We had an old blue and green flowered bedspread layed out and open under the shade of a grassy knoll just above the sandy beach area of the lake we would drive to every Sunday in the summer. My Spanish grandmother had our red plaid thermos and our silver bullet-looking thermos propped up against the thick bark of the tree behind us. It was 11:00 in the morning and it was time for “elevenses,” what we called “onces,” and she was calling us in from the water.
At 11:00 every morning, my abuela would prepare something for the 11 o’clocks; the time of the day where we would stop and have some light tea, or coffee with cream, and a small sweet. Today we were at the beach, Freiss Lake in Southeastern Wisconsin. We were a caramel skin-colored people, each with a headful of curly hair. Our sandwiches were meatless and wrapped in wax paper — not modern baggies like the American families around us — and everyone on our blanket was drinking coffee, even the 3- and 4-year-olds.
I cannot even imagine the sight we were to those around us. A family of nine, eating guava jelly slabs stuffed into white hard rolls, chased down with thermoses of coffee on a hot summer’s day at the beach. Brown-skinned people stretched across an obvious quilt-off-of-a-bed rather than the blue and green or black and red plaid blankets that were made for picnics and dotted the beach around us.
I was only 5-years-old at the time, but I remember knowing how different we were — and I thought, we’re only visiting.
We’re only visiting this country. That had to be the answer because we were so very unlike all that I saw around me when we would drive to Freiss Lake, a very German-named lake near Milwaukee. I didn’t feel ashamed, I merely connected the dots in my mind to explain the amplification in our appearance when compared to other families: surely we must just be visiting. What other reason could there be for how we did everything the exact opposite way that they did it?
I’d watch my abuela take her white-handled paring knife and neatly slice the red mango she had packed, handing each of the six of us that were eagerly awaiting a sliver of the buttery succulent fruit. We’d clean off its peel by scraping the skin against our top and bottom teeth. Cold, pulpy, ripe with juice; it perfectly quenched our thirst.
I’d see the children on the blue and green plaid picnic blanket 10 feet away from me watching, frozen in the midst of licking their root beer popsicles, unable to continue eating their summer treat, their curiosity about what I was eating stopping them from doing anything else.
I always felt exotic and mysterious when I’d see them stare at me.
After all, I knew what they were eating.
But as for me, and what I imagined these other children were thinking about what they saw before them, I knew it was this: That I must be a princess from another country, and I was only visiting.