Hecho en Brownsville

I wanted my first book to be available to the people I was writing about. That’s how I ended up signing copies between the produce aisle and the food court at the H-E-B.
Hecho en Brownsville
Illustration by Mike Benny

Getting lost and showing up late to the grand opening was bad enough. Getting lost and showing up late with my aging parents in the car was a whole other matter. We had left Brownsville with enough time, but a couple of the smaller towns to the north weren’t so small anymore, and somewhere along the way I had exited too soon or too late and gotten completely turned around. Nothing seemed to be like it was before. In the almost twenty years since I’d left, all the cultural landmarks I’d felt were sorely lacking during my youth had arrived— IHOP, Red Lobster, Shoney’s, Target, Chili’s. Between the sprawling strip malls, glimpses of irrigation canals and cotton fields retold the story of how it used to be. 

My father, who was about to turn 89, tended to be lulled to sleep in any moving vehicle, unless the vehicle happened to be traveling in the wrong direction. This is a man who once made an ambulance that was rushing him to the emergency room pull into the parking lot of an abandoned Taco Bell because he was convinced the driver was headed to the wrong hospital (which he was). It was as if at some point my father’s pacemaker had been replaced with a tiny GPS device, one that alerted you only when you went the wrong way. 

My mother, in the backseat, was also worried about arriving late, but for her own reasons. We were on our way to the grand opening of a new H-E-B in McAllen, not far from the little town where she had grown up. This new H-E-B was several times larger than the one she’d worked at in Brownsville, beginning in 1955. In those days, the company was still regional and much smaller than it is today, with its more than three hundred stores across the state and in Mexico and new ones opening all the time. My mother had spent the past few days calling my cousins who lived in the area, some of whom I hadn’t seen in the twenty years since I had moved away, to tell them we would be attending the grand opening because the owner of H-E-B, Charles Butt, or as she referred to him, el señor Butt, had asked me to be there to sign copies of the new book I had written.  

A year earlier I had explained to my publisher that it

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