My first tamale was as Charles Barkley would say — “terrible, just terrible.”
I found her mother (the future House Elf) and her grandmother in the kitchen making things with cheese and corn. Mom and grandma were both short, dark and chatting in what sounded like Spanish.
Her grandmother pointed at me, and looked at the Bear. “Su Novio.”
The Savages were acting like the Bear brought home the blue ribbon bull from the Graham County Fair. Even when I was young and thinner, I was no prize — something was up.
They were “worried” about the Bear. She was more than 25, single, and the last two people she brought home were women — one was clearly out of the closet (volleyball coach).
I’ve never been a boxer, but apparently, I was the great “straight” hope.
I was fresh off the boat from Ohio. We sat down to the first meal. There was a stack of stuff covered in cheese (enchiladas, I later learned) and a stack of what looks like corn on the cob that people “re-husked”.
I grabbed the corn husk thing and started eating. I was chewing and ripping and ruminating like a anxious cow. The “outside” was really tough and rubbery, (still better than Kale). The inside was really good.
“Those are tamales,” one of the Savages said. “You don’t eat the husk.”
I didn’t want to look like an idiot.
“I know what it is,” I said. “But this is how we eat them in Ohio.”
The rest of the Savages shrugged and let me eat the all the husks on my plate without further comment.
On Sunday, the family pulled me to their local Catholic church. The service was in Spanish. Her entire family knew all the responses by heart. And I didn’t hear English again until we got back in the car.
OK, so her mother’s side of the family is Mexican.
That night we had pot roast covered in salsa that was just fucking good. I was choking and sweating and slogging it down as fast as I could in a vain attempt to stay ahead of the “burn”. Ever since, I have never been able to eat pot roast without salsa.
I held on to the belief that the Savages were half-Mexican for months. When it finally came up in a casual conversation about wedding plans, the Bear got a little offended.
“Why the hell would you think that?”
The tamales, the enchiladas, the Catholic church in Spanish, the hot sauce on pot roast — all fake news.
“We are Italian.” she said with kind of a weird pride that still confuses me a little.
Turns out the other family recipe is raviolis. Her grandparents emigrated from Italy, did a short stop in Mexico and settled in eastern Arizona.
They were the only Italians in Safford. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from these half-ass Italian Savages in the last 30-something years, but the first thing was about tamales — hold the husk.