North America Managing Editor
Natalie grew up in the desert but moved to New York City as soon as she was able. She spent most of her twenties producing films and commercials and using her savings to travel the world. She ended up in Guatemala, where she began writing about the foods, people, and cultures she encountered on her travels. She returned to the States in 2014 to pursue writing. Natalie studied storytelling at the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine, and holds an MFA in creative writing from Northern Arizona University. She lives with her husband and daughter, and is an aspiring Spanish-speaker and salsa maker.
As the StoryTerrace North America Managing Editor, Natalie enjoys bringing stories to life.
The Tortillaria Trio
My mother is bouncing up and down like a child. The women behind the counter are doubled over in hysterics. Tears run down their cheeks and drip onto their aprons. I am turning a shade of red reserved for boiled lobsters.
It’s 1999. I am barely fifteen. My mother and I are in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We are here to learn Spanish and to immerse ourselves in the culture of our ancestors. This is my first time out of the country, and I am less than enthusiastic about being away from my friends during summertime, and now my mom is going loco. She just dragged me across a quaint, cobblestoned street to queue up for tortillas the size of my fist made by a trio of fleshy, masa-dusted senoras—Mexico’s version of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.
She’s my mother, but I’ve never seen this woman before. She is not the same woman who nags me about cleaning the kitchen and yells at me for buzzing an undercut into my hair. Since arriving in Mexico, this woman bouncing like a child has already let me drink a beer and taken me to a dance club. Now she is bursting with glee in front of the Mexican Fairy Godmothers.
The wood hut they work out of smells of toasted corn and char. My mouth waters. The space is small, no more than four feet wide, and can barely accommodate and comal, let alone the trio.
In slightly labored Spanish, Mom orders six tortillas even though we just ate a huge breakfast at our homestay. One of the trio plucks six golden orbs off the comal with her bare fingers and wraps them, steaming, in green paper. Mom cradles the packet in her hands as a child would a lightning bug. Eyes closed, she brings the packet to her nose for a good whiff. She unwraps it, lays two tortillas out on the counter and plops a spoonful of salsa onto each one. A dash of salt and she hands one to me.
The tortillas are still steaming and feather light. The salsa is smokey and the perfect compliment to the charred maiz. Mom’s eyes are closed as she chews, a drip of salsa on her chin. As we lick our fingers for any last scraps, I look over at the tortillaria trio, who are still giggling at us from behind the comal.
Mom and I inhale the second and the third. Not content, we go back for more. Not just this day, but also every day of our trip.
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