The Tortilla of Life…

I went to get another haircut yesterday. It is routine…every three weeks I go get a hair cut because my hair grows really fast. At least that’s what the lady says that cuts my hair. She is a wonderful person from Vietnam. She and her family came over to the States in the 70’s when Saigon fell and the North Vietnamese took over the South. She and her family moved to California.

Every so often, when she is away visiting her ailing mother, another lady will cut my hair, but yesterday, Han gave me a big hug and said, “Dough, I haven’t seen you forever!” You just read that and thought to yourself…”Doug misspelled his own name…” No, I didn’t…she calls me “Dough” like something you knead while making bread. This is because on the first day we met, I was spelling my name for her to place in the system and she automatically placed the “h” behind my name because she grew up baking a lot and it was just force of habit.

It is not uncommon for me to walk into the “hair cutting place” .(it isn’t a barber shop, but I feel stupid saying I go to a Beauty salon for a hair cut) and all of the ladies there will greet me with the same “Hi Dough! Have a seat…you’re next!” In fact, one of the new ladies pulled me up in the system when I came in the other day and asked my phone number.

When she saw how Han had entered my name in the system she made the statement, “You have an unusual name!” I asked her if she meant my last name, “Pacheco” because that’s usually the name people have trouble pronouncing. She said, “No, but how should I pronounce your first name?” I decided to have fun with her and two of the other women who already knew it was a typo played along with me.

I said, “Ahhh, my first name! It is pronounced “Dough” like kneading bread.” She wrinkled her brow and said, “Oh wow…that’s interesting” I continued, “My parents were both Mexican bakers who escaped from Guadalajara during the Mexican Civil War and made it across the Rio Grande to Arizona” (The Rio Grande doesn’t run along the Arizona border…only Texas.)

She looked at me with incredulity. “I didn’t even know Mexico HAD a Civil War!” Nodding confidently as she took the bait, “Oh yes…it’s how Mexican food made it’s way into the United States…my parents and other Mexican refugees brought the recipes with them…that’s why it is so big in the South Western United States!”

She was amazed! “I just thought Mexican food places sprang up because Mexican families moved across the border and into the US and started restaurants.

She commented, “So your parents named you “Dough” after the bread they baked!’ “Tortillas!” I said quickly. “My parents made tortillas!…not bread”

“Oh, of course!” she nodded, trying not to offend me. I told her they had named me “Masa Harina” in the beginning, but they had to change my name after moving to the United States because people didn’t understand what “Masa Harina” meant.

One of the other stylists couldn’t take it anymore and burst out laughing. I couldn’t keep it together either and finally fessed up to the new girl and apologized for having fun at her expense. She laughed hard and said, “Boy…it’s a good thing I’m not cutting your hair today!” We all laughed and I sat down to wait my turn.

Han called me over to her chair and started cutting my hair. I was listening to the conversation of the new girl with her customers. It was mostly small talk, asking what her client did for a living, what they did on their free time… just normal stuff. Then, in a moment where everyone seemed to be quiet and there was just the clip, clip, clipping of hair, the new girl said, “I finished my last chemo treatment in January and the cancer seems to be completely gone!” she said to her customer.

That “sick in the pit of my stomach” feeling came over me. Had I just played a practical joke on a cancer patient?! I was beside myself for the rest of my hair cut, even Han noticed the change in me and I purposed to apologize in depth when I got out of the chair.

Finally, we were finished and I walked over to the new stylist to apologize again.

“Listen”, I said in a truly sorrowful tone, “I apologize for taking the joke so far. I hope you will forgive me…I didn’t know you had just gone through chemo”.

She looked at me and smiled broadly. “Listen, I am SO grateful you DIDN’T know I had gone through chemo!” She patted my arm and said, “people always treat you like your made of candy glass when you tell them you’ve had cancer…they keep their distance…like you’re contagious or something.” She then said, “I was just thinking to myself, how I wish other people would treat me like a regular human being like you did, instead of being so careful not to bring up the subject.”

Finally she looked at me and said, “Without knowing it today, you made me feel like “one of the girls” here! “It was the real ice breaker that made me feel I was part of the group!” Han came up behind us and gave her a big side hug and smiled her beautiful smile. Han looked at the new stylist, (Brianna was her name) and said, “I went through a double mastectomy a few years ago…I know how you feel.” Brianna hugged her back. I stood there kind of feeling out of place. Then both Brianna and Han gave me a hug and said, “You’re a little ray of sunshine today aren’t you?!”

It was my turn to give Han a hug and tell her I had no idea. She smiled and said the most profound thing I have heard in a long time.

“Some people carry hidden scars on their bodies…but the worst scars are the ones of the heart!” I agreed and Brianna nodded her head.

One of the women sitting in one of the other stylists chairs heard our conversation and said, “I am a survivor too…14 years cancer free!” Brianna scooted over and gave her a big hug, this time there were tears in Brianna’s eyes. Han looked at her and said, “Yay for survivors!”  Once again, another woman back from getting her hair shampooed heard the commotion and after being informed about what had happened, said proudly, “I am a survivor too…4 years this May!” Well, this time all the customers gave her a round of applause.

I finally made my way to the register. After paying for my hair cut and tipping my stylist, Han walked over to the door as I prepared to leave.

“Dough…you want me to change your name I wrote wrong in system?” I told her no, I enjoyed my celebrity status being called Dough. The smile left her face and she looked at me solemnly and said. “You know, I’m a Christian Dough. If Jesus is the Bread of Life…it’s okay to be the dough. You know?!” I hugged Han again and began to tear up I said, “Thank you Han for saying that.”

I didn’t see where Brianna had gone but she came running out of the Mexican grocery store next door as I was backing out of the parking place and asked me to keep her in my prayers. I stopped right there and prayed for her. Before I drove away, she asked, “Can I ask you to let me know the next time you are coming?” I said I came every three weeks. She said, “Okie dokie Dough!’ then threw a bag into my lap and said, “don’t open it until you’re gone…I’d be embarrassed!’ I said, Okay! Then drove away. As I got to the stop light, I opened the bag and there, sitting on my lap was an 8 pack of corn tortillas! Jesus is the Tortilla of Life…hey, it works for me!

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