Cha-Bow-Skies?...Just Another "O'Gutierrez" Family Tradition!
Some parents guide their children thru the journey of life with words of wisdom.
I was led by example.
My parents were in their early twenties when they moved out of Los Angeles to La Puente, California in 1955.
La Puente was wide open country at that time. Low-income homes were being built all over the former 48,000 Spanish land grant Rancho La Puente which became a city in 1956.
Its name comes from the bridge (puente) built over the San Jose Creek by Gaspar de Portolá's expedition during their trek from San Diego to Monterey in 1769.
My parents bought their home for nine thousand dollars. The monthly mortgage payment was only sixty-seven dollars back then. But my dad was barely making a hundred dollars a week with overtime as a laborer.
It was a small tract home that sat at the crown of our cul-de-sac. The homes were called “flat-tops.” They had no attic, just the ceiling above our heads and the roof on top. On those cold, rainy nights, bundled up in my warm blanket, I came to enjoy the sound of tapping rain on the roof and the thunder of a passing train in the distance. Our home gave me a feeling of comfort and that my little world was safe.
Most of our neighbors on Kovak St., were decent and hard-working Gabachos.
Like us, they were in search of the American Dream.
Sure, we had a few bigots here and there, but they were a tiny fraction of our neighborhood.
As children, my parents never taught us to have hatred for anyone, so we really didn’t know nothing of racism.
But boy, did I learn a lot about tough love! But that's another story...
Our dearest neighbors were Pete and Dee Rabchuck. Pete was a rough looking Polish-American, a little older than my father. And Dee was Irish American, and very pretty. They were from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. They had two sons, Petey and Michael.
They lived five houses down from our home. Michael was my age and my buddy. I don’t recall my parents socializing outside our culture before they met the Rabchucks but I do recall them consuming beer with the Rabchucks.
After school, I would usually find Mom and Dee hanging out. It was a pleasure seeing them so happy, chatting away about things. But not on this particular afternoon.
When I walked in our living room, I found all the young mothers from our street crying.
The were sitting in front of our black and white television staring at the screen in disbelief. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The president’s been shot!” Answered a crying Dee. An Irish American was telling me that the first Irish American elected President, John F. Kennedy had been shot.
At the time, most people in our neighborhood felt that President Kennedy was doing so much to bring the whole world together. It was a sad time.
On our first St. Patrick’s Day with the Rabchucks, Dee taught my Mom, the Irish tradition of cooking boiled corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, smothered in mustard. It became a tradition in the “O'Gutierrez” family for every St. Paddy’s day thereafter.
My mom shared her recipes for Mexican dishes celebrated on Cinco de Mayo (and most other days too) with Dee. Pete introduced us to “CHA-BOW-SKIES.” When my dad made us Cha-bow-skies for the first time, we thought they were the greatest hot dogs ever made. “Dad, what kind of hot dogs are these?” We’d ask.
He answered, “They are not hot dogs…” Pausing to recall the name, he said out loud, “What did Pete call them?”
He finally says, “Let’s see, Pete called them, Cha…Cha…Oh, yea, Cha-bow-skies, something like that.”
All us kids thought the name sounded funny and laughed. But from that day forward, the Gutierrez family was hooked on Cha-bow-skies!
Many years later, I was grocery shopping with my three small children. I rarely did the shopping, but since I was at the market, I thought, “Today, I’m going to buy all the foods I like.” The first food item that popped in my head was…you guessed it.
It was time my children enjoyed one of the delights of my childhood. “Hang on to the basket kids, we’re headed for the Cha-bow-skies!” They, like I did years before, thought the name Cha-bow-skies sounded funny and giggled too.
“What’s a Cha-bow-skie, dad?”
“Just hang on and you’ll find out,” as I raced our shopping cart to the meat aisle.
When we got to the meat section, I saw a butcher that looked like he was ready for retirement. If anyone would know what I was looking for he would. I asked, “Sir, can you tell me where I can find the Cha-bow-skies?”
“The what?” He responded with a bewildered look. “Son, I've been a butcher for years and I’ve never heard of a Cha-bow-skie.”
From memory, I gave him the best description I could, of what it looked like.
I added, “A polish American neighbor had turned my family on to them years ago.” When I said the word polish, he cracked up laughing.
“Look kid, I’m half polish myself, you must mean, Kielbasas, follow me.” He took me right to them. There they were, in the see-thru package box with the familiar red and white lettering.
I read, “Farmer John Kielbasas.” I chuckled too.
I saw my dad a week later and told him the story. He got a kick out of it and said, “I was close.”
All those years calling Kielbasas by the wrong name! Today, we still call them Cha-bow-skies among ourselves.
It was still the early sixties when Pete and Dee told my parents they were moving back to Philly.
I remember the sadness on my parents faces. We had all become close to these Gabachos from the city of brotherly love.
But now they had to leave us. They would be missed but they had left us with so much.
Being separated by some two-thousand miles didn’t keep Mom and Dee apart. They always kept in touch by phone for birthdays and holidays. And shared birthday and Christmas cards as well. Nothing could sever their friendship.
Years later, arriving home from high school, I found my mother in the kitchen, she appeared to have been crying. “What’s wrong mom?
She answered sadly, “Dee died.”
Dee had been a smoker and cancer had taken that pretty Irish rose from her family…and ours.
We never forget Dee. She is always remembered fondly on St. Paddy's Day, when the O'Gutierrez family feasts on boiled corn beef, cabbage, potatoes and plenty of mustard.
You see, at a young age, I was taught by Gabriel and Josie Gutierrez of Los Angeles, California, to never be afraid, to embrace another culture.