villarreal

This heatwave has me wanting to stay indoors wishing for cold mornings and comfort food. At work, I play Christmas music and on my computer screen the scene of snowy neighborhoods and colorfully lit homes is on display. Anything to make me forget about triple digit weather.

All this thinking of the holidays reminds me of childhood. When I was a kid, mom used to make buñuelos every New Year's Eve to celebrate the año nuevo. A buñuelo is a fried fritter of sorts. It's light and flaky, breaks into a hundred pieces as you try to eat it, and best of all is smothered in a delicious homemade syrup.

At least that's the way mom made them. In other homes with bigger families, you can walk in on a cold winter evening, during the last night of the year, and witness large bandejas, or tubs, filled with layers of buñuelos. Covered with a large towel to keep their freshness, you didn't have to know what is inside the bandeja because the smell gave it away. So did the trail of cinnamon and sugar surrounding the tub.

Latina moms are good at making anything shaped into a tortilla. Their hands are built for creating these delicacies. Their feet are strong and can take the hours of standing. They have backs of steel. Most powerful are their hearts and minds because their labor is driven with a purpose to provide for loved ones.

No matter how long it takes, and no matter how little they may have in provisions, they make enough for everyone. They must have some kind of superpowers.

By Abe Villarreal

With all the heaviness, the struggles, and the endless political battles that seemingly engulf all corners of the world, I'm always amazed at how we continue to get up and get going each day.

From viruses to violence, stock market dips, gas price ups, school sessions out, and high paying jobs hard to find, we manage to get up and get going each day.

What a wonderful statement on the resilience of regular people who find something in themselves to continue on no matter what comes at them. I hear often how hard life was during the depression and other darker periods of history. Come to think of it, life seems pretty good today, at least from where I'm sitting.

Sometimes, I look beyond my front porch and I see people really suffering. Neighbors, nearby, just south of our border, and neighbors far, far away. It's something that we don't do much of, think of people, regular people like you and me, living a life of extreme struggle.

We don't think of it because we don't have to think of it. Instead we focus on our struggles, like not being able to go on vacation or not having the luxury of buying a new T.V. this year. A friend complained to me recently that he was going to have to work overtime for a while so that he could afford to fly to Hawaii this year, and I thought to myself, life can be so tough.

By Abe Villarreal

I like picking up things that feel like they've always been there. This happened recently when I ran across a new issue of National Geographic. It was the latest issue out on the newsstand. So new, the pages close back up when you try to open it with one hand. Yet, it felt as familiar as those old issues stacked up in dusty bookshelf corners.

Seeing the bright yellow border on the front cover really took me back. The pages inside were filled with amazing photographs of exotic animals you only see in the movies. Sea creatures that look like alien life forms. Scenes from galaxies far away.

It was all there as it has always been, and it made me feel good. Flipping through the pages reminded me of those other familiar things that bring a smile to my face.

Like always finding that extra battery you need when you rummage through the junk drawer in your kitchen. It's there somewhere hiding between paper clips, scissors, a few nails, and pens that barely write anymore.

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