Somehow I feel as if this entry should begin, “At the far end of town, where the grickle-grass grows….”
Four blocks off Route 66, at the far end of Meyer Avenue, sits a tiny purple house with cracked stucco walls, peeling yellow trim, and a yard full of chipped, mismatched lawn ornaments; crucifixes welded together from scrap metal; and kinetic sculptures built out of soda cans and old bicycle wheels. For some reason, every time I see it, I think of the Once-ler’s house from The Lorax.
This morning, as I am jogging past the house, I notice something I’ve never seen before: a small, hand-lettered sign in the front window that says, “Abuelito’s Tienda de Cosas Esotericas y Religiosas.” Below it is a smaller sign stating: “OPEN/ABIERTO 4th Wednesdays/Miercoles 8-2.”
Abuelito’s Tienda de Cosas Esotericas y Religiosas comprises the living room, hall, and one bedroom of the house. The walls are lined with shelves: particle-board shelves, plastic utility shelves, chrome wire shelves, metal faux-woodgrain shelves from the ’70s, repurposed-milk-crate shelves, and shelves made of 2x4s laid across cinderblocks with elaborate spiderwebs stretched across the openings.
On the shelves are battered Bibles, dogeared copies of the Catechism, and thousands of different books about religion and spirituality — some in English, but most of them translated into Spanish — alongside jar candles with pictures of at least 200 different saints pasted on the sides; small statues of the Virgin Mary (everything from six-inch-high plastic figurines to two-foot concrete figures suitable for placement in outdoor shrines); St. Christopher medallions; an enormous flock of angels rendered in various media; rosaries; an assortment of crosses made of everything from wood to dried chiles; incense burners shaped like churches; candle snuffers; censers; a few colorful handmade retablos; and three bushel baskets filled with every imaginable kind of milagro. Lining the hallway are dozens of jars of mysteriously labeled herbs, powders, leaves, and twigs, and in the back room is a vast collection of small objects and amulets that look as if their purpose might involve some kind of voodoo.
Every flat surface in the store is covered with merchandise, and every piece of merchandise is covered with a thick layer of dust. The whole house smells like candle wax and rose oil and age.
Presiding over an ancient cash register at the center of the ill-lit emporium is Abuelito himself — a very short, very old black man with a bald head, bushy gray beard and mustache, and accusing eyes. Abuelito (literally “Little Grandpa”) gives the impression of being the sort of man who knows all the secrets of the world, including (and maybe especially) yours.
Abuelito sits on a creaky wooden stool between the saint candles and the milagros, guarding the cash register, while a three-legged pit bull with a brindle face and white paws lies next to the stool, guarding Abuelito.
I want to ask Abuelito a thousand questions. Instead, I just smile shyly and buy a handful of interesting milagros, a rose-scented jar candle emblazoned with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a half-dozen books.