The Acentos Review


After Bobo died in Korea, Negros and Jesse joined the Marines, but Ricardo stayed on in the neighborhood. He changed jobs, moving from stocking shelves for Flores at La Tienda, to keeping books for Tio at Los Hermanos. Ricardo was good with numbers, and it was Tio who planted the idea in Ricardo’s head about attending college.

“What are you gonna do with your life, Ricardo?” Tio asked one morning.

“I don’t know. Something.”

“Something? What something? You gonna be a book keeper? You do a good job.”

“I don’t know. Keeping books is okay, but it’s not very exciting.”

“Exciting you want? You should have joined the Marines with Jesse and Negros. You know what you ought to do kid? You ought to go to college.”

“College? I can’t go to college.”

“Why not? Anybody can go to college. Even I could have gone.”

“I don’t think I’m smart enough.”

“Sure you are. Look how you do the books. Did you ever have any training to do books?”

“No, just accounting in high school.”

“See how smart you are? Really compadre, you should walk over to Wilson College and see about it. You don’t want to work in a bar all of your life do you?

“Well, you do?”

“Sure, but if I had it to do over, I would have gone to college after I got out of the army. I was full of piss and vinegar and didn’t want to be one of those college boys, but I should have gone. Now I’ve got the bar and make a decent living, so what the hell; but you, you’re young. You should do it.”

“What would I be?”

“Hell, I don’t know; but with a college degree you could be anything you want, a lawyer or something, a teacher maybe.”

Ricardo worked silently on the bills for a few moments without responding further. The idea of going to college had never before entered his mind. No one in his family had ever gone, and no one had ever suggested it. It was a revelation to him that it was a real possibility.

“It might be nice to be a teacher,” he said, looking up at Tio. “I like little kids. I sit on the front porch with my father and mother sometimes and watch the kids in the neighborhood playing Kick the Can and stick ball, just like we played when we were kids. They’re fun to watch, but teaching them, I don’t know.”

Ricardo pondered the idea for a couple of weeks without mentioning it at home. He let the idea germinate and take shape, until one evening when he and his grandmother, mother and father were sitting on the front porch listening to a White Sox ballgame, when he said,

“I think I’m going to go to college. I’m going to try to be a teacher.”

“College?” His father said incredulously. “What are you talking about?”

“College,” His mother repeated with great wonder in her voice.

“La Universidad?” His grandmother asked.

“Si, Abuela, la Universidad. Yo quiero ser un professor de los ninos.”

“Bueno, nieto. Es muy importante, un professor.”

“A teacher?” His father asked. “You want to teach little kids?”

“I think so.”

“How are you going to pay for that?”

“A couple of weeks ago I talked to the admissions lady at Wilson Teachers College. She said I could get financial help, maybe even some scholarship money in my second year if I do well.”

“Ricardo?” His mother said, “You never tole me you wanted to be a teacher.”

“I know. I didn’t think about it until a couple weeks ago. Tio asked me what I was going to do with my life, and he suggested I look into going to college.”

“No one in this family has ever gone to college,” his father said with a hint of pride in his voice. “You’d be the first. My son the college boy. Ain’t that a kick in the ass?”

“Leno, please! The boy is serious.”

“I can see he’s serious. It’s still a kick in the ass. How about that? My son is going to be a teacher.”

So, in the fall, Ricardo entered Wilson Teachers College, right there in the neighborhood.

Wilson Teachers College was on the same campus with Parker Elementary School and Parker High School. The elementary school and the college were joined by an enclosed walkway on the second floor, and Ricardo had been taught by many student teachers during his elementary and high school years. He was a little surprised that he’d not thought of that until after Tio and he had spoken, even though once in his high school drama class they walked to the college to watch a play.

In September, Ricardo discovered a wonderful world he had never imagined. It was a world he, Jesse and Negros had never once talked about, even though they had classmates who had gone there after high school graduation. They were, however, generally the aldermen’s sons and daughters, or the children of lawyers, but not the children of common laborers, and certainly not the grandson of a alcoholic, spike driver for the railroad.

He was mesmerized by the novels he was reading in a literature class, which included Tortilla Flat by a writer named John Steinbeck, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, by a guy named Ernest Hemingway; and although neither writer was Mexican or Spanish, both books featured native people, and he was impressed to know they’d been written about by writers one read in college.

Ricardo made new friends with people his own age, and some veterans going to school on the G.I. Bill to become teachers. He discovered that people from outside the neighborhood visited with him easily, and that he too could visit with complete strangers, and in a few days they weren’t strangers anymore. They, like him, were young people hoping to be teachers, hoping to step into a lifelong career, instead of following in their father’s footsteps and just getting a good steady job.

One afternoon in early November, when the trees were turning and the morning chill hinted at winter, Ricardo had just left a teaching methods class and was sitting on the expansive front steps of Wilson College when he saw his mother walking down one of the long sidewalks that bisected the campus lawn. She looked lost, uncertain, as if she were walking on holy ground. Ricardo jumped up and descended the steps two at a time. He ran to her, calling,

“Madre? Que pasa? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, Ricardo, es malo. It’s bad.”

She held him in a fierce hug and sobbed into his shoulder.

“Tell me. Is it Dad? Has something happened to him?” 
She held him at arm’s length, and through her tears said,

“Iss tu Abuela. She’s had a stroke.”

“Grandma has had a stroke? How bad is it?” He asked, fearful now.

“You better come.”

Ricardo’s grandmother had been taken to Cook County Hospital, which served the poorer families in Chicago. When Ricardo and his mother arrived, they found his father sitting by her side holding her hand. He was visibly upset, and responded typically, with anger.

“These goddam doctors. With the money they make you’d think they could tell us how she’s going to be, and all they can say is we have to wait and see.”

“Leno,” Ricardo’s grandmother mother said firmly to her son. “Go smoke a cigarette. I wan to talk wi Ricardo.”

“Okay, Ma. I’ll go in the hall, but call me if you need me. I’ll be right here.”

He stood, and he and Ricardo’s mother stepped into the hall.

Ricardo sat on his grandmother’s bed and took her hands in his. Her face was pulled down on the left side, her left eye and her mouth sagged, but she smiled a crooked smile at him and squeezed his hand with her right hand.

“You’re going to be all right, Abuela. The doctors will take care of you.”

“Si, Ricardo, Iss going to be all ri, but I am going to die.”

“No! Abuela. You’re not going to die. Don’t say that.”

“Ricardo, I haf live a long time, and iss time for me to see Dios, y Jesus, y Santa Maria. Iss just time. Iss okay. Yo no tengo miego. I am not afraid.”

“Oh, Abuela. I don’t want you to die.”

“I won’t die today. I wait for Pa.”

“Pa? Pa is in Mexico somewhere. He’s been gone for a year. He could even be dead. Pa’s not coming back.”

“Ah! Ricardo, Pa no es muerto. He is not dead, but he will know that I am approaching my death. He will come home. You will see. Din’t he always come home?”

“Si, Abuela, he has always come home; but how can he know of your illness?”

“Iss something you don’t understand. Iss between your grandfather and me, but iss not Pa I am worry about, it’s Leno. You know how your father is. He will be angry when I go. You have to help him stay out of trouble. Don’t let him hit your mother. Don’t say anything that will make him hit you. Help him.”

“Why he’s like that, I’ve never understood. Why does he have only two moods, angry and angrier?”

“Ricardo, when your father wass born, Pa dint want him, and one day while I wass at the store, he gave the baby away to a family that wass leaving for Mexico, and when I got home I searched house to house until I found him.”

“He gave your baby away?”

“Si, but it wass okay. I found him; but Pa, he never loved Leno. I don’t know why. He wass always mean to the boy, and Leno, he couldn’t understand. Sometimes, after Leno wass asleep, Pa would come home with his friends in their, how you say, borrachera?”


“Si, he would come and wake your father up to play la guitarra and sing songs to the men. It wass so hard on your father. And sometimes when Leno would do something bad, like boys do, Pa would make Leno kneel in the hill of the ants, and they would bite him, and Leno would cry, ‘I’m sorry Pa. I won’t do it again. I’ll be good, Pa.’ ”

“One day, Leno and his friends stay home from school to play el beisbol in a field, and when Pa find out, he try to run the boys down with his horse and wagon. Back and forth across the field he chase them until the horse just fell down and died.”

“Oh, Abuela, I didn’t ever know how it was. That explains a lot.”

“Some things are best not spoken, but now you must try to understand and help your father after I am gone. Thas how it wass. Thas why your father run away when he wass twelve years old.”

“You mean that’s why Dad came to Chicago on the freight train? To get away from Pa?”

“Si, es verdad.”

“But they get along okay now. They stand against me all of the time.”

“I know. Since Leno became a man, Pa iss proud of him; but listen Ricardo. After I am gone, be kind to your father. Help him.”

“I will, Abuela. I will.”

“I sleep now,” she whispered. “I feel tired.”

“Okay, you sleep. I’ll go in the hall with the others.”

“And don’t worry. I wait for Pa now. He comes soon.”

At the dinner table that evening, Ricardo told his parents what his grandmother said about waiting for Pa before dying.

“Don’t pay any attention to that,” his father said. “This stroke has scrambled her mind. Pa isn’t coming home, and we all know it”.

“She said she’d wait for him to show up before she dies. She said he’ll know she had the stroke. It’s like mental telepathy. We read about it recently in my psychology class.”

“You sure learn fast, don’t you, college boy?” 

The next day after classes, Ricardo went to the hospital and sat with his grandmother. Her condition had changed a bit for the worse. She wasn’t as lucid as she had been, and her speech came with more difficulty.

“Como esta, Abuela?”

“Not so good. I’m tired, more and more tired. It feels like life is running slowly out of me, like una glaso de arena.”

“An hour glass?”


Looking into her aged, brown face, Ricardo said,

“Oh Abuela, I’m going to miss you. You have been my friend for so long. Remember the time Frankie got stabbed in the church? I don’t know what I would have done without you; and the time you sent Pa to help me when I sneaked out with Eddie and Stosh. You’ve been a good grandmother to me.”

“Yo recuerdo. I remember. My special memory iss when we go to see Cantinflas at the pelicula.”

“The movies?”

“Si, and you would laugh and laugh.”

“You’re the one who laughed. I’d never seen you laugh so much.”

“And now you go to the college. Now you will teach. You will be a good teacher, Ricardo. Jus think. All the children will call you Mr. Vega with great respect.”

“Well, I just hope I’ll make it.”

“You will be a good teacher. I have prayed to Santa Maria, our Holy Father and all the saints. It is a certainty you will make it. And remember, Ricardo, always to walk with the Lord. He will help you to be a good man.”

“I will, Abuela. I will.”

“I rest now. This iss the lass time we talk. Pa will come in the night, and I will go to God. Goodbye nieto, my grandson. Adios mi Pobrecito.”

Ricardo laid his head on her breast and sobbed. She patted his back with her good hand.

“Sh! Sh! Iss okay, Ricardo. Iss okay.”

Late in the night Ricardo woke to pounding on the back door. When he reached the kitchen his father had just snapped on the porch light and was looking through the glass panel. Ricardo’s mother stood by the stove in her robe. It was raining hard.

“Who’s out there?” His father demanded.

“Iss Pa. Let me in.”

Mr. Vega looked closely at the face of the man on the porch.

“You’re not Pa. Pa has a mustache.”

“I shave my mustache.”

“Pa wouldn’t shave his mustache. I’ve never seen my Pa without one.”

“Leno, tu eres estupido. I’m your father. Now open the door.”

“Don’t call me stupid you old bastard!”

“What’s happen to Manuela?” Pa asked.

That did the trick, and Leno Vega opened the door to admit his father. Ricardo actually laughed. In all his life, he’d never heard anyone speak to his father like that without them getting beaten bloody.

Once inside, Pa slapped the water from his jacket.

“Donde esta Manuela?” He asked.

“She’s in the hospital,” Ricardo’s mother told him. “She’s had a stroke. It’s very bad.”

“Donde estan Salvador y Rosa?”

“Salvador is driving from Detroit now. They should be here in the morning. They’re working for General Motors now. Rosa and Pablo have been up to see her already.”

“We go now. Immediamente!” Pa ordered.

“It’s good you’ve come,” the doctor told them upon their arrival. “Your mother has had another stroke, just fifteen minutes ago. I doubt she’ll live until morning.”

They gathered around her bed, with Pa sitting on the bed with his wife. He had his cap in his hand, which was a shock to Ricardo. In all his years, he’d never seen Pa without his cap. He ate in it and he slept in it. He had it on when he went to the bathroom, and he had it on when he came out. The only time Ricardo had ever seen Pa remove his hat, and then only momentarily, was when Pa wiped the sweat from his head when he ate hot chilies.

Ricardo’s grandmother looked shrunken under the blankets, but her eyes were bright. She smiled her crooked smile..

“You see, Ricardo? He came home for me, just like I tole you.”

“Yes, he did,” Ricardo whispered, the lump in his throat limiting his speech.

“Now, all of you go into the hall and leave me with Pa. Adios mi familia. Leno, don’t be angry. Be good to your family. Adios, nieto, my good grandson. Adios, mi nuera, my daughter-in-law. Tell Salvador and Rosa I love them. I go to the Lord. I’ll wait for them there.”

After hugging her, Ricardo’s father and mother went in to the hall. Ricardo lingered a minute. He leaned down and looked into her eyes. It was difficult for him to see through his tears. He kissed her forehead.

“Adios mi Abuela, la Abuela de mi corazon.”

Ricardo joined his parents in the hall, where they sat quietly. His mother had her rosary in her hands, praying. His father stared at the floor. After only a few minutes, Pa stepped into the hall, his cap back on his head. He wasn’t crying, but his eyes were red.

“Manuela Esparsa Vega has gone away. We go home now.”

Mass was held for Manuela Esparsa Vega three days later at St. Theresa del Pobre. She was interred in the same cemetery where Pa had rescued Ricardo from the open grave on Halloween night not so long ago. Family and friends gathered at the house, drank lots of beer and wine, and sang Spanish songs far into the night. Finally, Ricardo, exhausted and needing to get some sleep to be able to attend classes the next morning, went to his room and climbed into his bed. He’d been asleep half the night when Pa suddenly sat heavily on his bed. Pa put his arm on Ricardo’s shoulder.

“Ricardo, I go now. Ma iss gone, and I won’t come back.”

“Abuelo? Are you going to Mexico forever?”

“Si, nieto, to Mexico, para siempre. Forever”

He dropped something heavy into Ricardo’s lap.

“Here, I want you to have this. Iss from the old days. You keep it.”

Ricardo let his hands run over the object and discovered it to be a holstered .44 caliber revolver. The gun belt was filled with bullets. He lifted it from his blanket.

“Abuelo? So, it’s all true?”

“Of course it’s is true. Did you think I was a liar?”

“No, uh, I just…”

“You’re right. I am a liar, but not about that. Never mind. Iss yours now; and Ricardo, don’t let your father know you have it. When he is drunk, he might shoot you.”

He stood up, and swayed for a moment, unsteady on his feet. Then he did something Ricardo truly had never seen him do. He made a clicking sound in his throat and grinned at Ricardo, revealing his one gold tooth, which flashed in the hallway light.

“Adios muchacho!”

“Adios, Abuelo. Vaya con Dios.”

Ricardo’s grandfather walked down the hallway through the kitchen  to the back door. He let himself out quietly. Ricardo listened to him descend the back stairs. He pondered the mystery of his grandmother and grandfather’s relationship, and after a while fell asleep contented.

In the morning when Ricardo entered the kitchen, his mother and father were sitting at the breakfast table.

“Pa’s, gone,” his father said. “His bed hasn’t been slept in.”

“I heard him go in the night,” Ricardo shared. “I heard his footsteps on the stairs.”

“He could have said goodbye,” his father complained.

“I think he said goodbye to the one he needed to,” Ricardo said.

“What is this, more of your psychology? I don’t know, college boy, if this education is such a good idea after all.”

Ricardo laughed, leaned over and good-naturedly slapped his father on the back..

“Oh, dear Father, we’re going to enjoy my education, we are.” 


Adios Mi Abuela


Michael Aleman was born into a Mexican-American family and raised in Chicago. Though his mother was German, his culture was clearly Hispanic. His paternal grandfather was Martin Aleman; his grandmother Manuela Esparsa Aleman, and both have influenced stories in a book of fourteen stories.

At fifteen, he moved to Wyoming and has lived in the West and Pacific Northwest ever since. He married the girl he met when she was thirteen and he was fifteen. After leaving the U.S. Navy, they married and attended college together. They have been married 45 years. They do have a good time. They are both retired teachers.


He taught middle school and secondary school English most of his career and spent four years at Whitworth University in Spokane teaching in the School of Education and supervising student teachers. He also supervised student teachers for Washington State University.


Today, as a retired teacher, he spends many hours writing, and is blessed to have poetry and short story publications periodically.