Round the Fire: The Goal is Soul

May 10, 2023 at 3:49 pm
Round the Fire: The Goal is Soul

My father brought our family to Fort Knox in 1974, when I was five years old. He felt that the area was a great place to raise kids. Radcliff, where Fort Knox is located, is an area filled with families from everywhere in America and around the world through marriages that have been given a level playing field by the military. Being exposed to such diversity and what felt like equal opportunity in the armpit of America was, by far, the best education of my life. I learned early on that our differences enrich our hearts and that, more than anything, we’re more alike than different. Besides, kids will be kids wherever they are and whomever they are with. The population was around 14,000 when we arrived, and we were the first Estradas in the phonebook. My parents bought a house on a cul-de-sac called Senate Circle. It was a traditional suburb, but with a very eclectic crew of retired vets and their families. In many ways, growing up on Senate Circle was much like an ‘80s Benetton commercial. You may remember these if you now have to scroll to the final two options on age verification boxes. The commercials displayed fashion through culture. The clothing was bright, and all skin tones were part of their campaigns, which were sometimes controversial. I don’t think they even focused on any particular item for sale. For me, the United Colors of Benetton was my neighborhood. I met the little girl across the street who was my age — Chrissy. Her mother was German and married a backwoods Kentucky soldier. Chrissy quickly became my best friend, and I was introduced to German food, broken English, and every Christmas, giant boxes of candies direct from Germany — Kinder Eggs, gummies, and other delights that I had never tasted or heard of. This was my first experience inside the home of a family that had languages, decor, smells and ways that were different from mine. The other Latino house on the circle had five kids. The oldest and youngest were girls, but it felt like a house of nothing but boys to me. The boys loved being outdoors catching snakes in the wet forest areas near the house. They had cages lining the patio of their backyard full of whatever snakes they caught to admire. Their father was retired and an artist. I was mesmerized by him in his straw summer hat and Cuban cigar as he painted in his open garage on cool summer afternoons. His painting, bright color on a dark canvas, was full of passion. The style of their home, surrounded by yucca plants and lit with the large-bulb festival lights gave the neighborhood a Latin feel. As we all grew older and began spending nights and eating with our friends, I remember watching women preparing big pots of cabbage on the kitchen floor that turned into kimchi at the home of a Korean friend. The smell blew my mind, pungent and garlicky. I had my first homemade donut in a Vietnamese home where one would find slippers offered at the door. Another German house across the street had a huge garden in their backyard that grew tomatoes you could pick and eat straight from the vine on a hot summer day. The people there smelled as earthy as the garden — no deodorant — and the inside of the house was equally primal. My Black friends smoothed their skin with cocoa butter and wore night caps. It was female energy and I found myself fascinated with hair braiding and twisting, as well as the beads they threaded onto their locks. I remember how they hated brushing their hair as much as I did and the humidity was relentless on us all. One summer night, Chrissy’s dad skinned and butchered a deer on her metal swing set, and the schnitzel that came from the slaughter was deep fried and crispy, and I learned the truth about where meat came from, even if it disturbed me at the time. My home brought menudo to my friends as we ate unknown pig parts that cooked the whole day before serving at breakfast the next morning. I can still see the clear blue eyes of Chrissy eating the pig knuckles right off the bone beside me at the kitchen table. Neither of us had a clue what we were eating but we were nourished in more ways than one. There were other families I was not as intimate with but their children were my friends, the blunt New Yorkers, more Germans, Irish and Puerto Ricans. I learned via exposure to all the subtle differences in hair, skin, dialect and belief systems that laid a foundation of competency that I utilized daily in my career as a social worker. In the end, we all embraced one another and the differences made it all the more magical, soulful, and open — as it should be. •

Subscribe to LEO Daily newsletters.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak (coming soon) | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter