10 Country: Petra's Entertaining Legacy - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Petra's Entertaining Legacy

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April 22, 2008

Tifton -- The laughter of children trying to hit a colorful piñata suspended in the air attracts instant attention.  It looks easy-- if you're not the one trying to hit it.

     Where do piñatas come from?  Are they all made the same?

     Many stores sell them, but a great grandmother, who feels her time is nearing an end, wants her family to make their own to keep a tradition alive.

      Her colorful, homemade targets are better than store bought, says 84-year-old Petra Soto, because she makes them out of stronger materials that make them much harder to break.

     "They are not the same as store bought when two or three hits and they are gone (broken)," says Petra.

       She purposely builds them to survive severe beatings with a stick.    

     "It will take more children to break them," says Petra, as interpreted by her granddaughter, Maria Perez. (Petra doesn't speak English.)

     Some hitters wear a blindfold, others don't.

     "Little children don't have to cover their eyes. With adults and older ones, you have to cover their eyes," says Petra.

     Her great, grandchildren gather around her and a card table, covered in green newspaper advertisements, like chicks surround their mother. On her back porch the kids get a chance to learn about the tradition, a skill Petra learned back in 1945 from her niece.

   "I had to make and sell them to make money," says Petra as little hands grab warm glue from a red cooking pot under her watchful eye.

     The glue, made of flour and water, holds the parts together, and Petra wants the tradition to stick with each member of her family, as well.

      She gladly shows anyone with an interest how to make them. Recently at the Georgia Agrirama's Folk Life Festival, Petra showed Tamara Washington of Atlanta how to make one. A one-on-one lesson with a pro who showed her every trick she knew, tricks of the trade developed over decades of trial and error when she lived in Mexico.

      "It's not as easy as it looks," says Tamara as she placed pieces of newspaper with glue on one side on a paper cone that formed one of the star's points. A piece of electric fence wire embedded in the paper makes it easy to suspend the piñata when finished.

     "This is my first one ever," says Tamara who has an excellent teacher showing her how.

       In a few minutes they have a made a star-shaped piñata and hung it outside in the bright sun and wind to dry, but it's is far from finished.

       Petra showed Tamara how to make tiny cuts in crape paper that make the finished product more festive looking, and then how to use a table knife to make the colorful paper curl.

      Petra prefers crape paper bought in Mexico because it curls easier than paper sold in the US.

      They wrapped each of the piñata's star points with a different color.

      "It's not as easy as it looks," says Tamara after finishing her first creation.

       Petra finds many children don't want to make their own.

     "They want to do other things. This is work," says Petra, but you wouldn't know it looking at her great, grandchildren making one.

      She smiles approvingly, knowing that her legacy remains in good hands.