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The Red Suitcase

(by Karina Correa)

When I was about four years old, I packed my fashionably red hard leather suitcase, aptly painted with “I'm Going to Grandma's,” and affixed with a smart drawing of a little girl skipping happily along. I put in all the shoes that could fit and told my parents I was leaving to go live with my grandma. At four, I had enough foresight to appreciate that I’d have to walk “a distance” since we lived in Tucson, Arizona, and my grandparents lived in El Paso, Texas. But I also packed with the concept of time and distance between the two houses that an angry four-year-old could understand.

I threatened to leave after having a childhood fit over this or that. I don’t recall. I do recall that almost any time I was upset, I wanted to run away to Grandma’s arms, so my parents just responded with, “Okay, Nena” ( a name I'd given myself since I couldn't pronounce my middle name "Elena"). As I marched confidently to the front door, I most definitely and defiantly wanted to go to Grandma’s house, but I also wanted them to stop me. I burst into tears as they graciously held back their laughter.

I was not unhappy at home. I was actually spoiled—the only girl and youngest of three. My mom and I had a special bond, just as she had a bond with my grandma. But Grandma was a true protector, and told me I was capable of accomplishing anything. With her, I could do no wrong. If I was upset because someone made fun of me or doubted me, she was the first to defend me and lift me up. When I spent the night at her house and was scared of sleeping alone, she would leave my grandpa and come to my bed, spooning me until I fell asleep. She called me her reina, her queen, and I truly felt it every moment with her.

(Grandma and Mom)

Once we moved to El Paso, I spent nearly every weekend with Grandma, most of the time in her pale-yellow kitchen with the fruit wallpaper, baking for the weekly Sunday dinner with all the family, or just baking for joy. It was on that yellow-and-brown tiled countertop that I learned how to bake by measuring a pinch of this and a handful of that. Baking requires precision and accuracy. It’s a science. But this rule doesn’t apply when Grandma’s baking pan de Van Horn. When we baked this bread together, we measured by hand, eye, and scent. It’s a science of love, as she reminded me every time she baked.

The pan originated from the west Texas town of Van Horn where my grandfather was born and where Grandma memorized the recipe from the eldest of my grandfather’s sisters. It was never written down, so this may be the very first time this combination of ingredients takes shape in words. (It is sometimes called “pan de huevón,” which means "lazy person's bread, because it is so easy to make.)

My mom says that my grandpa told her he met my grandma in the family kitchen standing on a stool making tortillas (all 4 feet 11 inches of her). My mom, who isn’t much taller than that, made tortillas too, but hers were more like large crackers in odd shapes. She was a teacher, so we joked that she made her tortillas in the shape of the 50 United States. She just didn’t have the time and attention to invest in baking.

Grandma is no longer with us. My mom took care of her when she retired from teaching and Grandma had dementia. But I still have all my memories and, of course, my red leather suitcase packed with all the love, minus the shoes.


Karina Correa is an environmental engineer and an actor who lives in Toronto, Canada. She can be found on Instagram and on the Mandy Network.

Pan de Van Horn

7 c. self-rising flour ((7 small Grandma handfuls)

1/2 c. vegetable shortening (just under 1 tasa)

1 t. salt (2 small child finger pinches of sal)

3 c. warm milk + 1/4 c. water (just enough liquid to make a ball of dough)

...and, of course, Grandma-sized love

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine flour, shortening, and salt until incorporated.

Gradually add milk and water.

Sprinkle all the love and knead until a ball forms. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Divide dough into several sections.

Give each section to a small child to roll in a ball, and divide section into smaller balls the size of child’s palm (golf ball size).

Roll each ball out to a small, flat round, and poke four times with a fork in the center of each round, creating a square or “x.”

Place rounds on a baking sheet 1 - 2 inches apart, and bake until lightly golden brown, about 10 - 15 minutes.

Let cool.

Makes 1 - 2 dozen, depending on size.

Serve with homemade frijoles charros and red chile stacked enchiladas topped with a fried egg.


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