No Niños en la Canasta

Since there are only two of us in our household these days, it doesn’t pay to stock up on fresh food. I tried that for a while, but we ended up throwing too much spoilage in the trash. Consequently, I make frequent trips to the grocery store.

We recently relocated, and I’ve been trying on several new food stores for size. While I was checking one out the other day, I spotted an unfamiliar phrase on a small sign in the back of my grocery cart. The sign warned, “No niños en la canasta.”

Normally, I’m totally unaware of these things. I know this because my lovely Bride is constantly reminding me that I need to be “more aware of my surroundings.” I’m not sure if this is a genetic flaw, or if I just don’t care. Regardless, it was a tad unusual that I zeroed in on this tiny warning.

I think the first thing that caught my attention was the word “canasta.” I’m aware of that word because it’s the name of a card game my Mom taught us when we were kids. It seems to be a variety of rummy in which you combine about thirty-seven regular decks of cards, pass them out to the contestants, play one hand all day, and pretend like it’s a barrel of laughs. In our home, however, we were out for blood, so actual fun was not the goal of the competition. Because of that, I always assumed canasta was Italian for “backstabber.”

Professor Gonzales

When I got into high school, I took four years of Spanish. During that time, I got fairly proficient at saying, “Si,” and “No.” The “no” part came rather easily for obvious reasons, but “si” was a bit tougher. Truth be told, however, my real proficiency in mastering that one must be attributed to Speedy Gonzales (from whom I also learned the term, “Yeehaw!”).

Anyway, during one of our vocabulary lessons, I discovered that canasta is not Italian at all (and it doesn’t mean backstabber). It’s Spanish for basket. This is really confusing because we never used a basket. We used a double-dished, plastic container that barely held most of the cards. Apparently, the Spaniards took the time to weave baskets large enough for this purpose. We, on the other hand, wanted to get straight to the bloodletting.

So, seeing this blast from my past, my curiosity was aroused. With my extensive background in the Spanish language, I quickly interpreted the sentence to mean, “No children in the basket.” It also helped that the English translation was printed directly above the Spanish words. With a sigh of relief, I determined I was safe from the Canasta Police, as I had no niños on my person (nor was I playing cards).

The point to all this is my New Year’s resolution from about four years ago—to become more fluent in my second language. I took the canasta thing to be a reminder from God. Look out, Rosetta Stone!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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