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Being the second youngest of eleven children, you could say my father-in-law comes from a rather large family. He and his siblings take turns organizing and hosting the Carlo Family Reunion. With his brothers and sisters, their children, spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, it's a lot of people. To keep one person or family from bearing the duty of all the cooking, everyone brings a dish, side, dessert, or something for the dinner. It turns out to be an annual celebration where everyone eats very well.
I was making rolls for the Carlo Family reunion and having so much fun, I got carried away and made way too many! Eventually, I ran out of pans to bake them. I could have frozen the rest, but I prefer rolls to be made fresh for every meal. After filling my last two round cake pans, I still had a lot more dough. I needed to give some of these away.
I went to a couple of friends' houses to borrow a pan and a clean dish towel from each, then returned a short time later with a pan of rolls and baking instructions. I still had more dough at home.
I went to my neighbor's house. Francisco speaks very little English, and I speak even less Spanish. Still, we communicate well enough for our occasional meetings/bull sessions in the back alley. I knocked on his door to explain that I wanted to give them some rolls. He didn't understand.
His wife came to the door to see if she could help, but I think she speaks less English than Francisco. I asked if they had a nine by thirteen-inch cake pan. They didn't understand. He leaned on the banister and called up the open stairwell for his daughter.
His daughter, probably ten or eleven years old, came down the stairs with a youthful spring in her step. "Si Papa." He explained what he wanted, and she attempted to translate for us, but she didn't know what I meant either. "A nine by thirteen-inch baking pan? Do you mean a cookie sheet," she asked?
"Kind of, but it's deeper," I answered, holding my fingers to indicate two-inch sides. Her mom came from the kitchen with various cookie sheets, cake pans, muffin tins, and bakeware.
I nodded my head and took the rectangular pan she was holding. I told them I would bring it right back. "You want to borrow," Francisco asked?
"No," I replied, "I'm going to bring it right back with rolls in it."
He still didn't know what I meant but graciously offered to let me keep the pan, "Okay. You have it."
Then I asked if they had a clean dish towel that I could use to cover the rolls. Again, I didn't know the Spanish word for towel, and Francisco didn't know what I was asking for. His daughter had already returned upstairs, so I smiled, "I'll be right back."
I filled the pan with fifteen rolls and covered them with one of our clean dish towels. When I returned to Francisco's door with the pan covered with a green checked towel, he smiled, "Oh, Toalla." I assumed that to be Spanish for a towel. I lifted the corner of the checked cloth to show him the rolls inside. His eyes lit up, "Aah!" With this new visual, he understood what I had been trying to tell them. His wife waved for me to bring the pan to the kitchen.
I pointed to their wall clock to help communicate times. Using hand gestures, I said, "The rolls needed to raise for about 30 minutes under the towel," while running my finger from the twelve to the six. "Then bake them at 400 degrees (I pointed to the oven temperature setting, held up four fingers, then made two zero signs) for twelve to fifteen minutes" (pointing again to the clock). His wife nodded as I spoke. Finally, we all seemed to understand.
I went back to my kitchen, formed the remaining dough into rolls filling a pie pan. I covered them with another towel. They just needed to rise, then I could bake them and be off to the family reunion.
The next afternoon I went to Francisco's house to retrieve my towel. He was working in his shed. When he saw me coming, he walked out to cheerfully greet me in the driveway. I asked him how the rolls turned out. He nodded and said, "Very, very good." He smiled and continued, "They no more. They all gone." Waving his hands like an umpire making a safe call at home plate, he repeated, "All gone, right away. My wife bake, and they all gone. We eat them all." That made me smile.
A sparkle came over his soft brown eyes. He patted his chest over his heart and said, "My mom in Mexico make very the same. Just like my Mama." A tear welled up in his eyes. Although we spoke different languages, I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice – very fond memories had been rekindled.
Francisco took my hand with his right hand and affectionately covering it with his left. Then, while shaking my hand, still with that look in his eye, he said, "Gracias. Mucho gracias mi amigo." I understood that very clearly. Then he gave me a hug.
Feeling the depth of sentiment within his embrace, I fought back a tear of my own. Who knew one extra pan of rolls could bring another man such joy? When he let me go, I said, "You're welcome. I will make more for you sometime." Francisco smiled. They say the smile is a universal language. His hug and smile said it all.
When we allow communications to come earnestly from the heart, in both talking and listening, in giving and receiving – speaking different languages cannot stand as a barrier.
On that day, everyone was understood; love was felt. We said our farewells, and I left, forgetting all about the green checkered dish towel I went to retrieve. My heart was so full I thought it could burst. Grinning all the way home, I walked up the alley feeling lighter than air.