Opinion Columns & Blogs

Brother was victor in showdown at Four Corners

Reader columnist Mario Penalver
Reader columnist Mario Penalver Staff photographer

There is an intersection in Puyallup where four different Christian rivals once erected their posts of power in the month of September.

The Four Corners, as it was commonly known, was the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Second Street, five blocks north of the Washington State Fair.

On one corner was the convent for our parish: a red-brick, two-story long house with walls as modest as the three women who lived behind them. To its left was the Catholic elementary my brothers and I attended. Diagonally across was a Mormon church. And to its right was a small, yellow house with a sign recently posted on the front lawn to discourage any doubt that the site was a synagogue for the “Jews for Jesus.” A menorah was placed on the windowsill for effect.

Ever since I could remember, we had devoted our parking prowess to the three nuns who made their home on the southwest nook of Four Corners. At five bucks a car, and 1.2 million visitors a year, it was nothing short of divine providence that we’d shake September for what it was worth, and with enough gusto to make the Thirty Years War look like a ride on the Ferris wheel.

It was a noble cause, an opportunity for us to raise for the nuns a little more than what little cash was allotted them by their priory.

Yet despite our efforts, in the middle of September 1992, neither André (the youngest), Josiah (the older) nor I (the middle) were old enough to confront anybody about the enigma plaguing our daily budgets. The only thing we knew was that each day we were making less and less money.

Our oldest brother Eduardo, packing for college, finally made the intellectual leap when he heard us describe our problem to him one evening. To be sure his suspicions were correct, he agreed to join us for a shift of fair parking the following day.

It didn’t take our oldest brother very long to walk down the alley behind the convent. There he spotted a tall, slender man with a white turtleneck, V-sweater, rust-colored corduroy pants and a black goatee.

“Mr. Tronk,” Josiah noted. “Goes to 9 a.m. mass. His kid, Jeremy, skipped sixth grade and joined my class with Mrs. Phillips. He was bragging about it during Thursday’s water break. Jerk.”

With a sudden turn, Eduardo made a heavy stride back to the convent.

“Eduardo, what happened?” Josiah called after him.

Eduardo disappeared around the corner of the school and approximately three minutes later screeched to a halt behind the wheel of our father’s orange, 1980 Volvo station wagon, blocking the alley. Standing at the other end of the driveway hunched Mr. Tronk, handing 10 bucks in change through the driver’s-side window. Then he saw the Volvo – literally – cut off his master plan to hijack our customers, and his face turned redder than a priest’s chasuble at Pentecost.

He kicked the dust as he stormed after my brother, shouting words and phrases that I had no idea even existed on school property.

His voice carried so far that neighbors a block in any direction poked their heads from behind tar-smudged telephone poles, over chipped picket fences, from above rainbow-penanted porch rails. We gazed in awe as we saw an enraged private school yuppie foiled completely by a 15-year-old station wagon and a college boy two decades his junior.

Eduardo had won us more than the few parking spaces that day. He’d won us respect. Never were we hassled again for raising money. Cars were paying us just as they were before, and money was going back to the nuns as it should have been.

Eduardo done good that day . . . real, real good.

Mario Peñalver has master's degrees in education from Pacific Lutheran University and in humanities from the University of Chicago. A community theater director and actor by night, by day he teaches English at Truman Middle School in Tacoma. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. On Twitter at @astramario.