There was Raphael suspended in the air in all his glory. The sun beamed behind him through the trees behind the carport. His green and red tissue paper frilled with the breeze.
“COWABUNGA!” my cousin yelled as he took a hard swing at the Ninja Turtle piñata that rocked from the rope my Tio (uncle) pulled.
I was the emotional one of the bunch, and everyone knew it as they picked on me most. I hated to lose the games, and never won anything at birthday parties.
I knew my Tio would try to make me cry and frustrate me as he pulled the trick rope that would raise Raphael up and down. I now understand, at 31, it was a form of character building.
I was next in the long line of kids to attempt to crack the piñata, and I felt a little pressure from someone saying, “Give it a good chinga (hard hit)!”
I wanted to win at something and to be the reason all the candies poured out at this birthday party.
I reared the broomstick back, swung and missed on the first two of three chances. Everyone laughed. I, of course, got angry.
With all of my little might, I swung and made a connection with a loud WHACK!
Nevertheless, Pixie Sticks, Sweet Tarts, Dum-Dums or Smarties did not pour out.
My older cousin, Michael, shattered that piñata on his first chance after me. He and my cousin, Marcus, obtained the piñata crushing genes.
The kids and I hit the dusty cement and filled our plastic Ninja Turtle treat bags with candies.
Growing up with a large, extended family in South Texas, parties were held every weekend and you can bet there was a piñata. We had a piñata in every character-theme party you could imagine in the 1990s.
A typical menu included hot dogs for the kids, barbecue for the adults and a character-themed sheet cake made by my grandmother frosted with hundreds of star piping she was determined to perfect.
The men stood around a barbecue pit, drank beer and talked over the Conjunto music playing in the background.
The women served the food, kept the kids in check, supervised the games of musical chairs, water wars and pin the tail on the burro. Everyone fought to be winner.
Besides singing the birthday song around the cake, the piñata was what brought everyone together. It was simple, fun and all that mattered was we were all together.
Flash forward from 1990 to 2018, when I attended a birthday party for my friend’s daughter.
My friend had put in many late nights making centerpieces, paid a pretty penny for a custom three-tiered cake and spent who knows how much on the individual party favors for each child and the food.
All children received a prize for playing a game. Evidently, at last year’s birthday party, it became a spectacle when someone did not win a prize.
The women spent time on their cell phones taking selfies; the men shared the latest news alerts from Bleacher Report. The older kids played video games and two adults dressed as Disney characters entertained the younger children.
When I asked where the piñata was, the giggling reply I received from one of the parents was, “Piñatas are not allowed here because someone could really get hurt. Places like these don’t allow them because they are a liability.”
I understand the liability associated with the “party room,” as most birthday parties are no longer held in backyards and home carports.
Nevertheless, should we quit having bounce castles because a child may break a leg?
Birthday parties of today are nothing like what we had growing up. People spend more money on parties to out-do the previous party.
We still have piñatas at family birthday and holiday parties. My sister and I are the dedicated party piñata providers.
I will drive all over San Antonio to find the perfect Easter bunny, character or traditional star piñata. Call me crazy, but we will spend money on tons of candy to fill it, just to watch the kids have a fun time knocking it to pieces.
Birthday parties are not what they used to be, I have come to realize. Gone are the days when people socialized at parties and celebrated simply.
I realize it is a culture-thing, but it is a tradition I would like to see continue, even if I am the only person who buys piñatas.
I have not been invited to any birthday parties in Fredericksburg yet, but you can count on me to bring the piñata, if you need one.
If you happen to need someone to show you how to break one, I think my piñata shattering skills have matured since 1990.
Erika Vela joined the Standard-Radio Post in November 2017. A South Texas native, her column Paloma Libre, or "Free Bird," will appear periodically. Email her at email@example.com.