It’s often the smallest of gestures that make us feel loved and accepted. Today as I was rolling out yet another batch of flour tortillas for our supper, I was reminded of such a gesture made almost twenty-five years ago.
It wasn’t long after I’d married that my mother-in-law, Marcella, and her sister, Gloria, showed up at my tiny apartment’s door. The two bustled into my kitchen, all smiles.
“Hijita,” Marcella said, “we have something for you.”
Hijita is Spanish for daughter, more specifically little daughter, and it was a term of endearment bestowed on me the day Marcella discovered I was to be part of her family.
The two set a crumpled paper bag on the counter, and from it Marcella removed a heavy cast iron skillet that had somehow lost its sides. I’d never seen a pan quite like it and wasn’t at all sure why they were both smiling. How was one to cook on a pan without sides?
Gloria reached into the same crumpled bag and pulled out a fat, short wooden dowel, holding it carefully in her hands.
“These are for you,” Gloria said.
Seeing my confusion, Marcella explained. “The pan was my grandmother’s, and I want you to have it. It’s a comal, and it’s what we use to make flour tortillas.” The wooden dowel, hand-cut and sanded by Gloria’s husband, Ralph, was a palote, a special rolling pin created just the right size for rolling out and turning tortillas. Over the next year, Marcella patiently taught me how to make not only tortillas but red chile and many other dishes that were a part of her family’s heritage. I’d married into not only another family but another culture as well. Although I’d started out my life in the Southwest, I’d spent most of my childhood in the cornfields of Ohio, and marrying into a family that had moved maybe 500 miles in as many years could have been a recipe for conflict.
Instead, the gifts carried into my home that day in a crumpled paper bag said everything I needed to know about how the next twenty-five years would go. I was loved and accepted; I was part of the family. And every time I make tortillas on her grandmother’s comal, I feel just a little more loved, a little more part of such a wonderful culture.