THE SPANISH LESSON by Lucille Hedges
Weekday mornings we savvy San Diegans hung out in the coffee shop on the corner of Broadway and Third. Their danish was to die for, the huge homemade cinnamon rolls were drenched in warm sugar frosting, and the coffee, fresh, hot, and ten cents a cup. We all came early, possessed by the vain hope that we would find a parking spot in the shadow of the tall structures downtown. In 1957 the tallest being our building on the corner, the U.S. Grant and the El Cortez Hotels – each a lofty twelve stories.
I parked on Third, directly behind our offices, in Mr. Rodriguez’ tiny lot wedged between the monoliths. He always saved a special spot for me. Mustachioed, his silver hair crowned with a generously-brimmed cowboy hat, he always made me smile. We chatted for a moment. Sometimes he brought me a rose from his garden, other times it was a picture of his newest grandchild. And once, a snap shot of a family afternoon in the park -- Little Ricardo’s birthday party. El Chico he called him. Little Ricardo was now twenty three, no longer little, and working in the coffee shop next to the lot.
At seven thirty in the morning, the streets of San Diego were already abuzz. I slid into my usual booth by the window and waited for Ricardo to bring my order: Coffee, black and a cinnamon roll. Same thing every morning.
Outside a kaleidoscope of vivid colors – reds, blues, oranges swirled past. The city’s celebratory month-long Fiesta was in high gear. Costumes reflecting our Spanish heritage were the outfit of the day -- every day. I had piled my hair high on my head and caught it with a rhinestone encrusted comb, donned a soft peasant blouse over a tiered ankle-length red skirt and wrapped myself in a lacy scarlet scarf. I felt every inch a Spanish lady and I was having fun with it.
“Ah, Senora, como esta?” Ricardo smiled broadly and set down my plate.
“I hope you’re asking me how I am, ‘cause my Spanish is extremely limited.”
“I am have some trouble with the English.” He learned over the table. His look turned serious. “You could teach me, maybe?”
“We-e-l-l-l, I’m having a problem myself. I learned French in college.” I was an art major, and my eastern education was certainly not a preparation for bilingual conversation in sunny Southern California.
“How about after work we have coffee and make a trade? I’ll teach you English, and you can teach me Spanish.”
”Of course I teach you. You know some Spanish?”
“Is possible you tell me what you know?” He caught me off guard. I wasn’t prepared for that and found myself groping desperately for a Spanish phrase, but none came to mind. Then, inspiration. The words to a popular song:
“Yo te quiero mucho…” I replied.
His grin broadened, “You know enough!”