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

Every chance I get, I walk over to the city park, right in the middle of town, just to sit. Sometimes I take my shoes off to feel the grass in between my toes. A few minutes turns into an hour, and before I know it, I spent part of an afternoon just sitting, listening, and watching.

What I see and hear are the kinds of things that you read about in books of poems written by great authors. The kinds of things that people used to focus on before social media and the invention of small computers that fit in your pocket.

From time to time, someone comes and sits nearby. It's usually someone older who looks like he has experienced life for a lot longer than I have. I love it when this happens because these become the times that I learn the most about life.

When I'm at work, I also have to sit, listen, and watch. People tell me what to do and I tell people what to do. Some of us wear ties, others professional-looking blouses and dress shirts. As the days and weeks go by, I am reminded that my generation is different from the people that come and sit by me at the park.

We have busy lives. When we talk, we are usually walking away from each other. Sometimes as we engage in conversation we are at the same time looking down at our phones. By the end of the week, we said things to each other, exchanged pleasantries, maybe shared a few laughs, but mostly, we don't know each other any better.

By Abe Villarreal

Every day, during my fifty-minute drive to work and my fifty-minute drive back home, I see the movement, the rumblings of what looks like a society stretching its arms and wanting to get back up again.

People are walking dogs. The same lady in the reflective yellow vest is running around the same corner each day. As the sun rises so does steam off the rooftops of small businesses who are warming up neighborhoods with their baked goods and coffee.

School parking lots look a little fuller. Lanyards with name tags bumping up and down on chests are seen as administrators and counselors file their way onto campuses to do their work no matter where students are learning.

On early evenings, kids can be seen running barefoot at city parks. Teens walking in groups, mostly looking down on their phones, but still walking, outside, together.

The morning street sweepers are slowly and noisily doing their cleaning of streets that are starting to get dirty again. Restaurants are looking for workers. The city visitor center has a We're Open sign even if it's just for a few hours a day, and a few days a week.

Bulletin boards are getting filled up with flyers announcing events and happenings. Authors are signing books at small coffee shops. Only a few can come in at a time, but they can come in. Mainstreet movie theaters are not just selling popcorn to passersby, some of them are showing movies. They might be older movies and the seating is spaced out, but going to the movies is a thing again.

By Abe Villarreal

Each time I visit my great-grandfather's grave, I think of the lesson taught in the animated movie Coco. The lesson of remembering and the tradition of respect to family.

I see his grave like it's out in a forgotten island. It's one of those simple graves with his name, Elias Villarreal, stenciled into a block of cement that frames the borders of the plot. There is no picture or fancy designs. No religious symbols or verses. It simply reads Elias Villarreal 1886-1939.

Most of the other plots in this older section of the cemetery are the same. Surrounded by dirt, some of those buried are already lost to time. Their plots are cracked. Names hard to read. Unvisited for generations.

All my other family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, are buried next to each other in a newer section of the cemetery, surrounded by grass, trees, and benches. The landscaping and flowers honor those that lie there. There is love for the dead who are still in the minds of those that visit.

By Abe Villarreal

There is a popular YouTube series called Tribal People Eat. In each episode, villagers from Punjab, located in the north of India bordering Pakistan, try American-based food items they consider interesting and sometimes just plain weird.

The Punjab villagers, mostly men, wear traditional dress, often kurtas which are long, loose, collarless shirts made out of silk or cotton, as well as turban headpieces. Their colorful attire is only second to the entertaining ways that they describe their food-eating experiences.

I love watching Tribal People Eat because the modest and humble Punjab people are honest in their interpretations of what Americans must be thinking when they come up with ideas such as fast-food hamburgers, mashed potatoes, Jello, and Little Debbie snacks.

To us, these everyday comfort foods are reminders of corporate America and the geniuses of yesteryear who created food for the working man and woman. To the villagers, they are something else.

In one episode, the villagers try whipped cream from a bottle. They marvel at how such a texture can come out of a long and narrow metal container. Once they learn how to spray out the whipped confection, they become just like we do when we were kids. They are all smiles and have fun enjoying their new experience.

By Abe Villarreal

Sometimes words get in the way. It happens when we want to describe something meaningful to us. Big and long words that make up big and long sentences make sense to us as we think of capturing exactly what we want to say about something important; and still, what we write or say ends up not making sense to most of everyone else. 

I recently read a definition of what it means to be a community. It went on and on and as I read it I thought of an attorney’s office. Walls lined up with books that looks like encyclopedia sets. Phones ringing in the background. Suits and ties. Shiny shoes. People seen quickly walking back and forth through venetian blinds. And long, long words crammed into longer sentences. 

I say, rubbish to all of that! I like short sentences and even shorter words. I especially like them when we describe meaningful things like what it means to be a community, and as we began to tiptoe into a post-pandemic world, I think of what I miss most about what makes us communities. 

By Abe Villarreal

Sometime in the future, I hope our children will be reading an article a lot like this:

From March of 2020 to March of 2021, Americans changed their growing habit of sitting and watching, and scrolling and liking, and threw in a little more listening and understanding.

From March of 2020 to March of 2021, instead of posting selfies, we started sharing moments that made others think about their own lives. Moments that showed neighbors and friends, families and loved ones.

From March of 2020 to March of 2021, we spent a little more money on things that mattered, instead of cheap thrills. Things like sending a card to a loved one or buying a box of food for a neighbor in need.

By Abe Villarreal

Everyone remembers their first job. On the day I turned 16 years old, my mom told me to go out there and get a job. She said I was old enough to earn my own living. I should be making my own money, washing my own dishes, doing my own laundry – and that I should be doing everything on my own except living out on my own.

Like most teenagers, I didn't get it. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the logic behind most of what my parents told me all my growing up years. So in May of 1998, I went out to look for that first job, and almost on the spot I was hired at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken.

By Abe Villarreal

A couple of times of week, a man shows up at my place of work. He's a modest looking person, and the only thing he has on him is a lunch pail. He walks from building to building on our campus, and doesn't bother anyone but most people know why he's there – he's selling amazing lunch items.

Sometimes he has delicious homemade tamales made by his wife. Other times he has hot soups, or caldos, with crackers. He's been visiting us for years and still not everyone knows his name but most do love his food.

On Saturdays, outside the town's central park and on the main boulevard, if you're taking a morning stroll, you might bump into a woman with luggage cart. She's up to the same thing as that man at work. She doesn't have a sign. Literally no bells or whistles, but we know what she's all about. She's selling some homemade burritos.

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