In my mom’s view, Summer was the perfect babysitter. She was in her teens, about 16 or 17. She was a longtime neighbor and trusted friend. I’d known her since I was in diapers and our mothers were close friends, BFFs even. Even though she stressed out her mom, Mary, she got along well with my mom who was a little younger and more like a friend. We (my siblings) liked Summer too. She wasn’t too cool for us, or bossy or mean. She was like a big sister. She lived three houses away; and even when her family moved to another part of Hacienda Heights, she was still close by.
She had curly dirty blonde hair and a round face. She looked white despite the fact that her mom was Filipina. She introduced me to the concept of a junior college and had the Cure and the Smiths posters on her wall. I liked her.
My parents were out on a date night or busy at church. Either way, they were both out of the house and Summer had been called over to watch me and my siblings, four kids ages 5 to 11. Any other babysitter would’ve turned down the job, but Summer was cool with us. She knew we wouldn’t act up with her.
Before leaving, my mom had cooked ground beef with potatoes and peas for yummy soft tacos. All Summer had to do was warm up the meat, tortillas and set out the fixings. She began warming up the meat. Next, she brought out the package of Guerrero tortillas, took a small stack, placed them on a plate* and warmed them up in the microwave.
“Can you do that?” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah, I do it all the time,” she replied nonchalantly.
I was still suspicious. Even though I was still too young to really help in the kitchen, I knew microwaving a tortilla was not right. I liked my tortillas slightly toasted on the comal or even the open flame.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t allowed to use the stove.
When the microwave beeped, Summer got out the soggy tortillas and filled them with meat. She gave us our plates and we added cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
I gobbled up my tacos. They were yummy, but different.
A few hours later, we went to bed and Summer waited up for my parents. When my dad gave her a ride home later that night, she turned down the money he offered as payment for baby-sitting. When he insisted, she still said no. Her mom wouldn’t approve.
Looking back on the tortilla incident 20 years later, I’m not sure why it still resonates. Then, it was the first time I realized my family and I were different from white people, but it wasn’t about color or language. I’d noticed the physical differences much earlier as children often do.
Heating a tortilla in the microwave? Mundane, quotidian and easy to miss, but still weird.
I guess it really is about the little things.