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Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 7.1 (2005) 1-8
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A large machine sits in the back of a room. Wheel covered in black grease. A motor that shrugs back and forth. It is enormous. Bigger than the room. Bigger than a house. Bigger than the past and its own long life. It fills the room with its smell. A burning cloud. A grinding stone. It eats corn. More than anyone could. It gobbles it and changes it to something else. To money, to food, to questions and lifestyles. It prepares children for the rest of what will come and it is stable in its teaching. It is a father. It is a dirty smelly father that works and works and pushes and shoves out the meat of little kernels of corn.
The molino is the grinder in the back of this old worn-down garage turned kitchen. It shrugs and hums even when the doors of the kitchen are locked. A kitchen is the best place for changing. The best place to use every last drop. No morsels left behind. A brick wall divides two rectangular rooms that hold industrial-sized sinks, a six-burner gas stove, and stainless steel tables that never let anything go down the drain or fall to the floor. This kitchen doesn't wait for depressions or recessions or openings and closings. It is perpetual fire and water. The kitchen itself is so consumed with the grinder that it is also called by that name. The outsiders call it EL RAPIDO, but the insiders call it the Molino. It is fitting. It changes everything for the better, changes it to that which can feed us. Parts of it stay with us forever.
Girls in white aprons have scrambled here looking for their life in corn. Boys have gained strength here only to use it up while on the clock. For pennies. Workers and customers alike came here to have friends every day. To "meet and eat" read the retro Aztec calendars with half-naked princesses and muscular men in elaborate headdresses leaning over red mountaintops grazed by fiery sunsets. "Food you'll remember" for January through [End Page 1] December. Workers fussed and fussed over shredded cheese and chile and watched the bills pile up on the mixer. And yet they couldn't leave. Wouldn't leave until every last drop was consumed—until the sun finally set on this long workday. My father prayed and stirred. The lime-covered caldron of boiling nixtamal and the oar he stirred it with were even older than him. I watched it all. All the food and all the people and time that went by in that little garage kitchen. All over its black floor. I watched it all until they closed the door.
On Christmas we would see my father worn and red in the face. His day off from work at the Molino. My father is a tamale-maker. Not a chef, not a businessman nor a restaurant owner. Not even a cook. He is simply a tamale-maker. He prepared the thousands of tamales pulled from their steaming pots then laid on Styrofoam plates filling the Molino with its aroma. The smell of corn is like nothing else. It is the smell that lingers in the air as you pass through the border cities; it hangs upon the tongues of people from my family. It is the smell that turns to a color when it hits your brain—the color of cream. Then it fills the kitchens of the customers. The husks are tossed to expose the buttery taste of my great-grandfather's recipes. Always six on a plate with the juice running out the plastic wrap. My father made them this way all my life and most of his. Made them for Christmas mornings. Then he would sleep and watch football, recalling his glory high school days and his center position on the field. Short and fast in red and white jersey. He was an all-star. The stamina would remain forever, but...