Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: La Puerta Automática

Of course by now it is clear that Greasy and Grubby are the best of friends, and that Julia, who has been often separated from Greasy and Grubby by barriers of language and distance, is precious to them both and they to her.

This friendship is a mystery. A miracle. A gift from God. It is rooted in hugs, and laughter, and tears and stories and the stuff of life that three women whisper about in a hot and tiny room late into the night.

One of the all-time favorite stories that these three share is the story of "La Puerta Automática" - "The Automatic Door."

Grubby had a video camera. It was back when video cameras were big and clunky, and making a movie was a seriously public spectacle because there was no chance of filming anything surreptitiously. "Can we make a movie about your house?" Greasy boldly asked. "We can use it to teach the children in Sunday School about a typical house in El Salvador." It was also a good way to fill some time on a sweaty afternoon when the conversation was lagging due to Grubby's complete lack of Spanish skills and Greasy's mental exhaustion from cleaning the rust off of her high school Spanish...

Grubby turns on the camera. Julia begins to show us her home: the living room with the old hunk of foam on a metal frame for a sofa and metal chairs, some with crimson pads and some with boards for seats; the bedroom with bunk beds stacked with papers and twin beds made from cardboard on metal wires with pads on top where Greasy and Grubby slept. In front of the camera, Julia is a natural, her inner Vanna White emerging as she gestures grandly toward this and that while giving detailed descriptions. As she emerges from the bedroom, Julia pulls the big hunk of cardboard which separates the bedroom from the living room across the opening between the furniture and proudly introduces her "puerta automática." We stifle giggles behind the camera, as does Julia while she describes the deluxe features of the puerta automática in fine info-mercial style.

Suddenly Julia remembers something she has to show us in the bedroom -- the ventana automática! This is the automatic window shutter which is made from a large square board which is held up by a hunk of telephone pole, wedged between the twin beds at a 45 degree angle to the wall. That very morning, Greasy and Grubby had been startled by a dinner-plate-size scorpion which had crawled out from behind the ventana automática as it was being opened.

After demonstrating the closing and opening of the window, Julia clasps her hands and thanks the audience. A voice off camera (her husband) jokingly says, "What about the china cabinet?"

Julia leads the camera over to behind the house door and moves it aside to reveal the kitchen. The old 1950's style table is held up by an odd wooden leg and covered with plastic buckets, pots and a propane burner. The china cabinet is a wire and plastic rack which is filled with a colorful assortment of china and plastic dishes. Now, the tour is complete.

Grubby turned off the camera. Everyone started laughing with Julia about the puerta
automática. This was Julia's way of really breaking the ice, of letting down her guard and poking a little fun at her own situation, of sharing with us her wit and her spunk.

All these years later, if one of us pops a board onto an overturned bucket to make a seat, we brilliantly announce, "la silla
automática" and think back to the first time in which we appreciated God's gift of humor and friendship together.


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