When I was in high school, every year a trip to Mexico was offered by the Spanish Club. Miss Erickson (RIP,) my Spanish teacher and the trip chaperone, would pass out the multi-paged mimeographed itinerary for the trip. I can still see and smell the 8.5x11 multi-colored, rough grained paper on which it was printed. Every year I would take home a copy and memorize it. My family was not able to afford me the experience but I dreamed anyway.
One year Miss Erickson brought to class some souvenirs she purchased in Mexico on the previous year's trip. One item in particular caught my attention and my fancy. In a ⅛ x ¼ inch handmade paper box were glued two dressed fleas. One was dressed like a groom and the other like a bride. You could barely tell what was in the box without a magnifying glass. I was astounded. I was amazed. I wanted a dressed flea of my very own.
Flash forward some thirty years. Either for my "running away from home - late" or my "midlife crisis - early" I had quit teaching, was waiting tables at Jerome's Restaurant at Clark and Arlington in Chicago, and decided to take off on my dream trip to Mexico.
I took Amtrack to Fort Worth Texas where I spent a week with my sister and her family. I proceeded to San Miguel de Allende for a stay which lasted for a month and a half and then took the bus on to Mexico City where I spent another three weeks. Besides being lonely, by the end of my time in Mexico I had just enough money to fly home so my adventure ended after two months.
While in Mexico City, eating amazing food and taking in all the cultural sites I could, I was on a quest to find "Pulgas Vestidas." At every little souvenir shop I saw I asked, "¿Se vende aquí pulgas vestidas?" "Do you sell dressed fleas here?" And at every little shop I received the same quizzical look and the reply, "Never heard of such a thing." Remember this is 30 years after Miss Erickson had purchased hers.
One day, well into my stay in Mexico City, I was walking around on a Sunday afternoon when I passed a gift shop that was closed but had interesting items on display in the window. The shop was dark, the windows dirty, the displays dusty. I was about to turn and continue my walk when I noticed an almost empty shoe box in the corner of the window. The box had seen better days and at the back of it was a stained, curled sign that said "PULGAS VESTIDAS - 50 Pesos." Oh my God (or OMG as the tech savvy say now-a-days) I had found my dressed fleas. There were only two tiny boxes in the bottom of this shoe box and they were boy friend and girl friend not bride and groom but EURECA, success!
I probably laid awake all night waiting for the Monday morning opening of the shop that housed my treasure. I was waiting in front when the owner unlocked the door, spent my 100 Pesos, and gingerly carried the bag containing my prize back to my hotel room. Some stories end happily.
Perhaps the moral of this story is: Never give up. Or perhaps: If you work hard enough and wait long enough, your dream will come true. Both my Dream Trip to Mexico and my finding Pulgas Vestadas finally had happened and continue to hold an important place in my reminiscences.
Come visit my Pulgas Vestidas when Michael's Museum opens at The Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier. The projected opening date is May 13th, 2011. See you there.