Constants include bright-colored vinyl-upholstered chairs and Formica countertops, schools of carved wooden fish swimming beneath shimmering waves of vintage hubcaps, and lots of tacky, kitschy paintings - of the "velvet Elvis" and "paint-by-number bullfighter" variety. Our local Chuy's is split-level, so one wall of kitschy paintings extends two stories from the concrete floor (with precious little space between the canvases, so we are talking A LOT of kitschy paintings displayed in a big mass), and opposite that is a two-story carved wooden screen painted a VERY vivid shade of green.
Friend Robyn and I were seated between the Towering Wall O' Tacky Border Art and the Ginormous Green Room Divider. And at some point, apropos of not much, I remarked:
"You know, when my mom was pregnant with me, she knew that they would be moving immediately after, so she waited to decorate a nursery for me until we had settled in our new home - in El Paso. And, long story short, she ended up buying all of the stuff for my nursery across the border in Juarez. So, picture, if you will, my nursery basically looking like the interior of this restaurant."
Friend Robyn was silent for a moment. She appraised the room, and then me. And then she said:
"Well, THAT explains SO very much."
Two days later, I recounted this story to Friend Cynthia, and before I could repeat Robyn's comment, the same words were coming out of Cynthia's mouth.
Because my friends know me. And, thus, they are aware of my love for (in no particular order) embroidered Oaxacan dresses and blouses/jewelry made out of bottle caps and other junk/nylon mesh market bags with skulls on them/tissue paper flowers/papel picado/Day of the Dead memorabilia/loud colors/pinatas and MORE pinatas/oilcloth EVERYTHING/yard art made from rusted oil barrels/etc. A love that seems somewhat misplaced, given my Austrian/Hungarian/Slovenian/Scotch-Irish heritage but (as I have long suspected, and as my friends quickly deduced) MAY just have something to do with the fact that, in my formative months, I lived in what I imagine to be the baby nursery equivalent of a border-town cantina. When my little baby peepers first learned to focus, this is approximately what glared back at them:
Actually, the wooden panels in my room were of a much better quality than this - carved in high relief, with the designs accented with bright colors. Fairly sure one of them featured an owl. I also distinctly remember a smaller wooden panel with a three-dimensional clown attached to it, similar to this one:
Small wonder that I have always been a little unnerved by clowns?
I also remember having a doll almost exactly like this one:
Papier mache, lots of olive green paint with a high-gloss finish. Guessing that everything had lead in it. Tons and tons of lead.
There was a screen, not unlike the Ginormous Green Room Divider, except mine was less ginormous, and featured floral carvings painted a delightful shade of olive green and an equally delightful shade of sickening yellow.
I could go on.
It got into my blood (and I'm not just talking about the lead). When I was older, and living in Houston, I spent all of my tickets at the school carnival on giant tissue paper flowers, and crowns of paper flowers with ribbon streamers hanging from the sides, and cascarones And, every spring without fail, I had a pinata at my birthday party. Not a themed one - even after themed ones became available, I insisted on a burro. Because I was a purista. Fast-forward to early adulthood: I always insisted on celebrating my birthday, which happened to coincide with the NIOSA festival in San Antonio, on the Riverwalk (where there were lots of burro-shaped pinatas). Parker's first birthday party? A numero uno-themed fiesta. At Halloween, I break out the sugar skulls, and at Christmas, the garishly-painted tin ornaments get unpacked first and are displayed front and center, along with the corazons and other Mexican-inspired tree trim.
So, if you have ever wondered about my love of kitsch, and color, and colorful kitsch - well, there you go.
No summer trip to San Antonio with the fam would be complete (for me, at least) without a trip to the Mercado, typically accompanied by a meal (or at least a pastry) from Mi Tierra, which, like Chuy's, is decorated in Early Kathryn's Nursery:
We did not actually eat at Mi Tierra this year, or at its sister property, La Margarita. But we did spend some quality time in the Mercado, where the kids admired the maracas (all properly lead-painted and glazed) and the luchador masks (THEY HAD BATMAN! How did they resist? How did I resist?) before settling on marionettes (oh, I gravitated to those when I was a kid, as well).
Then they each got a bullwhip-cracking lesson.
I bought a tiny Mexican blouse for my friend's little girl (because quirky style starts early, my friends) and just generally soaked up the tissue paper-festooned awesomeness of it.
The ship de la madre had called me home.