A true story about the Virgin Mary in Boyle Heights. Really.

These are the goofy giggly things that make me smile like a starfish.
DATELINE: Boyle Heights, California – Carlos and Esmeralda Reyes find themselves peering out the curtains of their living room window frequently these days. The crowds have shrunk but the occasional curious passerby (or passersby) still drops in unannounced in their front yard from time to time.

In fact, Carlos recalls an incident that happened last weekend.

“I was outside, watering, when all of a sudden this big bus just pulls up to our curb and the front door opens. All these kids, young kids, just started climbing out and even though they looked lost, they started heading right at me. This boy, about 20, asks me ‘Where is it, where’s the Virgin?'”

“I pointed toward the edge of the yard where the tile Virgin Mary is.” Carlos pointed toward the alley side of a large, rambling yard populated by Gardenias and several large, dusty, leafy trees. There, molded into the perimeter wall, is a large tiled mosaic likeness of the Virgin Mary. “That thing was here when we moved in but it was nice having the Virgin Mary watching over our house. Esmeralda has always lit candles for her.” Esmeralda, Carlos’ wife, has seen the couple’s simple, tranquil world turned upside down over the past several months.

It all began October 31 of last year, Halloween night. In typical fashion, the Reyes’ splurged on several bags of candy and other wrapped treats that they enjoyed handing out to the neighborhood children. “This is a rough neighborhood and we are one of the “good” houses where parents like to bring their children. We decorate it real nice and the kids enjoy it, and we give them candy, everyone is happy!” boasts Esmeralda.

On this past Halloween night, the daughter of one of Reyes’ neighbors, Carmen Lugo, invited her boyfriend, Kyle Sterling, a student from Humboldt State University in Northern California, to her parent’s house for the first time. After dinner, the couple decided to take Carmen’s young sister Trick or Treating. What had been a relatively uneventful evening of house-hopping for sweets suddenly transformed into an insane chain of events that culminated with the Reyes’ life turned upside down in the months since.

Sterling and Lugo waited in the yard while the young sister collected candy from Esmeralda who manned the front porch. Sterling suddenly froze. Carmen watched while he walked deliberately, as if entranced, toward the mosaic of the Virgin Mary which was molded into the Reyes house near the corner of the well-lit driveway. Sterling approached the Virgin Mary and began tracing a random embedded design with his hands. Carmen asked him what was wrong. He did not respond right away. Finally, he asked her to follow the outline his fingers traveled along. “Look,” he told her. She watched and stepped back. “You see?” he prodded. After a few minutes of watching Kyle’s fingers trace the same path, Carmen suddenly saw it!

Carlos Reyes leans back thoughtfully. His lined face seems to grow more lines as he recalls what happened after that Halloween night.

“I don’t know. Everyone says you can see it. I can’t. Esmeralda sees it…I just can’t,” grimaces Carlos. “After that, this guy must have gone back and told everyone because after Halloween, we suddenly got bombarded by all these hippie gabachos who just needed to see our Virgin Mary. They said there was the image of an ancient Sequoia tree hidden in her bosom! They said you could see it if you looked. If you allowed your eyes to see. They brought everyone and they lined up all over our front yard and would not leave the driveway for weeks! All these hippie kids, they needed to see this mysterious tree. Some of them sat on the ground and crossed their legs and wouldn’t leave for hours.”

From the sidewalk, Carlos and Esmeralda peek at the Virgin Mary with matching looks of leery longing. Longing for the day when the Virgin Mary which graced their house…was only that.

What do you think? A tree?