Fito worked at the C&H sugar factory in Crockett, California, and Dad worked construction with Mr. Ramirez. Working construction always made you hungry and thirsty so they kept tubs of beef jerky and cans of beer under the car seat. Dad was on the overtime crew that tore down the old Vallejo hospital and everybody thought that’s what made him sick. They were all part of this St. Vincent Church religious club in Vallejo, Los Guadalupanos, which meant they shared food, music, stories, and everything. Sometimes, Lola, Fito’s wife, tried to show everybody how to dance to Huapango music and us kids tried to make those clackety sounds outside by crushing old tin Coke cans around our sneakers and clicking our heels on the sidewalk.
I don’t know where Pat Valencia worked, or Primo either, but all the ladies, including Carmen, Lily, Alice, Lola, Tia Melicia, and Mom, were always working in the kitchen. During the summer, everybody got jobs at Erickson’s Ranch in Vacaville, and it seemed as if we were always peeling corn. This was after the family moved to Vallejo, California, back in the 1970s, when anyone could get a bucket of vegetables for nothing.
At Dad’s wake, we had a ton of food but none of Lola’s good corn because it was the wrong time of year. Lola made the best corn because she put spices and juicy lime all over it. Lola and Fito liked spicy corn because they were from Texas. Lola and Mom were comadres—just like Carmen, Alice, Lilian, and Tia Melicia. They were our godmothers too and our families would eat together and celebrate together. Lola and Fito had three kids, and Tia Melicia had seven; Alice had three, and we had eleven; Pat and Carmen had zero, and Primo and Lily had one. So, all counted—3 + 7 + 3 + 11 + 0 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2—times two ears of corn each meant preparing a whole bushel. Everyone had to work together to pull the husks down and remove all the silky hairs; then we had to use Mom’s giant, black-speckled tamale pot, filling it with water using the garden hose.
During the wake, the men and women split up. Fito, Primo, Mr. Ramirez, Pat, and a bunch of other men went to the funeral home, and the women stayed to pray the rosary together. Mom knelt on the carpet with all the women. They remained kneeling without shoes until they finished praying the rosary about a gazillion times. Afterward, they all needed help from us kids to stand up because their feet had gone to sleep. They rubbed their knees, and then all went into the kitchen to get the food ready. It was the first time I realized that you didn’t eat corn on the cob in March and that every food had a season. I just knew that Lola’s corn would have been really good at the time.
There is a secret to Lola’s good corn, and a little bit of chile and lime juice can make a party in a minute. Pick small ears of fresh corn and choose the ears with small kernels for cooking. Don’t throw away the corn husks because you can dry them and use them during the holidays for tamales or make dresses for your dolls. Lola always said, “Don’t waste food!”
How to Make Lola’s Good Corn
Use a large pot to boil the water. Add salt. Add the corn on the cob and cook for three minutes only. Remove the corn with tongs. Keep the water boiling in case you need to make more. It is not safe to empty a large pot of boiling water.
Spice mix: remove the seeds and stems from the chiles (one arbol, one ancho, one guajillo, four New Mexico), toast them, cool them, and then grind everything together with a few saltine crackers, two lime peels, a spoonful of salt, a spoonful of dried oregano, and a spoonful of sugar. When the corn is ready, rub it with butter, squeeze the juice of a lime wedge across the kernels, and then sprinkle with a pinch of the spice mix.