Grandpa’s house was already full when we arrived. Aunt Mandy was there with her friend Vicki. Uncle Philip had stayed home too and was filling his plate at the buffet counter in the kitchen. There were buckets of KFC, rolls and cole slaw. Boxes of Marie Callendar’s pies were stacked by the wall for after dinner. Elda walked through the side door her arms full with trays of enchiladas. The brick fence between her house and Grandpa’s is lined with food she is bringing over--cleaned out containers of margarine she had probably filled with beans or salsa. The neighbors from the other side, Marina and her sister, Margo are there with Marina’s daughter, Marie who was my age. Marina holds her hands out for mom to hand her Sara. She pressed her face up to Sara’s cheeks “Mi Corazon!” she squeals.
Grandpa was holding court in his brown leather recliner with a straight shot of the television. “Hi, Grandpa.” I said giving him a peck on the cheek.
“Hi Mija” he said without taking his eyes off the tv. The fight hasn’t started yet but he’s listening to the commentators. Uncle Philip sat down with his plate of food on the rattan frame sofa with it’s pink and purple psychedelic print, a large frame filled with photos of horses hung above it on the wall. These were horses from the race track Grandpa sometimes worked at. He said one of them was his horse, “Speedy Ball”. I’d never seen the horse. He never brought me to the track with him.
I'd woke that morning like most mornings, checking the screen door to see if he'd left me a present while I slept. That morning it had been a box of donuts.
“Thank you for the donuts” I said, looking at the metal tv tray set up on the side of his recliner. The phone has been brought in, it’s long mustard yellow cord trailing to the outlet in the kitchen. He’s got a steno pad, a couple pens, and a glass of water lined up on the tray.
“What? Oh, yeah, no problem mija.” He says as the phone rings. I would not sit on his lap that night, I never did on fight nights. “Phil here.” he answered the phone. “Uh huh, uh huh.” He grunted as he jot down a few words and numbers. Nothing I could read.
“Reina, I left the tortillas on the fence.” Elda tells Nana. Her gravelly voice is nearly monotone. It had not the highs and lows you hear in other voices. She spoke clearly, evenly. She spoke to get the job done, yet I knew she cared for me. She waddled over to the buffet, tidying to make room for the tortilla warmer, straightening out the rattan paper plate holders, the napkins, then placed her hand on the back of my head as she moved to the other side to fluff a bag of chips.
“Is that Missy?” her husband Pancho calls from his chair by the room divider. I scurry over to Pancho and kiss his cheek.
“Oh Mija, you are as pretty as ever” he said patting my arm, one eye pointed at the ceiling, the other at my mouth. I wondered if I was pretty. Pancho didn’t seem a good judge of that.
Everyone was speaking a mix of English and Spanish as we fixed our plates. I didn’t speak Spanish but I understood for the most part what people were saying. We settled in at either the dining room table, the other table or “kids table” permanently set in the den or balancing plates on our laps in front of the television. There were people I didn’t know, people from the neighborhood, maybe people from Grandpa’s liquor store. Uncle Frankie walked in, he always looked like Lionel Richie to me with his permed hair and skinny mustache. He was Grandpa’s son from his first marriage and was a bit older than my mom.
He came up behind Grandpa’s chair, looking at the television screen. “Hey Pop” he said, squeezing Grandpa’s shoulders.
“Get some food.” Grandpa said patting Frankie’s hand.
“I will. I’m going to have some pie first.” He said walking back to the buffet. I thought to myself how fantastic it would be to be a grown up and get to eat your dessert first. Uncle Frankie seemed to read my thoughts and turned around to catch my eye, “That way I know I’ll have room for dessert!” he said winking at me.
The fight was going to start. Grandpa was still taking calls, scribbling in his notebook. I carefully carried my plate into the den, sitting on the floor in front of Uncle Philips legs. My parents were sitting at the kid’s table while they had a chance to eat without Sara in their arms. They wouldn’t hold her the whole night though, as she’d be passed from arms to arms.
The National Anthem was going to start. Everyone got quiet in the house. Grandpa fought in Korea and Nana’s brother, Uncle Johnny who stood by the back door smoking a cigarette fought in World War 2. Marvin Gaye is singing the National Anthem. Auntie Mandy and Vicky sort of hold on to each other in a dreamy sort of way as they watch him sing. The camera flashes to Diana Ross sitting in the audience smiling at her friend.
“Woo woo!” my dad hollered out, then nudged my mom with his elbow. Dad always said that for a black girl, Diana Ross was pretty sexy.
That word sexy always embarrassed me. The same thing with the word “Sassoon”. Grandpa would always chant, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good, Vidal Sassoon.” just to make me turn red.
Larry Holmes was fighting Earnie Shavers that night but Holmes is the only name I ever remembered during the fights. He was always fighting someone else who I never saw again. I always rooted for him. I could see Holmes was a lot taller than the other guy, so I wasn’t worried.
“Come back for more eh?” One of the neighbors yelled when the boxers came out for the first round. Holmes had fought Shavers the year before and won.
“It’s that killer right, Holmes as got to watch out for.” Said my Uncle Johnny as he finished the last of his cigarette and snuffed it out into Nana’s ash tray.
“Don’t worry about it.” Said my Uncle Philip, “Shavers will get tired before too long.”
Grandpa didn’t chime in, his eyes fixed on the television. The phone had stopped ringing.
I’d yell “Awww, let go!” whenever the other fighter was holding him. I knew he was just reserving his energy so he could hit Holmes hard. “Pull ‘em apart!” I’d yell at the referee. Everyone seemed to like when I’d do that. They’d laugh and smile real big.
I finished my chicken, corn on the cob and beans so I went into the kitchen to get a slice of pie. Two men I didn’t know were talking in the kitchen. I think they were neighbors or used to be when my mom was younger.
“You want me to cut you a slice of pie?” one in a grey guayabera asked me. In the other room the crowd groaned. I heard someone yell out something in Spanish I didn’t understand. Guayabera leaned over to see the screen in the other room. “No, no, it’s not over! You’ve got to have faith!” he yelled back to the tv, to the room, to everyone. Holmes was down.
“Yes, please” I answered as I got a fresh paper plate and holder. He looked at me as if he forgot I was there. The phone rang again. “Everyone’s here. Who keeps calling my grandpa?” I asked the man as he put a slice of apple pie onto my plate.
“Your grandpa is a bookie, Chiquita. He’s working.” He answered, handling me a fork. I returned to the den and snuggled up next to Uncle Phillip who was fidgeting with a basketball water game. He was pushing the button on the bottom that shot air into the water. If you did it just right, you could shoot the ball into the basket. He had a bunch of them and would fidget with them while he watched sports if his team wasn’t doing well.
“Mmm, feed me a bite!” he said. I balanced a chunk of sugary apple on my fork as he leaned down to meet it.
“What’s a bookie?” I asked him. He quickly looked up at me with a harsh expression I hadn’t seen on him before.
“Your Grandpa owns a liquor store.” He said to me sternly. The way he said it made me feel like he wouldn’t like me anymore if I asked him anymore questions about it. It was similar to the way my dad talked to me.
I finished my pie and crawled over to my cave, a little space between the sofa and the low brick ledge the television was on. I’d sometimes bring my toys in this area and drape a blanket over the couch arm and bricks to make a little cave for myself to play in. I crawled in, this time without a blanket as my eye lids grew heavier and heavier.
I woke up to my dad picking me up to head home. Dishes were being washed in the kitchen and Grandpa speaking Spanish on the phone which was back in the dining room.
“Who won?” I asked sleepily. I heard a few people laugh at this.
“Holmes.” My dad answered. “He knocked out Shavers in the 11th round.”
“Uncle Philip was right.” I said, putting my head on my Dad’s shoulder. “Shavers did get tired”