I first met Roberto at the same time I met my Aunt Nita. Both of them had come up from Uruguay to marry (and live with) my Uncle Ray. Nita is tiny and fiery as a ghost pepper but also extremely generous. She loves animals and her daily tea party of matte and soapapillas, and has a delightful sense of humour. I really miss Aunt Nita. (I don't get up to Utah to see her very often.) She always provided the leavening in the house between Uncle Ray and the kids.
For years Nita was a labour and delivery nurse at Utah Valley Hospital. In fact, she was both my mother's nurse when I was born, and mine when my daughter was born. She made that whole process much easier to bear.
She always fed us until we passed out from bloating when we went to her house. Sometimes she didn't really have the means to, but she always fed people. And her food was great. She made some of the best chicken ever. (I'll provide the recipe later.) And her ka-ka dip was to die for, despite the name.
Roberto was colorful, irascible, and could mimic a thousand different voices and laughs. He'd also peck your ear off if he had the chance, since he was a grumpy old parrot. Their stories are bound together.
Roberto's entry into this country was, if anything, questionable. He's actually an illegal alien. My sweet Aunt Nita didn't want to quarantine him for months, so she got him drunk on tequila and carried him over the border in a shoe box. At least that's what she always told us. I believe her. She's fully capable of lawful circumvention in the pursuit of caring for those she loves.
For years that bird sat in his cage or in a tree in the back yard, taunting people with possible ear loss and cracking nuts with his big beak. Sunflower seeds always littered the ground wherever he was. He'd call my cousin Erika in precisely Nita's voice and accent. "Eighty-kaaaaa!" Or it was Uncle Ray (Harold Ray, sometimes called Hal). "Hald Drey!" or "Hal!" The bird also mysteriously swore in Spanish. I couldn't figure out how that happened, since Nita was always very careful never to say "sheets" as it was too close to a swear word. It was always "leenens." That was her favourite joke.
Once I stayed with them during the break-up of my first marriage. I was alone in the house. Nita and Ray were away at work and the kids were off living their own lives. The house was tomb-silent except for...
Maniacal laughter. Gales of it.
Already freaked out of my head at what I thought my ex might do to me, I was pretty squirrelly. I grabbed up a bat and went charging through all the rooms to see who was skulking around in a locked house. Bedrooms? Check. Living room? Check. Kitchen? Check. Ba...Basement? Check. Phew.
Then I heard it outside the front door.
That bat nearly took the head off of...
Roberto as he sat on the front porch in his cage, "laughing" at the children walking past on their way home from school. I swear he sounded like an axe murderer.
Nita also kept horses, llamas (one once spat in my sister's hair) and dogs. The dogs ranged from Piquola, a beagle so ancient he leaked when he sat down, to Schnausers, to a phalanx of fairy-like miniature greyhounds, like rats on chopstick stilts, who had few teeth and would go absolutely bananas when she announced an S.N.A.C.K. Those dogs were hilarious. We'd play with their little flippety tongues and vie for the chance to test their spelling skills.
Once we visited them at Thanksgiving. We loved to play with Erika, who was between me and my sister Janelle in age. We three musketeers were entrapped at the table, long after everyone else had choked down my mum's gag*dressing*gag. (Disclaimer #1: My mum is a FABULOUS cook of everything but turkey dressing. And egg plant. And turnips. But everything else is absolutely delicious. Okay wait. Her cattail pancakes are pretty wretched too.)
We couldn't leave, caught in a Sisyphean dilemma. It was either eat, and thus die of an exploded stomach, or sit there and petrify into glum-looking gargoyles. I thought we were all well on our way to stone when Erika got up and left the table. Janelle and I exchanged looks of utter disbelief. How had she gotten a reprieve? And how could we get a similar stay of execution?
It wasn't until we heard the dogs in the back room, projectile barfing, that we knew the truth. But how could we, then, get those dogs to come back to the kitchen and do the same thing for us?
Clearly we were eventually sprung from the trap. The funny thing is, I don't remember how. It may be that the statute of limitations on dreadful dressing simply ran out.
A couple of years ago my mountainous Uncle Ray headed off to the Electronics Lab in the sky. He and Nita had always, inexplicably, shared a water bed. To this day I don't know how she managed to do it without getting bounced right back out or rolling towards him the second she got in.
When he died, the house seemed to echo with his ghost, puttering around in his workshop downstairs, sighing from his chair near the TV. By that time, I had my own family and lived in a different state. It was difficult to get up there to see them very often.
The last time I went to visit, Nita was still the pint-sized dog-whisperer and purveyor of matte and dinner. She plied me with stories of her travels, tales of her doggies, and titbits about her friends and children. I got reacquainted with her dogs, took some casserole to the llamas, and petted the horses.
At one point I strayed too close to the big beautiful tree in her back yard. Before I could turn around, Roberto nearly beaked me in the head. Only fancy ducking saved my ear from extinction. That thing was probably well over fifty five years old and still trying to send people to the hospital.
As per my daughter's news at her last visit, things have changed slightly. Nita no longer lives in the house she shared with Uncle Ray and her children for longer than thirty years. The animals are gone, and she has been remanded to a care facility. Which she apparently hates. She has escaped on numerous occasions with a purloined knife stuffed down her cleavage. They're not certain how she keeps finding those. She bemoans the fact that someone has swiped her car and dogs, and tries to get people to spring her, with that same Nita sense of humour.
I think it'll be time, soon, to go visit her. If I don't hurry, she might actually get away. There is still also the questionable demise of Roberto. I wonder if I'll ever really know the details of that story.
--5 lbs chicken wings (broken in half and de-tipped)
--1 C. soy sauce
--1 C. brown sugar (can be white if you don't have brown)
--2 T. vinegar
--1/2 C. chicken broth
--1 tsp. ginger
--2 crushed garlic cloves
Marinate chicken in the sauce. Place chicken in baking pan with lid (or foil). Bake at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hrs. Baste occasionally. Sauce may be frozen and thawed for more batches.
(Disclaimer #2: This computer is, for some reason, a picky old British hag. To cut down on the vast number of jagged red lines, I have bowed to her nagging and written in English English.)