I was raised in the south by a woman who grew up in California. I was introduced to various Mexican foods at an early age and it all seemed like a normal part of our diet. We rarely ate tamales, although I loved them. They just weren't anything we usually had because it wasn't in Mom's repertoire.
After I got out of college, I went on a grand and bold adventure to California and realized three days and 1,300 miles later that west coast culture and southern culture really do not resemble each other too closely. This is what I get for not getting out more.
After a few years in California, I had acclimated somewhat, although there were still always a few surprises here and there. But, in lieu of buying a winning Powerball lottery ticket, isn't that what makes life fun and interesting?
One of the things I learned about Southern California culture is that you can purchase tamales out of the trunks of cars that drive slowly through your neighborhood. Seriously.
One day my hubby came in with this awesome dish of tamales, still warm. I stood at the kitchen counter, stuffing about 12 of them into my mouth in a really unsavory and unladylike manner and finally thought to ask where it is he procured them. This was definitely not supermarket packaging.
"Wiffy giddis," I asked, bits of cornmeal dropping from my mouth to the counter.
And this is how I know it's true love and we were meant to be together -- he knew exactly what I was saying. About the time I swallowed my 54th tamale he answered, "Out of the trunk of a lady's car."
You know in the scary movie where the person on the screen stays still and the background zooms away smaller? That's what happened to me. I froze.
"Did you say you got these out of the trunk of a lady's car? What car? What lady? What's the temperature outside? Who is this woman? How long have you known her? How long have the tamales been in her car? How do you know these are safe? What if she is like some crazed tamale serial killer lady who is poisoning everyone in our neighborhood? Did you get her license plate number? Did she have good hygiene?"
Then I might have actually screamed, "ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?" and fallen to the ground. I'm not really sure if that last part happened because my memory goes fuzzy at that point.
The basic jist of his response was to roll his eyes and say, "People do this all the time here. It's a thing they do. You know. It's a thing."
I was waiting for him to add, "Dude" but he didn't.
As with any culture, one must become accustomed to it. In order to become accustomed to this one, I sat quivering on my living room couch staring at the clock and looking up on the Internet the minimum and maximum range for when one would see the signs of food-borne illness or chemical poisonings.
Fortunately everything turned out quite fine and I ended up becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the mysterious tamale lady, to the point that Rob would tell me to stop sending him out to the driveway to look for her. I was like an addict waiting for my dealer to drive by. It was getting embarrassing.
Thank goodness just as things were getting out of hand we relocated back to my home in the South, but strangely there is now a tamale lady here. And she knows where my office is. And sometimes she shows up at my house. It's creepy.
And yet... good.