I was seven years old when my sister and I were watching an episode of Leave it to Beaver. The one where Wally and Eddie get even with Lumpy for pulling pranks on them. They decided to chain Lumpy’s axle to a fence, they never expected the entire thing to come off the car. Lumpy jumped out of the car screaming “Daddy,” while Wally and Eddie ran for their lives. We were having fun, when suddenly something went terribly wrong.
We lived with foster parents in a two-family house in the north Bronx. They had two children of their own, a boy and a girl. I remember our foster mother more than her husband. She was a stocky woman. I remember her husband being short, slight, and silent. I don’t recall seeing him that much. I guess he was always working. Our foster mother was a housewife who was studying to be a beautician. She’d often set up her supplies in the kitchen, and then look for me. I was the petite, timid one with thick curly hair. So I was the guinea pig for her beautician experiments. How I hated the constant tugging, the rollers, and smelly potions. She made me feel like I had such horrible hair. My sister was two years older, bigger boned, and taller. She was more the tomboy. At times, she was also my protector. We lived on the first floor of the house. It had three bedrooms. My sister and I shared the big bedroom near the kitchen and back entrance to the house. I loved the backyard because there was an empty field where we used to run and play. Sometimes small snakes ventured into our backyard from the field. They were scary looking, but harmless.
The movie theater was around the corner. It was one of my favorite places. We went almost every week. I hated the spooky Vincent Price films; they were my sister’s favorites. I loved all the cartoons, the musicals, and comedies. Sometimes we would watch two films, back to back.
We went to catholic school three blocks away. We’d meet other kids in the neighborhood and walk to school each morning. It was a big school with a big playground and cafeteria. It was great having friends who lived on the block. The houses were close to one another and we dropped in at each others’ houses often. All of the parents in the neighborhood welcomed us equally. We would jump rope out in the street or play hop scotch, while the boys played stick ball. Once a few people came by with horses and we all took turns riding them. I remember the horse I rode was white. We had to stand on a stool to get up on the horses. The horse trainer held my hand as the horse started to move. How funny it felt to be so high up off the ground. After the rides finished, we gave the horses a small sugar cube.
One day, we were all in the living room when our foster parents’ friends stopped in to visit. The grownups went into the kitchen and soon we could hear the clatter of pots and pans. The smell of coffee and bread baking spread throughout the house. My sister was busy playing with our foster brother and sister. I was watching the show. Our foster mother came into the living room to give us candy. I chose a big round peppermint ball.
My sister and the others ripped into their candy and finished quickly. I kept my peppermint ball in the wrapper tightly in the palm of my hand. The show was just about to finish when I opened the wrapper and placed the peppermint candy in my mouth. It was large, but not so large that it didn’t fit in my mouth. At one point I thought I heard a lot of movement behind me, but was still watching the television. My sister bumped into me from behind and that’s when it happened. My peppermint candy ball slid back and was stuck in my throat. I jumped up. I couldn’t speak. What came out was “aack…aack”. I kept trying to spit it out. I tried coughing, but it wouldn’t budge. Now the foster siblings were on their feet shouting instructions at the same time. I remember hearing someone mention that I would have to go to the hospital. My sister began to slap me on the back. I think she thought that if she kept doing that it would either go down or come back up. Someone ran into the kitchen. I heard them talking fast, chairs being pushed, and shouts from the adults. I entered the kitchen just as our foster mother was heading toward the living room. One look at me and she grabbed me and pushed me near the kitchen sink. She reached for a spoon as she yelled, “Aye, mire lo que hizo esta niña,” look what this girl has done. She kept switching from one end of the spoon to the other as she tried to figure out which end should go in my mouth. It’s as if she was trying to scoop the damn thing out of my throat. All I saw was a shaky silver spoon heading toward me. Finally, she dropped the spoon and threw her hands up. I can tell you she was screaming other things, but I could not understand. I was too busy shaking and crying. I was warm and cold all at the same time.
Someone shoved a glass of water at me and I heard someone say drink, so I did. The peppermint ball didn’t budge. One woman stood up from the table and calmly said, “Darle un pedazo de pan; empujará el caramelo abajo,” give her a piece of bread; it will push the candy down. She handed me the bread as she motioned for me to put it in my mouth. I chewed it quickly and swallowed. The bread, along with my cherished peppermint ball started sliding down my throat, slowly. Then a glass of milk appeared and I drank it. I could feel the bread and candy ball traveling farther down. I just stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks breathing heavily. Everyone was looking at me. All I wanted to do was hide in my room. Our foster mother continued ranting in Spanish as I was shoved into a chair at the table. I heard someone say something about watching me to make sure I was okay.
As a kid, you don’t realize that the piece of candy in your throat is beginning to dissolve. It’s getting smaller and smoother, because your saliva is making it shrink. I could still breathe, so I guess I wasn’t in great danger. Maybe I was lucky because it was a peppermint ball. But I still liked sharing the story, and saying with great flare that on that day “the bread lady saved my life.”