When I was young (very young, the kind of young that remembers looking up at the phone hung on the wall), we lived in El Sobrante, California. I remember practicing it: Ell So-BRAWN-tay. It was Spanish, my parents told me, for the Leftover. The land was the leftover bit of a ranch, parceled off after Mexico gained independence from Spain.
This fascinated me. Unless it was twice-baked spaghetti with a golden cheese crust, I could spot a meal on its second time around from twenty paces. No one liked leftovers. No one could.
So why then was my pretty little town called the leftover? Didn't they know about our library with the tall dark stacks full of books I would someday read? Didn't they know that our house had the best climbing tree ever? And that our school had the crunchiest tater tots I'd ever had in my whole life?
We didn't live in El Sobrante for long, not more than three or four years, I think, but it stuck in my mind as firmly as the phone number we had there, the very first number I ever memorized. And I wasn't the only one affected. When we moved overseas to Saipan when I was a teenager, my father decided to build a boat. Now, he's a talented man, a good builder. But no matter what, building a boat is…tricky. And he was doing it on the cheap with parts gleaned from wherever he could beg, borrow or steal them. So when the boat was finally put together in a form that looked like it might repel water, he christened it the El Sobrante (redundant article and all). He loved it, and the family spent many happy hours on the lagoon bailing water using old milk jugs.
And when SuperTyphoon Kim smashed the island and left slivers of his boat literally hanging from the trees on the Garapan beach, my mother put screwdrivers into my and my sisters' hands, sending us to rummage under palm fronds. "Watch out for scorpions," she said. "Bring back the metal. The bolts and screws, anything you can find."
That Christmas, Dad unwrapped his present from us. In a plain white envelope, he found the hardware of his boat. The label said, "Seeds of the El Sobrante II."
Leftovers. They can surprise you.