Papa’s Secret World

I raced to the kitchen as soon as I heard the door open I could hear my mamá’s footsteps creak across the wooden floor She stood over the table panting A small puff of chicken feathers rose above her head

“Did you kill it?” I felt upset that Mamá had to kill my pollito But she and I would give Papá a surprise for this Friday’s meal

“You know hijito it would be easier if we would let your papá in on our plan”

Mamá was right We could never keep a secret from Papá But Papá had a lot of secrets of his ownlike the candles

“Hijito” she said ” It’s Friday es tiempo time to get Papá’s candles”

I hated going over to the church rectory every Friday Doña Juana was a witch a real bruja She always answered the door “Why couldn’t Padre Onofro just once answer the door why Doña Juana?”

I prayed “¿ Qué quieres ? What do you want?” her wispy wet spit hit my face

“I’m here to pick up the candles for the meeting tonight” I stepped into the rectory foyer She disappeared into another room I squished my eyes shut so I wouldn’t have to look at all the morose paintings of sorrowful saints hanging on the walls

“Only good children become Santos ” My eyes were forced open

I backed up against the door Doña stuffed the box of candles into my hands and scolded “Now don’t lose these!”

I tucked the candles under my coat and flew out the door By the time I got back home Papá was sitting waiting for me in the parlor

“Papá why is Doña Juana so evil?”

“No she is not evil she is just mad ” he said

“Mad about what?” I was confused She lived a good life

He smiled at me “Mad that she will never eat a fine chicken the likes of what your mother plucks and makes”

“How did you find out about the chicken?”

He laughed “You can’t keep secrets from me Now where are the candlesunder your coat perhaps?”

I pulled them out disgusted that he seemed to know everything I handed them to him As I did so I noticed a small fringe sticking out from under his vest I grabbed it

“What is this?”

He pulled the fringe out of my hand “I have fringes under my vest You have candles under your coat”

Later that night after the scrumptious dinner of chicken roasted potatoes and deep fried empanaditis de calabaza Papa and my older brother Enrique got ready for the meeting

“Are you sure I can’t go? ” I begged

Mamá reminded me “It’s only for the men ”

“Enrique is only a boy!” I protested

“I’m thirteen!” Enrique retorted

I wanted to know in the worst way what it was they did every Friday night at the morada But this night was different This time I had to get a whole box of candles

I stopped Papá “Are you just going tonight?”

Enrique pushed me away from the door “None of your business!”

“It will soon be your business too hijito Until then stay and help your mamá with your hermanito Evaristo”

Papá and Enrique quickly scooted out the door I rushed to the window I swore I was going to find out my Papá’s secret no matter what Later when my mother and Evaristo fell asleep I snuck out The night air stung my face The black December sky was eerie Tonight

I refused to be afraid If I could go to the church by myself to get the candles I could find the prayer house myself The path to the morada was long I glanced at the stars and prayed a cloud wouldn’t hide them I scurried and tripped here and there over rocks and sticks The morada sat alone on top a hill behind Don Manual’s old barn I fell to my knees crawled over to the small adobe building and hid under one of the lit windows I stopped breathing when someone came up to the window peered out as if to make sure the coast was clear and then closed the curtains quickly Luckily I could peek through the small slit between the curtain panels I saw my father praying He held his fringe and kissed it as he rocked back and forth A small box sat on top of an altar in the front of the room

Two men opened the box Goosebumps crawled up my neck They pulled out una candelabra A flood of excitement and confusion passed through me when they lit the candles: But only two? There were more candlesat least seven more The next night and the next night and the night after that I snuck out to the morada Each night they lit one more candle and the candelabra glowed brighter and brighter until all the velas were lit

The last night I wanted to stay longer enough to see all the candles burn out Instead I fell asleep under the window I didn’t wake up until a down pour of snowflakes awoke me My father and Enrique towered over me

“You could’ve frozen idiot!” Enrique scolded

“I wanted to see! You get to see!”

Papá pulled me up to my feet His eyes bore into mine “Well?”

My face flushed and burned “My candles went to good use?”

My father’s head hung down “I’ll speak to you once I get home Now get on”

I could hear his heavy footsteps cross the floor to my room “Levi?”

I quaked “¿Si? ”

“What did you see?” He was more curious than mad

“I saw you light the candles You rock back and forth funny when you pray”

He lifted the fringe “It’s because I pray like a Jew”

“You’re not Jewish!” I protested

I felt the bed sink in as Papa sat closer to me ’I am a Jew You are a Jew We are hidden Jews”

I blurted out “Does Doña Juana know? Is that why she is so mean to us?”

“I will tell you a secret Doña Juana is Jewish too” Suddenly I felt betrayed Every Sunday I had to go to church and look at that ugly Doña Juana She would sneer at me every chance she got And what do you know? She was just like us! But then I thought we are like Jesus We are Jews like Jesus so:

“Why do we hide? Jesus was a Jew Papá?”

“Yes Jesus was a Jew but once Jesus died many people blamed the Jews for killing him So this is why we still hide When your abuelito Emilio’s great grandfather came to the valley from España he was running away He came to this country for freedom But once he arrived the persecutors followed So he and many other people like us tuvimos que esconder So this last week we light one candle every night and hope for freedom”

“Why now? Why don’t we pray like this everyday? If we light a lot of candles everyday won’t Gd see us and save us?”

“Levi Gd sees us and has watched over us for many years but not until the people see our goodness will we have freedom”

“Then let’s fight for our freedom! Like Judah did ”

My father looked surprised “So you have been listening to my stories”

“I love your stories Papá: but not all these secrets” Then I feared

“What about mi mamá y Evaristo?”

Papa shook his head and laughed “Tu mamá could barely catch your pollito today”

She was a strong woman but I knew Papá needed me to keep his secret

“I will take care of Mamá y Evaristo when you and Enrique go to the morada”

Papá chuckled ” Like tonight?”

My eyes winced and my face flushed “I needed to know”

“I know” Father stood up from the bed brushed my hair and blessed me good night

In the morning I would think more about what my father had said But I had other things on my mind

“Papá can we send Enrique to get the candles instead?”

“We’ll see we’ll see “When he closed the door I remembered how all the lit candles kept me safe under the window of the morada that night I wouldn’t be afraid any more

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