Las Aventuras de Angel 

 

“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals. 

By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me. 

In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.  

Storytelling

Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.

Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences. 

De Jalisco A Baja California

When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.

As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him. 

By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d  run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader. 

On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.

In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad?  He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game. 

One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia

En conclusíon

These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them.  Mary is gracious in  her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. 
I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.

Gracias Te Damos Señor

Tis the season to be thankful. I take too many things for granted, in these strange and difficult days. Good health and strength is something I’m so grateful for, especially as I’m climbing that mountain. Wait! Or am I…. descending the mountain? A healthy mind to process life does not go unnoticed in my book anymore. I’m recognizing again that we have things for seasons and sometimes we get special one time experiences that a grateful heart will tuck away into the memory, sometimes dormant, until something triggers it. Today was a trigger day. 

Usually when things happen they pile up needing attention ahorita mismo! This entire week has been chaotic, as all hands are on deck to plan a baby shower for our 8th, asi es 8th grandchild. As you can imagine everything is a mess, and with the weather being dry, everything is dusty and dirty. De repente, I get notice that I’ll have guests, que exagerada! It only felt like all of a sudden a grenade was launched and I had to get busy to save my life! The room I had to prepare was my apas room. I call it Tatas room. His room has had use, but not often in these past 11 months. I use it and it is not weird or painful to go in it, no mas que ahora I had to do some deep cleaning, and dusting reaching areas that require moving furniture around, ya saben. I had wiped down photo frames with images of dad and family. These faces look right at me whenever I go in, they’re part of the room. Suddenly I was transported back to those initial transition days of taking care of my apa. It was such a confusing and difficult time for him. He said he could do life alone, and he truly believed he still could. He stood his ground, there was nothing wrong with him he argued, he wasn’t stupid and he certainly wasn’t a baby. Dementia was already present but of course he didn’t know it.

We brought my dad’s pictures from his home into his new room.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, was yet another fall in his daycare facility, a blow to the head that sent him to the hospital. My sister and I scrambled. One of his caregivers was with him in the ER waiting for test results and for me to arrive. I already had a room ready for him in my home.

I’m going to attempt to describe what it is to battle Dementia, or mejor dicho, what me and my sister experienced with our apa. Dementia refers to memory loss and the loss of other reasoning abilities. It  is a progressive disease, which when severe enough will alter a person’s ability to function daily. Our apa dealt with dementia of the Alzhemiers kind.  It gets into the brain and squashes out memory and spreads until it reaches across the mind. Many sundown experiences put us into a twilight zone episode where we spun around in circles getting nowhere. “Redirect him,” the nurse would tell us, and when we weren’t bound up in frustration and angry emotions, we could manage that. Some of the more successful evening battles against dementia usually involved dad telling a childhood story from his long term memory archives. I tried to always be prepared with my writing  tools. 

Sometimes the skirmishes at  sundown left me confused! Today, deep cleaning this room, triggered a night time conversation I’d had with my apa. That first night in his new surroundings he was uncomfortable and awkward. We had settled him into bed and he wondered where I was going to sleep since he had taken my bed.

Me: No apa, es su cama

Apa: No, mi cama esta en mi casa

Me: Esta es su casa

He chuckled, like I was being polite, you know how we latinos open our home up, “mi casa es su casa.”  Que casualidad that he remembered that he wasn’t home. Sometimes dementia made me suspicious that perhaps he wasn’t confused, could he be faking it? Apa was worried about where I would sleep. I assured him that I was going to my room but if he needed anything I would hear him call and come check on him. I had a good monitor that picked up even the sound of his breathing.

Apa: Y Ben donde esta?

Me: Apa, Ben esta en nuestro cuarto.

He chuckled again, looking at me sideways. 

Apa: Ese no es Ben! Hijole! Dads long term memory only remembered the young Ben not the… hmmm… mature one 😀

Of course I was offended, dementia or no dementia mi apa was insinuating that another man would be in my bed! Imaginate! I stood up for myself of course and explained and explained again, four or five times, that Ben was the only man for me. I eventually resorted to the redirection trick and it worked. We survived our first night, apenas!  Another thing to be grateful for is my flaco who was patient and kind even though his suegro many times thought he was a stranger in the house.

Dementia torments it’s victims and their caregivers. Y por supuesto, my outlet has been my writing. It cages you up sometimes. At times I felt sorry for my apa and other times I was right in the cage with him. We experimented with him living part time in my home and part time in his, but we realized after a few months that it had only confused him more.

dementia is a humbling experience for both the patient and the caregiver.

I wrote this after a long evening of confusion for him and fatigue for me.

Caged

When are you taking me home?

Dad, you are home.

This is my home?

I must be losing my mind.

Where’s Lupe?

Your wife died last year.

What? I saw her last night.

I must be losing my mind.

Is my mother alive?

She died a long time ago.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I must be losing my mind.

Where’s my wallet?

In your pocket.

Where’s my keys?

I must be losing my mind.

Is my car outside?

It’s right outside.

I can’t see it.

I must be losing my mind.

Tell me about your family?

Your husband repairs tires?

That’s my sisters husband,

My husband paints houses.

I must be losing my mind.

When are you taking me home?

You are home Dad.

Don’t you recognize the pictures?

I must be losing my mind.

Dad voiced those words many times when he couldn’t remember and then he would get confused and plenty of times angry because we didn’t understand him. It was a vicious cycle.

Today, I was sad for a moment about that trigger that led me down to that memory, but then I was glad for the opportunity to have lived it.

I am thankful for those years with my dad and for all the years I’ve had with family and friends. I’m grateful for every year that I have a healthy mind, to cherish, understand and appreciate my loved ones.

My Wedding Day Planning

Maybe this post should be titled “How Not To Plan Your Wedding.” As Jane Eyre cried “Gentle reader, may you never feel what I felt then”  It was an excruciatingly, emotional, anxiety filled season. Que exagerada verdad? Little did I know that that was easy-peasy, compared to the weddings out there in the big wide world beyond my life. After assisting a daughter, and a daughter in law in their preparations, I can see that I barely scratched the surface of all the complex wedding planning details that are out there.

The days after I was engaged to my cold blooded Englishman I didn’t even think about the wedding, I thought about my flaco, he was gone on Westpac and I was sad and lonely, pobrecita noviecita. I wasn’t a child bride, but I certainly felt like a little girl who had lost her favorite teddy bear.  I stared at my engagement ring and wondered if I really would be married to Benjamin Walter one day. In front of the mirror I sounded out what would be my married name, Rosalba Greene. That sounded weird. I think it was supposed to be Rosalba Zepeda Greene. Hmmm? Would I ever get used to this new name?

My days were busy with work and church, still no planning. Some of the families at church might have been feeling sorry for me because I was getting many dinner invites and I was truly appreciating my friends. Soon I was getting letters from mi fiancé and we were counting down the days for his return. Talking about married life, wondering what our kids would look like, but no mention of a wedding day. Three months into engagement, I was feeling like I could make it, especially since I was truly enjoying all that home cooking, so much so that I was putting on weight.  

Wake Up Call

My roommate, who was my bestie and my appointed maid of honor, came home from a long trip overseas. She took one look at me and said something about my weight. She was shocked and I was…. Hijole! I was sad? Mad? Definitely no longer glad to see her! Gorda?! Is that what she called me? Had I really gained that much weight? Unbeknownst to me, I had gained 25lbs in 4 months. Imaginate!!

The drive home from L.A. airport was not a happy one, I was sullen and she was tired and she had more to ask. 

How’s your wedding planning going? Que? Wedding Planning?  That opened up the floodgates that would remain open probably until my wedding day.  I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I wanted. Are you kidding?! It took 2 years to sort out my emotions and heart about marrying my gringo, how was I supposed to know what color scheme my wedding should have? The dress is supposed to be white right? We would have enough color variety in our lives in marriage! For the next 2 hours she drilled me about the wedding date, my wedding dress, our invitations, the ceremony and reception. What kind of bouquet would I have? What about her dress? What did I want her to wear? Dios mio, what was going on? I had to choose a dress for her? After the barrage of questions, like a true maid of honor she walked me through a simple plan, bueno, it was supposed to be simple. 

The race was on now. The first real ceremony and reception I would ever plan and I discovered that planning a beautiful reception of any kind wasn’t my calling. Thankfully, marriage is about life after the wedding (porque, I can cook a delicious meal for a beautiful reception).. I figured out my wedding date. That was a tricky because we wanted to be married as soon as he got off the boat from WestPac in July, but we had to settle for a day in September.

I had my dress, and after a tedious time of choosing paper and envelopes my invitations were printed in both Spanish and English. I breathed a bit easier when they were all mailed out. My color scheme was settled (colors I don’t even like, I don’t know why I chose them?) Someone helped me with a plan for my flower arrangements and bouquet. My wedding cake was ordered. Ben bought his suit overseas and his wedding ring. Those are the big parts, and that pretty much sums up wedding planning.

Vamos , Let’s go to the week before the wedding day. My Benjamin had been home over a month, we hadn’t rested, he was getting fidgety, his mom and brothers were coming to town just before the weekend, just the thought of meeting my future in-laws for the first time made my stomach churn. Did I mention that the stress of planning my muy sencilla wedding  had knocked off those 25 lbs.? That was a Romans 8:28 situation for me! Asi es, I was my skinny size. That Sunday the week before my life changed and I would become Mrs. Benjamin Greene, I was tired and anxious but I was looking forward to my life with Ben. 

Stop The Wedding

Then I got the call. Mi ama, she was in the hospital, she had had a stroke. We didn’t know much else, so I packed my bag and waited for my sis Marina to pick me up. This would be the beginning of a long relationship with Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley Ca. 

It was a quick 2 1/2 hour drive, but they were also the longest 2 1/2 hours of my young life. I had never seen what a stroke could do. My family was in the waiting room. My ama was stable, but resting, I could tell she was different.

The next couple of days were fuzzy and confusing. I had to be at work and what about my wedding? Marina and I drove back and forth a couple of times, so tired and blurry eyed,  and in those times I barely saw Ben, we were both feeling the weight of this. Then I got a call from the person taking care of my wedding flowers. She said the whole deal was off, she said I wouldn’t be getting flowers from that vendor. There would be no flowers for my wedding. Would there be a wedding? I cried, I didn’t know what to do. I had to talk to Ben. 

I calmed down and was alone with both my parents in that hospital room. My ama’s expressions were marred by the stroke. She knew she wouldn’t be at my wedding and she was sad, I didn’t want her to miss my wedding. It was hard to see her like this, I told her I would postpone it until she was better. She wasn’t speaking, she really couldn’t. My dad spoke for them. They had talked after the doctor had talked to them. Mom would be at least another week in the hospital before they could transfer her. They didn’t know how long her recovery would be. They didn’t know where she would go for recovery. I think we both remembered my graduation day, we both cried. Ama had missed my graduation day, she had been in the hospital then too. I still didn’t know what to do. As my mother held my hand, Dad explained that I must go on with the plans for my wedding, he talked about them being old and me starting my life. He assured me that he would be at my wedding for both of them. I am a person of many words but I couldn’t speak the words I had within. Of course I wanted dad there, but how does a girl get married knowing her mother wouldn’t wear the pretty dress she bought for the wedding. No flowers and no mama on my wedding day. There is a chasm of forgotten feelings, I truly don’t recall how I moved forward.

Ben was much relieved to know that the wedding was still set for September 25.  Y asi paso, we were married that day.

I was able to order a bouquet, guess where? A big chain grocery store! Besides not knowing what I was doing I was in a daze on so many different levels. The grocery store flower shop had flowers in my color scheme peach and teal, (ya se, peach and teal??? maybe it was popular in the 80s?) and the florist seemed excited to put together a bouquet for such an important occasion.

So I married my Benjamin and shared a meal with our guests. Then we rushed to the hospital, like I had done on my graduation day and got on the elevator with my esposo y apa. There was ama all by herself on that hospital bed and her face lit up when she saw us come in, the stroke couldn’t hide her joy.  I leaned on her as she laid there. My beautiful ama welcomed my Benjamin into her life. We both leaned into her as the nurse took our picture. I wish I knew what my mother was thinking that day, maybe like a mother does she felt anxious for my happiness, no se, she couldn’t really speak. I was different again, now I was a married woman. De veras? A married woman! 

When we got back from our honeymoon, I went straight to visit mom at her rehab here in San Diego. Now I would be able to be with mom everyday and help as much as possible in her recovery. Her stroke recovery was difficult for her, she never quite fully recovered, she went home to be with Jesus a few months after she went back home with my apa.

Lost Treasure

I cried again as I remembered these days, I cried harder when I couldn’t find my pictures with my ama. I felt the loss all over again and I have to tell myself just now that I’ll see her again one day in my wedding dress. My treasures weren’t completely lost, my Benjamin uncovered my most important picture after some digging and praying, “Oh God, help my wife find this picture, in Jesus name”.

With 33 years behind us we have many many pictures.